Mmm…mmm…Maybe not so good

image via Brainless Tales

You might want to lay off the canned soup.
I really hate to ask you now, it being soup season and all, but the latest report is a real shocker.

A new Harvard study, which was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that just a single bowl of canned soup at lunch for just five days increased BPA levels in urine by an astounding 1,200%. The researchers were shocked by the results, one calling it “unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

This was the first study to measure BPA amounts that are ingested when we eat food that comes directly out of a can, but the health risks have been the subject of hundreds of studies. There’s a growing body of research linking BPA to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. The FDA will be issuing a decision on BPA use by the end of March 2012, but Consumers Union, the group that publishes the magazine Consumer Reports, has already weighed in with its recommendations, and it found BPA levels exceeding 100 times the recommended daily limit in some soups (worst of all is Progresso Vegetable Soup at 116 times the limit).

Waiter, there’s a toxin in my soup!
Take a look inside any can and you’ll see a thin plastic film separating your food from the metal. That’s where the BPA is coming from. Manufacturers have been lining cans with plastic since the 1950s to protect the food from botulism and other bacteria that can grow if the can is damaged or corroded, and there’s no doubt that lives have been saved.

Plastic-lined cans have been so effective at preventing food-borne illnesses that it’s next to impossible to find a BPA-free can of soup. Nearly all aluminum soup cans, even organic brands, contain BPA in the linings. But you can keep soup on the menu: opt for dry soup mixes or prepared soups packaged in glass or cartons, or best of all, make your own.

BPA is of particular concern for young children and women of childbearing age.
The Breast Cancer Fund, which is leading the charge to expose environment causes of cancer, has specific recommendations for reducing the risk to those vulnerable groups.

BPA isn’t the only one.
Experts from a variety of food-related fields offer insider recommendations of foods to avoid. These are foods that are all USDA or FDA approved, but those in the know won’t eat them, and they won’t feed them to their own families.
Read Gigabiting’s 7 Foods the Experts Won’t Touch.

 

 

Posted in food knowledge, food policy, health + diet | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Credit Card Fees on the Tip: Who Pays?

Did you know that servers cover the tip’s fees on credit cards?

According to the federal fair labor standards, restaurant owners can (and they do) deduct the tip-related portion of their credit card processing fees from the tips given to servers. It’s a small amount from each tip (typically around 2%, and can go as high as 4%), but it adds up.

Take a restaurant chain like Olive Garden. The average location brings in nearly $5 million in revenue and there are 750 of them. Figuring tips as 15% of sales and about three-quarters of them going on credit cards, the fees collected on tips would be in the neighborhood of $14,000 for each restaurant and more than $10 million for the entire chain.

For a full-time waiter, the fee give-back adds up to an amount approaching $1,000 annually. That’s a lot of lost income to a predominantly minimum wage workforce, and let’s not forget that the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is a staggeringly stingy $2.13 an hour.

This is not meant to be an indictment of restaurant owners. They are simply passing the fees along to the credit card companies, and themselves feel the squeeze from credit card fees cutting into their slim margins. Still, the practice is controversial. Many in the industry view the credit card fees as any other cost of doing business, like the electric bill or linen rental, and believe that like those costs, should be borne by the owner. To date, the labor departments in 15 states have banned the practice.

According to the National Restaurant Association, diners now use plastic 80% of the time at fine dining establishments, 60% of the time at casual restaurants, and even 25% of the time for fast food. That tip you thought was 15%— it’s not.

 

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Pork-Flavored Poultry: The Kosher Breakthrough of the Millenium

image via Bang it Out

Kosher Pork.
It’s like the Jewish version of the Holy Grail.

Jews worldwide are bound together by the ancient dietary laws. Whether they choose assimilation through bacon or uphold traditional values, they share a common dream: guilt-free charcuterie, BLTs without ambivalence, sausage links with a clear conscience; a truly porky meal that adheres to the rules of kashrut.

The pork-flavored goose is here.
Like penicillin, microwave ovens, and so many of our greatest discoveries, the pork-flavored goose is a lucky accident. Spanish farmers stumbled upon the distinctive goose flesh while experimenting with natural, free-range feedings. They immediately thought of the sales potential in a Jewish market, and sent off samples to Israel’s chief rabbi. While the rabbi was wholly unqualified to comment on the meat’s porkiness, he found some non-Kosher tasters who confirmed the discovery of a true culinary double.

While Israeli newspapers trumpeted the discovery with headlines like ‘Duck, Duck, Pork?’, ‘Hamming it Up’, and ‘Rabbi Brings Home the Bacon,’ Israel’s rabbinic councils deliberated, and ultimately determined that there is no Jewish injunction against eating goose, whatever it tastes like, as long as it’s slaughtered according to Jewish ritual and is approved by the rabbinical kosher authorities.

The Jerusalem Post said it best:

If the dream of tasting pork – that most forbidden of forbidden foods – has always been yours, then dream no longer. And if you thought the idea of a rabbinically approved slice of swine was less likely than a flying pig, then think again.

 

 

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An Endless Fascination with the Turducken

cartoon via Dr. Fun

By now, the turducken should need no introduction. In the span of a few years, it’s gone from urban legend to regional curiosity to your neighborhood Whole Foods freezer.

You can buy fresh or frozen turduckens; free range, organic, and kosher turduckens; turducken for your pet (canned or dry); and even mock tofu-based turducken for vegans (with apologies, the tofucken).

When plain old turducken just won’t do, there are endless can-you-top-this variations like the fowl de cochon (turducken stuffed pig), the quaducant (quail, duck, and pheasant), and extreme stunts like the turgooponducheasnishuaichuffguihagaga, an unpronounceable and probably inedible beast that marries poultry-stuffed-poultry with beef, pork, lamb, and frog. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the hotchken; known as ‘the poor man’s turducken,’ it consists of a humble chicken stuffed with hotdogs.
[For the record, the largest documented nested bird roast is the rôti sans pareil, or ‘roast without equal‘: 17 successively stuffed birds, from the massive bustard to the tiny garden warbler; the final bird so small that it’s stuffed with just a single olive].

We’ve seen the turducken effect spill over its poultry borders. A cookie is baked inside of a cookie to create the chocoOreochip, a.k.a. the turducken of cookies, and a cream cheese-frosted behemoth known as the cherpumple (cherry, pumpkin and apple pies each baked inside its own tier of a three-layer cake) lays claim to the title of the turducken of desserts.

Then there’s the Twitter hashtag #LiteraryTurducken. In the spirit of the poultry portmanteau, #LiteraryTurducken tweets take a classic book title and stuff two more inside. The days leading up to Thanksgiving saw thousands of clever hybrids like “Go, Dog, Go Tell it on the Brokeback Mountain,” “Barbarians at the Gate of My Little House on the Prairie,” and “The Awkward Age of Innocents Abroad.”

     http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_fOzYgq3p3O4/TAgnOAPWy0I/AAAAAAAAAdo/4f4jopg4jAw/s1600/12birds_600.jpg
Like Russian nesting dolls rendered in pimply poultry flesh

   http://www.seriouseats.com/images/20100111-cherpumple.jpg
The mighty Cherpumple

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The Snack of Your Dreams

image via PEANUTS Worldwide LLC

Forget that glass of warm milk at bedtime.
It might feel as cozy as a tuck-in from Mom, but it’s doing more harm than good when it comes to falling asleep.

The right foods before bed can contribute to restful sleep. Sleep-friendly foods are rich in tryptophan, the notorious nap-inducer found in Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner. The wrong foods have amino acids that keep the tryptophan from crossing into the brain where it’s converted into the sedatives serotonin and melatonin.
A glass of warm milk is one of those wrong foods.

A well-chosen bedtime snack can help you get a restful, restorative night’s sleep. According to the sleep specialists at the Mayo Clinic, you want to avoid garlicky, spicy, fatty foods before bed. Here are the three most highly recommended bedtime snacks:

  • Popcorn, preferably air-popped, washed down with cherry juice
  • Oatmeal with sliced banana and just a splash of nonfat milk
  • Low- or nonfat yogurt with a sprinkle of almonds or sesame seeds

The meal of your dreams:
Monastrell Restaurante
in southern Spain serves a special “sleep menu” that is purported to cure insomnia. The chef claims knowledge of a secret ingredient prized during the Roman empire for its soporific qualities. Courses include grilled octopus, pumpkin lasagne, turbot with lemon calamari, lemon sponge cake, and olive oil sorbet.

 

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A New Flavor Bomb

       [image via Tiscali UK]

How many flavors can you taste?
Way back when we were taught that there were four basic flavors: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. These are the ones you can’t get by combining any others—they’re primary flavors, in the same way that red, yellow, and blue are primary colors.

A few years ago we started hearing about a mysterious 5th flavor known as umami.
Umami is described as a rich, satisfying, mouth-filling, savoriness. It’s that delicious something you enjoy when you eat umami-rich foods like aged beef, mushrooms, soy sauce, and Parmesan cheese, and that something can’t be explained by the four primary flavors.

Umami’s break-through came in 2000 when researchers at the University of Miami identified specific umami receptors on the tongue. That discovery put it in the same category as sweet, sour, salty, and bitter; in other words, we had a genuine, fifth primary flavor. The culinary world was rocked—it was akin to biologists suddenly discovering a third ear on the back of everyone’s head.

Umami is nothing new—just newly embraced by western food scientists. It’s a traditional flavor enhancer for Asian cooking, where it’s concentrated in ingredients like soy sauce, dashi, bean pastes, and oyster sauce. It’s the reason that just a touch of ham can amplify the flavor of pea soup and a mere sprinkle of Parmesan does wonders for a pasta dish.

Just when we were getting used to the idea of a 5th flavor, researchers are honing in on a 6th.
Sort of. Kokumi has no taste. There are distinct kokumi compounds and kokumi receptors on the tongue, so kokumi qualifies as a primary flavor, but on its own it’s flavorless. Kokumi compounds are most plentiful in onions, garlic, cheese, and yeast extract (fish sperm too, but who’s counting); combine them with other ingredients and pow!—it’s a flavor bomb. When the tongue’s kokumi receptors are activated, the kokumi alters other flavors adding a hearty richness and roundness. It deepens the sweetness of sugar and makes savory foods taste more savory.

For the complete story on kokumi science and its culinary potential, you can download the slideshow presented at the 2011 Nordic Workshop in Sensory Science.

 

 

 

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This Blog Has Been [Redacted]

Internet Piracy Proposals in Congress
It’s a cause that got those bitter rivals, Google and Facebook, to put aside their differences and join forces.
It inspired a coalition of internet giants that includes Facebook, Google, Twitter, eBay, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL and Zynga, to jointly draft an open letter to members of Congress. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have both officially come out against it, and even the Wall Street Journal ran an anti-legislation opinion piece this week.
Obviously, it’s a big deal.

Congress introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) on October 26th. It sounded like a good idea; who wouldn’t want to stop piracy? Let’s do something about all those rogue websites operating outside the U.S. that traffic in scams and counterfeit goods. Let’s fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property so that the creators get their due. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that it’s not such a good idea. In fact the introduction of SOPA sent a chill down the spine of all of us who pay attention to these things.

Some call SOPA the end of the internet as you know it.
Perhaps that’s a tad dramatic. But just a tad.

SOPA creates insanely over-reaching new standards of liability for copyright violations. The upshot is that any website could be sued or shut down for any copyright infringement found in any of its content coming from any of its users. Facebook would be responsible for every entry posted by every random user. User review sites like Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes would be held to the same standard for each comment and review posted to them. Sites like Vimeo and YouTube would find that their liability extends to even copyrighted music playing in the background of home-made videos.

SOPA backs up the new standards with a deeply flawed system of enforcement. When a copyright is thought to be violated, the rights holder can sue the website for infringement. Internet service providers would be compelled to shut down servers, and search engines would have to block addresses. Advertising networks and credit card processors would have to disengage. An entire website could be shut down for  a single bit of material unknowingly uploaded to the site, and all of this could take place in advance of a court hearing or trial.

The bill moved through the House Judiciary Committee in mid-November, and will be introduced to the floor for a vote before the end of the year. Both sides have strong bipartisan support, so the outcome is anybody’s guess.

If you’re just waking up to this issue now and want a complete analysis, a good place to start is The Center for Democracy and Technology which has published The Stop Online Piracy Act: Summary, Problems and Implications, or go see the key points boiled down in the summary infographic produced by AmericanCensorship.org.

You can read the full text of H.R.3261 Stop Online Piracy Act at the Library of Congress website.

If it comes to this:
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a staunch opponent of the bill, will add the reading of your name to a filibuster to stall the vote.

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A Guide to the Foodie Holiday Gift Guides

image via 7DTV

Holiday gift guides are supposed to make life a little easier at this time of year.
In theory, they are carefully curated, well-targeted selections that keep us from slogging through too many websites to come up with the perfect gift. But with so many gift guides out there, now we find ourselves slogging through them.
That’s why Gigabiting has done the slogging for you, to come up with a carefully curated, well-targeted selection of holiday gift guides for all the food lovers on your list.

Hit the ground running this holiday shopping season.
The Wall Street Journal has A Foodie’s Guide to Cyber Monday 2011.

They like kitchen hacks and the science behind the cooking.
Shop for the innovative cook at Seattle Weekly’s Food Geek Gift Guide: 2011.

Let them show their love with wearable food gifts.
The Huffington Post has 12 T-Shirts and Totes for Food Lovers.

They’re cool and they cook; for them, you can pick up a set of knives reflecting the specialized techniques of 20 ethnic cuisines, or a honey dipper inspired by the geometry of the beehive.
It’s Gifts for Your Foodie Friend from the Cool Hunting Holiday Gift Guide.

The cheeseboard is from reclaimed slate, and the espresso machine is hand-cranked.
It’s the Green Gift Guide for foodies from Treehugger.

Turn soybeans into soymilk and fruit juice into boozy hooch.
There are all kinds of gifts for all kinds of DIYers from Kitchen Daily’s 10 Make-Your-Own Food Kits.

They’re obsessed with swan-necked pour over kettles and debate the virtues of wet-processed beans.
Please the coffee lovers in your life with a selection from Dear Coffee, I Love You’s Coffee Lover Gift Guide 2011.

Have any food bloggers on your list? We need some love at holiday time just like anybody else.
My Kitchen Addiction mixes the professional, the practical, and the personal in the Food Blogger Gift Guide.

Here’s a gift that’s one-size-fits-all:
Give a gift to end hunger from the Feeding America Gift Catalog.
$12 buys a child’s breakfast for 3 months; for $90 you can provide 6 months’ worth of dinners for a family of 4.

 

 

 

 

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Holiday Weight Gain: First the good news…

How about the good news first…
Reports of holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated. The perception is that we really pack on the pounds at holiday time. The reality (according to the National Institutes of Health) is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds— just about one pound on average. Despite six weeks of free-flowing eggnog from Thanksgiving through New Years, the typical weight gain is surprisingly small— except for the already-overweight who tend to keep growing during the holidays.

And the bad news…
It may be a mere pound, but the weight adds up.
Most people don’t ever lose that extra holiday pound.

Our weight is on an upward creep through the adult years. On the march toward the middle-age spread, and the health complications that accompany it like diabetes and heart disease, we tend to accumulate about 2 pounds each year. About half of that can be traced to seasonal overindulgence.

A January menu of cottage cheese and rice cakes.
40% of all New Years resolutions relate to diet and weight loss. We take alcohol and red meat off the menu and sign up for gym memberships. Unfortunately, research shows that our resolve is not so strong: six out of ten will fall off the wagon by January 6th.

There are unexpected side effects to holiday weight gain.
You’re not the only one affected. Read: Pet Parade: Holiday weight gain affects pets too.
And then there’s that special someone. Last year, BeautifulPeople.com, apparently a dating site for the thin and superficial, canceled more than 5,000 memberships on the basis of profile photos showing evidence of holiday overindulgence. In the words of the site’s founder, Robert Hintze, “Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which BeautifulPeople.com was founded.” You can read about it in Dating Site for Beautiful People Expels “Fatties” Over Holiday Weight Gain.

Feel free to make a New Years resolution to send nasty email messages to Mr. Hintze.

 

 

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The Myth of the Sugar High

Let’s put this one to rest once and for all…
Sugar does NOT turn kids into hyperactive maniacs.
There’s NO SUCH THING as a sugar-induced high.

I know what you’re thinking. Of course it’s real. You’ve seen it with your own eyes. Two cans of Coke or a birthday party goodie bag and the kids are bouncing off the walls.

But study after study after study proves otherwise. Researchers have tested the sugar in soda, candy, and fruit; compared honey, molasses, corn syrup, and cane sugar; looked at short-term and long-term effects; examined young kids, old kids, kids with ADHD and the purportedly sugar sensitive; and the results are always the same: there is no scientific cause and effect between sweets and hyperactivity. In fact the only reason there are so many studies is because you refuse to believe the results.

I know. You’re still not convinced because studies, schmudies; you know what you know—a handful of Hershey’s Kisses and you’re prying the little ones off the ceiling.

The scientific community has a couple of theories.
All suggest that there is a legitimate high; it’s just not really from the sugar.

The buzz can come from the sheer thrill of getting a sweet treat—eating a forbidden or restricted food can in itself create a certain excitement. Then there are the environmental factors. Often the treats are given on occasions when the kids are already amped up like a play date, the ball park, a holiday, a school event, or a party. It can also be the caffeine that’s found in the treats—it’s in soda, and not just cola but some orange, cream soda, and lemon-lime varieties; and it’s in the chocolate in cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, candy bars, pudding, ice cream, and more. And then there are the expectations. Parents are on alert, on the lookout for bad behavior, maybe even fueling it by raising the anxiety level in their kids.

There are plenty of  good reasons to limit the amount of sugar in children’s diets. A sugar high just isn’t one of them.

 

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The Yelp IPO. Who Wants In?

Yelp is going public.
Last week the business-review website operator filed with the SEC for its initial public offering. Sometime in early 2012, you should be able to buy publicly traded shares of Yelp stock. But will you want them?
We can’t seem to make up our minds about Yelp.

We love Yelp.
It’s the mother of all review sites. We barely remember a time when we ate out without consulting it.

We hate Yelp.
Like the old adage says: Everyone’s a critic. On Yelp that includes the uninformed, the unqualified, and the perpetrators of unchecked spelling and grammar.

Yelp is a runaway success.
Yelp draws 61 million monthly visitors to its database of 22 million user reviews.

Yelp is a failure.
Losses total $32 million and counting. Some believe Yelp can never turn a profit.

Merchants can’t make up their minds either.
Exposure on Yelp can drive real traffic to small businesses. Amid a sea of competing delis and pizza joints, a couple of good Yelp reviews can make all the difference. But merchants complain about the lack of transparency to Yelp’s review filter that selects what’s posted publicly, and have suspected that the filter is manipulated to benefit paid advertisers. Class-action lawsuits have been filed that accuse the company of extorting ad fees in exchange for withholding negative reviews.

Then there’s Yelp’s love-hate for Google.
Google may be the pipeline to Yelp’s customer base, but these days there’s not a lot of love passing between the two sites. A few years ago, Google paid Yelp for access to its review database to populate Google Places, a local business add-on to Google Maps. After that agreement ran out, Google tried to buy Yelp, and when the offer was turned down, Google continued to mine Yelp’s pages, without payment, for unlicensed content.

This fall Google bought the Zagat reviewing brand, removed most of the pay wall and pitted it directly against Yelp. Yelp has seen its content pushed to the bottom of online searches as Google tinkers with rankings to favor its own Zagat results. Since more than half of all of Yelp’s traffic comes from Google searches, this could be a disaster in the making for Yelp.

Unconditional love for Yelp’s IPO.
Yelp is the Web’s de facto reviewing authority with killer brand recognition, millions of devoted Yelpers, and a ready-made stock symbol (YELP). Despite grumbles from readers, lawsuits from retailers, and imploding tech partnerships, the IPO is expected to be a great success. Groupon’s recent public offering demonstrated that investors will line up to buy a piece of an over-valued, unprofitable tech company with a shaky future.

More detail about Yelp’s IPO can be found in the S-1 registration statement the company filed with the SEC.

 

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Q: Should Food Stamps Be Used to Pay for Fast Food?

 

image via SoapBlox

A: Yes. It alleviates hunger and avoids demeaning and intrusive Nanny State regulations.
A: No. It’s a blatant money-grab by the fast food industry at the expense of the health of our neediest and most vulnerable.

Hunger advocates are howling over fast food giant Yum! Brands’ campaign to allow low income Americans to use food stamps at its Taco Bell and KFC restaurants. Anti-hunger advocates feel that any increase in the availability of food is a good thing.

It’s a nice chunk of change to go after.
The number of Americans who use food stamps is now close to 46 million—that’s 15 percent of the population—with almost $65 billion to spend on food. The program (properly called SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it’s been stamp- and coupon-less for years, but the ‘food stamp’ name stuck) currently places purchase restrictions on alcohol, cigarettes, pet food, vitamins, and hot, prepared food. Chips, candy, soda—all fair game.

Yum! Brands is trying to put a common sense spin on it, and groups like the Congressional Hunger Center and the Coalition for the Homeless are backing the fast food lobby. With five fast food outlets for every supermarket in the country, they argue it’s a convenient option, especially for the elderly, disabled, or homeless. And food stamps can already be used in convenience stores and gas stations, places not known for healthy options.

On the other side of the argument, health advocates have the U.S. Department of Agriculture in their corner, and that’s who funds the food stamp program. They feel that we can’t afford to be indifferent to the quality of the food. Access to fast food, with its often alarmingly high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar, should not be expanded for low income populations that are plagued by high rates of obesity and diabetes. And for those trapped in a sedentary lifestyle, like the elderly and disabled, these foods are especially insidious.

According to the Food Stamp Act of 1977:
It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, in order to promote the general welfare, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households.
Clearly, the policy is not referring to access to the KFC Double Down, but is it really better to go hungry?

 

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Cat-Pork, Latex-Fruit and other Cross-Allergies

image via BuzzNet

Hay fever sufferers should take a pass on the swiss chard and sunflower seeds. No celery sticks in the shade of a birch tree either. Skip the dill pickles if you react to latex, steer clear of tropical fruit if dust mites make you sneeze, and yes, pork and cat dander can be problematic.

These are all examples of cross-allergies (also known as Pollen-Food or Oral Allergy Syndrome), and like the recent rise of food allergies, they are becoming more common. About a third of seasonal allergy sufferers will cross-react to the wrong foods, but the number is closer to two-thirds if birch or alder pollen are your triggers.

Here’s how it works: the same chemicals that cause hay fever and other airborne allergies can also be found in some foods. There’s a whole grocery list of reactive foods, but the culprit is usually a raw fruit or vegetable that has the same protein as the airborne allergen. Eat the wrong food, and it sends the immune system into overdrive and triggers an allergic reaction. Instead of the sneezing and itchy eyes you get when you inhale the allergen, you’ll end up with a tingly mouth, hives, difficulty swallowing, or even anaphylaxis—all food allergy symptoms.

These are the most commonly occurring cross-allergies and their offending foods:

  • Dust/Dust Mites: mangos, shellfish, plums, melons, tomato, avocado, pawpaw, pineapple, peaches, and kiwis.
  • Latex: almonds, apples, bananas, kiwis, avocado, dill, oregano, ginger, and sage.
  • Birch/Alder Tree Pollen: celery, apples, apricots, cherries and other stone fruits, parsnips, buckwheat, caraway seeds, and coriander.
  • Hayfever (Ragweed/Grasses): cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, bananas, sunflower seeds, zucchini, cucumber, and chamomile tea.
  • Cat Dander: pork.

Some foods contain more of the troublesome proteins than others—peaches more than plums, apples more than pears. And there can be differences between varieties—Gala and Golden Delicious apples cause more allergic reactions than Braeburns, and Crenshaw melons are benign while cantaloupe and watermelon are powerful triggers.

Not every pollen produces cross-allergies; some trees like maple, oak and poplar, don’t share reaction-causing proteins with foods. Nor does having one of these allergies mean you’ll necessarily cross-react with any of the implicated foods. And, if you do react, you may not be allergic to every food on the list.

 

 

 

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Masquerading as Blueberries

Blue Man Group image via John Mottern

There are no blueberries in Betty Crocker Blueberry Muffins.
You won’t find any in Blueberry Pop-Tarts or Special K Blueberry Fruit Crisps either, and Total Pomegranate Blueberry Cereal is missing the blueberries and the pomegranate.

Instead of real blueberries, some manufacturers create little berry-shaped clumps of various sugars, starches, gums, and oils, and coat them with (often petroleum-based) blue food dye. They’re usually labeled as blueberry-flavored bits or particles. For its Blueberry Muffin Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal, Kellogg’s concocted an entirely new food classification, identified in the ingredient list as crunchlets.

The labels don’t lie.
Food marketers have gotten away with the blueberry bait-and-switch by complying with FDA nutrition labeling requirements. The box can be decorated with lush photography of plump berries, and the product’s name can trumpet berry goodness—it never needs to cross paths with an actual berry as long as the dirty details are all revealed in the fine print of the packaging.

The labels might not lie, but they sure do skirt the truth.
The consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest plans to put an end to these dishonest and deceptive practices. Attorneys from the CSPI have filed a complaint in federal court against General Mills, one of the biggest practitioners of this form of marketing. The complaint contends that General Mills misleads the public about the healthfulness of its products when it depicts fruits that they don’t contain, and in doing so, the company  violates various state laws governing deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices.

You can follow the lawsuit’s developments on the Center for Science in the Public Interest website.

The attorneys from the law firm Finkelstein Thompson are seeking public input from consumers who may have been misled by these products. If you purchased any products that you believed were made from real blueberries but actually contained derivatives or no blueberries, you can contact them about joining the class action—they expect potential plaintiffs to number in the millions.
[email to contact@finkelsteinthompson.com]

 

 

 

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Dirty Bathroom, Dirty Kitchen: a.k.a. The Potty Post

image via SwongzDesign

Talk about an appetite killer.
We’ve all been there. Literally. The dirty restaurant bathroom that makes us wonder about the kitchen. If they couldn’t be bothered to keep the bathroom clean…

A recent poll by Cintas, a provider of restroom supplies to the restaurant industry, found that 79% of respondents would avoid a restaurant if they knew the bathrooms were dirty. 88% of them agreed that the state of the restrooms says something about the kitchen’s hygiene, and 94% said if they personally encountered bathroom nastiness, they wouldn’t return.

Looking beyond the yuck factor
Clearly there’s spillover in our minds, but there is actually no hard data to support a connection between a dirty bathroom and a dirty kitchen. According to Douglas Powell, professor of food safety at Kansas State University and publisher of the BarfBlog, health inspectors will take note of the general state of a restaurant restroom and include impressions and any obvious violations in the report, but they don’t pull out the swabs and test kits like they do in the kitchen. Professor Powell is a big believer in the power of hand-washing to compensate for other inadequacies, and recommends that customers speak up if there’s no soap or hot water, or if they see slipshod washing by restaurant workers.

We rate the chefs, the ambiance, our favorite dishes; why not the bathrooms?
That’s the question asked by the developers of Bestroom, a new smartphone app that helps you find and rate restrooms in restaurants, Starbucks, and other public places.

Another start-up, although I’m not holding my breath for this IPO, is CLOO’. Short for community plus loo (with an apostrophe mark to represent a GPS marker), CLOO’ is a location-based social media app that gives you a private option when the public restroom is unacceptable or unavailable. CLOO’ searches through your social networks to locate potential, nearby hosts who, for a small fee, will allow you to drop by and relieve yourself in their bathrooms. The company calls this “turning a stranger’s loo into a friend of a friend’s loo;” what would you call it?

Cintas, the company behind the poll, gives an annual award for America’s Best Bathroom. Winners receive a plaque and a permanent spot in the Cintas Hall of Fame. Previous winners have been found in hotels and restaurants, a casino, a college, and the Fort Smith, Arkansas regional airport. This year’s nominees included an eco-friendly Brooklyn Cuban restaurant that flushes its toilets with reclaimed rainwater, a Las Vegas casino men’s room with urinals set into authentic, graffiti-covered sections of the Berlin Wall, and a Presidential porta-potty made for Barack Obama’s inauguration. You can find this year’s and past years’ winners at America’s Best Restroom Hall of Fame.

 

 

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New Uses for Microwaves

Happy microwave via Chazzyllama

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I’d cast my vote for convenience.

Take the microwave oven.
It’s entirely redundant in our kitchens. It does nothing more than duplicate cooking processes that are nearly always better-performed by other appliances. Yet every one of us has one. Why? Because it’s convenient. It’s quicker, easier, and usually requires less cleanup than other cooking methods.

Most of us use our microwaves to defrost, reheat, and boil water. But why stop there? With a little know-how, we can do so much more with our microwaves.

Make skinny potato chips: Lay thin potato slices in a single layer on a plate. Season (salt, pepper, vinegar- whatever you like). Microwave for about 5 minutes until they reach the desired point of brown and crispy done-ness.

Soften brown sugar: Microwave the package of brown sugar on high for 15-30 seconds. Voila!

Dry fresh herbs or grated citrus peels: Spread herbs or peels on a paper towel. Microwave for 1-2 minutes or until dried, stirring every 30 seconds. Cook another 1-2 minutes for thicker peels and herbs.

Freshen soggy peanuts: Spread in a baking dish and microwave, uncovered, on high for 3 minutes per cup. They’ll crisp up as they cool.

Make scratch chocolate pudding: Mix 1/3 c. cornstarch, 1/4 c. cocoa powder, 1/2 c. sugar, pinch of salt, and 2 1/4 c. milk. Cook for 2 minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir in 1 t. vanilla and 2 T. butter. Let stand for about 5 minutes until it’s pudding-thick.

Get twice as much juice from a lemon: Give it 30 seconds in the microwave and then roll it around a few times on the counter. Double juice.

Roast a whole head of garlic: Put a whole, unpeeled bulb of garlic on a paper towel. Microwave on high for 1 minute, turn it upside down and give it another minute. The soft, roasted cloves will squeeze right out.

Need some melted chocolate for a recipe? Snip the corner off of a bag of chips. Microwave for 20 seconds and knead the bag to mix. Keep repeating in 20 second increments (you’ll need a potholder as it heats up) until fully melted. Squeeze the chocolate out of the cut corner for a completely bowl-less, spoon-less experience.

Cook corn on the cob right in its husk: Put unshucked ears of corn on damp paper towel. You can microwave 4 or so at a time, adding a little under 2 minutes cooking time for each ear. Let the corn stand for 5 minutes before serving. The husks and silk will slip off easily.

Ripen an avocado: Microwave an avocado on medium for 2 minutes. Turn over, and microwave for 1 minute more.

Make a little cake in a mug: Coat the mug with nonstick spray. Add to the mug 4 T.  flour, 9 T. hot chocolate mix, and a pinch of salt. Give a stir and add an egg, 3 T. water, and 3 T. oil.  Mix it up well and microwave for 3 minutes. It will rise to alarming heights and then settle back into the mug. It’s not the best chocolate cake you ever tasted, but not-the-best is better than no chocolate cake.

Read Gigabiting’s Kitchen Hacks for many more kitchen shortcuts and helpful tips.

 

 


 

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The New Recyclables

image via Living, etc.

Yogurt containers into toothbrushes, Cheetos bags into CD cases.
While you were dutifully rinsing out tuna cans and bundling newspapers, recycling kept moving forward.

Specialized recyclers have sprung up to handle everything imaginable— or unimaginable in some cases: broken crayons, used dentures, old sports trophies, even sex toys. The kitchen is particularly fertile ground for recycling. Following are kitchen items that you’ll probably be surprised to learn are recyclable.

Hershey’s Kisses
Those little bitty foil wrappers sure add up. Around 80 million chocolate Hershey’s Kisses are wrapped every day. That’s enough aluminum foil to cover nearly 40 football fields. Instead of tossing it out, toss it into the bin with aluminum cans.

Corks
We like our chocolate and our wine. 13 billion natural wine corks are sold each year. Get mailing instructions or find a local cork drop-off location on the websites for recyclers ReCORK and  Yemm & Hart. Used corks can  find new life as placemats, shoe footbeds, flooring, and other building materials.

Cooking oil
I hope you know not to pour used cooking oil down the drain. It’s the number one cause of clogs, so clearly a lot of people are pouring it out. Whatever you’ve been doing,  you might be surprised to learn that your used oil can be recycled into biofuel. Check Earth911 for a nearby recycling location.

Packaging and more
Terracycle accepts the previously non-recyclable and turns them into products like clipboards and backpacks. Terracycle accepts:

  • Drink pouches (like Capri Sun) and single-brew coffee pouches (like Flavia)
  • Single-serve treat packaging (granola bars, cookie, gum, and candy bar wrappers)
  • Lunch kits (like Lunchables)
  • Chip bags
  • diapers
  • toothpaste tubes
  • small electronics

Produce stickers
Barry Snyder doesn’t recycle but will upcycle all those little stickers that come on supermarket produce, turning them into mosaic homages to well-known works of art. Visit Stickerman Produce Art to check out his work and for sticker shipping details.

Kitchen appliances
Remodeling a kitchen, or even just replacing the old toaster— use the Steel Recycling Institute’s location finder to pass along old appliances large and small.

If your unwanted items still have some life in them, get them into the hands of people who can use them. Sell them or offer them up as giveaways on Freecycle, Craigslist, Throwplace, and iReuse.com.


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Paying More, Getting Less: Your Incredible Shrinking Groceries

[image via Slow Poke Comics]

 Coming soon to a supermarket near you…

Two Musketeers candy bars, Demitasse-a-Soup, Product 18 cereal.
It’s not your imagination; your groceries really are shrinking. Everything but the prices.

Hellmanns’s mayonnaise, Skippy peanut butter, and Tropicana orange juice are among hundreds of national brands that have shrunk their packaging in recent months. An 8 oz. Dannon yogurt now weighs in at 6, while the 6 oz. Yoplait dropped to 4. Kellogg slimmed cereal boxes by an average of 2.4 oz., and Wrigley’s 17-stick PlenTPak is not so plenTiful at 15. Mission prefers to play a shell game with its tortillas, dropping 2 from the 10-pack, then adding 2 to the 8-pack and calling it a ‘bonus;’ kind of like the ‘extra’ hour we get for daylight savings time.

Portion reduction, short-sizing, eco-friendly packaging—whatever they want to call it, it’s just a way of flying under the radar with price increases.

At least a dozen eggs is still twelve.

We are losing our benchmarks. A pint of Häagen-Dazs is now 2 oz. shy of that measure, and the former half gallon carton of Dreyers or Breyers ice cream has taken two separate hits to get to the current 1.5 quart size. The old one pound can of Maxwell House or Folgers coffee now weighs in at around 12 oz., just like a supermarket bag of Starbucks beans, in case you thought you were getting a full pound. Some reductions are more troubling than others—it’s problematic when you can’t squeeze two decent sandwiches out of the smaller size can of Starkist tuna, while four fewer Double Stuf Oreos will hardly be missed.

It’s not that we begrudge the manufacturers their profit margins. They are feeling the squeeze, coping with the rising cost of ingredients plus high fuel prices. Holding the line on supermarket pricing through down-sized packaging can make the product more attractive to budget shoppers. What irks is the disingenuousness; the sense that the manufacturers are pulling a fast one when they tout their new ‘value-added redesign,’ or ‘slim-ship enviro-packaging.’

As the frequently resized Alice said to the Wonderland caterpillar:
I’m not particular as to size, only one doesn’t like changing so often, you know.

The shoppers’ advocacy site The Consumerist will keep you up to date on shrinking grocery items with its regular feature, Grocery Shrink Ray.

 

 

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5 Foods for Senior Moments

[image via R2 Thoughts 4 You]

We’re having a national senior moment.

Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are a demographic time bomb. Making up nearly one-third of the population, they’ve reached the age of memory loss, slowed reflexes, and synaptic glitches. That’s 75 million boomers that can’t remember what they went upstairs for.

Brain foods really work.
In the same way that a low cholesterol diet can keep plaque from forming in arteries, there are foods that can keep plaque from forming in your brain. You can unclog your cognitive functions just like you can unclog your arteries.

There are also foods that can sharpen your focus and concentration, enhance your memory, and speed your reaction times. Add them to your diet early enough and you can stave off cognitive decline later in life.

Here are five foods that can make a real difference; if you’re one of those baby boomers, maybe you should write them down.

http://yourbarcelonaguide.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/salmon-steak12_-_resize_large.jpg Nothing preserves cognitive ability like wild salmon. That’s right, wild— not just any salmon will do. Farmed salmon doesn’t develop the same quality or level of essential fatty acids that make wild salmon the ultimate brain food.

http://www.pachd.com/free-images/food-images/matcha-green-tea-01.jpg Just like the wild variety is souped-up salmon, matcha is high-test green tea. Matcha is a type of Japanese green tea that’s ground into a powder. Instead of drinking an extract, like what you get when tea leaves are brewed, you consume the whole thing dissolved into the beverage. The brain buzz of focus and clarity is exponentially greater, and immediately noticeable. And the Kermit-green shade? That’s how it’s supposed to look.

http://www.fitnessgurusam.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/energy-coffee-and-sugar.jpg The brain boost from caffeine or sugar is short-lived but real. They both can make you alert and focused. Too much sugar, though, can actually interfere with your memory.

http://www.blackdiamonduniversity.com/images/monavie-training/product/acai-in-basket.jpg The acai berry is this year’s pomegranate; the ‘it’ fruit that is showing up everywhere, blended into smoothies and dressings, flavoring teas, juices, and sodas. Oddly, for a fruit, its nutritional profile resembles that of wild salmon, high in protein and the essential fatty acids our brains desire.

http://www.cheftools.com/images/13-0938-180.jpg The newest brain food discovery is turmeric. Turmeric is a mildly-flavored, deep yellow spice that is always found in curry powder, and is often used as a less costly alternative to saffron. It is such a powerful brain plaque-remover that it’s being tested as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

 

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Modernist Thanksgiving, Anyone?

Modernist cuisine is one of the glories of the 21st Century.
By borrowing from the laboratory, pioneering chefs have blown through the established boundaries of cooking, upending centuries of culinary tradition. They’ve refined and deepened our understanding of techniques and ingredients, astounding us with new and intensified flavors and textures. But can we please keep it out of the kitchen on Thanksgiving?

You don’t want to mess with Thanksgiving.
It’s our most traditional and food-centric holiday. For most families, the food traditions are inviolable—swap out the creamed onions for butternut squash and you’ll never hear the end of it from someone claiming to wait all year for those damned onions.

Call me old-fashioned, but I want my gravy thickened with roux rather than hydrocolloids, and please hold the alginate spherification when you cook my cranberries. This is not a day when my senses should be stunned.

Trading cast iron pans for the rotor-stator homogenizer
The modernist Thanksgiving kitchen is a sterile, precise environment. Cooking is reduced to the often soundless, odorless elements of physics and chemistry. Vacuum-sealed bags of deconstructed turkey swim silently in their sous-vide bath, and the beep of a digital touch pad signals the centrifuge cycle of the sweet potatoes. You’re not just hands-off;  you’re in protective gear.

Gone is the cacophony of rattling pans, the sizzle of fat, and the tangle of smells that fill the house. Gone too is the romance of cooking—the creative imprecision of a dash of this and a splash of that; the blast of heat when you open the oven door to baste the turkey; the hand-cramping satisfaction of mashing an enormous pot of potatoes into submission.

On November 25th, let’s put away the autoclaves and cryo-guns, and bring on the tradition.

Read about the ground-breaking text Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, in Gigabiting’s The Biggest, Greatest, Most Revolutionary Cookbook Ever. No kidding.

 

 

Posted in Science/Technology, Thanksgiving | Tagged , , | 2 Comments
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