food knowledge

How to Survive the Imminent Global Kale Shortage

Got Kale? t-shirt available on Amazon

Got Kale? t-shirt available via Amazon

 

This time the threat of a kale famine is real.
Back in April we heard about a kale-specific, spray-resistant superbug. The devastating pest was rumored to have piggybacked on a Whole Foods delivery where it spread from Berkeley backyards to the rooftop farms of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We only relaxed when we noticed that the news broke on April 1st—it proved to be merely a clever April Fools Day prank from the editors over at BonAppétit.com.

Now we have top agricultural suppliers reporting that they’re running out of kale seeds, and it’s no joke. Seed breeders are tapped out and need about ninety days to replenish their stocks. The shortage will be felt first by farmers who will go three months with no new kale seedlings, and then this fall it will start to ripple through the food supply.

We have only ourselves to blame. 
A few short years ago, Pizza Hut was the single largest consumer of kale in the U.S., and they weren’t even serving it; it was treated as an inedible garnish used to decorate their salad bars. Today kale is on the menu of any restaurant worth its hand-harvested fleur de sel, and food manufacturers are tossing it into soups, chips, soft drinks, and even popsicles. In 2013, kale became so ubiquitous in the trendy quarters of Brooklyn that the New York Times proposed it as the borough’s official vegetable, and 257 sets of parents brought a bouncing baby boy named Kale home from the hospital. 

Kale is a true ‘superfood.’
It’s a low calorie, nutrient dense, brain-boosting, heart healthy, do-no-wrong vegetable. But it’s not the only one; it just seems to be the one with the best PR. The coming scarcity has food media and agri-prognosticators prowling farmers markets and produce aisles for another long-neglected root or tuber or leafy green that can be plucked from obscurity and readied for its close-up.

Grist is pulling for kelp.
Kelp is an extraordinary source of a iodine, an essential nutrient that’s missing from most every other food, and seaweed farms don’t use up resources like land or fresh  water.

NBC’s Today Show recently plugged amaranth. 
The health food crowd already knows that the seeds make for a potent grain; less well known are amaranth greens which are rich in iron, protein, and calcium.

Modern Farmer thinks we can learn to love prickly pear cactus.
It already grows like a weed in arid regions of the west and southwest and is loaded with vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. Early studies also suggest that it can cure hangovers and may be an effective treatment for diabetes.

Zagat asks “Are Carrots the New Kale?”
Its many aggregated reviews point to a growing fan base among chefs and diners alike.

Prevention Magazine has high hopes for kalettes.
It’s a new hybrid vegetable that’s a cross between brussels sprouts and kale, and you’ll be seeing it everywhere by this winter. The combination takes kale’s potency down a notch, but there’s still plenty of powerful nutrition in the kalettes, and the little frilly little sprouts are more cook-friendly than big, unruly heads of kale.

There’s plenty of room at the table for another kale-like superfood.
The kale apocalypse is coming, but America’s next vegetable sweetheart is out there somewhere.

 

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Pizza-nomics

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There are three prices every true New Yorker tracks: rent, subway fare, and the price of a slice of pizza.
Rents are famously crazy, but pizza and subway rides are stabilized by an economic axiom known as the New York Pizza PrincipleThrough a strange and delicate interplay of metropolitan financial markets, the cost of a subway ride has always run parallel to the price of a slice of pizza.

Comparing apples and oranges seems easy next to pizza and subway rides.
To an outsider, the relationship might seem arbitrary, but not to a New Yorker. The city’s subway system and its pizza are both essential institutions that touch nearly all of New York’s citizens.

This economic law has held with remarkable precision since 1964, when either one could be had for 15 cents.
Price increases have moved in lockstep ever since. The parallel is all the more uncanny when you consider the intervening decades of transportation and street food turbulence. State transit subsidies and deficits have come and gone for the New York City subway system, and pizza parlors have battled low-carb diets, the gluten-free craze, and a food truck invasion. Yet somehow, all the capital costs, union contracts, and passenger miles add up to the ingredient costs of flour, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.

The Pizza Principle suggests that New York City residents should be bracing for a fare hike from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
According to Zagat’s Pizza Week survey, the average regional price of a slice is $2.96 while a single ride on the subway is lagging at just $2.50. Similar pizza price 
inflation has preceded every single subway fare adjustment since these things have been tracked.

New Yorkers looking for a bargain can use Cheazza, an app that hunts down cheap slices around town.

Wherever you are, he number-crunching app Pizza Slice Price lets you compare prices of slices, topping, and whole pies so you can find the best deal. 

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Great Moments in Bottled Water History

Some of us are old enough to think of bottled water as a recent phenomenon. We remember a time when water was something drunk straight from the tap, and we marvel at the $12 billion that’s now spent annually on this country’s bottled water habit. Here are some special moments from the decades-long journey, courtesy of the bottled water industry.

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It’s the little green bottle that conquered America. So chic, so French, Perrier was introduced to this country in 1976, ushering in the modern era of bottled water.

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Evian, another French spring water, comes to the U.S. in 1978, marketed as a luxury brand with a premium price tag. The ah ha moment with the name comes soon after.

Aquafina

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Truly a Great Moment in Bottled Water History, PepsiCo begins a national rollout of Aquafina in 1994. Labeled with snow-capped mountains and the tagline Pure Water, Perfect Taste,” the bottles are filled with regular tap water that’s been filtered and purified. Aquafina goes on to become America’s top-selling brand of bottled water.

More of that American exceptionalism is on display as The Coca-Cola Company offers up Dasani, its own brand of processed tap water to compete with rival PepsiCo.

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Coca-Cola campaigns to reduce what it calls “tap water incidence.” In 2000, the company launches the H20No website (since removed) instructing restaurants workers in the art of upselling bottled beverages, and tried again in 2010 with a program called Cap the Tap.

In 2001, PepsiCo names a new division president of U.S. Beverages. She promises Wall Street that “When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.”

 

brighthouse-concorse-mapAn undeniably Great Moment in Bottled Water History took place on September 15, 2007. It was also a big day for the 45,000 fans of University of Central Florida football who were attending the first home game in the school’s long-awaited and just completed stadium. Under the clear skies and 90°+ temperatures of a central Florida autumn, 78 people were treated for heat-related illnesses, 18 requiring hospitalization, as over-heated fans learned that their new $54 million stadium had been built without a single drinking water fountain.

 

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After 4 billion or so years on Earth, water is finally declared ‘organic’ in 2011. Never mind that water is an inherently inorganic substance—it’s not alive and never was—Welsh bottler Llanllyr even claims extra purity because not only are their fields certified organic, but nuns have lived above the source for centuries. 

 

bolt-980x462PepsiCo tags water as the enemy in 2012′s brand-integrated mobile game, Bolt!. Treacherous water droplets hinder the progress of Olympic star Usain Bolt as he maneuvers through the popular game. Only Gatorade can help him win the race.

 

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In June, 2014, Los Angeles restaurant worker Mark Riese becomes the first ‘water sommelier’ on national television when he’s a guest on Conan O’Brian’s late night talk show.

 

The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer market for bottled water. We buy 31 gallons for every person in America; that means we drink more bottled water than beer, milk, or fruit drinks—more than every other beverage except soda. We continue to make history.

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Lard Ass? Why, Thank You!

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

Saturated fat is back.
2014 will be the third consecutive year that Americans purchased more butter than margarine. We’re up to an average of 23 sticks of butter a year—a 40 year high but still a far cry from the 72-stick average of America in the 1920′s.

Butter’s decline can be traced to wartime shortages in the 1940′s. Margarine stepped into the void, bolstered by patriotism and specious advertising. It had already surpassed butter when the 1970′s brought a new barrage of health claims and anti-butter propaganda that bolstered margarine’s reputation and guaranteed its reign for four more decades.

Today we have a complete reversal in both nutritional science and consumer preferences.
The myth of fat-clogged arteries has been exploded, and Americans have a ferocious appetite for natural foods. Margarine has regained its pre-war identity as a cheap, generally disreputable product of inferior quality and flavor, and butter is back on top. But butter is not the only great fat that’s been misunderstood.

The health and dining trends that gave a boost to butter have also set the stage for a lard comeback.
Lard has spent decades in the culinary cellar. All animal fats got a bad rap, but lard was especially vilified. We recoiled from its fat profile, flinging epithets like lard ass and tub of lard. In fact, by any estimation, lard is a healthier fat than butter. It’s lower in saturated fat (40% to butter’s 60%), and it’s higher in the monounsaturated fats that seem to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL), and raise the good (HDL).

Lard’s flavor is completely neutral–not even a hint of pig–but oh, what it can do for food.
Deep fry with lard and your potatoes will be airy with a golden shatter; fried chicken emerges with a crunch that belies its perfectly moist interior. Lard-cooked beans and vegetables caress your mouth like velvet; tortillas are wondrously supple. Lard brings a surprising lightness to baked goods. Cookies have a crisp delicacy, and its contribution to the structure and texture of pie crusts is legendary.

Sometimes the right food arrives on the scene at just the right time. It’s looking like this is lard’s moment. 

 

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Let’s All Play the “Would You Rather” Game

 

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It’s a party game, a conversation starter, and an internet meme.
It poses a dilemma in the form of a question.
Would you rather give up the internet or lose your sense of taste?
Would you rather sweat mayonnaise or have Cheetos dust permanently stuck to your fingers?

The game can be fantastical or mean-spirited. It can show a path to self-improvement or contain a veritable Sophie’s choice of unbearable options. A good round of “Would You Rather” should make you laugh, and cringe, and think. 
Would you rather speak every language fluently or be able to communicate with animals? 
Would you rather h
ave legs the size of fingers or fingers the size of legs?

The chicken-or-beef version of the game goes a little something like this:

Would you rather consume carcinogenic heavy metal arsenic or a hormone-interrupting anabolic steroid?
The FDA withdrew its approvals for most forms of arsenic-laced chicken feed in 2013, but a new study from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) found the poison still showing up in 55% of supermarket samples and 100% of fast food samples.
The growth-promoting steroids are given to virtually every single conventionally-raised beef and dairy cow—at least in this country. The practice has been banned for years in much of the world.

Would you rather condemn a chicken to a lifetime in a cage of less than a square foot or a cow to be castrated without anesthesia or pain relief?

Would you rather get salmonella from a chicken farmer or E.coli from a beef processor?
It’s perfectly legal for farmers to ship out salmonella-contaminated chicken. E. coli. requires a bit more patience. It’s found in the intestinal tracts of cattle and isn’t usually transferred to the meat until cutting, grinding, and packaging.

Would you rather eat chickens that eat slaughterhouse remains or cows that eat poultry waste?
Factory production of chicken and beef is a continuous system of waste into food into waste into food… A single cow can eat as much as three tons of poultry waste in a year before its waste circulates back to the chickens.

That last one was a trick question.
Since cow and chicken by-products keep circulating  between facilities, when you eat one you’re really eating both.
And here’s another trick question. The trick this time is that neither option is a good answer.
Would you rather eat conventionally-raised chicken or conventionally-raised beef?

 

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If You Only Get One Fart App

Mr. Nice Hands

Mr. Nice Hands

 

Go on, search for fart app.
You’ll be stunned by what you find (assuming you’re not a 9-year old boy and this is a first for that particular search term). At last count the App Store was offering 1,068. There’s iFart, U-Fart, and Who Farted?? There are motion-detecting fart apps, random fart generators, and apps that let you compose melodies with a farting orchestra. Even Google Glass has its own GlassFart app.

Flatulence humor is universal and timeless. It’s a frequent comedic device in the ancient plays of Aristophanes, and one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is basically an extended fart joke. Modern humorists from Mel Brooks to the South Park guys to Louis C.K. have all mined the comedy gold of wind breaking. With fart app technology, the mobile engineering brain trust is leveraging the applied science of accelerometers, GPS, bluetooth, and digital audio loops to give us the 21st century whoopie cushion. 

Amid the juvenilia of apps like SimonSaysFart, the FartHarmonica, and BunnyFarts (available in StinkyWinky or SmellyMelly editions), one app stands out by creating a teaching moment with the appeal of scatological humor. Fart Code scans the barcode of any food label to identify the farty ingredients within. The app’s fartometer determines the gas-producing potential; benign foods get the all-clear signal, while active ingredients produce fart noises and vibrations emulating the appropriate digestive response ranked on a scale from stinky to toxic. If you are a 9-year old boy, you can share a link to your fart with your social network. The rest of us might just take it as actionable data for menu planning.

 

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Oh, The Things You Can Do with Marshmallows

Imagine a world without marshmallows. 
It would be a world without Moon Pies, Mallomars, or Rocky Road ice cream. No Peeps, no fluffernutters, no more s’mores. Rice Krispies would be strictly a breakfast food, never a treat. Yams would be a lot less candied, and Lucky Charms would be just a bowl of frosted oat bits. Who’d be lucky then? Certainly not us.

For too long we’ve been taking marshmallows for granted.
And we’re not just overlooking them in the kitchen. Marshmallows are good for much more. So much more.

The Marshmallow Pedicure
Who needs cotton balls or those sponge foam toe separators when there are marshmallows about? A marshmallow between each toe makes polishing nails a breeze.

Marshmallow Rx 
Long before it was a candy, marshmallow was a medicine. The gel-like juice of the marshmallow shrub coats and soothes inflamed throats, and improves coughs by encouraging the loosening of mucus. In clinical trials, marshmallow was shown to be more effective than two out of three commonly used cough syrups.
Marshmallow similarly coats the lining of the esophagus and stomach. It shields them from the effects of stomach acid, making it a remedy for acid reflux, heartburn, and ulcers. And you can apply marshmallow salve to your skin to repair stretch marks, heal cold sores, and draw bacteria and fluids out of abscesses.

Marshmallow Candleholder
Protect your birthday cake from the unsightly and inedible trickle of candle wax. Stick the candles in marshmallows first and you’ll avoid picking wax out of frosting later.

No More Leaky Cones
Don’t you hate it when the point of an ice cream cone leaks melty ice cream? Place a marshmallow in the bottom of the cone before you add the ice cream, and you’ll be drip-free.

 

marshmallowbrownsugarSoften Brown Sugar
Brown sugar seems to harden overnight. One day it pours and the next it’s a solid clump. Add a few marshmallows to the opened bag or box and they’ll absorb the excess moisture that causes the granules to clump.

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Marshmallow Glue
It’s like culinary duct tape. Melt a few marshmallows and it becomes edible glue for all your baking fixes. It’s what wedding cake bakers use to fix cracks, bond together cake tiers, and keep the little bride and groom cake toppers from tipping over.

Not too shabby for nothing more than sugar and air.

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Will Fast Food Ruin the Bánh Mì ?

image via Willamette Week

image via Willamette Week

 

The buzz on Bánh Mì is that it’s going to be the next big thing in fast food.
The time is right for these French bread-Vietnamese sandwiches, which some believe will become as much a part of the lunchtime vernacular as the sub or the wrap.

French bread was introduced to Vietnam in the late 18th century when the country fell under French colonial rule. Bánh mì (pronounced bun mee) began as the traditional, minimalistic Parisian sandwich of butter and ham or pâté on a baguette. When the French departed in the 1950′s, the Vietnamese kept the baguettes and liberated the bánh mì sandwiches from their colonial origins, replacing the butter with mayonnaise and perking up the meat fillings with native ingredients like fresh and vinegared vegetables, hot peppers, and cilantro.

The new classic bánh mì starts with a Viet-style French baguette. Usually made with some combination of white, wheat, and rice flours, it’s narrow and airy, more crackly crust than anything else. Colonial era holdovers like cold cuts and pâté can still be found, but most are filled with lemongrass-grilled or roasted pork, tofu, or chicken. There are always carrot and radish pickles, sliced jalapeño peppers, cilantro sprigs, fresh cucumbers, and a smear of mayonnaise. A properly-made bánh mì contains elements of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, creamy, and crunchy.

Americans were introduced to bánh mì when Vietnamese refugees arrived in the late 1970’s following the Vietnam War. Small bakeries were producing bánh mì for their communities, where they were first discovered by restaurant workers who appreciated the vivid flavors, startling textures, and low prices. Modern cooks pushed the boundaries of what was already a cultural and culinary mash-up, swapping out the traditional meat fillings for meatballs, bacon, American-style pulled pork, and hot dogs. They’re making breakfast bánh mì and bánh mì sliders, and adding contemporary garnishes like kale, arugula, Sriracha, and aioli.

Much of what you find today is little more than Asian-accented ingredients on a French baguette, which is precisely why the fast food world is showing interest. Today’s bánh mì hints at exoticism while remaining familiar enough not to scare anyone. The Chipotle chain has already stuck its toe in the bánh mì waters with its pan-Asian ShopHouse concept, but the real game-changer came with this week’s announcement that Yum! Brands, the parent company of Taco BellKFC, and so much more, is diving in. God help us, the people who peddle waffle tacos and pizza nibbles with ranch dressing dip are giving the Yum! treatment to Vietnamese sandwiches.
The Saigon import turned insider secret could soon be just another fast food fixture, served up on a value menu with a 16 ounce Pepsi and a side of fries.

You can find the real deal in your town with the international bánh mì directory from Battle of the Bánh Mì.

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You’ll Be Gone Long Before These Foods

This is not about Twinkies.
Or Christmas fruitcake, circa 2004. Or leftovers that wear out their welcome.

Forget what you think you know about spoilage, shelf-life, and expiration dates.
This is a list of foods that never go bad. You don’t toss them when you clean out the pantry, remodel your kitchen, or move to another city.
You’ll be long gone, but that box of brown sugar will live on.

The sweeteners

 

White, brown, or powdered, sugar never goes bad. Bacteria can’t feed on sugar, so it will never spoil. Corn syrup is also a keeper, but we’re not fans of the stuff. Honey, with its own antibacterial properties, has been famous for its longevity ever since centuries-old honey pots were unearthed from ancient Egyptian tombs, and found to be perfectly edible. Maple syrup has a surprisingly limited shelf life of just a year or so, but who knew you could freeze maple syrup indefinitely?!

 

The carbs

Unless you’re wild about gravy, that tin of cornstarch could be the last one you’ll ever buy, since it never goes bad. All of the white rice varieties, like jasmine, arborio, and basmati, will keep forever; the higher oil content of brown rice makes those varieties prone to spoilage. Wild rice is another food that will outlast you, even though it’s not a rice at all, but is an edible grass.

 

The condiments

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Salt—kosher, iodized, from the sea, or chiseled from mines—it never goes bad. Its resistance to bacterial growth makes it handy as a preservative for other foods. Like salt, vinegar is also used to extend the shelf life of other foods, and is, in a pure state without added flavorings, eternally self-preserving. Vanilla (the extract, not the beans) doesn’t just last forever; it actually improves with age. The cheaper, artificial extract is no bargain when you consider the cost to replace it every few years when its flavor fades. Spring for the good stuff and your grandchildren will still be baking with it.

Heat, light, moisture, air, and pests; these are the enemies. Keep them away from your pantry, and you can keep these foods forever.

When in doubt, check with the keep it or toss it query bar at Still Tasty.

 

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The Curious Popularity of Tomato Juice on Airplanes

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Tomato juice rules the skies.
The terrestrial market is all about orange, apple, and cranberry, but when that beverage cart rolls through the airplane aisle, tomato juice reigns supreme. About a quarter of the passengers on most flights will choose it, and a quarter of them say they never, ever drink it on land.

Over the years there’ve been many attempts to explain this curious phenomenon.
It’s been theorized that airline passengers choose tomato juice for its nutritional profile; it’s more filling than most soft drinks and it’s loaded with vitamin C, giving it a prophylactic effect against the germ-laden recycled air of an airplane cabin. Others hypothesize that the sense of dislocation and limbo of air travel can embolden us to deviate from routine behaviors, or just make us more susceptible to the domino effect when the guy in 12D orders a glass.
Finally, science has given us the answer.

It’s a matter of physics.
Lufthansa Airlines commissioned a study by 
The Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics that revealed the ways in which the sense of taste loses its bearings in an airline cabin. Airplanes deliberately maintain low humidity levels to prevent corrosion in the fuselage, so even before a plane takes off, the the nostrils dry out, impairing the sense of smell. As the plane begins to ascend, the changing air pressure numbs the taste buds, and by the time a cruising altitude is reached, more than a third of them are missing in action. Fruit flavors will taste about the same but salt, sugar, herbs, and acids are all muted.

To most people’s taste, tomato juice improves at higher altitudes.
While still grounded, test subjects in the Lufthansa study overwhelmingly reported undesirable attributes when they tasted tomato juice. ‘Musty’, ‘earthy’, and ‘sour smelling’ were common descriptors. But when altitudes above 10,000 feet were simulated, those same respondents described the same juice as ‘sweet’, ‘refreshing’, and ‘pleasantly fruity in its aroma.’ Ginger ale is another tart beverage that appeals to cotton-mouthed fliers, while cola and lemon-lime soft drinks lose the acid tang that makes them so popular at sea level. Tea suffers most because the low air pressure reduces the boiling point of water and flavors aren’t properly extracted.

See the high altitude effect for yourself. Order a tomato juice the next time you’re strapped in at 30,000 feet and the beverage cart rolls your way. At least until free soft drinks go the way of checked bags, blankets, and lunch trays.

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Where There’s Smoke There’s…. Ice Cream?

ln2icecream

 

Liquid nitrogen ice cream has moved out of the modernist chef’s kitchen and into mall kiosks and neighborhood scoop shops.
You’ll find it in a bunch of new-fangled old-fashioned ice cream parlors with names like Chill’N, Sub Zero, and Nitrogenie. The fad is moving into high gear this summer with hundreds of new franchisees, so if you haven’t seen it yet, sit tight for a few months and you will.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is where a high school chemistry lab crosses paths with performance art and dessert.
Mixers are tricked out with gas tanks that instantly freeze the ice cream base. Steamy clouds billow about the mixing bowl as the -320°F gas hits the liquid ingredients. Oohs and aahs ensue, and in a few seconds when the vapors subside the ice cream is ready.

It’s not just schtick. 
Traditional ice cream makers use a two-step freezing processing: there’s a quick super-cooling blast freeze and then the semi-solid product is sent to a commercial freezer to harden. It’s this second step, when the water content freezes into ice crystals, that puts the ice in ice cream. The quick freeze of liquid nitrogen inhibits the formation of ice crystals. It makes the smoothest, creamiest ice cream you’ve ever tasted.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is free of emulsifiers and stabilizers.
Additives like guar gum, xanthan gum, and carrageenan are familiar to you if you’ve ever read the side of a commercially produced ice cream carton. These are added to improve ice cream’s structure and keep the growth rate of ice crystals to an acceptable level. And the oily extracts like monoglycerides, diglycerides, and polysorbate 80 are there to add smoothness. 

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is made on the spot and meant to be eaten on the spot.
You see exactly what goes into it and usually it’s nothing more than milk, cream, and flavorings, with each serving made to order.

Kids, don’t try this at home.
Liquid nitrogen is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and with proper handling it’s perfectly safe to eat. The ice cream makers like to remind us that it’s a natural element that makes up 75% of the air we breathe. But it’s also used for cattle branding and to freeze off warts. Stick your finger in it and it will freeze and crack off; eat some that’s not fully vaporized and your stomach can explode. Liquid nitrogen ice cream is one of those foods that’s best left to the professionals.

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We Hear the Crisp and Taste the Crunch

 

image via the Loud Food Club

image via the Loud Food Club

 

Sometimes we eat with our ears.
So say the food scientists. They contend that crispy and crunchy are two different sensations. One we sense with our mouths and the other with our ears.

Naturally, they looked to the ultimate crispy and crunchy food: the potato chip.
It’s just potato, hot fat, and salt, but together they make sensory magic. When we eat potato chips we hear the crunch, but we’re really sensing it in our mouths. When it comes to their crispness, even though it’s bound up with the crunch, we’re assessing it with our ears.

Pringles. The favorite chip of the scientific community.
Researchers love the unnatural uniformity of Pringles with their low level variances. It’s what made them an ideal test material for a team of Oxford University scientists who designed a chip mastication study to confirm the link between sound sensation and taste perception. Chip-eating test subjects were outfitted with microphones and headphones to capture and deliver the sounds. When the sound level was amplified, the potato chips were perceived as both crisper and fresher. Fresh or stale, crunchy or soggy, the subjects happily chomped away, as long as the auditory cues continued to suggest freshness.

In the first study the test subjects enjoyed stale chips that sounded fresh; in a second study they rejected fresh chips when they didn’t hear the crispness. This time the Oxford chip-eaters ate Pringles while wearing sound-blocking headphones. Without an auditory cue they quickly lost interest in the Pringles no matter how fresh and crunchy they tasted.

Crunching the numbers.
Potato chips are a $6 billion business in the U.S. That big chip business means that serious research dollars flow to the community of food scientists in the quest for the perfect crunch. Engineers employ signal analyzers to measure the sound frequencies of airborne crunches (the chew you can hear from across the room) and artificial mouths(?!) to gauge the mechanics of something they call oral residence—the combination of teeth time and tongue compressions. They regulate chewing with metronomes to perform frequency-time studies of mastication, and study chip eating among different ethnic groups to determine if there is a genetic or cultural component to the range of crispy/crunchy sensory perceptions.

It’s all about that first chip out of the bag.
Pristinely crisp with a crunch that is unsullied by time or ambient humidity, it’s clearly both a gustatory and an auditory pleasure. With all the chip analysis and quantification of sensory inputs, we can only hope that the snack industry can crack the code, and someday every potato chip will be as satisfying as the first one out of the bag.

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It’s Better for You When it Tastes Better

happy couple via Man/Beer Love

happy couple via Man/Beer Love

 

Guacamole with salsa, tomatoes with olive oil, tea with lemon: they’re the power couples of food. 
They taste better when they’re eaten together, and they’re also better for you. One plus one does not always equal two when it comes to food pairings—certain foods eaten in combination can make the sum of a meal healthier than the individual ingredients. The fatty acids in guacamole make you absorb five times more of the healthy beta-carotene and lycopene found in salsa; olive oil pulls key carotenoids from the tomato skins; and the vitamin C in lemons increases the absorption of tea’s natural antioxidants.

Ceasar salad is another naturally synergistic combination. Olive oil and a bit of cheese boost the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients found in romaine lettuce—and it has to be a full fat dressing to work (how’s that for good news?!). Sushi is a good-for-you pairing because the vinegar used in the rice neutralizes much of the glycemic impact of the carbs; you’ll feel fuller longer without the spike and plummet of your blood sugar levels. And sauerkraut has a natural affinity for hot dogs where it improve the absorption of animal proteins and bolsters digestion-friendly probiotics.

It’s no coincidence that those foods taste so good together. 
It seems that nature has arranged things so that many of our favorite complementary flavors are also the best for us. As subjective as taste can be, food scientists and science-minded chefs know that when foods are compatible on the plate, there’s chemical compatibility at a molecular level, and that synergy can translate to higher quality nutrition.

Here are some other high-impact food pairings that we crave naturally:

  • Rosemary + Steak: The acids in rosemary prevent the formation of carcinogens on grilled meats.
  • Eggs + Cheese: The vitamin D in eggs optimizes the absorption of calcium from the cheese.
  • Beer + Nuts: A beer or two plus a handful of nuts can reduce your risk of heart attack.
  • Spinach + Lemon: You’ll absorb six times as much iron from the spinach.
  • Garbanzos + Beet Greens: The vitamins in the beans maximize magnesium absorption from the greens, and we could all use a little extra magnesium; the mineral is responsible for modulating anxiety levels, and nearly three-quarters of us are depleted.
  • Orange Juice + Oatmeal: The real breakfast of champions, the combination doubles the artery-cleansing powers of either on its own.

You’ll find more power food strategies in Web MD’s Top 10 Food Synergy Super Foods.

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Supergrain of the Future or Dickensian Gruel: The Internet Ponders Quinoa

olivertwist

Please Sir, can I have some more quinoa?

 

MarchQuinoaIn just a few short years quinoa has gone from subsistence staple of the rural poor of Bolivia, to health food store curiosity, to global success. Along the way it’s made friends (a Superfood with a capital ‘S’!), galvanized detractors (The Wall Street Journal recently collated the rancor and called it a backlash), and courted controversy (our appetite for quinoa has priced the crop beyond the means of indigenous farming communities where one in five Bolivian children suffers from chronic malnutrition).

Quinoa is not exactly winning fans for its taste (blandly earthy) or its texture (oatmeal gone wrong), but its nutritional profile makes a compelling argument. It’s more of a seed than a true grain, so it’s higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than a typical grain, but lower in fat and calories than typical nuts and seeds. It’s one of the only plant-based foods that’s a complete protein, it’s loaded with all the essential amino acids, it has no cholesterol, and it’s gluten-free. It’s a bit much to expect it to taste like a cronut.

Still further proof of Quinoa’s global domination:
Quinoa is March’s Whole Grain of the Month, walking in the footsteps of carbohydrate giants like oats and barley. We had to weather millet and teff month, and amaranth seemed to drag on forever, but finally it’s quinoa’s turn. As you gather the family ’round the quinoa rinsing colander (please tell me you’re rinsing) we turn to the many voices of the internet as they toast and roast this plucky newcomer.

quinoa

 

 

Spoofing all things trendy, the Pinterest board My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter chronicles the fabulous life and painfully stylish wardrobe of little Quinoa and her playmates Chevron, Vyvanse, and Crostini.

astronautmeal

 

 

 

NASA was appropriately lightyears ahead of the curve when, 20 years ago, the space agency explored quinoa’s potential as a candidate crop for Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems, in other words, as an in-flight snack. Declaring it a near-perfect food, virtually unrivaled in the plant or animal kingdom for its life-sustaining nutrients, it’s become a pantry staple in the space shuttle galley.

 

A visual guide to eating quinoa:

do not eat

do not eat

eat

eat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David-Lynch-Cooking-Video

 

Filmmaker David Lynch shares inexplicably moody atmospherics and cooking tips in his signature style in the video David Lynch cooks quinoa.

 

50shades quinoa

 

 

 

Of course someone’s written 50 Shades of Quinoa. Was it ever in doubt?

 

 

glutenfreematzoBut is it kosher? Observant Jews rejoiced to see a new face at the seder table after several thousand years of the same old Passover dinner. Even though some quinoa packaging carries the ‘kosher for Passover’ label, The Orthodox Union has not officially given its blessing. As yet, no rabbi has made the trek to the remote growing area high in the mountain region of Bolivia for the necessary inspections.
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Money to Spend and a Full Set of Teeth: Eating with the Baby Boom Generation

tabasco bottle

 

Baby boomers are rekindling the fire in their bellies, and it’s changing the way America eats.
Take a quick stroll down any supermarket aisle and you’ll see how manufacturers are amping up the flavors with mintier chewing gum, darker chocolates, fruitier juice drinks, and spicier chips.  Iceberg lettuce has given way to arugula, mayonnaise to garlic aioli, yellow mustard to dijon.

Why is hot so hot?
Some of the new-found love of big and bold tastes come from societal changes that have broadened America’s definition of the mainstream. Immigrant populations have introduced complex, high-octane flavors like wasabi, chili-lime, and ancho and chipotle peppers. As a nation, we travel more, eat out often, and have a slew of new food media that have informed the tastes of recent generations.

Food scientists and marketers acknowledge the immigrant influence, but they point to another demographic shift. 
The baby boom generation is getting old. Some time around age 40, the nerve receptors in the nose and tongue begin to diminish in number and sensitivity. Smells are muted and flavors are less distinct. That means that 80 million boomers are demanding that flavors be torqued so they can recapture the taste sensations of their younger days.

Unlike previous generations, the baby boomers have reached middle age with their teeth intact, broadened appetites, and the wealth to indulge the demands of their tastebuds. They are by far the single largest and most influential demographic group in history, and they have the spending power to disrupt the entire food market.

The boomers’ shifting preferences are also being passed down to children and grandchildren, shaping the tastes of younger generations. Growing up with pesto and peppers, even very young children are demonstrating a yen for boldly pronounced flavors. The under-13 set cites Chinese food as its favorite, followed by Mexican, Japanese, Italian and, in fifth place, American food. Quesadillas have replaced grilled cheese sandwiches on restaurant kiddie menus. Sushi is the new fishsticks.

Sweeter, spicier, bigger, bolder: it looks like the new flavor profile is here to stay.

 

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Breakfast meets Dinner, Sweet Meets Savory. It Has to be Chicken and Waffles.

chicken_and_waffles_postcards-r8b447020e9dd4c1cbe17f359c8ff62d6_vgbaq_8byvr_324

Chicken and waffles, once a little-known regional oddity, has hit the big time.
It’s on the menu at IHOP. It’s a Lay’s potato chip flavor. National fast food chains are testing out a sandwich version (Burger King), chicken nuggets (Popeye’s), and a chicken-filled waffle-shelled taco (Taco Bell).

Brunchers everywhere are rejoicing.
Chicken and waffles brings together the fatty, meaty, saltiness of fried chicken, the sticky sweetness of maple syrup, and a rich, crisp waffle. The classic brunch dilemma— sweet or savory?— is a thing of the past.

It’s not clear who we should thank [some might say blame] for this inspired combination.
Some food historians see a link to Pennsylvania Dutch traditions. Others cite southern soul food origins, pointing to the pre-Civil War kitchen of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello where his kitchen staff of slaves would have encountered the nation’s first imported waffle iron. The dish’s current popularity can be traced to its 20th century resurgence on both the east and west coasts. In New York’s Harlem, chicken and waffles was a staple on the menu of the Wells Supper Club. An after-hours gathering place for Jazz Age club-goers, the Wells legend tells us that the combination was a happy compromise made in the wee hours—it was too late for dinner and too early for breakfast, so both meals were served on a single plate. The dish hit the west coast in the 1970′s where it was equally well-suited to the midnight rambles of the local youth culture. Roscoe’s chain of soul food restaurants was a favorite late-night haunt of Los Angeles stoners and the Hollywood crowd. And now we have bastardized versions turning up on 99¢ ‘value menus’ at thousands of fast food outlets. If anyone is doubting its ascendancy, that’s all the proof you need.

The culinary mashup can still baffle the uninitiated.
Is it breakfast or dinner? Is it two dishes sitting side-by-side or should it be eaten as a single entity? With maple syrup, really? How about butter? Gravy? Hot sauce?

Yes to all!
Crunchy, juicy, spicy, crispy, fluffy, sweet, and salty, plus a hit of sticky maple—it’s a heck of a forkful.

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10 Foods We Loathe

Ask most people what food they simply can’t stomach and you’re likely to get at least a few of these.
In order of revulsion, the 10 most hated foods are:

  • Liver
  • Lima beans
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mushrooms
  • Eggs
  • Okra
  • Beets
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Tuna
  • Gelatin

The survey of 75,000 American adults was conducted by The Journal of Psychology.

Some of these aversions are hardwired at birth for our protection and survival. Your genetic makeup plays a role with everyone perceiving flavors a little differently, sensing different levels of intensity. But as a general rule, we like sweet and dislike bitter— sugar means energy and bitterness can be a warning sign of toxicity. Savoriness signals protein, and an appealing saltiness helps our bodies get necessary sodium.

That’s the nature of taste; then there’s the nurture.
Context and experience influence how we taste by shaping how we feel about what we eat. Our perceptions and biases are influenced by sociological and cultural factors like ethnicity and economics, and there are also the psychological associations we make with foods that are based in our personal histories and memories of meals gone by.

Certain flavors are polarizing, like blue cheese and black coffee. They’re as beloved by some as much as they are detested by others. Other foods like spinach and brussels sprouts can elicit a child’s knee-jerk response that’s carried into adulthood. And then there are foods that are just plain difficult, like organ meats or snails or odd sea creatures. It’s not that the taste is so objectionable; often it’s quite neutral. But the smell, the texture, or even the mere thought of these foods can cause queasiness in a wide swath of eaters. 

Challenge yourself to try something new. Push through lingering prejudices to retry what you’ve previously rejected.
Sometimes the most delicious foods are the ones that can seem to withhold their pleasures. Their charms might elude you with subtlety and nuance or shock you with their assertiveness. But if you can push through those first tentative nibbles, you may find, as with so much in this life, that the taste is sweeter and the rewards are greater for the effort.

 

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Move Over, Cows. Almond Milk Has Arrived.

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate

Got milk? Gotten milk recently? 
The dairy case is overflowing with milk alternatives—creamy liquids derived from non-dairy sources. Alt-milk is a hot commodity, even as cow’s milk has been in a decades-long decline. And it’s not just the lactose-intolerant or dairy-allergic who are buying it. TV commercials are daring consumers to try it just for the taste.

Fat, cholesterol, animal welfare, pesticides, GMOs….there are plenty of reasons to give up dairy milk.
We know that a cow’s life on a dairy farm is hardly the bucolic idyll of our imaginations. Supporters of animal rights and anyone looking to avoid growth hormones and antibiotics are all on the lookout for alternatives to large-scale dairy producers. There are also vegans, the allergic and lactose intolerant, and anyone looking to reduce fat and cholesterol.

Most people, when they first look beyond dairy milk, make a stop at soy milk. But there is growing awareness that soy is a high spray, intensively farmed, rain forest-depleting crop, plus most of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically-modified. There are also concerns that the estrogen-like chemicals naturally occurring in soy have been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer, and doctors are recommending that we limit our soy intake.

Nut milk first appeared on supermarkets shelves in the late 1990′s when their square, shelf-stable boxes were mostly relegated to the natural and health food aisles. The game-changer took place at the end of 2009 when almond mild was repackaged as a fresh beverage and was slotted into the refrigerator case. The demand took grocers by surprise, and they have continued to add more space for the category.

Almond milk has pulled ahead of the alt-milk pack.
It’s made with roasted almonds that are crushed like you’re making almond butter, then thinned with water. Commercial producers usually add vitamins, stabilizers and, in some cases, a sweetener and flavorings like chocolate or vanilla. Almond milk is especially low in calories, compared with dairy as well as the other milk alternatives, and it’s low in fat and high in protein.

It also wins the alt-milk taste test.
Not that it’s much of a contest: rice milk is thin and watery, oat milk is thick and gloopy, and hemp milk is chalky and tart. Almond milk tastes slightly sweet with slightly bitter undertones. It’s very creamy, has an off-white color, and foams impressively for cappuccinos. It’s a good dairy substitute for cooking and baking, and it’s so nutty-good poured on top of dry cereal that you’ll wonder why you waited so long to try it.

 

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What to Drink in a Polar Vortex

polar vortex photo via nasa.gov

polar vortex photo via nasa.gov

 

That nice hot cup of tea could actually be making you colder.
Alcohol? It might feel warm going down, but it’s just about the worst thing you can drink on a cold night. And these nights are really, really cold.

The frigid air holding us in its stinging embrace is the ominously-named polar vortex that slipped away from its arctic perch. It’s shown us how woefully unprepared we are for the record cold temperatures we’re experiencing. We’re particularly misinformed when it comes to choosing winter warmup drinks. It seems to defy logic, but a cold beverage can help you hang on to body heat better than a hot one.

When you drink a hot beverage on a cold day, you feel warmer at first because the hot liquid increases blood flow to the skin, but the body’s regulating mechanisms kick in and quickly turn things around. A hot drink tells the nerve receptors in your mouth that things are getting hot in there and it automatically turns on a cooling response. Basically it makes you sweat, which is a welcome response in warm weather when the perspiration carries heat out of your body and into the atmosphere. But right now, the goal is to keep that body heat tucked away in your core.

A cold drink has the opposite effect. There’s some brief chilling while the liquid is going down, but instead of opening up the sweat glands on your skin, the cold causes blood vessels to contract and your surface skin actually tightens up. Less blood flows through the constricted outer layers of skin, which leaves more to circulate through critical core areas. You might get shivery from the surface chill, but that’s not a bad thing; it just means your muscles are trying to balance the cold surface by creating even more core heat.

If constricted blood vessels protect your body’s core temperature, it follows that beverages that can dilate blood vessels are a bad idea in freezing weather, which is what makes alcoholic beverages so dangerous. Drinking increases the blood flow to your skin; that’s why your cheeks are flushed and you have a warm glow inside and out. It’s deceptive though, because all of that peripheral heat comes at the expense of your vital organs. And the body has no need to shiver because the muscles near the surface are warm. If you venture outside, the shallow surface heat dissipates quickly and your core temperature, which is already lower than it should be, will continue to drop. It’s a surprisingly narrow margin between a safe core temperature (the standard 98.6°) and hypothermia (95°), and alcohol gives you a big head start. Just a few boozy minutes spent outside in polar vortex conditions can get you there.

Can a couple of billion subcontinental residents be wrong?
Remember that most of the world drinks hot tea in hot weather, and Alaska leads the nation in per capita ice cream consumption. It’s counterintuitive but true—hot drinks cool you down and cold drinks warm you up.
In the midst of a polar vortex, when you hear the clink of ice cubes in a tall glass, you know you’re about to get toasty.

 

 

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food knowledge, Health | 2 Comments

Your World is Awash in Pig Products

image via 52 Infographics in 52 Weeks

Things With Pig in Them – image via 52 Infographics in 52 Weeks

 

You probably had a dozen or so pig encounters before you even left your house this morning.
Pig-derived ingredients add color to soap, a pearly sheen to shampoo, and give texture to toothpaste. They’re the moist in moisturizer, the anti-cling of fabric softener, and the reason that crayons smell that way. Shoe leather, cell phone batteries, laundry soap, wallpaper, sponges—they can all harbor pig byproducts.

Then there’s the pig that you don’t know you’re eating.
Pig-derived ingredients and processing agents make unannounced appearances in every aisle of the supermarket. A multi-tasking gelatin made from pig bones and skin puts the chew in gum and licorice and the creaminess in cheesecake and tiramisu. It smooths out cream cheese and whipped cream and makes ice cream melt more slowly. Beer, wine, and fruit juices are filtered through pig gelatin, and it’s turned into pill coatings and capsule casings for thousands of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Squishy soft bread and sandwich wraps stay pliable because of an added protein that’s extracted from pig hair, and a pig skin-derived protein is added to energy bars and yogurt. Another protein, this one from clotted pig blood, is used to bind the smaller scraps of beef or fish that appear in fresh and frozen form as portion-controlled filets. Even the plate you eat from can contain ash from pig bones, and your napkin was probably made with more of that gelatin.

It’s a staggering, stunning array of food and non-food uses for pig parts.
To say the least. It’s deeply troubling if you’re vegan or vegetarian, keep kosher or eat halal, or just want to avoid pig products. The fact that most of the products don’t have to be labeled with the information is the real shocker.

Pig-derived food additives are hiding in plain sight.
Processors will deliberately remove the word ‘animal’ from their ingredient list. For example, hydrolyzed animal protein becomes hydrolyzed collagen, and animal protein is labeled L-cysteine. There are thousands more technical and patented names for variations on pig-based food additives. Some probably sound familiar if you read a lot of product packaging, but you probably didn’t know that glycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and oleic acid can all be derived from pig byproducts. Adding to the confusion are the pig parts that don’t wind up in the final product but are used in the manufacturing process like bone char that’s used to whiten sugar and gelatin that removes tannins from wine. These don’t even have to be mentioned by the manufacturer.

Learn what’s really in your pantry. The PETA website maintains a list of common animal-derived ingredients.

Phone apps like Is It Vegan? and Animal-Free are handy reference guides for many common and hidden animal ingredients.

See if your favorite beer, wine, or spirit is animal-free. Barnivore maintains a massive and up-to-date vegan alcohol directory with nearly 15,000 entries.

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