food knowledge

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.

White Floppy Chef Hat

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.

Posted in food knowledge, vegetarian/vegan | Leave a comment

A Hacker in the Kitchen

image via Beauty Through Imperfection

[image via Beauty Through Imperfection]

 

Hackers have a bad reputation.
We think of disaffected teenagers looking to circumvent security measures and wreak a little havoc on society, and of bottom-rung hoodlums in former eastern bloc countries trolling online for passwords and credit card accounts. 
Actually, that kind of nefarious tampering is not hacking. It’s more properly referred to as cracking.

Hacking is in fact a higher calling.
In the classic sense of the term, a hacker is a fixer, a tinkerer, a lover of processes. The original Internet Users’ Glossary defined a hacker as ‘a person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.’ Wikipedia’s definition goes so far as stating that ‘Hacking entails some form of excellence.’

Hackers are everywhere.
The term has been co-opted by groups outside of the tech community to describe any kind of clever, non-traditional improvement to process and productivity. Pick a noun, follow it by ‘hack,’ Google the combination, and you’re bound to find a community sharing tips and hints and suggestions.

Kitchen hackers are hacking in the pure sense of the word.
They devise elegant solutions to clumsy processes. 
The following is a sorted, selected, and edited list of websites offering food, cooking, and kitchen hacks. Think of it as a kind of list hack.

Life Hackery claims to ‘hack your life into shape.’ It offers up time-tested kitchen wisdom with its list of 50 Amazingly Helpful Time-Tested Tips for the Kitchen.

Tip Nut has 34 Handy Kitchen Measurement Hacks & Tidbits that free you for improvisational cooking.

Instructables offers step-by-step instructions for esoteric projects like making rainbow vodka with Skittles and edible shot glasses from gummi bears.

DIY Life will whip your kitchen into shape with its instructions for things like stove top tuneups and new uses for aluminum foil.

Cooking for Geeks and Cooking for Engineers are full of clever cooking shortcuts. Both are pitched toward the seriously enquiring mind as they delve into the why along with the how.

Food Network Magazine rounds up the best hacking advice from the network’s roster of television chefs.

Did you know that you can make perfect hard-boiled eggs in the oven or that a rubber band can keep apple slices from turning brown? Kitchen Hacks is brimming with pragmatic saves and shortcuts about buying, growing, cooking, preserving, and eating food.

Table Matters hacks into kitchen appliances and equipment, breathing new life into muffin tins, crockpots, and immersion blenders.

The granddaddy of life hacking sites is, of course, Lifehacker, which tackles a wide range of food, cooking, and kitchen topics.

Posted in appliances + gadgets, cyberculture, food knowledge | Leave a comment

Food for a Senior Moment

image via R2 Thoughts 4 You

image via R2 Thoughts 4 You

 

We’re having a national senior moment.
Baby boomers are a demographic time bomb. Nearly one-third of the population was born between 1946 and 1964. Even the tail end has reached the age of memory loss, slowed reflexes, and synaptic glitches.
That’s 75 million Americans that can’t remember what they went upstairs for.

Brain foods can make a real difference.
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.
There’s no magic bullet that can prevent the inevitable decline, but there are food that can keep it at bay.
If you are 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.
matcha Just like the wild variety is souped-up salmon, matcha is high-test green tea.

Matcha is a type of Japanese green tea that is 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.
sprinkling_sugar_into_coffee_943126

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.

acai pears

The acai berry is one of those fruits, like pomegranates and blueberries before them, that’s captured the attention of the ‘superfoods’ crowd for its potent nutrition. On paper acai’s profile actually looks more like fish than fruit: high in protein and the essential fatty acids our brains desire. Its juice is showing up blended into all kinds of things like yogurt, sorbet nut butters, tea, soda; even Absolut acai vodka.

turmeric

 

Turmeric is the hot new discovery in brain research. It’s a mildly-flavored, deep yellow spice that is always found in curry powder, and is often used as a less costly alternative to saffron. Turmeric is such a powerful brain plaque-remover that it’s being tested as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

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Name That Smell

Improve-Your-Sense-of-Smell-Step-9

via WikiHow

 

It’s hard to believe that it took this long.
The scientific community has finally developed a system for describing and classifying smells.

Think about taste: there are countless variations but just five basic categories (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami) that can be detected by the taste receptors on the tongue. Touch is categorized as heat and cold, pressure and pain. Sight and sound are easy because we’re perceiving the light and sound waves, which are measurable physical phenomena.
For too long, scents were divvied up into good smells and stinky ones.

Smells are tricky.
There are more than 100,000 smells floating around the globe, but most of us can perceive just a few hundred. They’re processed in the limbic region, the emotional center of the brain, where the sensory data gets all tangled up in memories, especially those of childhood. That’s why a whiff of roasting turkey can flood you with warm and fuzzy memories of family Thanksgivings, or a fragrant bouquet of flowers will have you thinking of your beloved grandmother, even if you never knew that her hand cream was lily-scented. But you could also be allergic to poultry, or those same lilies could have perfumed the air of a friend’s funeral, and to you the odors are detestable. This subjectivity, in the absence of empirical measures, has forever stymied scientists.

Until now. A group of researchers has finally come up with a statistical approach that allows them to systematically measure various dimensions of a smell in a way that allows it to be characterized and grouped. The newly published study, using a methodology known as non-negative matrix factorization, claims that the vast world of smells is actually very tightly structured, and that every smell in the universe can be assigned to one of 10 basic categories: woody/resinous, fruity (non-citrus), chemical, minty, sweet, popcorn, fragrant, citrus, pungent, and decayed.

Before you start arguing the inadequacy of the 10 categories (and doesn’t naming one of them ‘fragrant’ sound like a copout?) remember that they’re classifying a single, discrete scent. A smell can be sensed by just a handful of molecules reaching your nose, and an object can have hundreds or even thousands of different volatile compounds all throwing off their own molecules. A wine enthusiast might swirl a single glass and detect notes of canned asparagus, burnt toast, mango, and pickle brine. A complex odor like wet dog or new baby might even combine elements of all 10 scent categories.

Smell and taste are the sister senses, basically playing off of the same molecules.
While we don’t know where this research will lead, it’s considered a major breakthrough, and one that’s got the food world buzzing.

Fun olfactory fact: Most of what you smell is coming through the left nostril. The reason you never noticed this is because 80% of noses are not in the middle of the face but pitched slightly to the right, so it seems like the smell is coming right up the middle.

 

Posted in food knowledge, Science/Technology | 2 Comments

How to be an Ethical Carnivore

cheeseburgerglobal warming

 

It’s not like you’re suddenly going to go cold turkey, if you’ll pardon the pun.
We humans didn’t claw our way up the food chain so we could eat quinoa. But red meat, once the cornerstone to a nutritious diet, puts us un an ethical quandary. Beef is a true superfood, dense in protein and nutrients and an important source of essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals like iron, zinc, and selenium. But it’s taken a lot of hits from defenders of animal rights and the environment. Red meat has lost much of its relevancy to the American diet.

Meat-eating and ethical eating don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are ways to eat meat that are sensitive to the environment, to our health, and to the animals involved.

All meat is not created equal. 
We all know that factory farming is a grotesquery. It’s basically institutionalized animal cruelty and it creates a product that is unfit and unhealthy for human consumption. It depletes resources and is destructive to the environment.

Then there’s grass-fed or pasture-raised beef.
These animals are raised in open, humane, sanitary conditions. They conserve resources by passing on a diet of grains grown with petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Better for your health, grass-fed beef contains fewer antibiotics and hormones, is leaner than grain-fed and grain-finished beef, and has a more favorable ratio of omega fatty acids.

The well-managed pasture system sustains natural resources by reducing erosion and water pollution, conserving carbon, and preserving biodiversity and wildlife. Their sales methods—either operating as an independent, selling directly from their own property, or selling through small, locally focused producer groups—help support local communities, promote local foodsheds, and earn a fair price for the producers.

The industrialization of the calf.
We took an earth-friendly, solar-powered ruminant and turned it into a fossil-fuel powered machine. 
The problem with banishing all meat from the dinner table is that ranchers of conscience are caught in the sweep, demonized along with factory farmers. These ethical producers should be celebrated as the vanguard of a growing revolt against industrial agriculture, not penalized by association.

Let’s face it, we are not heading toward a meatless society.
But we can be a society of ethical carnivores. We need to eat meat in moderation and avoid animals raised in confined spaces and fed an unnatural diet. Choosing grass-fed beef can have a lasting impact on our health and the health of the planet.

 

 

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How Many Ways Can You Say Sugar?

image via Dumbink

image via DumbInk

 

The Harvard School of Public Health identifies 23 different names for added sugar on food labels.
The consumer advocacy site Consumerist calls them ‘code words’, and names 30 of them. Robert Lustig raised the number to 56 in his current bestseller Sugar Has 56 Names, and the American Institute for Cancer Research puts the total closer to 100.

All the synonyms, euphemisms, and turns of the phrase make it difficult to figure out just how much sweetener is in there. And that’s no accident.

Food manufacturers are required to label a product’s ingredients in descending order by weight.
The most abundant ingredient is listed first, the next appears second, and so on. Manufacturers have figured out that if they spread the total amount of sugar among several different sweeteners instead of using just one type, each of the sugars is weighed separately. A whopping dose of added sugar might be the number one ingredient, but it could show up far down the list divvied up between fructose, glucose, corn syrup, and fruit juice concentrate. Strictly speaking, they’re all different additives, but sugar is sugar is sugar.

Sugar assumes many guises.
Some of the tip-offs are ingredients ending with -ose, most syrups, and anything with malt in its name. It can come from sugar cane, corn, beets, coconut, dates, and a slew of grains and fruits. Commonly used forms that can be tricky to identify include dextrose, dextrin, maltodextrin, glucose solids, maltose, galactose, diastatic malt, molasses, sorghum, cane juice, cane crystals, barley malt, brown rice syrup, turbinado, demerara, muscovado, rice bran syrup, agave, panocha, ethyl malto, sucanat, rapadura, panela, and jaggery.

Consumer groups have pressured the FDA to close the labeling loophole by creating a single line for ‘added sugars.’ Until then, the major ingredient on nutrition labels is confusion. You need to be a chemist, a detective, and a mathematician to hunt down all the sugars, add them all up, and turn them into information in a form that you can use to make educated decisions about diet and nutrition.

The USDA Supertracker analyzes the nutritional content of just about every product sold in U.S. supermarkets.
Its database is unavailable during the government shutdown but will become available again when our country comes to its senses.

 

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Organic Water? What Is Wrong With You People?

ImWithStupid  organic-water-bottle---in2ition

We’re used to extravagant claims from bottled water companies.
It’s pure, it’s natural, it boosts brain function, improves memory, speeds weight loss, super-hydrates, and rotates your tires.
The latest ‘organic’ water claims stand out even in such ignominious company.

There is no such thing as organic water.
Water is an inherently inorganic substance. It’s H2O, hydrogen and oxygen. It’s not alive and never was— that requires carbon. No carbon, no life; which, by definition means not organic. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the arbiter of edible organics, specifically excludes water from certification.

Some of what’s passed off as ‘organic’ water is water that’s sourced from beneath certified organic farmland. The Welsh bottler Llanllyr even claims extra purity because not only are their fields certified organic, but nuns have lived above the source for centuries. It’s utter nonsense. Nuns or no nuns, organic-ness doesn’t rub off on the water.

There is one product that can legitimately call itself ‘organic water,’ although you can probably come up with a few of your own choice words for it. WTF?! comes to mind for me.
Koa Water 
squeezes all the water out of organic fruits and vegetables, and then bottles that. Since it uses all organic ingredients, the end product is organic. But is it water?

The company has developed a secret, proprietary technology (they call it the Koa Blackbox) that allows them to extract all of the taste, color, and aroma from the juices. You’re left with a clear, flavorless, calorie-free liquid with no discernible trace of the fruits and vegetables it came out of. In other words, water.

Of course none of this comes cheap.
The price of Lanllyr water suggests that the company compensates the Welsh nuns handsomely for any inconvenience caused by locating a bottling operation on their pristine land. Over at Koa, there’s the laborious extraction process and pounds of organic produce that go into each glass. But if you’ve got any cash left over after paying for your organic water, I’ve got a bridge we can talk about.

 

Posted in food knowledge, funny, sustainability | Leave a comment
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