food knowledge

Learn to Speak Conversational Whisky

 

Rocks glasses via Vital Etsy shop

Rocks glasses via Vital Etsy shop

 

Whisky is having its moment. You don’t want to miss out.
Fortunately, a little knowledge can take you far when it comes to parsing the jargon of mashes, malts, and barrels.

Whiskey is…
an alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented grain. Beer comes from fermented grains but isn’t concentrated by distillation, and other spirits like vodka and rum are distilled but can be made from things like potatoes and sugarcane. Usually whisky is made from barley, rye, wheat, or corn, and usually it’s aged in wooden barrels. It has to be at least 40% alcohol by volume, but pretty much everything else is fair game.

Some of them are malt whiskies.
This just means the whisky is distilled from malted grains—grains that are sprouted and dried to give them a kind of sweet and yeasty quality.

Scotch is…
at its most basic, just one of a number of whisky styles. But you see all the fuss and fanaticism surrounding Scotch so you know that there’s got to be more to it. And there is. There are all sorts of technical specifications that define and distinguish Scotch whisky, and if you really need to know them you can pay a visit to the website of the Scotch Whisky Association. For now, you can get up and running with this: a single malt Scotch is bottled from one batch of whisky, is made from one grain (malted barley), and comes from one distillery. More than one batch, more than one grain, more than one distillery—you’re talking about a blended Scotch. Batches might even be identified down to the individual barrel or cask. And the real deal has to come from Scotland.

Does that mean Irish whiskey is …
Yup! Pretty much the same thing only from Ireland. And they like to put an ‘e’ in there.
True fans of Scotch whisky would take exception with the notion, and it’s true that the Irish Whiskey Society gives distillers more leeway when it comes to the variables, but we’re still talking about single malts and blends of wood-aged malted barley.

There’s Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey; bourbon is by definition an American whisky. 
Corn is required to be the predominant grain in bourbon, and it has to be aged in virgin barrels of charred oak. It’s called sour mash if fermented grains from past whisky batches were added to the fresh grains of the new batch before distilling. It’s analogous to sourdough bread where the loaves can contain cultures from an age-old fermented ‘mother dough.’ Sourdough bread, though, really does taste sour, and sour mash doesn’t tart up the taste of bourbon.

Kentucky bourbon…
doesn’t have to come from Kentucky, although Tennessee bourbon does have to come from Tennessee, but they don’t call it bourbon. It’s whiskey, and for some reason the ‘e’ makes another appearance. Got that?

Then there’s rye whiskey.
Rye whiskey used to be known as Canadian whisky, and the terms are still used interchangeably, even though there might not be any actual rye in the multi-grain mash. These days, when someone says ‘rye’ they’re most likely talking about American rye whiskey (there’s that irrepressible ‘e’ again). Except for the grains, rye is identical to bourbon, but the grains make all the difference. Corn gives bourbon a sweetness and fuller body, while rye whiskey has a lighter, fruitier, spicier profile.

Irish Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon and Rye
These are the fundamentals of the whisky lexicon.
Sure, there’s a lot more to it. There are Lowlands and Highlands and peat smoking and vatted malts. There are whiskies from Japan and Czechoslovakia and Australia, and Danish single malts made with water from the Greenlandic ice sheet and Indian whiskies distilled from fermented molasses. 
So you won’t be whisky-fluent, but with this little lesson you will be whisky-conversant.

 

 

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The Cereal Puffing Gun that Puts the Crunch in the Cap’n

 

cerealpuffer

 

Meet the puffing gun.

It’s a whirling, steaming 3,200-pound machine that explosively puffs up and pumps out breakfast cereal. It’s a real showstopper, which must be why the fledgling Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) has chosen it as the centerpiece of its inaugural exhibit.

Early cereals really were puffed in guns.
Cereal puffing dates back to the emergence of industrial food production at the turn of the 20th century. The process was perfected using old Army cannons including some that had seen action in the Spanish American War. The Quaker Oats Company gave its new cereal a splashy public introduction at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis where eight bronze cannons cooked rice puffs and shot them over the watching crowds.

Popping the unpoppable.
Cereal makers have always looked at popcorn as the gold standard of puffs- simultaneously light, airy, crispy, and crunchy, while retaining the integrity of the corn itself. It gets that way because a kernel of corn consists of a hard shell surrounding a starchy center. When it’s heated the moisture in the corn turns to steam; contained inside the shell, the steam pressure builds and inflates the starch until eventually the puffed up kernel bursts through.

Grains like wheat and rice don’t have outer shells to trap steam so the pressure has to come from outside the kernels. A puffing gun builds up steam pressure inside a cooker (or cannon) filled with whole grains. When the vessel’s hatch is flung open, the sudden change in air pressure puffs the kernels on contact and shoots them out of the opening with an explosive rush of steam and a giant “kaboom!”

Later this summer the MOFAD folks will take a functioning puffing gun to parks, schools, and street locations around New York. BOOM! The Puffing Gun and the Rise of Breakfast Cereal will explain the science behind cereal production and how Americans came to eat nearly three billion boxes of cereal every year.

Boom! is just the beginning.
The Museum of Food and Drink is in a pre-startup mode with unpaid staff members and a touring flatbed trailer in lieu of a bricks and mortar location. It’s an ambitious project that aims to do for food what the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum has done for aviation and space travel. To get there, MOFAD has stocked its board with talent and stature, including food world luminaries Mario Batali, Harold McGee, David Chang, Slow Food USA founder Patrick Martins, and modernist cooking pioneer Dave Arnold of the International Culinary Center.

Food has environmental, historical, economic, socio-cultural, industrial, and scientific dimensions; it touches all of our lives and presents some of the most challenging issues of our time. Yet there’s no American music singularly devoted to the subject. You can learn about the MOFAD mission to remedy the situation and contribute to that mission through the BOOM! project on Kickstarter.

 

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Move Over, Frozen Water. Make Way For Ice.

War Department photo, 1918, via Wikimedia Commons

from the records of the War Department, 1918, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Mealtime is a little different out there, but traveling Americans are ready to adapt.
They’ll sit on the floor, have cheese for dessert, eat with chopsticks, or follow the main course with salad. Still, most Americans draw the line at room temperature soft drinks. We can assume the locals are refreshed by lukewarm Coca Cola, since that’s the beverage of choice in much of the world, even when the thermometer hits 32° (that would be 90° to you and me). Ask for ice and best case is a few tiny slivers that barely make a dent in the tepid beverage; more likely the request is met with a blank stare.

Here in the land of plenty we take ice for granted. We expect it in our soft drinks and in every glass of water in every restaurant. We can count on an ice machine in the hallway and an ice bucket in every room of every hotel and motel from coast to coast. Our home refrigerators dispense a continual stream of ice and when there’s a party we buy extra bags to fill buckets and tubs.

The current ice age.
Still, we’ve never seen anything like the current fascination with luxury ice. The present-day renaissance of cocktail culture encourages fetishistic scrutiny of every aspect of mixed drinks. We’re drinking single malt and small batch whiskeys, exotically flavored infusions, hand crafted bitters, and yes, artisanal ice.  It’s colorless and tasteless, but it seems that all ice is not created equal. The cubes in your freezer (and many bars and restaurants) are clouded with bubbles and cracks, while the premium stuff is dense and clear, so it melts slower and won’t water down your drink as quickly.

Bars and restaurants now have ice programs and some have turned to a new breed of boutique ice makers like Favourite Ice and Névé that charge 50 to 70 cents per two-by-two inch cube. You might find a single tennis ball-sized sphere for scotch on the rocks, gin and tonic in a highball glass chilled by height-appropriate tube-shaped ice, and hand-chipped bits crushed in muslin (to capture the rogue particles) for the perfect julep.

Then there’s glacial ice, in a league all its own. It’s true that thousands of years of geographic pressure create extremely dense ice that stays cold longer and melts more slowly than man-made, but the premium is really charged for its mystique. Marketers tout the purity of water that was frozen before it could absorb the atmospheric taints of the modern era. They speak of the magic of its hisses and pops as entombed air is released from the core of the melting ice—the pristine air of a lost age, never before breathed in by man. The market for glacial ice is so lucrative that ice poachers have gone after protected glaciers around the globe.

And you thought ice was just frozen water.

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Why Would You Want a Hot Drink on a Hot Day?

drpepperthermometer

 

It’s hot out there. How about a nice cold drink?
You hear the clink of ice cubes in a tall glass, see the beads of sweat condensing on the outside, and you just know you’re in for some serious refreshment.

So why does the rest of the world drink hot tea in hot weather?
Can a couple of billion subcontinental residents be wrong?

It’s counterintuitive, but there is basic brain science behind it. A hot drink tells the nerve receptors in your mouth that things are getting hot in there and it turns on a cooling response—basically it makes you sweat. It works with spicy foods too—the receptors in your tongue read ‘hot’ peppers in the same way as they read hot tea, so either way it triggers a message to the brain telling it to cool things off.

The increased rate of perspiration is key.
If you’re not much of a sweater, the heating power of the drink can exceed the cooling power of the sweat you produce. It adds heat to your body without the compensating power of perspiration and you end up just feeling flushed and even hotter. And if you are a big sweater, the moisture has to be able to evaporate from your skin, since the cooling effect comes from the transfer of body heat into the atmosphere via the perspiration. If you’re wearing too much clothing it can hold the sweat in, or if the day is muggy, the humid air won’t pull the moisture off of you.

Hot or iced- which should you choose?
Do you sweat some, but not too much? Do you like to expose a lot of skin in warm weather? Do you live in a dry, desert-like climate? Personally, I still would like a nice iced coffee, but feel free to give a hot one a try. If you are reasonably modest and live within about a two thousand mile radius of Washington D.C. you probably want to stick with iced.

 

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They’re Banned in Europe, So Why Are We Still Eating Them?

courtesy of ComplianceSigns.com

courtesy of ComplianceSigns.com

 

Do they know something we don’t know?
Americans eat a shocking number of foods that much of the world won’t touch. We think of the U.S. as being at the forefront of medicine, technology, and advancements that protect its citizens’ health, and we blithely put our faith in regulatory agencies and government sponsored health and dietary guidance. But if you look at what’s on our plates, it’s clear that Americans are not afforded the same protections given to citizens of Europe and other developed nations.

Citrus Beverage Stabilizers
Everyone knows to shake orange juice or stir lemonade before drinking it, but when it comes to highly processed citrus drinks like Mountain Dew, Fresca, Squirt, Fanta Orange, Sunkist Pineapple, and some Gatorade and Powerade flavors, no shaking is required. That’s because the manufacturers add brominated vegetable oil, an emulsifier that keeps things from separating. A handy additive that also doubles as a flame retardant, the bromine in BVO is a nasty, toxic, corrosive chemical that’s linked to everything from schizophrenia to hearing loss. That’s why it’s been eliminated in more than 100 countries whose citizens decided they would rather just shake their beverages.

Man-made Fats
Manufacturers love them because they’re cheap, prolong the shelf life of foods, and create an appealing texture. That’s why they put them in everything from bread to cookies to peanut butter. And by all accounts they’re really, really bad for you, leeching metals into blood vessels, clogging arteries, raising cholesterol, and impacting organ function and natural immunities.

You’ve heard the fuss about trans fats, but those are just one of many fats that have been banned elsewhere. The man-made fats start out as natural vegetable oils, but after the oil is pressured with hydrogen, superheated, and injected with metals, what comes out is a new beast with its own molecular structure, a mere one molecule away from officially becoming a plastic.

While we’re at it, let’s give a special shout-out to the fat substitute Olestra (aka Olean).
It’s referred to as fat-free; actually you’re eating fat but you don’t absorb the calories because Olestra’s been manipulated to pass through the gastrointestinal tract without being digested. Unfortunately it also pulls vitamins and nutrients from other foods out of the digestive tract to be eliminated along with the undigested fat—an oily excretion that the manufacturer likes to refer to as ‘anal leakage’—a  feature that inspired Time Magazine to name Olestra to its list of the world’s all-time 50 worst inventions.

Arsenic
If you’re familiar with the plot lines of old who-done-its you probably think of arsenic as the quintessential poison for humans. So what’s it doing in our beef and chicken?

The chicken is a straight shot—producers put arsenic in poultry feed in the form of drugs that kill intestinal parasites, promote growth, and give the flesh a nice pink glow. It’s actually a safe form of arsenic when it’s fed to 9 out of 10 chickens, but the metabolized arsenic that’s found in chicken meat is a form that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as a human carcinogen. That’s why the EU never approved arsenic feed compounds, and Japan and many other countries outlawed the use of arsenic in chicken feed years ago.

Arsenic has a less direct path to beef.
It seems that U.S. cattle eat chicken manure, and lots of it. Who knew? Apparently arsenic-laced chicken droppings are filled with a cheap form of protein, and we feed our cows two billion pounds of the stuff annually. The meat ends up on our dinner tables, and the odd bits are ground into bone meal that goes right back into chicken feed, keeping  the arsenic circulating and recirculating through our food.

Then there’s the cannibalism thing.
We probably shouldn’t need a regulatory agency to tell us that it’s a bad idea to feed animals to animals—especially when we’re mixing herbivores with carnivores and even feeding them their own species. Much of the world has already figured this one out, and Mad Cow Disease gave an extra push to the holdouts, but here in the U.S. most animals are still allowed to eat their own kind. Pig carcasses are rendered and fed back to pigs, chicken feed can contain chicken carcasses, and cattle can be fed cow blood and some other parts of their brethren. Road kill, dead horses, and euthanized cats and dogs are also regularly and legally thrown into the mix.

Shall I keep going?
How about the chemical bleaching agents added to flour? Manufacturers in most countries just store the flour for a week or so and wait for it to naturally lighten up. American food processors like things fast and cheap so they add the instant whitener azodicarbonamide; a substance so toxic that the illegal use of it in some countries can land a factory owner a 15 year prison sentence. Then there’s ractopomine, a drug that keeps pigs lean by hyping them up. The pork can do the same to humans, causing tremors and raising heart rates so much that it’s supposed to be avoided by anyone with a cardiovascular disease—no easy feat since it’s fed to around three-quarters of U.S. hogs. And let’s not forget the coloring ingredient used in food dyes (blue 1&2, yellow 5& 6) that color our candy, soda, and cake mixes. You’ll find that substance in overseas factory but only when it’s used to polish the floors.

Nobody wants to see their food choices crushed under the jackboot of regulation.
We already have labeling requirements and safety regulations. There are diet and nutrition concerns, species to preserve, and animal welfare to guard. We look out for the state of the environment and of the economy, the fate of family farms and of children with allergies. We don’t need more regulations, but we do need better ones. The public’s interests should come first in a regulatory system that’s not beholden to industry.

If it’s legal, it ought to be safe.

 

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Music, Food, & Molecules

cupcakes via Enjoy! Bespoke Events

cupcakes via Enjoy! Bespoke Events

 

It’s true that there’s no accounting for taste, but some foods just seem to go together.

It’s like that with music. There are notes that sound good together and other combinations that make you cringe. And we know that it’s based in science. The vibrations of sound in the air create sound waves, and when the math and physics of different waves are a good fit, you’ve got music.

We all know foods that go together better than others. Bacon with cheese, pickles with deli meats, sushi with ginger, tomatoes with basil—they seem to create their own harmonies. And just like music, there’s math and science behind the fit of flavors.

The science of food pairing
Scientific flavor analysis has only been with us for a few years. It’s based on the molecular analysis of ingredients that identifies the odor and flavor compounds. Ingredients are sliced and diced with liquid and gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, and then an algorithm is applied to the compounds to come up with a unique flavor profile for each food. Compatible pairings happen when ingredients share enough compounds.

The molecular basis of pairings takes chefs away from recipes, intuition, and tradition to inspire the new and innovative dishes that you find on the menus of cutting-edge restaurants. Some of the new combinations that have worked their way into modernist cooking are chocolate and pink peppercorn, cauliflower and cocoa, and salmon with licorice. Some are better left in the laboratory like liver paired with jasmine and chocolate with smoked fish. And it’s said that caviar is molecular perfection with white chocolate, but I’ll just take it on faith.

There are clearly limits to molecular pairing. 
That’s because we experience food in ways that transcend flavor. Preferences are also shaped by a dish’s appearance and texture, and the eater’s individual taste thresholds, culture, memories, traditions, and even inbuilt defense mechanisms that guided prehistoric eaters away from poisonous foods. The most complex genetic map in the entire human body is the one that controls the olfactory bulb that processes information sent to the brain about the food that we eat. Taste is far too complicated to boil down to a single, molecular rule of thumb.

Food, like music, can thrive on contrast as much as harmony. 
In music it’s called dissonance; the jangle of tones that deviates from neat sound waves to create harmonic tension. It can sound harsh and unstable but dissonance has also given us Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever, and pretty much every movie soundtrack worth its salt. In food a kind of dissonance is found in East Asian cuisines that are based on contrasting tastes combined in a balancing act of sweet and sour, hot and cooling. Garlic with sesame oil, shrimp with ginger —these are food pairings that are completely incompatible on a molecular level, but without them there’d be no Pad Thai, Vietnamese spring rolls, or Japanese gyoza.

Don’t just guess:
Foodpairing.com
 has more than 1,000 pairing trees. These are interactive visualizations that give you all the possible combinations you can make with a chosen ingredient. Your selection is placed at the center and you can see all the molecularly compatible matches grouped on the branches around it. The closer to the center, the better the pairing.

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Ricotta: Never an Expiration Date

ricotta

There’s ricotta and there’s ricotta.
If that means nothing to you, then you’ve never had ricotta. 
The good stuff doesn’t come with an expiration date.

There are cheeses that improve with age. Ricotta is not one of them.
Technically, ricotta isn’t even a cheese. It’s a by-product of the cheese making process. Ricotta is made from whey, the milky water that’s left after the real cheese is pulled out. The whey sits and ferments at room temperature for a day, and fine, fluffy curds of ricotta form when it’s heated. It’s a second heating since the milk was heated once for the original cheese making—hence the name ricotta, which means ‘recooked’ in Italian.

Ricotta’s age should be measured in hours, not days. 
The curds are ready to eat as soon as they’re strained from the water, and that first scooping is best of all, when the curds are at their airiest and most quiveringly delicate. After just a few minutes the fragile curds will compress a bit under their own weight forcing out moisture. As the minutes and hours tick away they’ll continue to drain, becoming increasingly drier and firmer, eventually becoming like the dense pebbles you find in the supermarket.

Ricotta’s taste has a similar trajectory.
The freshest ricotta is sweet but with a grassy lilt, lush and powerfully milky, but over time the vividly fresh flavors fade away.
Even at its peak, ricotta charms through subtlety, which is one of its great virtues: it’s a utility player in the kitchen able to play both sweet and savory, both raw and cooked. And it’s a great carrier of flavors, making it ideal as a stuffing for everything from chicken to rum cake.

Don’t mistake mild for bland
Ricotta will never bowl you over with taste and complexity like the tang of a farmstead cheddar or the pungency of Stilton. But find it made fresh and eat it fast and it will win you over with simplicity and freshness.

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Food Myths and Misconceptions

 

Adding salt won’t make the water boil any faster.
You can take mayonnaise on a picnic.
Go ahead and swallow that gum—it doesn’t take any longer to digest than anything else you might eat.

Let’s face it, sometimes common wisdom isn’t all that wise.
We used to call them old wives’ tales but word of mouth has moved online. Blogs, tweets, like buttons, repostings—these are the new enemies of truth. They carry the misinformation to the masses, and the next thing you know you’ve got yourself a new food mythology.

Let’s separate the facts from the fiction, the science from the silliness.
We’re going to settle this once and for all.

Myth: Add salt to water to make it boil faster.
Reality: Salt actually raises the boiling point, so salted water takes longer to boil; at least it would if you added enough, and it takes a heap of salt before there’s any effect on the boiling point. Just add salt because it will make whatever you’re cooking taste better.

Myth: Sushi means raw fish.
Reality: Sushi refers to the vinegared rice. Sashimi comes closer in meaning, since the ingredients are always raw, but it’s still not accurate.

Myth: A craving is your body telling you it needs something.
Reality: Our bodies can tell us physically when we lack a certain nutrient, but specific food cravings are strictly emotional.

Myth: Alcohol burns off in cooking.
Reality: Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so it evaporates more quickly in cooking. But even after an hour of simmering, 25% of the alcohol remains, and 10% after two hours.

Myth: There are negative-calorie foods that use more energy to eat than what’s contained in the food itself.
Reality: The mere act of existence burns about 62 calories an hour, so in that sense, you can eat very low-cal foods and come out ahead. But chewing and digesting even a tough food like celery won’t bump up the hourly calorie burn enough to compensate for the added calories.

Myth: You can’t bring sandwiches containing mayonnaise on a picnic.
Reality: Commercial mayo has a high acid level and actually acts as a preservative for other ingredients. The turkey on a sandwich or the tuna in the tuna salad are more likely culprits when it comes to food-borne illnesses.

Myth: Slice into rare beef and you get bloody juices.
Reality: Nearly all blood is removed from meat during slaughter. Even when it’s served ‘bloody rare,’ you’re only seeing water and beef  proteins.

 

Myth: The avocado pit in a bowl of guacamole will keep it from turning brown.
Reality: There is no special magic to the pit. The browning is just natural oxidation from exposure to air, and the pit is big enough to block some air from reaching the dip. Try saran wrap and you’ll cover more area.

Forget the myths, legends, misconceptions, polite fictions, old school notions, and ‘wisdom’ passed from parent to child.
It’s time for the truth to go viral.

 

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Should Hot Dogs Come With Cigarette-Style Warning Labels?

billboardhotdog

 

hotdogbillboard

The medical reform group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine likes to stir up the hot dog debate with its billboards. Every spring it brings its cancer awareness message to billboards outside of baseball stadiums, race tracks, and other hot dog-friendly venues. PCRM is on a crusade to bring cigarette-style warning labels to hot dogs.

A steady diet of hot dogs can send you to an early grave.
According to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, a daily hot dog raises the risk of heart disease by 42 percent and diabetes by 19 percent. Research from the American Institute for Cancer Research found that the risk of colorectal cancer rises by 21 percent, and the Cancer Research Center at the University of Hawaii linked hot dog consumption to a 67 percent increase in the risk for pancreatic cancer. Hot dogs have also been linked with prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and childhood leukemia. All told, a multi-nation meta-study of 450,000 participants headed by the University of Zurich concluded that the overall risk of mortality increases by 18 percent for each hot dog consumed per day.

The problem with hot dogs.
There’s plenty of salt and saturated fat in hot dogs, but it’s the nitrites that’ll kill you. And all hot dogs have them—regardless of what it says on the package.

The salty preservative that’s added to conventional hot dogs is sodium nitrite. It develops flavor, keeps the meat’s pink color, and inhibits bacterial growth. A hot dog isn’t going to taste like a hot dog without sodium nitrite. So what about the premium and organic hot dogs that are labelled ‘no-added-nitrates’ or ‘naturally cured’? Brands like Applegate and Niman Ranch get around it with a little additive sleight-of-hand plus some arcane labeling loopholes courtesy of the FDA. They pour on the celery juice, which happens to be loaded with naturally occurring nitrate, then they add a naturally-derived bacterial culture that converts the harmless nitrate into harmful nitrite.

Alas, nitrite is nitrite. It makes no difference if it’s added directly or formed later, synthetic or naturally-derived. Take any kind of nitrite, add any kind of meat and heat, and it’s going to form cancer-causing compounds. When the Journal of Food Protection looked at popular hot dog brands, it found that the natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrite that conventional hot dogs contained.

About those warning labels
The PCRM wants graphic labeling that would make consumers think twice about what they’re eating. Other public health organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund call hot dogs “unfit for human consumption” and would like to see an outright ban. Even the USDA has been trying to rid the meat industry of nitrites since the 1970′s.

Meanwhile, the American Meat Institute, the meat industry’s oldest and largest trade association, has taken a stand against additional labeling requirements with the publication of its own sodium nitrite Fact Sheet. The AMI dismisses much of the research as “old myths” and the work of vegans and animal rights activists. It refers to sodium nitrite as “an essential public health tool,” and points to a 2005 animal study suggesting therapeutic uses for nitrites in the treatment of heart attacks, sickle cell disease, and leg vascular problems.

Most experts say that the occasional hot dog isn’t going to kill you. The choice is yours. And if there is honest and accurate labeling, you can make an informed choice.

 

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Chia: So Much More Than Mr. T’s Hair

MrTchia

 

You can keep your kale, and flax, and goji berries; chia seeds are the hot new superfood.
Yes, chia, as in ch-ch-ch-Chia Pets ™, famous for stuttering infomercials that made a fad out of growing sprouts on ceramic doggies.

Chia seeds are making the leap from the healthy fringe into the mainstream.
Last year you had to look for them in health food stores. Now you’ll find them on the shelves of your local supermarket. They’re being added to frozen waffles, peanut butter, pasta, chips, and juice drinks, and companies like Dole are lacing entire product lines with chia seeds.

Why? Because chia seeds are unbelievably good for you.
Just look at this nutritional profile:

  • A complete protein with more fiber content than bran
  • Twice the omega-3 fatty acids as salmon
  • Five times the amount of calcium in milk
  • Three times the amount of antioxidants in blueberries
  • Three times the amount of iron in spinach
  • Three times the amount of fiber in oatmeal
  • Two times the amount of potassium in a banana

Even among superfoods chia seeds are extraordinary.
Foods like pomegranates, almonds, goji berries, green tea, blueberries, and now chai seeds are considered ‘super’ because they pack a big nutrient punch in a small package. They’re dense sources of disease-fighting nutrients like antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and essential fatty acids, and are often thought to confer health benefits. Chia seeds are all of that plus they’re gluten-free, easy to digest, and rarely cause allergies.

Are you already thinking this is too good to be true? Hang on, there’s more.
Chia seeds can also help you lose weight. The seeds are like little sponges that sop up nine times their weight in liquid. When you eat cereal or muffins that are spiked with chia it does a bit of that inside you, so even your morning coffee can become one with a belly-filling, slow-burning ball of dietary fiber.

And the taste?
It’s fine. Really. The seeds have a tiny bit of crunch and a very subtle nutty flavor if you look hard enough for it. You’re not going to get excited about your morning chia, but it’s a perfectly neutral addition to just about anything.

 

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Sweet. Sour. Salty. Bitter. Umami. Kokumi?

 

umamitongue2

[image via Tiscali UK]

 

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

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

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

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

Here comes kokumi.
Just when we were getting used to the idea of umami as a 5th flavor, researchers are honing in on a candidate for flavor number 6. Sort of.
Kokumi has no taste. Some food scientists are arguing that there are distinct kokumi compounds and kokumi receptors on the tongue, which would qualify kokumi for primary flavor-hood. But unlike the other five, kokumi on its own is flavorless.

Kokumi compounds are most plentiful in onions, garlic, cheese, and yeast extract (fish sperm too, but who’s counting), and are said to multiply in the slow-cooking or aging of foods. Combine kokumi compounds with other ingredients and pow!—it’s a flavor bomb. When the tongue’s kokumi receptors are activated the kokumi alters other flavors, adding a hearty richness and roundness. It deepens the sweetness of sugar and makes savory foods taste more savory.

Kokumi has been promulgated by researchers from Ajinomoto, the same Japanese food and additives company that sold the taste world on the idea of a fifth basic taste, umami, a decade ago. There’a a healthy skepticism, particularly among scientists in the west, who question whether a flavor enhancer can be considered a true flavor. There’s also speculation that kokumi-containing foods are merely activating calcium receptors on the tongue, rather than their own distinct receptors.

Whether it’s a flavor or just a flavor-enhancer, kokumi excites food scientists, nutritionists, and food processors on both sides of the debate. It’s flavor-boosting properties could mean less added salt in salty foods, sweet foods that are lower in sugar, and richness achieved with less added fat.
Kokumi just might hold the potential for healthier diets.

Posted in food knowledge, Science/Technology | 1 Comment

Everything About Everything Bagels

[image via Chris Piascik]

[image via Chris Piascik]

 

The everything is not the most popular bagel.
That would be plain, closely followed by sesame. But for some, it’s the only bagel that will do. Salty, seedy, and pungent with onion and garlic, it’s the true bagel lover’s bagel.

The everything bagel also has its detractors. They complain that the everything’s yeasty, stinky goodness befouls its milder brethren in the paper sack on the way home from the bagel shop. They whine about garlic breath and the way poppy seeds tuck themselves into the spaces between their teeth.
To them I say: knock yourselves out with a blueberry bagel.

And there’s controversy.
In a promotional post for his 516Ads blog, web entrepreneur David Gussin claims to have invented the everything bagel as a teenager in the early 1980′s. Working an after school job at a Queens bagel bakery, he was inspired to reuse the tasty, toasty, seedy debris he swept out of the oven at the end of a shift. The shop’s customers went crazy for the concoction, and the rest, as he says in a New Yorker Schmear Dept. profile, is history.

Not so, says modern marketing guru Seth Godin. He claims to have originated the everything bagel at least three years earlier, back in 1977 when he was a teenaged bagel shop employee. Godin figures the oversight comes from the fact that the bagel shop of his youth was located in Buffalo—too far off the radar of the bagel elite. Despite a compelling argument from Godin (“…you add the seeds when the bagels are on the wet burlap…the burnt seeds in the oven get pretty incinerated and you wouldn’t want to use em.”) the New Yorker has yet to publish a retraction.

The everything is hands-down the funniest bagel.
There is so much online riffing on the boastful hyperbole of the appellation that blogging pioneer Jason Kottke hypothesized, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought Twitter was built specifically for the purpose of cracking wise about the lack of everything on the everything bagel.” His blog, Kottke.org, rounded up some of the best:

–This “everything bagel” is great. Has onions, poppy seeds, garlic, cheese, q-tips, Greenland, fear, sandals, wolves, teapots, crunkin… @JohnMoe
–The “everything bagel” really only has like three things. Just what I want for breakfast. Lies. @missrftc 
–You might want to scale back on calling yourself an “everything bagel.” I mean, right away I can see there are no M&M’s on here. @friedmanjon 
–Flossing after an everything bagel is important b/c as the name implies, you don’t just have *something* in your teeth, you have every thing@phillygirl

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

You can make everything taste like an everything bagel with a sprinkle of Everything Bagel Spice Mix.

The home gardening adventurers at Plantgasm ask the question, “Can you grow anything from the seeds of an everything bagel? 
Nope.

 

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Fruitarians: Can Man Live on Fruit Alone?

[Ashton Kutcher via Meme Generator]

[Ashton Kutcher via Meme Generator]

 

Steve Jobs was unquestionably the world’s most prominent fruitarian.
He followed an all-fruit diet for much of his life, even naming his company for the time he spent at a commune-like apple farm.
For Ashton Kutcher, who’s portraying the late Apple CEO in this spring’s jOBS bio pic, that meant adopting Steve Jobs’s fruitarian diet for one month. It was part of his Method acting preparation to get inside the mind of the man he’s portraying.
All that fruit landed Kutcher in the hospital with gastric distress and abnormal pancreatic functions, opening up the debate about the healthfulness of the diet regimen.

Fruitarianism is an extreme form of veganism.
While all vegans follow a diet without animal products, fruitarians also pass on vegetables and grains. Some fruitarians will indulge in nuts and seeds, and some use a botanical definition of fruit to include beans, peas, and legumes, but it is primarily, if not exclusively, a fruit-based diet.

This calls for a big, all-caps WHY??
Fruitarians are motivated by same ethical/environmental/health/aesthetic set of factors as other vegetarians and vegans, plus a big one that’s all their own. Many tout it as the original diet of mankind in the form of Adam and Eve, and therefore the purest and most natural. They cite Genesis 1:29:
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

Too much of a good thing.
Most health and nutrition experts are highly critical of fruitarianism—as they are of any diet that excludes major food groups. Fruits are packed with certain vitamins and antioxidants, but they’re almost entirely carbohydrates. An all-fruit diet can overwhelm the body with sugars while it’s deficient in essential nutrients like protein, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and a laundry list of vitamins and minerals. Try it for more than a few weeks and you’re probably looking at aches, fatigue, and a susceptibility to infections and viruses. Stick with the diet long enough and it can lead to compromised organ functions, metabolic imbalances, anemia, and weakened bones and teeth—all symptoms of malnutrition and starvation.

It’s not a diet for the sociable.
Invitations to dinner become a thing of the past. Fruitarians are no fun to cook for. Dinner parties and barbecues are out of the question, and most restaurants are certain disaster. It’s also kills the sex drive, but fruitarians tend to be too busy to notice— they need to devote many hours of the day grazing on many pounds of fruit to take in enough calories.

In small doses
An all-fruit diet can have a healing, cleansing effect. It is de-toxifying, and practitioners speak of a pleasant mental and physical lightness. It can also be effective for weight loss. If someone is in good health and feels spiritually drawn to the fruitarian diet, a short stretch of a few weeks can be a positive experience.

Registration is now open for this summer’s Woodstock Fruit Festival, an annual, week-long fruitarian extravaganza. The festival’s press release extends an open invitation to Ashton Kutcher.

 

 

Posted in Entertainment, food knowledge, vegetarian | Leave a comment

How’d They Get So Little? The true story of baby carrots.

image via Bent Objects

image via Bent Objects

 

Did you ever wonder where those perfect little carrots come from?
Those marvels of the produce aisle, so uniform in shape, size, and color, like no carrot found in nature. You’ve had your suspicions; you’ve heard the rumors.
It’s all true. Carrots- yes; Babies- no.

True baby carrots are a specialty crop that’s grown to be harvested before maturity. The supermarket version is a manufactured product, more properly known as ‘baby-cuts’ instead of baby carrots.

The baby-cuts began as full-sized, fully-grown carrots that are snipped into 2-inch sections, pumped through water-filled pipes into giant whirling peelers, whittled down to lovable niblets, and bathed in a mold retardant before they’re packed in plastic bags for shipping. Organic carrot growers use a citrus-based product called Citrix, but the conventional baby-cuts in your supermarket were treated with chlorine to prolong shelf life.

Pass the bunny balls
The baby carrots we’ve come to know were invented in the late 1980′s. Supermarkets have always demanded carrots of uniform size and shape, with no lumps, bumps, spots, or twists. One California carrot farmer had grown tired of culling the imperfect and irregular carrots from his crop. Up to 70% of his harvest would end up discarded or sold at a discounted price for juice and animal feed. He started experimenting with green bean trimmers and potato peelers, dabbling first with 1-inch rounds that he marketed as ‘bunny balls’ before settling on 2-inch thumbs, and an industry was transformed. Ironically, we now pay a premium price for the former cast-offs.

The baby-cut boom has changed the way carrots are grown. The ideal carrot used to be bulky-topped and steeply tapered, grown to a standard 6½ inches for the best fit in 0ne- and two-pound plastic bags. Now growers shoot for long, narrow cylinders. The length gets them more cuts—it’s gone from the original two cuts per carrot to three and even four cuts from 8+ inch behemoths. Straight and narrow means they can be planted closer together for more yield per acre, and less is wasted when they’re carved into the baby carrot shape.

Before the advent of the baby-cut, annual carrot consumption in the U.S. was a steady 6 pounds a year per person. It started climbing in 1986 and topped 11 pounds per person by 2007. We snack on them, throw them into soups and stews, entertain with baby-cuts and dip, put them in lunch boxes, and order them at fast food restaurants. The carrot industry’s Eat’em Like Junk Food campaign has even pushed ‘scarrots’ as a dubious alternative to Halloween candy.

I know what you’re going to say.
Yes, it’s cheaper, healthier, and better for the environment to buy whole carrots from a local grower. But baby-cuts did get us to eat twice as many fresh carrots as we used to.
It’s hard to argue with that kind of success.

Posted in food business, food knowledge, snack foods | Leave a comment

It Takes 640 Cups of Water to Make 1 Cup of Coffee

images-1

 

imagesYour morning coffee was made with an entire bathtub full of water.
That’s what it takes—about 40 gallons of water—to grow and ship the beans for just a single 8 ounce cup, black, no sugar. That’s 640 cups of water to produce the one cup of coffee. It boggles the mind.

When you say water conservation, most people think of low-flow shower heads and turning off the taps while they brush their teeth. But all the water you see going down the drain is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what we can’t see in our food. Household uses make up just 5% of the water we consume, while the food and drinks on our tables soak up 75% of the total. In fact an entire day’s worth of washing, brushing, and flushing doesn’t add up to the water contained in a single chicken drumstick.

A cup of coffee, a chicken leg; that’s just the beginning. Here are the water totals embedded in some of the foods that get you through your day:

Breakfast: orange juice, two eggs, and toast– 127 gallons
The juice of two oranges = 26 gallons (more if it’s commercially-processed juice)
Two eggs = 46 gallons
Two slices of bread, two teaspoons of butter = 55 gallons (butter’s a killer at around 50 gallons per tablespoon)

Lunch: grilled chicken breast sandwich, little bag of chips, iced tea with lemon and sugar– 209 gallons
chicken breast, bun, lettuce, condiments= 149 gallons (make it a cheeseburger and you’re looking at 673 gallons)
chips = 50 gallons
iced tea= 14 gallons (better than a 16 ounce Coke at 66 gallons)

You’ll think twice about an afternoon snack when you realize that a single serving of peanut M&M’s requires an eye-popping 500 gallons of water in its production and transport.

Dinner: steak, corn on the cob with butter, salad with avocado, red wine– 891 gallons
6 ounces of beef =  700 gallons (if only we ate more goat; the water used to produce 6 ounces of beef would get you 6 pounds of goat meat!) 
1 ear of corn plus 1 teaspoon of butter =  54 gallons 
lettuce, ½ tomato, ¼ avocado, vinaigrette dressing =  117 gallons (it’s mostly the water-intensive olive oil in the dressing)
2 glasses of California wine = 80 gallons

Add in another coffee, maybe some ice cream or a handful of cookies before bed, and over the course of a single day the water contained in a typical American diet will fill and refill that bathtub 38 times.

bathtubs

Generally speaking, plant-based foods are produced with less water than animal products because meat and dairy items are embedded with the water of all the grains that were used as feed. Grass-fed and foraging animals are vastly more efficient and sustainable than water-guzzling, industrially-raised, grain-fed varieties, but pound for pound, animal products have a larger water footprint than crop products. The same is true when we look at the water usage per calorie or protein contained in the food product.

Where the food comes from also matters. India’s tea industry relies on irrigation while Sri Lanka’s tea plants are fed by abundant monsoon rains. Israel grows especially thirsty crops in the desert but does so with reclaimed seawater and the world’s most efficient irrigation. Still, when you realize it takes nearly 30 gallons of water to make a single chocolate Hershey’s Kiss, the fact that cocoa beans grow in rain-fed tropics is less compelling.

Here in the U.S. where fresh water is so plentiful and well-managed, we tend to overlook just how precious and valuable it is. Water is a scarce resource in many parts of the world, and as our food system grows ever more globalized, water shortages elsewhere become our food security problem. Add in the uncertainty of a future marked by global climate changes, and it’s a good bet that water will become an increasingly important component in both domestic and global affairs.

How-Much-Water-Do-You-Eat

Know your water footprint. National Geographic has an online calculator that tallies your personal usage based on home, garden, diet, and energy practices.

At Water Footprint.org you can explore a water footprint database of 132 countries. Yes, we Americans are the water hogs of the planet.

Posted in food knowledge, sustainability | Leave a comment

What Goes With What? The Do-Re-Mi of Food Pairing

musiccupcakes

cupcakes via Enjoy! Bespoke Events

 

It’s true that there’s no accounting for taste, but some foods just seem to go together.

It’s like that with music. There are notes that sound good together and other combinations that make you cringe. And we know that it’s based in science. The vibrations of sound in the air create sound waves, and when the math and physics of different waves are a good fit, you’ve got music.

We all know foods that go together better than others. Bacon with cheese, pickles with deli meats, sushi with ginger, tomatoes with basil—they seem to create their own harmonies. And just like music, there’s math and science behind the fit of flavors.

The science of food pairing
Scientific flavor analysis has only been with us for a few years. It’s based on the molecular analysis of ingredients that identifies the odor and flavor compounds. Ingredients are sliced and diced with liquid and gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, and then an algorithm is applied to the compounds to come up with a unique flavor profile for each food. Compatible pairings happen when ingredients share enough compounds.

The molecular basis of pairings takes chefs away from recipes, intuition, and tradition to inspire the new and innovative dishes that you find on the menus of cutting-edge restaurants. Some of the new combinations that have worked their way into modernist cooking are chocolate and pink peppercorn, cauliflower and cocoa, and salmon with licorice. Some are better left in the laboratory like liver paired with jasmine and chocolate with smoked fish. And it’s said that caviar is molecular perfection with white chocolate, but I’ll just take it on faith.

There are clearly limits to molecular pairing.
That’s because we experience food in ways that transcend flavor. Preferences are also shaped by a dish’s appearance and texture, and the eater’s individual taste thresholds, culture, memories, traditions, and even inbuilt defense mechanisms that guided prehistoric eaters away from poisonous foods. The most complex genetic map in the entire human body is the one that controls the olfactory bulb that processes information sent to the brain about the food that we eat. Taste is far too complicated to boil down to a single, molecular rule of thumb.

Food, like music, can thrive on contrast as much as harmony. 
In music it’s called dissonance; the jangle of tones that deviates from neat sound waves to create harmonic tension. It can sound harsh and unstable but dissonance has also given us Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever, and pretty much every movie soundtrack worth its salt. In food a kind of dissonance is found in East Asian cuisines that are based on contrasting tastes combined in a balancing act of sweet and sour, hot and cooling. Garlic with sesame oil, shrimp with ginger —these are food pairings that are completely incompatible on a molecular level, but without them there’d be no Pad Thai, Vietnamese spring rolls, or Japanese gyoza.

Don’t just guess:
Foodpairing.com
has more than 1,000 pairing trees. These are interactive visualizations that give you all the possible combinations you can make with a chosen ingredient. Your selection is placed at the center and you can see all the molecularly compatible matches grouped on the branches around it. The closer to the center, the better the pairing.

Posted in cook + dine, food knowledge, Science/Technology | Leave a comment

SPAM vs. Spam

 

 

image via Happy Trails Computer Club

image via Happy Trails Computer Club

 

 

What’s in a name?
SPAM: a gelatinous block of porky luncheon meat.
Spam: a steady e-mail assault of erectile dysfunction ads, entreaties from Nigerian princes, and replica watch offers.
It’s hard to imagine a brand surviving this kind of association, but Hormel SPAM is doing just fine, thank you very much, not just surviving but thriving.

Hormel can get awfully touchy about the name.
It’s been a sore subject since the mid 1990′s when they watched their once-proud brand become synonymous with a detestable digital menace, and were powerless to stop it. Over the years they’ve repeatedly singled out technology companies with ‘spam’ in their company names and sued them for trademark infringement. After a decade of legal debate, the judges of the Trademark Board ruled against Hormel, asserting that the brand wasn’t truly damaged because no one confuses the internet applications with a canned meat product.

In 2001 their worst fears were realized.
A Hormel spokesman explained the company’s struggle with a statement on their website: “We are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, ‘why would Hormel foods name its product after junk e-mail?’” Indeed, ‘spam’ has become ubiquitous throughout the world to describe the flood of unsolicited e-mail and in 2001 the term entered the Oxford English Dictionary not as a luncheon meat but as “The practice of sending irrelevant, inappropriate, or unsolicited postings or e-mails over the Internet, esp. indiscriminately and in very large numbers.”

But for all of Hormel’s anguish, SPAM remains unmarred by the negative association.
Born in the Great Depression, SPAM is an emblematic food in America’s hard-times pantry—so much so that it’s been suggested that the Federal Reserve Bank should track SPAM sales as an economic benchmark. We’ve turned to it again in the recent downturn. Hormel has seen steadily rising sales and profits for the past four years.

In 2012 SPAM makes peace with the internet.
Looking to grow its online presence, this year SPAM redesigned its website, added a YouTube channel, and stepped up its customer engagement through Twitter and Facebook. The brand also introduced its first-ever spokescharacter, Sir Can-A-Lot, a little tin can of a knight who’s on a crusade to rescue your meals by infusing them with some pink processed meat. This year, SPAM’s U.S. consumption reached an all-time high of more than 120 million cans.

 

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Why is Mint the Flavor of Oral Hygiene?

Mint Splash • Cool Peppermint • Vanilla Mint • Wintergreen Ice • Extreme Herbal Mint • Clear Mint • Minty Fresh • Citrus Clean Mint • Green Tea Mint • Pure Peppermint Fresh • Super Action Mint • Lasting Mint

Crest toothpaste flavor lineup

Why Mint?
The Spanish are partial to anise-flavored toothpaste, Koreans flavor theirs with charcoal and bamboo salt, Indian toothpaste tastes like root beer from the addition of sarsaparilla root, and Russians prefer something called ‘Forest Balsam’ flavored with bark and pine needles. You can find mint-flavored toothpaste all around the globe, but its absolute domination is unique to the American market.

There are plenty of other flavors that freshen breath. You just need something with an astringent that shrinks bacteria combined with a pleasant scent. Oral hygiene was a homemade affair until the twentieth century, and people rinsed with vinegar or lemon juice, chewed aromatic seeds like fennel and cloves, and chewed on herbs and spices like parsley and spearmint.

Mint is a sweet smelling astringent that brings a little something extra.
Astringents tend to have a bite to them that can feel like a burn to your mouth, but mint makes the mouth feel cold. It’s just an illusion; the temperature inside your mouth doesn’t really change, but the natural menthol in mint activates temperature sensing cells that send out false signals. They fool your brain, and you sense a coolness that isn’t really there. It’s that sensation, more than the taste, that makes your mouth feel clean and fresh.

Availability tipped the scale in mint’s favor.
Runner-up cinnamon, the second most popular toothpaste flavoring, is a costly import from Asia. Mint, though not a native plant, was a well-established crop by the 1900′s, mostly in the Pacific Northwest and the regions around the Great Lakes. It was little-used as a culinary herb but had a multitude of medicinal uses, and mint oil was a valuable export. Cheap and readily available, mint insinuated itself into fledgling manufacturing, flavoring Colgate, the world’s first mass-produced jarred toothpaste in the 1870′s (collapsible paste tubes didn’t appear for another 20 years).

Today you can find novelty toothpaste flavored with everything from bacon to birthday cake, but mint still rules. See which brand tastes best in the Chow Supertaster’s Mint Toothpaste Flavor Showdown.

 

Posted in diversions, food knowledge, Health | Leave a comment

Everyone in America Eats the Exact Same Turkey

image via Gerry Broome/AP

 

I don’t need to tell you.
By now, we’re all pretty well acquainted with the miserable conditions and often inhumane treatment that produce the bulked-up shrink-wrapped birds found in supermarket cases. But did you know that they’re basically all the same turkey?

A year’s production: 275,000,000 broad-breasted whites and only 30,000 heritage birds.
Virtually every turkey raised in the U.S. comes from a single genetic line. Even most free-range farmed turkeys have been raised from poults purchased from large-scale breeders working from that line. The broad-breasted white is a genetically-engineered hybrid developed in the 1970′s; ‘broad-breasted’ because breast meat sells; ‘white’ because the little feathers missed in plucking won’t show.

The broad-breasted white was engineered to convert the minimum amount of feed into the maximum amount of white breast meat in the shortest possible amount of time. And what a triumph it is! A factory-farmed turkey is ready for market in as little as twelve weeks (versus around 30 weeks for heritage breeds) and about 70% of its weight is breast.

A lot of turkey parts have to fall by the wayside to get that much breast meat.
Mass market turkeys have scrawny legs and tiny little skeletons. Their body cavities are so small that their organs are too crowded to reach full functionality. They are too frail and front-heavy to walk, roost, fly, or mate. There’s little chance of any muscle development, which is all the better to support the singular goal of breast production.

The broad-breasted white turkey is not a robust bird.
Their oversized breasts constrict their lungs so that they are constantly starved for oxygen. They develop the cardiovascular diseases that seem to find the overweight and sedentary members of every species. Even if they’re not headed to slaughter, the ‘natural’ life-span of these turkeys is only a year or two, versus the eight to twelve year life expectancy of heritage breeds.

There’s nothing robust about their flavor either. All that white meat is flabby; the protein level is low, the taste is mild, and the texture is soft. Gaminess and chew have been bred out, and while broad-breasted whites are higher in fat than other breeds, there’s none of the richness.

A naturally raised, free range broad-breasted white turkey can be a vast improvement over a factory farmed specimen. It has a foraged diet and develops muscle mass that contribute to superior flavor. But for a turkey that tastes like a turkey should taste, you’ll have to seek out a heritage breed. ‘Heritage’ is not a federally-regulated term, and it’s an over-used marketing buzzword, but a true heritage turkey is one of the ten specific breeds that were raised in the U.S. prior to the 1950′s when the poultry industry began to genetically engineer turkeys on the way to developing the broad-breasted white.

Don’t eat a Thanksgiving turkey that tastes like every turkey in America.
You can order a heritage breed turkey online at Heritage Foods USA and D’Artagnan. On the east coast, Mary’s Turkeys can direct you to local markets that carry their birds. Local Harvest and the The US Ark of Taste at Slow Food USA both maintain national directories of heritage turkey farms, markets, and breeders.

 

 

Posted in food knowledge, holidays, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

The 10 Most Hated Foods (and why we hate them)

 

It’s not true that everything’s better with bacon.
There are foods that we simply loathe.

Some tastes are hardwired at birth for our protection and survival. 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. Your genetic makeup plays a role in taste: everyone perceives flavors a little differently, with different levels of intensity.

That’s the nature; 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.

Flavors can be polarizing, like blue cheese and black coffee—they are as beloved by some as much as they are detested by others. There are foods like spinach and brussels sprouts that elicit a child’s knee-jerk response, and many will carry it into adulthood. And then there are foods that are just plain difficult, like organ meats and odd sea creatures. It’s not that the taste is so objectionable, but the texture, aroma, or even the mere thought of these foods can cause queasiness in a wide swath of eaters. The Journal of Psychology surveyed more than 75,000 participants to come up with a list of the most hated foods in America, and they found that polarizing tastes, childhood prejudices, and the odd, nasty bits are all represented.

Disgusting or delicious? These are the 10 most hated foods (in order of revulsion):

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

 

Posted in food knowledge | 3 Comments
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