food knowledge

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

chicken_and_waffles_postcards-r8b447020e9dd4c1cbe17f359c8ff62d6_vgbaq_8byvr_324

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

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

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

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

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

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10 Foods We Loathe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Move Over, Cows. Almond Milk Has Arrived.

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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What to Drink in a Polar Vortex

polar vortex photo via nasa.gov

polar vortex photo via nasa.gov

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Your World is Awash in Pig Products

image via 52 Infographics in 52 Weeks

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

 

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Scent Marketing: The Smell That Sells

nose

 

Retailers are going through your nostrils to get to your wallet.
Dunkin’ Donuts wafts the scent of morning coffee through city buses. Domino’s printed heat-activated inks on DVDs of SkyfallThe Dark Knight Rises, and Argo that release the smell of pizza when the DVD player warms up, and bars can buy beer-scented darts for their dartboards. There’ve even been dog food-scented ads that are below the human smell threshold but are sensed by dogs with their thousands-times more sensitive noses.

Anyone who’s ever grocery shopped on an empty stomach knows the power of smell: the fragrance of roasting chickens as they take a turn around the deli department’s rotisserie; the fresh-baked aroma of yeasty goodness floating through the air of the in-store bakery. Supermarkets report a rise in sales of around 7% for fragrance-enhanced foods and Dunkin Donuts saw a 16% increase in store traffic and a 29% increase in coffee sales along the bus routes.

We’re lead around by our noses.
Food smells perk up the appetite, but it’s more than that. Your sense of smell is pure emotion. The other senses all pass through the rational filter in the brain, but smells skip the filter and instantly transport you to an emotional place. Your response is based in memories, and we tend to carry a lot of happy memories based around food.

Sensory marketing is nothing new.
Movie theaters have always relied on it to sell popcorn, and hotels know that if they pump a little bacon smell into elevator shafts in the morning they’ll boost their room service breakfast business. Amusement parks hide motion-sensing machines in the landscaping to spritz funnel cake or cotton candy fragrance when you walk by, and Cinnabon has built an empire on filling food courts with cinnamon-scented air.

Some recent applications have drawn attention for what many consider to be deceptive marketing.
Some fast food chains use frozen, precooked hamburger patties treated with a topically applied perfume that melts when they’re reheated and imparts the smell of freshly grilled meat. Supermarkets disperse artificial cooking smells that can mislead customers about what’s actually made on the premises. Even the Times Square Hershey’s store gives an artificial boost to its merchandise with chocolate-perfumed air.

What are you really smelling?
Artificial fragrances are in use all around us. A visit to the website for  fragrance supplier ScentAir gives you a sense of the scale of the industry. The company offers 1,600 different smells by monthly subscription from its fragrance library, and their market share alone represents 40,000 scent installations in more than 100 countries.

The practice goes by lots of different names–retail atmospherics, neuromarketing, sensory branding, olfactory marketing, scent logos. Whatever you want to call it, it’s probably making you spend more money.

 

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Nose to Tail Starts With the Head

HeadCheese

 

Let’s start by getting the ‘head’ and ‘cheese’ business out of the way. 
Yes, it’s made with a head; usually that of a pig, but sometimes from a calf, cow, or sheep (good to know if you keep kosher).
No, there isn’t any cheese involved (the lactose intolerant can relax). The name evolved from the Latin word forma—a basket or box used as a mold—most often to compress and form cheese curds but also for meat terrines; as forma, and then fromage, became the word for cheese, the molded meats were swept along.

Said head is plucked and shaved, the earwax is cleaned out, and it’s simmered for hours— skin, snout, eyeballs, tongue, and all. The cooked meat is seasoned and packed into a mold along with the collagen-enriched stock (from all the bone and cartilage) which gels as it cools.

Looking at a well-constructed slice of head cheese can be like peering through a stained glass window with its mosaic effect of shimmering aspic dotted with suspended jewels of braised pork bits. At its finest, a slice of head cheese is tender meat and wobbly gelatin that melts on the tongue. Bad headcheese can be grayish, dry, and pasty, studded with the occasional bristle or tooth missed in straining, but that’s another story…

Any cuisine that cooks with pork has a version of head cheese, since when it comes to the pig’s head, it’s pretty much head cheese or toss it. In Germany it’s called sülze, it’s queso de puerco in Mexico, giò thủ in Viet Nam,and formaggio di testa in Italy. The Brits call it brawn and in the southern U.S. it’s known as souse. You probably eat more head cheese than you realize a slice can be snuck into a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich or served as a salumi alongside its charcuterie cousins.

Your kitchen will look like the set of a slasher flick, but it’s otherwise not that difficult to make your own head cheese. So if you ever find yourself in possession of a whole pig’s head and a dozen or so friends willing to share in the results (that’s why they’re your friends), you’ll be amply rewarded with pounds of the stuff.

London chef Fergus Henderson’s cookbook The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating was an instant classic of  ‘nose to tail’ cooking. The book inspired the blog Nose To Tail At Home documenting the efforts of home cook/blogger Ryan Adams as he bravely cooks his way through the book, one pig knuckle or rolled spleen at a time.

 

Posted in blogging, cook + dine, food knowledge | 2 Comments

Chicken. Just Chicken.

image via BuyingChickens.net

image via BuyingChickens.net

 

Nobody buys just lettuce; it’s Romaine or arugula or Bibb. Beef is Angus, salmon is Sockeye, and a Granny Smith apple is never mistaken for a Honeycrisp. But we buy chicken, just chicken.

Bland, mealy supermarket tomatoes just don’t cut it once you’ve had the juice of a just-picked, perfectly ripe Brandywine running down your chin, and freshly-dug Russian Banana fingerlings are a potato revelation after mass-produced russets. Heirloom fruits and vegetables are old-time varieties grown from seeds that are saved from season to season and handed down through multiple generations of growers. They’ve been saved, sometimes for centuries, because they taste so good .

Modern large-scale agriculture relies on hybrids. Commercial growers have breeding programs that focus on high yields and ship-ability. They need varieties that perform well in the field, can be picked green, travel long distances, and be gas-ripened when they reach their destination. Flavor and nutrition take a backseat to shelf-life and hardiness.

Breed makes an enormous difference to the taste of chicken, just as it does for other foods.
Most of us have yet to discover this difference because we’ve gone our entire lives eating just one chicken: the Cornish X Rock hybrid. The U.S. poultry industry, which cranks out eight billion of them a year, selectively bred the Cornish X Rock to grow quickly while eating as little as possible, and to carry a high ratio of white meat to dark with its giant breasts perched on stubby legs.

Just as tender heads of Little Gems lettuce will ruin you for iceberg, once you eat a heritage chicken, there’s no going back to Perdue.
These birds are more complex, more savory, just plain more chicken-y than what you’ve been eating. Even an organic, free-ranging Cornish X can’t come close. It will always be a flabby prisoner of its genetics, maturing too quickly, and too top-heavy to move. The meat never has a chance to develop any real character.

Each heritage chicken breed has its own ‘personality.’
It’s like apples— there are sweet ones and tart ones, apples for sauce and apples for pie. It’s not the worst thing if you bake with Red Delicious, but Pippins are a better choice. Same with the chickens: a Buff Orpington is a great fryer while the oil would overwhelm the delicate flesh of a Marans, and a meaty Speckled Sussex cries out for a slow braise. There is none of the multi-tasking versatility of Cornish X Rock, but each breed has its own distinctive textural and taste notes and even a sense of terroir. 

Heritage recipes for heritage birds.
Dust off the old cookbooks- you need to go all the way back to the 1950’s to find recipes that don’t presume you’re cooking a Cornish X Rock.
Contemporary cooking of old fashioned chickens is alive and well at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, a pioneering breeder and online seller of heritage chickens. The farm sponsors a heritage chicken recipe competition attracting hundreds of entrants. You can find winning recipes and more at The Heritage Chef.

 

Posted in cooking, food knowledge, recipes | 1 Comment

Your Fork, Your Conscience, and Your Pocketbook

 

image via Watershed Media

image via Watershed Media


Do you know where your food dollars are going?

From Tom Monaghan, founder of both Domino’s Pizza and the ultra-Orthodox Catholic Ave Maria List PAC, to the Koch Brothers and their Dixie Cups brand, conservatives have plenty of friends in the food world. A few, like Chick-fil-A, are controlled by far right-wingers who openly and unapologetically use their brands to promote conservative agendas. Most just quietly pour profits into campaigns and super PACs that oppose gay rights, abortion rights, gun control, universal healthcare, and other affronts to conservatism.

Business owners are free to exercise their Constitutional rights of speech and assembly, just as we are free to decide that we’d rather not help them to finance bigotry and intolerance.
Here at Gigabiting, these are the food-related businesses with politics that leave a bad taste in our mouths:

Johnsonville Sausage has a long history of support for right-wing causes and candidates, most recently to fight the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Carl’s Jr.’s founder’s support of a nasty little proposition to fire gay teachers earned his hamburgers the nickname ‘bigot burgers.’

The Waffle House, a southern roadside fixture with 1,600 mostly franchised restaurants, used centralized corporate funds to become a major supporter of Karl Rove’s group American Crossroads.

White Castle likes to support the seriously conservative Congressional Leadership Fund Super PAC.

The ice cream manufacturer Blue Bell Creameries is also a fan of the Boehner-linked Congressional Leadership Fund.

Cracker Barrel has stopped firing employees who don’t exhibit ‘normal heterosexual values,’ but its political contributions list reads like a Who’s Who of the Tea Party.

Outback Steakhouse has been criticized for strong-arming employees to sign over paycheck deductions to a massive in-house PAC. Ironically, that fund directs its contributions to organizations that fight labor-friendly causes like a higher minimum wage and a national health care system.

When you mop up kitchen spills with Brawny, Sparkle, or Mardi Gras paper towels, you’re lining the pockets of Charles and David Koch, the pair who is funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to groups like the National Rifle Association, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the National Right to Life Committee, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, the 60 Plus Association and the American Future Fund. Like Dixie Cups and Vanity Fair napkins, they are all produced by subsidiaries of Koch Industries. It’s not food but it’s in your kitchen.

Vote with your pocketbook, your fork, and your conscience.
Better World Shopper rates the social responsibility of over 1,000 companies in a range of industries. It’s a reliable and comprehensive database that examines corporate records on human rights, environmental issues, animal protection, issues of social justice, and community involvement.

Posted in food business, food knowledge | 3 Comments

The Rabbis’ Banquet, or Why it’s ‘kosher’ not to keep kosher

 

 

image via Cafe Press

image via Cafe Press

 

Do you keep kosher?
It’s the mother of all wedge issues for Jews.
It’s the issue that split Judaism into the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform denominations we know today, and it’s all because of a single dinner.

The landmark dinner took place in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1883.
It was held to celebrate the first graduating class of the Hebrew Union College, America’ first rabbinical seminary. At the time there little differentiation between Jewish denominations in America; they were all just Jews. But there was a widening schism between the pious traditionalists and the more assimilated American-born religious modernists who were struggling with the role of religion in American life.

The Jewish dietary laws were at the heart of the debate.
Some thought that the kosher rituals, preserving an unbroken chain of generations going back to Moses on Mount Sinai, were exactly the type of tradition that should be maintained. Others argued that kosher laws were just the sort of practice that should be jettisoned as an impediment to integration into American society.

It all came to a head at the ordination dinner that’s come to be known as the Treif Banquet.
Treif is the Hebrew word for ‘unclean,’ meaning any non-Kosher food that doesn’t conform to the Jewish dietary laws. The newly ordained rabbis deliberately loaded the banquet menu with treif foods to demonstrate their rejection of traditional ritual laws in favor of a dynamic moral code based in Jewish teachings but more in step with the modern realities of their adopted country.

It didn’t sit well with the Orthodox rabbis in attendance.
Some fled at the first sign of taboo shellfish. Those who stuck around past the appetizer of Little Neck clams on the half shell were treated to plenty of other traif delicacies. There were soft shell crabs, shrimp, frog legs, and a lobster bisque. The wines and meats weren’t kosher, and dairy products were mixed liberally with the meat courses prepared with butter and cream sauces, and a cheese course after.

The battle lines were drawn.
The dinner divided the Jewish community between the doctrinal dogmatism of Orthodoxy and the liberalism of the Reform wing. The two extremes left a lot of middle ground. There were plenty of assimilation-minded Jews chafing at Orthodoxy, and traditionalist Reform Jews who were offended by the radical ideology that the Hebrew Union College flaunted at the banquet. A new rabbinical college, the Jewish Theological Seminary, was established to occupy the middle ground, and it became the bastion of a new, purely American, Conservative Jewish Movement.

Today, about one in five American Jews keeps kosher.
The Orthodox Movement is the only purely observant group; members of the Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Humanist movements can go either way, and most go the way of spareribs, shrimp cocktail, cheeseburgers, and BLT’s.

We have the brave rabbis of the Treif Banquet to thank for making America safe for bacon-loving Jews.

 

 

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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.

 

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food knowledge | Leave a comment

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.

 

Posted in diversions, food knowledge, gadgets | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food knowledge, food trends | 1 Comment

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.

 

Posted in food knowledge, health + diet | Leave a comment
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