food knowledge

Horse Meat Comes Off the Menu at NYC Restaurant

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I’m so hungry I could eat a…

Horse meat is off the menu at New York’s M. Wells Dinette. The restaurant’s celebrated French-Canadian chef-owner scuttled plans to serve horse meat tartare in response to outrage from animal rights advocates and concern about legal and health ramifications.

Last year Congress lifted a ban on slaughtering horses for human consumption. Until the ban went into effect just five years earlier the U.S. was one of the world’s largest horse meat producers, mostly shipping it to overseas markets, and had been for more than a century. But we’ve never been much for eating it.

Horse meat has long been taboo in the U.S., mostly for sentimental reasons.
It’s like the pets-or-food problem we have with rabbit; we don’t want to eat potential companions. There have been two notable exceptions in horse meat history: a widely mocked government promotion as a beef substitute when meat rations became scarce during World War II (earning Truman the nickname ‘Horse Meat Harry’); and the chicken-fried horse meat cutlets served at the Harvard Faculty Club until 1985.

Animal protection groups pressed Congress for the 2007 ban, but animal welfare was also one of the reasons for the ban to be lifted. Incidents of horse neglect, mistreatment, and abandonment had soared in the following years—animal welfare organizations have reported as much as a 60% spike—with most blaming the recession, since the proper maintenance of a horse is such a huge expense.

Even so, a horse slaughterhouse is a tough sell, and not just to New Yorkers. A new slaughterhouse has yet to open since Congress cleared the way; one application was withdrawn when a Missouri community protested, another is languishing in New Mexico with strong opposition from legislators; and in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill that bans not just slaughterhouses, but even the transport of slaughterhouse-bound horses on his state’s roads.

Even with its new legal status, there is virtually no U.S. market for human consumption of horse meat. Horse meat is not kosher, questionably halal, and it’s forbidden by some Christian sects going back to the 8th Century when the Pope declaimed it as a “filthy and abominable” pagan custom. Its cause isn’t helped by the lack of a culinary cognate—meat from a pig is called pork, from a cow it’s called beef or veal, but meat from a horse is horse meat (although the practice of horse-eating is called hippophagy).

In case you’re curious, horse meat is said to taste similar to beef only sweeter and gamier with a mineral finish.

You might be surprised to learn that beyond horse meat, you can legally buy everything from camel to yak to zebra. Read all about it in Gigabiting’s How to Cook a Lion.

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

Got Alt-Milk?

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate


Got milk?
Gotten milk recently? It’s no easy feat.
The dairy case used to hold a couple of cow’s milks with varying fat contents. Then soy milk appeared as a non-dairy alternative. Now we have a slew of non-dairy and non-soy milk alternatives crowding the case, made from nut varieties, grains, and even law-skirting hemp seeds.

Why all the milk alternatives?
We know that a cow’s life on a dairy farm is hardly the bucolic idyll of our imaginations. Supporters of animal rights and those looking to avoid growth hormones and antibiotics have already moved on from large-scale, conventional milk producers. Then there are vegans, the allergic and lactose intolerant, and other dieters looking to reduce fat and cholesterol.

The first stop for most was soy milk, but there is growing awareness that soy is a high spray, intensively farmed, rain forest-depleting crop, and most of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically-modified. There are also concerns that soy protein can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb potassium, and it may be linked to breast cancer.
Now what are we supposed to put on our cereal?

Rice milk is often the alt-milk gateway because it tastes closest to cow’s milk, but sweeter. It’s low in fat but high in carbohydrates (rice, y’know) and thin as water so it’s not the most pleasing replacement for your usual splash of half-and-half in your morning coffee, but it can hold a decent cappuccino foam.

Almond milk is low in fat and high in protein. It’s creamy and slightly sweet with slightly bitter undertones. It foams impressively, although in an off-white shade, and makes a good dairy substitute for cooking and baking. It’s dairy-free, but commercially produced almond milk isn’t always soy-free.

Hazelnut milk is light in consistency but has a rich flavor, a powerful nutty fragrance, and just a tiny touch of sweetness. The hazelnutty taste is boosted when it’s made from roasted nuts, rather than the more common raw nuts. Not everyone is a fan of the hazelnut taste, but if you are it’s a good choice in sweet coffee drinks and desserts. If you’re not, have it warmed—hazelnut milk holds a credible foam for espresso drinks and the flavor dissipates in the heat.

The coconut milk you find in half gallon cartons is not the same as the unctuous cooking ingredient that comes in a can. It’s also not the same beverage as coconut water. It falls somewhere between the two when it comes to fat content, sweetness, and creaminess; this means it’s still pretty sweet, fatty, and lush. It tastes undeniably of coconut, so use it where you want the flavor. It’s perfect for non-dairy smoothies and creamy desserts, and has the virtue of being made from just one ingredient: coconut.

I’ll warn you that oat milk is a bit thick. It doesn’t go down like porridge, but it’s not what you would call light and refreshing. Oat milk is not the best option for coffee, but it’s great on cereal and in baking where the grainy flavor is welcome. It’s low in fat, when compared with nut or dairy-based milks, and actually has more calcium than cow’s milk. It also avoids the natural sweetness of most of the dairy substitutes, making it a good option for savory dishes like mashed potatoes.

Hemp milk is made from the same seeds as pot plants. It’s not legally grown in most parts of the U.S., so most is brought over the border from Canada. It will not have you playing Pink Floyd and eating vast quantities of pizza—the hemp used in milk is bred and processed to contain almost no THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The milk is, shall we say, an acquired taste—off white, slightly chalky, with tart, grassy notes. It’s as high in fat as cow’s milk, but the good kind, with lots of healthy Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. It holds a respectable foam for cappuccino.

If you’re new to the alt milks category, you need to know a few general rules that always apply to the milk alternatives:

  • they’re always more palatable when served chilled, especially if you’re drinking them straight-up
  • shake them up; they all separate like crazy
  • read the labels— the ingredients aren’t always organic, and they can even contain dairy in the form of casein and other milk-derived additives
  • you don’t want to dive headfirst into hemp or oat milk; ease into the category by trying some of the flavored milk varieties or maybe a nice almond milk ice cream


Posted in food knowledge, health + diet, vegetarian/vegan | 3 Comments

Crazy But True: The Fruit Cocktail Tree

image via Funny Farm


The rumors of the hoax have been greatly exaggerated.

There’s been a lot of chatter about a fruit tree.
An Australian nursery has been making a big splash on food and gardening sites with its trees that are said to bear six or so different fruit. The Fruit Salad Tree Company sells a peach-apricot-plum-nectarine tree, a lemon-orange-lime-tangerine-grapefruit-mandarin-pomelo tree, and apple and pear trees that grow red-green-yellow varieties all in one.
Not everyone is buying it.

Crop circles, the Jackalope, and now the fruit cocktail tree?
It sounds like the stuff of fairy tales; a mythical tree from which you can pluck a whole fruit basket of varieties. But it’s the real deal, and it’s actually nothing new.

Fruit cocktail trees have been around even longer than canned fruit cocktail.
They’re not hybrids or genetically modified, but are created by grafting—attaching the fruit-bearing branches of one tree onto the roots and trunk of another. It’s a simple technique that’s been around for centuries; Aristotle wrote of it in ancient Greece, and even the apostle Paul talks about grafting olive trees in the King James Bible. And I do mean simple: cut the branch from one tree and jam it into a hole you made in the other. If the central tissues make good contact, they’ll fuse together into a single, growing organism.

Grafting is also incredibly common.
Nearly every California lemon is grown on an orange tree base, and in Florida most oranges are grown on lemon trees. Most apples come from grafts, and it’s standard practice for grape growers. Kids everywhere grow pomato plants for their school science fairs, grafting potatoes and tomatoes into a single plant that grows tomatoes above ground and potatoes below.

It’s old, it’s common, so why all the skepticism?
A few years ago, there was a well-known hoax involving a 94-year old Welshman and his 30-year old backyard apple tree. The tree was quite a media sensation when it began producing plums and blackberries, drawing horticulturalists and journalists from across Britain. Alas, it was a fake, although the owner claimed to have had no part in it. Gardeners everywhere felt burned, and it seems they have long memories.

The Australian nursery doesn’t send its trees to the U.S., but there are plenty of domestic growers who will ship you a fruit cocktail tree, including Calloway’sHouse of WesleyCitrus Splitzer, and And if you’re still skeptical, you can check the integrity of the grower through The Garden Watchdog.


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Foods That Make You Pretty

image via Real Moms, Real Views


There is no magic potion to stop the clock. No instant beauty in a jar.
But there are foods you can eat that can help. They can be just as effective as any anti-aging–ultra-hydrating–cell-regenerating–alpha hydroxy–retinoid cream, and you’ll shell out a lot less in the produce section than you would at the cosmetics counter.

Whiter teeth
Scrub your teeth with raw celery, carrots, green beans, and cauliflower. Each contains cellulose which acts as an abrasive to polish the tooth surface and remove stains and bacteria.

A healthy tan
Shiitake mushrooms are high in minerals like copper that boost the production of melanin, the pigment that darkens your skin in the sun.

A blackhead-free nose
The zinc in sunflower seeds helps clear oil-clogged pores where blackheads grow.

Clear eyes
Spinach is rich in the carotenoids that keep the whites of your eyes looking bright.

Soft skin
Switch out some of your olive oil with newly-fashionable, vitamin E-rich grapeseed oil.

Reduce puffiness
Counter dark circles and puffy bags under the eyes by seasoning dishes with parsley, sage, and oregano instead of bloat-inducing salt.

Clear skin
Purple cabbage is high in sulfur and iodine—much more than green varieties—and helps rid your body of the toxins that contribute to acne.
If you have dry patches, add swiss chard to your diet for its natural retinol, a key ingredient in pharmaceutical compounds for psoriasis.

Thick, shiny hair
The iron and sulfur in eggs can help prevent hair loss and soften and smooth your hair.

Fight broken blood vessels
Pomegranate juice helps stop the formation of spider veins by strengthening the walls of blood vessels.

Give your skin a healthy golden glow with orange foods: cantaloupe, apricots, sweet potatoes, and carrots are all loaded with plant-based pigments that can tint the skin.

We can’t stop the clock, but a healthy, plant-rich diet will radiate a youthful glow from every pore.


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Hot Tea on a Hot Day: Friend or Foe?


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?

There’s lot of scientific pontification about neural thermoregulation and TRPV1 receptors in the tongue, but basically the science behind the hot tea theory is that it raises your body’s temperature which naturally makes you perspire, and that helps cool you off.

For hot tea to work as advertised, the cooling power of sweat would have to exceed the heating power of the tea. The reality is that neither is having all that much of an effect. Our bodies are really good at maintaining our core temperature, and a single glass of anything isn’t likely to be sufficient to alter it. What a hot drink can do is warm the tissues it travels past on its way to your stomach—too small and fleeting to heat your core but enough to make you feel warm and flushed. Definitely not the effect you were hoping for.

Trust your intuition.
You wouldn’t turn up the heat in your house on a hot day. That would make you sweat too, but you wouldn’t feel any cooler.


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The Sports Drink Industry has a Nice Bridge in Brooklyn to Sell You


Is Gatorade just, as the British press put it, lolly water?

Every 8-year old with a soccer ball knows that you have to stay hydrated.
They hear it from parents and gym teachers, coaches and pediatricians. They’re taught to start drinking in advance of exercise and to continue to drink at regular intervals to replace the fluids they sweat out.

This drinking dogma is not common sense.
Until the 1970′s everyone—even elite athletes—was taught to let thirst be their guide. Our bodies come equipped with an efficient homeostatic mechanism that regulates and balances hydration all on its own and uses thirst as a signal to drink.
The new-fangled concept of scientific hydration– it’s something we were taught by the sports drink industry.

Have we been sold a bill of goods?
The BBC just aired a new investigative documentary contending that the sports drink industry essentially invented the entire field of the science of dehydration. Through scientific sponsorships and grants, the industry has influenced four decades of academia, medicine, athletics, and even public health policy all in the interest of marketing a product based on a dubious health claim.

Early on, the sports drink industry set up its own research arms like Scientists in Sport and the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. The industry funds groups like the 35,000 member US National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the 45,000 member American College of Sports Medicine, and underwrites countless professional and consumer publications by and for its members. Even the nutrition guidelines for the Olympics were written in conjunction with Powerade, while Gatorade advocates had financial ties and prominent editorial roles in the drafting of guidelines for the U.S. military, which just so happens to be Gatorade’s number one customer.

The BBC production suggests that hydration science is a bunch of hooey, and the claim is backed by a scathing series of studies published this month in the British Medical Journal. The BMJ report pokes holes in decades of findings from beverage industry groups. It assessed decades-worth of hydration research supporting 431 product claims and advertisements; 97.3% were found to be invalid, tainted by flawed methodology and researcher bias.

A tiny benefit for a tiny minority
The BMJ reports that it’s only at the very extreme end of the sports spectrum where workouts are at their longest and most intense that performance may benefit from sports drinks. When the limits of endurance are stretched and performance is measured in millimeters and microseconds, the smallest incremental boost to energy and fluid replacement can make a difference.

For the rest of us, it’s about as effective as lolly water.


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Fast Food Workers Tell Us: These are the Menu Items You Don’t Want to Eat

image via


A Reddit user posed the question:

What is the one menu option at your employment that you would recommend people never eat?

In the first 24 hours, more than 6,000 restaurant workers responded.
They warned us of vegetarian items that aren’t, and tell us why we don’t want the ‘steakhouse-style’ burger for dinner. They told us about bug-infested soda nozzles, ice machine slime, and instructed us on why you never want to order a milk shake on a Saturday. It’s a roundup of food safety lapses, dietary lies, and Jungle-like tales of the food service underbelly worthy of Upton Sinclair.

Grilled Chicken
If you think you’re saving on calories and fat, think again. Those who work the grills talk of slathering chicken breasts in so much liquified margarine to keep them moist and prevent sticking that burgers and fried chicken can actually be healthier options.

Tuna and Chicken Salad
Restaurant workers report sightings of mayonnaise that spends the whole day at room temperature, and unsold chicken nuggets that are stripped of breading and re-purposed in salads.

Fountain Drinks
Soda nozzles and ice dispensers are seldom cleaned until they’re clogged—with bugs, hair, congealed soda syrups, algae—and anything else that might have accumulated or fallen in. The flipside is no better— a recently cleaned soda machine can have so much of the cleaning solution lingering in its reservoir that it dispenses a dose of anti-bacterial chemicals with the first few batches of servings.

Saturday’s Shakes
An ice cream-less mix frozen in an automated shake machine hardly qualifies as a treat any day of the week. But at some fast food outlets, the employees say that they are instructed to save all the spills and runoff that accumulate in the machine’s well, collect it for the week, and then load it back into the shake machine for a second Saturday go-round.
Why Saturday? Because it’s the health inspector’s day off.

Self-Serve Communal Condiments
You really don’t want to know.

‘Steakhouse-Style’ Burgers
A lot of the fast food chains recently added upgraded hamburgers to their menus. Often made with a higher grade of beef and fancy toppings, they command a premium price, and most outlets sell very few until dinner time. Which means, we are told, that the ‘steakhouse’ burgers from the lunch shift can have a six-hour session under warming lights to become the ‘steakhouse’ burgers of the dinner shift.

These are the eyewitnesses.
These are the people who flip the burgers, scoop the fries, and refill the straw dispensers.
And these are the foods that they won’t touch.


Posted in fast food, food knowledge, food safety | 1 Comment

Things to Do (and one thing not to do) with Kool-Aid

 Look at all the things you can do with Kool-Aid: You can make lip gloss
It takes just a little Vaseline, a little honey, and enough Kool-Aid to get the right shade.

Clean a toilet
Lemon and orange flavors only; it’s cheap, environmentally friendly, and pet-safe. Mix up some Play Dough
Kool-Aid dough smells so much better than the old nursery school salt dough. your hair
You can go for all-over color, tips and highlights, or make corrections to your existing shade. Berry and fruit punch flavors perk up red hair, and blue raspberry tones down brassy yellows. It’s subtle and temporary—it washes out after a few shampoos.’s an after-swim hair conditioner.
When your hair looks and feels like straw from the chlorine in a swimming pool, mix a little Kool-Aid into your shampoo. It removes the chlorine and gets rid of greenish ‘swimmer’s hair.’


You can tie dye a shirt your dishwasher
Run the dishwasher with a pack or two of Kool-Aid in the soap drawer and it washes away spots and residue and lime or iron build-up.

Paint your walls with Kool-Aid
Pick any flavor to tint a can of water-based latex paint. your driveway
A little Kool-Aid in the water removes rust and oil stains.



Kool-Aid is so very versatile.
Kool-Aid creates such pretty colors because it contains negatively-charged, anionic acid dyes.
As a household cleaner, it has the cleansing power of caustic and toxic substances like phosphates, petroleum, bleach, and oxalic acid.

There’s a lot you can do with Kool-Aid, but one thing you don’t want to do is drink it.

Posted in food knowledge, home | 3 Comments

Funny, you don’t look Jewish…

image via Kosher Ham


Why is it that nearly half of all the food in American supermarkets is kosher-certified?
There are roughly 6.5 million Jews in the U.S., just about 2% of the population. Maybe a million of them keep kosher.

A higher authority than the USDA
Kosher has become synonymous with purity and quality. It requires scrutiny and monitoring that exceed national standards, playing nicely in the current environment of heightened concerns about food safety. Labeling of kosher food is considered to be more trustworthy than mainstream labeling. Strict product labeling tells vegans and vegetarians when meat or dairy is present;  Muslims can trust that kosher meat products contain no pork; and consumers with food allergies can safely monitor their diets.

The kosher label is so desirable that it now dominates new product launches. It is the number one label claim for new food and beverages, topping even organic, natural, and low fat. Mainstream retailers like WalMart and Whole Foods are hustling for certification to sell kosher chickens.

Of course the ancient, Jewish dietary laws stand for more than just food safety. Adherence is intended to connect daily living to a higher spiritual plane. For the typical kosher consumer, 85% of whom are not Jewish, faith is not a factor— just a lack of faith in the agencies that monitor our food system.

Pivotal kosher moments in US history:

  • Coca Cola (certified kosher, 1935)
  • Tropicana orange juice (1990)
  • Oreos (1997)
  • Kosher Pork (2011)
    It’s like the Jewish version of the Holy Grail. It’s actually a Spanish variety of goose with a decided porkiness to its flesh.

Every one of them was a watershed. But nothing changed the way Americans look at kosher food like the 1972 Hebrew National hot dog commercial. As Uncle Sam munches on a hot dog, a disembodied, heavenly voice assures him that as a Hebrew National beef hot dog, it is free of the additives and by-products typically found in lesser processed meats. As the camera pans heavenward, the voice proclaims, “We answer to a higher authority.”

Kosher Quest has a guide to kosher package symbols and their certifying agencies.

Buck the trend and dine at Traif. Named for the Hebrew word for non-kosher, the Brooklyn restaurant is a celebration of pork and shellfish.

If you missed it the first time around, now’s your chance to view the seminal 1975 Hebrew National hot dog commercial.

Posted in food knowledge, shopping | 1 Comment

Your Recommended Daily Allowance of Food Trivia



Have you had your daily dose of trivia?
Today we’re serving up a big bowl of smarty pants.
You’ll be the life of the party with this stockpile of facts, or maybe just the world’s leading authority of an esoteric knowledge domain.

I’ll bet you didn’t know…

  • Hippopotamus milk is pink
  • avocados are poisonous to birds
  • falling coconuts kill more people each year (around 150) than sharks (about 4)
  • internet spam is not named for the canned pork product; it’s an homage to a 1970 Monty Python’s Flying Circus skit in which a group of Vikings sing ‘SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, lovely SPAM, wonderful SPAM!’ drowning out all other conversation
  • a fully ripened cranberry can be dribbled like a basketball
  • a typical American will eat 28 pigs’ worth of pork in their lifetime
  • Russian children blow out the candles on a birthday pie

Where did it come from?

  • The microwave oven was invented when an employee of the Raytheon Company walked past a radar tube and noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. His second experiment was popcorn.
  • Lithium, the drug used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, was one of the seven original ingredients in 7-Up, then known as Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. Lithium remained in the recipe until a 1950 reformulation.
  • The term ‘brain freeze’ was invented by 7-11 to explain the pain from drinking a slurpee too fast.

Food by the numbers:

  • Two-thirds of the world’s eggplant is grown in New Jersey.
  • An ear of corn has 800 kernels, give or take.
  • There are around 180 sesame seeds on each Big Mac bun.
  • Add fries and a Coke to that Big Mac and it will take you seven straight hours of walking to burn off the calories. It takes 100 yards to walk off a single M&M—Americans go through 200 million of them every day.
  • Seven percent of Ireland’s barley crop goes to the production of Guinness beer.

Food facts we could have done without:

  • Sugar derived from sugar cane is processed with animal bones. Most U.S. sugar cane refineries filter the sugar through charcoal made from the bones of cows.
  • Most jelly beans are coated with shellac—yes, the stuff used to polish furniture—to keep their shine. And to add to the nastiness, shellac is made from insect excretions, mostly from the forests of Thailand. Easter’s coming; you might want to fill your baskets with Jelly Bellies, coated with shellac-less bees’ wax.
  • And while we’re on the subject of furniture polish, there’s more lemon juice in Lemon Pledge than Country Time Lemonade.

The uncommon food facts, the curious bits of culinary miscellany, the flotsam and jetsam of the kitchen— each tasty tidbit is more useless than the next, but still we gather. And who knows; someday, maybe, just maybe, there will be an opportunity to flaunt it.

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Things You Can Do With Marshmallows

In a world without marshmallows, Rice Krispies would be strictly a breakfast food, never a treat. There’d be no Moon Pies, Mallomars, or Rocky Road ice cream. Yams would be a lot less candied, and Lucky Charms would need some other pastel-colored confection to dress up a bowl of frosted oat bits.

Clearly, marshmallows are a culinary workhorse, all too often overlooked and under-appreciated. And they’re good for much more. So much more.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Tasty and versatile; and you thought marshmallows were nothing more than sugar and air.

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The New Hybrids: Anarchy in a Fruit Bowl

image via Woosk


This week a New Zealand grower is launching the papple. A tasty but disconcerting eating experience, you look at it and say ‘apple,’ and then proceed to bite rather harder than necessary into its mottled apple-shaped exterior. The flesh says ‘pear’, with its soft, juicy grittiness, but the flavor takes you back again to apple.

Remember when a peach was a peach and a plum was a plum?
Today, there is so much tinkering that fruit varieties are becoming unmoored from their genetics. The produce aisle is so full of apricot-plum hybrids like pluots, apriums, and plumcots, that it’s tough to find the real thing. And even then you can’t be sure; a fruit can be identified as an apricot but still contain some added plum genes that were chosen to create a product that ripens quicker or ships better.

Hybridization is nothing new.
It’s not like the genetic engineering that takes place in a laboratory; hybrids are the result of cross-pollination between plants of the same botanical species. A visit from birds, bees, or just a strong breeze can make it happen naturally in the fields. Even intentional hybrids, helped along by human intervention, have been around for centuries.

Did you know that these are hybrids?
a cross between raspberries, blackberries, and loganberries that was first cultivated in 1920 by a Mr. Boysen. Not to be confused with Mr. Logan’s raspberry/blackberry cross or the similarly crossed Tayberry, unaccountably patented by Mr. Jennings.
Grapefruit: it’s an 18th century hybrid combining the orange and the pomelo. The grapefruit was further crossed with the tangerine to produce the tangelo.
Even the lemon is an ancient hybrid of the orange and the citron.

There are plenty of hybrids that failed to catch on:
the lemon/tomato lemato and the potato/tomato pomato;
lime + kumquat = the limequat;
and the versatile mandarin orange turns lime juice red in the hybrid blood lime, combines with lemon in the lemandarin, and with kumquat in the citrofortunella.
Not on the list—the grapple. It’s a popular grape-apple combination, but it isn’t a hybrid; just an apple pumped full of grape juice.

Look what’s coming:
The pluerry? The cherum?
It’s 50 years in the making, but the developer has yet to settle on a name. A plum/cherry hybrid is finally being grown commercially.

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Foods That Fill You Up: The Satiety Index

Rabelais's Gargantua


You know the saying that we feel hungry soon after eating Chinese food? It turns out that there is truth to it.
According to the satiety index, steamed rice or Chinese noodles have less than half the filling power of potatoes.

The satiety index measures the fullness factor of food. It tells you about bang for the buck: a high satiety food will satisfy hunger better and for a longer time than the same number of calories of a low satiety food.

Satiety takes into account a lot of different dietary factors that contribute to a sense of fullness.
There are foods that fill you with their sheer physical bulk, some that satisfy with taste and texture, and some with physiological consequences that trigger receptors in the digestive tract or send certain signals to the brain that cause a drop in appetite.

  • the high water content in fruits, vegetables, and broth-based soups rank them high on the SI;
  • popcorn and oatmeal stuff you with fiber;
  • beans and legumes contain anti-nutrients which delay their absorption to make you feel full for longer;
  • crispy, crunchy foods provide textural gratification.

It turns out that you can compare apples and oranges.
Oranges have a slight SI edge over apples, and both are more satisfying than grapes. And the juicy bulk of fresh grapes are vastly more filling than the caloric equivalent in raisins. Surprisingly, they all beat out bananas.

The SI holds a few other surprises:

  • While all energy-dense foods pack a big calorie wallop in a little package, calorie-for-calorie, beef and chicken are better protein sources than eggs;
  • full-sugar soda, sugar-free soda, or bottled water—for men (but not women or children), at the end of the day, there’s no difference in total calories consumed;
  • steamed white potatoes rule the satiety index—their stuffy blandness gives four times the bulk and three times the filling power of the average food;
  • jelly beans can curb the appetite—their nutritional profile should score low on the SI, but a handful of jelly beans left dieters feeling so queasy that they ate less afterward.

Many in the medical community consider the satiety index to be a true diet breakthrough. The science behind it is nothing new, and it’s not a complete dietary plan, but the satiety index is a simple way to evaluate foods, and it’s an improvement over popular one-dimensional measures like carbs, calories, and fats. A few well-chosen food swaps from the index can provide greater satiety from fewer calories, and even satisfy enough to get dieters to put down the fork.

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Foodiness– It’s Like Truthiness for Food

Apologies to Stephen Colbert.
He is of course the originator of the phrase with which we are taking liberties. He struck upon truthiness as a satirical way to explain intentional approximations of truth; a sort of wishful thinking unburdened by facts. And there’s plenty of ersatz truth to our food.

Appearances can be deceiving.
It’s a lesson we’ve learned all too well in 2012. First, we were repulsed by the ‘pink slime’ flap, when we learned that the federal government regularly purchases millions of pounds of a slimy bacteria-prone mash of slaughterhouse trimmings masquerading as hamburger meat to serve to the nation’s schoolchildren through the National School Lunch Program. We recoiled again when Starbucks revealed that the rosy-pink coloring agent added to its Strawberry Frappuccinos is derived from the ground up bodies of beetles.

Fool me once, shame on you.
Let’s not let it happen again. Don’t wait for the next scandalous revelation.
Here are some of the other egregious bait-and-switches of processed food.

Wyngz, not Wings: a distinct chicken entity recognized by the USDA
The USDA website has an official definition of a chicken wing laid out in Title 9, Section 381.170(b)(7) of the Code of Federal Regulations, but the section goes on to ask this question: “Under what conditions can ‘wyngz’ be used as a fanciful term on poultry product labeling?”
It was news to us that ‘fanciful terms’ fall under the USDA’s purview, but even more curious were the required conditions. The term ‘wyngz’ can only be used to “denote a product that does not contain any wing meat or is not derived only from wing meat.” Wing shape is optional; spelling (or misspelling, to use the official USDA terminology) is not: “no other misspellings are permitted.”
There’s something’s fishy about that low-fat ice cream.
Low fat ice cream used to be thin and grainy, a little icy with none of the voluptuous mouth-feel of its full fat relatives. These days it can be as rich and creamy as butter yet still as virtuous as broccoli. That’s because many of the top-selling brands add a protein cloned from the blood of the ocean pout, an eel-like Arctic Ocean fish. Food scientists discovered that in the lean fish the protein works like anti-freeze to keep it from freezing in even the coldest of waters. Lucky us, it works just as well in our ice cream in the coldest of supermarket freezer cases.

There are no blueberries in many packaged blueberry muffin mixes.
You won’t find any in Blueberry Pop-Tarts or Special K Blueberry Fruit Crisps either, and Total Pomegranate Blueberry Cereal is totally missing the blueberries and the pomegranate. Instead of real blueberries, some manufacturers create little berry-shaped clumps of various sugars, starches, gums, and oils, and coat them with (often petroleum-based) blue food dye. They’re usually labeled as blueberry-flavored bits or particles. For its Blueberry Muffin Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal, Kellogg’s concocted an entirely new food classification, identified in the ingredient list as crunchlets.
Blueberries aren’t the only ones. The only cherries, oranges, or pineapple you’ll find in Gerber Graduates Juice Treats are pictured on the box. Not a trace of strawberry bursts out of Betty Crocker’s Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers. You will find broccoli in Knorr’s chicken broccoli fettuccine noodles, but the dish actually contains more salt than green vegetable.

Here’s a euphemism for you: Natural Flavor.
We go to the FDA website for this one. Natural flavor or natural flavoring is defined as virtually anything (oil, extract, essence, distillate…) from anything that could have existed in nature at one time. It can come from any part or byproduct of any animal, vegetable, or mineral—wood, fur, rock, soil, feather, even secretions, discharges, and excrement—it’s all fair game. And once it falls under that umbrella, the substance doesn’t have to be identified, but simply listed in the ingredients as natural flavor. One of the most common natural food flavorings is castoreum. It’s a substance that’s only found in the anal glands of beavers; the beavers like to spray some out and mix it with their urine to mark their territory. It’s found in nearly every kind of candy, tea, gum, soda, juice, cereal, ice cream, yogurt, or bakery item with raspberry or berry flavor.

Perhaps these are food facts we could have done without.
It’s said that there are two things you don’t want to see being made—sausage and legislation.
Try to hang on to your appetite; you’re going to need the strength. The presidential election is just around the corner.

Is it food or foodiness?
Learn how to spot the difference and why it matters from Chef Erica Wides, who coined the phrase. She explores issues of food, foodiness, and more as the host and creator of Let’s Get Real on the Heritage Radio Network.

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia: Skip the Pet, Eat the Seeds


Chia seeds are being touted as the latest ‘superfood.’
Yes, chia seeds, as in Chia Pets ™ of stuttering infomercial fame. It seems that the seeds are good for a lot more than just growing sprouts on ceramic doggies.

The nutrient-packed seeds are quickly making their way from the healthy fringe into the mainstream. They’re being added to energy bars, granola and other cereals; beverages; crackers, pretzels, and chips; cookies, muffins, and candy. You can buy them raw or toasted, salted or sweet, ground into chia flour, or in a packet of seeds to grow your own. They’re in health food stores and Whole Foods Markets, but you’ll also find them on the shelves of your local CVS or Walmart.

Like acai and goji berries and other trendy ‘superfoods’, chia seeds are prized for packing a big nutrient punch in a small package. Typically, these foods are considered ‘super’ because they are dense sources of disease-fighting nutrients like anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and essential fatty acids, and are often thought to confer health benefits. Chia seeds are all of that plus they are touted as a diet aid.

Chia seeds work as a weight-loss belly-filler.
The seeds are like little sponges; add them to juice, yogurt, or just water and they sop up nine times their weight in liquid. A tablespoon of the seeds becomes a cup full of tapioca-like gel that fills you up. Since it’s mostly slow-burning fiber you’ll feel fuller longer and your blood sugar won’t spike and crash.

But that’s like an added bonus. The real reason chia seeds have caught on is their nutritional profile.
Are you drinking milk for calcium or getting your omega-3 fatty acids from salmon? 2 tablespoons of chia seeds have twice the omega-3′s of fish oil and five times milk’s calcium and protein. They have three times the iron of spinach and triple the antioxidant strength of blueberries. They’re a complete protein and beat figs, prunes, legumes, kale, and bran for fiber content. And they’re gluten-free.

And the taste?
On their own there is a tiny bit of crunch and a very subtle nutty flavor if you’re looking for it. Chia seeds don’t really taste like much of anything; you’re not going to get excited about your morning chia, but they’re so neutral that you can add the seeds to just about anything.

Chia has come along way since the pet days.

Get some chia in your diet.
Sprinkle the seeds on salads and cereal, mix them into pancake batter and muffins, or add them like protein powder to smoothies. Get some more ideas from 40 Ways to use Chia Seeds.




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Won’t Rot, Won’t Spoil, Won’t Expire.


This is not about Twinkies. Their preservative-packed lifespan is the stuff of legend, but they don’t make the cut.
It’s not about the fruitcake from last Christmas, or leftovers that wear out their welcome long before the mold grows.

This is a list of foods that never go bad.
These are the foods that that have been unearthed, still edible, from the dusty depths of King Tut’s tomb, a fallen Viking’s knapsack, and an Oklahoma supermarket nobody has shopped at since the 1950′s.

Forget what you think you know about spoilage, shelf-life, and expiration dates.
There are some foods that you never need to toss out, even when you clean out the pantry, remodel your kitchen, or move to another city.
Someday you’ll be long gone, but rest assured, that box of brown sugar from last November will live on.

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

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


The condiments
—kosher, iodized, from the sea, or chiseled from mines—it never goes bad. Its resistance to bacterial growth makes it handy as a preservative for other foods. The salted black beans that flavor Chinese stir-fry dishes or the capers in the puttanesca sauce on your spaghetti could have been put on the pantry shelf by the cook’s great-great-great-grandmother.

Like salt, vinegar is also used to extend the shelf life of other foods, and is, in a pure state without added flavorings, eternally self-preserving.

How about 100 year-old butter? You know how perishable dairy products can be, but ghee, a type of clarified butter used mostly in South Asian cooking, can outlive us all. The water is separated out and the milk solids are removed leaving a pristinely pure butterfat that doesn’t even need to be refrigerated.

Vanilla (the extract, not the beans) doesn’t just last forever; it actually improves with age. The cheaper, artificial extract is no bargain when you consider the cost to replace it every few years when its flavor fades. Spring for the good stuff and your grandchildren will still be baking with it.

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

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

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Stevia: Is it really an all-natural sugar substitute?

sweetener timeline via the New York Sun

What’s the story with stevia?
A few years ago we had never hear of the stuff, and all of a sudden it’s in everything— sodas, juice drinks, yogurt, and of course those little green and white packets of Truvia and PureVia that are already outselling pink-packeted Sweet-n-Low and baby-blue Equal. Supermarkets can’t restock it fast enough, and coffee bars have taken to keeping it behind the register because it has a habit of disappearing by the hand-full.

The big driver behind stevia’s growth is its position as a natural alternative to aspartame, saccharin and other chemically derived sweeteners. Fans of stevia say that its taste is closer to sugar than other sugar substitutes. It pours out of the packet in convincing crystal-like granules, not in a powder, and when it’s sprinkled on top of cereal it crunches like sugar crystals. It even has a sweet cupcake icing kind of smell. But is it as natural as its marketers claim?

‘Natural’ is a largely unregulated word.
But it’s one that casts a powerful spell over consumers. Stevia is itself a plant. It’s a member of the chrysanthemum family that’s native to Paraguay where the potent leaves have been flavoring food and drink for centuries. Stevia leaves are a high intensity sweetener with sweetening power estimated to be three hundred times more concentrated than table sugar. It’s calorie-free and has a glycemic index approaching zero making it safe for diabetics. The exchange-traded agribusiness concern Stevia Corp refers to it as “the holy grail of sweeteners.”

But stevia leaves aren’t what’s ending up in sweetener packets.
It’s a curious coincidence that both Truvia (a Cargill/Coca Cola partnership) and PureVia (from the Pepsi folks) use the same analogy and nearly identical language to explain stevia manufacturing. Both refer to it as much like making tea in which dried leaves are steeped in water to release the flavor. In fact Coca Cola’s patent application for Truvia identifies more than 40 steps in the process and includes acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile, isopropanol, and erythritol—a mouthful of ingredients that includes chemical solvents, flammable liquid fuels, and numerous substances derived from genetically modified corn.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I make my tea.

You can buy truly natural stevia. There are organic suppliers of whole and powdered leaves, and the branded product Stevia in the Raw is a processed form but without the corn-based additives. In it’s pure form stevia is a powerful sweetener but with a hint of a bitter licorice aftertaste that all the processing and additives seek to mask. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t taste like sugar.



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Don’t Eat a Bad Sex Diet. Avoid these Libido-Killers.

You won her heart with long-stemmed roses. Now what?
Keep the post-Valentine’s Day doldrums at bay by steering clear of these foods. Every one of them is known to kill the sex drive.

Gin and tonic
You already know about the effects of gin (I believe the proper medical terminology is whiskey dick), but did you know that tonic water also suppresses the libido? The quinine that flavors it is known to lower testosterone levels. Gin with tonic water is a double whammy in a highball glass.

Microwave popcorn
Pop a bag and the nonstick chemicals used on the inner lining of the microwave bag are transferred to the popcorn you eat. The most commonly used of the chemicals contain substances that have been linked to testicular tumors, infertility, and lower sex drive.


Moroccan spices
The Willams-Sonoma website describes its little jar of ras el hanout as ‘notable for its rich aroma and well-balanced curry-like flavor.’ Ras el hanout is even more notable for containing agnus castus, a spice better known as monk’s pepper or chaste berry, an ingredient prized in monastery kitchens for helping monks to maintain their vows of chastity.

Black licorice
A simple movie date is a nice follow-up to the Valentine’s Day fuss, but skip the concession stand Good & Plenty. Black licorice contains testosterone-lowering phytoestrogens. Just the black. Have some Red Vines instead.

Mint tea is a common homeopathic remedy prescribed for women with excess body hair. The mint oil in the tea (and other minty foods) makes the extra hair fall out by lowering the drinker’s testosterone. This is a good thing. Not so good for men who want to hang on to their testosterone and their hair.

And then there’s soy.
Soy gets a special mention because it doesn’t belong on this list.
For years it’s been getting a bad rap. The story goes that soy is loaded with estrogen; it will overwhelm your system with female hormones, your testosterone will plummet, your muscles (and more!) will start shrinking, and you’ll develop gynecomastia, a.k.a. man boobs. Not true. The misinformation stems from a lone test subject in a single study who apparently did grow breasts and did drink soy milk in ungodly amounts, but he also suffered from a host of other health and weight-related issues that were not widely reported but probably the true culprits.

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Should We Eat Roadkill?

Guinea Fowl image via My Retirement Chronicles

Waste not?
It’s a question being asked by a growing number of environmentalists, animal ethicists, and economists.
Leave it to rot or take it home for dinner?

According to PETA, roadkill is a better choice than the factory-farmed, shrink-wrapped product you find in the supermarket. The group recommends it from a health standpoint, because it doesn’t contain antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants. And it’s the more humane option because the animals haven’t been castrated, dehorned, debeaked, or suffered through any of the other horrors of intensive animal agriculture.

Perhaps you prefer the term flat meat.
Roadkill is fresh, organic, and free. It was clearly free-ranging, as some unlucky driver knows all too well. It’s sustainable and supportable through an enlightened political ideology, and there’s plenty of it—according to estimates by Animal People News, the annual roadkill toll tops 100 million animals, and that’s not even counting the species categorized ever so delicately as indiscernible.

The legality of taking home roadkill varies by state.
Alaska considers it state property but residents can get on a waiting list for a moose, caribou, or bear; Illinois says the driver gets first dibs, though the privilege is only extended to state residents; Texas had to outlaw roadkill because of too many not-quite accidents; and in Tennessee, on the day that the legislature legalized the taking of roadkill, the state senator who had introduced the bill was presented with a bumper sticker: Cat—The Other White Meat.

Tastes just like chicken.
Steve Rinella, who collided with and then stewed up a raccoon for an episode of his now surprisingly defunct Travel Channel show The Wild Within says that “[roadkilled] meat is actually much fresher than what you might find in a grocery store.” The wiki How to Eat Roadkill recommends that you “learn the signs of healthy roadkill”: it should be freshly killed, preferably from an accident you witness, although you get some slack time in the winter months; you want a fresh stench, since the impact can force excrement rapidly through the animal’s digestive tract; and fleas are a good sign, maggots are not. And not to worry about rabies—sure, it’s a deadly communicable virus that infects the central nervous system, but the wiki tells us that it dies off quickly with the animal.

Should we eat roadkill? In theory, it’s an excellent exercise in ethics, environmentalism, and self-reliance.
Just in case, you can order PETA’s Free Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit right here.



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Pizza-nomics: Pegging a Subway Ride to the Price of a Slice

$2.50 doesn’t go very far in New York City.
Two things it will buy: a slice of pizza and a ride on the subway.
Through a strange and delicate interplay of markets in New York, the cost of a subway ride has always run parallel to the price of a slice of pizza.

The economic axiom known as the New York Pizza Connection or Pizza Principle was advanced in the early 1980′s. The uncanny parallel was first noticed when the cost of a single ride was being raised to $2.00, the same as the then-prevailing price of a single slice. A look back showed that this economic law had held with remarkable precision since 1964, when both items ran for 15 cents. Price increases have moved in lockstep ever since.

The decades since the discovery have brought plenty of change to transportation and street food. State transit subsidies and deficits have come and gone for the New York City subway system. Pizza parlors have battled invading food trucks and the low-carb craze of the Atkins diet. Yet somehow, all the capital costs, union contracts, and passenger miles add up to flour, tomato sauce and mozzarella.

On the surface, the relationship might seem arbitrary—aren’t pizza and subway rides comparison-defyingly disparate? To a New Yorker, there’s nothing haphazard or esoteric about the connection. The city’s subway system and its pizza are both essential institutions that touch nearly all of New York’s citizens.



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