food knowledge

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?
Boysenberry:
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.

Posted in food knowledge | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in diet, food knowledge | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in food knowledge, food policy | Leave a comment

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.

 

 

 

Posted in food knowledge, health + diet | 1 Comment

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
Salt
—kosher, iodized, from the sea, or chiseled from mines—it never goes bad. Its resistance to bacterial growth makes it handy as a preservative for other foods. 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.

Posted in food knowledge | Leave a comment

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.

 

 

Posted in food business, food knowledge | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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 testosteronelowering phytoestrogens. Just the black. Have some Red Vines instead.

Mint
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.

Posted in food knowledge, health + diet | Tagged | 3 Comments

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.

 

 

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

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.

 

 

Posted in food knowledge, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How to be a Food Geek

[image courtesy of Consumer Eroski]

Food Geeks should not be confused with Foodies.
Foodies talk about past and future meals while eating the current one. They know the pedigree of the eggs they eat and will carry heirloom tomatoes like a newborn baby. They can be profoundly interested and even technically proficient in one or many aspects of food (cheese, restaurants, cooking, wines), but the focus is squarely on the pleasures of the table: the food they eat, the people they share it with, the memories they create and the ones they recall.

Food Geeks are an entirely different animal.
They not only admire a crusty baguette, they can tell you if it’s due to enzymatic browning or lipid oxidation. They measure ingredients in grams and will serve caviar with white chocolate knowing that they match on a molecular level. Food Geeks appreciate the art of cooking while they embrace the science.

In the world of geeky niches, Food Geeks are a little more socially-acceptable than Gamers and Gadget Nerds but not as cool as Music or Movie Geeks. At least according to Gizmodo’s Socially-Acceptable Geek Subgenre Scale, Food Geeks have a middling rank between top-of-the-heap Finance Geeks (Math Nerds turned cool… who’s getting a wedgie after calculus class now,  jocks?) and the bottom-dwelling human/animal fantasy-hybridists known as Furries.

Food Geek Essentials
Food Geeks are well-represented online (no big surprise).

  • The patron saint of Food Geeks is Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, a classic tome of gastronomic science first published in 1984. His blog, the Curious Cook is a must-read for any self-respecting geek.
  • Another essential bookmark is the molecular gastronomy blog Khymos. The blog is the creation of a Norwegian organometallic chemist (a fairly typical career among Food Geeks); don’t ask about the blog’s name unless you want a lesson in Greek and Arabic etymology (also fairly typical).
  • Ideas in Food showcases playful experimentation with food, reflecting the culinary rather than scientific backgrounds of its bloggers.
  • When Food Geeks just wanna have fun, they play a round of TGRWT. Short for They Go Really Well Together, the players start with the hypothesis  that if two foods have one or more key odorants in common, they might pair well in a dish.
  • Show some geek pride with a food-themed t-shirt.
  • Lifehacker has instructions for the Top 10 DIY Food Geek Projects.

You can mingle with the Food Geeks through the Facebook page and Twitter feed of FoodGeeks.com. And keep an eye out for TGRWT— the results from the last round should be posted any day now.

 

 

Posted in cyberculture, food knowledge, Science/Technology | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Your Plate is Making You Fat

image via Beard Crumbs

It turns out that portion control is just an optical illusion.
The size and shape, even the color of dishes and glasses have a huge effect on how much we eat and drink. We pour larger drinks into short, wide glasses, and put big servings on big plates. When the food coordinates with the plate’s color, we load up even more.

Did you think it was your appetite and willpower determining choices?
We face an average of 226 food-related choices in a day, but we exercise conscious decision-making in only around 15 of them. The other 200 or so daily food choices are essentially mindless decisions. You’ll finish any sized hamburger just because you always eat a whole hamburger, grab a doughnut because someone brought a box into the office, and help yourself to seconds because the bowl is right there.

Size matters.
Fifty years ago, the standard dinner plate had a 9 inch diameter. Today, it’s most likely to be 12 inches, and we tend to calibrate our appetites to what’s on the plate instead of what our bodies tell us.

Color matters too.
Portions appear smaller when the food blends with the plate color. You’re likely to eat more spaghetti with marinara sauce on a red plate and cornbread on a yellow one. White and blue plates tend to provide the best contrast for portion control; researchers say red and gold are the worst. Even the tablecloth color can shape portion perceptions.

It’s impossible to avoid the environmental cues that encourage us to eat, but recognizing them is a step in the right direction.

 

 

Posted in diet, food knowledge | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mmm…mmm…Maybe not so good

image via Brainless Tales

You might want to lay off the canned soup.
I really hate to ask you now, it being soup season and all, but the latest report is a real shocker.

A new Harvard study, which was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that just a single bowl of canned soup at lunch for just five days increased BPA levels in urine by an astounding 1,200%. The researchers were shocked by the results, one calling it “unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

This was the first study to measure BPA amounts that are ingested when we eat food that comes directly out of a can, but the health risks have been the subject of hundreds of studies. There’s a growing body of research linking BPA to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. The FDA will be issuing a decision on BPA use by the end of March 2012, but Consumers Union, the group that publishes the magazine Consumer Reports, has already weighed in with its recommendations, and it found BPA levels exceeding 100 times the recommended daily limit in some soups (worst of all is Progresso Vegetable Soup at 116 times the limit).

Waiter, there’s a toxin in my soup!
Take a look inside any can and you’ll see a thin plastic film separating your food from the metal. That’s where the BPA is coming from. Manufacturers have been lining cans with plastic since the 1950s to protect the food from botulism and other bacteria that can grow if the can is damaged or corroded, and there’s no doubt that lives have been saved.

Plastic-lined cans have been so effective at preventing food-borne illnesses that it’s next to impossible to find a BPA-free can of soup. Nearly all aluminum soup cans, even organic brands, contain BPA in the linings. But you can keep soup on the menu: opt for dry soup mixes or prepared soups packaged in glass or cartons, or best of all, make your own.

BPA is of particular concern for young children and women of childbearing age.
The Breast Cancer Fund, which is leading the charge to expose environment causes of cancer, has specific recommendations for reducing the risk to those vulnerable groups.

BPA isn’t the only one.
Experts from a variety of food-related fields offer insider recommendations of foods to avoid. These are foods that are all USDA or FDA approved, but those in the know won’t eat them, and they won’t feed them to their own families.
Read Gigabiting’s 7 Foods the Experts Won’t Touch.

 

 

Posted in food knowledge, food policy, health + diet | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Snack of Your Dreams

image via PEANUTS Worldwide LLC

Forget that glass of warm milk at bedtime.
It might feel as cozy as a tuck-in from Mom, but it’s doing more harm than good when it comes to falling asleep.

The right foods before bed can contribute to restful sleep. Sleep-friendly foods are rich in tryptophan, the notorious nap-inducer found in Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner. The wrong foods have amino acids that keep the tryptophan from crossing into the brain where it’s converted into the sedatives serotonin and melatonin.
A glass of warm milk is one of those wrong foods.

A well-chosen bedtime snack can help you get a restful, restorative night’s sleep. According to the sleep specialists at the Mayo Clinic, you want to avoid garlicky, spicy, fatty foods before bed. Here are the three most highly recommended bedtime snacks:

  • Popcorn, preferably air-popped, washed down with cherry juice
  • Oatmeal with sliced banana and just a splash of nonfat milk
  • Low- or nonfat yogurt with a sprinkle of almonds or sesame seeds

The meal of your dreams:
Monastrell Restaurante
in southern Spain serves a special “sleep menu” that is purported to cure insomnia. The chef claims knowledge of a secret ingredient prized during the Roman empire for its soporific qualities. Courses include grilled octopus, pumpkin lasagne, turbot with lemon calamari, lemon sponge cake, and olive oil sorbet.

 

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

A New Flavor Bomb

       [image via Tiscali UK]

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

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

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

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

Just when we were getting used to the idea of a 5th flavor, researchers are honing in on a 6th.
Sort of. Kokumi has no taste. There are distinct kokumi compounds and kokumi receptors on the tongue, so kokumi qualifies as a primary flavor, but on its own it’s flavorless. Kokumi compounds are most plentiful in onions, garlic, cheese, and yeast extract (fish sperm too, but who’s counting); combine them with other ingredients and pow!—it’s a flavor bomb. When the tongue’s kokumi receptors are activated, the kokumi alters other flavors adding a hearty richness and roundness. It deepens the sweetness of sugar and makes savory foods taste more savory.

For the complete story on kokumi science and its culinary potential, you can download the slideshow presented at the 2011 Nordic Workshop in Sensory Science.

 

 

 

Posted in food knowledge | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Myth of the Sugar High

Let’s put this one to rest once and for all…
Sugar does NOT turn kids into hyperactive maniacs.
There’s NO SUCH THING as a sugar-induced high.

I know what you’re thinking. Of course it’s real. You’ve seen it with your own eyes. Two cans of Coke or a birthday party goodie bag and the kids are bouncing off the walls.

But study after study after study proves otherwise. Researchers have tested the sugar in soda, candy, and fruit; compared honey, molasses, corn syrup, and cane sugar; looked at short-term and long-term effects; examined young kids, old kids, kids with ADHD and the purportedly sugar sensitive; and the results are always the same: there is no scientific cause and effect between sweets and hyperactivity. In fact the only reason there are so many studies is because you refuse to believe the results.

I know. You’re still not convinced because studies, schmudies; you know what you know—a handful of Hershey’s Kisses and you’re prying the little ones off the ceiling.

The scientific community has a couple of theories.
All suggest that there is a legitimate high; it’s just not really from the sugar.

The buzz can come from the sheer thrill of getting a sweet treat—eating a forbidden or restricted food can in itself create a certain excitement. Then there are the environmental factors. Often the treats are given on occasions when the kids are already amped up like a play date, the ball park, a holiday, a school event, or a party. It can also be the caffeine that’s found in the treats—it’s in soda, and not just cola but some orange, cream soda, and lemon-lime varieties; and it’s in the chocolate in cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, candy bars, pudding, ice cream, and more. And then there are the expectations. Parents are on alert, on the lookout for bad behavior, maybe even fueling it by raising the anxiety level in their kids.

There are plenty of  good reasons to limit the amount of sugar in children’s diets. A sugar high just isn’t one of them.

 

Posted in candy, food knowledge, kids | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

New Uses for Microwaves

Happy microwave via Chazzyllama

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I’d cast my vote for convenience.

Take the microwave oven.
It’s entirely redundant in our kitchens. It does nothing more than duplicate cooking processes that are nearly always better-performed by other appliances. Yet every one of us has one. Why? Because it’s convenient. It’s quicker, easier, and usually requires less cleanup than other cooking methods.

Most of us use our microwaves to defrost, reheat, and boil water. But why stop there? With a little know-how, we can do so much more with our microwaves.

Make skinny potato chips: Lay thin potato slices in a single layer on a plate. Season (salt, pepper, vinegar- whatever you like). Microwave for about 5 minutes until they reach the desired point of brown and crispy done-ness.

Soften brown sugar: Microwave the package of brown sugar on high for 15-30 seconds. Voila!

Dry fresh herbs or grated citrus peels: Spread herbs or peels on a paper towel. Microwave for 1-2 minutes or until dried, stirring every 30 seconds. Cook another 1-2 minutes for thicker peels and herbs.

Freshen soggy peanuts: Spread in a baking dish and microwave, uncovered, on high for 3 minutes per cup. They’ll crisp up as they cool.

Make scratch chocolate pudding: Mix 1/3 c. cornstarch, 1/4 c. cocoa powder, 1/2 c. sugar, pinch of salt, and 2 1/4 c. milk. Cook for 2 minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir in 1 t. vanilla and 2 T. butter. Let stand for about 5 minutes until it’s pudding-thick.

Get twice as much juice from a lemon: Give it 30 seconds in the microwave and then roll it around a few times on the counter. Double juice.

Roast a whole head of garlic: Put a whole, unpeeled bulb of garlic on a paper towel. Microwave on high for 1 minute, turn it upside down and give it another minute. The soft, roasted cloves will squeeze right out.

Need some melted chocolate for a recipe? Snip the corner off of a bag of chips. Microwave for 20 seconds and knead the bag to mix. Keep repeating in 20 second increments (you’ll need a potholder as it heats up) until fully melted. Squeeze the chocolate out of the cut corner for a completely bowl-less, spoon-less experience.

Cook corn on the cob right in its husk: Put unshucked ears of corn on damp paper towel. You can microwave 4 or so at a time, adding a little under 2 minutes cooking time for each ear. Let the corn stand for 5 minutes before serving. The husks and silk will slip off easily.

Ripen an avocado: Microwave an avocado on medium for 2 minutes. Turn over, and microwave for 1 minute more.

Make a little cake in a mug: Coat the mug with nonstick spray. Add to the mug 4 T.  flour, 9 T. hot chocolate mix, and a pinch of salt. Give a stir and add an egg, 3 T. water, and 3 T. oil.  Mix it up well and microwave for 3 minutes. It will rise to alarming heights and then settle back into the mug. It’s not the best chocolate cake you ever tasted, but not-the-best is better than no chocolate cake.

Read Gigabiting’s Kitchen Hacks for many more kitchen shortcuts and helpful tips.

 

 


 

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

5 Foods for Senior Moments

[image via R2 Thoughts 4 You]

We’re having a national senior moment.

Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are a demographic time bomb. Making up nearly one-third of the population, they’ve reached the age of memory loss, slowed reflexes, and synaptic glitches. That’s 75 million boomers that can’t remember what they went upstairs for.

Brain foods really work.
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. Add them to your diet early enough and you can stave off cognitive decline later in life.

Here are five foods that can make a real difference; if you’re 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.

http://www.pachd.com/free-images/food-images/matcha-green-tea-01.jpg Just like the wild variety is souped-up salmon, matcha is high-test green tea. Matcha is a type of Japanese green tea that’s 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.

http://www.fitnessgurusam.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/energy-coffee-and-sugar.jpg 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.

http://www.blackdiamonduniversity.com/images/monavie-training/product/acai-in-basket.jpg The acai berry is this year’s pomegranate; the ‘it’ fruit that is showing up everywhere, blended into smoothies and dressings, flavoring teas, juices, and sodas. Oddly, for a fruit, its nutritional profile resembles that of wild salmon, high in protein and the essential fatty acids our brains desire.

http://www.cheftools.com/images/13-0938-180.jpg The newest brain food discovery is turmeric. Turmeric is a mildly-flavored, deep yellow spice that is always found in curry powder, and is often used as a less costly alternative to saffron. It is such a powerful brain plaque-remover that it’s being tested as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

 

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

Don’t Hold the Mayo

[Nine Badass Mayonnaise Jars via Marc Johns]

Nobody’s holding the mayo these days.
According to research by Bloomberg Businessweek, six of the top 15 best-selling condiments in the U.S. are different varieties of mayonnaise. While we’ve been musing about population trends and watching salsa and ketchup duke it out, we failed to notice that mayonnaise has been living large at the top of the condiment heap.

Mayonnaise love is kind of embarrassing. We’ve always thought of mayonnaise as a little low-rent, a little trashy. Every negative stereotype hanging over American food is encapsulated in each white, bland, fatty dollop. It’s been falsely mythologized as the spoilage-prone scourge of picnics and potlucks, and doubles as a common treatment for head lice.

Like bacon before it, trend watchers think that mayonnaise’s down-market, all-American image gives it the hallmarks of a foodie cult-favorite in the making.

Mayonnaise goes upscale.
36 new supermarket varieties have been introduced in recent months in trendy flavors like chipotle and lime. All the big commercial brands have added a line of olive oil mayonnaise replacing some of the standard soybean oil with that culinary darling, and Hellmann’s is transitioning its whole product line to cage-free eggs.

A sure sign of its overhaul is the appearance of mayonnaise on fine dining menus. Of course chefs have always tinkered with various flavorings added to the basic mayonnaise emulsion of egg yolk, oil and and acid (usually vinegar or lemon juice). But it always left the kitchen labelled as rémoulade, rouille, or aïoli. Now, they’re able to hold their heads up high and say mayonnaise.

This month we’ll see the opening of the world’s first world luxury mayonnaise store. Empire Mayonnaise Co. is shooting for the artisan stratosphere with seasonal flavorings like white truffle, Indian lime pickle, fennel, and black garlic, and will include emu and quail eggs as the base for some batches. Naturally, the new shop is located in Brooklyn.

Haven’t you always wondered…http://printablecouponsanddeals.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Hellmans-mayo-new.jpg
Why the great mayonnaise divide—Best Foods in the western half of the U.S., Hellmann’s in the east?
Best Foods has owned both since 1932 (and the company has been a division of Unilever since 2000), but decided early on that both brands had such commanding market shares in their respective halves of the country that the distinct names and recipes should be preserved. The two products are made in the same plant and contain all the same ingredients, but there are slight variations in relative quantities of those ingredients. Best Foods is the tarter and tangier of the two, and is presumed to contain more lemon juice, but the company isn’t talking.

 

 

Posted in food business, food knowledge, food trends | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Forks or Fingers?

image via Design Boom

You keep your elbows off the table, your napkin in your lap, and always use the proper fork. You pass to the left, spoon soup away from yourself, and at the end of a meal you park your utensils at the 4 o’clock edge of your plate. You’re a real etiquette stud.

Still, there are foods that can slip up even the best of us. It could be a dish like steamed artichoke that requires complicated technique, or a food that’s awkward and contrary, like peas that can’t be coaxed onto a fork. You’d love to get in there with your fingers, but you worry that it’s frowned upon in polite company.

The fork or finger divide can be based in practicality (no fingers in the mashed potatoes, for obvious reasons) or evolve as custom (a french fry is always a french fry, but forks or fingers are dictated by circumstances); and of course what’s de rigeur in one culture can be the height of barbarity in another. Here’s a guide to American-style etiquette for the most controversial foods.

Artichokes: eat the leaves with your fingers; use your fork for the heart.

Asparagus: if the stalks are firm and unsauced, fingers are fine; floppy or saucy, use a fork.

Bacon: like asparagus, if it’s crisp it’s finger food; use a fork when it’s limp and greasy.

French Fries: when they’re served alongside a food that requires a fork, like a steak, they are eaten with a fork; if they come with a sandwich or a hot dog in a bun, they are eaten with fingers.

Pickles: of course they are always finger food, right? Wrong— a little gherkin or cornichon served alongside a fork food, say a slice of pâté, should be eaten with a fork.

Shrimp: unsauced shrimp—hot or cold, fried or cocktail—is finger food when you’re standing up and eating hors d’ oeuvres; if you’re seated at the table, shrimp in any form is eaten with a fork.

Sashimi is never finger food; sushi goes either way.

When in doubt, use a fork. You might seem prissy, but never impolite.

For more tips, plus a dining guide to nearly every country on the planet, consult The Etiquette Scholar.

 

Posted in food knowledge | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Hungriest Organ

 

image via Walk the Road Less Traveled

According to the Journal of Physiology, your brain is just 2 percent of your body weight but sucks down 20 percent of your daily calories. Feed it right and you’ll be perky, productive, and alert. Junk it up with the wrong foods and you’ll never remember where you put your keys.

Breakfast
A little coffee and sugar can get your brain going in the morning. Caffeine fires you up pretty much instantaneously, and a sweet on the side adds to the effect: the duo can improve physical energy, short-term memory, and problem-solving skills, but it’s temporary, and there’s an equally fast drop in all of those as the caffeine wears off and your body has burned through the sugar.

Keep coffee and danish to a minimum; the better choice: citrus or berries (complex sugars to power up, anti-oxidants to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment), and cereal (protein for long-lasting brain energy, memory, and attention).

Lunch
An omelette and a salad are perfect midday brain food. The antioxidants in a salad can mop up the cell-damaging free radicals you’ve run into all morning from the ozone and pollutants, and the combination of vitamins C and E can improve cognitive skills and stave off Alzheimer’s Disease. A sprinkle of sunflower seeds, nuts, or dried herbs will add the vitamins, and dark green (romaine, spinach) or orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes) are full of the antioxidant beta-carotene. The eggs are rich in choline, which your body uses to produce a neurotransmitter that snaps your brain to attention and boosts memory.

Have a little yogurt for dessert and you’ll produce dopamine, the happy neurotransmitter, and noradrenalin, the perky hormone. Together they will help you face the afternoon with a smile.

Snacks
Your brain loves a good snack. A couple of pints of blood move through it every single minute, and the brain is always on the the lookout for nutrients in the flow; its favorite would be 25 grams of glucose in there, which is exactly one banana. Avoid junky processed foods with their trans-fatty acids. Rodents that are fed a steady diet of junk food get seriously confused by the classic rat-in-a-maze experiment, while in humans, highly-processed chips and baked goods have been implicated in a slew of mental disorders, from dyslexia and ADHD  to autism.

Dinner
Have a cocktail or two to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Eat fish to rebuild the cells and gray matter you were losing all day, and finish up with a dessert containing strawberries or blueberries, which seem to help with coordination, concentration, and short-term memory.

According to Men’s Health, you can tailor your food choices to suit specific mental tasks, from picking the best American Idol contestant to refinancing your mortgage. Check out its list of the best and worst brain foods for the job, which it claims can boost your brain’s productivity by 200 percent.

 

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