Tag Archives: food

Prohibited Pleasures

Did you find any contraband in your Christmas stocking?

Between the Department of Agriculture, The Food and Drug Administration, and the  Customs and Treasury departments, there’s a slew of delicacies that have been banned in various locales. But if your gift exchange is shady enough, you might have scored this holiday season.

Absinthe
Contrary to popular belief, absinthe is legal in the United States. The FDA strictly limits the level of thujone, a toxic substance found in wormwood, one of the spirit’s ingredients. Thujone has long been rumored to cause hallucinations in absinthe drinkers, although this has never been confirmed. The legal version is highly alcoholic (up to 74%) and is usually diluted before drinking.

Caviar
Since 2005, caviar connoisseurs have been forced to make do without the eggs of the wild beluga sturgeon. Until the dwindling numbers of this species can be revived, caviar lovers have to satisfy themselves with the roe of salmon, trout, and other more plentiful fish. Strictly speaking, these substitutes are not true caviar.

Sassafras
The dried root bark of the sassafras tree has been used for tea, as a fragrance for soap, a painkiller, an insect repellent, and­ a seasoning and thickener for many Creole soups and stews. It’s best known for contributing the characteristic flavor to root beer, although few can remember the taste of true sassafras root beer. A potential carcinogen, its use has been banned for 50 years.

Foie Gras
Celebrated for its luxurious taste and texture; excoriated for the cruelty of force-feeding geese and ducks to enlarge their livers before slaughter. It’s hard to stay neutral on the subject of foie gras. Chicago banned the retail sale of this delicacy in 2006, imposing fines of up to $500 per violations. Since eating foie gras remained legal, restaurateurs skirted the ban by serving the dish under the guise of other menu items, claiming that they were giving away the livers with the purchase of the other dishes. The ineffectual ban was lifted in 2008. California is gearing up to implement its own foie gras ban this year.

Raw Milk/Raw Milk Cheeses
Raw milk proponents tout the superior flavor and nutrition of milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. Government agencies worry that bacteria present in unpasteurized milk poses a health threat. Raw milk can not be legally sold in about two dozen states, and is limited to direct farm sales in a few others. A few enterprising farmers satisfy raw milk demand by selling ‘herd shares’– customers purchase a share in a cow that entitles them to a portion of its milk.

Throughout the US, unpasteurized cheeses can only be legally sold when they have been aged at least 60 days– the period deemed necessary to kill off potentially harmful bacteria in raw dairy products. True cheese connoisseurs feel that we are missing out on the distinct and extraordinary pleasures of young cheeses, such as those found in European countries where the requirement is a 30-day waiting period.

Here are some resources to help you locate and legally transport some of these forbidden foods:

Keep up with the latest legislation with the Food Law Blog.

Think twice before packing that prosciutto– failure to declare food products at border crossings can result in fines as high as $10,000. Consult the US Customs website to learn what you can lawfully transport.

Read The Devil’s Picnic: Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit (available through Amazon.com) for a chef’s tour of prohibited pleasures.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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The 5 W’s of Food Day

The Who
It might be easier to list the who isn’t.
Food Day was created by the consumer-advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Food Day’s advisory board is stacked with city mayors and university heads, Senators and members of Congress, two former Surgeons General, chefs, scientists, public health leaders, and many of the most prominent voices for change in the food policy world (Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Jim Hightower, and many more).
Food Day’s hundreds of partner organizations run the gamut from the Sierra Club to the Episcopal Church, and corporate partners include Whole Foods, Dole, and The Cooking Channel.

The What
It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness and raising funds to promote healthy eating and affordable, sustainable foods.
Food Day is based on Earth Day in that any individual or group, formal or informal, can plan an event. There are thousands scheduled, including policy campaign kick-offs, food festivals, cooking lessons, farm tours, film screenings, school curricula, protests, and themed dinners in restaurants, private homes, and public spaces.

The When
Food Day is Monday, October 24.
We’re in the home stretch.

The Where
Food Day events large and small are being planned all around the country.
There will be high-profile gatherings like the massive, celebrity-packed Eat Real Eat-In being held in New York’s Times Square, and others as low key as a home cook’s pie-making class being held in a Brookline kitchen.
Visit the Food Day website to find events near you, or consider hosting your own Food Day dinner with help from Epicurious’ Food Day event planning kit.

Why
Because it’s time to fix our broken food system.

FOODDAY.org

 

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Steve Jobs: The Food World Pays Tribute

The Food World has a soft spot for Steve Jobs.
No, he was not a ‘foodie;’ in fact he had little interest in the distinct pleasures of the table.
His ties to the industry are indirect, his influence is almost incidental.
He was never really one of us.
Even so, the visionary mind of Steve Jobs has touched the lives of diners, home cooks, and food workers everywhere.

Quick food facts about Steve Jobs:
He was a vegan since his college days, although he did eat sushi.
He briefly dabbled in fruitarianism (yes, an all-apple diet).
He often did his own grocery shopping at the Palo Alto Whole Foods.
He was partial to raw foods.
He frequently fasted, believing that digestion was burning up energy that could be better spent on work.
In his role as Pixar CEO, he convinced Disney to drop its McDonald’s Happy Meal toy tie-ins.
Earlier this year, he was ranked #5 on a list of the 50 most powerful people in food.

After technology, media, and entertainment, the food industry is where he had his greatest influence.
Here’s the way Steve Jobs is being honored and remembered by food communities online:

Restaurant Management Magazine looks at the transformative potential of the iPad for the restaurant industry.

Restaurant marketing site Restaurant Commando tells of the lessons learned from Steve Jobs’ marketing of the iPod.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thanks Steve Jobs for his role as one of the world’s most prominent advocates for vegetarianism.

Fast Casual shares ten lessons the restaurant industry can learn from Steve Jobs.

The Food Watchdog looks at the legacy of food apps.

Food Network Musings describes Steve Jobs’ influence on the home cook in everything from from recipe gathering to how we make shopping  lists.

The Daily Weston recognizes the range of Steve Jobs’ food-related contributions from party evites to Yelp reviews.

Serious Eats asks you to share your own thoughts, remembrances, and thanks in response to the question: “How did Steve Jobs change Food/Cooking?”

iEat. That’s why I mourn his passing.

 

 

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Food Stylists: Dirty Tricks of the Trade


It was the scandal that rocked the vegetarian world.
Vegetarian lifestyle magazine VegNews admitted that it routinely ran photographs of meat-based dishes to illustrate its meatless recipes. Examples included pseudo-vegan ice cream made from actual cream, beef frankfurters posing as their vegan counterparts, and pork ribs with the bones airbrushed away to look like a soy substitute. Bear in mind that these were stock photos used for budgetary reasons, and that no animal products touched the VegNews test kitchen. Still, readers were outraged, immediately offering up their online condemnation. They called it hypocrisy of the highest order, a betrayal of their trust, a show of contempt springing from deliberate and systematic deceit.

Food journalists, though, mostly responded with a collective shrug.
Food is, for the most part, supremely unphotogenic. It’s the law of nature that frozen will melt, crisp will wilt, and moist becomes dry. Food stylists have always relied on an arsenal of inedible ingredients and unsavory techniques to get the money shot, in the same way that celebrity stylists enhance their clients with hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras.

Take roasted chicken. If you make it at home, you know that the flesh shrinks and the skin wrinkles and deflates as it roasts, but in the pages of food magazines it always appears plump with taut, evenly browned skin.  That’s because the picture-perfect chicken has been stuffed with materials like cotton balls and paper towels, its skin was sewn tightly together, and it was roasted just long enough to give it a little texture. Then, still raw on the inside, it’s sprayed with a soap-based mixture and blasted with a blowtorch to achieve the ideal, deep golden-brown color. Bon appetit!

Here are some other tricks of the trade:

  • motor oil substitutes for pancake syrup, and the pancakes are treated with water repellent fabric spray to keep the ‘syrup’ from soaking in
  • barbecued meats are colored and glossed with wood stain, and grill marks are drawn on with eyeliner
  • nuts are fixed in place with super glue, and berries get touched up with lipstick
  • Elmer’s glue is a stunt double for pouring milk; stick a straw in a glass of whipped Crisco and you’ll swear it’s a milkshake
  • aerosol deodorant gives fruit a just-picked look
  • cotton balls, soaked and microwaved, provide the steam for ‘steaming hot’ soup
  • hairspray gives new life to a dried out slice of cake
  • brown shoe polish is applied to raw meat for a crusty, ‘well-roasted’ surface
  • hamburger patties are propped up with cardboard so they don’t sink into the perfect frill of lettuce atop the fluffy bun

There are purists out there who only use the real thing, and if the photographs are destined for advertising, the governing laws dictate that the food product that is the campaign’s subject must be the authentic item, although alterations and enhancements are perfectly kosher. The public should understand that commercialized food imagery is a hyper-idealized version of reality. It’s been gussied for its magazine appearance like a movie star that’s styled for the red carpet.

Like stars without their makeup
Ultimately, we gladly turn to our home-roasted chicken—homely and imperfect, but perfectly delicious. In the same way, we know that our romantic partners are not Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, but we are no less satisfied.

 

 

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5 Must-Try Dumplings

Is there anywhere on the planet where dumplings aren’t eaten?

Everybody loves dumplings.
Italians have ravioli and the Germans have spätzle. There’s Japanese gyoza, Polish pierogies, African fufu, and Cuban papas rellenas. Dumplings soar to new heights with the culture and traditions of Chinese dim sum, and you can’t be Jewish without yearning for a matzoh ball now and then.

At its most basic, a dumpling is the simplest of concepts: a cooked ball of dough. It can be made from potato, flour, rice, or bread. Dumplings can be sweet or savory, filled or unfilled, steamed, simmered, fried, baked, or boiled. They can appear as any course at any meal, at any time of day or night. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, there’s a dumpling option for you.

The Essential, Must-Try Dumplings
It’s not all wontons and ravioli; there’s a great big world of dumplings out there. Here are 5 to try:

http://thumbs.ifood.tv/files/images/food/vareniki-03.jpgVarenyky (Ukraine)
Savory varieties are usually topped with melted butter, sour cream, fried cubes of uncured pork fatback, and fried onions. Fruit-filled sweet ones are usually topped with melted butter, sour cream, honey, or raspberry jam. Either way, Time Magazine once called varenyky the greatest of all European foods.

File:Pelmeņi.jpg

Pelmeni (Russia)
Smaller than varenyky, with thinner dumpling skins, pelmeni are always savory and have a higher filling to dough ratio. Frozen bags of pre-made pelmeni are so ubiquitous that they are seen as student or bachelor food, kind of like our instant ramen.

 

http://www.spicemagazine.com.au/Tortellini.jpgTortellini (Italy)
You can readily buy tortellini that is dried, frozen, and  canned in soup. But don’t. You want it freshly-made and served in a rich meat broth—the classic tortellini en brodo—in a shape that pays tribute to Venus’ belly button.

 

 

Xiaolongbao/Soup Dumplings (Shanghai)
Thin, chewy dumpling skins, mild, gingery filling, all bathed in a few spoonfuls of steamy broth— the first bite of a Shanghai soup dumpling is a rich, juicy explosion that plays like a symphony in your mouth.

 

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_d76A8FQ9xm0/SNRtp0XsOAI/AAAAAAAAApE/KytPF1r9ruI/s400/DSCN7795+-+apple+dumpling+1.jpgApple Dumpling (U.S.-Amish)
It’s a whole apple sweetened with sugar and cinnamon encased in a flaky pastry, and you get to eat it for breakfast, Pennsylvania Dutch-style. Think of it as a precursor to the Pop-Tart.

 


http://gourmaverett.pbworks.com/f/aushak.jpgAushak (Afghanistan)
Aushak’s closest relative is the Italian ravioli with meat sauce; but that is merely a reference point. The dough is thinner and more delicate, the filling is a sharp puree of leeks or scallions, and it’s topped with two sauces, one of spiced, finely ground lamb, and a second sauce of yogurt that cools the kick of the other.

 

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You’re So Wrong! Food Myths and Misconceptions

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

Let’s face it, sometimes common wisdom isn’t all that wise.
Then there are those infernal enemies of truth—of course I’m speaking of tweets, like buttons, and repostings. They carry the misinformation to the masses, and the next thing you know you’ve got yourself a new food mythology.

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

myth: Add salt to water to make it boil faster.
reality: Salt actually raises the boiling point, so salted water takes longer to boil. It’s moot anyway since it takes way more salt than what gets added to a pasta pot to have that effect. Just add salt because it will make the pasta taste better.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Myths, legends, misconceptions, polite fictions, old wives’ tales….
They’re the lessons o f old-school chefs, the ‘wisdom’ passed from mothers to daughter; whatever you want to call them, there are plenty more out there, and now they’ve gone viral.

 

 

 

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Government Shutdown: Who eats? Who goes hungry?

Rep. Todd Akin (R, Missouri) via Irregular Times

The ongoing standoff over the federal budget is now hours away from its deadline. If a spending plan isn’t passed by the end of the day, money will stop flowing from federal coffers and the government will start to shut down.

What about our food?
The government runs food assistance programs, feeds military personnel, and oversees security of the food supply. Beginning Saturday, what can we expect?

Food Assistance
Food stamps and the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs are administered by states. They get periodic funding in a lump sum from the federal government, and are fully funded for a month or so.

Food Safety
FDA inspections of food processing facilities will be prioritized by risk. Visits to high-risk processors with a history of safety concerns will take place, but routine plant inspections will be given a low priority. Meat, poultry, and egg inspections will continue in the short-term, and food products coming from Japan will continue to be monitored for radiation. In the event of a food borne illness outbreak, the FDA will be able to call furloughed staff back to work.

Military
Mess halls will be open; commissaries will be closed.

Zoo Animals
Most of the federal employees at the National Zoo will be furloughed. The zoo, like all of the Smithsonian collection of museums, will be closed, but all of the keepers, curators, veterinarians, and nutritionists who minister to the needs of animals will remain at work.

Federal Prisoners
3 hots and a cot—it will be business as usual in the nation’s prisons.

You might have to scotch your summer travel plans. Expect a backlog of passports to be processed.

There is one bright spot: with all those furloughed IRS workers, it will be the first shutdown to disrupt the tax season.

 

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Is Emergency Food for Crazies?

According to Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, as the doomsday clock ticks down, the smart money is on beef stroganoff.

The popular Fox News political commentators/fear mongering conspiracy theorists are both spokesmen for FoodInsurance.com, a provider of emergency food kits. The company’s top-seller is a $200 backpack stuffed with enough freeze-dried stroganoff, lasagna, and creamy chicken rotini to last one adult for two post-apocalyptic weeks. Another company, ShelfReliance.com, holds Tupperware-style home demonstration parties with apron-clad representatives passing out emergency preparedness tips along with samples of chicken salad made from canned, dehydrated chopped chicken breast.

To hell in a handbasket, my friend. Hell in a handbasket.

I’m not trying to make light of the idea that societies should prepare for hard times. Peak oil, global climate change, hurricanes, earthquakes, nuclear meltdown—recent events have made us all too aware of the vulnerability of our food supply and the inter-relatedness of global food markets. Even mainstream journalists at the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal are raising the alarm about food shortages, and Disney’s Epcot Center has brought disaster-preparedness to the Magic Kingdom with its “fast-paced and very fun” StormStruck ride.

There are emergency responses that don’t require hunkering down with potassium iodide tablets and personal stockpiles of freeze-dried casseroles, but instead will
restore food insurance at a national level. We can bolster the existing Food Emergency Response Network, a structure that integrates local, state, and federal agencies charged with food security and food defense. And we should maintain our strategic grain reserves as assiduously as our petroleum reserves.

Ultimately, we each have to decide for ourselves what it takes to achieve peace of mind.
Personally, I choose to put my faith in robust social institutions that can buffer society as a whole from food disasters. I just can’t see myself standing guard over my horde of canned goods and water purification tablets while I watch my unprepared neighbors starve.

 

 

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Competitive Eating in the NCAA

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The sport of competitive eating. Yes, I said sport.
Competitive eating has all the trappings of a sport. It has the International Federation of Competitive Eating to sanction and supervise events worldwide. There are strategies and training regimens for top competitors, cash prizes that can be upward of $30,000, ESPN televised coverage of its marquee events, and even a video game (Major League Eating for Wii). I’d say it’s at least as much of a sport as Olympic ice dancing.

A newly-formed competitive eating team at the University of Maryland is making a bid for intercollegiate glory. […]

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I Am a Grain of Rice

Enter the installation Of All the People in All the World and you’re given one small grain of rice. That grain is you.

Wander among the mounds of rice and you see truths about the millions and billions that aren’t you: the people who will be born or will die today, child soldiers, people who have been to outer space, and the number of people who will visit a McDonald’s today. […]

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Resolutions: Resist the Urge

image via TheResurgance.com

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New Years resolutions are a sucker’s bet.
We all know it. Even so, there’s something about the next year’s calendar with all its small, clean squares so full of potential.
Resist the urge.
Make plans, not resolutions. Lay foundations instead of boundaries. […]

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Trend Watching 2011

image via Free Republic

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It’s that time of year.

It’s the time when we look over the past twelve months and ahead to the next.
We make lists, savoring our favorite food moments of 2010, and identifying a few that are best left behind us. We try to see ahead of the curve, spotting the trends for 2011. […]

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Backyard Cows: Too Lovable For Hamburgers?

image via.International Miniature Cattle Breeds Society and Registry


We’ve been here before.
First it was backyard chickens. We had a nostalgia-tinged notion of endearing creatures, deliciously fresh eggs, and serious locavore status. The dream ran up against the reality of filthy, shrieking fowl that barely edge out snakes in cuddliness, and are prone to ailments like poultry mites and pasty butt.

So we turned to goats. […]

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The Fifth Flavor

umamitongue

                 image courtesy of Tiscali UK

A recent episode of the Food Network series The Next Iron Chef had viewers scurrying to Wikipedia for a bit of research. With ‘Iron Chef’ Morimoto as judge, the chefs were challenged to create a series of dishes incorporating each of the five basic flavor profiles.

That’s right, five flavors. That would be sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and… and…

[…]

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We Could All Use a Little Luck in the New Year

crossed-fingers

If Friday the 13th is unlucky, then 2009 makes a lot more sense. We had 3 of them on this year’s calendar– the greatest number possible in a 12 month cycle– and for too many of us, 2009 was a real doozy. In the coming year we see our one and only Friday the 13th in August.

[…]

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Trend Watching 2010

image via Free Republic

image via Free Republic

It’s that time of year.

We look back at this past year and ahead to the next.
The media are full of lists enumerating the best and worst of 2009 and prophesizng the trends for 2010.
A good best of/worst of list is one we agree with. A good trend report is tougher to spot. […]

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Flavor Tripping

yuck

Let’s get some of those miracle berries.

About a year ago synsepalum dulcificum, known as the miracle fruit or miracle berry made some ripples in the food press.
In case you missed the story the first time around, these are berries that rewire your palate so that sour or bitter foods will taste sweet. Dark beer tastes like a chocolate milkshake, goat cheese turns into cake frosting, and ketchup tastes like maple syrup. Tequila goes down like apple juice, vinegar becomes wine, and wine tastes like a melted Popsicle. […]

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Making Sense of the Sugar Wars

ad courtesy of the Center for Consumer Freedom

ad courtesy of the Center for Consumer Freedom

The Corn Refiners Association is causing quite a stir with its print ads and television commercials pushing an image makeover for high fructose corn syrup. In one TV ad, a mother pours a glass of bright red punch; in another, a woman offers a cherry-colored Popsicle. In both commercials, the women are challenged to defend their choice of food containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Each has this ready response: high-fructose corn syrup is made from corn, has no artificial ingredients, and has the same calories as sugar. Of course they know to exercise moderation, as with any other natural sweetener but otherwise, they wonder, why all the fuss?

Is it possible that high-fructose corn syrup has gotten a bum rap? […]

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Food Safety: no such thing as TMI

“There are certain things only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat are safe and do not cause us harm.”

– President Obama

usda-logofood_safety_coalition_logo.62185541whologo

Food safety news has been generating a lot of buzz.

The New York Times kicked things off with a front page article that was a real stunner even for veterans of the food safety wars who had long ago given up on rare beef and fast food hamburgers. It shocked on two levels as it tracked the patently execrable path of contaminated beef from slaughterhouse to supermarket, and recounted the tragic results when the pathogen was consumed by a 22 year old children’s dance instructor from Minnesota.

If you think that your supermarket’s shrink-wrapped packages of ground beef come from hunks of beef passed through meat grinders, the Times article will take you on an eye-opening, stomach-churning journey. In the Minnesota case, which involved a “premium” store brand known as American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties, the largest component in the mixture was also the cheapest: slaughterhouse trimmings known as 50/50 (half meat/half fat). The fat level was reduced with the addition of a leaner, mash-like substance that had been treated with ammonia to halt the growth of bacteria.

Lower-grade cuts of beef are more likely to have had contact with E. coli-carrying feces. Since most large-scale processors test for bacteria only after ingredients are ground together, the source of contamination is hard to identify and contain. In the Times report, the ground beef came from suppliers in 3 states plus the country of Uruguay. With meat from thousands of untested cattle processed and combined in a single day at any one of the suppliers’ facilities, it was impossible to pinpoint the origins of the outbreak.

Until our arcane and archaic food safety laws catch up with our globalized system of food production, we need to stay informed and vigilant. To that end, this fall the US Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture launched Foodsafety.gov. The website pulls information from numerous, scattered government agencies (including the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control) that share responsibility for the safety of our food supply. You can sign up for email alerts or RSS feeds of product recalls and food safety announcements, report problems, and send e-cards to alert all your friends to food safety issues.

 

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