Archive for December, 2019

December 9, 2019

Made in Texas?

Can natural spring water be made in Texas? The other day, I picked up a bottle of Ozarka® water at an event. Under the name it says 100% Natural Spring Water. At the top left, it says Made in Texas. This perplexes me.
Unless you’re combining hydrogen and oxygen in a lab to produce water, I’m not sure you can say it was made in any specific location. If the water comes from a spring, its source may originate in a whole other state than Texas. But even if the spring begins in Texas, does Texas make the rain?

I know this may seem like much ado about nothing, but those of us who have allergies and sensitivities depend on accurate labels to stay safe. Playing this loose with label language feels disconcerting at best and at worst, dangerous.

Ozarka Spring Water was first bottled in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. When that spring ran dry, Ozarka sold drinking water and distilled water. At some point, probably the 1990s, Nestlé Waters acquired the rights to Ozarka Spring Water. The exact date and details of this transaction are unclear. Nestlé only lists the 1905 beginning of the Eureka Springs company in its timeline, but Nestlé Waters was not formed until 1992.

Nestlé Waters is part of the larger Swiss company Nestlé that owns many brands including Gerber®, Cheerios®, Stouffers®, Buitoni®, DiGirono®, Lean Cuisine®, and Hot Pockets®. Nestlé water brands include Acqua Panna, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Nestlé Pure Life, Perrier, Poland Spring, S.Pellegrino, and Zephyrhills.

According to its website, Ozarka is currently bottled from three springs in Texas. Why not say Bottled in Texas or, God forbid because I hate this use of the word even though it’s popular, Sourced in Texas? My guess is that there’s a marketing reason for this labeling although I’m not sure what it is.

The Texas Department of Agriculture has a certification program that allows for use of the Go Texan mark to promote Texas products, but I am not aware of a Made in Texas program. Maybe it’s a way to appeal to a certain demographic that might not choose Arrowhead or Acqua Panna. Or perhaps it’s a way to remind Arkansans drawn to the Ozarka name that they can no longer lay claim to this water—it’s made in Texas.

Whatever the reason, I hope it was well considered. I hope all labeling decisions are carefully considered with priority given to the safety of the public. I certainly prefer for label information to be complete and accurate. The problem with statements like Made in Texas on water is that it raises a question.

A labeling question makes me uncomfortable and puts me on alert in regard to all products that company produces. In my head, I start asking whether the marketing department is allowed to write or change the nutrition labels and does that information have good oversight by qualified individuals? Is the company committed to accuracy and transparency? Does management consider labeling a safety matter?

I know many of you may be less skeptical and more trusting than I. You may trust that there are well-thought, specific procedures with adequate oversight in place to ensure that most label information that could affect health is correct. I hope so, but I know it’s not guaranteed.

I have personally witnessed an advertising agency determine all of the label information for a variety of products made by a hot sauce company. I am also aware that on a given week this fall, six of fifteen USDA recalls were due to misbranding and/or undeclared allergens. That’s more than a third of recalls at that particular moment and not every label issue results in a recall.

An undeclared allergen can lead to very serious consequences. The rate at which label errors result in recalls can be disconcerting. Even so, labels are a valuable source of information. I choose to read them and make many decisions based on their content. I also reserve the right to be skeptical about a company’s labeling when I experience an adverse reaction or observe something alarming.

Whether or not Ozarka is Made in Texas is of no material consequence, but it does raise a red flag. It’s unfortunate that many companies seem lax in oversight of labeling practices. It’s also an easy area in which they can improve.

Knowing I can trust the accuracy of a label inspires me to brand loyalty above and beyond marketing and advertising language. I am sure I’m not alone in this. Food production companies, please take note!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

December 2, 2019

Thanksgiving Keeps On Giving at Cooking2Thrive

Thanksgiving keeps on giving by warming our hearts and our bellies. This week, I’m focussing on the role of food in this process. When we’re hungry, it’s hard to feel anything but tired and irritable. When it’s cold, a warm bowl of pasta can set the stage for gratitude on many levels.
Yesterday, I decided to use some of my Thanksgiving leftovers to create dairy-free pasta sauce. Many Cooking2Thrive recipes begin this way. The process goes something like this:

The idea centered around what was available in my kitchen. For the base, I used two cups of broth leftover from making stuffing. To this I added water, half an onion, a couple of pieces of bacon, two large fresh sage leaves, two sprigs of fresh thyme, garlic powder, salt, fresh ground black pepper, and a dash of cayenne.

When I first cook a recipe, I don’t measure. I just cook. I use sight, smell, and taste to get the proportions right.

I considered thickening my sauce with corn starch but decided I’d rather try using potatoes. I peeled and cubed two Irish potatoes. Once I’d added these to the broth, I brought it to a boil and then let it simmer until the potatoes were falling apart.

I removed the onion, bacon, and fresh herbs and let the broth cool. Of course, I tasted it as well. It was delicious! I considered just eating it as soup with or without adding some leftover turkey. For the ideal soup, I would probably cook the potatoes a little less, add a hint of curry powder, and throw in some frozen green peas.

Once the broth had cooled sufficiently, I put it in a food processor and pureed the mixture. Actually, I just have a small food chopper so I have to do this in stages. At the end, I returned the puree to the pan and turned the heat on low.

While I was doing this, I cooked some gluten-free egg noodles in lightly salted water. This gave me plenty of time to cube two cups of leftover turkey and add it to the sauce to warm. When the pasta was done, I drained it and topped it with the sauce.

The result was hearty, warm, rich and creamy enough to be pleasing without including cream, milk, cheese, or non-dairy substitutes. The flavors are pulled from Thanksgiving, but the combination provides enough variety to prevent leftover flavor fatigue.

Green peas would also be a good addition to the pasta sauce. I almost always have some in the freezer. They cook quickly so adding them into the puree along with the turkey should allow ample cooking time. If I were adding them, I would cover the pan while it simmers.

After tasting a recipe, or eating two helpings, I sit down at the computer and record what I did. To some degree, I’m guessing how much salt I added, but I’ve followed this process for years creating and testing recipes so it’s an educated guess.

I also taste the dish again warm and cold. I note both taste and texture and add notes of things I may want to try next time I cook the dish. This process will be repeated until the recipe is right. Along the way, we get input from tasters and testers. These include friends, family, neighbors, and volunteers as well as professional bakers and chefs.

Sometimes a recipe only requires our minimal triple testing. Other times, it takes more than 10 trials to get it right. If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. Yes, sometimes it’s frustrating, but it’s also like solving a puzzle with delicious food as the reward.

We are grateful to have food to put on the table, rework and put on the table again. We are grateful to have input from people who help us improve. We are grateful for those of you who follow us.

And for all of this, we give thanks knowing Thanksgiving keeps on giving!