Archive for ‘Get to Know Your Food’

July 31, 2018

Eating Her Curds and Whey

spiderSpiders may not be the current danger for Little Miss Muffet when she eats her curds and whey. Last week, several snack cracker recalls centered around possible salmonella contamination of the ingredient whey. If you’re familiar with the nursery rhyme, you probably instinctively associate whey with milk or milk products, but what exactly is it?

Whey is the liquid that remains after you strain curdled milk. In food manufacturing, it is a byproduct of making cheese. Cheddar and Swiss cheeses leave sweet whey and cottage cheese and yogurt leave acid or sour whey.

When cheese was made at home, the remaining whey could be substituted for milk in baking. Even now, I sometimes use the liquid from yogurt in baked goods. Whey was also consumed as a beverage with honey and alcohol.

In US commercial food manufacturing, whey was a waste product dumped into rivers until the US government prohibited such dumping. Faced with a disposal problem, manufacturers began to look for other ways to use it. They first developed a filler for ice cream.

hawaiianWhey’s use as a filler in convenience foods grew from there. It is now found in products that may or may not have inhabited my snack bin – things like King’s Hawaiian Bread, Cheetos, Ritz Sandwich Crackers, Goldfish Crackers, Nature Valley Protein Bars, Luna Protein Bars, Oatmega Protein Bars, Swiss Rolls, and Similac Pro-Advance Infant Formula. Whey has also become a nutritional supplement popular with bodybuilders because of its leucine content.

The primary components of whey are water, lactose, protein, fat, and amino acids. The proteins include beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, lactoferrin, and immunoglobulins.

Three types of whey protein are produced in the food industry – Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, and Hydrolyzed Whey Protein. In theory, whey protein isolate can be safely consumed if you have lactose intolerance, but other forms of whey protein may cause symptoms.

Like most milk in the grocery store, the whey contained in convenience foods is typically pasteurized to make it less likely to harbor bacteria and safer to consume. Unfortunately, as we have recently seen, it can still become contaminated during manufacturing or packaging.

It’s no secret that I prefer fresh food prepared at home. I think it tastes better, and I feel better knowing what’s in the food. Of course that doesn’t mean that all my food will be free from a risk of salmonella, listeria, E. coli, or other contaminants.

And real life means that I sometimes reach for convenience foods. Of course, I read the labels. I have to make sure they’re free of gluten and shrimp. Right now, I’m making sure they’re free of whey.

https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls/

http://wheyproteininstitute.org/facts/howwheyismade/wheyproteincomponents

http://www.liquidirish.com/2012/05/whey-alcohol.html

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/whey-protein-101#what-is-it

https://www.ampi.com/home/page/130

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.”

May 8, 2018

It’s Strawberry Season, Now What’s a Shortcake?

It’s strawberry season, now what’s a shortcake?

The farmers market in my neighborhood just opened for the season with a strawberry festival. I love strawberries! As a child, I picked tiny wild ones from my great aunt’s yard. Now I enjoy medium sized locally grown or gigantic shipped-in berries. My favorite way to eat them is right off the stem, but strawberry shortcake makes me happy as well.
strawberries
My grandmother and mother called traditional pie crust sprinkled with sugar shortcake. Thin, flaky, and crisp, it played well against partially mashed, sweetened strawberries and whipped cream. There’s a restaurant in my area that serves this style of shortcake two layers tall. It is divine!

I can’t say crust-based strawberry shortcake is widely known. My grandmother’s house, my mother’s house, and that one restaurant are the only places I’ve eaten it. I suppose in the strictest sense, sweetened crust fits one of the original requirements of shortcake in that it contains fat that has been cut into the flour. The only problem is that it’s not really a cake.

But is shortcake really cake or is it a scone or biscuit? The first recipe for shortcake appeared in an English cookbook in 1588, but I don’t know what it said. That makes it difficult to determine exactly what sort of crumb it had.

A quick scroll through several culinary guides failed to find mention of shortcake. Shortbread is often included, but not shortcake. Perhaps that’s because there are too many versions to narrow down a definition. Or perhaps it’s because perfectly ripened strawberries sweetened and topped with whipped cream are so good they don’t really need any sort of biscuit, cake, or crust. Anything that absorbs and delivers that scrumptious juice will be appreciated and well received.

When shortcake is mentioned in culinary articles, it is often differentiated from sponge cake. This is sort of amusing because I’ve probably been served strawberry shortcake made with sponge cake more often than any other kind.

So what’s a shortcake? Whatever vehicle you prefer to deliver sweetened strawberries and whipped cream. Most of us probably gravitate to the version of shortcake that is most familiar. I prefer pie crust to squishy cake. I’ll take a sweetened biscuit in a pinch. You may prefer a butter-rich cake or corn muffin.

Whatever you place it on, a combination of fresh strawberries and cream sweetened or not, whipped or not, will provide a delicious summer treat!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortcake
http://bakingbites.com/2009/09/what-is-a-shortcake/
http://www.cookthink.com/reference/1990/What_is_shortcake

March 20, 2018

Why Did Your Grandma Make Chicken Soup?

Why did your grandma make chicken soup? Well, she may not have. She may have bought it in a can, but I bet she served you some when you felt under the weather. It’s what grandmas do. Even moms do it. And the good news is, chicken soup really does help you recover from a cold.
soup
Of course, these days grandma may make chicken soup when the grandkids come for a visit because she knows she’ll be needing some. Kids are collectors of viruses that they’re happy to share.

I think DJ recently fed me a poison peach. He had a bite on his fork. He held it out. I leaned in close to say, “Nummy nummy num” and pretend to eat it. With perfect timing as I pursed my lips, he shoved the bite in my mouth. Stupid kid germs! Now I have a really bad cold. I need chicken soup!

So what makes chicken soup good for you when you have a cold?

First, it contains the protein building block carnosine. Carnosine is produced naturally by the body and is important for proper function of the heart, brain, liver, and kidneys. Giving your body an extra boost of this dipeptide molecule may help reduce some stress on the body while it’s fighting a virus. Both homemade soup and store-bought soup contain carnosine.

Some research indicates that chicken soup may slow the gathering of white cells in the lungs in response to a virus. This may help reduce the coughing, sneezing, and stuffy nose symptoms that make a cold so miserable.

Homemade chicken soup can be nutrient rich from the chicken and vegetables you choose to include. Carrots add beta-carotene. Celery adds vitamin C. Onions add antioxidants. Button mushrooms add B vitamins, riboflavin, and niacin. Chicken adds protein. These nutrients support your immune system and give your cells fuel to rebuild.

Chicken soup is often fairly salty. The salt helps carry bacteria away from the mouth, throat, and tonsils much like a saltwater gargle.

Get plenty of fluids is the most common advice given to anyone recovering from a cold. If you have a fever, fluids are especially important to prevent dehydration. They also help flush the body. Consuming chicken soup automatically adds fluids to your daily intake.

The warmth of chicken soup soothes a sore throat. The steam helps cleanse the sinuses. The added touch of grandma’s soothing tones when she serves you warms your soul. Or so they say.

Chicken soup may have been a comforting, loving tradition long before we could scientifically prove it had healing properties. That didn’t make it any less effective. Somehow, we know that comforting, loving traditions have mysterious healing properties.

https://healthybutsmart.com/carnosine/

https://share.upmc.com/2014/12/health-benefits-chicken-noodle-soup/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/good-day-chicken-soup/

March 7, 2018

Well Preserved

When I was growing up, women who looked young for their age were referred to as well preserved. If we really are what we eat, we all should be well preserved. The average American diet is filled with preservatives.

I am a dedicated label reader, but sometimes I buy first and read later. Last week, I grabbed a package of corn tortillas thinking I’d make enchiladas. When I got home and looked at the package, I found methyl paraben (aka methylparaben) listed on the label. That didn’t sound appetizing. Why would I want to eat methyl paraben when I won’t even put it on my skin? They went in the trash.
tortilla
Parabens

Parabens are often used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to prevent the growth of fungus and bacteria. When parabens make their way into the tissue of humans, they may affect the endocrine system, and thereby hormones the body produces. This can in turn affect metabolism and other bodily functions. Some studies also show a correlation between the presence of methyl paraben and breast tumors.

Methyl paraben is only one common preservative. There are other parabens to watch for as well: propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. Believe it or not, the these tortillas also contained propyl paraben, lye, sodium propionate, and sorbic acid. Huh? Are these survivalist tortillas? How long do they really need to last?

Obviously, preservatives mean a longer shelf life in a warehouse, grocery store, or your pantry. That sounds like a good thing. It’s nice to be able to have some staples in the pantry without constantly having to discard them.

The question is whether this convenience is slowly affecting our health. At this point, there are no definitive answers. If you want to be proactive, you may want to limit the products you purchase that contain the following:

BHA & BHT
Common food preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). You can find them in meat, cereal, shortening, beer, or chewing gum. According to Scientific American, large doses of BHA & BHT have been shown to promote the growth of tumors in lab animals, and the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program concludes that BHA can be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Sodium Nitrate
Bacon, jerky, deli meat, and smoked salmon are often preserved with the salt, sodium nitrate. It reduces color changes and prevents botulism. High levels of exposure have been linked to an increased incidence of cancer in adults.

Sodium Benzoate
Used in acidic foods like carbonated beverages, fruit juice, pickles and salsa, sodium benzoate inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. Typically used in small amounts, it is relatively safe. That doesn’t mean it’s always well tolerated. If I consume a diet soda with sodium benzoate, I feel really bad. The feeling is similar to a sudden blood sugar drop and resulting hangover.

Sulfites
Sulfites are found in a wide range of food and beverages like wine, beer, pickles, olives, powdered sugar, fruit juice, cocktail mixes, and processed baked goods. About 1 in 100 people are sensitive to sulfites.

Sorbic Acid
Sorbic acid is an antimicrobial agent originally derived from the berries of the rowan tree used to prevent mold in cheeses, cake, yogurt, dried fruit, and salad dressing. It is FDA approved and generally recognized as safe.

Natamycin
Natamycin is a macrolide used as an antifungal in food and pharmaceuticals. It is in the same family as the antibiotics erythromycin, azithromycin, and clarithromycin. You’ll often see it on the label of cheese, cream cheese spreads, or pimento cheese. While considered safe to consume, it is not immune to intolerance. Macrolides cause a significant reaction in several members of my family.

Potassium Benzoate
Potassium benzoate can be found in carbonated soft drinks, cider, juices, jams, syrups and pickled foods. It is sometimes used in place of sodium benzoate to reduce the sodium content of a food. The US FDA generally recognizes it as safe and has approved it as a preservative and flavoring agent. Through trial and error, I have discovered that I can tolerate potassium benzoate without the adverse reaction I experience with sodium benzoate.

While the farm-to-table movement has brought us restaurant options serving fresh food, rest assured that your fast casual dining experience is filled with additives and preservatives. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily avoid your favorite restaurant chain, but it’s always good to make an informed choice rather than an uninformed choice.

What if I want to avoid preservatives?

Most of us don’t have time to go back to the canning and drying our ancestors did to preserve food. Freezing can still be a good option. Small shifts in habits may be sufficient for limiting the chemicals without adding too much time to your routine.

Here are a dozen examples of small changes that will make a difference over time:
Eat fresh fruit more often than dried fruit.

Instead of serving bread with dinner, substitute a baked potato or sweet potato.

Bake and keep some savory cheese muffins in the freezer to serve instead of rolls.

Use left-over or frozen vegetables, rice, left-over chicken, beef, or pork and your own herbs and spices to create casseroles or one pot meals rather than buying packaged versions or starters.

Remove boxed cereal from your breakfasts. Instead, eat raw nuts for some crunch in the morning. Storing them in the freezer will keep them fresh and increase the crunch. Don’t worry, they won’t break your teeth. Just pull them out of the freezer and chomp away!

Cook oatmeal from a large container rather than using flavored single servings. Store the cooked oatmeal divided into single microwaveable servings in the refrigerator and add your own toppings when you serve it. Sometimes, I like it with just butter, salt, and a splash of milk. Sometimes, I add some coconut crystals and fresh blackberries.

Consider making and freezing your own muffins, pancakes or waffles as convenient breakfast food.

Stir together various combinations of vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and herbs for salad dressing rather than buying bottled dressing. My grandmother kept a cruet full of salad dressing on her kitchen counter. Her combination was pretty routine, but there are all sorts of infused oils and vinegars that can make salad dressing preparation a fun adventure!

Save the pot likker when you cook greens or beans. Use it in place of boxed chicken stock.

Make and/or freeze your own soups. Pomi tomatoes make a great soup base with no chemical preservatives. Pot likker can also be used if you don’t have time to make stock.

Create your own pasta sauce. Pomi tomatoes can be used for red sauce. A combination of milk, butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and some shredded Parmesan cheese can make a delicious white sauce. You can also use sour cream, yogurt, or pesto as a base for pasta sauce. You don’t have to simmer any of these for hours to have a flavorful sauce.

Drink water or unsweet tea rather than soft drinks or sports drinks. Use fresh fruit to flavor water instead of flavor packets. There are lots of cute glass water bottles with fruit infusers built in.

Even as urban gardens flourish, it seems unlikely that we’ll return to home canning any time soon. I can’t think of a single modern house that comes with a root cellar. And I can’t imagine that many of us will give up the convenience of every single food that contains a preservative.

Given that, minimizing exposure with small changes seem most realistic. And even then, we could end up well preserved!

https://www.thedermreview.com/methylparaben/
https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm128042.htm
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bha-and-bht-a-case-for-fresh/
https://www.pomi.us.com/en-us/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/hold-natamycin-please/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/strippaggio-a-tasting-adventure/