Posts filed under ‘Food and Drink’

McDonald’s Imports One Third of Mexican Sesame Seeds

By Chad Upton | Editor

Sesame seeds come from sesame plants where the seeds grow in pods.

The seeds range in color from very dark to nearly white and are used in foods from Europe, Asia, The Middle East, North America, South America and virtually everywhere else. They are found in everything from sushi to breadsticks and soup to hamburger buns.

A tasty Middle Eastern dip known as Tahini, is made from ground sesame seeds and salt (and sometimes other spices too). Sesame seeds are also very popular in a variety of baked goods including breads, bagels and crackers. In Togo, a small country in West Africa, uses sesame seeds as a main ingredient in soup. They’re also used in Greek cakes.

Sesame seeds are popular because they add a subtle savory nut-like flavor. They taste good because they’re high in polyunsaturated fats (the “good” fat). It should be mentioned that heat from cooking or baking damages the polyunsaturated fats.

The largest producers are India and China, and one of the largest consumers is McDonald’s, which buys one third of the Mexican sesame seeds imported by the US annually.

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Sources: Wikipedia (Sesame, Polyunsaturated Fats), Purdue.edu

Photo: Oceandesetoiles (cc)

April 25, 2011 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

How to Chop Onions Without Crying

By Kyle Kurpinski

Plants, like all other living organisms, are composed of cells. When you eat a vegetable, or chop it with a knife, some of these cells are ruptured and their contents are released. Certain plants, like the onion, have developed defense mechanisms against this type of destructive action. When onion cells are destroyed, enzymes called alliinases initiate a series of chemical reactions resulting in the release of synpropanethial-S-oxide (also known as onion lachrymatory factor, or LF), a volatile gas that stings the eyes. To combat the stinging effect of the gas, the lachrymal gland at the corner of each eye produces tears to help wash the irritant away. For the plant, LF is an excellent natural deterrent against roaming herbivores, but for humans, it makes us look quite silly and emotional when preparing salad.

There are many ways to reduce or eliminate the “onion effect” during chopping, all of which involve minimizing your exposure to the noxious LF gas:

1) Chop under water. Copious amounts of water can help prevent LF gas from reaching the eyes. Try peeling the onion under running water and/or chopping the onion in a large water-filled bowl.

2) Chill or freeze the onion. The enzymes required to produce LF work well at room temperature, but are inhibited under colder conditions. By chilling the onion before cutting, you greatly reduce the activation of the chemical reactions.

3) Use a sharp blade. A sharper blade causes less damage to the onion cells, thereby releasing less chemicals.

4) Use a fan. Disperse the LF gas by aiming a small fan towards your cutting area and away from you.

5) Wear goggles. Protective eyewear can help prevent LF gas from reaching your eyes. You’ll need something that forms a seal around your eyes, however; standard glasses won’t do.

6) Do not chop the root. The root of the onion contains a greater concentration of the alliinases than the rest of the plant. By avoiding the root (or at least saving it for the end) you can reduce the amount of LF produced during chopping.

7) Chew gum. This one is a little weirder, and doesn’t seem to work as well for many people, but it’s still an option if you can’t do any of the above. Supposedly, vigorous chewing causes you to breathe more through your mouth, which disperses the LF gas and directs it away from your eyes and lachrymal glands.

8) Use a “better” onion. If you’re desperate for a truly tear-free onion, genetic engineering provides an alternative to freezing and gum chewing. In 2008, researchers at the New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research utilized gene-silencing technology to suppress a gene required for LF production. No more LF, no more sobbing over your chopping board.

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Source: Wikipedia – Onion, Wikipedia – Alliinase, e-How

Image: Wikipedia

April 11, 2011 at 2:00 am 14 comments

Food Chains to Display Calories on Menu by 2014

By Chad Upton | Editor

Last year, President Obama introduced the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is part of the health care reform of 2010.

Although we hear a lot about the controversial parts of this reform, there are variety of lesser known, albeit interesting, changes that will be phased in through 2018.

Some restaurants have already complied with one new regulation that requires them to show caloric values next to items on their menu. I noticed that Panera is already on board and my wife reminded me that Olive Garden has done the same. This is a bold move and it confirms that anything Alfredo is both the best and worst thing that Olive Garden serves.

There are some other interesting changes too; here’s an abbreviated timeline:

2012

  • Employers will have to disclose the value of the benefits they provide to their employees.
  • Tighter restrictions on corporate payments to individuals and other corporations, designed to prevent tax evasion and raise an estimated $17 billion over 10 years.

2013

  • Individual salaries over $200,000 and families with income over $250,000 will see a tax increase of 0.5%.

2014

  • Insurers can’t discriminate against individuals with pre-existing conditions.
  • Insurers can’t set annual spending caps.
  • Chain restaurants and vendors with 20 or more locations are required to show calorie count on menus and displays (additional nutritional info must also be available upon request).
  • Expand eligibility for Medicaid.
  • Changes to tax-free contribution limit on flex spending accounts.
  • Require that everyone has health insurance.
  • Penalize companies with more 50 full time employees if they do not provide insurance to those employees.

2017

  • States can apply to waive certain sections of the law if they mandate coverage that is as comprehensive and affordable.

2018

  • Existing health insurance plans must cover approved preventive care without co-payment.
  • Individuals who spend more than $10,200 ($27,500 for families) annually on health insurance will see an additional tax on those “Cadillac” plans.

This list was by no means comprehensive, although I did try to include the most notable changes. The details of these changes have been abbreviated and you should see the sources for additional reading on the provisions that may affect you.

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Image: kobo4lila (cc)

Sources: The Bill Itself (PDF), Wikipedia (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), Library of Congress

April 4, 2011 at 2:00 am 5 comments

Not Making Your Bed Kills Dust Mites

By Chad Upton | Editor

There’s a hot debate on whether you should make your bed or not. Some people believe it teaches children discipline, others like the look and/or feel of a made bed and tight sheets.

Regardless of your preference, there is some new information that indicates not making your bed is cleaner than making it.

Millions of dust mites can live in your bed if the conditions are right. Because dust mites can impact our health with asthma and allergies, scientists are studying mights to improve health in the future.

Dust mites survive best in warm and moist conditions. Scientists say that one of easiest ways to reduce the heat and humidity inside your bed is to leave it unmade in the morning.

Because they’re so small, less than a millimeter, it’s very easy to deprive them of heat and moisture.

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Source: BBC

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

March 21, 2011 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Cocktail Terminology

By Chad Upton | Editor

Ordering a cocktail can be as confusing as ordering at starbucks. Here’s a quick guide to help you get it your way.

  • on the rocks – on ice (“rocks”)
  • straight up – chilled in a shaker and strained to remove ice (aka “up” or “shaken”)
  • stirred – served on ice and stirred with a bar spoon
  • neat – served at room temperature, no ice
  • back – a glass of non-alcoholic liquid served with your cocktail, such as water for mixing with Whiskey

If you like martinis, they have a language of their own. Traditionally, a martini is made with gin and dry vermouth, then garnished with a green olive. Many variations have become popular, especially swapping top shelf vodka with gin. Here are some terms for traditional martinis:

  • dry – little to no vermouth
  • wet – extra vermouth
  • dirty – extra olive juice, making it look “dirty” (murky)
  • perfect – equal parts dry and sweet vermouth are used

Cheers!

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Photo: Adrian Hoffmann (cc)

Sources: Wikipedia (on the rocks, martini),  about.com, drinksmixer.com

March 11, 2011 at 2:00 am 7 comments

Brain Freeze is Triggered in the Sinuses

By Chad Upton | Editor

When I was a kid, the local 7-11 had 20 Slurpee flavors. Every Saturday, my brother Brett and I would bike there with a palm full of allowance and return with a belly full of food coloring. We didn’t know how lucky we were — I’ve never seen another convenience store with that many flavors. But, there was one thing we did know: BRAIN FREEZE.

While it’s frequently called brain freeze or ice-cream headache, this mind numbing pain is known as sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia in the medical community. Don’t even try to sound-it-out, even the British Medical Journal calls it ice-cream headache.

It happens to some people more easily than others and although your childhood imagination may disagree, your brain is not actually being frozen. The pain stems from a defense mechanism that is employed all over your body.

When it’s cold outside, your arms and legs usually cool down faster than your core because they generally have less insulation (fat) than your core. Because blood flows into your extremities and then back to your heart, the blood coming back will cool down your core. Your body protects itself from rapid cooling by constricting the veins in your extremeties, which reduces flow and slows the return of colder blood into your core.

This is a temporary reaction. After some time, the blood-vessels will expand to allow greater flow so these parts get proper blood flow again. This affect can be quite noticeable in the right conditions. If you’re outside for a while, you may find that your fingers are cold at first, but feel warm later. This is part of the reason they warm up. Also, redness in your cheeks is caused when the blood-vessels expand like this.

As you consume extremely cold food and beverages, the capillaries in your sinuses can rapidly constrict when cooled and expand when warmed. Pain receptors react to this by sending signals to your brain via the trigeminal nerve, the same nerve responsible for sensations in the face. This is why it can feel like the pain is coming from your forehead.

To get rid of a slushie stinger, some doctors suggest holding your tongue on the roof of your mouth to warm it up. Another tip, which you probably learned at a young age, eat slowly!

There is also a belief that you can only get brain freeze in warm environments, but that’s not true.

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Photo: Tom Magliery (cc)

Sources: Wikipedia, British Medical Journal, io9, about.com

March 4, 2011 at 2:00 am 7 comments

Craft Breweries Cannot Brew More Than 6 Million Barrels Annually

By Kaye Nemec

Major breweries, like Anheuser-Busch, produce over 24 million barrels of beer annually. They are well known around the world and have a major hold on the market. Smaller, much less popular beers are brewed around the world but, to be officially classified as a microbrew or a craft beer they must fall within certain criteria.

The U.S. Brewers Association defines a microbrewery as a brewery that produces no more than 15,000 barrels of beer annually with 75 percent of that volume being sold off-site.

A craft brewery is defined by the U.S. Brewers Association as a brewery that produces no more than 6 million barrels of beer annually. A craft brewery’s best-selling product is an all malt beer or at least half of its total volume is all-malt beer or beer that uses adjuncts instead of lightening the flavor. It also allows up to 25 percent of the company to be owned by an alcoholic beverage company that is not considered a craft brewer.

A Regional Brewery is defined by the Brewers Associate as a brewery with an annual beer production of 15,000 to 6 million barrels.

A Large Brewery is defined by the Brewers Association as a brewery with an annual beer production of over 6 million barrels.

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Photo: BURИBLUE (cc)

Sources: Medill Reports Chicago, Craft Beer.com, Brewers Association

February 21, 2011 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Boxed Wine Isn’t Necessarily Bad Wine

By Chad Upton | Editor

Some people subscribe to the idea that “no wine is bad wine,” and while I agree with the sentiment, I disagree with the statement. Thankfully, bad wine is easy to avoid and award wining wine can be cheap too, especially if it’s in a box.

If you’re not familiar with boxed wine, it consists of a plastic membrane (full of wine) with a spout for dispensing. The “bag” is placed in a cardboard box so it stays vertical for proper dispensing; this also gives it a smaller footprint on the shelf or in the fridge.

This is a near perfect container for wine. Since wine spoils with exposure to air, the self collapsing nature of this package preserves the wine much longer and more conveniently than a glass bottle and a typical air sucking accessory.

Although boxed wine should be popular with those who drink a lot of wine, it’s also ideal for those who don’t because it lasts for weeks after opening.

I admit, there is some romance to a glass bottle, but boxed wine is a practical solution for every day drinking. Every-day-drinking sounds bad, but I hope you know what I mean, frequent drinking. Actually, that sounds worse. Drinking heavily every night. OK, now I’m just having fun with you.

The point is: if you’re shy of boxed wine, you shouldn’t be. There are a number of brands worth considering and although you may not have heard of them, they all appeared on almost every “Best Boxed Wine” list I could find.

They are:

  • From the Tank
  • Three Thieves
  • Black Box
  • Bota Box

Decent boxed wine can be had for as little as $12. Some of these wines have ratings of 90+ points from popular wine reviews — an excellent rating, especially considering the price. Because a 3L box is equivalent to 4 bottles of wine, even a $30 box would be a bargain for good wine.

Although Kristen and I don’t drink a lot of wine, we have a tradition: Wine in a Box Wednesday (WIBW)! For us, it’s like a mid-week TGIF. No matter how busy our week is, we always take time to enjoy a glass of wine.

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PS – Thanks to Mike and Christina for re-introducing us to boxed wine!

Sources: Slate, NY TimesEpicurious, Oprah? Yes, Oprah. :)

February 16, 2011 at 1:20 am 5 comments

The Banana Plant is an Herb

By Kaye Nemec

We’ve learned about the importance of fruits and veggies on the food pyramid since grade school.  We’ve learned that carrots, peas and broccoli are vegetables and apples, pears and strawberries are fruits.

But most of us probably haven’t learned that the banana plant is an herb or that tomatoes, avocadoes, string beans, squash, eggplant, green pepper, okra, green beans, cucumbers and corn kernels are fruits.

Merriam-Webster defines an herb as “a seed-producing annual, biennial, or perennial that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season.”

Banana plants do not have the typical wood trunk that supports a tree. Its leaves twist and turn around each other to form a stem that can be 12 inches thick and can grow up to 40 feet tall. At the end of each harvest the plants die completely and grow again the next season. The bananas produced by the plant are the fruit of the herb.

A fruit is defined in the botanical world as the part of the plant that bears the seed – therefore putting tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, green peppers and more in the fruit category.

In the legal world, however, vegetables as we know them remain as is – all fruit classifications thrown aside. In the 19th century the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that fruits and vegetables were to be classified according to how they are commonly consumed.

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Photo: Spacemonster

Sources: Merriam-Webster, OChef, Live Science, MyPyramid.gov

February 9, 2011 at 2:00 am 9 comments

Potatoes: Green Means Stop

By Chad Upton | Editor

If you eat potatoes, in any form, you’ve probably come across a partially green one.

Most importantly, don’t eat the green part — it’s toxic enough that you may get very ill, and it can cause death in rare cases. Secondly, it’s very bitter, so you’re not going to enjoy it. French fries and potato chips are also affected, so avoid the green stuff there too.

The green coloration is chlorophyll. Like many other plants, chlorophyll is formed with enough exposure to certain types of light. Of course, many green leaves are part of a healthy diet, so it’s not the chlorophyll itself that is the problem.

Exposure to light can also cause another reaction that forms a substance called “solanine.” It is not related to chlorophyll, but is often formed at the same time. Solanine is toxic. 16 ounces of a fully green pototo could be enough to make a 100lb person sick.

The green chlorophyll is a good warning about the presence of solanine, but solanine can form when chlorophyll does not. So, even if the potato looks normal, the bitter taste will serve as a warning.

Cooking a green potato will not help, it’s still toxic. But, a cooked potato cannot turn green since the required enzyme mechanisms are destroyed in cooking.

Bottom line: if it’s green or bitter, skip it.

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Photo: Selva / Eden (cc)

Sources: Purdue, Elkhorn

January 14, 2011 at 2:00 am 8 comments

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