Posts tagged ‘Food and Drink’

Trader Joe’s Marketed the First Reusable Shopping Bag

By Kaye Nemec

About 20 years ago, groceries were often carried in brown paper bags.

One day, someone realized that we were wasting too many trees, so many grocery stores changed to plastic bags. Then somebody realized that plastic bags didn’t decompose in landfills. Now, we’re finally transitioning to reusable bags. These bags cost at least $1 each, sometimes more, and you can re-use them for a long time.

They are an excellent solution to the shopping bag dilemma, at least when you remember to bring them in the store with you. They don’t rip like paper bags and they hold much more weight than plastic bags. But, be careful, you should wash these bags regularly since they can be a breading ground for bacteria.

It turns out that Trader Joe’s was the first super market to offer reusable bags in 1977 with their “save-a-tree” canvas grocery bags.

Most of our international readers and even many of our US readers may not have heard of Trader Joe’s. They’re extremely popular in Southern California and they have stores in about half of the other states. Even if you haven’t heard of Trader Joe’s, you’ve likely heard of their owner, German supermarket giant, Aldi.

Aldi is a global supermarket brand that has been around since 1961. They have over 8,200 stores and operates in 18 countries. Aldi was started by the Albrecht brothers and that’s where the name Aldi comes from — it means, “Albrecht Discount.”

The first Trader Joes was opened by Joe Coulombe in 1967. In 1979 Coulombe sold the company to Theo Albrecht, who created the trust that owns Trader Joe’s to this day.

Despite the relationship, Trader Joe’s and Aldi are very different – Trader Joe’s is a bright, island-themed store filled with hard-to-find, unique and upscale food selections at a great value.  In addition to their innovative selection, Trader Joe’s also offers a wide variety of organic, natural, vegetarian, gluten free and vegan selections.  In fact, in 2007 Trader Joe’s eliminated all added Trans fats from all of their private label products. Trans Fats were just the next thing to go in a list that already included artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and genetically modified ingredients.

At Trader Joe’s at least 10 new items can usually be found in the stores each week. You’ll usually have no problem finding an employee to help you with product questions and to ring you up and bag your selections for you. Shopping at Trader Joe’s is an experience, an event, it makes grocery shopping fun.

Like Trader Joe’s, shopping at Aldi is an experience, although in a much different way. It too has a small store format and limited selection with very low prices, but the store looks more like a warehouse – no frills, no decorations and certainly no “character.”  Most of the products are stacked in cardboard boxes on pallets instead of actual shelves. Their slogan, “Honest to Goodness Savings,” sums up their philosophy, which is to bring their customers high quality food at the lowest possible price. Aldi only carries around 1400 of the most frequently purchased household and grocery items and 95% of them are store brand – not name brands you’ll recognize.

At Aldi you have to work a little harder for your savings. With only one register open most of the time, customers are moved through the line quickly and they’re responsible for bagging all of their own groceries at a separate counter to make space for the next guest. Looking for a cart to put your purchases in? You must deposit a quarter in order to get a cart and you’ll get your quarter back when you actually return the cart to the store instead of leaving it in the parking lot.

Domestically, a number of vendors create products under both labels – so some products you find at Aldi may be the same things you find in different packaging at Trader Joe’s. Since Trader Joe’s does not exist in the European market, some of their store brand products have begun to pop up on Aldi shelves there.

The next time someone asks if you want paper or plastic, thanks to Trader Joe’s, you can say “neither.”

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Sources:, Trader Joe’s Timline (PDF),, , Wikipedia (Trader Joe’s, Aldi)

Photos: lululemon (cc), FoldableBags (cc)

October 6, 2010 at 4:00 am 9 comments

Some People are Genetically Predisposed to Dislike Broccoli

By Chad Upton | Editor

Broccoli and brussels sprouts are popular vegetables for kids to feed the dog under the table.

My brother and I had a really smart dog growing up, which must be why he didn’t like broccoli either. Although, he always liked to do what we did, so I don’t know if he actually disliked it or if he just liked to make the same face when he ate broccoli too. You know the face, when you squeeze your eyes shut and use your tongue to scrap any residual taste off the roof of your mouth.

Getting kids to eat their vegetables can be a tough task, but there are plenty of adults who don’t like vegetables either. So why do some people like vegetables such as broccoli and other people passionately dislike them?

There are many reasons why people dislike vegetables. My brother and I always said it was the texture, not the taste. But, it was the taste and it’s scientifically proven.

There is an organic compound called phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) that tastes very bitter. Well, it’s very bitter to some people, it’s tasteless to others.  About 70% of people have genetic traits that make them sensitive to the bitter taste of PTC, the rest of the population does not taste it.

While PTC itself is not found in food, there are a number of similar compounds which are. Many vegetables from the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, horseradish, wasabi, mustard, brussels sprouts) contain these compounds.

Additionally, people who do not smoke and do not drink coffee or tea, taste PTC more than those who do consume coffee, tea and cigarettes. One big group of the population who doesn’t consume coffee, tea and cigarettes is children.

So, when you see kids who passionately dislike some vegetables, they may actually taste something that you do not.

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Photo: Jules: Stonesoup (cc)

Sources: Indiana Public Media, Science Daily, Wikipedia (Broccoli, Brassica, Brassicaceae, Cruciferous, Kale, Phenylthiocarbamide)

October 1, 2010 at 4:00 am 17 comments

Table Salt Used to Indicate a Person’s Social Status

By Kaye Nemec

While table salt is an important flavoring ingredient in modern day cooking, it had a much more significant reputation in earlier centuries.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that manufacturers began processing table salt to be used in salt shakers. Before then, salt was served in very elaborate containers that often resembled chairs or thrones.

These “salt chairs” were commonly placed at the head of the table closest to where the most important guest.  Salt was considered an extremely important substance that was to be treated with great admiration.  Important people sat “above the salt.”

In Russia it was common to have a welcoming ceremony when guests came over that included serving a piece of bread with salt. The salt was served out of the salt chair or throne. Because of the popularity of this ceremony, salt chairs became popular wedding and house warming gifts. Bigger salt chairs signified a wealthier or more prominent place in society.

Typically salt chairs were about 5 inches tall. The salt was stored in what would be the seat of the chair and a lid was placed over the salt. Because the salt could corrode silver, the seat and lid of the chair were usually gold plated. Today, antique “salt chairs” can be found selling at auctions for $500 and up.

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Sources: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver

Photo: Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver

September 29, 2010 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

McDonald’s Once Owned Chipotle Mexican Grill

By Chad Upton | Editor

Chipotle Mexican Grill is a popular fast food restaurant with more than 1000 locations in the United States, Canada and England.

For those who don’t know, they are well known for using fresh and healthy ingredients. For the most part, they use meat from animals that are free range, fed vegetarian diets and raised without antibiotics, hormones or arsenic, not to mention vegetables that are organic and locally produced.

If you’ve read or seen Fast Food Nation (2001/2006), you’ll know that most fast food chains do not operate like this. They source the cheapest meats possible, which often come from animals raised in the least healthy ways. If you’ve seen the documentary Food Inc (2008), Chipotle is painted as a very different kind of fast food chain.

That’s why it’s so surprising that McDonald’s once owned a majority share.

Chipotle was started in 1993 by a chef named Steve Ells. The first store was in Denver Colorado, followed by a few more Denver stores in 1995 and five more in 1996. The chain was growing quickly, so they accepted outside investors in 1998, including McDonald’s.

Because the chain was expanding so quickly, it made a lot of sense for McDonald’s to invest. The funding helped Chipotle expand even more quickly, going from 16 stores in 1998 to 500 in just 8 years.

In January of 2006, Chipotle went public on the New York Stock Exchange. It was the second most successful public offering for a restaurant, second to Boston Chicken (now Boston Market), which was another McDonald’s property. McDonald’s divested its interest in both companies in October 2006 to focus on the McDonald’s brand.

It should be noted that Chipotle chose to sponsor the documentary Food Inc. Although, it’s not know if it was the chicken or the egg, that is if Chipotle was painted in such a positive light because they were a sponsor or if they sponsored and promoted the film because it made them look good. The sponsorship was announced almost two months after the film was released, so it’s plausible the sponsorship was an effort to promote the film because it was so favorable to Chipotle.

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Sources: grist, wikipedia, chipotle

Photo: Mr. T in DC (cc)

September 10, 2010 at 5:00 am 4 comments

Bakery Twist Tie Colors Indicate Freshness

By Kaye Nemec

You may not have noticed before, but if you look closely at the loaves of bread on your grocery store shelves you’ll see that they are sealed with twist ties in a variety of colors. The colors vary not only by brand, but also within the same brand of bread.

Most bread companies use varying colors of twist ties to track the freshness of bread. For example, bread that was baked on Monday may be sealed with a blue tie; Tuesday may be green, Wednesday orange… etc. The color coding makes it much easier for employees to remove stale loaves and replace them with fresh ones. It is faster to look at the color of the twist tie than it is to read the date code on each bag.

As a consumer you can use this information to get the freshest loaf. However, the color coding system is not consistent between brands, but some people claim the most common system is the following:

  • Monday: Blue twisty
  • Tuesday: Green twisty
  • Wednesday: (No bread delivered)
  • Thursday: Red twisty
  • Friday: White twisty
  • Saturday: Yellow twisty
  • Sunday: (No bread delivered)

Without positively knowing which colors represent which days, you’ll have no way of knowing which loaf to pick. You’ll have to pay attention to the color system used by your bread maker. Try calling the customer service number and asking them what their color coding system is. Chances are good they’ll share this info.

Most bread companies deliver fresh loaves to grocery stores several times per week. If you happen to be in the store, pay attention when the deliveries are made and even ask the delivery man.

With each delivery old loaves should be replaced with fresh, new loaves. Because of the frequent deliveries, odds are that you wouldn’t see more than two to three colors for any one brand on the shelf at one time. If you do happen upon a plethora of colors you’ll know the inside scoop and may want to steer clear of that brand unless you know their specific codes.

Some brands also use tab clips that have the date on them, these should help you learn the system fairly quickly.

This secret was also suggested by Heather, thanks for the tip. I should also mention that Shannon suggested hanging on to bread tabs for scraping food off dirty plates.

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Sources: Snopes,

August 25, 2010 at 5:00 am 12 comments

Alcohol Does Not Completely Burn Off in Cooking

By Chad Upton

Whether you marinade steaks in beer or use Vanilla extract in your baking, you’re probably left with more alcohol in your food than you realize.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can infuse wonderful flavors. And yes, Vanilla extract has alcohol in it. Actually, it’s mandated by law in the US.

In many cultures, alcohol and food go hand in hand. Fancy wine bars pair meals or selected cheese and chocolate with wine.

Before modern cough medicines, Doctors prescribed a tablespoon of brandy to calm children’s coughs. Even some existing cough medicines, such as NyQuil, contain alcohol (except the childrens remedy). Monks have been known to brew and drink beer since the middle ages.

The USDA’s Nutrition Data Lab used gas-liquid chromatography to determine how much alcohol remained in food after various cooking scenarios.

Cooking Method Alcohol Remaining
Flambé 75%
Left Overnight (no heat) 70%
baked 25 mins (alcohol not stirred in) 45%
baked 15 mins (alcohol stirred in) 40%
baked 30 mins (alcohol stirred in) 35%
baked 60 mins (alcohol stirred in) 25%
baked 90 mins (alcohol stirred in) 20%
baked 120 mins (alcohol stirred in) 10%
baked 150 mins (alcohol stirred in) 5%

Even after 2.5 hours, 5% of the alcohol remains. I don’t think it’s anything to be too alarmed about. Grandma’s have been serving cookies laced with Vanilla extract to children for many years and most of us turned out just fine. That said, it’s still pretty surprising.

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Sources: Wikipedia, O Chef , Trappist Beer, NyQuil

Photo: 5volt (cc)

July 26, 2010 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

How They Make Burgers Look Perfect In Ads

By Chad Upton

It’s rhetorical and cliche, but why doesn’t the food you order ever look like the food in the picture?

I’ll bite — it’s because your food took a few minutes to make and the food in the picture took a few hours to style. Yes, style.

I’ve rounded up some videos that show you some of the secrets of food advertising. The first video is about burgers and it’s pretty old, but still relevant.

The next video is about pizza and it’s part of a current Domino’s promotion to send in pictures of your pizza for everyone to see.

It’s a pretty well known fact that what you see is not what you’re going to get. But, Burger King recently canceled an advertisement where they misled viewers about the size of the burger. After watching these videos, it’s no surprise how they do it.

If you want to see a nice set of side-by-side photos of what they advertise and what you get, click here.

If you are reading this post on a device that does not support videos, I’ll tell you a bit about what they contain.

The burgers are cooked very little. To make them look grilled, they are brand them with thin skewers. Then they apply food dye for color. A layer of cardboard is placed on the bottom bun so the bun doesn’t get soft. The burger patty is split on the back side, so it can be widened from the front view — this makes the burger look larger. Vegetables are piled on top of the bun and pinned in place so they don’t move. A small shot of condiments are added on the front of the burger (the side the camera is on).

The second video is all about making perfect cheese strings when a slice of pizza is removed from a pizza pie. They go through all of the cheese to make sure every piece is perfect and use a heat gun to perfectly melt the cheese around the star slice, this makes it very stringy when the slice is lifted. The rest of the pizza is screwed down, except for one slice, so the pizza doesn’t move when the one slice is lifted.

There you have it, secrets from fast food advertising.

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Photo: jasonlam (cc)

July 22, 2010 at 5:00 am 5 comments

ID is Not Required to Buy Cooking Wine

By Chad Upton

The laws and store policies around the products that require ID and the ones that don’t, are sometimes confusing.

I was in Target a while back and bought a can of compressed air to clean my dusty laptop. I was surprised when they asked for ID at the checkout.

Apparently some people like to get high from the propellant in canned air. It’s unfortunate, these are not recreational drugs, these are asphyxiates that displace the oxygen in the air, reducing the oxygen that reaches your brain and eventually causes death. The solution is to require ID for purchase, although even a 42 year old man died from “huffing” canned air.

Even when you’re using these products as intended, you should avoid inhaling the fumes and ensure adequate ventilation.

I was at Target a few weeks later, looking for ramekins to make Crème brûlée. I also needed a butane blowtorch to caramelize the top of the custard. It turns out that you can buy butane torches and fuel without ID. Thinking back to my teenage years, a blowtorch would have been much more fun than a can of air.

But, cooking wine has the most interesting story.

It ranges from 10%-13% alcohol and anybody can buy cooking wine at the grocery store. They even sell it in grocery stores in “dry” areas, where no alcoholic drinks are sold. In fact, Safeway requires ID to buy cough syrup, but not for cooking wine. Some cough syrup, such as NyQuil, contains alcohol. Other cough and cold medications contain a drug known as Dextromethorphan, which is a dissociative psychedelic drug.

My friend Molly told me about this cooking wine loophole and gave me a sample of the product. If you’ve ever tasted cooking wine on it’s own, you’ll understand why anyone is allowed to buy it. Nobody would ever consume it on its own, it’s simply awful.

Wine that is sold as “cooking wine” is usually grape or rice wine. It is then adulterated with salt, which makes it less suitable for cooking and even more undrinkable. If you’re making a recipe that calls for wine, use wine that you’d actually drink and use a wine that pairs well with the food you’re cooking.

Cooking wine has a lot of salt for coloring and as a preservative. Because cooking wine is consumed very slowly, the salt prevents acedic acid from forming and turning it into wine vinegar.

Oh, and if you’re going to make Crème brûlée, my friend Mike showed me that you should skip the butane and go with propane — it has a wider flame that heats more evenly, which gives much better results and in less time.

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Sources: Wikipedia (Cooking Wine, Difluoroethane, Dextromethorphan), MSDS, Cooking Wine Without ID (1, 2), Dry Counties, NyQuil

Photo: anitasarkeesian (cc)

July 20, 2010 at 5:00 am 14 comments

Desktop Snacking Without a Greasy Keyboard

With more work and less help, it’s no surprise that nearly 70% of Americans eat lunch at their desks. At 61% the majority of people also snack at their desk throughout the day.

All that food is one reason keyboards and mice are have more bacteria than most toilet seats. Also, office toilet seats are usually sanitized daily, when was the last time your keyboard or mouse were?

This tip is helpful because your hands never touch your food. This prevents your keyboard from getting dirtier and it keeps your hands from passing bacteria to your mouth.

1. Pour bite-size snacks into a cup or glass.

2. Angle cup into your mouth so bite-size snacks fall into your mouth.

3. Chew, swallow and repeat from step 2.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Home Food Safety Org, ABC News

July 5, 2010 at 5:00 am 9 comments

How to Chop Food Quickly, Safely and Easily

The difference between an amateur and a professional is their technique and practice.

In this case, it’s fairly easy to do it like a pro. You just need to know the right technique.

For a quick tutorial, watch this video from Chef Jacob (if you can’t watch the video, read below).

When you’re slicing, dicing and chopping vegetables, you’ll place one hand on the knife and use your other hand to hold the food and guide the knife. The knuckles on your guide hand will maintain constant contact with the side of the knife. You will curl your fingers under your knuckles to protect them from the cutting edge of the knife. Your thumb will oppose your knuckles and stabilize the food. You can see the correct hand position in the photo below:

For those of us who have never been to culinary school or worked in a restaurant, this is a tip that we can really benefit from.

Thanks to Chef Jacob of

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Source and Photo: @ChefJacob

June 29, 2010 at 5:00 am 1 comment

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