Friday, February 6, 2015

A Sweet Challenge for Food Detectives

Honey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I will leave this news article un-muddled... Read on...


SAVANNAH, Georgia – There are three vials filled with a sticky, yellowish substance here at the United States Customs and Border Protection’s laboratory. Honey, or so an importer has claimed.

The task: Determine whether the samples are adulterated with sweeteners or syrups, and, if they really are mostly honey, figure out where it originated. If the honey comes from China, often the case, the entire shipment may be subject to additional taxes.

Honey has been a focal point for the lab and the source of a long-running international food scam –known as honey laundering – that has challenged even the existing forensic technology.

Some 70 percent of the honey consumed in America is imported. In 2001, the Commerce Department enacted a stiff tariff on Chinese honey after American producers complained that Chinese competitors were dumping their products on the market.

Then, honey imports from other countries spiked, including from nations not known for large bee populations. According to the American Honey Producers Association, Malaysian beekeepers, for example, have the capacity to make about 20,000 kilos of honey annually, but the country has exported as much as 17 million kilos of honey to the United States in a year.

In an effort to stanch the flow of illicit honey, chemists here have tested thousands of samples from ports across the Southeast. In 2008, the lab demonstrated with about 90 percent accuracy that honey imported from Thailand, the Philippines and Russia had originated in China.

Robert Redmond and Christopher Kana, two of the lab’s chemists, recently took a honey sample and added an acid to digest it. The result looked like muddy water.

Scientists recently have demonstrated that subtle chemical variations in many foods, including honey –undetectable to the tongue or the naked eye – can give a strong indication of where it originated. The lab’s analytic work depends on these geographic “tracers.”

Once a sample is diluted, the liquid is pumped into a device called a mass spectrometer. Inside, a nebulizer turns the sample into a fine mist over heated argon, a process that yields a distinct signature of trace elements.

The spectrometer can measure chromium, iron, copper and other elements to several parts per quadrillion. Each combination reflects the composition of soils: The elements were taken up by flowering plants and foraged by bees.

Soils vary by region, and by statistically comparing the presence of some 40 different elements to a reference database, the Customs agency scientist can ascertain the probable origins of samples.

At first, the detection of transshipped honey relied on a simple test for an unapproved antibiotic, chloramphenicol, discovered in Chinese honey. Carson watts, former director of the lab in Savannah, said the Chinese quit using it when “word got out.”

Around 2006, some importers appeared to be cutting honey with high-fructose rice syrup or disguising cheap, pure honey as an artificial blend. (At the time, the import duty applied to artificial blends that were more than 50 percent honey by weight.)

The problem? Reliably determining the ratio of rice syrup to honey is nearly impossible.

“An importer could present goods to Customs and say, ‘This is 90 percent rice syrup, 10 percent honey,’ and Customs really has no way of knowing,” said Michael J.Coursey, a lawyer who has represented American honey producers.

In 2011, the government accused three companies of importing millions of dollars’ worth of rice fructose blend that was mostly honey. The importers said the product was less than 50 percent honey. The scientists in Savannah produced evidence that pollen in the blends showed the substance to be mostly honey. But defense lawyers challenged the research on scientific grounds. The case was dismissed.

The most sophisticated chemical analysis may have its limits. But for the moment, the food detectives are undeterred. Mr. Redmond said, “If it’s honey from Malaysia, then we’re testing for China.”

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, The New York Times International Weekly, 31 January 2015

Sunday, November 2, 2014

We could always do with a KIT KAT

Cover of "Charlie and the Chocolate Facto...
Cover via Amazon
Mars bar (UK style). Photo by sannse.
Mars bar (UK style). Photo by sannse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A US Mars bar
A US Mars bar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Mars Believe Bar Limited Edition Football Worl...
Mars Believe Bar Limited Edition Football World Cup 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: A US Mars bar that has been split in ...
English: A US Mars bar that has been split in half. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Loco over choco

The taste for chocolate is one of the most fundamental and ineradicable human urges


London – I once met a nutritionist – one of these irritatingly healthy, glowing-skin types – who swore that she could eliminate the craving for chocolate. If you adhered to her chosen diet plan, she insisted, your body would return to a state of such perfect balance, be so in tune with nature and all its wonderful goodness, that the mere thought of a Mars bar would be enough to prompt mild nausea.

This struck me then, and strikes me now, as arrant nonsense. As far as I can tell, the taste for chocolate is one of the most chocolate fundamental and ineradicable human urges. Lord knows, I’ve tried to eradicate it. In fact, I’ve spent much of this week testing my taste for chocolate to destruction, after being left (in the wake of a birthday picnic) with a pile of confectionery that included a plate of brownies, assorted chocolate fingers, mini-rolls, squares of millionaire’s shortbread, and two whole chocolate cakes. After a few days of profiteroles for breakfast and scattering goodies around the office, I just about got through the backlog. But I could still murder a Kit Kat.


You can, of course, explain all this in terms of brain chemistry. Journalist Damian Thompson has written powerfully about the addiction mechanisms built into our cravings for little sugary treats, about how we become hooked on the hit of pleasure delivered by a cupcake frosted with towering icing. Sugar, as we all know, is an incredible mood-lifter: Another co-worker confessed recently – and was there a hint of pride alongside the shame? – that he has taken, when feeling low, to devouring an entire block of mint Viennetta in a single sitting.

It’s true that when you’re tired, or stressed, the siren lure of chocolate becomes ever more difficult to resist. The latest sneaky innovation is “sharing bags”, a section of the market in some places that’s going gangbusters. The ads tend to depict thin, happy people passing them round with beaming smiles, yet I have yet to meet anyone who has actually shared one, save under duress. Most are guzzled through in a single sitting, delivering bite after bite of chocolately goodness. (In fact, I’m prepared to offer a bar of Green & Black’s Maya Gold to anyone who has ever had the willpower to use the “resealable” bags to defer the pleasure till later.)


But I don’t think we’re just going through the neurochemical motions. I think there’s something deeper, more elemental, at work. With other products – wine or beer, for example – we gradually drift away from the cheap stuff, our tastes moving upmarket with our income. Sure enough, many confectioners now dwell on their bars’ cocoa percentage and the beans’ origins in a remote Peruvian village, presenting their choccies as the artisanal equivalent of a particularly spectacular Pouilly-Fuisse.

But while I’ll happily devour a bar of 70 per cent Venezuelan, there are many more times when all I want is to get hold of a little brown square of Cadbury’s, and let it do its Proustian work. I’m hardly alone: Indeed, the new musical of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory has done such boffo box-office because Roald Dahl tapped in, with his peculiar genius, to exactly this sensation, setting up Wonka’s chocolate as the ultimate sweet, the Platonic ideal of chocolate.

Think of the almost pornographic way in which Dahl tantalises the reader with the thought of Wonka’s factory- first the view from outside, then the taste of that first bar of Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight, then (once the doors creak open) the smell from the great Chocolate Room wafting down the corridor, until finally Charlie and the other children are unleashed to eat their fill. The book is, in theory, a parable about the virtues of restraint over indulgence. But if you had a golden ticket, you’d be scoffing your face alongside Augustus Gloop in a heartbeat. THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, June 29, 2013

Friday, October 24, 2014

New cookbook reveals popes’ favoured dishes

Cover of "The Bon Appetit Cookbook"
Cover of The Bon Appetit Cookbook

From an Argentinian dessert that translates as “milk candy” to Polish ravioli, a member of the Vatican’s famed Swiss Guard has unveiled a range of recipes of dishes favoured by popes.

David Geisser, 24, who joined the elite Vatican security corps a month ago, launched his cookbook Bon Appetit, Swiss Guard in Rome on Tuesday.

In includes recipes for dishes such as the Dulche de Leche, a milk-based dessert created in Argentina a century ago, which made its way to the Vatican’s tables last year with Pope Francis.

There is also the Polish pierogi, or dumplings of unleavened dough traditionally stuffed with potato filling, sauerkraut, meat, cheese or fruit – a nod to the late Pope John Paul II – and Bavarian delicacies favoured by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a German.

“A soldier can fight and wage war only when he has eaten well, and enough,” said Daniel Anrig, the head of the Swiss Guards.


Taken from My Paper, Thursday, October 23, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

When cooking liver...

Lamb (sheep) liver
Lamb (sheep) liver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do you cook liver? Actually, I did not mean to ask that question. My point on this short article is how you prepare the liver before cooking.

So how do you clean pig liver or cow liver before you cook it? Or specifically, how do you lessen the liver-y smell or taste?

Some say soak in vinegar. Some say pre-cook for a short while, etc.

What we discovered is to simply cut and wash well, and then before cooking, about half an hour, soak in water that can be easily drained. So it could be in some deep bowl and the cut liver in some strainer, which can be easily lifted up and out and washed.

Do this every 5 minutes, and you would notice that the water will always be red, for why not? Liver is doing blood cleaning, so it is just naturally soaked in blood. And the blood in liver is what makes it taste and smell liver-y.

Once the blood in the liver is removed, or kept to the minimum, then the taste and smell will be very different.

So if you need to eat high-protein meat, which is usually liver, try this one. You'll like it!