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Category: Food (page 1 of 2)

Does Salt Raise the Boiling Point of Water?

I love cooking, I love eating, I hang around with foodies, and I work as a sous chef at a local restaurant. As a result, I’m tired of hearing that salt raises the boiling point of water.

Technically, yes. If you’re in a chemistry lab with precision instruments for measuring temperature, there is a small measurable effect. Any liquid’s boiling point will be affected by molecules dissolved in that liquid. In the case of salt and water in the kitchen, the effect is microscopic — smaller than the effect from changing your elevation above sea level by a couple hundred feet.

If you add a half pound of salt to a quart of water, you’ll raise its boiling point by 2 degrees C. If you add one tablespoon of salt to one quart of water, you raise the boiling point by 0.16 degrees.

Will that have any effect on cooking? No. So, please, just stop. Thanks.  😉

This Has Poisoned Everything

I’ve long wondered when/if some really serious and widespread contamination/pollution problem would be uncovered — something in what we’ve been consuming for years and years.

My fear is based on human nature. If something sufficiently horrible is discovered, it will be buried, hidden. “We can’t talk about this. We can’t let this information get out. People would freak out.”

There was an element of this going on in climate research done 30 years ago. The scientists fudged the climate change numbers down. “People will never believe this, and if they did, they’d freak out. We have to fudge it down.” This minimization of the problem doesn’t actually change reality, of course. What it does is it makes it worse when the effects physically hit.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/20/new-mexico-contamination-dairy-industry-pollution

No Chocolate, Potatoes, or Tomatoes in Europe?

If you took a trip to 16th Century Europe, you could meet or see Michaelangelo, da Vinci, Martin Luther, Charles V, Henry VIII, and many other fascinating people from that period. But, you’d also be shocked by many things, especially everyone’s diet.

Michaelangelo never tasted marinara sauce on his pasta because tomatoes were unknown in Italy. No Irishman, German, or Pole had ever seen a potato. No German, Swiss, or Frenchman had ever tasted chocolate, nor vanilla.

What? It’s true. Foods from the Americas started coming to Europe in 1493 when Columbus brought bell pepper seeds and a few others. But it took decades for these to become noticed and spread. Some items like tomatoes took a long time to catch on. It was believed that tomatoes were poisonous until a Frenchman demonstrated that they were not. Cortez first learned of chocolate from Moctezuma in 1520.

European Diet

Fundamental to Italian cuisine are the fagioli soups. Fagioli means beans — the common bean like navy, kidney, black, lima, northern, and pinto. There were none of those in Europe, just fava beans. Nor was there corn, squashes, yams, strawberries or pineapples — no peanuts, so no peanut butter — no zucchini, pumpkins, avocados, or cashew nuts.

There were no hot chili peppers in Europe. The only hot spices were pepper, mustard, and horseradish. But what about Asia? The Chinese and Indians love chili peppers. Chili peppers were brought there from the Americas by European sailors, and they became extremely popular. In fact, chili peppers found their way to Europe from the Americas, to India, then to England. There were no bell peppers either, of any color.

There was no white or brown sugar, just honey for sweetening. No Englishman puffed on a pipe, nor did any Frenchman smoke a cigarette — tobacco was unknown. No green beans, tapioca, papaya, guava, passion fruit, cranberries, sunflowers, pecans, allspice, or chicle (chewing gum).

The European diet was bland. Nourishment came from breads, pasta, grains and meat porridges, apples, pears, berries, beer, eggs, fish, and dairy foods. There was no coffee at this time either, although coffee came from Arabia, not the Americas.

Sound boring? It was. Most of the foods for which European countries are famous like Swiss chocolate, and Irish potatoes, were introduced in the past 400 years. Yet, most people I know think that potatoes came from Ireland.

Negative Side Effects

I find it interesting to observe the effects of introducing new food sources to a place. We’ve all heard of the great impact of the Irish Potato Famine. How did that happen?

The potato was brought to Europe in 1536 and was spread by seafarers to the rest of the world. It quickly became a staple food crop in Europe. It was so successful at feeding the people of Ireland that it touched off a population explosion, resulting in hordes of Irish immigrants to North America. By 1800 it was not unusual for an Irishman to eat an astonishing ten pounds of potatoes a day! Many Irish were literally surviving on potatoes.

For over 7,000 years, the Indians of South America cultivated more than a thousand varieties of potato. But the lack of genetic diversity in Europe left the potato vulnerable to various diseases. One potato disease known as Late Blight, caused by a fungus-like oomycete called Phytophthora infestans, was responsible for the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845. It spread rapidly in western Ireland and resulted in widespread crop failures. More than a million Irish died of hunger and 1.5 million more emigrated to the United States, resulting in a huge increase in demand for the potato in the USA.

So, introducing a great source of nutrition to a region triggers a population explosion. This makes sense. And, it happened again. Africa never had an overpopulation problem before. What happened?

Corn was domesticated from a wild plant called teosinte more than 7,000 years ago in Central America. Corn is fundamental to the Mayan creation myth and is considered a sacred plant. The ears of the wild teosinte plant were small but years of domestication resulted in larger plants and larger ears of corn. Corn spread throughout the Americas. Popcorn was invented by North American Indians. Corn was brought to Europe as a curiosity by the first explorers and Europeans were not much interested in it. However in Africa, it spread quickly, and together with the peanut and cassava from the Americas, completely transformed the diet of much of Africa. The productivity and nutritional value of these foods resulted in a rapid rise in population in Africa, similar to the effect of the potato on Ireland.

Another negative side-effect came from the introduction of tobacco. In the Americas, tobacco was smoked in moderation, often associated with religious or other ceremonies. In Europe, and throughout the world, it became a highly addictive drug, smoked excessively, resulting in millions of premature deaths.

Lastly

To finish off the list of foods from the Americas, we have turkeys, brazil nuts, prickly pear, huckleberries, annatto (achiote), and maple syrup.

Lastly, although not foods, many other important substances came from the Americas such as rubber, mahogany, hickory, cochineal dye (Natural Red Dye #4), and logwood. Logwood was a very important commodity, driving politics, economics, and piracy in the Caribbean until the invention of aniline dyes in the 19th Century.

If you plan to travel by time-machine to Europe of the past, be prepared for extremely disappointing dining.

Please comment below.

Cook Over Wood More Efficiently

A huge number of people in the world use wood fuel for cooking. Cooking over wood is very common here in Guatemala. Wood fires generally produce a lot of pollution and smoke, and result in deforestation in some areas.

But wood is not such a bad fuel if we burned it more efficiently. The problem is that methods for burning wood are terribly inefficient. Most wood fueled cooking setups waste over 90 percent of the heat produced. The heat just goes off into the atmosphere and not into the item being heated. We also burn wood at a lower than optimum temperature, which results in wasted fuel, incomplete burning, and production of smoke.

If we could raise the efficiency of the burning process and at the same time focus the heat produced into the cooking pot or other item being heated instead of wasting it, we could theoretically get the same cooking done faster, using a lot less wood, and producing a lot less pollution.

Devices that burn wood more efficiently and that you can cook on are not that difficult to construct if you know how to build things from sheet metal and weld it together. And you’ll end up with a fairly large, heavy, non-portable device. But most people in poor countries do not have the ability to build such things and cannot afford to buy a large, heavy, and thus expensive device.

In order to make an efficient wood burning device that is small and portable you have to use forced air. Well that’s out of the question in poor countries, isn’t it? But what if the device generated its own electricity to power a fan for the forced air. Way too complicated and unreliable, right?

Perhaps not. Check out the BioLite. It’s a pretty neat idea.

Quiet Over Here

Canoe on the Rio Dulce River.

Canoe on the Rio Dulce River, Guatemala. Click to view larger.

This blog has been kind of quiet recently because I’ve been working on the Maya Paradise web site. The whole site is getting modernized and improved. There’s lots of interesting information there.

If you are curious about it, you can find it here:

mayaparaiso.com

There is also an associated blog that’s connected to the site here:

http://maya-paradise.blogspot.com

Canoes on the Rio Dulce River, Guatemala.

Canoes on the Rio Dulce River, Guatemala. Click to view larger.

Food Labeling Discrepancy

About one percent of the U.S. population suffers from a sensitivity to peanuts. Accordingly, foods are labeled to warn if any peanut products are contained. Even packages of roasted peanuts that are labeled “PEANUTS” in giant letters, also include a list of ingredients showing peanuts, plus a warning that says, “Warning: Contains Peanuts”, as though a package labeled PEANUTS might not contain peanuts.

About the same percentage of the U.S. population, about one percent, suffers from a gluten sensitivity that sickens and causes physical damage to the digestive system, yet there is no requirement for food labels to show a warning for gluten or ingredients that contain gluten. Why?

A few specialty food makers produce gluten-free products and label them as such but most mainstream food makers do not. Wal-Mart’s Great Value brand does label gluten-free products, which is great, but products without the gluten-free label are a guessing game. They might or might not contain gluten. Kraft Foods has promised to label anything containing gluten by including “wheat” in the ingredients list. That’s very nice of them still does not provide much comfort since nobody is under government mandate to label foods properly like they are when it comes to peanuts.

Gluten is normally associated with wheat but it’s not that simple. That’s why proper labeling is very important when it comes to gluten. Gluten can appear in foods in unexpected ways. Flavorings such as caramel, stabilizers and thickeners used in ice cream, ketchup, salad dressings, and many other ingredients can contain gluten depending on how they are made. There’s no way for the customer to know. And just because one bottle of A1 Steak Sauce does not make you sick does not mean the next bottle won’t because the source of caramel in the product might change from a gluten-free source to one that contains gluten. Nothing on the label will change to show the difference. There’s no way for the customer to know unless the maker is required to specifically put gluten or “wheat” on the label.

I don’t know why this is not done–why the FDA does not require gluten warnings on foods.

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