Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Everything you say bounces off me and sticks on you!

Nyah! Teflon is really taking the heat for the use of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). And I think they should. Although Teflon doesn't contain much if any PFOA, DuPont didn't disclose what it knew about the toxicity of its manufacture until a former employee sent the cat skidding out of the microwave popcorn bag. It cost them millions.

If you're checking here to see if Teflon is safe: it's reasonably safe. Once that stuff starts to peel or crack, dump it. Don't cook in it without something in it, be it liquid or food because if it scorches, it's dangerous. Don't lose sleep over the PFOA content in the actual pan, though.

We use a teflon coated pan for cooking eggs. Eggs become cooked at fairly low temperatures -- around 150 degrees. And they stick like hell without teflon or a load of butter. So we use one for that, and our wok, because it's in good shape. We stopped buying teflon-coated pans because the teflon peels off or starts to degrade in a way that forces me to run out and buy a new one too often. Even if it's an expensive pan. (If you have an expensive one, bear in mind that they are great heat conductors and aren't meant to be used over high heat).

Also, if you want deglaze (release the browned bits from meat or some veggies using wine to make a sauce reduction) you won't be able to do it with teflon.

That said, there are lots of other things that are just as bad as the chemicals they're using. New car smell? Plastics gassing off. New construction? Ditto. New carpet. Uh huh. New paint -- that horrible smell is the volatile organic compounds. So. Let's hope the EPA steps on them so that they stop using PFOA in the manufacture (they also use it for Goretex and Scotchguard...). Until then you can stop buying new Teflon til they stop using the stuff, and don't worry about the Teflon you already have as long as it's in good shape.

Friday, February 17, 2006

This guy was cool!

Robert E. Rich Sr., 92; Invented Nondairy Whipped Topping
From L.A. Times Staff and Wire Reports

Robert E. Rich Sr., 92, a food industry pioneer who in 1945 created nondairy whipped topping, died Wednesday at his home in Palm Beach, Fla. The cause of death was not disclosed.

During World War II, Rich was running Wilber Farms, a Buffalo, N.Y., dairy, and working with the War Food Administration. The war agency's diversion of milk products such as butterfat to U.S. soldiers caused Rich to begin thinking about developing nondairy alternatives for the home market.
When he heard scientists at a Ford Motor Co. laboratory were working on a nondairy whipping cream made from soybeans, he secured permission to experiment with the same process. After considerable trial and error, he came up with a soybean-based whipped topping that was superior to cream because it could be frozen.

Marketed under the name Rich's Whip Topping, it became a staple of school cafeterias, restaurants and bakeries. Soon Rich spun off nondairy icings, fillings, dessert toppings and a coffee creamer. His company, Rich Products, grew into an international operation with 7,000 employees and annual sales exceeding $2.5 billion.

Rich's contributions to the food industry were recognized in 1990 when he became one of the first four inductees in the National Frozen Food Industry Hall of Fame.
For the record, Ford was interested in cultivating soybeans for use in plastics, but of course were very open to other moneymaking methods. Eventually using plastics from soybeans proved too expensive to manufacture. But as with all wars, new food innovations took place. They always do because soldiers need to eat on the run, and wars create shortages that in turn cause food scientists to come up with cool stuff, like non-dairy whip.

Napoleon sent the troops off to Waterloo with canned foods -- an invention created for the war. K-rations were developed by Ancel Keys, who was way, way ahead of his time.

But because I'm a serious geek, can you believe this Frozen Food Industry Hall of Fame? Seriously, even I'm not that geeky. Yes, of course I am. It's really called the Distinguished Order of Zerocrats Frozen Food Hall of Fame. And they only started in 1990. I'm sure Clarence Birdseye was right there on top of the list. But I can't find the list.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Holy McCow

McDonald's, fresh off the "Oops, they have more trans fats than we thought, maybe 8 instead of 6 grams" nightmare, now they have to announce that their fries also might contain allergens. Great news for celiac patients...I'm no advocate for McDonald's as I haven't eaten there more than twice in 27 years, but here's the deal:

Many commercially sold fries are batter coated to keep them crunchy, presentable and flavorful after a good trip through the fryer. That batter may contain wheat and/or dairy derivatives, which is what McDonald's meant when they explained that their potato suppliers removed all wheat and dairy proteins. The proteins in wheat and dairy (gluten for wheat and casein for milk and cheese) are allergens -- people are only allergic to proteins. So they figure if the proteins are removed, people won't have reactions to them (and they might be right about that). They have flavors in the oil, too, and those come from wheat or dairy derivatives as well. I never knew that before...

All this is in response to the FDA's request that packaged food suppliers inform people about possible allergens in the food. Meanwhile, McDonald's is attempting to create a fry with lower trans fat without increasing the saturated fat. That will take some doing. I wonder if they'll eventually offer a "baked" fry that takes a trip through the convection oven as an alternative. With their luck, they'll be just in time for research quantifying acrylamide levels on baked and fried carbohydrate/protein foods! (Don't panic, so far it's been in very small amounts...but it's not well researched just yet...)

Last time I went to McDonald's, in 1986 after the Thanksgiving parade when I was starving, all I had was the fries (haven't had a burger there since I was 13, and I wasn't a vegetarian for another 20 years -- call it intuition). They do taste good. And every 20 years or so I indulge (so this might be my year, huh?). Perhaps that's about right considering what's in them.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Faster, Bessie, FASTER!

Big ruffling in the cheese industry over Kraft's decision to make and market a Parmesan that is cured for 6 months - half the time of the real, serious stuff from Italy. The question is: can you still call it Parmesan?

Seriously, I can't decide which is funnier: the fact that Kraft Parmesan is considered important enough to ruffle Italians making actual, serious cheese, or the abundance of cheese puns.

If eating parmesan out of one of those cylindrical tubes is your thing (nothing wrong with it, just saying), you probably don't care that much about the nutty undertones or serious development of taste the way the truly cheesy do. You probably do want it to taste just like the last time you had it, though, and you probably are a bit attached to the packaging whether you know it or not.

This is food science at it's best/worst. Love it or hate it, this is what the industry does: tries to get the best product it can make acceptable to people at the lowest price. It still comes down to this: buy the stuff in the tube, or go in search of one cured longer with more sophisticated flavor perhaps. Just remember, if you're vegetarian, the Kraft stuff isn't on a technicality to be determined by you: rennet comes from calves' bellies. You do have to credit Kraft: they introduced this stuff in 1945, when it must have been considered quite exotic if you weren't Italian...

Kraft’s Parmesan plan grates on some purists
Thursday, February 09, 2006

WASHINGTON — In Italy, it takes at least a year to cure Parmigiano Reggiano, the original Parmesan cheese.

The U.S. standard is 10 months, but Kraft Foods Inc., seller of the green shaker can that brought Parmesan to the masses, says it can speed the process and wants a six-month standard.

"We have found excellent consumer acceptance of the new product," Kraft counsel Sheryl Marcouiller wrote in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration.

The idea grates on the Italians and on smaller U.S. companies.

Cheese cured in six months "is not Parmesan," said Paul Bauer of Wisconsin’s Antigo Cheese Co. "Parmesan is cheese that develops its flavor over time."

Months, even years, of aging go into the nutty flavor, the crumbly texture and the pungent aroma of a fine Parmesan cheese.

Parmesan’s history dates to the Middle Ages, when monks in northern Italy developed the recipe.

The ingredients for Parmigiano Reggiano are simple: unpasteurized raw milk, salt and rennet, an enzyme that curdles the milk. But the process is painstaking. The cheese is created in carefully heated copper cauldrons. It rests in molds and then soaks in brine for several days. Finally, it spends at least a year, often two, sitting on a shelf, where it’s turned and brushed.

The taste "is drastically different depending on how long it is aged, and how it is handled while aging," said Andrea Bonati, president of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano, which represents makers of the Italian original.

"Cheese produced under a 6-month aging process may be produced faster, in greater quantities and for a cheaper price," Bonati said in a letter to the FDA. "But it will not be Parmesan cheese."

Only cheese from Parma and nearby provinces, made by about 600 strictly regulated dairies, can be called Parmigiano Reggiano. Made elsewhere in the world, the same type of cheese is called Parmesan.

Kraft introduced grated Parmesan to Americans in 1945. It also sells shredded Parmesan under the DiGiorno brand. Kraft is the biggest American producer of Parmesan.

In 1997, Kraft figured out a way to speed the curing process by altering how the cheese is cultured. Kraft officials gained permission from the FDA to test-market the cheese two years later, and since then, Kraft has sold about 300 million pounds of faster-cured Parmesan.

"As you would expect, extensive consumer testing was done before we changed the production process to assure that consumers were very satisfied with the product and that it performed to our high quality standards," said Kraft spokeswoman Alyssa Burns.

It’s a business decision for Kraft, which says the faster process could free up plant space and cut costs.

Kraft is not alone. At least five other companies want to test-market Parmesan with an abbreviated curing time.

Opponents worry that changing the standard might jeopardize the Parmesan name. Italy already has exclusive rights to the name Parmigiano-Reggiano, and some U.S. companies worry European officials will persuade the World Trade Organization to restrict use of Parmesan, too.

International trade is treacherous, said Rusty Bishop, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Dairy Research. "It’s a slippery cheese wedge, and if you lose one, then everything else crumbles," Bishop said.