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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Coffee.

Coffee is a mysterious beverage. Some people hate it, others love it. Many abscond it for being so caffeine-rich, and just the same amount of people praise it for the same reason. It’s a statement, a cultural context, perhaps even a rite of passage.

If you’re like me, coffee has been a bitter drink to swallow, quite literally. For some reason, I can only take it in very small doses. Too much of the stuff and I get turned off. This is unlike my dad (who might as well have it intravenously injected). But I totally understand why millions of people around the world celebrate their morning cup(s), and afternoon cup, and so-on cup, of joe. It probably has something to do with the caffeine…

Caffeine is actually pretty cool if you understand how it works and why people look to it for energy.

You have to think of caffeine like a poser, a fake. See, it’s something called an antagonistic molecule, a compound that inhibits the effect of another molecule by possessing a nearly identical structure. The molecule in particular that caffeine inhibits is called adenosine. Adenosine is produced by the body to help one ease into a relaxed state. When adenosine binds to its receptors, it causes drowsiness because nerve cell activity slows. However, when you ingest caffeinated beverages, your nerve cells think that those caffeine molecules look a whole lot like adenosine. Caffeine is able to trick the body into allowing itself to latch onto adenosine receptors, hogging up those specific sites. Adenosine is left with no place to go, and caffeine is able to put its effect into play. It speeds up neural firing and causes a cascade of effects in the body, like an increased heart rate and heightened alertness. Because it hosts bodily changes like these, it can indeed be called a drug!

It’s not always sensible to take advantage of these bodily reactions in excess. Too much caffeine has been associated with an array of adverse effects, like heightened cortisol and sleep deprivation. But the jury is still out on whether you should nix caffeinated beverages all together, because caffeine has been associated with some positive benefits as well, such as reduced risk of certain diseases and even cancers. According to Dr. Mercola, coffee can even improve your circulation, reduce pain, preserve muscle, improve endurance and even memory. For more information, click here!

But coffee isn’t simply a neurotropic drug, used solely for its’ biochemical effects. No! It’s so much more. In fact, it is estimated that coffee beans is composed of over 800 different compounds. Here are some of the other reasons why cultures around the world can’t seem to part with coffee.

  1. It’s actually made from a fruit. Did you know that coffee beans are the seeds of the Coffea plant?
  2. It’s surprisingly complex, and can take on a whole new flavor depending on where it was grown and how it was roasted:
    1. While Coffee Arabica is known for its low levels of bitterness and acidity, making it an excellent candidate to be dressed up with all kinds of flavoring oils (see 4), Coffee Robusta is a hardier cultivar, with a more concentrated and strong taste. It’s used in instant coffees, espressos, and to bulk up ground coffee blends.
    2. Kona coffee, grown on the slopes of the active Mauna Loa volcano, has a “rich, aromatic, medium-body;” Guatemalan is described to be “complex, spicy, and almost chocolatey;” and Kenyan is well-known and liked for its “sharp and fruity acidity,” “full-body” and “rich fragrance.” (These, again, are just a few. More countries and flavor profiles can be found here— give it a read, so fascinating.)
  3. There are so many different variations of the beverage, such as:
    1. Drip brewed (filtered) coffee
    2. French press coffee
    3. Turkish coffee
    4. Cold brew
    5. Espressos, which come in all variations like Café Americano (diluted espresso, but with a similar flavor profile to filtered coffee); café crema; doppio; breve; cappucino; latte; and the list truly goes on…
    6. Coffees with milk, known by different names like cafe con leche and milchkaffee
    7. Coffees with alcohol, prepared by blending different alcoholic beverages (whiskey, rum, etc.)
  4. There are different ways that coffee can be prepared, but the beans themselves can have all kinds of notes and flavorings. How does that work? Manufacturers will introduce a flavor oil to a freshly roasted batch of beans as part of a “post-roast” process. The oil gets infused with the natural oils in the bean.
  5. Latte Art! Here are some super amazing masterpieces made of frothy milk, if you can believe it.
  6. Coffee tasting is a thing– really! It’s called coffee cupping. Professional coffee tasters will measure the aspects of the coffee by inhaling its’ aroma and taking a loud sip. Taste is deciphered by the coffee’s texture or mouthfeel, called body, its acidity, and balance of different flavor notes (e.g., caramel or floral or nutty).
  7. Coffee is a social thing, for sure. As an example, in Swedish culture coffee breaks are so integral that they have their own name, fika. Taking a coffee break has become symbolic for relaxation and rejuvenation with our friends, family, and co-workers.
  8. All used up coffee can be put to good use! With its high nitrogen content, coffee grounds make excellent fertilizer.

Forgive me for the lack of personal pictures, but coffee isn’t exactly my cup of tea (tea is my cup of tea…) but I do think it is a fascinating thing. Whenever I go to relax at a cafe with my family or friends, it is hard not to get drawn into that lassitude, that blissful feeling that I can’t help but associate with coffee culture. I understand why people go crazy for their cappucinos and their flat whites or mochas! It’s comforting and energizing and a way to connect.

Tell me, do you like coffee? How do you like it prepared? Do you like it infused into another food, such as coffee-crusted steak (yes!) or cake or even yogurt (I’ve tried it, and yes, I like it)?

 

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As much as I love food science and food chemistry, nutrition and biology certainly hold a candle to both of the aforementioned subjects. I delight in learning about the needs of our human machines! As busy as I’ve been throughout this week, it prompted me to do a little digging. What can I do to best improve and sustain my performance during testing? How can I keep my wrinkly clump of neurons and cortex and all that jazz from deflating like a balloon? I’m currently on the search for some interesting articles to read all about the subject. However, from experience as a student, I think I have at least some first hand experience with battling brain frazzle.

Well, we can start with something yummy to eat! The brain operates on a balance of all foods, but its substrate of choice is glucose! Unless, of course, you’re keto-adapted, but that’s another story for another day… needless to say, I am not one of those people. As a student, it’s better for me not to experiment with different kinds of eating patterns while I am feverishly at work trying to concrete textbook and teacher lessons in my brain. Rather, I should just experiment with recipes instead:

  • cinnamon-raisin mochi puffs.

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  • “cacao-dough” and “neopolitan” “poptarts” (“””””””!)

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  • Mixed berry smoothies …
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… with a side of virus studying

And of course, life’s simplest of joys: fresh and sweet honeycrisp apples, oven-roasted vegetable rainbows, briny lupin beans. Um, maybe some of those are just my own 🙂

Of course, it’s only natural that I as a food blogger would make la nourriture my prized weapon in my arsenal of tools to stave off a melty brain. But I’m also adamant that there are other ways to encourage le cerveau to stay plump and fresh all week (excuse my French, no pun intended, I just had a French exam). These are just a few.

  • Excercise while you study! I’m not kidding! Studies show that gentle excercise, like light walking while listening to a pre-recorded lecture or audio book does wonders for later recall. I’d imagine that it has something to do with exercise’s ability to increase dopamine production, which has been shown to help students retain learned information. Moreover, moving your body can be a good way to clear your mind or release any pent-up anxieties you may have about test taking. I certainly could have used a post-Lit exam yoga session…
  • Keep on top of your schedule! Whether you use a calendar, planner, notebook, journal, or whatever else, this is crucial. I flip flop between using all kinds of organizational tools, but currently my favorites are Google Calendar and Evernote. Wunderlist is great too! By physically putting down on paper or on a piece of technology your plans, goals, and tasks that you need to do, you save yourself a lot of mental gymnastics of “oh, what do I have to do today…?” and “what have I already done?” The brain falls privy to overwhelm and distraction when there is too much stimuli cluttering your environment and your internal thoughts.
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With Google Calendar, I’m able to put in all my tasks for the day and block out times for tests, and classes, etc.

  • Take breaks. As you probably know, cramming is ineffective. By spacing out your studying (and starting studying sooner – don’t procrastinate!) you give your brain time to solidify what you’ve learned. What’s more, you come back into a study session feeling re-charged and motivated to pick up where you’ve left off.
  • However, you know you best– if you feel like you’re in the “flow,” I personally think that it might be effective even to let yourself continue absorbing information, especially if you find that you are making connections and beginning to see the bigger picture.
  • When you do take a break, don’t hole yourself into something. You don’t have to go out with friends if you feel like staying in; you don’t have to read your favorite book if you’d rather take a nap; it doesn’t have to be a “rejuvenating cup of tea,” perhaps your noggin is craving a little something extra (hot cocoa, anyone?). Maybe you’re in the mood for some crafting and DIYing, like I was:
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you’ve devoted time to your studies and have been paying attention in class, you probably know more than you think you do. Stress has an adverse effect on the brain’s ability to collect and store memories.

Though these tips may be clichés, I believe that they bear repeating. However, everyone’s different. What works best for you when you study? Feel free to share! 🙂

Many different categories of food have the ability to thicken a recipe – whether it’s a smoothie, ice cream or even soup. They’re frequently based on polysaccharides (starches, vegetable gums, fibers), or proteins.

  • Starches: arrowroot, cornstarch, cassava, tapioca, potato, sago palm
  • Vegetable gums: Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gum, Guar Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Pectin
  • Proteins: Collagen, Egg whites, gelatin, Tara Gum
  • Sugars: Agar Agar, Carrageenan

Some people might lump in ingredients such as these with harmful foodstuffs, especially when they go under pseudonyms such as: “Alginic acid (E400), sodium alginate (E401), potassium alginate (E402), ammonium alginate (E403), calcium alginate (E404)…” Yet all of these thickeners are truly just polysaccharides from natural plants! In the ones above, they are all other names for Agar and Carrageenan, which are obtained from seaweed. How cool!

And Locust Bean Gum could just as easily go by the name E410. Both names are referring to a complex carbohydrate that comes from seeds of the carob tree. Hey, don’t people put carob in cupcakes and semi-sweet morsels?

Xanthan Gum is a thickening agent that actually is a byproduct of microbial fermentation. Just as I mused in my last post, fermentation is a natural process of life that enables living organisms to breakdown glucose when they don’t have enough oxygen present.

I was curious to make this blog post because I do a lot of gluten-free baking. I wanted to know more about some of these peculiar substances that have the power to thicken, because I know that they have slightly different usages and strengths.

First up, cellulose gum… or carboxymethyl cellulose. It, too, is a viscosity thickener. They use it in many frozen dairy desserts, baked goods, and also to replace the use of egg yolks (my thought: why?). I wonder if it works like lecithin, then (which is a food ingredient used to emulsify fats with water based products.) In any event, it’s also used in products like toothpaste, margarine, paper products, and even detergents!

Guar gum comes from ground up innards of a guar bean. It has eight times the thickening power of cornstarch and has an array of other uses other than in just food. When used in the baking of pastries, it keeps crusts crisp by preventing the leakage of water from the fruit filling, called “weeping” (how sad!)

Pectin is a naturally occuring polysaccharide present in the cell walls of plants and helps to bind them together. It also allows for the plant to grow and extend. It only seems natural, then, that pectin would be used in fruit-based products like jams and jellies! However, it’s also used to stabilize acidic protein drinks (like kefir or drinkable yogurt).

What are your thoughts on food thickeners? Do you use them? If so, what kinds of things do you use them for? My favorite: smoothies!

 

Consumers are looking for transparency regarding the things that they eat, including the essences that provide flavors and texture, aroma and color. They want to know that what they are eating is safe, healthy, and recognizable… “natural”. But where do we draw the line between synthetic and natural? It’s not so simple to define.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes many natural components for flavor, and they can come from an array of sources. But a natural source might not mean the fruit, vegetable, or leaf like you’d think. It can come from the shell of an insect or even a beaver’s excretory glands! To be labeled as a natural flavor, there is only one requirement. It must only act as flavoring substance, not intended to provide any nutritional benefit. As for food colors, synthetic ones must be batch certified by the FDA. Food colors which are extracted from beets, turmeric, paprika, and saffron are exempt from this certification and can be labeled as ‘natural.’

Sometimes, some colorants may appear to be quote-on-quote ‘natural,’ but they require many solvents and chemicals in their production. Color ingredients made from fruits, vegetables, and plants that are processed physically with water – ‘coloring foods’— are probably most true to the idea that a consumer would have in mind for a ‘natural’ color.

It makes intuitive sense that we would want our food products being dyed with such foods. Aside from adding beautiful vibrant hues, they are associated with many phyto-nutrients that work wonders in the body. For example, plant based colors can be rich in anthocyanins, beta-carotene, chlorophyll, or curcumin.

But the drawbacks to using some natural products to color foods?

  • The colors oxidize. Man made food dyes are resistant to fading.
  • Natural colors can be less heat stable. Though red can be obtained from beets, they often turn to a ruddy brown when exposed to temperatures above 150 ºF.
  • Natural colors can be less pH stable. Reds can also be obtained from the anthocyanins found in red cabbage extract or grape skin extract. However, they develop best at an acidic pH and are very sensitive to a rising pH.
  • Some natural colors can cause consumer controversy. For example, while carmine extract is heat, pH, and light stable, it also comes from insects and is therefore not kosher or vegan. It can also cause allergies in some consumers.

Even with all of these challenges, it’s promising to note that Food Scientists are hard at work developing methods to stabilize natural colors through proprietary technologies. They’ve currently come out with stable natural blues, greens, oranges, purples, and reds that may soon be found in cereals on your supermarket shelf! Maybe some day we’ll have Boo-Berry bowls colored by beets and red grape skins, or shamrock marshmallows dyed with chlorophyll!

In the meantime, we can “settle” for some lovely recipes today that feature the crayons of the earth: fruits and vegetables! I’ve rounded up a few unique ones to try, and expect a few very soon from me!

Grilled Chinese Char Siu Chicken - this marinade is phenomenal! No artificial colors in this recipe - brilliant red beet powder stands in for red food coloring

Grilled Chinese Char Siu Chicken (with beets for color!)

If you have any great recipes using natural food colors, post in the comments! 🙂

Thank you to WholeFoodsMagazine and Sensient Food Colors for some of the information in this article.

 

Hi all! I’m busy at work writing up one of my next informative entries, but I’m a little bogged down with school work, too! So while I’m working on that, I figured I’d update you with a simple recipe. It’s a twist on a traditional chocolate chip cookie, in more ways than one!

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I call them Triple C & PB cookies, because they use Chocolate Chips and Coconut and… Cinnamon, and of course, Peanut Butter! There’s also another C ingredient in there, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out. 🙂

Start by preheating your oven to 375.

I like to use a stevia and erythritol blend in my recipes (here I used a quarter cup), to keep things added-sugar free. However, feel free to use any sweetener you’d like. I think that coconut sugar or honey would work excellent.

First, start by blending your wet ingredients in a food processor. The recipe calls for one can of strained white beans (yes! White beans! An old tool of the trade!), an egg, a quarter cup of sugar-free syrup, and at least three tablespoons of any nut butter of your choosing (peanut butter, anyone?)… though more would probably be even better. This is the time to add your favorite extracts as well. Get creative! I like using traditional vanilla extract, but coconut and almond extracts work good too.

Then, blend your dry ingredients. I use a quarter cup of truvia (a stevia and erythritol blend), a handsome amount of cinnamon (about 2 tablespoons worth!) with a ½ tsp baking powder, ½ tsp (Himalayan pink) sea salt, a cup of oats—quick or old-fashioned—and 1 scoop of protein powder. If you don’t have protein powder, you can use an additional quarter cup of flour of your choosing, or a few extra tablespoons of sugar/sweetener.

Add your wet to your dry ingredients, then add in the mix ins. I added about a quarter cup of chocolate chips, and a little more than a third of a cup of shredded coconut. Mix it all up!

Then drop on a baking sheet! Pop in the oven, and keep a close eye on them because they cook fast. About 12 minutes should be plenty of time.

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If you try this recipe, let me know what you think!