Friday, January 9, 2009

Kid food scientist

(To read the full story, click on the title above)

A University of California, Davis, professor's son discovered that a major agricultural pest prefers pistachios over other nuts.

Gabriel Leal, 11 and a student at Willet Elementary School in Davis, thinks pistachios taste better and theorized that navel orangeworms share a similar preference.

The hypothesis runs counter to past research, including a report recently published in the California Agriculture journal, which indicates the pest prefers almonds.

Gabriel conducted the research in his father's UC Davis lab under the voluntary supervision of Zain Syed, a chemical ecologist.

Gabriel placed mated and gravid, or egg-filled, females in a cage. He used four commercially available navel orangeworm traps and filled one with 50 grams of shelled pistachios, one with 50 grams of almonds, one with 50 grams of walnuts and left the fourth empty to serve as the control, Syed stated in the release.

The eggs laid in the traps were counted for two consecutive nights.

Enough eggs were laid in the pistachios to demonstrate that female navel orangeworms prefer pistachios over the other nuts.

Walter Leal reported the findings at the state almond industry conference last month in Modesto.

Researchers and growers typically use traps baited with a mix of almond meal and almond oil to attract the pests in the field. But during the hull split, the chemical from the real crop competes with the synthetic material in the traps, Leal said.

If pistachio-derived sources are used in the almond fields, it could eliminate the problem throughout the flight season, he said.

The pest attacks tree crops planted on more than 1 million acres throughout the state.

Science should never underestimate an idea, said Leal.

"That's why the academic environment is so enriching," he stated in the release. "Students come with new ideas, but I never imagined we would benefit so much from a science project for elementary school."

Tater tots

Facebook is an amazing social site, and things pop up on it all the time, mostly trying to sell you a celebrity diet or mortgage info. But as I was playing Scramble last night, an ad from Gerber Foods came up.

Three people were asked what vegetable did toddlers eat most. They replied with "peas," "carrots" and "broccoli," which seemed pretty normal. But the answer was "french fries." The three people, each in turn, looked dismayed. As someone who attempts to eat at least five fruits and vegetables every day, and goes to bed happy when I manage nine, I was deeply saddened by this.

Here are some other toddler nutrition concerns from the Gerber-financed, Mathematica-produced Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) in 2002:

Fruits and vegetables. Nearly 25% of babies and toddlers age 9 to 24 months don't eat any fruits or vegetables on a given day. And french fries are the most commonly consumed vegetable for toddlers 15 to 24 months. Make it a goal to feed your toddler at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Fruit and vegetable intake can be from fresh, frozen, or canned foods. You can also serve puree varieties, as they provide the same important nutrients as fresh.

Fiber. Fiber is important for digestive health, but research found that 90% of toddlers don't get the recommended amount of fiber. Giving your toddler more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help her meet her fiber needs.

Vitamin E. At this stage 58% of children have vitamin E intakes below the recommended level. Good sources of vitamin E include vegetable oils (canola, corn, soybean), avocado, and some leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli).

Potassium. Children at this milestone are missing out on potassium, an electrolyte that helps muscles work properly. In fact, 90% of toddlers aren't getting the recommended amount.

Fat. Healthy fats are important for growth and brain development. But studies show that 25% of toddlers don't get enough omega-3 essential fatty acids, and many don't get enough of the antioxidant vitamin E found in fats.

Sodium. Babies as young as 7 to 8 months are being introduced to salty snacks such as chips. By the time your child is a toddler, there may be room for an occasional treat. But there really isn't room for these foods daily, because they don't offer the needed nutrition for the calories. All of the foods in your toddler's healthy meal plan should be selected from a variety of foods that provide needed nutrients: peeled mashed fruits or vegetables, dairy foods, whole grains, and meats or mashed beans.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

India, translated well and badly

San Francisco has a wonderful mixture of ethnic cuisines, and my friend Donna, who has lived in the city for almost three decades, loves to eat in the Mission district, where she says the scene is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of different restaurants. We settled on Dosa, and its incredibly varied menu was a delight. The appetizer of chickpea dumplings with tamarind, yogurt and cilantro sauces danced a Maypole on our tongues. Donna ordered a salad, and it was delivered with incredibly fresh mixed greens, tossed with a slightly sweet dressing and topped with an orchid. Nice! My calamari dish was spicy but not too searing and it came with a half-plate of greens as well. We shared an entree of five thick pancakes, each a different flavor; my favorite was the one with bright green peas. It was served with four sauces, each changing the flavor of the pancakes ever so slightly.

This was such a stunning contrast to the meal I had on Saturday in Walnut Creek, a rather pretensious little suburb in the East Bay. I chose Bread of India on the basis of it having won, four years running, Best of the East Bay from Diablo magazine. All I can say after my meal there was they must have paid someone off big time. My chicken shish keebab appetizer was so rubbery it could have been used as suitcase wheels, while the herbed naan had the tiniest bit of sliced basil on top of it and was charred on the bottom. I don't mean just a little toasty; I had to peel the black off in order to eat it. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. It was all I could do not to warn off those diners who hadn't ordered yet; I could only hope my choices had been bad ones and the rest were OK.

Bad news for food

This was the first item in the weekly AAS science research roundup I get each week:

Food Shortages Ahead in a Warmer World

The climate warming that has been forecast for the rest of this century will likely cause major disruptions to global agriculture unless farmers can adapt their growing methods, researchers say. David Battisti and colleagues considered the agricultural implications of results from the 23 climate models that contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 assessment of summer temperatures for 2050 and 2090. They report a high probability that by the end of the 21st century, growing season temperatures in the tropics and subtropics will exceed the most extreme seasonal temperatures recorded from 1900 to 2006. In temperate regions, the hottest seasons on record will represent the norm in many locations, the authors say. They also considered three recent examples of extreme seasonal heat that damaged food systems: the summer of 2003 in France, which affected food production as well as human lives in Europe, the summer of 1972 in the former Soviet Union, which was largely responsible for a major spike in the price of wheat, and the decades-long drought in the Sahel, where water shortages and heat stress caused crop and livestock productivity to plummet. In the future, as hotter growing seasons occur more frequently, the stress on livestock and crops will become a global phenomenon, the authors say. In order to balance food deficits in one part of the world with surpluses in another, we will need heat- and drought-tolerant crop varieties and diverse irrigation systems.

Article #9: "Historical Warnings of Future Food Insecurity with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat," by D.S. Battisti at University of Washington in Seattle, WA; R.L. Naylor at Stanford University in Stanford, CA.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A history of King cake

Tuesday, Jan. 6, is Epiphany, which marks the end of the Christmas season. It also marks the beginning of the festivities that lead up to Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the last blowout before Lent. And a sweet reminder of this is the traditional King cake.

From the "Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink" by John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 175):

King cake. A brioche-style cake made during the Louisiana carnival season, beginning in January and ending at Mardi Gras...By tradition the cake contains a red bean (sometimes covered in gold or silver leaf) or a figurine of the baby Jesus. It is sold widely throughout Louisiana...the person who finds the bean or figurine is promised good luck. There are various stories of the origins of the cake, though most in some way derive from the legend of the Three Kings visiting the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, as described in the New Testament. In the first half of the 16th century France commemorated Kings' Day-the 12th day after Christmas-with a "Twelfth Night cake." A century later King Louis XIV took part in such a feast at which gateau des Rois ("Kings' cake") contained a hidden bean or ceramic figure, as it does to this day. Before the Civil War, American King cakes often contained gold, diamonds, or a valuable instead of beans; after the war, with the end of gala Creole balls in Louisiana, peas, beans, pecans, and coins were used, and in 1871 the tradition of choosing the queen of the Mardi Gras was determined by who drew the prize in the cake...The colors of purple (for justice), green (for faith), and gold (for power) that traditionally tint the cake's icing first appeared in 1872 after the Rex Krewe, a Mardi Gras parade
organization, chose those colors to celebrate that year's festival."

Where's the beef? In Cryovac, of course

Clicking on the title of this post will take you to an article in Slate about how sterile we've managed to make the cows we eat. Nothing really new about the technology, but some observations on what it does to us and our culture.