X-Ray research on fried potatoes to make them tastier


Tamara Evans

When I’m waiting for my dinner to finish cooking, I can’t say I often think about how the way I fry it is changing the food’s microstructure. But after sifting through a paper recently published in the Journal of Food Science that explores the microstructure of “fried potato disks”, I might just.

The study was conducted by Tanjila Alam and Pawan S. Takhar from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In it, they cut russet potatoes into tiny 45-millimeter diameter, 1.65-millimeter thick disks and then deep fried them in soybean oil. So, think of them as little crispy potato chips for science. The potato samples were fried in 190 degrees Celsius oil for 0, 20, 40, 60, or 80 seconds.

After that, the fried potatoes were subjected to X-ray micro-computed tomography, which creates a micro 3D image of the sample without destroying it. The idea here, is to see how frying the potato affects its porosity, the twistiness (“tortuosity”) of the paths connecting the pores, and how much oil the chip takes in, which eventually could help us make better fried foods…

In this study, the researchers found that the longer the potato was fried, the more the pore size and number of pores increased, which helped the potatoes to take on more oil. The chips that were fried for longer also had less twisty pathways between pores, which corresponds to having better oil uptake.

Scientists aren’t just interested in fried potatoes, the paper notes. In 2011, researchers put chicken nuggets to a similar test, dying the oil blue and using a confocal microscope to trace oil and pore distribution through the deep fried delicacy. Yum!

Too bad the study only addresses one of America’s favorite food groups – fat. They left out sugar, salt and crap beer.

Bacon, bacon, bacon Is back!


Fatburger’s Hypocrite Burger

Andy Wiederhorn wants to sell bacon to vegetarians.

That’s the idea, anyway, behind the Hypocrite Burger — a veggie patty topped by two strips of bacon. Wiederhorn, chief executive officer of Beverly Hills, California-based Fatburger Corp., is pushing sales of the sandwich in his 200 fast-food restaurants to take advantage of wholesale prices that dropped about two-thirds from a year ago.

“We want to add bacon to everything we sell,” he said. “People like it.”

Do they ever. At the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump’s shrimp-obsessed buddy Bubba, eateries are offering bacon milkshakes, bacon sauerkraut, bacon kale salad, bacon martinis and bacon peanut brittle. Last year, 68 percent of U.S. restaurants had bacon on the menu, up from 62 percent in 2005, according to market researcher Datassential. And that was when prices were a lot higher than they are today.

Bacon is having its moment. It’s always been popular, but now, driven by reduced cost, innovative concoctions, the protein-rich Paleo Diet and a worldly younger generation willing to try anything once, twice if they like it, that popularity has exploded. Last year, a piglet-killing virus shrank U.S. hog herds, sending futures prices to all-time highs, and farmers scrambled to capture those profits. Record U.S. pork production will surpass beef output for the first time as overseas demand slows, creating today’s glut and sending both retail and wholesale prices to deliciously low levels.

Even though retail prices are down, consumers paid more than seven times the wholesale price for bacon last month, a record spread. Milwaukee-based supermarket chain Roundy’s Inc. expects prices to continue to tumble throughout 2015 as costs such as feed decline…

Part of the reason for the retail-wholesale mismatch is some higher-priced pork bellies from last year’s slaughter were frozen, and those inventories take time to work through…By now, cheaper bellies have worked their way to slicers, yet the higher store prices persist.

“It’s highway robbery,” said Dennis Smith, senior account executive at Archer Financial Services in Chicago. “Talk about a huge markup. They don’t lower prices because bacon demand is just that good…”

As beef costs reach all-time highs, restaurants are adding bacon to more dishes because it raises the flavor profile of an otherwise cheaper piece of meat….

Yes, we’ve reached the point where you should switch on your brain. Economics should be a determinant in your cuisine unless you have an excess of disposable income and little concern for nutrition. After all, bacon offers two of America’s most popular food groups: fat and salt.

In our household, we eat beef about a dozen times a year, tops – almost exclusively during our extended outdoors grilling season. That’s it. Even living in a beef-producing state, even though I have easy access to essentially organic critters without the overhead of certification, etc., pork and chicken are our primary sources of air-breathing protein.

Creationists get knickers in a bunch over JFK and Carnival Cruise Lines advert

It’s that special time of the year. The Super Bowl is over, we are still reeling (or happy, if you’re into that sort of thing) over the Worst Play Call In History, and wingnuts have now had a couple days to decide which of the commercials were the evilest and demonic-est of them all.

Ken Ham, that creationist nutbag who debated Bill Nye The Science Guy last year, and who is pretty sure that all nonexistent aliens burn in hell, has made his decision, and the winner of this year’s post-Super Bowl Two Minutes Hate will be Carnival Cruise Lines, who had the utter gall to make a commercial that featured a nice quote from John F. Kennedy, about how we all love the ocean because we used to live there before we lost our gills during Evil-lution. Here is that Kennedy quote, for your handy reference:

“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea — and it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.”

Uh, sorry, John F. Kennedy and fancy boat company, but Ken Ham…responded on his Answers In Genesis website:

Don’t you just feel this “personal connection?” After all, your ancestor came out of the sea and evolved by natural processes to produce you. Blah, blah, blah. RTFA if you think you’re missing anything. They quote whole chunks of this crap and even include the attack upon Neil Degrasse Tyson, to round it up.

So, of course, because Fundamentalist Christian dinguses are all convinced that everyone secretly believes as they do, and because they think they represent the mainstream of their own religion, a few of them took to the Twitter (also created by God, duh) to express their displeasure at the newfound atheism of Carnival Cruise Lines. If you watched the ad above and listened to those words from JFK and you’re not getting how any of that implies that Carnival Cruise lines is an atheist god-hater, that’s because you are not a dumb creationist jackhole like this guy…

Anyway, so John F. Kennedy and a fleet of unsaved boats are the devil, Goddidit, the end.

Once again, fundamentalist True Believers prove to be funnier than most of the commercials on Super Bowl Sunday.

Oh, and BTW, the commercial got it wrong because JFK got it wrong, We’re 0.9% salt, the ocean is 3.5%…

Could salty potatoes build a food revolution?

A team of researchers in the Netherlands has discovered that potatoes can grow in earth fed by salty sea water.
The development could spark a revolution in the way food is produced in land previously considered unsuitable for agriculture.

Anna Holligan reports from the Dutch island of Texel.

While researchers think of islands and saltwater coasts – my first response went straight to inland geologies like New Mexico. Most underground water, aquifers, here, are of brackish water.

Nice to know we can do more than raise shrimp and crawdads.

The public health crisis added to our food

IF you have high blood pressure, you’re in good company. Hypertension afflicts 67 million Americans, including nearly two-thirds of people over age 60. But it isn’t an inevitable part of the aging process. It’s better to think of it as chronic sodium intoxication. And, as an important new study from Britain shows, there’s a way to prevent the problem — and to save many, many lives.

A lifetime of consuming too much sodium (mostly in the form of sodium chloride, or table salt) raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure kills and disables people by triggering strokes and heart attacks. In the United States, according to best estimates, excess sodium is killing between 40,000 and 90,000 people and running up to $20 billion in medical costs a year…

The reason that nearly everyone eats way too much sodium is that our food is loaded with it, and often where we don’t taste or expect it…A blueberry muffin can have more than double the salt of a serving of potato chips. Even healthy-sounding food can pack heavy sodium loads. Two slices of whole wheat bread can have nearly 400 milligrams of sodium, as can two tablespoons of fat-free salad dressing…

We all like the taste of salt, but there is much that food companies can do without driving away customers. Often they add sodium for leavening or food texture rather than taste, when replacement ingredients are available. And sodium levels in similar popular foods made by different manufacturers often vary two- or threefold (for example, a slice of pizza can pack anywhere from between 370 and 730 milligrams), which suggests that many manufacturers can cut sodium levels in their foods sharply without hurting taste. When salt levels in food drop, people’s preference for salt also shifts down, so no one would notice a gradual reduction in sodium across all foods.

That’s exactly what Britain’s Food Standards Agency has done. It divided processed food into different categories, set salt-reduction targets in each category and then asked companies to meet those targets over time. And as they did that, from 2001 to 2011, sodium consumption by the British fell 15 percent.

The new study shows that this drop in salt intake has been accompanied by a substantial reduction in average blood pressure, a 40 percent drop in deaths from heart attacks and a 42 percent decline in deaths from stroke…

There is absolutely no reason we can’t do an initiative similar to Britain’s on this side of the Atlantic now…A proposal as important to human life as this needs the stature and resources of the federal government to bring…the food industry along. The F.D.A. has been developing a new plan for a voluntary, coordinated, national initiative. Unfortunately, even though it is voluntary, the food industry is fighting it, and the plan is stalled.

Per usual, bought-and-paid-for politicians are as much part of the problem as bureaucrats and behemoth corporate budgets. As a side issue, one more reason to adopt an election model that allows NO private or PAC donations and probably includes a short regulated electioneering season. Take the money out of elections and you take most of the money out of political graft.

That still leaves us with libertarian silliness over the government stepping in on the side of medicine and science. But, fools can still add as much salt as they wish to their beer and onion dip.

Green tea + salt = antibacterial coating

Researchers at Northwestern University have discovered new ways of utilizing the properties of naturally occurring polyphenols found in green tea, red wine and dark chocolate. Dissolving polyphenol powders in water with a small amount of salt instantly produces transparent coatings that kill bacteria on contact, have antioxidant qualities and are non-toxic. The sticky nature of polyphenols and the low cost of materials could open the door to a wide range of uses for these coatings.

Apparently the coatings can stick to virtually any surface, even Teflon, and are only 20 to 100 nanometers thick, potentially making them ideal for use in a whole range products…

Polyphenols are naturally occurring molecules found in many plants that also give some flowers, fruits, and vegetables their color. They are antioxidants that can reverse problems caused by oxidative stress to artery walls and their anti-inflammatory properties are said to help relieve chronic pain in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Furthering their research, Professor Phillip Messersmith and his team experimented with dipping various objects into saline solutions of tannic acid or pyrogallol, with similar results but at a much lower cost and with even faster results. They went on to test “medically relevant polymers, engineering polymers, metals, inorganic substrates and ceramics,” with the same success. They were also able to modify the coatings enabling additional functions without affecting the original properties. In one experiment they succeeded in adding an anti-fouling element to the coating which would make it ideal for applying to pacemakers to prevent the buildup of cells on its surface.

The coatings innately have properties that are very beneficial to saving lives and keeping people healthy,” says Tadas S. Sileika, a graduate student in Messersmith’s lab and first author of the paper detailing the research. “Without any further modification, they can help prolong the life of a medical device, reduce inflammation in a patient and prevent bacterial infections.”

Bravo! That last step from anecdotal success at treating ailments and disease with natural compounds has always been difficult. Not the least of which is that tales of success often are magnified in memory and retelling.

Another new area of research truly worth following.

Shock and amazement! Fast food is saltier in the U.S.

It’s no secret that fast-food fare like burgers, french fries, and fried chicken tends to be high in sodium. According to a new study, however, American fast-food customers may be getting a larger dose of sodium than their counterparts in other countries — even if they order the exact same items off the menu.

In the study, published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers analyzed the posted nutritional information for more than 2,000 items sold in multiple countries by the world’s six largest fast-food chains: Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Subway.

Overall, the researchers found, fast food tended to be saltier in the United States than in the other countries included in the study: Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, and the UK. What’s more, the sodium content of the same menu items at the same chains varied by country, sometimes widely…

In some cases the difference was dramatic. The Chicken McNuggets sold in the United States contained 2.5 times more sodium than the McNuggets sold in the UK. Likewise, the sodium content of a Subway club sandwich was more than twice as high in the United States as it was in France…

…Joy Dubost, Ph.D., director of nutrition for the National Restaurant Association…then wastes space coming up with reasons why the study should be followed by another study.

Although they can’t pinpoint the reasons for the sodium disparities, Norm Campbell and his colleagues say the study findings show that limitations in food-processing technology are not a barrier to providing lower-sodium products, as the food industry has claimed.

“We found multiple examples of low-salt choices, and for the same product across different countries there’s variation in the amount of salt that’s added,” Campbell says. “From that perspective, it would appear that it’s not very challenging to lower the amount of salt in food products.”

“Most of the science says if you reduce salt by 10% it’s completely unnoticeable,” Campbell says. “What we really want is very gradual reductions which don’t affect the consumer base. Consumers enjoy the food and the health of the population improves.”

Getting away with serving crap for a long period of time, saving on the cost of preserving crap fast food – or even just believing the savings are there – is often adequate reason for the beancounters in charge of corporate food retailers to avoid change, responsibility or sensible decision-making.

Republicans and other paid-for politicians say pizza a vegetable


Pissaladière rouge et blanche

Is pizza a vegetable? Maybe not in most homes, but in public school cafeterias it is.

School meals that are subsidized by the government are required to contain a certain minimum of vegetables under current rules, and a serving of pizza that contains at least two tablespoons of tomato sauce meets the veggie requirement. The Obama administration recently sought to change the rule so that only a half-cup of tomato paste or more could be counted as a vegetable — part of their efforts to cut back on the amount of pizza, French fries and other “unhealthy” foods showing up on school lunch trays.

But the food industry and some lawmakers are pushing back. On Monday, Congress released the final version of a spending bill that would block the new tomato-paste rule, essentially keeping pizza in the vegetable category. The bill would also eliminate other changes the U.S. Department of Agriculture had proposed, like increasing whole grains in school meals and limiting the use of starchy vegetables to two servings a week, which would have cut back on the fries served daily at many schools.

As the Associated Press reports…food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes and lobbied Congress….

Piling on to the companies’ opposition, some conservatives argue that the federal government shouldn’t tell children what to eat. In a summary of the bill, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said the changes would “prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and…provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals.” School districts have said some of the USDA proposals go too far and cost too much when budgets are extremely tight.

Which is a crock! Not much different from the days of “states rights” used to protect bigotry. Only this is used to protect the industries paying to keep your friendly neighborhood fat-and-salt laden Congress-critter in office.

As someone who cares specially for the Mediterranean portion of my family who taught me to prepare something more than Haggis – I make a delightful pissaladière along with dozens of variations on pizza from scratch. But, even one covered in onions only counts halfway as vegetable. The crappy nutrition designed by lobbyists from the American fast-food industry is matched in our schools only by the crappy education that satisfies our politicians.