Archive for April, 2011

Colorless Food—It’s Enough To Make You Blanch…Boring!

Thursday, April 28th, 2011
Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique
Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011

I don’t know what’s in the water in Washington D.C. or what drugs the members of Congress take to make them want to stick their noses into areas they know nothing about. It makes no difference—Republican or Democrat—they can’t resist tinkering with our foods. I call these meddling politicians Chefs de Ignorance or Dopes de Cuisine. They have investigated saccharin, Alar, tropical oils, salt, flavors, butter and margarines and now, colors… again. If they all had their way we would be living in a drab, colorless world of foods. Yes, now they want us to eat black and white, colorless foods.

What would the United States look like in a world without food coloring? Cheetos would look like the shriveled larvae of a large insect. Not surprisingly, in taste tests people derived little pleasure from eating them. Their fingers did not turn orange. And their brains did not register much cheese flavor, even though the Cheetos tasted just as they did when bright Cheddar orange. What you should know is even natural Cheddar cheese is tinted orange. Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University and director of the university’s Food and Brand Lab, says, “People ranked the taste as bland and unsatisfying and said that they weren’t much fun to eat.”

Naked Cheetos would not seem to have much commercial future. Nor might some brands of pickles. The pickling process turns them an unappetizing gray. A tint is responsible for their robust green. Gummi worms without artificial coloring would look, like, well, muddily translucent worms. Jell-O would emerge out of the refrigerator a jiggly, watery beige.

No doubt the United States would be a considerably colorless place without artificial food coloring. But might it also be a safer place? The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a radical advocacy group, asked the government last month to ban artificial coloring because the colors that are used in some foods “might” worsen hyperactivity in some children. Old news. This is the same bogus research that is being rehashed once again to try to scare people.

“These dyes have no purpose whatsoever other than to sell junk food,” Marion Nestle (she can’t be a part of that famous family, can she?), a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

A government advisory panel concluded that there was no proof that dyes caused problems in most children, and that whatever problems they might cause in some children did not warrant a ban or a warning label beyond what is already required—a disclosure on the product label that artificial colors are present.

We believe that color is such a crucial part of the eating experience that banning it would take much of the pleasure out of eating. The question is would we really want to ban everything when only a very small percentage of us are sensitive? I don’t think so. Indeed, color often defines flavor in taste tests. When tasteless yellow coloring is added to vanilla pudding, consumers say it tastes like banana or lemon pudding. And when mango or lemon flavoring is added to white pudding, most consumers say that it tastes like vanilla pudding. Color creates a psychological expectation for certain flavors that is often impossible to dislodge. In fact, color can actually override the other parts of an eating experience.

Even so, some food companies have expanded their product offerings to include foods without colorings. You can now buy Kool-Aid Invisible, for instance, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Organic White Cheddar—both by General Foods. Some grocery chains, including Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, refuse to sell foods with artificial coloring.

As yet, natural colorings have not proven to be a good alternative. They are generally not as bright or stable as artificial colorings, which can remain vibrant for longer periods of time. Natural colorings can fade within days.

Todd Miller, the executive pastry chef for Hello, Cupcake! in Washington, said he was dedicated to simple, natural ingredients. His cakes are made with flour and butter, and his red icing gets its color strictly from natural strawberry purée.

But the sprinkles that top many of his creations have colorings derived artificially. And he has no intention of changing that because the natural stuff just isn’t as, well, colorful. “I could live without sprinkles, but why would I want to?” he asked. “They’re cupcakes. They’re supposed to be fun.”

Gubble BumCounty Fair LimeadeSo are the rest of the foods we like to eat, including some of Choclatique’s most colorful truffles. Our Spring Collection, perfect for Mother’s Day, bursts with the colors and flavors of the season, in addition to being dusted with edible 24-karat gold. Our fanciful Carnival Collection wouldn’t be nearly as whimsical or thrilling without the bright blue of Cotton Candy, the verdant green of County Fair Limeade or the pink and blue swirls of Gubble Bum. Pomegranate Creme Caramel GarnetWithout color, our striking chocolate Gemstones, with the deep crimson of our Pomegranate Crème Caramel Garnet, the royal purple of California Plum Cream Amethyst or the glittery gold of Gold Toffee Crunch would not be nearly as mesmerizing nor beautiful. Color is an essential component of the foods we eat, which adds a necessary element of fun to our lives.

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The Mouse That Roared

Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique
Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011

In the 1959 movie The Mouse that Roared, staring Peter Sellers, an impoverished backward nation declares war on the United States of America, hoping to lose, but things don’t go according to plan. The Duchy of Grand Fenwick decides that the only way to get out of their economic woes is to declare war on the United States, lose and accept foreign aid.

While not the fantasy story, from the late ’50 through the 60’s the United States and Vietnam suffered though a terrible war that in one way or another disrupted both countries. But here is a great example of the resiliency of the Vietnamese and the benefits and generosity of foreign aid from the people of the America.

The Sustainable Cocoa Enterprise Solutions for Smallholders (SUCCESS) Alliance program in Vietnam is a public-private partnership consisting of USAID, USDA, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), Mars Inc. and ACDI/VOCA. Since the $5.5 million program started in 2003 under USDA’s Food for Progress funding, it has grown to include new farmers, areas, partners and donors.

This initiative builds on past successful cocoa programs in Indonesia and the Philippines and on ACDI/VOCA’s strong relationship with the cocoa industry. The SUCCESS Alliance increases smallholder farmers’ incomes in Vietnam through the introduction of sustainable, diversified, cocoa-based agroforestry systems. Since cocoa is a new crop to Vietnam, the program is focusing on building a sustainable cocoa industry from the ground up. When the first SUCCESS Alliance cocoa seedlings were planted in 2004, there were only about 1,600 hectares of cocoa plantings in all of Vietnam, mainly at state-owned farms. Over the past 6 years, the project has increased and diversified farmer incomes in southern Vietnam by producing high-quality cocoa on approximately 8,500 hectares of land. It has trained over 22,000 smallholder farmers in southeastern Vietnam and the Central Highlands in cocoa production using sustainable cropping practices. In addition, ACDI/VOCA has established cocoa bean quality standards and provided monitoring and training assistance to ensure farmers meet and maintain a level of cocoa bean quality that is required by the global market.

The initial program, focused on cocoa production areas in the four main provinces—Ben Tre and Tien Giang in the Mekong delta and Ba Ria Vung Tau and Binh Phuoc in the southeast region. These areas have favorable climatic and soil conditions and local government commitments to cocoa development. Cocoa farms in these provinces began to produce cocoa within 18 months of initial planting and as of 2009 were reaching full production. Peak production is expected to be between 1.5 to 2.0 metric tons per hectare. These new cocoa farmers are independent smallholders who sell their cocoa through private, free enterprise channels into the world market.

To date, 5,147 smallholder farmers in the Central Highlands who received cocoa seedlings and training in cocoa cultivation have adopted cocoa production as part of their farming system. USAID’s assistance in the Central Highlands has helped the SUCCESS Alliance to distribute over 900,000 seedlings and expand cocoa cultivation area in the Central Highlands by 1,547 hectares. Cocoa planted in 2007 in the Central Highlands has started to produce early fruit.

Another addition to cocoa development in Vietnam was a small pilot project that was started in 2007 in the Lam Dong Province of the Central Highlands. This pilot program helps local growers on 40-hectare plots of land develop cocoa within the forest ecosystem. This demonstrates that cocoa can successfully be grown under the forest canopy and intercropped with other economic trees. While some commercial agriculture has led to land clearance and threatened biodiversity, cocoa farming can be part of the solution for both local livelihood and conservation.

With donor support from USAID, USDA, the U.S. chocolate industry, and local partners, the SUCCESS Alliance is well on its way to building a new and sustainable smallholder cocoa economy in Vietnam.

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Chocolate Milk—The Better Energy Drink

Thursday, April 14th, 2011
Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique
Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011

The Olympic Games have been tarnished with controversies over blood doping, steroids, performance improving drugs and supplements. Even athletes who have taken an over the counter cold medication have been disqualified for a medal.

What I learned when researching for my new book, Choclatique, that the American swimmer Michael Phelps, who won fourteen career Olympic gold medals—the most of any Olympian—figure it out. He played it safe by drinking chocolate milk between races in Beijing.

In a recent study if was found that chocolate milk may be as good, or even better, than sports drinks at helping athletes recover from strenuous exercise. Chocolate milk has the optimal ratio of carbohydrates to protein, which helps refuel tired muscles. And let’s face it: it tastes much better than those sugary-sweet, expensive sports beverages.

So, say no to Monster and Red Bull, and yes to chocolate milk. That’s what two University of Connecticut researchers, studying the effects of different beverages on young people has concluded. Nancy Rodriguez, who researches the science of endurance sports, says chocolate milk has proved to be an effective post-workout drink for restoring muscle tone. The study, funded by the National Dairy Council and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, was focused specifically on what chocolate milk can do for athletes.

So what does chocolate milk do that plain white milk doesn’t? Rodriguez says, “The chocolate adds a little more sugar, and hence carbohydrates. Carbs—that’s still the energy that helps the muscle do the work. But you want milk to rebuild the muscle.” Rodriguez cautions that the extra sugar isn’t optimal for everyone, but athletes can benefit from it.

For the study, moderately trained male runners ran for 45 minutes at least five days a week for two weeks. Some drank chocolate milk while others drank a carb-only drink such as Gatorade or Powerade; each drink had the same number of calories. Breath and blood samples taken after the first and second weeks indicated that the chocolate milk drinkers had greater muscle rebuilding.

Most important, she said, is for athletes to realize that milk—whether plain or sweetened—is as good and often better than many of the significantly more expensive products sold at nutrition stores. Many of the products marketed to athletes for energy and endurance are just souped-up versions of old-fashioned milk. Despite the many claims of supplements, it’s hard to beat all-natural.

Milk also has bioactive compounds—things that we don’t really know, but probably provide some nutritional value. Likewise, chocolate has over 300 beneficial chemical compounds which appear to complement milk.

And stay away from energy drinks like Red Bull, warns Yifrah Kaminer, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at University of Connecticut. He published an article in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America in July on the dangers of caffeine for young people.

Kaminer said that 30 percent of young people between ages 12 and 17 regularly consume large quantities of energy drinks. Some of the super-caffeinated drinks, like Spike Shooter and Wired x505 (a whopping 500 milligrams of caffeine), carry warning labels that the product isn’t recommended for anyone under 18.

“Energy drinks’ much-touted exotic ingredients—taurine and guarana—give the drinks mystical flavor and image,” Kaminer said. But it’s really caffeine and sugar that do all the heavy lifting. Caffeine levels in energy drinks can range from 80 milligrams in an 8.2-ounce can of Red Bull to 300 milligrams in an 8.4-ounce can of Spike Shooter. To compare, a small McDonald’s coffee has 100 milligrams, while a large Starbucks has 330 milligrams and a 12-ounce can of Coke has 34 milligrams.

“The big difference between coffee and energy drinks,” Kaminer said, “is that young people are more apt to consume energy drinks. Also, they tend to drink many of them.”

So, stick with no or low fat milk—chocolate milk—for improved muscle tone, building and peak performance… and go for the gold!

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