🎧 Industrial strength craft beer

Industrial strength craft beer by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast)
Italy, land of fabled wines, has seen an astonishing craft beer renaissance. Or perhaps naissance would be more accurate, as Italy has never had that great a reputation for beers. Starting in the early 1990s, with Teo Musso at Le Baladin, there are now more than 500 craft breweries in operation up and down the peninsula. Specialist beer shops are popping up like mushrooms all over Rome, and probably elsewhere, and even our local supermarket carries quite a range of unusual beers. Among them four absolutely scrummy offerings from Mastri Birai Umbri – Master Brewers of Umbria. And then it turns out that my friend Dan Etherington, who blogs (mostly) at Bread, cakes and ale, knows the Head Brewer, Michele Sensidoni. A couple of emails later and there we were, ready for Michele to give us a guided tour of the brewery.


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I’m sure there was audio all the way through the tour, but portions of it were cut out, likely for time editing, but I kind of wish the whole thing was there… I could probably listen to this kind of beer talk all day long. I would also appreciate a more chemistry-based technical approach to the topic as well.

The question of the definition of craft beer versus industrial beer is a very good, yet subtle one.

I’m actually curious to try a beer that’s based on legumes to see what the increased protein percentages do to the flavor. It’s also interesting to hear about the potential creation of a signature Italian style beer.

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🎧 A computer learns about ingredients and recipes

A computer learns about ingredients and recipes by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast)


Perhaps you've heard about IBM's giant Watson computer, which dispenses ingredient advice and novel recipes. Jaan Altosaar, a PhD candidate at Princeton University, is working on a recipe recommendation engine that anyone can use.


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Back in February I had retweeted something interesting from physicist and information theorist Michael Nielsen:

I found the article in it so interesting, there was some brief conversation around it and I thought to recommend it to my then new friend Jeremy Cherfas, whose Eat This Podcast I had just recently started to enjoy. Mostly I thought he would find it as interesting as I, though I hardly expected he’d turn it into a podcast episode. Though I’ve been plowing through back episodes in his catalog, fortunately this morning I ran out of downloaded episodes in the car so I started streaming the most recent one to find a lovely surprise: a podcast produced on a tip I made.

While he surely must have been producing the episode for some time before I started supporting the podcast on Patreon last week, I must say that having an episode made from one of my tips is the best backer thank you I’ve ever received from a crowd funded project.

Needless to say, I obviously found the subject fascinating. In part it did remind me of a section of Herve This’ book The Science of the Oven (eventually I’ll get around to posting a review with more thoughts) and some of his prior research which I was apparently reading on Christmas Day this past year. On page 118 of the text This discusses the classic French sauces of Escoffier’s students Louis Saulnier and Theodore Gringoire [1] and that a physical chemical analysis of them shows there to be only twenty-three kinds. He continues on:

A system that I introduced during the European Conference on Colloids and Interfaces in 2002 [2] offers a new classification, based on the physical chemical structure of the sauce. In it, G indicates a gas, E an aqueous solution, H a fat in the liquid state, and S a solid. These “phases” can be dispersed (symbol /), mixed (symbol +), superimposed (symbol θ), included (symbol @). Thus, veal stock is a solution, which is designated E. Bound veal stock, composed of starch granules swelled by the water they have absorbed, dispersed in an aqueous solution, is thus described by the formula (E/S)/E.

This goes on to describe in a bit more detail how the scientist-cook could then create a vector space of all combinations of foods from a physical state perspective. A classification system like this could be expanded and bolted on top of the database created by Jaan Altosaar and improved to provide even more actual realistic recipes of the type discussed in the podcast. The combinatorics of the problem are incredibly large, but my guess is that the constraints on the space of possible solutions is brought down incredibly in actual practice. It’s somewhat like the huge numbers of combinations the A, C, T, and Gs in our DNA that could be imagined, yet only an incredibly much smaller subset of that larger set could be found in a living human being.

Small World

The additional byproduct of catching this episode was that it finally reminded me why I had thought the name Jaan Altosaar was so familiar to me when I read his article. It turns out I know Jaan and some of his previous work. Sometime back in 2014 I had corresponded with him regarding his fantastic science news site Useful Science which was just then starting. While I was digging up the connection I realized that my old friend Sol Golomb had also referenced Jaan to me via Mark Wilde for some papers he suggested I read.

References

[1]
T. Gringoire and L. Saulnier, Le répertoire de la cuisine. Dupont et Malgat, 1914.
[2]
H. This, “La gastronomie moléculaire,” Sci Aliments, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 187–198, 2003 [Online]. Available: http://sda.revuesonline.com/article.jsp?articleId=2577 [Source]
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🎧 How much does a nutritious diet cost?

How much does a nutritious diet cost? by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast)
You can eat a perfectly nutritious diet for a lot less money than the US government says you need. But would you want to?

Jeremy Cherfas interviews Parke Wilde, an agricultural economist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.


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I love that Jeremy raises the question of preparation time in discussing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It’s something that doesn’t seem most people would consider, but which in the modern world has become a major consideration. To some extent a lot of the growth of obesity in the U.S. is as a result of people going to restaurants and eating less healthy food out, but justifying it for the savings in time and the general convenience.

Some of this discussion reminds me of a talk I saw back in August by Sam Polk, co-founder and CEO of Everytable, a for-profit social enterprise that sells fresh, healthy ready-to-eat meals affordable for all, and founder and Executive Director of Groceryships, a Los Angeles non-profit working at the intersection of poverty and obesity. He was also the author of the book For the Love of Money: A Memoir of Family, Addiction, and a Wall Street Trader’s Journey to Redefine Success.

As I’m listening, I’m curious what these types of programs look like in other countries? How does the U.S. compare? Do those countries leverage the same types of research and come up with similar plans or are they drastically different? I’m thrilled that in the very last line of the episode, Jeremy indicates that he may explore this in the future.

I’ll also guiltily admit that while listening to this episode, I was snacking on M&M chocolate candies while drinking a sugary supplemented beverage. Perhaps I’ll pay my penance later by baking a fresh loaf of bread.

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🎧 Food and status | Eat This Podcast

Food and status by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast)


Food has always been a marker of social status, only today no elite eater worth their pink Himalayan salt would be seen dead with a slice of fluffy white bread, once the envy of the lower orders.

Jeremy Cherfas interviews Rachel Laudan


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Interesting to think about the shifts of food stuffs between the upper and lower classes over time.

I half expected some discussion of dentition and bone studies, but this was a bit more broadly historical in scope. I always loved the studies of civilizations around 12,000 years ago at the dawn of the agricultural age and the apparently terrible ravaging effects of settling down and living off of of agriculture rather than hunting and gathering.

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🎧 Knives: the new bling

Knives: the new bling by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast)
Bling, the Urban Dictionary tells me, is an onomatopoeic representation of light bouncing off a diamond. Or a Bob Kramer original hand-made chef’s knife, which goes for $2000 and up. Of course some people might be able to justify spending that kind of cash on what is, after all, one of the key tools of the trade … if your trade happens to be cooking. But my guest today, Peter Hertzmann, says he sees lots of knives, maybe not quite that expensive, hanging on the wall in people’s kitchens, unused. “Kitchen knives”, he told this year’s Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, are “the new bling”.

Peter teaches knife skills, has written extensively on the topic, and one of the things he is adamant about is that you never chop, you slice. Even if you’re pretty handy with a blade, you can probably learn a thing or two from his video Three Aspects of Knife Skills. I know I did.


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Peter Hertzmann Knife skills and knife care are rarely spoken about in many settings and when they are, they’re usually horribly inconsistent, if not butchered. Here Jeremy interviews a real knife guru. Sadly in an audio podcast there’s only so much that can be covered without video. I could have done with another hour on the topic along with some video perhaps.

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I love Eat This Podcast

Food as a vehicle to explore the byways of taste, economics and trade, culture, science, history, archaeology, geography and just about anything else.

Many who follow my blog recently will know that I’ve been binge listening to Jeremy Cherfas‘ wonderful podcast series: Eat This Podcast.

I’m now so many wonderful episodes in, that it was far past time to give something back to Jeremy for the hours of work he’s put in to give me so much entertainment, enjoyment, and even knowledge. So I just made a pledge to support him on Patreon.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Eat This Podcast is a fantastic series on food, but it it uses the “foods we eat to examine and shed light on the lives we lead, from authenticity to zoology”. Food becomes his “vehicle to explore the byways of taste, economics and trade, culture, science, history, archaeology, geography and just about anything else.”

It’s unlike much of anything I’ve seen or followed in the food space for some time. As someone who is a fan of the science of food and fantastic writers like Harold McGee, Herve This, Alton Brown, Tom Standage, Michael Pollan, Nathan Myhrvold, Maxime Bilet, Matt Gross, and Michael Ruhlman (to name only a few), Eat This Podcast is now a must listen for me.

Not only are the episodes always interesting and unique, they’re phenomenally well researched and produced. You’d think he had a massive staff and production support at the level of a news organization like NPR. By way of mentioning NPR, I wanted to highlight the thought, care, and skill he puts into not only the stunning audio quality, but into the selection of underlying photos, musical bumpers, and the links to additional resources he finds along the way.

And if my recommendation isn’t enough, then perhaps knowing that this one person effort has been nominated for the James Beard Award in both 2015 and 2016 may tip the scales?

If you haven’t listened to any of them yet, I highly recommend you take a peek at what he has to offer. You can subscribe, download, and listen to them all for free. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll follow my lead and make a pledge to support his work on Patreon as well.

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🎧 Early agriculture in eastern North America

Early agriculture in eastern North America by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast)
The Fertile Crescent, the Yangtze basin, Meso America, South America: those are the places that spring to mind as birthplaces of agriculture. Evidence is accumulating, however, to strengthen eastern North America’s case for inclusion. Among the sources of evidence, coprolites, or fossil faeces. Fossil human faeces. And among the people gathering the evidence Kris Gremillion, Professor of Anthropology at Ohio State University. She was kind enough to talk to me on the phone, and I made a silly mistake when I recorded it, so please bear with me on the less than stellar quality. I hope the content will see you through. And I’ll try not to let it happen again.

You’ve got to love an episode of a food podcast that starts out with the line:


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🎧 Sugar and salt: Industrial is best

Sugar and salt: Industrial is best by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast)
Henry Hobhouse’s book Seeds of Change: Five Plants That Transformed Mankind (now six, with the addition of cacao) contains the remarkable fact that at the height of the slave trade a single teaspoon of sugar cost six minutes of a man’s life to produce. Reason enough to cheer the abolition of slavery, I suppose. But that doesn’t mean that everything is sweetness and light in the business of sugar. Or salt. A photo gallery in The Big Picture made that very clear, and inspired Rachel Laudan, a food historian, to write in praise of industrial salt and sugar.


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🎧 What’s the beef with frozen meat?

What's the beef with frozen meat? by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast)
Most dilettante foodies I know probably regard frozen beef as an acceptable substitute only when fresh is unavailable. Sure the fresh must be grass-fed, dry-aged, properly hung and all that – but mostly it must be fresh, not frozen. However, unless your climate is wonderfully mild, that grass-fed beef is going to be eating something else over the winter, and that’s not great for the meat. Ari LeVaux, a syndicated food writer, reckons that except at the end of the growing season, when the animals have just finished feasting on lush pastures, well-frozen good beef is a far better option than fresh. When we spoke last week, I started by asking Ari why most people – foodies included – have such a poor opinion of frozen beef?

In fact, I’d say there is a general misconception about “freshness”. There was a rage for fresh pasta in England a while ago. And to me it was unfathomable. Good dried pasta is so superior to the slimy industrial stuff that it is almost another food. Sure, fresh often is good. But with foods that can be preserved in other ways, and have been, a good product properly prepared is often superior.

As for the nutritional composition of grass-fed versus conventional beef, there clearly is a difference. A mega-review by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that milk and meat from grass-fed animals has lower total fat than conventional, but the fat is higher in what might loosely be termed “good” fats, things like omega–3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid. On the other hand, the evidence for health benefits is more mixed. Some studies on animals and people have shown benefits, but they are by no means absolutely conclusive.

So on its own, better nutrition is perhaps not enough reason to seek out grass-fed beef. On the other hand, if omega–3 fats are what you really want, you can do much better eating oily fish. But hey! It can’t hurt, and eating great beef less often is a win in so many other areas.

A stunningly interesting episode.

After listening to this I’m assuredly going to have to look around online for a proper purveyor of frozen beef now. I’ve read several of the studies on the general health benefits of grass fed beef over cornfed, which it terrifically unnatural in the first place.

Frozen meat from the summer slaughter season for the winter months may be just the ticket to a higher quality product. (Though admittedly, they’re right on taking the proper precautions for the freezing/thawing processes as this can make all the difference.)

I find it interesting that the economics of the situation don’t help to better drive this process in the market. While the podcast mentions companies like Whole Foods attempting to educate their customers, I certainly haven’t come across this idea previously, and I typically go out of my way to consume this type of information.

The tough part of the process is determining when the product was frozen, as I’m sure many processors may just as readily freeze their excess winter slaughter. I checked in a local high end grocery store today and found a few types of frozen grass fed beef, including one from New Zealand, but the packaging didn’t indicate when it was frozen or even by whom in the process. There was only an obscure future date which I could only take to be either a “sell by” or “consume by” date as it wasn’t otherwise marked. If purveyors want to improve their position in the market, providing this type of data would be helpful, though I suspect it’s more in their interest not to indicate anything at all unless bulk purchasers and distributors like Whole Foods pressure them to do so. Perhaps the majority of the demand in the market (and specialty pricing) stops at the words “grass fed”?

Be sure to click through to the notes and additional resources for the episode.


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🎧 Potatoes are (almost) perfect | Eat This Podcast

Potatoes are (almost) perfect by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast, May 13, 2013 )
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service runs a program for Women, Infants and Children that subsidises specific foods for eligible women and their children. Back when it started, the WIC program excluded potatoes, on the grounds that “Americans already eat enough potatoes”. Potato growers – and their representatives – don’t like that. For one, they think it sends the wrong message about the nutritional value of potatoes. And so, in 2010, the Executive Director of the Washington State Potato Commission, Chris Voigt, launched a protest. He decided to eat nothing but potatoes for 60 days, gaining massive amounts of publicity but not – yet – a change in the WIC list of approved foods.[1] However, while the world marvelled at Voigt’s dedication to the people who pay his salary, one grower in neighbouring Oregon said “Hey, what’s so hard about that? Last winter, I ate pretty nearly all potatoes for about six months. It was a feast all winter!”

Carol Deppe – author of Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties and The Resilient Gardener – ate almost nothing but potatoes because that’s what she had, and because she really understands the nutritional value of potatoes. She points out that potatoes contain more than 2% protein, which doesn’t sound like much when you compare it to the 9% in rice or the 12% and more in wheat. But those are dry-weight values. On that basis, potato comes in at better than 10% protein, and that protein is both more balanced and better absorbed that wheat protein. This isn’t exactly news. It’s been known since the late 19th century that if you’re getting all your calories from potatoes, then you’re probably getting all the protein you need too. But that knowledge seems to have been forgotten, and Deppe thinks she knows why:
When the USDA denies WIC-program women, infants, and children their potatoes, in spite of the potato’s known excellence as a food, in spite of how much we all like it, I think I detect a subtly Euro-centric as well as classist message: “The right way to eat is like upper-class Europeans, not like New Worlders or peasants.” The problem is bigger than failing to recognize that Americans are not all Europeans, that even most European-Americans now embrace food traditions from many lands and cultures, and that most of us are closer to being peasants than to being medieval European royalty. To reject the potato is to be several hundred years out of date. Rejecting the potato represents a failure to learn some of the most important climate-change lessons of the Little Ice Age. I think the USDA should revisit its potato policy.

So do lots of other people, including potato growers, and although potatoes are again up for consideration, it isn’t clear whether this time they will make it onto the hallowed WIC list. In the meantime, they remain an excellent and nutritious food.

Notes
  • The Effect of Food Restriction During War on Mortality in Copenhagen is Dr Mikkel Hindhede’s account, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, of the impact of the World War I blockade on deaths in Denmark. By encouraging Danes to switch to a more vegetarian diet, Hindhede effectively saved 6300 lives. Mortaility was actually lower during the blockade than before or after. By contrast Germany, also affected by the blockade, saw widespread famine.
  • There’s an online account of Chris Voigt’s 60-day 20-a-day potato marathon. It’s pretty broken.
  • I hope to have more from Carol Deppe in a future podcast.
  • Image from Colorado Potatoes.
  • Intro music by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com.
  • It is even possible that Potato Pride is a genuine North Korean folk song?

I remember hearing about the USDA potato controversy at the time, but never dug into the details. Jeremy Cherfas kindly lays out lots of interesting potato information in his interview here.

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🎧 Neanderthal Diets | Eat This Podcast

Neanderthal Diets by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast, April 29, 2013)
Neanderthals did not descale their teeth regularly, for which modern scientists can be very thankful. Embedded in the fossilized calculus, or tartar, on teeth from the Shanidar cave, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and elsewhere are some remarkable remains that are beginning to shed far more light on what Neanderthals ate. I don’t want to give too much away just yet. Let’s just say that if, like me, when you think of the Neanderthal diet you think of a bunch of cavemen and women sitting around chewing their way through a woolly mammoth, you’re in for a surprise.

My guide through the recent discoveries on Neanderthal diet is John Speth, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

Amanda Henry’s research clearly points to moist-cooked starch grains in the mouths of Neanderthals (but did they swallow?). Archaeologists, however, have found almost no evidence of Neanderthals using the hot-rocks boil-in-a-bag method of modern people who lack fire-proof containers. And surprisingly, they didn’t know what John Speth discovered while watching TV in a motel room: that it is perfectly possible to boil water in a flimsy container over a direct fire. In the interests of time I had to cut his fascinating description of an experiment to make maple syrup by boiling the sap in a birch-bark tray over an open fire, which concluded that it was “both efficient and worthwhile”. So, now that they know it can be done, how long before they discover it was done?

There is evidence that Neanderthals ate moist-cooked starch. There is evidence that one can moist-cook without fire-proof containers and hot rocks. All we need now is evidence that Neanderthals used similar techniques, and the palaeo-dieters can add a nice mess of potage to their daily fare.

Notes
  • Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium). (A scientific paper.)
  • National Geographic’s early report on Amanda Henry’s discovery of plant remains on Neanderthal teeth and a more recent report from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
  • More on Neanderthal diets at John Hawks’ weblog.
  • Photograph of the Regourdou Neanderthal mandible used by permission of the photographer, Patrick Semal, and the Musée d’art et d’archéologie du Périgord.
  • Intro music by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com.
  • Final music played by Ljuben Dimkaroski on a replica of a Neanderthal bone flute found in a cave in western Slovenia.

While I’ve read lots of research surrounding this area, this is the kind of area which more mainstream food journalists, entertainers, and educators could and should be covering. Aside from a semi-regular appearance of Deb Duchon, a nutritional anthropologist, appearing on Alton Brown‘s Good Eats, this may be one of the few places I’ve seen such an interesting interview of this type.

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🎧 Air-cured sausages | Eat This Podcast

Air-cured sausages by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast)
Among the more miraculous edible transformations is the one that turns raw meat, salt and a few basic spices into some of the most delicious foods around.

Time was when curing meat, especially stuffed into a casing to make a sausage, was the only way both to use every part of an animal and to help make it last longer than raw meat. Done right, a sausage would stay good to the next slaughtering season and beyond.

The process relied on the skill of the sausage-maker, the help of beneficial bacteria and moulds, the right conditions, a great deal of patience, and sometimes luck. Luck is less of a factor now, because to keep up with demand the vast majority of cured meats are produced in artificial conditions of controlled precision. Here and there, though, the old ways survive. Jan Davison spent months touring the sausage high-spots of Europe looking for the genuine article, and shared some of her favourites at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking last year.

This tempts me greatly to consider decommissioning an incubator from science related use to food related use…

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🎧 Bog Butter | Eat This Podcast

Bog Butter by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast, March 4, 2013)
Peat diggers in Ireland and elsewhere have occasionally unearthed objects, usually made of wood, that contained some kind of greasy, fatty material with a “distinctive, pungent and slightly offensive smell”. Butter. Centuries-old butter.

Who buried it, and why, remain mysteries that motivated Ben Reade, an experimental chef at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, to make some himself. He brought some of his modern-day bog butter, still nestled in moss and wrapped in its birch-bark barrel, to share with the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery last year.

Notes:
Ben mentioned two plants that have been found around bog butter, hypnum moss (Hypnum cupressiforme) and bog cotton (Eriophorum angustifolium).
The Nordic Food Lab research blog details all of their astonishing edible experiments.
I found Seamus Heaney reading his poem Bogland at The Internet Poetry Archive.
Caroline Earwood (1997) Bog Butter: A Two Thousand Year History, The Journal of Irish Archaeology, 8: 25-42 is available at JStor, which has a new scheme allowing you to read up to three items at a time online for free.
Music by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com.

An awesome little podcast I found recently, so I’m going back to the beginning to catch up on all the past episodes. Science, food, heaps of technical expertise, great interviews, and spectacular production quality. Highly recommend it to everyone.

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🎧 A deep dive into cucurbit names

A deep dive into cucurbit names by Jeremy Cherfas(Eat This Podcast)
Continuing the short season of bits and pieces that didn't quite fit in the year's episodes by getting to grips with the origin of "gherkin" and other names we give cucurbits.
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