Sometimes, the best thing about food is the stuff we put on top: the condiments. From olive oil, ketchup, and honey to salt and pepper, hot sauce, and salad dressing, there's no limit to the accoutrements that make our food even tastier.
Photo by Gregg Koenig / Flickr

Photo by Gregg Koenig / Flickr

It’s not exactly news that fast food contains fillers, additives, and lessons in chemistry that would make your high school teacher proud. Despite a recent push toward fewer artificial ingredients, fast food restaurants still serve chemical concoctions by the millions. In particular, sauce packets and condiments tell the tale of food that’s not quite the food it’s supposed to be. (more…)

Posted by on September 21st, 2015

Ketchup is both our most popular condiment and arguably, our most divisive. To some, the sweet, tangy tomato sauce seems synonymous with hamburgers and hot dogs; others will tell you ketchup has no place on either.

Americans love the sweet flavor of ketchup; sugar or other sweeteners play a huge role in evening out the acidity of the tomatoes. It’s hardly any wonder that children consume more than 50 percent of the ketchup sold in the U.S.

But these five places are fighting back. Time to pick a side!

1. The city of Chicago

ChicagoNoKetchupSign (more…)

Posted by on October 28th, 2013

Blackberry Bourbon Boston Butt. Photos by Jay Ducote.

Blackberry Bourbon Boston Butt. Photos by Jay Ducote.

The distinction between brines, marinades, and rubs can come down to a few simple ingredients. For the barbecue aficionado, what to use when is second nature. But each has its own history, its own flavor possibilities, its own chemistry, and its own place in the barbecue world.

Brines

Brining meats dates back to ancient communities. Salt was a precious commodity, and its ability to preserve food (even for an extra couple hours) created a high demand. Landlocked areas with larger cities received salt from caravans traveling across Salt Roads. Brine is a saltwater mixture that adds extra moisture and flavor to the meat while it’s soaking, and helps meat preserve its moisture during the cooking process. Meat already has its own natural salts intact, but adding a higher concentration of salt outside of the meat allows the flavors and spices to be absorbed into the meat through diffusion. This chemistry process involves changing protein bonds in meat to where they allow extra water to get trapped inside, resulting in flavor and moisture in the finished product. (more…)

Posted by on January 15th, 2013

Photo by Rachael White

The simplest, most humble and perhaps under-appreciated ingredient in kitchens around the world is salt. A pinch can transform a dish, bringing depth of flavor to what would otherwise be bland and boring. It can be surprisingly easy to take such a simple substance for granted, ignoring the fact that it goes beyond the typical salt shaker coming from exotic places like Salta, Argentina and Hokkaido, Japan. Salt comes in different colors, sizes, and flavors that are exciting to explore. As with wine, salt can be paired with food to showcase its unique flavors making it the perfect theme for your next party. Here are some ideas to increase your salt knowledge and get your own salt tasting party underway. (more…)

Posted by on October 24th, 2012

Photo by Southern Foodways Alliance

The last time I wrote about barbeque, I got quite the backlash from family, friends and strangers across the South. I heard from people who felt I misrepresented their regional barbeque, people who claimed that my research was wrong. Even my father’s best friend Roger, who claimed that Georgians NEVER ate mustard sauce, had something to say: he called me a liar. You see, we Southerners take our barbeque seriously! (more…)

Posted by on October 20th, 2011

Shiro Miso (Photo by FotoosVanRobin)

Have you ever found yourself staring at a shelf in the grocery store that holds an ingredient that is completely foreign to you? This is a frequent experience for me in Tokyo. It is usually easy to ignore strange (and sometimes scary) food items when your favorite condiment or box of crackers is just down the aisle calling out your name. However, I’ve realized that the problem with sticking only to the familiar is that there are so many beautiful flavors out there that can give a unique twist to a favorite recipe. Breaking away from our grocery shopping routines can be difficult or even a little scary…but also completely worth it. (more…)

Posted by on August 11th, 2010

Photo Credit to Hexodus

Corn smut is a disease of maize caused by the pathogenic plant fungus Ustilago maydis. Known in Latin America as huitlacoche, it is eaten, usually as a filling in quesadillas and other tortilla-based foods.    Whether referred to as “corn smut” or “huitalacoche”, this food may not necessarily inspire one’s appetite. However, just like mushrooms which is also a fungus, this corn smut has an earthy and sometimes smoky flavor profile that may be more appealing than you think.  Huitalacoche is still an unknown food to many, so let’s learn a little more about it. (more…)

Posted by on June 1st, 2010

These days, access to foods from all over the world is easier than ever, especially when it comes to exotic fruits. This series will introduce you to some of the world’s most interesting exotic fruits and for this post, it’s all about the rambutan.  Commonly known as rambutan, it is known botanically as Nephelium lappaceum. The rambutan is a tropical tree which belongs to the Sapindaceae family and also the name of the fruit of this tree. Although it does not grow very tall, it produces an ample harvest. Rambutan is widely distributed throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and Southeast Asia and is identified in some countries, by different names.

For example, in Nicargua, Costa Rica and Panama, rambutan is identified as mamon chino while Thailand people call it ngoh. In Malaysia, another type of rambutan is sold called wild rambutan. Although the common color of rambutan is red, the fruit of this particular type is yellowish. The hairy skin of the rambutan fruit is removed to get to the whitish or pinky edible parts. They typically taste sweet though some are sour as well as sweet. (more…)

Posted by on March 25th, 2010

When it comes to honey, it’s an ingredient that is quite versatile.  It could show up in everything from an appetizer to a dessert to everything in between.  Simpler uses include sweetening tea or spreading it on bread or biscuitd.  Regardless its use, it’s always a sweet treat to any food or beverage, so l present to you 10 Things to Know About Honey.

A Cure All? The popular and varied uses of honey as a medicine in ancient Egypt can be seen in Egyptian medical texts dating back to about 2,500 B.C. In these texts, honey is listed in hundreds of remedies.

In Ancient Times: Honey collection is an ancient activity. Eva Crane’s The Archaeology of Beekeeping states that humans began hunting for honey at least 10,000 years ago.  She evidences this with a cave painting in Valencia, Spain. The painting is a Mesolithic rock painting, showing two female honey-hunters collecting honey and honeycomb from a wild bee hive. The two women are depicted in the nude, carrying baskets, and using a long wobbly ladder in order to reach the wild nest.

Coughing? What Coughing? A tablespoon of honey is more effective to soothe a cough than a cough syrup

No Spoiling Here: Honey is the only food that does not spoil. Honey found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs has been tasted by archaeologists and found edible.

Natural First Aid: Antimicrobial benefits of all honey work as a natural Neosporin on wounds and wounds will often heal even faster using honey.

White Man’s Flies:  North American natives called honey bees “white man’s flies” because they were brought to North America by colonists.

Flower Love: It takes about 2 million flower visits by honeybees to produce 1 pound of honey.

Hay Fever Relief: Eating a little local honey will make you “immune’ to pollens in the area.

Energy Booster: It only takes one ounce of honey to fuel a bee’s flight around the world.

Brain Food: Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it’s the only food that contains “pinocembrin”, an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.

Posted by on January 15th, 2010

When it comes to Mediterranean cooking, which includes cuisines from Italy, Greece and Spain, olive oil is a staple ingredient that’s also quite versatile.  It can be used to make salad dressings, used as a marinade, used to saute food in and so much more, but there is definitely more than meets the eye.  So I present to you 10 Things to Know About Olive Oil (and Olives).

Old Timer: The olive tree is one of the oldest cultivated trees on the planet, predating the invention of written language!

Takes a Licking, But Keeps on Ticking: Olive trees can live to a ripe old age.  In fact, some trees in the eastern Mediterranean are estimated to be over 1500 years old; however, the average age is a mere 500 years old.

Heart Healthy: The beneficial health effects of olive oil are due to both its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and its high content of antioxidative substances. Studies have shown that olive oil offers protection against heart disease by controlling LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while raising HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels. (1-3) No other naturally produced oil has as large an amount of monounsaturated as olive oil -mainly oleic acid.

It’s All in the Pressing: Extra Virgin Olive Oil: comprised from the first pressing of olives and considered the best olive oil. Virgin Olive Oil: from the second pressing. Pure Olive Oil: some processing such as filtering and refining.  Extra Light Olive Oil: considerable processing and retains a mild olive flavor.

Look Ma! No More Greasy Hands: Clean greasy hands by mixing olive oil with salt or sugar and rubbing vigorously. Wash with soap and water and then bye bye grease!

Sacred Oil: Olive oil has long been considered sacred and was used to anoint kings and athletes in ancient Greece. It was burnt in the sacred lamps of temples as well as being the “eternal flame” of the original Olympic Games. Victors in these games were crowned with its leaves.

No More Sticky Stuff: Rub or spray olive oil on your measuring tools for easy clean-up of sticky substances like honey, grain mustards and sugar syrups.

Zit Stopper: Mix 4 parts salt with 3 parts olive oil. Work all around the face and leave on for two to three minutes. Rinse off with warm soapy water. Do this daily for the first week and then two to three times weekly until condition improves sufficiently to stop using.

Keep it Cool and Dark: Olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, olive oil can keep for at least two years. It is, however, at its peak within a year of production, and is its most flavorful for the first two months. Olive oil should not be stored in the refrigerator. If chilled, olive oil will become cloudy and eventually solidify or crystallize. Should this happen, the oil is perfectly fine; just leave the oil at room temperature for a time to restore it to its natural state.

Bitter Fruit: Olives are fruits, grown on the olive tree, olea europaea. Plucked from the tree, the olive is extremely bitter, and virtually inedible. Prior to eating, olives are typically cured, either in brine, water or in oil. (Some prefer to cure them further in the bottom of a martini glass!) Freshly picked olives can also be stir-fried to remove some of the bitterness before eating.

Posted by on May 12th, 2009

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