How do Nitrites Turn Cured Meat like Ham, Bologna, Sausages, Hot Dogs, and Bacon Pink?

Nitrites accomplish their meat-curing magic by first being themselves transformed into (reduced to) nitric oxide (NO), a process that takes place only slowly by the action of natural antioxidants (also known as reducing agents) in the meat. The nitric oxide then bonds to myoglobin, the main pigment in red meat, to form nitric oxide myoglobin, … Read more

Why are Cured Meats like Ham, Bacon, and Hot Dogs Pink, and Why is Nitrite Unhealthy?

Curing meat means treating it to keep it from spoiling, thereby preserving it for future use. Interesting that the “cure” prevents, rather than treats, the problem. Ancient methods of curing meat include smoking, drying, and salting. When refrigeration and mechanical packaging came along, these flavor-intensive methods became unnecessary and experimentation with chemical curing began. Meats … Read more

What is the Difference between Souse and Scrapple and Where do they Come from?

Just because souse and scrapple have funny names and come in refrigerated rectangular blocks doesn’t mean they’re related, except for their porcine parentage. Scrapple, often called Philadelphia Scrapple, is a Pennsylvania Dutch concoction of cooked pork scraps and trimmings (no gruntz) called puddin’, mixed with cornmeal mush, a.k.a. polenta, and spices. Refrigerated, it forms a … Read more

Why is Ground Beef Red on the Outside but Brown on the Inside and What does it mean?

The brown-meat syndrome has been a concern of consumers ever since the neighborhood butcher, who ground the meat before our very eyes, went the way of his sawdust-covered floors. In today’s supermarkets, the meat is ground somewhere “in the back,” or even at another location, and then packed into plastic trays and covered with plastic … Read more

What is Mechanically Separated Meat and How does it help Spread Mad Cow Disease?

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA won’t let anyone sell mechanically separated meat. It’s a reaction to “mad cow” disease. Mechanically separated meat is meat that has been separated from the bone by a machine, rather than by knife-brandishing humans. The first time I saw the words mechanically separated beef on … Read more

What is the Difference between Pink Shrimp and Gray Shrimp?

They’re just different species. Some shrimp are pinker and some are grayer, even when they’re still gamboling about on the ocean floor. But all of their shells turn bright pink when cooked. That color is in the shells all along, but it is masked by darker colors that break down when heated. At least in … Read more

How did Razor Clams get their name and Why do Clams have a Foot?

Razor clams are quite good to eat, breaded and fried, or made into fritters. They’re harder to find here in the States than in many European countries. They didn’t get their name because their shells are sharp (which they are), but because the shells are shaped like an old-fashioned, curved-handled straight razor: two long, curved … Read more

What is the Difference between Wild Mussels and Farm Raised Mussels?

“Wild” mussels have grit in them, which is probably sand, and the “strings” are remnants of their beards, which are routinely removed from the “domesticated” (tame?) ones before they reach the market. Mussels don’t burrow in the sand as clams do, cement their shells to each other as oysters do, or swim freely as scallops … Read more

What is Bottarga and Where does Bottarga come from?

Bottarga is dried, salted roe from either the Mediterranean tuna (tonno in Italian) or the gray mullet (mugine). Bottarga di tonno (also known as uovo di tonno, or tuna eggs) and bottarga di mugine are local specialties of Sicily and Sardinia. Italy’s two large Mediterranean islands, and are valued as delicacies in the rest of … Read more

What is Honey made of and Why is Honey Healthier than Sugar?

Most of us think of white sugar from sugar cane and sugar beets as somehow less natural than honey. Perhaps because they are not produced by hairy insects? But chemically, there is quite a difference. Sugar cane and sugar beets are loaded with sucrose, whereas honey’s sugars are primarily fructose (39 percent), glucose, (31 percent), … Read more

Why do Processed Foods contain so much Sugar?

The fact that everybody likes sugar certainly has a lot to do with its presence in so many processed foods. Some breakfast cereals, for example, will surprise you with their content of sugar, if you figure it out. To check your cereals (or other manufactured foods) for sugar content, look at the Nurtrition Facts table … Read more

Where does Calcium Carbonate come from and How is Lime made?

Limestone, seashells, coral, chalk, marble, eggshells, pearls, stalactites, and stalagmites all consist mainly of a remarkably versatile and plentiful chemical compound called calcium carbonate (CaCO3 ). It constitutes about 7 percent of our planet’s crust, the 20-mile-or-so-thick top layer. When heated to 1520 to 1650°F (825 to 900°C), calcium carbonate decomposes into carbon dioxide gas (CO2) … Read more

Where does Cornmeal come from and How many different types of Corn Flour are there?

Cornmeal, Cornstarch, Corn Flour, they’re all made from that incredibly versatile and internationally esteemed New World grain called corn in the United States and maize, from the Caribbean Taino Indian word rnahiz, almost everywhere else. A kernel of corn is a seed with essentially three parts. The tough, outer hull (the pericarp) is made mostly … Read more

Why does Dietary Fiber Contain Calories and Carbohydrates if it is Indigestible?

Dietary fiber is indeed completely or almost completely indigestible. That’s how it is defined: those parts of our foods that provide us with no vitamins, minerals, or even calories. Chemically, the fiber compounds in plants are complex carbohydrates. They are therefore included in the total amounts of carbohydrates listed on the labels. Sometimes the chart … Read more

Why are there different types of Pasta and How do you Match the Sauce to the Pasta Shape?

For one thing, the almost limitless variety of pasta shapes provides both fun for the eye and differing sensations in the mouth. But there are also real differences in their compatibility with different sauces. It’s not a matter of the pasta absorbing sauce through its surface; pasta isn’t that absorbent and sauces aren’t that liquid. … Read more

What is the Difference between Bleached Flour and Unbleached Flour?

Wheat flour is naturally slightly yellowish because it contains carotenoid pigments, natural yellow and orange compounds found in many fruits, vegetables, and grains. Carrots’ famous orange color, carotene, is the mother of them all. But most people are less color tolerant than you and don’t like their flour to be yellow. The major exception is … Read more

How do you Make Parboiled Rice and What does Converted Rice Mean?

Parboiling is boiling a food just enough to cook it partially but not completely. Quixotically, the word comes from the Latin per bullire, meaning to boil thoroughly, but in Middle English per became par and was confused with part or partial. Thus, “thorough boiling” came to mean its opposite, “partial boiling.” When you’re cooking a … Read more

Who invented Chocolate and where does Chocolate come from?

where does chocolate come from

Chocolate comes from the cacao tree which has been cultivated since 1100 BC in Mexico, Central and South America. We now know that the Aztecs made chocolate beverages called xocolātl, which means “bitter water” in Nahuatl. Chocolate was used in Maya and Aztec royal and religious rituals, and the oldest known cultivation of cacao was … Read more

Who Invented Cracker Jack and How Did Cracker Jack Get Its Name?

Neither the popcorn nor the peanut is the Jack in Cracker Jack. F. W. Rueckheim was a German immigrant who’d made a name for himself in Chicago as a popcorn vendor. His little shop on Federal Street dealt in popcorn, taffy, marshmallows, peanuts, caramels, and other treats. When he decided to mix various popular ingredients … Read more

How Did French Fries Get Their Name and What Are French Fries Called In France?

They have pommes frites (pronounced “pum fritt”) in France, which are basically what Americans call “French fries.” The American term French Fries reportedly came, it is believed, from Thomas Jefferson. He brought a recipe for fried potato sticks back to the colonies and referred to them as “Potatoes, fried in the French manner.” The phrase … Read more

What Would Kill You First, a Lack of Sleep Or a Lack of Food and Why?

Most people can last for nearly a month without food. However, 10 days without being allowed to sleep would kill most humans. Sleep deprivation adversely affects the brain and cognitive function, and may result in hallucinations and memory lapses or loss. Recent studies have suggested that sleep deprivation may be linked to heart disease and … Read more

How Many Different Animals Come In Circus Animal Cracker Boxes?

First introduced as Bamum’s Animals in 1902 by the National Biscuit Company, also known as Nabisco, animal cracker cookies have always come in a circus-wagon package. A century ago, the package was made of tin and designed to hang on a Christmas tree, and the animals were just cookie-cutter silhouettes instead of a more detailed … Read more

How Did the Donut Get Its Name and Where Did Doughnuts Come From?

donut with sprinkles on top

The donut wasn’t always called a nut, and when it was first called a nut, the name actually made sense. First of all, let’s dismiss one spurious but widespread legend reported by otherwise reputable sources: that the name was invented during World War I because the fighting “doughboys” went “nuts” over the doughnuts and coffee … Read more