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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Food &, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 63
1. Down the doughnut hole: fried dough in art

Fried dough has been enjoyed for centuries in various forms, from the celebratory zeppole of St. Joseph’s Day to the doughnuts the Salvation Army distributed to soldiers during World War I. So important were doughnuts for boosting troop morale that when World War II came around, the Red Cross followed closely behind the US Army as it advanced across Europe, offering doughnuts from trucks specially outfitted with vats for deep-frying.

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2. Darra Goldstein on the history of sugar

Sugar has had an important hand in many facets of history, not all of it fun and games (but certainly not all of it dreary, either). Did you know fudge played a huge part in American women's college education? or that slavery in sugar plantations was rampant? We asked Darra Goldstein a number of questions on sugar and its history, unearthing the good, the bad, and everything in between.

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3. Real change in food systems needs real ethics

In May, we celebrated the third annual workshop on food justice at Michigan State University. Few of the people who come to these student-organized events doubt that they are part of a social movement. And yet it is not clear to me that the “social movement” framing is the best way to understand food justice, or indeed many of the issues in the food system that have been raised by Mark Bittman or journalists such as Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan or Barry Estabrook.

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4. Are you a sugar scholar?

How much do you know about all things sweet? Are you an obsessive "Top-tier Sugar Scholar"? Or are you a dabbling "Sugar Novice"? No matter your level of scholarship, if sweetness and obscure facts are your game, we have just the perfect quiz for you.

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5. Going sour: sweet words in slang

Jonathan Green, an expert lexicographer and contributor to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, gives us the rundown of the sweet terms and phrases that have been re-imagined and incorporated into slang.

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6. Five unusual ingredients in sweets

Though many of us are familiar with the use of fresh fruits in desserts, flavorings in candy, and other ubiquitous ingredients, a great deal are unusual. They're unusual in the sense that they're "not commonly occurring," or that we believe them to be so. With that, here are five ingredients you might find, but not expect, in your next dessert.

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7. Is caffeine a gateway drug to cocaine?

Caffeine is the world’s most commonly abused brain stimulant. Daily caffeine consumption by adolescents (ages 9-17 years) has been rapidly increasing most often in the form of soda, energy drinks, and coffee. A few years ago, a pair of studies documented that caffeine consumption in young adults directly correlated with increased illicit drug use and generally […]

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8. The role of marijuana in your coffee addiction

Does coffee enhance marijuana? A study published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience (Vol 34 (19):6480-6484, 2014) by neuroscientists from the Integrative Neurobiology Section of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, has finally provided a definitive answer: Yes, No, and it depends.

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9. The history of chocolate [infographic]

From its journey to Europe from the New World at the beginning of the sixteenth century to its modern-day iteration as we know it, chocolate climbed its way into the hearts and homes of people all over the world. In its long and fruitful evolution through time, we've pulled together a timeline of chocolate's history from Europeans first encounter with the substance with the Aztecs through the Heirloom Cacao Initiative in 2014.

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10. A sugar & sweets music mixtape

Incorporating the idea of sweetness in songs is nothing new to the music industry. Ubiquitous terms like "sugar" and "honey" are used in ways of both endearment and condescension, love and disdain. Among the (probably) hundreds of songs about sweets, Aaron Gilbreath, essayist and journalist from Portland, Oregon, curated a list of 50 songs, which is included in The Oxford Companion of Sugar and Sweets.

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11. The 12 sweets you need to know about (and try)

Have you ever tried vinarterta? How about gugelhupf? Whether these are familiar or completely foreign to you, this list of sweets are a must for everyone with a sweet tooth. All the sweets, cakes, desserts, and treats on this list come from The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, so give them a go and try one, some, or all!

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12. ZaSu Pitts, the little-known confectioner

Silent-screen star ZaSu Pitts is usually remembered for her extraordinary name, her huge eyes, and her fluttering fingers, but not many know that she also put her nimble fingers to confectionery use, crafting elegant candies that were famous on Hollywood sets.

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13. Darra Goldstein on food scholarship

What do Russians poets eat? When does food heritage become international politics? How has sugar been used as medicine? Darra Goldstein, the editor-in-chief to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, shares her insights on how a three-year project transformed into the lively compendium of all things sweet. She takes us through the process of what it was like to oversee 265 contributors and over 600 entries, and the journey she took to get where she is today.

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14. Sweetness around the world

No matter where in the world you go, pastries are a universal treat. From Turkish baklava to Italian cannolis, French croissants to American cherry pie, these morsels of sweetness are a culinary tradition that knows no borders. Whether you're boarding an overseas flight or hanging around the neighborhood, we've hand-picked several pastry shops from the Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets to add to your personal itinerary.

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15. A map of the world’s cuisine

With nearly 200 countries in the world, the vast number and variety of dishes is staggering, which goes to show just how diverse your food can get. Which countries’ foods do you enjoy the most? Is there a particular characteristic of your favorite food that can’t be found anywhere else in the world? Do you know how national dishes vary by region? Explore (just some) of the world’s different cuisines discussed in The Oxford Companion to Food, from Afghanistan to Yemen, with our interactive map below:

Feeling hungry for more facts about food? Why not discover some less common types of meat, or test your knowledge in our food quiz? Bon appétit!

Featured image credit: Olives, photo by Dominique Godbout. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

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16. On World Diabetes Day, a guide to managing diabetes during the holidays

The International Diabetes Foundation has marked 14 November as World Diabetes Day, commemorating the date that Frederick Banting and his team first discovered insulin, and the link between it and diabetic symptoms.

As we approach the festive season, a time of year when indulgence and comfort are positively encouraged, keeping track of, or even thinking about blood glucose levels can become a difficult and annoying task. If good diabetic practice relies on building routines suited to the way your blood sugar levels change throughout the day, then the holidays can prove a big disruption to the task of keeping diabetes firmly in the background. With this in mind, take a look at this list of tips, facts, and advice taken from Diabetes by David Matthews, Niki Meston, Pam Dyson, Jenny Shaw, Laurie King, and Aparna Pal to help you stay in control and happy throughout the festive months:

  • Eat regularly. When big occasions cause your portion sizes to increase alarmingly, it’s tempting to skip or put off other meals. But eating large amounts at irregular intervals can cause blood glucose levels to rise significantly. For many, it’s better to snack throughout the day, including some starchy rather than sugary carbohydrates, promoting slow glucose release into the bloodstream.
  • Alternate drinks. Big dinners, big nights, and family days are likely to mean you consume more alcohol than normal. Alternating alcoholic drinks with diet drinks, soda, or mineral water can minimize their effect on blood glucose levels, so you can stay out, and keep up, without worrying.
  • Help your liver. Alcohol is metabolized by the liver, an organ that also helps release glucose into the bloodstream when levels start to drop. After drinking, the liver is busy processing alcohol, so cannot release glucose as effectively. This increases the risk of hypoglycaemia, especially in people who take insulin or sulphonylurea tablets. To combat this risk, try to avoid drinking on an empty stomach, or eat starchy foods when drinking. You may also need to snack before bed if you’re drinking in the evening.
  • Eat more, exercise more. Regular activity can have major benefits on your diabetes, making the insulin you produce or inject work more efficiently. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise will have positive effects, and are excellent ways of giving you a mental boost (though blood glucose levels should be monitored). Many symptoms of hypos are similar to those of exercise, such as hotness, sweating or an increased heart rate. Check blood glucose levels regularly and make necessary adjustments; fruit contains natural sugar and is a healthy way of quickly raising levels.
  • Go for your New Year’s resolution. Losing five to ten percent of your starting weight can have a positive impact on your diabetes, not to mention your overall health. Although exercise and eating well are of course promoted by all as the best way to lose weight, there is no medical consensus on one ideal way to achieve weight loss. The key lies in finding an effective approach that you can maintain. Remember that insulin can slow down weight loss, and if you are trying to lose weight, but find you’re having hypos, you’ll need to adjust your medication. Discuss this with your healthcare team.
  • Check Labels. Sodium isn’t synonymous with salt, but many food manufacturers often list sodium rather than salt content on food packaging. To convert a sodium figure into salt, you need to multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5. (For example: A large 12 inch cheese and tomato pizza provides 3.6 g of sodium. 3.6 multiplied by 2.5 is 9, so, the pizza contains approximately 9g of salt; one and a half times the recommended maximum of 6g.)
  • Don’t worry! Although a good routine is important, occasional lapses shouldn’t have a drastic effect on blood glucose levels (though this varies from person to person). Pick up a healthy routine in the New Year, when you’ll feel most motivated, and stick to it. The World Health Organization estimates over 200 million people will have type 2 diabetes by the year 2015, but (according to the international diabetes foundation) over 70% of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by adopting healthier lifestyles. Healthy living is not just a supplement, but part of the treatment of diabetes.

Heading image: Christmas Eve by Carl Larsson. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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17. Peanut butter: the vegetarian conspiracy

There is something quintessentially American about peanut butter. While people in other parts of the world eat it, nowhere is it devoured with the same gusto as in the United States, where peanut butter is ensconced in an estimated 85% of home kitchens. Who exactly invented peanut butter is unknown; the only person to make that claim was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the chief medical officer at the Sanatarium, the fashionable health retreat in Battle Creek, Michigan. Kellogg, a vegetarian who invented Corn Flakes, was seeking an alternative for “cows’ butter.” He thought puréed nutmeats might work, and in the early 1890s Kellogg experimented with processing nuts through steel rollers. He served the nut butters to his patients at the Sanatarium, who loved them. Remarkably, in less than a decade peanut butter would emerge from the province of extremist “health nuts” to become a mainstream American fad food.

America’s elite visited the Battle Creek Sanatarium to recover their health, and many fell in love with the foods served there—particularly peanut butter. It soon became a passion with health-food advocates nationwide, and newspapers and magazines quoted vegetarians extolling its virtues. A vegetarianism advocate, Ellen Goodell Smith, published the first recipe for a peanut butter sandwich in her Practical Cook and Text Book for General Use (1896).

Homemade peanut butter was initially ground in a mortar and pestle, but this required considerable effort. It was also made with a hand-cranked meat- or coffee-grinder, but these did not produce a smooth butter. Joseph Lambert, an employee at the Sanatarium, adapted a meat-grinder to make it more suitable for producing nut butters at home. He also invented or acquired the rights to other small appliances, all intended to simplify the making of nut butters. These included a stovetop nut roaster, a small blancher (to remove the skins from the nuts), and a hand grinder that cranked out a smooth, creamy product. In 1896, Lambert left the Sanatarium and set up his own company to manufacture and sell the equipment.

Lambert mailed advertising flyers to households throughout the United States, and some recipients who bought the equipment started their own small businesses selling nut products. As nut butters became more popular, these machines proved inadequate to keep up with demand, so Lambert ramped up production of larger ones. He also published leaflets and booklets extolling the high food value of nuts and their butters. His wife, Almeda Lambert, published A Guide for Nut Cookery (1899), America’s first book devoted solely to cooking with nuts.

Vegetarians — who at the time practiced what we may now consider veganism — enjoyed all sorts of nut butters, which weren’t simply novel spreads for sandwiches but also sustaining, high-protein meat substitutes. But peanuts were the cheapest nuts, and it was peanut butter that dominated the field. It was first manufactured in small quantities by individuals and sold locally from door to door, but before long, small factories sprang up and peanut butter became a familiar article on grocers’ shelves. The American Vegetarian Society (AVS) sold peanut butter and actively promoted its sale through advertisements in magazines. In 1897 the AVS also began promoting the sale of the “Vegetarian Society Mill,” with an accompanying eight-page pamphlet encouraging vegetarians to create home-based peanut butter businesses. Vegetarians all over the country began to manufacture commercial peanut butter. The Vegetarian Food & Nut Company, in Washington, D.C., sold a product called “Dr. Shindler’s Peanut Butter” throughout the United States for decades. The company also produced private-label peanut butter for grocery store chains, and non-vegetarians quickly adopted the tasty new product.

The Atlantic Peanut Refinery in Philadelphia, launched in December 1898, may have been the first company to use the words “peanut butter” on its label. The term was picked up by other commercial manufacturers, although a New Haven, Connecticut, manufacturer preferred the term “Peanolia,” (later shortened to Penolia), and registered it in 1899.

By 1899, an estimated two million pounds of peanut butter were manufactured annually in the United States, and by the turn of the century, ten peanut-butter manufacturers competed for the burgeoning US market. From its origin just six years earlier as an alternative to creamery butter, peanut butter had established itself as an American pantry staple and a necessity for schoolchildren’s lunch pails.

Headline image credit: Peanut Butter Texture, by freestock.ca. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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18. A look at Thanksgiving favorites

What started as a simple festival celebrating the year’s bountiful harvest has turned into an archetypal American holiday, with grand dinners featuring savory and sweet dishes alike. Thanksgiving foods have changed over the years, but there are still some iconic favorites that have withstood time. Hover over each food below in this interactive image and find out more about their role in this day of feasting:

What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes? Let us know in the comments below!

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19. The food we eat: A Q&A on agricultural and food controversies

The world is more interested in issues surrounding agriculture and food than ever before. Questions swirl around the safety of our food, how it’s made, and what we can do to ensure we eat the best food. We asked F. Bailey Norwood, one of the authors of Agricultural and Food Controversies: What Everyone Needs to Know, to answer some of today’s most pressing queries.

Why has agriculture become so controversial?

There are many reasons, but a major one is the fact that agriculture today involves both big corporations and big government. Individuals with left-leaning political beliefs are hostile towards big corporations, whereas those on the right feel the same way about big government. This creates political tension that is not easy to resolve. Big corporations exist because there are economies-of-scale in agriculture, and there are extensive government regulations due to the many ways agriculture affects human health and the environment. Rather than lament the politicization of food, perhaps we should view it as a sign of a healthy democracy.

How do regulators know whether the pesticides we apply are safe?

The same way kings and popes would make sure their food wasn’t poisoned: they had official tasters who ate the food first. Our tasters are laboratory animals, who are exposed to varying amounts of pesticides, to determine at what level exposure to pesticides are unsafe. Humans are obviously not laboratory animals, so there is a safety-factor built into regulations, such that humans will not be exposed to even 1/100 of the amount that would impair the health of a lab rat.

What is the best way to reduce the carbon footprint of the food I eat?

Some foods emit more greenhouse gases than others. Beef, for instance, has a higher carbon footprint per-calorie than most other foods. Vegans are often found to have smaller carbon footprints than their omnivorous counterparts. Rather than concentrating on which foods you eat, an alternative strategy is to buy cheaper food and use the savings to purchase carbon offsets. Although this may not have the cultural appeal as Meatless Mondays, it is arguably the best way to reduce the carbon footprint of your food.

Are foods made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) safe to eat?

The most prestigious scientific organizations like the National Academy of Sciences believe so. Those who both understand the science of genetic modification and fear such foods usually do so because they believe the corporations creating GMOs have excessive political influence. What is so interesting about the GMO debate is that the practice of cutting genes out of one organism and placing them into the DNA of another organism has become so controversial, yet the practice of altering plant genes by zapping their DNA with radiation has not. At my university, opposition to GMOs has discouraged us from improving wheat by genetic modification, but some of our best wheat varieties were created by inducing genetic mutations in wheat through chemicals. It is not clear why one of these is feared and the other one is ignored.

Should I join the local foods movement?

If you believe you can acquire better food from local sources, whether it be higher quality or lower prices, then yes, buying local foods is a great idea. The local food movement might also help induce a cultural change such that people begin eating healthier foods. That said, there is little validity to the argument that buying local foods is good for economic growth, and there is no guarantee that local foods are better for the environment.

Headline image credit: Ecologically grown vegetables by Elina Mark. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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20. A holiday food tour

With the holiday season upon us, many of us are busy in our kitchens cooking secret family recipes and the season’s favorite delicacies. Looking at the delicious options in The Oxford Companion to Food, we compiled a list of various holiday specialties and treats from around the world that you may want to incorporate in your next holiday feast.

Speculaas, otherwise known as Christmas biscuits were traditionally baked for St Nicholas’s Eve on 5 December. They are made of wheat flour, butter, sugar, and a mixture of spices in which cinnamon is predominant. The dough is baked in decorative molds. The biscuits are crisp and flattish and may have cut almonds pressed into the underside.

Sufganiyah are a type of doughnut made in Israel for Hanukkah celebrations. Using a yeast-leavened dough they are enriched with milk, eggs, and sugar. After being deep-fried they are filled with jam, often apricot, and rolled in caster sugar.

Oatcakes are made from oats (in the form of oatmeal), salt, water, and sometimes have a little fat added into them. Oatcakes are made for the Scottish celebration, Hogmanay, traditionally the most important holiday of the year in Scotland, celebrating New Year’s Eve.

640px-Oatcakes_(1)
Oatcakes. Photo by Jon Thomson. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Spiced beef, a type of preserved beef, is an important part of traditional Christmas fare in Ireland. The beef is soaked in brine, brown sugar, juniper berries, and spices which can include black peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, and pimento for any time between three weeks and three months.

Vasilopitta is a traditional Greek New Year bread, also known as St Basil’s bread. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are celebrated more elaborately than Christmas in Greece. The Greek equivalent to Father Christmas is Aghios Vasilis—St Basil—and he arrives on New Year’s Eve when the children receive presents. The vasilopitta occupies a prominent position on the table for the arrival of the New Year.

Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescent), made from a rich pastry type of dough containing almonds and flavored with vanilla or lemon peel is popular in Germany and Central Europe, especially as a Christmas specialty.

Bakewell Pudding, a rich custard of egg yolks, butter, sugar, and flavouring—ratafia (almond) is suggested—poured over a layer of mixed jams an inch thick and baked wasis famous not only in Derbyshire, but in several of northern counties of England, where it is usually served on all holiday occasions. In this form, it bears some resemblance to various cheesecake recipes.

Choerek (or choereg, choereq, churekg etc.—the name has seemingly innumerable transcriptions) means ‘holiday bread’. This is an enriched bread (using sour cream, butter, egg), oven baked, made in a variety of shapes and sizes and flavours in the Caucasus. The most common shape is ‘knotted’ or braided bread, but it also is made in snail shapes in Georgia. Flavourings include aniseed, mahlab (a spice derived from black cherry kernels), vanilla, cinnamon, and grated lemon or orange rind

640px-Dried_soba_noodles_by_FotoosVanRobin
Dried soba noodles. Photo by FotoosVanRobin. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Chinese practice of eating noodles on special occasions as a symbol of longevity is also found in Japan. A typical example is the custom of eating soba on New Year’s Eve. Soba are thin, buckwheat noodles, light brown in colour. Though it is possible to make soba purely of buckwheat flour (kisoba, or ‘pure soba’), it is common to add some wheat flour to the buckwheat in order to make the dough less crumbly.

Featured image credit: Dinner Table for Christmas by Cam-Fu (camknows). CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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21. A smorgasbord of Christmas foods

In many parts of the world, Christmas does not lack in spirit or rich flavors. Though sweets are a major highlight to this festive holiday, there are quite a few notable savory foods to consider. As you are sitting down to your third helping of turkey, take a look through just some of the Christmas foods people will be eating this year:

What sorts of Christmas foods do you have every year? Let us know in the comments below.

Headline image credit: Christmas decoration. Image by Hades2k. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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22. Our favourite brews for Hot Tea Month

Tea, tea glorious tea! When hot water hits the leaves of the tea plant, an alchemical reaction takes place producing an invigorating and refreshing cupful of pure bliss.

Originating in the East, for thousands of years tea was a bitter medicinal draft. Finally, in the 17th century tea came of age with the historic addition of milk and sugar. This match-made-in-heaven oiled the wheels of the British Empire and it developed more than just a passing fancy for the beverage, swilling down its heavenly hot-and-wetness by the drum-load.

Tea has weathered many a storm since (not least the controversial debut of artificial sweetener in 1917) in 2003 the Royal Society of Chemistry claimed to have scientifically proven that a ‘milk first’ cup of Assam made the superior brew. Rioting in the streets was only avoided because the 4:00pm announcement coincided with the afternoon tea break.

The perfect cup is still hotly debated today and tea continues to fuel innovation here at Oxford University Press. This January is Hot Tea month, so be prepared to defend your choice of brew!

Tea Selfie Hannah Charters

“My collection of fruity and flavoured teas for when I need warming up on a cold grey day.”

Hannah Charters, Associate Online Product Marketing Manager

* * * * *

Tea Selfie Courtney Flaherty Molly Hansen Abigail Wickes

“Say TEAs! Ladies of OUP Cary chat about the season premiere of Downton Abbey over a cup of tea in their matching mugs. Molly, Abigail, and Courtney enjoy peppermint.”

Megan McPherson and Molly Hansen, Institutional Marketing; Courtney Flaherty, Creative Services

* * * * *

Tea Selfie Mackenzie Warren

“I’m drinking Twining’s green tea. I usually go for coffee in the mornings, but decaf tea is perfect for the afternoon.”

Mackenzie Warren, Marketing Associate

* * * * *

Tea Selfie Dan Parker

“I tend to go for an afternoon redbush tea from my super-manly Jemima Puddleduck mug. Props from the OUP Christmas Show in the background create a somewhat eerie backdrop to my tea-drinking experience.”

Dan Parker, Social Media Marketing Executive

* * * * *

Tea Selfie Carrie Napolitana

“Although I usually alternate between coffee and tea throughout the day, I must admit I’ve been leaning a bit more towards tea since I picked up this ‘mana-tea’ strainer. Whether it’s chai, black tea with lemon, earl grey, or green tea, whatever I’m drinking magically becomes cuter when I’m sipping it alongside an adorable marine mammal!”

Carrie Napolitano, Marketing Associate, Academic/Trade Marketing

* * * * *

Tea Selfie Michelle Kelly

“365 mornings a year, I order a Grande Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks. I’ve been going to the same Starbucks during the work week for some time now and my favorite baristas, Frank and Denize, are the best and usually have my order ready for me when I get to the counter. On the weekends, my home Starbucks also knows me and my love of chai tea. I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life but I need caffeine so green tea does the trick. I usually drink an afternoon cup and choose from my ever-growing tea shelf in my office. Bigelow Green Tea with pomegranate is my favorite for the afternoon.”

Michelle Kelly, Marketing Manager

* * * * *

Tea Selfie Greg Bussy

“I start the day with fresh, loose, English breakfast tea from a specialty shop. My mid-morning second cup is Barry’s Tea from Ireland. My afternoon cup is usually run-of-the mill Lipton tea – not sure why I bother – it’s pretty bad.”

Greg Bussy, Marketing Director

* * * * *

Tea Selfie Miranda Dobson Simon Jared

“Simon Jared is drinking a lovely cup of earl grey in the picture above. He likes strong tea in the morning so has it black (often the cause of controversy during tea breaks). Miranda Dobson is drinking oolong tea, which is known for improving mental alertness.”

Simon Jared, Marketing Executive for Commercial Law, and Miranda Dobson, Marketing Assistant for Commercial Law

* * * * *

What’s your favourite type of tea? Let us know in the comments below.

Headline image credit: Tea in different grade of fermentation, by Haneburger. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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23. The Oxford Comment – Episode 19 – Sugar and Sweets

Hey everyone! After a long hiatus, we’re excited to announce the re-launch of The Oxford Comment, a podcast originally created by OUP’s very own Lauren Appelwick and Michelle Rafferty in September 2010. From the drinking habits of the Founding Fathers to Cab Calloway, we’ve talked to people about every hot-button issue under the sun.

In this month’s episode, Max Sinsheimer, a Trade & Reference Editor at the New York office, chats with a few contributors to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets discuss their work on the historical, chemical, technical, social, cultural, and linguistic aspects of sweetness.

Headline image credit: Cream puffs. CC0 via Pixabay.

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24. The economics of chocolate

Cocoa and chocolate have a long history in Central America but a relatively short history in the rest of the world. For thousands of years tribes and empires in Central America produced cocoa and consumed drinks based on it. It was only when the Spanish arrived in those regions that the rest of the world learned about it. Initially, cocoa production stayed in the original production regions, but with the local population decimated by war and imported diseases, slave labor was imported from Africa.

The ‘First Great Chocolate Boom’ occurred at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. The industrial revolution turned chocolate from a drink to a solid food full of energy and raised incomes of the poor. As a result, chocolate consumption increased rapidly in Europe and North America.

As the popularity of chocolate grew, production spread across the world to satisfy increasing demand. Interestingly, cocoa only arrived in West Africa in the early 20th century. But by the 1960s West Africa dominated global cocoa production, and in particular Ghana and Ivory Coast have become the world’s leading cocoa producers and exporters.

Not surprisingly, given the growth in trade of cocoa and consumption of chocolate, governments have intervened in the markets through various types of regulations. The early regulations (in the 16th–19th centuries) focused mostly on extracting revenue from cocoa production and trade through, for example, taxes on cocoa trade and the sales of monopoly rights for chocolate production.

 The world is currently experiencing a ‘Second Great Chocolate Boom.’

More recent regulations have focused mostly on quality and safety. With growing demand for chocolate in the 19th century, chocolate producers substituted cocoa with cheaper raw materials, going from various starchy products and fats to poisonous ingredients. Scientific inventions of the 18th and 19th centuries allowed better testing of the chocolate ingredients.  Public outrage against the use of unhealthy ingredients (now scientifically proven), led to a series of safety regulations on which specific ingredients were not allowed in chocolate – and in countries such as France and Belgium also in a legal definition of ‘chocolate’.

Chocolate consumption has many fascinating aspects. It is bought both for the pleasure of consumption and as a gift. It has been considered a healthy food, a sinful indulgence, an aphrodisiac, and the cause of obesity.

For much of history, chocolate (or cocoa drinks more generally) was praised for its positive effects on health and nutrition (and other benefits for the human body). As people were poor, hungry, and short of energy, chocolate drinks and later chocolate bars became an important additional source of nutrition.

In recent years, chocolate consumption is often associated with negative health issues, such as obesity.  Recent research has shown that its health potential is closely linked to the composition of the final product and, not surprisingly, to the quantity consumed: darker, lower-fat, and lower-sugar varieties, consumed in a balanced diet are more likely to be healthy than the opposite consumption pattern.

Cocoabean
Fresh Cacao from São Tomé & Príncipe, by Everjean. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr

In today’s high income societies where hunger is an exception, food is cheap, and obesity is on the rise, systematic overconsumption of chocolate – often associated with impulsive consumption and lack of self-control – is more associated with health problems. New research in behavioral engineering is targeted to help consumers deal with situational influences, and change behavior in a sustainable way, i.e. by ‘nudging’ them to change their consumption behavior and resisting the lure of chocolate.

One of the intriguing aspects of chocolate is its ‘quality’. Different from many other foods (such as cheese or wine) perceived chocolate quality is not related to the location where the raw material is grown or produced, but to the chocolate manufacturing process and location.

Some countries, such as Switzerland and Belgium are associated with prestigious traditions of chocolate manufacturing. However, perceptions do not always fit reality. ‘Belgian chocolates’, such as pralines and truffles, are now world famous but until 1960, Belgium imported more chocolate than it exported. Since then its “Belgian chocolates” have conquered the world – while the world has taken over the Belgian chocolate (companies). Most “Belgian chocolates” are now owned by international holdings – and a sizeable amount is produced outside the country.

Moreover, consumer perceptions of ‘quality’ are strongly influenced by consumer experiences with their local chocolate – this includes the smoothness of Swiss chocolate from long conching, the milkiness of British chocolate, and the preference of American consumers for chocolate that Europeans consider inferior.

In fact, the integration of the UK, Ireland and Denmark into the (precursor of the) European Union, which included France and Belgium in 1973 resulted in a ‘Chocolate War’ which lasted for 30 years. Disputes between the old and the new member states of the definition of “Chocolate” (and its ingredients) made that British chocolate was banned from much of the EU continent for three decades.

Ethical concerns about chocolate have been triggered by the specific structure of the structure of the global cocoa-chocolate value chain. For most of the past century, the value chain was characterized by a South-to-North orientation, with most of the raw material (cocoa beans) produced in developing countries (‘the South’) and most chocolate manufacturing and consumption in the richer countries (‘the North’). Another characteristic is that cocoa production in the South is almost exclusively by smallholders, while cocoa grinding and (first stage) chocolate manufacturing processes are often dominated by very large companies.

The cocoa-chocolate value chain has undergone significant transformations in recent years. First, in the 1960s through the 1980s the cocoa production and marketing in developing countries was strongly state regulated, often dominated by (para-)statal companies and state regulated prices and trade, etc. In recent years there has been substantial liberalizations of these sectors and the market plays a much larger role in price setting and trading, often resulting in new hybrid forms of ‘public-private governance’ of the world’s cocoa farmers.

Second, these new regulatory systems are reinforced by consumer awareness around labour conditions and low incomes in African smallholder production related to structural imbalances in the value chain. Consumer concerns and civil society campaigns around poor socio-economic conditions of producers (such as child labor) have affected companies’ strategies and responses. These involved (a) sustainability initiatives with civil society and governments, (b) certification initiatives including Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Utz, and (c) various forms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.

The world is currently experiencing a ‘Second Great Chocolate Boom’. Rapidly growing demand is now not coming from ‘the North’, but from rapidly growing developing and emerging countries, including China, India and also Africa. The unprecedented growth of the past decades, the associated urbanization, and the huge size of their economies have turned China and India into major growth markets for chocolate. While consumption is highest in China, and the growth is strong, the country with – by far – the highest growth rates in chocolate consumption is India. In addition, significant African growth of the past 15 years is now also translating into growing chocolate consumption on the continent where most of the cocoa beans are produced.

Headline image: Fresh Cacao from São Tomé & Príncipe, by Everjean. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

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25. Is chocolate better than exercise for the brain?

Everyone knows that aerobic exercise is good for the body, but is it always as good for brain? Furthermore, is exercise better than eating lots of chocolate for the aging brain? A recent study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience by a group of scientists from Columbia University and NYU gave a large daily dose […]

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