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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 […]
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 […]
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
“My collection of fruity and flavoured teas for when I need warming up on a cold grey day.”
“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
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“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
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“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
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“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!”
“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
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“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
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“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
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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.
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.
Did you know that ‘croissant’ literally means ‘crescent’ or that oranges are native to China? Do you realize that the word ‘pie’ has been around for seven hundred years in English or that ‘toast’ comes from the Latin word for ‘scorch’? John Ayto explores the word origins of food and drink in The Diner’s Dictionary. We’ve made a little quiz based on the book. Are you hungry for it?
John Ayto is a freelance writer and the author of many reference works, including the Dictionary of Slang, the Dictionary of Modern Slang, and Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Seasoned generously with literary wit, The Diner’s Dictionary is a veritable feast, tracing the origins and history of over 2,300 gastronomical words and phrases.
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I didn’t do any of these things. I got distracted. As it turns out, searching the word “chocolate” (“It is not addictive like nicotine but some people, ‘chocoholics’, experience periodic cravings”) reveals a whole smorgasbord of suggested links to delectable food summaries and from my first glimpse at the makings of a meringue, I was gone—making mental notes for recipes, stomach rumbling, eyes-glazing over. Mmm glaze.
In the end, my “research” was actually quite fitting to the season. Because, really, when it comes to Valentine’s Day in the 21st century, only a handful of things are reliable and certain—and almost all of them are made with sugar.
→Snack was originally a verb, meaning ‘bite, snap’. It appears to have been borrowed, in the fourteenth century, from Middle Dutch snacken, which was probably onomatopoeic in origin, based on the sound of the snapping together of teeth… The modern verb snack, ‘eat a snack,’ mainly an American usage, is an early nineteenth-century creation.
Top 5 Favorite Random Food Facts
Attempts to can beer before 1930 were unsuccessful because a beer can has to withstand pressures of over eighty pounds per square inch.
Brownies are essentially the penicillin of the baking world.
→Vegetable products, esp. savoury cakes, were occasionally ‘sacrificed’ (the same vocabulary is used as for animal sacrifice) in lieu of animals or, much more commonly, in addition to them. But animal sacrifice was the standard type.
→Food is a form of communication that expresses the most deeply felt human experiences: love, fear, joy, anger, serenity, turmoil, passion, rage, pleasure, sorrow, happiness, and sadness.
Georgia Mierswa is a marketing assistant at Oxford University Press and reports to the Global Marketing Director for online products. She began working at OUP in September 2011.
The Oxford Index is a free search and discovery tool from Oxford University Press. It is designed to help you begin your research journey by providing a single, convenient search portal for trusted scholarship from Oxford and our partners, and then point you to the most relevant related materials — from journal articles to scholarly monographs. One search brings together top quality content and unlocks connections in a way not previously possible. Take a virtual tour of the Index to learn more.
Old Man Prohibition hung in effigy from a flagpole as New York celebrated the advent Repeal after years of bootleg booze. Source: NYPL.
How much do you know about the era of Prohibition, when gangsters rose to power and bathtub gin became a staple? 2013 marks the 80th anniversary of the repeal of the wildly unpopular 18th Amendment, initiated on 17 February 1933 when the Blaine Act passed the United States Senate. To celebrate, test your knowledge with this quiz below, filled with tidbits of 1920s trivia gleaned from The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America: Second Edition.
The second edition of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America thoroughly updates the original, award-winning title, while capturing the shifting American perspective on food and ensuring that this title is the most authoritative, current reference work on American cuisine. Editor Andrew F. Smith teaches culinary hist ory and professional food writing at The New School University in Manhattan. He serves as a consultant to several food television productions (airing on the History Channel and the Food Network), and is the General Editor for the University of Illinois Press’ Food Series. He has written several books on food, including The Tomato in America, Pure Ketchup, and Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink is also available on Oxford Reference.
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Have you often lain awake at night, wishing that you knew more about cheese? Fear not! Your prayers have been answered; below you will find 18 of the most delicious cheese facts, all taken from Michael Tunick’s recent book The Science of Cheese. Prepare to be the envy of everyone at your next dinner party – just try not to be too “cheesy”. Bon Appétit!
The world’s most expensive cheese comes from a Swedish moose farm and the cheese sells for £300 a pound.
You can’t make cheese entirely from human milk since it won’t coagulate properly.
The largest cheese ever made was a Cheddar weighing 56,850 pounds, in 1989.
97% of British people are ‘Lactose Persistent’ and are the most lactose tolerant population in the world.
Genuine Flor de Guia cheese must be made in the Canary Islands by women, otherwise it won’t be considered the genuine article.
The expression “cheesy” used to mean first-rate, but sarcastic use of the word has caused it to mean the opposite.
The bacteria used for smear-ripened cheeses are closely related to the bacteria that generates sweaty feet odour.
Cheese as we know it today was (accidentally) discovered over 8,000 years ago when milk separated into curds and whey.
Edam was used as cannonballs (and killed two soldiers) in a battle between Montevideo and Buenos Aires in 1841.
An odour found in tomcat urine is considered desirable in Cheddar.
Each American adult consumes an average of 33 pounds of cheese each year.
Descriptions of the defects in the eyes of Swiss-type cheeses include the terms “blowhole” and “frogmouth”.
There are over 1,265,000 dairy cows in the US state of Wisconsin alone.
A northern Italian bank uses Parmesan as loan collateral.
Sardinia’s Cazu Marzu, which means ‘rotten cheese’, is safe to eat only if it contains live maggots.
Cheese consumption in the United Kingdom is at a measly 24.0 pounds per capita.
This cheese consumption isn’t even close to Greece who lead the way with a whopping 68.4 pounds per capita.
Dmitri Mendeleev was a consultant on artisanal cheese production while he was also inventing the periodic table of the elements.
All of these cheese facts are taken from The Science of Cheese. The Science of Cheese is an engaging tour of the science and history of cheese, and the only book to discuss the actual chemistry, biology, and physics of cheese making. Author Michael Tunick is a research chemist with the Dairy and Functional Foods Research Unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.
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Image credit: Weichkaese Soft Cheese. Photo by Eva K. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
If Ukraine is a volatile tinderbox of political instability, the situation in its Russian-speaking east is even more dangerous: a tinderbox drenched in vodka. Aspirations and allegiances aside, the most striking contrast between the pro-European protests on Kyiv’s Maidan square and the pro-Russian, anti-Maidan protests in the east is not simply that the latter tend to be armed and forcibly occupying government buildings (rather than protesting outside of them), but also that they have a higher likelihood of being drunk and disorderly, making the situation dramatically more volatile.
Especially amidst revolution, vodka and AK-47s don’t mix, especially in Russia and Ukraine.
Lost amidst all the talk of ethnic, linguistic, and cultural ties between Ukrainians and Russians at play in the Donbass area of southeastern Ukraine, the culture of alcoholism seems almost too cliche to garner mention; yet perhaps it explains all too well the different political trajectories in Ukraine’s east and west.
Today, both Russia and Ukraine consistently rank atop of the world’s heaviest drinking nations. Unlike moderate wine- and beer-drinking countries, they also share a “traditional vodka drinking culture,” marked by heavy intoxication, binge drinking of hard liquor, and a general acceptance of the public drunkenness that results. These patterns are not hard-wired into the DNA of Russians or Ukrainians. Instead, they are the result of centuries of autocratic rule under the Russian empire and its Soviet successor, both of which used vodka to debauch society at the expense of the state. Unfortunately, the revolutionary experiences that both the Russians and Ukrainians shared as part of those empires—most notably in 1917 and 1991—were heavily influenced by alcohol, in conditions that bear eerie similarities to the present circumstances in Ukraine.
* * *
Already three years into total war, and suffering widespread desertions from the front, in early 1917 Tsar Nicholas II was rapidly losing control of his country. Hearing word that his military would no longer follow orders—which included firing on its own unarmed civilians protesting in the streets—Nicholas hurried from the front line back to Petrograd to reassert control. He never made it. His train was stopped by mutinous soldiers and railway workers, who forced the tsar’s abdication in the February Revolution of 1917.
With the police in hiding or defying orders, Petrograd mobs laid siege to police stations and government ministries. Armed gangs looted homes, shops, and liquor stores. Some commandeered motor cars—which they promptly crashed, since few knew how to drive, especially through a haze of pilfered vodka. Hundreds died, and thousands more were injured in the February Revolution, yet there was a sense that things could have been much worse, were it not for the tsar’s prohibition decree at the outset of the war. “If vodka could have been found in plenty, the revolution could easily have had a terrible ending.”
With the tsar gone, political power lay with a weak Provisional Government led by Aleksandr Kerensky, while de facto power lay with the self-organized councils of workers and soldiers who manned the streets. With more demoralizing drubbings at the front, continued economic chaos, and the inability to broadcast power much beyond the walls of the Winter Palace, by October 1917, virtually no one was willing to defend the Provisional Government against the growing power of Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
The night of 24-25 October 1917 was relatively quiet, as the Bolsheviks discreetly took control of strategic assets: government offices, train stations, and telegraph posts. The Winter Palace itself was stormed by a relatively small and disorganized group of revolutionaries, many of whom bypassed the priceless artworks and looted instead the imperial wine cellars. Loud pops punctuated the Petrograd night—more often champagne corks than gunfire—while the snows snows were stained red: not with blood, but with burgundy wine.
Understanding that vodka was the means by which the old capitalist order enriched itself while keeping the worker drunk and subservient, Lenin and the early Bolsheviks were steadfast prohibitionists. Their equation of alcohol with “counterrevolution” was only reinforced by a series of drunken riots and pogroms in the streets of the capitol, which threatened their own tenuous hold on power. “What would you have?” the exasperated People’s Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatoly Lunacharsky, told a reporter. “The whole of Petrograd is drunk!”
“The bourgeoisie perpetuates the most evil crimes,” Lenin wrote to Felix Dzerzhinsky in December 1917, “bribing the cast-offs and dregs of society, getting them drunk for pogroms.” Lenin ordered that Dzerzhinsky’s newly formed All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combatting Counterrevolution and Sabotage—the “Cheka”—confront the vodka threat by any means necessary. All alcohol stores were to become property of the state, bootleggers were to be shot on sight, and wine warehouses were to be blown up with dynamite. And they were.
“The very nearest future will be a period of heroic struggle with alcohol,” proclaimed Leon Trotsky, the firebrand ideologue and founder of the Red Army. “If we don’t stamp out alcoholism, then we will drink up socialism and drink up the October Revolution.” Red Guard and Cheka detachments sworn to be “sober and loyal to the revolution” fought pitched street battles against unruly mobs and drunken military detachment—with heavy casualties on both sides—not only in in Petrograd and Moscow, but Saratov, Tomsk, Nizhny Novgorod, and beyond. Russia paid a heavy price for its drunkenness and disorder in the throes of revolution. Other legacies were even more nefarious: Dzerzhinsky’s Cheka security force was subsequently rebranded the NKVD and later the KGB—the secret police force complicit in the darkest days of Soviet totalitarianism.
* * *
While prohibition in the Soviet Union died with Vladimir Lenin, the KGB and the Soviet dictatorship endured another seven decades. While 1989 saw the peaceful end of the Cold War and the euphoric toppling of the Berlin Wall, the communist autocracy lurched ahead for another two years in the Soviet Union itself. Amid economic chaos and political dissatisfaction, the liberation of the East European satellite states emboldened nationalists in the Soviet Baltic, Caucasus, Ukrainian, and even Russian republics. With pressures for national self-determination threatening to tear the Soviet Union apart, Mikhail Gorbachev proposed a new treaty that would remake the USSR into something of a confederation, bequeathing sovereignty to the autonomous national republics. For Soviet hardliners this was too much to bear.
On 19 August 1991—the day before the new treaty—a hard-line “State Emergency Committee” led by Vice President Gennady Yanayev staged a coup d’etat: imposing martial law and putting Gorbachev under house arrest at his Crimean retreat.
The previous night, both Yanayev and Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov had been out drinking with friends when they were summoned to the Kremlin by KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, who set the plan in motion. “Yanayev wavered and reached out for the bottle,” Gorbachev later wrote in his Memoirs. Along with the other conspirators, it is doubtful that Yanayev was sober at any time during the bungled three-day coup.
Co-conspirator Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov later confirmed that not only was Yanayev “quite drunk,” but so too were other plotters: KGB head Kryuchkov, Interior Minister Boris Pugo, and even Yazov himself. After chasing his blood pressure medications with alcohol, Prime Minister Pavlov had to be pulled unconscious from the bathroom. After that, “I saw him two or three times, and each time he was dead drunk,” Yazov testified. “I think he was doing this purposefully, to get out of the game.”
Drunk or not, the conspirators somehow forgot to neutralize their primary rival: the populist Boris Yeltsin, who’d just been elected president of the Russian republic—the largest and most important of the fifteen republics that constituted the USSR.
Yeltsin—whose own intemperance later became the stuff of legend—rallied his supporters at the legislature of the Russian Republic (the “White House”), where protesters were busy constructing protective barricades. Nonviolent protestors convinced the Soviet tank troops surrounding the White House to defect and instead defend Yeltsin and the Russian republic. In an iconic moment captured by the global news media, Yeltsin—defying threats of sniper fire—courageously clamored atop a tank turret to address the crowd, denouncing the coup and calling for a general strike. In those delicate moments when the whole country teetered on the brink of civil war, Yeltsin sternly rebuked offers of vodka, claiming “there was no time for a drink” at this moment of supreme crisis.
Yeltsin’s sober command stood in stark contrast to the coup leaders in the Kremlin—just a few miles to the east—where the irresolute putschists confronted a restive media at an ill-fated press conference. “A sniffling Gennady Yanayev, his face swollen by fatigue and alcohol, had a tough time fielding the combative questions,” recalled Russian history professor Donald J. Raleigh. “His trembling hands and quivering voice conveyed an image of impotence, mediocrity, and falsehood; he appeared a caricature of the quintessential, boozed-up Party functionary from the Brezhnev era.” That’s precisely who he was.
In the face of growing opposition and a military unwilling to follow orders, the coup collapsed on 21 August. Rather than surrender to the police, Interior Minister Pugo chose to shoot his wife before turning the gun on himself. Others sought refuge in the bottle: Prime Minister Pavlov was drunk when the authorities came to arrest him, “but this was no simple intoxication,” attested Kremlin physician Dmitry Sakharov, “He was at the point of hysteria.” When the incoherent Yanayev was carried out of his Kremlin office—its floor strewn with empty bottles—he was too drunk to even recognize his one-time comrades who had come to arrest him. Hours later, when President Gorbachev returned safely to Moscow, he’d effectively landed in a different country. Thanks to Yeltsin’s leadership in bringing down the hardline coup, legitimacy lay with Russia and the other union republics rather than Gorbachev’s USSR. The subsequent legal dissolution of the Soviet Union was only a formality.
* * *
What does this drunken history lesson have to do with the ongoing crisis in Ukraine? Quite a bit, actually. Both 1917 and 1991 demonstrate how political protests instantly become more complex and dangerous when mixed with a culture of extreme inebriation and general apathy toward public drunkenness. Moreover, given their shared imperial/Soviet cultural inheritance (including alcohol abuse) Ukraine is only slightly less immune from these revolutionary dynamics than is Russia.
While much ado has been made of Ukraine’s (arguablyoverblown) ethnic and linguistic divisions between the pro-EU, Ukrainian west and the pro-Russian east; there are palpable demographic divisions between east and west Ukraine. While on the whole, Ukraine’s health indices are lower than its European neighbors, the demographic situation deteriorates as you move from west to east across the country. Ukraine’s western provinces—which spent less time under the sway of the Russian/Soviet empires—generally have higher rates of fertility, lower rates of mortality, and higher average life expectancy than those eastern regions that have longer history of Russian domination. Perhaps not surprisingly, the eastern Donbass regions exhibiting the highest mortality and lowest life expectancy are also by far the hardest-drinking regions of an already hard-drinking nation, with cultural acceptance of inebriation most aligned with the Russian “norm” to their east. It may be only a rough approximation, but the further east you go in Ukraine, the more dangerous this revolutionary stage becomes.
So is it any surprise that—in Ukraine’s ongoing struggles between east and west—we should see different approaches to vodka, and the potential for destabilization that it presents first in Kyiv, then in Donetsk?
For context: in 2004, a horribly rigged election favoring the pro-Russian, Donetsk-based Viktor Yanukovych prompted a backlash of popular opposition, which culminated with massive protests on Kyiv’s Independence Square, or Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Building an encampment on the Maidan, the nonviolent protesters—often in excess of 100,000—endured the brutal winter to rally for free elections. Relenting to the popular demands of this so-called “Orange Revolution,” new elections swept in triumphant, pro-European factions. Unfortunately for Ukraine’s lackluster economy, these once allied political factions squabbled and split, while succumbing to Ukraine’s chronic corruption. The split in the pro-European bloc opened the door for the once-vanquished Yanukovych to emerge victorious in the freely-contested presidential election of 2010.
While in the long term the Orange Revolution may have ended in failure, in the short term, it provided perhaps the best exemplar of an effective, nonviolent, post-Soviet political protest, not the least because alcohol was explicitly forbidden in the sprawling tent cities as a bulwark against the easily foreseen drunken disturbances that were sure to result.
When the pro-European protesters again took to the Maidan against Yanukovych’s corrupt presidency in November 2013, their self-organized security forces put a premium on maintaining tranquility through sobriety. “If someone is drunk, he is out of here,” explained Evgeni Dudchenko, a security volunteer on the square, “Alcohol is forbidden here, and we don’t need any hooligans.”
That the Euromaidan protests—like those a decade earlier—remained peaceful for as long as they did can partly be attributed to this enforced sobriety. Even when the movement turned violent in the face of ever-tighter government crackdowns, culminating in the indefensible slaughter of civilian protesters by government gunmen on 22 February, there is a sense that—as with Russia’s February of 1917—Ukraine’s February Revolution could have been much, much worse. A mob of inebriate protesters meeting a drunken security battalion armed to the teeth could have multiplied the carnage many times over.
Following the government’s spilling the blood if its own people on that fateful day, the Ukrainian parliament impeached President Yanukovych, who by that time had already fled the country. Filling the leadership void in Kyiv was a weak interim government that is effectively unable to broadcast political power across the country, as evidenced by Russia’s subsequent non-invasion invasion of Crimea, and the destabilization of the Donbass and the Russian-speaking east.
Even after Yanukovych had been toppled and the regime’s police and military forces had melted away, the major confrontations—and even shootouts—between competing, armed Maidan factions had their roots in drunken disagreements. Still, at the very least, in the midst of a potentially revolutionary situation, the protesters on the Maidan acknowledged, confronted, and mitigated the potential destabilization from vodka, making the protests there far less dangerous than they could have been.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the more recent armed occupations in Ukraine’s heavy-drinking Donbass region that constitute the “anti-Maidan” movement. Beginning 6 April 2014 in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk, small numbers of violent activists—armed with everything from homemade clubs to firearms—clashed with local police, stormed and occupied regional administration buildings and other strategic installations, demanding greater political autonomy from Kyiv, and in some cases outright annexation by Russia in a repeat of the scenario in Crimea.
These protests differed not only in terms of aims and means, but also temperament. In Kharkiv, local residents complained that the protesters were not local, but rather that they were drunken hooligans dispatched from Russia to infiltrate and destabilize their town and intimidate their residents. Ukrainian special forces succeeded in clearing the separatists there, but not before they vandalized and torched the place, leaving behind a mess of garbage and empty liquor bottles. Yet the most noteworthy confrontations came further south in Donetsk—the former stronghold of ousted president Yanukovych.
In Donetsk, violent protesters fought their way into the local administration building, and displaced the Ukrainian flag with the black, blue and red tricolor of their newly declared “People’s Republic of Donetsk.” In a scene eerily reminiscent of the accounts of the drunken State Emergency Committee back in 1991, the organizers of this self-proclaimed mini-state in Donetsk appear to have done so while staggeringly drunk.
Manning the barricades outside the occupied Donetsk City Hall: armed protesters wandered freely, “while people lit fires in the street and drank beer and vodka.” Both outside the building and within, secessionists accosted the media while visibly drunk.
In his series of incredible reports from the region, Vice News reporter Simon Ostrovsky noted that at the beginning of “day two of the People’s Republic of Donetsk, it smells like there’s been a huge frat party here.” In something of a throwback to the press conference of the shaky State Emergency Committee, Ostrovsky then interviewed the leader of the Donetsk “Coordination Council” Vadim Chernyakov, who slurred through his speech, visibly hung over and slurring his speech—even admitting as much, apologizing for his “headache” as his eyes rolled back in his head.
It didn’t take long for the separatists to re-learn the historical lesson that alcohol and guns don’t mix in a revolutionary scenario: after recovering from their hangovers, the leadership decreed that the defenders of the building should dump all of their vodka and “follow a prohibition law” to maintain some semblance of order in such tumultuous times.
Still, in dispelling the false equivalence between the Maidan and anti-Maidan forces, the cultural context cannot be overlooked. “Unlike the pro-Europe protest movement in Kiev,” reports the New York Times, “the stirrings in Donetsk have so far attracted little support from the middle class and seem dominated by pensioners nostalgic for the Soviet Union and angry, and often drunk, young men.”
Whether or not discipline holds in Donetsk and throughout the Ukrainian east is yet to be seen, as Kyiv tries—in fits and starts—to reassert control over violent Russian-minded secessionists and local pro-autonomy protesters. Yet the task of all sides looking to bring stability to the region is made infinitely more difficult by the unpredictability generated by the region’s alcoholic inheritance. Recent events have demonstrated as much, as Vasily Krutov—the head of Kyiv’s counter-terrorism operation in the Donetsk region—was almost torn apart by a mob of Kramatorsk locals, some who were visibly intoxicated. Even more troubling—in one of his last dispatches before being kidnapped by the pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk—Ostrovsky chronicled how a handful of the most drunken and agitated anti-Maidan protesters stumbled onto the Kramatorsk airbase, manned by heavily armed and understandably jittery soldiers. Such drunken provocation could easily have ended in tragedy—one that could have provoked even greater backlash locally, and even a pretext for greater Russian intervention in Ukraine.
The lamentable reality is that—in such times of revolutionary change and political crisis—we overlook that “cliche” of vodka only at our own peril.
The food pyramid shows fruits and vegetables as the second most important group of foods in terms of the amount to be eaten each day: 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit. This, and the associated public health message to consume at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, is based on many years of nutritional research. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as many other potentially protective compounds, and low in fat (and especially saturated fat). There is excellent evidence from a great many epidemiological studies that people who consume 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day are less likely to suffer from atherosclerosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, and many cancers.
Things have changed in my local supermarket now, but until a year or so ago, the “five a day” message appeared above the aisles containing exotic (and expensive) fruits such as mangoes and papaya, but not those containing apples and pears, carrots and parsnips. Now, however, I find a more disturbing difference. If I buy a packet of tomatoes, there is nutritional information on the package, telling me what nutrients are present, and what percentage of my daily requirement a serving contains. Some packages also tell me how much of the produce will provide one of my five servings a day. By contrast, if I buy loose tomatoes there is no nutritional information available. Similarly, when I bought a pineapple last week there was a label around the neck of the fruit, not only telling me it was a pineapple (which I knew), but where it was grown and what nutrients it contained. The next shelf contained mangoes. These had only a small bar code label that would be decoded into a price at the checkout. Three onions in a string bag were labelled with nutrition information; loose onions were not.
All this suggests that I might be misled into believing that while packaged fruits and vegetables are a source of nutrients, loose produce that I select myself from the trays is free from nutrients. Of course, this is not so, but there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that many consumers do indeed believe that unpackaged fresh produce (and indeed unpackaged meat and fish from the counter) are not nutritious, since there is no associated labelling.
It is difficult to know what to do about this. It is not likely that shoppers would read a list of nutrition information on a poster above the loose produce – indeed, it would be very annoying if people were standing reading the posters above the produce that I wanted to select. It is annoying enough when someone blocks my access to the shelves by phoning home to ask whether we should have this or that for dinner tonight. One answer might be to expand the labels on loose fruits and vegetables to include a QR code that can be read into a smart phone. I notice that my pineapple label contains a QR code that will download recipes to use pineapple to my smart phone. Perhaps QR codes could be printed on the supermarket receipt – but that is long enough already, listing every item, how much I have saved by buying special offers and “twofers”, how many loyalty points I have earned to date, how many points I have donated to charity by using my own bags, etc.
Another trend is the marketing of some fruits and vegetables as superfoods, implying that they are in some way more nutritious than other produce. Of course, different fruits and vegetables do indeed differ in their nutrient content. Blackcurrants and acerola cherries are extremely rich sources of vitamin C, containing very much more than strawberries or apricots. However, this does not imbue them with “super” status as part of a mixed diet.
The concept of superfoods was developed in the USA in 2003-4 and was introduced in Britain by an article in the Daily Mailon 22 December 2005. Superfoods are just ordinary foods that are especially rich in nutrients or antioxidants and other potentially protective compounds, including polyunsaturated fatty acids and dietary fibre.
Scanning through a handful of websites thrown up by a Google search for “superfoods” gives the following list almonds, apples, avocado, baked beans, bananas, beetroot, blueberries, Brazil nuts, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cocoa, cranberries, flax seeds, garlic, ginger, kiwi, mango, olive oil, onions, oranges, peppers, pineapple, pumpkin, red grapes, salmon, soy, spinach, strawberries, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, tea, tomatoes, watercress, whole grain seeded bread, whole grains, wine, yoghurt.
There are very few surprises in this list (apart perhaps from the inclusion of wine as a superfood, although red wine is a rich source of antioxidants, and there is some, limited, evidence that modest alcohol consumption is beneficial). Most of these are foods that nutritionists and dietitians have talked about for years as being nutrient dense – i.e. they have a high content of vitamins and minerals. The nuts, seeds, and olive oil are an exception, but they are all good sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The labelling and marketing of the foods as superfoods seems disingenuous (or a clever marketing strategy), but if such marketing leads people to eat more fruit and vegetables and reduce their saturated fat, salt and sugar intake then it can only help to reinforce the message that the nutrition and public health communities have been preaching for more than a quarter of a century.
David Bender graduated in Biochemistry from the University of Birmingham in 1968 and gained his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of London in 1971. From 1968 until his retirement in 2010 he was a member of academic staff of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, and then, following a merger, of University College London, teaching nutrition and biochemistry, mainly to medical students. He is Emeritus Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at University College London. He is the author of Nutrition: A Very Short Introduction.
Lipids (fats and oils) have historically been thought to elevate weight and blood cholesterol and have therefore been considered to have a negative influence on the body. Foods such as full-fat milk and cheese have been avoided by many consumers for this reason. This attitude has been changing in recent years. Some authors are now claiming that consumption of unnecessary carbohydrates rather than fat is responsible for the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Most people who do consume milk, cheese, and yogurt know that the calcium helps with bones and teeth, but studies have shown that consumption of cheese and other dairy products appears to be beneficial in many other ways. Remember that cheese is a concentrated form of milk. Milk is 87% water and when it is processed into cheese, the nutrients are increased by a factor of ten. The positive attributes of milk are even stronger in cheese. Here are some examples involving protein:
Some bioactive peptides in casein (the primary protein in cheese) inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme, which has been implicated in hypertension. Large studies have shown that dairy intake reduces blood pressure.
Cheese helps prevent tooth decay through a combination of bacterial inhibition and remineralization. Further, Lactoferrin, a minor milk protein found in cheese, has anticancer properties. It appears to keep cancer cells from proliferating.
Vitamins and minerals in cheese may not get enough credit. A meta-analysis of 16 studies showed that consumption of 200 g of cheese and other dairy products per day resulted in a 6% reduction of risk of T2DM, with a significant association between reduction of incidence of T2DM and intake of cheese, yogurt, and low-fat dairy products. Much of this may be due to vitamin K2, which is produced by bacteria in fermented dairy products.
Metabolic syndrome increases the risk for T2DM and heart disease, but research showed that the incidence of this syndrome decreased as dairy food consumption increased, a result that was associated with calcium intake.
There is evidence that lipids in cheese are not unhealthy after all. Recent research has shown no connection between the intake of milk fat and the risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, or stroke. A meta-analysis of 76 studies concluded that the evidence does not clearly support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.
Participants in a study who ate cheese and other dairy products at least once per day scored significantly higher in several tests of cognitive function compared with those who rarely or never consumed dairy food. These results appear to be due to a combination of factors.
Seemingly, the opposite of what people believe about cheese turns out to be the truth. Studies involving thousands of people over a period of years revealed that a high intake of dairy fat was associated with a lower risk of developing central obesity and a low dairy fat intake was associated with a higher risk of central obesity. Higher consumption of cheese has been associated with higher HDL (“good cholesterol”) and lower LDL (“bad cholesterol”), total cholesterol, and triglycerides.
All-cause mortality showed a reduction associated with dairy food intake in a meta-analysis of five studies in England and Wales covering 509,000 deaths in 2008. The authors concluded that there was a large mismatch between evidence from long-term studies and perceptions of harm from dairy foods.
Yes, some people are allergic to protein in cheese and others are vegetarians who don’t touch dairy products on principle. Many people can’t digest lactose (milk sugar) very well, but aged cheese contains little of it and lactose-free cheese has been on the market for years. But cheese is quite healthy for most consumers. Moderation in food consumption is always the key: as long as you eat cheese in reasonable amounts, you ought to have no ill effects while reaping the benefits.
Chemistry Book Giveaway! In time for the 2014 American Chemical Society fall meeting and in honor of the publication of The Oxford Handbook of Food Fermentations, edited by Charles W. Bamforth and Robert E. Ward, Oxford University Press is running a paired giveaway with this new handbook and Charles Bamforth’s other must-read book, the third edition of Beer. The sweepstakes ends on Thursday, August 14th at 5:30 p.m. EST.
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Image credit: Hand milking a cow, by the State Library of Australia. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Of all the beverages favored by Oxford University Press staff, coffee may be the lifeblood of our organization. From the coffee bar in the Fairway of our Oxford office to the coffee pots on every floor of the New York office, we’re wired for work. Here’s a brief gallery of employees with their preferred roast — grabbed from a street cart, made to order, or part of an elaborate weekly routine.
Oxford staff are ready for their next meeting!
“My cappuccino from the OUP coffee bar in my Shakespeare insults mug – so I can fire creative insults and keep caffeinated at the same time…you canker-blossom!”
— Hannah Charters, Senior Marketing Executive, Online Product Marketing
“An Americano from the OUP espresso bar. The mug shows the mantra I like living by!”
— Rachel Fenwick, Associate Marketing Manager, Online Product Marketing
“Tall Pike in a Grande cup from Starbucks”
— Jennifer Bernard, Assistant Online Marketing Manager
“A Vacuum Pot Coffee at Edison Food and Drink Lab, Tampa Florida”
— Erin Rabbit, Designer, Creative Services, Marketing
“Grabbing coffee with a friend is one of my favorite pastimes. Good conversation over an even better coffee is the best! I’m a huge fan of locally owned coffee shops, so I always find myself recommending the Stumptown Coffee on E 8th downtown. I splurge and get the largest latte I can—iced or hot, depending on the season. The flavor is so strong! It’s a kick in the face. Otherwise, my typical go to is a cup, (or 2…or 3) of any flavored Keurig coffee in the OUP office. No match to Stumptown, but it does the job. I grew up in the south, so I like my coffee southern-style—lots of sugar and cream. Props to Mom and Dad for the sweet mug!”
— Ryan Cury, Assistant Marketing Manager
“Always opt for an espresso mid-afternoon for two equally important reasons. Firstly, it provides the boost I need to conquer the remains of the day and, secondly, it makes me feel like a giant when drinking.”
— Dan Parker, Social Media Marketing Executive
“I enjoy a standard Americano with cold milk. Because: I can’t be done with faffy coffee.”
— Kirsty Doole, Publicity Manager
“Mine was a salted caramel mochaccino.”
— Simon Thomas, Content Marketing Executive, Dictionaries
“Mine was a lovely frothy milky latte – filling and delicious!”
— Kate Farquhar-Thomson, Publicity Director
“Decaf filter coffee, for those times when you think three coffees in three hours might be too much.”
— Nicola Burton, Publicity Manager
“Put that pungent brew to your lips and feel the satisfaction.”
— Sam Blum, Publicity Assistant and member of the Fresh Pots Society
There is an unquantifiable amount of different types of food across the world, ranging from lesser known edibles like elephant garlic and ship’s biscuit to more familiar foods like chocolate and oranges. In the newly updated Oxford Companion to Food, readers will discover more than 3,000 comprehensive entries on every type of food imaginable, and a richly descriptive account of food culture around the world. The Oxford Companion to Food contains facts sure to delight foodies of all ages.
Welcome to Oxford University Press’s restaurant. We’ll take your coat. It’s time to find out just how much you know about the food you eat.
Sometimes what is considered edible is subject to a given culture or region of the world; what someone from Nicaragua would consider “local grub” could be entirely different than what someone in Paris would eat. How many different types of meat have you experienced? Are there some types of meat you would never eat? Below are nine different types of meat, listed in The Oxford Companion to Food, that you may not have considered trying:
Camel: Still eaten in some regions, a camel’s hump is generally considered the best part of the body to eat. Its milk, a staple for desert nomads, contains more fat and slightly more protein than cow’s milk.
Beaver: A beaver’s tail and liver are considered delicacies in some countries. The tail is fatty tissue and was greatly relished by early trappers and explorers. Its liver is large and almost as tender and sweet as a chicken’s or a goose’s.
Agouti: Also spelled aguti; a rodent species that may have been described by Charles Darwin as “the very best meat I ever tasted” (though he may have been actually describing a guinea pig since he believed agouti and cavy were interchangeable names).
Armadillo: Its flesh is rich and porky, and tastes more like possum than any other game. A common method of cooking is to bake the armadillo in its own shell after removing its glands.
Capybara: The capybara was an approved food by the Pope for traditional “meatless” days, probably since it was considered semiaquatic. Its flesh, unless prepared carefully to trim off fat, tastes fishy.
Hedgehog: A traditional gypsy cooking method is to encase the hedgehog in clay and roast it, after which breaking off the baked clay would take the spines with it.
Alligator: Its meat is white and flaky, likened to chicken or, sometimes, flounder. Alligators were feared to become extinct from consumption, until they started becoming farmed.
Iguana: Iguanas were an important food to the Maya people when the Spaniards took over Central America. Its eggs were also favored, being the size of a table tennis ball, and consisted entirely of yolk.
Puma: Charles Darwin believed he was eating some kind of veal when presented with puma meat. He described it as, “very white, and remarkably like veal in taste”. One puma can provide a lot of meat, since each can weigh up to 100 kg (225 lb).
Has this list changed the way you view these animals? Would you try alligator meat but turn your nose up if presented with a hedgehog platter?
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: