Thursday, September 30, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Ethyl alcohol is one of the most effective disinfectant, being able to destroy most pathogens at relatively less concentrations. Dependence of medical fraternity on alcohol to achieve reliable sterility in hospital environment is considered crucial in saving precious lives during day to day patient management activities. To be effective the minimum alcohol concentration must be about 70% by volume. One of the limitations of alcohol is that it is not very effective against gram negative bacteria and spores of fungi and molds. Gram positive microorganisms lack the outer membrane and rely solely on peptidoglycan as the cell wall to protect them from the environment and there fore they are susceptible to the action of alcohol which damages the plasma membrane of bacterial cells. The reported practice of using spirits to preserve seasonal fruits is some thing evolved locally in some places as it does not find a place under the technological options available to classical food scientists. But concept wise it makes sense as spirits generally contain about 40% alcohol by volume and combined with the sugar and acidity in fruits the resulting cocktail can be a formidable "hurdle" technology system for fruit preservation.
But there is another, easier way: boozy fruit. There are many incarnations but the basic premise is the same — simply mix fruit and sugar with enough hard spirit to keep the fruit well soused, and let it sit. You can sip the liquid as a cordial and eat the sweet, spiked fruit over ice cream or cake. Apart from freezing, it is about the simplest preserving method there is. And not surprisingly, it's lately become somewhat of a trend among the legion of D.I.Y. canners, locavores and fervent gardeners looking to make the most of seasonal produce. For Amy Pennington, a professional gardener in Seattle and the author of "The Urban Pantry" (Skipstone, 2010), using booze to preserve fruit is just one more "branch in the preservation tree." "There's drying, salting, canning and using alcohol, which kills bacteria, meaning you don't need to futz around with creating an anaerobic environment," she said, adding that preserving with alcohol is the "lowest rung of entry for beginning canning enthusiasts" because it's hard to mess up. She's used the technique to preserve raspberries in vodka, which she plans to churn into sorbet, and greengage plums in brandy, to bake into an upside-down gingerbread cake as soon as they are ready — in, oh, about three months.
How far this practice can be acceptable or economically feasible for industry is not certain, especially in a country like India where spirits are often taboo for many besides being expensive. Since fruits are preserved in chunks format in presence of concentrated sugar solution formed from the water present in the spirit, the end product will have alcoholic flavor and some mild intoxicating "effect". Probably this could limit the end use of the product in only a few products. Also to be reckoned with is the excise regulations which can be a considerable constraint in using alcoholic products by the food industry.V.H.POTTY
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Bread is consumed widely in the western world in many forms, the most common being toasts which form the main stay of a break fast. The ubiquitous sandwich is also based on bread slices though they are not generally toasted. Of course there are some types of toasted sandwich with different filling and sandwich toaster is a standard fixture in most kitchens. Early habits developed amongst children are carried forward through out life unless there are cataclysmic events that make bread unavailable for some reasons. According to a new finding the affinity for toast is developed at early childhood within the family environment because the sense of smell is involuntarily registered in the sub-conscious mind that enables the child to keep the memory for a long time.
"By imaging people's brains while they're exposed to certain smells, in this case toast cooking, you can learn about what part of the brain is used to register, store and process the sensation," he said. "While visual and sound sensations are processed by the conscious mind, and are continually being re-evaluated, smells are transmitted directly to the subconscious, where long-term memory is stored." Prof Jacobs' research suggested the preference for toast and its smell was much stronger in people who had it for breakfast as a child. In an almost Pavlovian reaction, the nature of the smell seems to be largely irrelevant, with the associations it holds to events from our past playing a much more significant role. He said: "We can form these associations with smells at any age. All that's required is a consistent smell, combined with an event powerful enough to pin a given emotion to that particular set of chemicals. "Children's minds are much more plastic, in that the neural pathways are constantly developing. Therefore it's not really surprising to find that people exposed to toast as children have a much stronger affinity for the smell in later life.
One wonders whether such a proposition holds good for all foods to which a child is exposed during its early stages of development. How about the staples? It is known that those consuming rice never like wheat or other grains s a regular food while wheat eaters do not appreciate rice except for occasional consumption. Similarly those used to coarse grains like Ragi, Bajra etc invariably prefer these grains over others because they were brought up on these foods. How about the extreme smell sensations emanated from Garlic,Durian, Jackfruit etc which are either liked very much or spurned as rotten smell by those liking them? Probably same explanation may hold good for the reaction to these extreme smells. The finding is indeed beneficial to young mothers who have the unenviable task of bringing up healthy kids and avoiding foods which are not healthy but good in smelling and perseverance at this stage will pay off in the long run.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Food industry, in its desire to provide the consumer with a guideline regarding the quality of packed foods at the point of purchase, routinely declare on the label instructions conveying the shelf life of the contents inside the pack. However these guidelines are often not based on actual shelf life studies under field conditions and there fore cannot be taken as gospel truth. Invariably shelf life declarations are on relatively safer side with the actual life much more than what is declared. This has been an issue exercising the minds of policy makers world over as many products, past the expiry date, are found to be still safe for consumption. However legally industry cannot advice the customers to consume date expired products due to apprehension regarding any unlikely episode that can happen involving such foods, with serious economic consequences. Here comes a technology that is supposed to precisely say whether a food is still good for consumption without opening the packet.
"TimeTemp said its innovative shelf life indicator is able to more precisely measure the freshness of food items as they pass through the supply chain from factory to consumer and could lead to a significant reduction in the amount of waste produce. The firm said processors have little control over the temperatures their goods are exposed to throughout the value chain. Consequently, they often mark their products with a shorter shelf life as a precautionary measure which can mean a lot of edible food is thrown away. Norwegian food retailers discard over 50,000 tonnes of food annually, said TimeTemp. Driven by the need to address these issues, the company has developed the innovative device, which is a small self-adhesive label attached to food products. It contains a range of non-toxic chemicals which react and change colour according to time and temperature. The chemical reaction is activated at the packaging line of the food producer and follows each item from production to consumer. The reaction shows the time left before expiration of that product in accordance with the actual degradation of the food item – which is illustrated and in an easy-to-read graphical format, said TimeTemp. The firm said the intelligent packaging technology is applicable for all products where quality and lifespan depend on time and temperature variables during storage, as well as items where quality depends on maturity and ageing. Items such as meat, poultry, dairy and even bakery products would potentially benefit from using the technology".
The easy to comprehend color changes will be a great boon to consumers who are torn between an economic need to consume such foods and fear of the consequences if some thing untoward happens. Since almost all food spoilage cases are time-temperature related, the new technology has unlimited scope for application. One unanticipated off-shoot of wide application of this technology will be the uncertainties faced by the retailers who may carry products with varying residual life and consumers becoming more choosy in picking up those with maximum unexpired life. Probably the color coded adhesive tape could be inserted inside the pack while the current "best before" date continues to guide the buyers. The color coded strip will be useful once the product is taken home and being consulted before deciding on consuming date expired products.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Licensing is supposed to be a dreaded word because of the complex procedures involved in applying for such a license and getting the same. One can understand these problems in a country like India where procedural delays are normal and patience of the people seems to be unlimited. But entrepreneurs in the US complaining about licensing problems is some what odd considering the modern administrative infrastructure this country has established and the relentless efforts to reduce paper "load" on citizens dealing with the government. The Food Truck phenomenon which is becoming wide spread is liked by American consumers and there are hundreds of such trucks operating in the metropolitan areas of the country. Probably one has to understand the dilemma of the safety agencies in granting licenses indiscriminately because these street food vendors can cause harm to consumers if adequate minimum facilities are not built into the vending
"Food trucks are a natural part of the innovative culinary process and they make particular sense for Boston. Boston is a walking city — built on a human scale — and it fits perfectly with eateries that sell on a street corner. Boston is a magnet for immigrants, who often have the skill to create a great meal but not the capital to set up a full restaurant. Boston has a dearth of affordable real estate, and food trucks are a small-saving way of delivering new food options. So what's stopping food trucks from proliferating in Boston? The most common complaints are "complex licensing and zoning regulations'' — would-be vendors say licensing can take many months. Food trucks do need to be licensed, at least to ensure safe food. Moreover, trucks should be charged by the government when they occupy public space. (Private landlords can presumably make their own arrangements.) Controlling public space and protecting public health are legitimate reasons for regulation, but the loudest voices against food trucks often come from restaurateurs complaining about competition. Preserving the monopoly power of local eateries is a terrible reason to restrict food trucks. As in many other areas, a one-stop permitting process that aims at providing speedy approval seems like a step forward. While I admire the Food Truck Challenge in City Hall Plaza to bring food trucks to scale, we should give up on micro-managing the location of every food truck. Instead, public spaces should be rented to food trucks, so the space will go to the truck that values it most. Food trucks can improve Boston's streets and Boston's palates — they just need to be free to do so.Food trucks are a natural part of the innovative culinary process and they make particular sense for Boston. Boston is a walking city — built on a human scale — and it fits perfectly with eateries that sell on a street corner. Boston is a magnet for immigrants, who often have the skill to create a great meal but not the capital to set up a full restaurant. Boston has a dearth of affordable real estate, and food trucks are a small-saving way of delivering new food options. So what's stopping food trucks from proliferating in Boston? The most common complaints are "complex licensing and zoning regulations'' — would-be vendors say licensing can take many months. Food trucks do need to be licensed, at least to ensure safe food. Moreover, trucks should be charged by the government when they occupy public space. (Private landlords can presumably make their own arrangements.) Controlling public space and protecting public health are legitimate reasons for regulation, but the loudest voices against food trucks often come from restaurateurs complaining about competition. Preserving the monopoly power of local eateries is a terrible reason to restrict food trucks. As in many other areas, a one-stop permitting process that aims at providing speedy approval seems like a step forward. While I admire the Food Truck Challenge in City Hall Plaza to bring food trucks to scale, we should give up on micro-managing the location of every food truck. Instead, public spaces should be rented to food trucks, so the space will go to the truck that values it most. Food trucks can improve Boston's streets and Boston's palates — they just need to be free to do so".
Does it give some solace to Indian entrepreneurs who are driven from pillar to post with wads of notes to grease the palms of the babus who man the post dispensing licenses? Of course no corruption or bribing may be involved in the US system but there is an element of thoroughness in vetting the applications which could cause delays. Besides the Food Truck system of food vending is relatively a new concept and it is going to take time to evolve an efficient fool proof safety protocols for these vending contraptions. Also to be kept in mind is the repercussions of indiscriminate licensing on established eateries and the possibility of traffic obstructions caused by the parking of the trucks in some roads that may affect the civic standards adversely.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
The "Locavores" movement started in the US for encouraging people to shun foods brought from far away places and in stead consume those that are grown locally seems to be based on unsubstantiated premise that the former is responsible for large consumption of fossil fuel energy. A recent study debunks this theory and in stead blames the house holds as the biggest culprit in this energy saga. Though one cannot accept the stand that people should consume more of energy efficient commercially produced industrial foods for cutting down energy waste, there is a point in that more needs to be done for cutting down on house hold energy consumption through more optimized kitchen operations and improved designs of kitchen appliances. While energy experts focus only on the narrow aspect of energy consumption, there are other issues like the impact of industrial foods on consumer health.
In his recent The New York Times op-ed, "Math Lessons for Locavores" -- debated at length in our"Food Fight" feature -- Stephen Budiansky shows that transportation and "modern" (i.e., highly mechanized and chemical-intensive) farming make up relatively small parts of industrial food's energy footprint. Consumers in their kitchens, in Budiansky's view, are the real energy guzzlers -- so locavores should stop worrying and learn to love industrial food.Those points are addressed broadly by a recent article in Amber Waves, the publication of the USDA's Economic Research service. On page 13 of this lucidly written report, we find that in 2002, U.S. households used nearly 4 quadrillion BTUs of energy in the kitchen, more than any other sector of the food system. By contrast, transportation -- think of the vast fleet of trucks that ferries the food we eat cross-country, to supermarket chains and eateries -- consumed about 0.6 quadrillion BTUs. And agriculture, with its gas-dependent combines and other machines and fossil fuel-sucking fertilizers and pesticides, used just 2.1 quadrillion BTUs.
The energy consumption by the agriculture sector in most developed countries is a matter of concern but very little can be done to reduce the consumption without affecting land productivity. Possibly some alleviation measures can be thought of which includes extraction of energy from farm wastes through anaerobic digestion or bio-fuel production so that the net energy utilization comes down significantly. Both these technologies are at a ripe stage for utilization in large farms provided necessary resources are made available to install large scale facilities in the coming years. .V.H.POTTY
Friday, September 17, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
"McCormick estimates in the '50s the average American spice drawer had 10 spices. Today the number's grown to 40. "People consume almost a billion pounds of spices a year," McCormick's Lori Robinson said. Twenty-five years ago it was half that. Spice experts say it's the melting pot that's producing spicier meals. As the country becomes more diverse, tastes change. "The cayennes and habanero sauces and spices, the things that really burn their mouth," said Alfonso Rivera, manager of El Centro Restaurant in New York City. Meals that used to be seasoned with salt and pepper now include everything from allspice to za'atar. During a five-year period, the amount of paprika imported into the United States rose from roughly 27 million pounds per year to almost 55 million pounds. Ginger has gone from 62 million pounds to almost 94 million pounds"..
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Recent news that some of the states in India are worse than many poor African countries in terms of providing adequate food and nutrition to the child population must be galling to patriotic Indians who want to take pride in the strides made by the country in many fields of economic activities. It looks as if the race to reach the milestone of an economic super power is obscuring the agenda for social upliftment with poverty still remaining number one problem of the country. Here is a sorry indictment of the present situation which if continued can spell disaster of a magnitude the country can ill afford.
India's ability, or inability, in coming decades to improve the lives of the poor will very likely determine if it becomes a global economic power, and a regional rival to China, or if it continues to be compared with Africa in poverty surveys. India vanquished food shortages during the 1960s with the Green Revolution, which introduced high-yield grains and fertilizers and expanded irrigation, and the country has had one of the world's fastest-growing economies during the past decade. But its poverty and hunger indexes remain dismal, with roughly 42 percent of all Indian children under the age of 5 being underweight. The food system has existed for more than half a century and has become riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Studies show that 70 percent of a roughly $12 billion budget is wasted, stolen or absorbed by bureaucratic and transportation costs. Ms. Gandhi's proposal, still far from becoming law, has been scaled back, for now, so that universal eligibility would initially be introduced only in the country's 200 poorest districts, including here in Jhabua, at the western edge of the state of Madhya Pradesh. With some of the highest levels of poverty and child malnutrition in the world, Madhya Pradesh underscores the need for change in the food system. Earlier this year, the official overseeing the state's child development programs was arrested on charges of stealing money. In Jhabua, local news media recently reported a spate of child deaths linked to malnutrition in several villages. Investigators later discovered 3,500 fake food ration booklets in the district, believed to have been issued by low-level officials for themselves and their friends. Inside the district hospital, Mr. Bhuria said he had applied three times for a food ration card, but the clerk had failed to produce one.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
"Heart attack" is commonly perceived as a result of cholesterol build up on the arterial walls due to excessive consumption of fatty foods, especially the ones rich in saturated fats. But what causes the cholesterol to stick to the arterial tissue is not that well understood. The routine testing of blood cholesterol levels and assessing the value against some notional ranges are considered adequate to conclude whether some body is vulnerable to heart attack or not. Also the relationship between circulating cholesterol and the extent of plaque build up inside the artery is obscure. The argument by a few experts that inflammation is the cause of cholesterol build up inside the arteries is not universally accepted though there is some logic in this proposition. Following is an excerpt from the writings of the reputed cardiac surgeon Dr Dwight Lundell, forwarded by one of the readers of this Blog, Mr Thomas Mathai from Mysore which is quite informative though for a layman it can be some what confusing.
"The only accepted therapy was prescribing medications to lower cholesterol and a diet that severely restricted fat intake. The latter of course we insisted would lower cholesterol and heart disease. Deviations from these recommendations were considered heresy and could quite possibly result in malpractice. It Is Not Working! These recommendations are no longer scientifically or morally defensible. The discovery a few years ago that inflammation in the artery wall is the real cause of heart disease is slowly leading to a paradigm shift in how heart disease and other chronic ailments will be treated. The long-established dietary recommendations have created epidemics of obesity and diabetes, the consequences of which dwarf any historical plague in terms of mortality, human suffering and dire economic consequences. Despite the fact that 25% of the population takes expensive statin medications and despite the fact we have reduced the fat content of our diets, more Americans will die this year of heart disease than ever before. Statistics from the American Heart Association show that 75 million Americans currently suffer from heart disease, 20 million have diabetes and 57 million have pre-diabetes. These disorders are affecting younger and younger people in greater numbers every year.Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol would accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely throughout the body as nature intended. It is inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped".
All said and done, it is common sense that if one lives a life of moderation, the possibility of acquiring any of the life style disorders is indeed remote. A balanced diet containing just enough calories to meet the demands of day to day activities, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber as evolved over a period of time and avoiding sedentary life style can be expected to maintain the correct BMI and provide reasonable guarantee against serious health ailments as one grows. Overwhelming predominance of factory processed foods over natural foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and others can pose a serious challenge in maintaining health in a prime state.
Monday, September 13, 2010
The legendary septic tank which ushered in the toilet revolution in India is all set to make its debut in a western country and the purpose is not night soil disposal but generation of power at the farm level using local crops. Gobar gas system which became a standard feature in many rural farms basically generate methane gas for self consumption and these are mostly small scale operations insufficient to generate power. The process in absence of Oxygen uses a mixed culture of microorganisms uses many organic matters which include waste paper, grass and other farm wastes, left over food, sewage, animal waste etc. Though the primary intention is to dispose off the waste, it also serves to reduce emission of landfill gases to the atmospheres considered to be responsible for global warming and generates a biogas mixture containing mostly Methane (50-75%), CO2 (25-50%), and small quantities of Nitrogen, Hydrogen, Hydrogen Sulfide and Hydrogen. While small scale generators mostly use the gas for house hold cooking, medium scale units can yield power by burning just like fossil fuels. A typical anaerobic digester using municipal waste can generate about700 to 1300 kWH per ton of refuse. That anaerobic digestion approach is seriously being considered in the UK for generating power and production subsidization by the government there may be a good news for the eventual viability of the technology.
First up, energy firm Farmgen broke ground on the first in a wave of anaerobic digestion plants, designed to provide farmers with an additional revenue stream from "energy farming". The £2.5m project at Carr Farm in Warton, Preston will be the first AD plant built under Farmgen's proposed £30m UK-wide investment programme. Local crops will be used to create biogas that will generate 1MW of electricity, which will then be exported to the national grid. Farmgen said that it also plans to build a second £2.5m plant in Silloth, Cumbria later this year and is preparing planning applications for sites in Lancashire and Staffordshire. The coalition government has earmarked the accelerated roll out of AD plants as a key part of its renewable energy strategy and last month launched a consultation designed to assess how new policies could help increase support for the emerging sector. Under the existing feed-in tariff scheme, farmers or businesses installing AD systems generating up to 500 kilowatt hours (kWh) a year are eligible for payments of 11.5p per kWh, while those installing larger systems producing 500kWh to 5MW receive 9p per kWh. Industry insiders have warned that the rates are not currently high enough to drive the widespread roll out of AD plants and have been calling on the government to increase in the incentive. In related news, airport operator BAA announced yesterday that it has signed a deal with food management firm Vertal that will see travellers food and drink waste turned into fertiliser for use on local farms. The company said that food waste from Heathrow's daily 180,000 passengers will be collected separately and sent to Vertal's recycling facility in South London where it will be composted within 72 hours. It added that it hoped the initiative would save carbon emissions equivalent to around half a million air miles. Vertal founder and managing director Leon Mekitarian said he hoped the deal would encourage other firms with large amounts of food waste to invest in composting technology to reduce their carbon footprint.
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) of the UNO recognizes anaerobic digestion approach as one of the most useful decentralized sources of energy supply at low capital cost compared to that required for large power plants. In India this technology has remained more or less at the house hold and community level for which government extends economic incentives.But it has the potential to be a viable route to the energy grid in the country if proper policy initiatives are forthcoming from GOI. The enormous Municipal wastes generated all over the urban townships, collected and sent to landfills must be harnessed to produce energy through the anaerobic digestion system. Same is true with organic wastes emanating from industrial processing centers. Probably providing reasonable prices to the privately generated energy may trigger higher interest amongst the entrepreneurs to set up such facilities.V.H.POTTY