Category: Definition

Water: The Main Ingredient!

Not only is water necessary for our survival, it is essential in the many food dishes and drink preparations that require certain types to make them palatable  to the senses.  Alkaline water, for example, is used in Asian cuisine to give a yellow color to noodles and cakes, or to give beans, seeds and veggies a bright color.  Rose and orange blossom water are other examples that give Middle Eastern dishes a unique and exotic flavor. Depending on what type of flavor we’re after in our dinner masterpieces, it is the type of water required in our recipes that is the one ingredient that needs more attention.  Hopefully, this water guide will help you decide on what type of water to use.

Photograph by A.J. French

Photograph by A.J. French

  • Artesian Water– The king of quality water you can find! Artesian aquifers are found beneath the surface protected by rock and clay without any exposure to outside contamination or air pollutants.  Impressed? Benefits from drinking (or cooking) with this water range from getting strong hair, skin, nails and bones to potentially reducing your Alzheimer’s risk due to the high silica content in the water (Reuter’s Health, 2009).  This water is great to cook with but can also be used to produce a tasty home-brewed beer!!
  • Well Water– If you can tap into an aquifer by drilling a well in your backyard, then make sure you have a good well water system installed.  If you’re unlucky to have an old well system, then chances are you might run greater risks than worrying about smelly water!  Hazards with using well water include high lead, salt, bacteria, arsenic, and petroleum hydrocarbons just to name a few.  Cooking-wise, the high iron content in well water may turn your poached eggs green but don’t let this discourage you from using well water in your pan.  Get your water tested, filter it and enjoy the benefits of taping into water from a natural aquifer.
  • Distilled Water – This water is heated to the boiling point so that impurities separate out when it becomes a vapor.  The impurities are eliminated and the water gets moved from steam to liquid by a cooling it.  This process follows Raoult’s law.  Distilling has been around since biblical times for different uses (e.g., perfumes, alcoholic drinks, etc.), and it has “purified” water from lakes, rivers and streams to this day.  It is still potable water that can be used for human consumption but still tastes bad.  I would use it in a steam iron or car.
  • Spring Water – Similar to well water in that they both come from an aquifer but is different in that they flow out to the surface naturally.  This water is rich in trace minerals, so that part is good for you, but beware of drinking from a spring outside the safety of a bottled water company!  There are quite a few studies that show hot springs have a very high level of fluoride, so don’t use them to cook your food or think you’ve got instant hot drinking water for coffee or tea if you’re camping somewhere!  Fluoride is good for your bones and teeth but too much of it (like too little of it) is not healthy (USA Today, 2006).
  • Mineral Water – So, you may wonder what the difference between spring and mineral water is…  Well, the only difference is that spring water must be collected directly from the source that the water flows out of, and mineral water is the water that comes from underground and flows over rocks, which increases the mineral content.  Also, mineral water can’t be treated like spring water but can be filtered to get rid of any grit and dirt.
  • Sparkling Water – This water can come out with carbonation naturally or artificially.  It can be filtered and then carbonated again.  Besides making cool spritzers out of this water, it can be added to bread recipes replacing still water.  It assists in the rising process of the bread and gives it a holier look to it!  Tonic water is perhaps my favorite of the sparkling water category.  What makes it different from say a regular club soda is the anti-malarial drug, quinine, added to it.  Historically, the English mixed this drug into their sparkling water and added gin to the mix to mask the taste; hence, the classic gin and tonic!

  • Rainwater – Harvested rainwater has many good uses for the home but it is unwise to use for drinking and cooking despite its purity from the heavens.  It’s in the collection that one must worry about.  Collected improperly, all sorts of pollutants, bacteria, etc. during collection could contaminate the water making it unsuitable for human consumption.  However, many people will filter and treat their rainwater to drink and cook with.   Action Against Hunger, a cool charity founded in France, developed a water program called WaSH (water, sanitation and hygiene) to help third world countries find, collect and clean water for the poor.  Rainwater is just one source that can provide healthy water for many.

  • Hard Water vs. Soft Water – It is debatable which one is better but a lot of people enjoy soft water for drinking and cooking.  For some, cooking with soft water makes food look and taste good.  More than likely it’s the sodium content found in the water!  If you have high blood pressure or retain lots of water, drinking straight soft water from the tap might not be a great idea.  Filtering both hard and soft water with a Pur water filter or an expensive reverse osmosis system is enough to make them tasty to drink and acceptable to cook with.

“We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or less in on direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course.”
–Memoirs of a Geisha

Article submitted by Yvette M. Palladino
Contributing writer for H4M
Enjoys ice cold cactus water for good health!

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Eggs Eggsamined

I started this article thinking it would be a simple table of egg grades and quality factors. But as I started researching the matter, I found that there is a lot of interesting information regarding eggs. I examine the structure of the egg, the effects of freshness, actual grading, and even dispel some common misconceptions regarding free-range and organic eggs and brown verses white eggs. So, which is a better egg, Grade A or Grade AA, brown or white, free-range, organic or neither? Let us find out.

Basic Egg Facts

Composition of the egg

Inside the egg

Inside on an eggDiagram courtesy of Alberta Egg Producers

Air Cell

The air cell can be the first indicator of egg quality. Air cells of no greater than 1/8 inch in height are of grade AA quality. Larger air cells up to 3/16 of an inch may be classified as grade A, air cells greater than 3/16 of one inch can only be grade B.

Albume

Albume is better known as the egg white. There are two distinct albume: a thick and a thin. Albumen accounts for most of an egg’s liquid weight (about 67%). It contains more than half the egg’s total protein, niacin, riboflavin, chlorine, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfur. The albumen consists of 4 alternating layers of thick and thin consistencies. From the yolk outward, they are designated as the inner thick or chalaziferous white, the inner thin white, the outer thick white and the outer thin white. Egg white tends to thin out as an egg ages because its protein changes in character. That’s why fresh eggs sit up tall and firm in the pan while older ones tend to spread out.

Albumen is more opalescent than truly white. The cloudy appearance comes from carbon dioxide. As the egg ages, carbon dioxide escapes, so the albumen of older eggs is more transparent than that of fresher eggs.

When egg albumen is beaten vigorously, it foams and increases in volume 6 to 8 times. Egg foams are essential for making souffles, meringues, puffy omelets, and angel food and sponge cakes.

Chalaza

Chalaza are strands of egg white that anchor the yolk in place in the center of the albume. They are not imperfections or beginning embryos.

Germinal Disc

The germinal disc is the channel leading to the center of the yolk. The germinal disc is barely noticeable as a slight depression on the surface of the yolk.

Shell

The shell is the egg’s outer covering which is largely composed of calcium carbonate.  It accounts for about 9 to 12% of its total weight depending on egg size.

Shell strength is greatly influenced by the minerals and vitamins in the hen’s diet, particularly calcium, phosphorus, manganese and Vitamin D. If the diet is deficient in calcium, for instance, the hen will produce a thin or soft-shelled egg or possibly an egg with no shell at all. Shell thickness is also related to egg size and the hen’s age. Older hens, for example, produce larger eggs with thinner shells.

Seven to 17 thousand tiny pores are distributed over the shell surface, a greater number at the large end. As the egg ages, these tiny holes permit moisture and carbon dioxide to move out and air to move in to form the air cell.

Yolk

The yolk (or yellow portion) makes up about 33% of the liquid weight of the egg. It contains all of the fat in the egg and a little less than half of the protein. A characteristic worth noting is that it is responsible for the egg’s emulsifying properties.

With the exception of riboflavin and niacin, the yolk contains a higher proportion of the egg’s vitamins than the white. All of the egg’s vitamins A, D and E are in the yolk. Egg yolks are one of the few foods naturally containing vitamin D. The yolk also contains more phosphorus, manganese, iron, iodine, copper, and calcium than the white, and it contains all of the zinc.
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Definition: Grades of Olive Oil

Over 750 million olive trees are cultivated worldwide, 95% of which are in the Mediterranean region. Most of global production comes from Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

The grades of oil extracted from the olive fruit can be classified as:

  • Virgin means the oil was produced by the use of physical means and no chemical treatment. The term virgin oil referring to production is different from Virgin Oil on a retail label.
  • Refined means that the oil has been chemically treated to neutralize strong tastes (characterized as defects) and neutralize the acid content (free fatty acids). Refined oil is commonly regarded as lower quality than virgin oil; the retail labels extra-virgin olive oil and virgin olive oil cannot contain any refined oil.
  • Pomace olive oil means oil extracted from the pomace using chemical solvents, mostly hexane, and by heat.

Grades of Olive Oil

  • Extra-virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste.
  • Virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only, has an acidity less than 2%, and is judged to have a good taste.
  • Pure olive oil. Oils labeled as Pure olive oil or Olive oil are usually a blend of refined and virgin production oil.
  • Olive oil is a blend of virgin and refined production oil, of no more than 1.5% acidity. It commonly lacks a strong flavor.
  • Olive-pomace oil is refined pomace olive production oil possibly blended with some virgin production oil. It is fit for consumption, but may not be described simply as olive oil. Olive-pomace oil is rarely sold at retail; it is often used for certain kinds of cooking in restaurants.
  • Lampante oil is olive oil not suitable as food; lampante comes from olive oil’s long-standing use in oil-burning lamps. Lampante oil is mostly used in the industrial market.

Label wording

Olive oil vendors choose the wording on their labels very carefully.

  • “100% Pure Olive Oil” is often the lowest quality available in a retail store: better grades would have “virgin” on the label.
  • “Made from refined olive oils” means that the taste and acidity were chemically controlled.
  • “Light olive oil” means refined olive oil, with less flavour. All olive oil has 120 kcal/tbsp. (34 kJ/ml).
  • “From hand-picked olives” implies that the oil is of better quality, since producers harvesting olives by mechanical methods are inclined to leave olives to over-ripen in order to increase yield.
  • “First cold press” is generally a purely commercial wording with no factual meaning. It suggests that the oil in bottles with this label is the “first oil that came from the first press” of the olives and that no heat is used. This is not correct.
    First of all, “cold” does not define any precise temperature. A certain exception is made for the European regulation which requires that the processing temperature be below 27 °C in order to be named “cold pressed”. In cooler regions like Tuscany or Liguria the olives collected in November and ground often at night are too cold to be processed efficiently without heating. The paste is regularly heated above the environmental temperatures, which may be as low as 10-15 °C, in order to extract the oil efficiently with only physical means. Olives pressed in warm regions like Southern Italy or Northern Africa may be pressed at significantly higher temperatures although not heated. While it is important that the pressing temperatures be as low as possible (generally below 35 °C) there is no international reliable definition of “cold pressed”.
    Furthermore there is no “second” press of virgin oil, so the term “first press” is meaningless.
  • The label may indicate that the oil was bottled or packed in a stated country. This does not necessarily mean that the oil was produced there. The origin of the oil may sometimes be marked elsewhere on the label; it may be a mixture of oils from more than one country

Retail grades in the United States from the USDA

As the United States is not a member, the IOOC retail grades have no legal meaning in that country; terms such as “extra virgin” may be used without legal restrictions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently lists four grades of olive oil. These grades were established in 1948, and are based on acidity, absence of defects, odor and flavor:

  • U.S. Grade A or U.S. Fancy possesses a free fatty acid content of not more than 1.4% and is “free from defects”;
  • U.S. Grade B or U.S. Choice possesses a free fatty acid content of not more than 2.5% and is “reasonably free from defects”;
  • U.S. Grade C or U.S. Standard possesses a free fatty acid content of not more than 3.0% and is “fairly free from defects”;
  • U.S. Grade D or U.S. Substandard possesses a free fatty acid content greater than 3.0% and “fails to meet the requirements of U.S. Grade C”.

source

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Definition: Grades of Beef

The USDA grade beef at eight  quality grades. The grades are based on two main criteria: the degree of marbling in the beef, and the maturity. US Prime beef is sold to hotels and upscale restaurants. Only 2% of graded beef is Prime.

  • U.S. Prime – Highest in quality and intramuscular fat, limited supply.
  • U.S. Choice – High quality, widely available in food service industry and retail markets.
  • U.S. Select – lowest grade commonly sold at retail, acceptable quality but less juicy and tender due to leanness.
  • U.S. Standard – Lower quality yet economical, lacking marbling.
  • U.S. Commercial – Low quality, lacking tenderness, produced from older animals.
  • U.S. Utility
  • U.S. Cutter
  • U.S. Canner
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