Tag Archives: Food

Wasabi wannabe and the chemistry of the hot green sushi substance

It is sad that most sushi lovers will never have real wasabi. I had assumed that I had sampled real wasabi when I spent several days eating sushi morning noon and night in Actual Japan. But even then, there is a good chance I never tasted the stuff.

The reason that most “wasabi” is fake, and the agronomy and chemistry of wasabi, turn out to be really interesting.

Here is the background info references in the video.

Forum: Science, Democracy, and a Healthy Food Policy

I recently wrote a post called “Did you ever wonder how you are going to die?” which was my response to a forum at the Humphrey Center, University of Minnesota, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists called “Science, Democracy, and a Healthy Food Policy: How Citizens, Scientists, and Public Health Advocates Can Partner to Forge a Better Future“.

It was a great forum, with sessions moderated by my friend Don Shelby, and including an absolutely excellent group of speakers and discussants. Every single one of the talks was excellent, and the panel discussions were amazing.

It is a little long, 2 hours and 47 minutes, but it is worth watching every bit of it. The Surgeon General couldn’t be there but he beamed himself in via satellite, and gave a great big-picture talk on the effect of food systems and the public’s health. Richard Salvador, director of the UCS Food and Environment program (30:20) gave a great talk in which he made a very important point about the recent evolution of our food supply system, and touched on points I often make when teaching about the evolution of human diet. I plan to use his talk in class in the future. RT Rybak, (53:30) Mayor of Minneapolis until the last election (he did not run for re-election) is one of the best mayors anyone ever had anywhere, and while he was in office spent considerable effort supporting and developing local food growing programs. Following his talk, during the session and later on during post-forum conversations at the reception and dinner, it was often re-stated that “the first thing you need to do as a city concerned with healthy food supplies is to get a mayor like RT Rybak.”

The forum discussion started around 1:10, and there is too much there for me to summarize. Paula Daniels said some stuff that compelled me to hunter her down and ask more questions after the event. Pakau Hang was the audience’s favorite, with her discussion of dealing with the food supply from the point of view of a community that provides much of our locally grown food in the Twin Cities. Edward Ehlinger, the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Health blew me and everyone else away with his high level of discussion and clear and present inspirational competence. Shawn Otto, who was not part of the forum but with whom I was sitting, noted later in conversation that Governor Mark Dayton had done an excellent job putting truly outstanding people in important positions in the Minnesota government, Ehlinger being an example of that. But it was all good, just watch it. Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy (UCS) gave a great summary at the end.

I also enjoyed meeting my internet friend Michael Halpern, and having a long and engaging conversation with UCS senior analyst Pallavi Phartiyal.

Background information on the forum is HERE. A video of the entire thing is at that site as well as below, watch it!

Then, GO HERE and join or donate to the Union of Concerned Scientists!

Chobani Yoghurt's Anti-Science Stance is Annoying UPDATED

I have nothing against Chobani Yoghurt. In fact, I like it. Even more importantly, Huxley likes it.

But the image above annoys me. It says “Nature got us to 100 calories, not scientists. #howmatters”

This is in accord with their latest ad, here:

OK, I have three challenges for Chobani Yoghurt.

First, demonstrate how science is not related to your yoghurt production AT ALL. Chances are you use methods of ensuring that your product does not contain harmful bacteria, or that the bacteria is killed off or removed during the processing cycle. Almost all food manufacturers use various methods to do this. These methods are the product of food safety science. Yes, that is a science. I’ve even been to an international conference of those scientists (it was very interesting). Chobani Yoghurt, do you use NONE of the methods developed by food safety science in producing your product? I doubt if very much. It is essential that you produce a safe product, and #howmatters.

Second, I would like to see verification that all of your product does not fall into the category of products that includes artificial sweeteners, monoculture big-ag produced corn sugars, or use bee-colony-killing pesticides during the production of any of the ingredients, etc. etc. That all may well be true, but I doubt it. I’m looking at a container of Chobani Pineapple Yoghurt. The milk from which the yoghurt is made is pasteurized. That is science. Germ theory. #howmatters. You use pineapple and evaporated cane juice. Was the pineapple from Hawaii? Did you know that Hawaii produces less food than they need to eat because the agriculture there is industrialized, even though the population today is similar to pre-colonial times when they used less land to produce an abundance of food? Chobani Yoghurt clearly does not support locivory! #howmatters You use pectin. Here is what Wikipedia says about how pectin is produced:

The main raw materials for pectin production are dried citrus peel or apple pomace, both by-products of juice production. Pomace from sugar beet is also used to a small extent.

From these materials, pectin is extracted by adding hot dilute acid at pH-values from 1.5 – 3.5. During several hours of extraction, the protopectin loses some of its branching and chain length and goes into solution. After filtering, the extract is concentrated in vacuum and the pectin then precipitated by adding ethanol or isopropanol. An old technique of precipitating pectin with aluminium salts is no longer used (apart from alcohols and polyvalent cations, pectin also precipitates with proteins and detergents).
Alcohol-precipitated pectin is then separated, washed and dried. Treating the initial pectin with dilute acid leads to low-esterified pectins. When this process includes ammonium hydroxide, amidated pectins are obtained. After drying and milling, pectin is usually standardised with sugar and sometimes calcium salts or organic acids to have optimum performance in a particular application.

Pectin is great, but it is not produced without science. #howmatters.

Third, your label on the yoghurt is simply anti-science. Hey, I love the fact that you guys are anti-big ag, even though you ARE big ag, and I think we need to totally redo how we produce our food. But your claim to be all natural and stuff smells a lot like Greenwashing to me. That itself is bad, but not terrible. But throwing science under the bus is appalling. We are having enough trouble in our society with people throwing science under the bus … climate change science denialism, anti-evolution activism, anti-vaxxers, etc. … that we don’t need a major yoghurt company adding to the mix. So, my third challenge to you is to do something constructive with your presumably massive profits to support science in some way. STEM programs, climate science legal defense fund, NCSE support, something along those lines.

I’m sure you can figure out a way to do this, and use the results positively in your marketing. But remember, #howmatters.

I’ve received the following note from Chobani’s Customer Loyalty Team:

We apologize about the confusion! No offense meant to the scientific community. This lid is simply an ode to no preservatives or additives.

We thank you very much for your feedback and will pass along your comments.

So, that’s good. We look forward to Chobani kissing and making up to science in some appropriate way!

How to make pumpkin pie

How to make pumpkin pie

This makes one pie. You probably want two, so double everything.


PREHEAT oven to 425F. Set the rack to above the middle of the oven but not too high up.

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl.
Mix wet ingredients in a different bowl.
Mix the wet and dry ingredients together.

Put a pie crust in a pie shell. Make the edges all fancy looking by using a fork.

Stir the ingredients up one more time and put it in the pie shell.

Place the pie in the center of the rack.

Bake for 15 minutes
Remove pie, shut oven.
Put strips of aluminum foil around the crust to slow cooking of exposed crust.
Return pie to oven

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes (usually about 47 minutes)
The pie is ready to remove from the oven when a stick or knife comes out of the center clean.
Don’t worry if there is a little bit of pumpkin pie stuff on the knife/stick. The pie is going to keep cooking for a while.

Place pie on top of stove/oven, which should be pretty warm, and let it cool slowly (on a rack or equivalent).

Eat or refrigerate, then eat.


Dry ingredients:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt plus a pinch
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice

pumpkin-canWet ingredients:
2 extra large eggs
1 regular can of pumpkin stuff (pictured)
12 ounces of 50:50 mix of whole evaporated milk and heavy cream.


There are two main features in this recipe. First, the spices are approximately double the usual recommended spices. Second, the usual evaporated milk is partially substituted with heavy cream. You can if fact use 100% heavy cream if you like but the 60:40 to 50:50 mix of heavy cream:evaporated milk works best.

DSC_4468If you live in certain regions of the world, such as Australia, you may not be able to find a can of pumpkin puree. If so, obtain a pumpkin and cook it. Get a small cooking pumpkin for this purpose. Much up the cooked pumpkin and measure out about 15 ounces. You may mix any form of winter squash in there if you like. Some of the best pumpkin pie is only half pumpkin, the rest butternut, acorn, or the squash formerly known as “turk’s head.” (The various winter squash may have diverse local names.)

Remember the extra stir just as you are putting the ingredients in the pie shell. The dry spices tend to settle.

To help movie the pie in and out of the oven in the early stages of baking, use a flat cookie sheet in the manner that a pizza paddle is used to manage a pizza. Or use your pizza paddle if you have one.

When putting the aluminum foil strips on the crust, pinch the foil right on there to get it to stay in place and have close contact to avoid hot air circulating around the crust.

Use your favorite crust. I don’t divulge my crust recipe because it tends to enrage people and I don’t need that. But it is very good and very simple.