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You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?

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By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST

We try and we try.

We learn butter will cause heart disease and high cholesterol, so we invent margarine. Only to learn decades later that it is far worse for us than good old-fashioned butter after all.

All alcohol is bad for you, but it turns out, red wine has many antioxidants, as well as something called resveratrol, which is beneficial to our hearts.

And as late as the 1980s, pasta was considered a “health food.”

My point being that it’s hard enough to keep up with the lazy susan that is our FDA and big food—telling us what’s good for us and what is now bad. But in addition, many manufacturers, and that’s exactly what they are, use sometimes nefarious practices to mask ingredients, enhance the perceived quality, or alter the flavor of many of the foods we eat on a daily basis.

Here are some tips and things to look for when you shop.

Parmesan cheese. Next time you see “100 percent real” parmesan, don’t be so sure. The FDA has been cracking down in recent years on fillers such as cellulose, inferior cheddar cheese, and even wood pulp. Hey, at least you’re getting fiber.

I wrote a while back about saffron and what an amazing and mysterious spice it is. And expensive. With its high cost comes fraud. Saffron can be adulterated with turmeric, red pepper and even dyed onions.

Honey, pure honey. Nature’s perfect food. Kept protected from the elements and oxygen, honey has been found sealed in clay pots that are over 5000 years old. Once unsealed, it was as pure and flowing as day one. But, never to leave well enough alone, honey has more impurities added to mention here, with China being the most egregious culprit. 

Scallops are one of my favorite mollusks, not to mention seafood altogether. But scallops are not immune from corruption. Sometimes what you think are scallops can be anything from stingray wings to shark fins, usually Mako. Many “connoisseurs” believe they can instantly tell a scallop from a stingray fin. But I’ve also heard of chefs who could not tell the difference.  

Rice. Thousands of species across the globe. Seems like it should be simple. But place your rice in a dry pan and apply some heat to it. Real rice will start to slowly toast and turn brown. If the grains turn black and don’t smoke, then they are in fact not rice, but plastic. Yep, plastic.

And here are some quickies.

Some yams in the grocery store are died orange on the skins to extend visual life for the consumer.

Ice cream with additives will “melt,” or dissolve, when drizzled with acid from something like lemon juice.

If milk contains a dilutant, such as rice water, most green plants stirred into it will turn it blue.

Well, they say turnabout is fair play. And so you don’t feel completely deflated, here’s a little tip I would like to pay forward.

The next time you are in need of maple syrup in a recipe, make a little simple syrup and add ground fenugreek to it.

Fenugreek is an annual plant from the Middle East, and, by hook and crook, has a flavor almost identical to maple.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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