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Amuse Bouche: Foods that aren’t always what they seem

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Strawberries aren’t actually berries.

The common strawberry we find in the grocery store today is actually a cross between a variety from Chile and another variety from the eastern U.S. While berries are flesh grown from the ovary of a plant, strawberry flesh is a growth from the receptacle outside the ovary, and the little seeds you see on the exterior of the fruit are the actual ovaries.

Oh, how times change.

There is a crustacean and mollusk we regard as so decadent that they often find themselves on special menus to ring in the new year, but were once regarded as trash. I’m talking about the lobster and the oyster. 

Both were so plentiful that European settlers threw them back when caught in nets and Native Americans used them for fertilizer because both peoples found the flavor of them deplorable.

The Italian job.

If someone asked you what the most stolen food in the world was, you might guess something like beef or perhaps caviar, but I bet you wouldn’t guess cheese.

Cheese is both expensive and easy to steal. So much was stolen from the U.S last year that the stolen good equaled the weight of 127,000 cars. Some cheese heists are incredibly organized, like in 2017 when a group of 10 Italian men organized a theft, with help from the inside, of over $110,000 in Italian parmesan.  

Eating healthy will cost you.

Anyone who knows me knows I could write a book on this topic and probably should. 

Aside from something I recently wrote about called the “bliss point,” most people purchase processed, or what we call “junk food” because not only is it relatively inexpensive, but it can be significantly less expensive than fruits, vegetables, fish and meats. 

Do a comparison the next time you are pushing your cart up and down the aisles and you’ll see just how inexpensive, and how many coupons you can find for processed foods. 

What’s perfect for some may not be for others.

Honey is one of the planets most perfect foods. If handled properly, it can last over 5000 years, beating out even a Twinkie as one of the most shelf-stable edibles.

Honey, particularly raw honey, has spores in it that can cause the botulism bacteria to produce. All of the good bacteria in a baby’s digestive tract aren’t fully grown yet, and while our adult digestive systems can easily thwart off these spores, a baby’s cannot. This can lead to lack of muscle control, particularly respitory muscles and can be quite serious in some cases. 

So, although it is good to get your kids to embrace honey rather than processed sugar, be sure not to do so too young!

What a beautiful hue that chicken is.

Grocery store expiration dates are a huge area of uncertainty, in that they aren’t always accurate. Although sometimes this is for nefarious reasons, it is also because our state and federal regulations aren’t always in sync or consistent. 

In addition to confusion or grey area with regards to expiration dates, one occasional practice is to add the smallest amount of food coloring to foods, particularly proteins, to “maintain” a proper healthy color. 

This does not mean someone is rubbing red or pink food coloring on the outside of a steak, but it does mean that when beef, pork or chicken is diced or ground, it is possible that there may be a tiny amount of food coloring mixed in for aesthetic.

My advice, particularly with chicken, is to adhere to the expiration dates and not push your luck.

Food and eating is a complex thing, but being armed with knowledge is always your best defense. 

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is an executive chef,  former certified beer judge and currently the multi-concept culinary director for a Bozeman based restaurant group.

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