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Amuse Bouche: Next time you’re at a party

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By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST

In my opinion, we’ve learned some interesting food history and facts, for example, how ketchup originated from Vietnamese fish sauce, or how President Eisenhower is essentially the father of the restaurant diner. And let’s not forget how a 12-year-old slave from the French island of Reunion learned how to pollinate the vanilla orchid, thus changing how we use it all over the world.

But there are so many littler hidden treasures from nature, or facts from factories that so many of us take for granted.

Here is just a sampling: Raspberries are in the rose family and it gets better. Not only raspberries, but apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, almonds, and a host of other fruits are all related to the rose. 

I remember years ago suddenly noticing that the stalks on my grandmother’s rose bushes looked a lot like the bark on our apple tree in our backyard. I did some investigative work and sure enough came to the conclusion that they are in the same rosaceae family.

If you are allergic to latex, it’s possible you are also allergic to fruits such as figs, melons, kiwi avocado or papaya, as somewhere between 30 percent and 50 percent of people who have an allergy to latex rubber also can have a hypersensitivity to these fresh fruits upon contact. Called latex fruit syndrome, it has to do with what’s called cross reactivity and similar structural compounds in these fruits that resemble those in man made latex.

Bananas are berries, while strawberries aren’t and in fact, neither are blackberries or raspberries for that matter. They are what’s known as an aggregate fruit, which means they are formed from several carpel, or parts, rather than one central piece. In simplest terms, people classified a group of what seemed to be similar fruits together long before scientists could more accurately define what a “berry” was. 

By definition, you need three layers to constitute a berry: An outer skin, an inner fleshy part, and more than one seed in the center. Though a “peel” or “rind” do seem to break this mold, bananas and melons are berries, and so is a grape for that matter. To complicate matters more, though classified as berries, grapes seem to have taken on their own laymen’s term as simply being called “grapes”. Grapes get a bit of a pass since they set themselves apart to some degree by the fact that they grow in clusters.

In Russia, beer used to be classified as a soft drink, as was also the case with anything that was under 10 percent alcohol by volume. They believed this attributed to the heavy consumption of beer by all ages, including drinking beer in the streets, in parks, and almost all other public areas. And studies showed that Russia had per capita alcohol consumption twice the critical level set by the World Health Organization.

Russia had two solutions to this problem. One was to implement a 200 percent tax hike for these alcoholic beverages containing under 10 percent alcohol. The other, was to recategorize beer as alcohol, which in my opinion was a little financially friendlier than the tax hike. 

These two changes seemed to be effective, but the most interesting factor to me is when these two things were put into action: Beer wasn’t alcohol in Russia until this law passed in 2011!

More fun facts to come in future articles.

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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