Edible Examiner (volume XXVIII)

This article may be too late for this year’s garden, but may explain your garden’s success or failure.

Garden Friends and Foes – Lucy Gilmour and Lisa Kalis

The Wall Street Journal

Relationships can be tricky, even in the garden world.  Some plants thrive in each other’s company; some just don’t get along.  A particular plant can help another one grow by supplying nutrients through the soil, or it can inhibit its growth.  Some improve their neighbors’ flavor and some protect against pests.   Here are a few guidelines for companion planting.

The cabbage family—known as Brassica, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi—is good to plant with aromatic herbs like sage and mint, which can repel the white cabbage butterfly.  It also pairs well with onions.  Keep away from tomatoes.

Potatoes are also a good match with the cabbage family, but also keep away from tomatoes and cucumbers, which share a common blight.

Tomatoes help protect asparagus from the asparagus beetle.  Some gardeners report that basil seems to improve the flavor of tomatoes as well as lettuce.  Basil also deters many garden insects.

Garlic, in the Allium (onion) family repels insects.  Plant it around fruit trees, roses, tomatoes and cabbage.  Keep away from peas and beans, as it may inhibit their growth.


U.S.D.A. Approves ‘Non-Bioengineered’ Label -Jay Sjerven

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture has approved use of a label for meat and liquid egg products with the claim the products were from animals raised on diets containing no bioengineered grain or ingredients.  The approval was in response to an application for such a label from the Non-G.M.O. Project, Bellingham, Washington, and three West Coast food companies.  The Non-G.M.O. Project is an organization, which offers North America’s only third-party verification and labeling program for non-bioengineered food and products.  It has developed a “Non-G.M.O. Project standard” to which companies seeking verification that their products are free from bioengineered ingredients must adhere.  The standard prescribes methods such as segregation, traceability, risk assessment, sampling techniques and quality control management.  Once the Non-G.M.O. Project’s product verification program determines a company’s products are in compliance with the requisite standards, a licensing agreement may be signed to allow the company to use the Non-G.M.O. Project’s logo and verification mark on the product packaging.  According to Cathy Cochran, FSIS office of public affairs and consumer education, “The approved labels state that the products meet the standards of a third-party certifier regarding the use of non-GMO feed.”  Ms. Cochran continued, “The agency has not developed any new policy regarding non-genetically engineered or non-GMN products and is not certifying that the labeled products are free of genetic engineering or genetic modifications.”


In Argentina, Coca-Cola Tests Market for ‘Green’ Coke Bob Mondelo

Coca-Cola has a rainbow’s worth of product packaging these days: blue and green for Sprite; silver and gold for caffeinated and non-caffeinated Diet Coke; black for Coke Zero.  But the colors in the basic Coca-Cola logo—ornate white letters on a red background—haven’t changed in over a century.   But in Argentina, for the last few weeks, the words Coca-Cola are spelled out in those same ornate white letters on a green background.  It’s everywhere from a giant electronic billboard in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires, to the sides of delivery trucks, to supermarket shelves.  It’s the global kickoff of what Coke is describing as a “natural” and therefore “green” lower-calorie cola called Coca-Cola Life.  What makes it “natural” is that Coca-Cola Life is sweetened with a mix of sugar and stevia, an extract from the leaves of a shrub in the chrysanthemum family that grows in Latin America.  It’s said to be as much as 400 times sweeter than table sugar, without the calories.  Should Coca-Cola Life become a substantial hit in Argentina, it could expand to other markets.  If not, it can disappear without the fallout that accompanied the scuttling of New Coke in the 1980s.  Coca-Cola Life is also packaged in a “PlantBottle” made of a plastic that’s 30 percent vegetable fiber and which Coke says is 100% recyclable.  But that’s nothing compared to the recvclability of bottles being marketed by the company elsewhere in Colombia, right on the equator, where bottles sold at the beach are made of ice.  Though Ice Bottles are selling for almost twice the price of a regular bottle, vendors can barely keep them in stock.  They come with a thin plastic band printed with the Coke logo to make them easier to hold.  Spying a possible logo-fashion opportunity, Coke notes that the plastic holder can be used as a bracelet once the bottle has melted away.


Defecation Nation: Pig Waste Likely to Rise in US from Business Deal Dina Fine Maron

We put up with a lot of crap—literally.  Last year, at least 4.7 billion gallons of hog manure in the US came from one company, Smithfield foods, the nation’s leading pork producer.   The feces load will rise if US regulators green light a proposed merger that will bring the firm under the auspices of a China-based company.  Under a proposed multibillion-dollar deal, Hong Kong-based Shuanghui International Holdings would buy Virginia-based Smithfield Foods.  The stated purpose of the merger, the companies say, is to efficiently increase pork production and ultimately to increase pork export to China, where the appetite for pork continues to climb, even as Americans buy less.  Smithfield, which operates across 12 states, brought 15.8 million hogs to market in fiscal 2013—and each hog produced an average of 1,100 to 1,300 liters of manure during its lifetime.  The majority of hog feces from Smithfield sit in earthen lagoons where it naturally ages for six to 12 months before the slurry is then sprayed on agricultural fields as fertilizer.  Studies on communities living around such farms have indicated individuals exposed to the odors and emissions have more respiratory complaints and increased asthma symptoms.  Moreover, hogs raised in crowded environments in industrial-scale farms require greater quantities of antibiotics to promote growth and compensate for unsanitary conditions.  Researchers in particular worry that antibiotic-laden hog manure can seep into the water and air as well as bodies of people surrounding such farms, with subtle implications both for health and for the spread of antibiotic resistance.  With the deal, Shuanghui would also be acquiring the clout of Smithfield’s name and knowledge of US production practices and technology.  The merger would help fuel China’s shift toward even more hog farms that adopt Smithfield’s vertically integrated process—namely industrial-size farms that raise pigs in close quarters and dispose of their waste through the lagoon-and-spray method, thereby threatening to reproduce the same health and antibiotic-resistance issues in China.  Smithfield claims that without this opportunity outside the US, there are no opportunities for US pork producers to expand.  The proposed merger is being reviewed by the US inter-agency body called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US.


Invasive Lionfish Beyond The Reach Of Divers Worry Researchers – Jennifer Kay

Lionfish, which have venomous spines, are a well-documented problem in Atlantic coral reefs, where the foot-long, one-pound invaders from the tropical parts of the Pacific and Indian oceans live without predators and eat other fish voraciously.  Divers are encouraged to capture and eat any lionfish they encounter, and last month the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission waived the recreational license requirement for divers harvesting lionfish and excluded them from bag limits.  What’s slowly coming into view is just how deep into the ocean their invasion has spread.  Recreational divers max out around 130 feet deep.  Researchers and wildlife officials rarely have the means to venture deeper than that, but they’ve realized the lionfish they can’t see may be their biggest concern.  Last month, Seattle-based OceanGate Inc. offered scientists and wildlife officials a close-up look at deep-water lionfish in dives aboard a yellow submersible.  They got a close-up look at deep-water lionfish living on a wreck 250 feet deep into the Atlantic where there are no predators and no divers.  To date the deepest confirmed sighting of a deep-water lionfish was at 1,000 feet in the Bahamas.  The next frontier battle with lionfish is in deep water areas.  Another problem is there is no commercial market per se.  NOAA launched a campaign in 2010 urging the US public to “eat sustainable, eat lionfish!”


Can Oysters With No Sex Life Repopulate The Chesapeake Bay? – Pamela D’Angelo

The Chesapeake Bay once supplied half the world’s oyster market.  But pollution, disease and over-harvesting have nearly wiped out the population.  It’s a dire situation that has united former adversaries to revive the oyster ecosystem and industry.  Scientists and watermen have joined forces to plant underwater farms in the bay with a special oyster bred in a lab.  Called triploid oysters, they have been selected for attributes like disease tolerance and fast growth.  The oysters are sterile, which means that instead of using their energy to reproduce, they use all of it to grow.  That allows them to reach market size twice as quickly and be harvested year-round.  When it comes time to plant the lab-bred oysters, the watermen have great input.  The collaboration makes sense—watermen don’t have the education the scientists have and scientists don’t have the education watermen have.  The watermen are each paying $1,500 to participate in the project.  The money goes to pay for things like equipment and oyster larvae.  The Potomac River Fisheries Commission kicked in another $150,000.  It took about a year for 20 watermen to commit to the three-year project.  The first four acres of river bottom was planted last year.  Scientists and watermen recently went out to plant this year’s crop and also check on last year’s oyster plantings.  A majority survived but aren’t market size; still the group remains optimistic.  If all goes well, the oysters will be ready in time for the big demand of the holidays.


ScienceShot: Scared Earthworms Help Plants Grow – Jules Wellinghoff

A frightened earthworm is a plant’s best friend.  Researchers testing the ecological role of the earthworm Pheretima aspergillum in an alpine meadow have found that when a beetle that preys on earthworms is present, plants grew more.  When beetles were present, earthworms migrated to the deeper soil, probably to avoid the beetles’ foraging range.  The earthworms broke up this deeper soil, and nutrients and water moved into it.  The researchers speculate that the enriching nutrients and water brought to this deeper soil may have been more beneficial to plants than improvements to the upper.  So the next time your outdoor plants aren’t growing, it may not be because there aren’t enough earthworms, but because the earthworms are complacent.


Tomato, Apple Peel Purifies Polluted Water – Food Product Design

Water scarcity may be a thing of the past thanks to apple and tomato peels, according to a recent study published in the May issue of the American Chemical Society journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces and in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal RSC Advances.  Ramakrishna Mallampati, Ph.D. candidate and lead researcher of the study came up with a way to purify water, using peels of apples and tomatoes that can help disadvantaged communities around the world and be a long-term inexpensive solution.  The two-year study found that the peel from eight tomatoes can almost fully remove heavy metal ions, such as lead, from a liter of water in an hour.  Food and water waste is occurring all across the globe and it can be prevented.  Mallampati, along with other students are looking into the use of other fruit peels and natural fibers for water purification.


NYC Doctors Are Now Prescribing Fruits and Veggies – Katharine O’Marra

A new program in New York City has doctors prescribing fruits and vegetables to obese or overweight patients.  Under the program, obese or overweight patients can be prescribed Health Bucks redeemable for produce at local farmers markets.  Health Bucks are a part of the city’s GrowNYC initiative to make locally grown produce available to low-income New Yorkers.  The vouchers are accepted at more than 140 New York City farmers markets.  The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program is meant to benefit whole families and communities at a time.  Patients in the program receive $1 in Health Bucks per day for each person in their family for a period of at least four months.  Each month, patients check in with the hospital to have their prescriptions renewed, and their weight and body mass index evaluated.  They also receive nutritional counseling.  The long-term goal of this program is a whole generation of kids who reach adulthood at a healthy optimal weight.


5 Surprising Food Lies – HuffPost Taste

Lie #1—Chilean Sea Bass is a Sea Bass from Chile.  The fish’s real name is Patagonian toothfish and the fish is as ugly as its name.  The clever name isn’t the only problem with Chilean sea bass:  according to a 2011 DNA analysis at Clemson University, 15 percent of Chilean sea bass sold with eco-labels weren’t actually from approved, sustainable stock.  Worse, eight percent were actually different species of fish altogether.

Lie #2—The first Ceasar Salad was a salad fit for Roman emperors.  The first Caesar salad was actually made from scraps.  In 1924, chef Caesar Cardini ran out of food in his restaurant’s kitchen, so when a customer asked for a salad, he made do.  He put together bits of lettuce with olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, egg, garlic, croutons and Parmesan.  He then added the dramatic flair of tossing the salad tableside.

Lie #3—Your steak is always a prime cut.  Meat glue, or an enzyme called transglutaminase, binds protein together and is often used to stick together scraps of meat into prime cuts of steak.  Not all restaurants resort to this cheap trick, but the practice is probably more pervasive than you’d think.

Lie #4—Fortune cookies are quintessentially Chinese.  The origin of fortune cookies is controversial, but food researchers point to its origin as distinctly Japanese, supposedly invented by Japanese bakers who immigrated to the US.  In the early 1990s, Wonton Food, the largest fortune cookie manufacturer in the US, attempted to introduce fortune cookies to China, but gave up because the cookies were considered “too American” by the Chinese.

Lie #5—You can always tell between cheap and expensive wines by tasting.  In 2001 Psychologist Richard Wiseman of the Hertfordshire University conducted a blind test in which he asked 578 regular people to tell the difference between a variety of wines, both cheap and expensive.  The overall result suggests a 50:50 chance of identifying wine as expensive or cheap based on taste alone—the same odds as flipping a coin.  The results aren’t much better when experts were tested.  Fifty-four wine experts were asked to rate two glasses of red and two glasses of white wine.  The experts couldn’t even tell that the red wine was actually the same white wine, but colored by red dye.  Then the experts were asked to grade two bottles of the exact same wine—one bottle had a fancy grand cru label and the other an ordinary table wine label.  Experts praised the “grand cru” wine and dismissed the ordinary as less favorable.


Mystery of the Smoke Ring Solved! – Amanda Greene

What causes a “smoke ring” to be around smoked meats?  If you’re not familiar, a smoke ring is a region of pink colored meat usually seen in the outermost 8-10 millimeters of smoked meats.  A pink (or red) color in meat usually indicates the presence of myoglobin.  Myoglobin’s reddish pigment is usually lost when meat is cooked because the heat causes it to denature and turn brown.  The center of a rare steak remains red because it never reaches a high enough temperature to denature the myoglobin.   The outside of smoked meat gets extremely hot over the course of cooking, so cool temperatures can’t be the cause of the pink color.  It turns out that burning organic fuels like wood, charcoal or gas produces a variety of chemicals, including trace amounts of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) gas.  When NO2 gas meets the surface, it dissolves into the meat and picks up a hydrogen molecule, becoming nitrous acid (HNO2), which then gets converted into nitric oxide (NO).  NO reacts with myoglobin, and together they form a stable pink molecule that can withstand heat.  The thickness of the ring depends on how deep into the meat the NO is able to penetrate before reacting with myoglobin.   A similar reaction occurs in nitrite-cured meats like ham, corned beef, and hot dogs.


Chow Down In Sync With Your Circadian Clock – Allison Aubrey

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that when we eat during a 24-hour cycle is likely ore important for our health than we realized.  Researchers in Spain recruited hundreds of middle-aged folks who were overweight and put them on a diet for five months.  All the dieters consumed approximately the same number of calories and had similar levels of physical activity.  At the end of the study, the folks who ate their main meal of the day before 3 p.m. lost about 5 more pounds than the people who ate a dinner meal later in the evening.  Researchers believe that in addition to the master clock in our brains, there are also little time-keeping clocks in all the organs of our body—from our liver and heart to our guts.  When the timing of our meals does not coincide with the sleep-wake cycle, there’s a disconnect, and our body stores extra energy as fat.  So, bottom line, respect the clock.


History Lesson…….

When Lettuce Was a Sacred Sex Symbol – K. Annabelle Smith

Lettuce was depicted by ancient Egyptians on the walls of tombs dating back to at least 2,700 BC.  The earliest version of the greens resembled two modern lettuces: romaine, from the French word “romaine” (from Rome), and cos lettuce believed to have been found on the island of Kos, located along the coast of modern day Turkey.  In Ancient Egypt around 2,000 BC, lettuce was not a popular appetizer; it was an aphrodisiac, a phallic symbol that represented the celebrated food of the Egyptian god of fertility, Min.  According to Salima Ikram, Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, who specializes in Ancient Egyptian food, “Over 3,000 years, Min’s role did change, but he was constantly associated with lettuce.”  The Greeks and Romans later popularized the leafy veggie as an appetizer during the 81-96 A.D. reign of Domitian.  When they first introduced a set order of courses, the meal included a salad at the beginning to stimulate the appetite and also at the end to encourage digestion.  It was still considered a medicinal goldmine by the Greeks and Romans, but for a different reason than the Egyptians—they believed it helped people sleep.


There are apps for this…….

LeftoverSwap Allows You To Share Your Half-Eaten Dinner With Strangers – Robin Wilkey

A new app will soon let users share their leftover dinner with strangers.  Seriously.  Launching at the end of August, LeftoverSwap will allow users to upload a photo and description of their pad thai, pizza or pho and connect them with hungry neighbors nearby.  Theory is that diners will eat less of a delicious meal if they know the leftovers will not go to waste.  While the idea may sound a bit crazy, it might actually be contributing to the greater good: LeftoverSwap will start as a donation-only model.  While a payment model could be a possibility in the future, the app could also be more philanthropic in nature.  The company will focus its marketing on Seattle (where it’s headquartered) and San Francisco to start, but plans to be available across the country.


And this……

Le Laboratoire, a Paris-based center of art, design and science is developing what is called the OPHONE.  The idea is to communicate scents much the same way we communicate sounds and sights: by using our smartphones.  An app connects to a pocket-size device that’s able to capture smells and break them down into their components—a sort of olfactory alphabet—then transmit them to another device thousands of miles away, where they are reconstituted.  A fairly simple prototype limited to coffee smells is being demonstrated already at an exhibition in Paris.  Fully commercialized OPHONEs are probably something for later in the decade.


2013’s Hottest Beer Trends

Lauren Buzzeo

Wine Enthusiast, August 2013

**Mad Brewers.  New beer categories, like Belgo-American styles and IPLs (India Pale Lagers), and brews that incorporate experimental hop varieties or exotic spices.

**Beer Loves Wine.  Breweries are turning to the world of wine to produce new brews that bridge the gap between wine drinkers and beer drinkers.  From wine grapes and must to yeast and used barrels, brewers have plenty of wine-derived options.

**For the Love of Lagers.  Lagers often get a bad rap for being too light or weak, which may be true of some mass-produced selections.  Today’s craft breweries produce many fine examples that offer nuance, complexity and flavor.

**The Can Revolution.  Sam Adams recently launched its “Sam Can”—the result of two years of ergonomic and sensory research and testing—which aims to approximate drinking beer from a glass.  Sly Fox Brewing just put its Helles Golden Lager in a new “topless” can whose entire lid is removable.

**The Ladies Love Beer.  Not only are women becoming more interested in craft beer, but they’re also becoming a larger part of the business.  A recent documentary, “The Love of Beer”, produced by Alison Grayson offers an inspirational portrayal of women in the craft-beer industry.

**Homebrewing for Everyone.  In 2012 there were more than 1 million American homebrewers, and that number is expected to climb.  The federal government legalized homebrewing in 1979, but each state has had to individually legislate homebrewing.  In May, Alabama was the last state in the nation to legalize the hobby.



6 Food Shows We Wish Would Come Back

HuffPost Taste

There’s been a lot of hating on food TV recently.   Let’s celebrate six food shows no longer on air that make us remember how great food TV can be.

  1. Molto Mario: 1997-2004.    Before Mario Batali started a global restaurant empire, he had a wonderful Italian show on the Food Network “Molto Mario.”  What draws us to this show is the pacing—not too slow, not too fast.
  2. Two Fat Ladies: 1996-1999.   Don’t you just want Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson to keep you company when you cook dinner.
  3. The French Chef: 1963-1973.    The great thing about Julia Child is that she celebrates mistakes.  Sometimes your food isn’t going to come out perfect.  That’s OK.
  4. Yan Can Cook: 1978-??    So as far as we can tell, this show is still on, though we haven’t seen anything in a long time.  But we could watch those knife skills all day long.
  5. Good Eats:  1999-2011.    Alton Brown may be goofy, but he relayed a lot of good information in this quirky show.
  6. Galloping Gourmet:  1969-1971.  Sure, it’s a little past its prime, but it’s still a lot of fun.


4 Health Foods That Ain’t Fads

Jennifer Iserloh

People naturally become skeptical when foods are overhyped in the media, but there are plenty of health foods that are not fads—no matter how much the media raves about them.  These foods are even better when paired with equally–impressive partners.

Kale.  Kale should always be a staple in your crisper.  It contains powerful molecules that do amazing things in our bodies.  Take glucosinolates for example, a class of water-soluble compounds that stopped cancer cells in their tracks in animal trials.   Kale also contains special fiber that is activated when cooked—whisking fat and dietary cholesterol out of your body before it’s absorbed.   Pair kale with its synergistic partner, fats!  Of course, use healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, or even a pat of pasture-raised butter.

Dark Chocolate.  Dark chocolate is touted for its ability to calm blood pressure and deliver antioxidants in the form of flavonoids, but this is only the case with chocolates that contain at least 70 percent real cocoa.  Unsweetened cocoa powder is 100 percent dark chocolate, so no need to read the label.  Luscious, sweet red apples are the perfect pairing with dark chocolate, because apples contain quercetin, especially in the skins.  Quercetin has been invoked to reduce the risk of allergies, heart attack and a host of other ailments because of its dual-action as an antihistamine and an anti-inflammatory.

Turmeric.  Turmeric has many talents, including the ability to soothe skin disorders like psoriasis, calm the nervous system and PMS, and even potentially fight cancer because of its active ingredient curcumin, which works as a powerful anti-inflammatory.  Turmeric’s perfect pairing is a big glass of warm milk.  Apparently both heat and fat make turmeric more bioavailable and thus more powerful.

Quinoa.  Quinoa is a complete protein and has all nine essential amino acids, great for a vegetarian diet.  It’s very high in manganese that helps keep bones strong and healthy, and high in iron.  Quinoa also contains niacin, which has been proven to lower cholesterol and triglycerides.  Red bell pepper is quinoa’s match, since red bell pepper is high in vitamin C that promotes iron uptake.


Greasy Sponge Slurps Up Oil

Klean Industries

Scientists invent oil-busing sponge, saving us from mountains of dirty dishes

Rocket News

A sponge that can’t absorb a single drop of water may seem like a dud.  But if it readily soaks up oil, it could help purify chemical syntheses or clean up oil spills on water.  Researchers now report a simple chemical method for turning a household sponge into a water-blocking oil absorber.  Thanks to its absorbent nature, a sponge is an efficient tool in cleaning up oil spills—drop a sponge in some oil-laden water, and it’ll suck some of it up.  The problem is that sponges indiscriminately suck up both the oil and water.  Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Science purchased polyurethane sponges at a local furniture store and coated its entire surface with a thin layer of polypyrrole.  This polymer is well known for being water-repellent and having a strong affinity for oil.  To prepare the sponge for its polypyrrole coating, the researchers first dipped it into ferric chloride and 1H, 1H, 2H, 2H-perfluorooctyltriethoxysilane (PTES).  They then put the PTES-coated sponge into a sealed chamber over a pool of volatile pyrrole, which vaporized and infused the sponge.  The PTES helped the pyrrole adhere to the sponge surface.  Meanwhile the iron from the ferric chloride helped catalyze the polymerization of the pyrrole into a thin coating over the sponge’s pores.  When the scientists added droplets of water to the surface of the revamped sponge, the water stayed in a bead and wasn’t absorbed.  Droplets of oil, however, disappeared into the sponge immediately.  The researchers also dipped the sponge into a variety of oils, including motor oil and soybean oil.  The sponge sopped up more than 20 times its dry weight for each of the oils.  They sopped up oil with the sponge and then wrung out the absorbed oil.  After repeating those steps five times, the sponge could absorb at least 17 times its weight in oil.  Although the sponges themselves are cheap, the chemicals used in the treatment are expensive.  For now, the super-hydrophobic sponges, though may find a place in certain industrial operations.


Plants do sums to get through the night

John Innes Centre News

Research finds plants can do math and know what time it is

Rocket News

Does your salad know what time it is?

Jade Boyd

New research from Rice University and the University of California at Davis shows that to prevent starvation at night, plants perform accurate arithmetic division.  The calculation allows them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn.  Plants feed themselves during the day by using energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and starch.  Once the sun has set, they must depend on a store of starch to prevent starvation.  Suddenly subject plants to night, and they adjust their usage accordingly.  A smaller store of starch leads them to a slower rate of metabolism, ensuring that they make it through to dawn.  By tracking their use of starch reserves in response to odd nighttime schedules, scientists were able to prove that the plants can estimate the length of a night, the size of their food reserves, and enact the appropriate rationing system with astonishing accuracy.  No matter what, the plant will aim to use up 95% of its starch by morning.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that not only do plants know and care what time it is, but that we can exploit that tendency to make them better for us—even after they’ve been ripped from the soil.  One recent study from Rice University made the rather startling discovery that post-harvest plant life like a head of cabbage can still react to the time of day.  Plants don’t die right after harvest, and by using artificial light to simulate the sun’s movements we can trick them into continuing a normal daily cycle—or even an abnormal one.  Antioxidants are one healthful metabolic product of plant biology, and research has shown that they increase production of these potentially cancer-fighting molecules at certain times of the day.  A possible consequence of this work is that plants could be made more nutritious simply by changing how we store them, no genetic modification required.


Farming Got Hip In Iran Some 12,000 Years Ago, Ancient Seeds Reveal

Rhitu Chatterjee

Farming so nice, it was repeatedly invented

Michael Balter

The invention of farming some 10,000 years ago set the stage for the rise of civilizations in the Near East.  Yet archaeologists disagree about how it happened.  Some say it arose in a single spot near the Mediterranean, and spread from there.  Others argue it had multiple independent origins, a view that is getting new credence, thanks to findings from an early farming site in Iran.  Most research over the past decades has focused on the western stretches of the Fertile Crescent—including modern-day Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Turkey.  Recent excavations in those areas have suggested that hunter-gatherers first began to gather and plant seeds from wild cereals and legumes, such as wheat, barley, and lentils, as early as 13,000 years ago.  Only a few sites were known as far east as Iran, and most of them had been excavated in the 1960s and 1970s, before that country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and also before the advent of modern archaeobotanical techniques that make it much easier for researchers to recover tell-tale plant remains.  In 2009, archaeologist Nicholas Conard of the University of Tubingen led an excavation of Chogha Golan, a village in the foothills of the Zagros, a mountain range that runs along the Iran-Iraq border.  Iranian archaeologists had discovered the village about 15 years earlier, but never fully excavated it.   Before long, they hit pay dirt:  The sediments were rich with artifacts.  There were sculpted clay objects, clay cones, depictions of animals and humans as well as stone tools, like sickles, and mortar and pestles, some clearly used for grinding food.  And then there were the grains and seeds—hundreds of them, charred but otherwise intact and well preserved.   Conard suspected he had uncovered an “agricultural village,” but he sent the grains to his colleague Simone Riehl to double check.  She confirmed that the grains were indeed varieties of lentils, barley and peas.  She also identified a range of nuts and grasses, and a kind of wheat called Emmer, known to be a commonly grown crop in later centuries throughout the Middle East.  The team concludes that the advent of farming at Chogha Golan, and in the eastern Fertile Crescent, was an independent event that paralleled developments much farther west.  This suggests, researchers say, that farming was more or less inevitable once the Ice Age had ended and climatic and environmental conditions were right for it, rather than being a fluke that arose in just one location.


Why Does Food Heated in a Microwave Cool Faster?

Elizabeth Gunnison

The author has always been of the belief that food heated in a microwave cools faster, because food heated hastily will cool hastily, just to spite her impatience.  In a burst of “science-y” curiosity, she called Harold McGee, a man who has made a career of applying chemistry, physics, and biology to cooking, for a   and kind of not”; the bottom line is that heat is heat.  However, our nuked food could really be cooling faster, but for the following three reasons:

  1. The Container.  Heated in an oven, a metal baking sheet or pan will absorb heat from the oven and become much hotter than the food sitting on or in it, helping to cook the food while in the oven and continuing to keep it warm once it’s sitting out on the counter.  In a microwave, the containers are not heated directly by the microwave and never get hotter than the food itself.  The microwaved food doesn’t benefit from the ongoing source of heat once removed from the oven.
  2. Uneven Heating.  Microwaves heat food, particularly large food, unevenly due in part to differing amounts of energy in different parts of the appliance.  This often leaves the center of the food cold while the edges are piping hot.  Once removed from the microwave, the heat from the edges will migrate to warm up the center.
  3. Higher surface area to volume ratio.  Smaller pieces of food (which is very often what we’re microwaving) cool faster than larger ones due to their higher surface area to volume ratio.

Thanks, science.



ScienceShot: For Best Results, Mix With Bird Poop

Gabriel Popkin

Ecologists have long assumed that birds help plants mostly by separating seeds from their parents, to reduce the chance that seedlings will succumb to diseases that adult plants harbor, or face competition.  According to a new study, seeds of Capsicum chacoense, a wild chili pepper native to South America, are almost four times as likely to germinate after passing through the intestines of Elaenia parvirostris, a common fly catcher.  In this case, distance from parents had no effect on the chili’s success.  Instead, the researchers found that gut passage removed a common pathogenic fungus and scrubbed the seeds of an odor that attracts seed-eating ants.  This is the first time anyone has shown that being digested actually helps protect seeds from predation and infection.  The full report can be found this month in Ecology Letters.


Five Ways to See the Supermarket of the Future Today

Jesse Rhodes

Imagine if you will: Agropolis, a supermarket where all your produce is hydroponically grown right there in the store.  No matter where you live you’d have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  Transportation time and costs will be eliminated.  Unfortunately, Agropolis is purely conceptual, the idea of a team of Danish designers who wanted to take the farm-to-table concept to a new level.  Their grown-in-store model, while fun, has its drawbacks, namely that the technology required to make this a reality is prohibitively expensive.  Here are five ways you may see now or in the not too distant future in which supermarkets may make use of technology to create better shopping experiences.

  1. Same-Day Delivery.  Many food retailers now allow customers to fill a virtual cart online and have their order of goods delivered directly to their doorstep, however there is a delay between the time you place your order and the time you receive goods—as much as a few days depending on the delivery time slots available.  In April, Google began testing a new service dubbed Shopping Express in the San Francisco Bay area.  Customers can order from big box stores—like Target and Walgreens—as well as from participating local stores.  Not to be outdone, both Amazon and Wal-mart are each testing same-day and next day delivery services.
  2. Receipts in the Cloud.  This June, Booths supermarket in the UK has started phasing out paper receipts, instead sending them to a customer’s cloud-based account.  The idea of e-receipts isn’t new; however, Booths cloud refines the idea in such a way that digital-only receipts have advantages for the consumer.  Shoppers have an account so they can track not just how much they spend on each shopping visit, but also their expenditures by category, allowing them to make budgetary and dietary adjustments as needed.  There’s also the ecological bonus of eliminating an estimated 100,000 rolls of receipt paper per year.
  3. Scanning With Your Smartphone.  Some chains, like Giant and Stop and Shop, are publishing apps that turn your smart phone into a barcode scanner.  Though these apps are usually free to download, you may get hit in the wallet elsewhere; stores are using mobile technology to get shoppers to spend more money by offering app-exclusive coupons to spur impulse buys.  In a supermarket in Paris, customers use their phones to scan the item and, in addition to maintaining a running total of the grocery order, they will be provided with nutritional information and other data about the item before they decide to place it in their carts.
  4. No More Typing in Produce Codes.  While smart phones may be the new barcode readers Toshiba is figuring out how to do away with barcodes altogether by developing a scanner savvy enough to tell the difference between your Fuji and Granny Smith apples.  Unveiled in spring 2012, the Object Recognition Scanner hones in on patterns and colors in food much in the same way that facial recognition scanners use certain criteria to identify people.
  5. Shorter Waits in Line.  Infrared cameras used to detect body heat are a tool traditionally used by police and the military.  But food retailer Kroger sees a use for them in the grocery store.  By mounting the cameras at the entrance to the store and at the cash registers, the cameras work with in-house-developed software that records supermarket traffic at different times of day, allowing managers to know how many lanes need to be open and when to open them.  Currently in use at some 2,400 stores, the average customer wait time has been reduced form 4 minutes to 26 seconds.


Add yours

Comments are closed.