Category Archives: Research

Consumers Want ‘Clean’ Food Labels; Now Professionals’ Tool Helps Them Define What Is, Isn’t, ‘Clean’

 

Every so often (every fifteen minutes or so, it sometimes seems!), a new food-related ‘buzz word’ catches the ear of consumers – sometimes almost at the same time it attracts the attention of food industry professionals. Not long ago, the ‘new’ word, or phrase, was ‘clean labels‘ – meaning, among other things, labels free of multi-syllable, unpronounceable words naming ingredients no one without a science degree can understand.

Consumers want ‘clean’ labels – and the products behind them to be healthier, less likely to initiate or compound health issues, than too many existing products are, or appear to be.

Complex additives are put into food products for an assortment of reasons, including flavor enhancement (salt and other spices being good examples), an ability to hold various ingredients in a liquid, semi-liquid or solid formula (emulsifiers and stabilizers), and shelf life-extending (salt again, as well as other things). Some of these reasons have seemed to make sense to product producers, but increasingly, they make less if any sense to consumers. That, and the fact that consumers are increasingly demanding healthier, ‘greener’ foods, are leading causes of the clean label movement.

The tool at https://gocleanlabel.com/about/ was created by a professional for professionals, but consumers, too, can use it to learn more about the clean label movement and, more specifically, to answer questions they have about specific ingredients. Questions such as ‘what is this’ and ‘what is it meant to do’. You also can use it to identify still-being-used materials that are, or aren’t, ‘clean’.

Both food processors and retailers are making strong steps to ensure fewer potentially harmful (or simply unnecessary) chemicals are added to foodstuffs. Undoubtedly, there are people who feel the industry isn’t moving fast enough – people who would, in effect, throw the baby out with the bathwater: Good chems out with not-so-good (or absolutely bad!) ones.

Ultimately, members of the consuming public need to take a greater interest in educating themselves about food additives, and learn how to make reasoned decisions about what they’re OK with putting in their bodies, and what they’re not.

I am working on a feature (for fooddive.com) about the new nutrition label that has been developed by the FDA. It is tentatively scheduled to become mandatory on a majority of food products (all except those produced in relatively small volumes) in 2018. But there’s already some push-back from at least one organization, and you can expect more push-back as a result of what we can only imagine will be dramatic, drastic changes of direction by the incoming presidential administration.

The thrust of my piece concerns the fact that changes to the nutrition label, while very much a separate issue from the overall additives one, reflect the fact that both industry, which had a hand in shaping the proposed label, and government are struggling – and that is not too strong a word – to deal with increasing scientific knowledge about foods and with changing consumer expectations.

As a courtesy to the readers of this blog, I will post a short note when my fooddive.com feature on that topic is published. (FYI, I write regularly on ingredients for fooddive.com. And as I’ve done for most of the past 40 years, I also regularly scan food trade publications – and now, web sites, too – around the world for both industry trends and consumer attitude shifts for this blog, which originated in the mid 1970’s as a column for trade publications in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.)

(By the way, between them, this blog and my other one, YouSayWHAT.info, have been read in no fewer than 80 countries in the last year!)

China Aiming to Develop ‘Spaced-Out’ Varietal Wines

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China is aiming to produce some really spacey wines – vin via vines nurtured to fruition, or at least new wine varietals, in their country’s newest space lab, labeled Tiangong-2. The aim is to see which, if any, varietals of cabernet csavignon, merlot and pinot noir might be able to produce new and plentiful generations of wine in some of the toughest-to-grow-wine-in territories on earth — including the sun-scorched Gobi desert, the high-altitude foothills of the Tibetan plateau, and the rock slopes of Ningxia Province.

Decanter-China, a bilingual website about the local wine industry, reported recently that,

Chinese scientists hope that growing the vines in space for a short time will trigger mutations that may make the plants more suitable for the harsh climate in some of the China’s emerging vineyard regions.

“In particular, scientists want to see whether genetic mutations in space make the vines more resistant to cold, drought and some viruses.”

Chinese growers in some areas, such as Ningxia, have to bury their vines in winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.

The vines came from a nursery based in Ningxia’s Helan Mountain East region, one of China’s most renowned quality wine regions, reported Ningxia local media.

The nursery is owned by the Chenggong Group, which has been importing vines from France’s Mercier Group since 2013.

In October, China sent two male astronauts to Tiangong-2 via the Shenzhou 11 spaceflight to perform research for 30 days, according to China National Space Administration.

When the vines return to earth, they will be compared to a control group in the Ningxia nursery.

The Guardian reported that an oenologist named Li Hua recently visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but Li realized that the area’s high altitude, many hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.

Freezing temperatures and unfavorable soil are among the most serious challenges facing wine producers in places such as Ningxia, an impoverished region at the heart of China’s nascent wine industry with punishing -25C (-13F) winters.

Decanter said researchers hoped exposure to “space radiation” might trigger genetic changes in the vines that would help them “evolve new resistance to coldness, drought and viruses”.

The website said the vines were sourced from a nursery near Ningxia’s Helan mountain, a region local politicians tout as China’s Bordeaux.

After returning to earth the samples will undergo tests and be compared to other vines in order to find the most “suitable mutation”.

China’s rapid economic rise has transformed it not only into the world’s number two economy but also one of its top wine producers.

The Asian giant now consumes more red wine than any other country and has more vineyards than France. Estates are popping up from the frosty northeastern province of Liaoning to the scorching deserts of Xinjiang.

“The best Chinese wine I’ve ever tasted in my life is produced just outside of Beijing,” Fongyee Walker, a China-based wine specialist, said in a recent interview. “Beautiful wine… Blind tasting you wouldn’t even know they were Chinese.”

Walker, the director of Beijing’s Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, said that for wine drinking to really take off in China it needed to lose its aura of pomposity.

“I grew up eating Chinese food and I grew up drinking wine and I came here and was like: ‘Why does no-one just drink wine with jaozi [dumplings]?’” said Walker, who recently became mainland China’s first Master of Wine.

“So much of it is that myth of: ‘You have to be dressed up and you have to use a corkscrew and you have to do this and you have to do that,’” she added. “And I said, ‘Look, you can drink your wine from a beer glass and you can eat it with zhajiangmian [noodles] on the street corner.’ It’s a liquid for goodness sake! Get over it.”

On top of their wine-related research, Xinhua, Beijing’s official news wire, said astronauts were using the Tiangong space lab to “carry out key experiments related to in-orbit equipment repairs, aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, such as quantum key distribution, atomic space clocks and solar storm research.”

Hot Pepper Causes 2.5cm Rip In Man’s Esophagus

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Louisiana pepper breeder/grower Tony Primeaux handles some hot ones. (Photo: Lee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

A 47-year-old man recently attempted a rather silly, super-spicy feat – eating a hamburger covered with a ghost pepper puree. The ghost pepper measures a scary 1 million units on the Scoville heat unit (SHU) scale, a per-mass measure of capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes some peppers spicy-hot.

By way of comparison, a bell pepper measures 0 on that scale. A jalapeno comes in at between 3,500-10,000 units; a Serrano and a Peperoncino score in the range of 10,000-30,000 units, and both Cayenne and Tabasco peppers range from 30,000-50,000 units – about as high as most people care to experience.

(Police pepper spray, by the way, comes it at around 5 million SHU.)

(I thought my mouth was on fire once when I took a bite out of an Habanero, AKA Scotch Bonnet chili – 100,000 -350,000 heat units – I’d found on sale at a London street market. I’d been told, simply, “It’s a hot pepper.” I said, “Oh, I love hot peppers.” This one was not to love!

(As quickly as I could, I went into a pub and ordered a pint of beer, as beer is rumored to cut the effect of heat in food, or peppers. Alternatively, the beer may just make you forget about the pepper’s burning sensation!)

An article in The Washington Post said that peppers that pass the 1 million SHU mark are called superhot. “As a rule they are reddish and puckered, as though one of Satan’s internal organs had prolapsed. To daredevil eaters of a certain stripe, the superhot peppers exist only to challenge.

“When consumed, ghost peppers and other superhots provoke extreme reactions,” The Post article said.

“Your body thinks it’s going to die,” as Louisiana pepper grower Ronald (Tony) Primeaux told the AP in October. “You’re not going to die.”

The Washington Post’s Tim Carman described eating a pea-sized chunk of the pepper, sans seeds, in 2012. “It was as if my head had become a wood-burning oven, lighting up my tongue and the interior of my skull,” he wrote. “Milk provided little relief, until the burn began to subside on its own about 10 minutes later.”

Primeaux, who hopes to claim the world’s hottest pepper title through cultivating his Louisiana Creeper variety, said, “When you put one of these in your mouth, it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame,” in his interview with the AP. “A bear is chasing you. You’ve just been in a car wreck. You just got caught speeding, and a cop is giving you a ticket.”

pepper-grower-with-plants

Pepper breeder/grower Tony Primeaux with some of his plants. (Photo: Lee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

That truly seemed to be the sensation experienced by the unnamed 47-year-old reported on in The Journal of Emergency Medicine. For him, “ingesting the pepper burger was less a bear chase and closer to an attack,” The Post article said.

As physicians at the University of California at San Francisco reported in the case study reported on in The Journal of Emergency Medicine article, he consumed the burger and attempted to quench the heat in his mouth with six glasses of water. When that failed the man began to vomit, which gave way to abdominal pain. He dialed emergency help.

At the emergency department, he received Maalox and painkillers. After his condition worsened, doctors moved him to the operating room, where they discovered a “2.5-cm tear in the distal esophagus,” about one inch, as the case report authors noted. The force of the vomiting and retching led to a rare diagnosis of Boerhaave’s syndrome; these spontaneous tears in the esophagus can be fatal if they are not diagnosed and treated.

“The rupture was as a result of the forceful vomiting and retching,” said UC San Francisco clinical fellow and study author Ann Arens, in an email to The Washington Post, “as a result of eating the hamburger with the ghost pepper puree.”

In this case, surgeons were able to repair the man’s throat. “He remained intubated until hospital day 14, began tolerating liquids on hospital day 17,” they wrote, “and was discharged home with a gastric tube in place on hospital day 23.”

The researchers concluded the case study with a warning.

“Food challenges have become common among social media, including the infamous cinnamon challenge,” they wrote, referencing the spice fad that was popular in early 2012. (When eating a heaping spoonful of cinnamon went wrong, it led to emergency calls and at least one collapsed lung.)

“When people ask me whether it is safe to try the ‘spicy food challenges’ I generally take a Nancy Reagan stance,” said Arens, “and say ‘Just Say No.’ But if you really just can’t help yourself, I would recommend just starting with a taste.”

Are College Kids ‘Hungry’? or ‘Food Insecure’? Researchers Want You To Believe They Are

A new study from the University of Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (UConnPIRG) suggests that a sizable share of college students are either ‘hungry’ or ‘food insecure’. This is the first time (to our knowledge) that anyone has give a lot of research time to studying college students’ food issues.

Sadly, the researchers in this instance may have reached conclusions as obvious as the fact that a sizable share of dogs will, given the opportunity, suggest to you (by begging or salivating) that they are hungry and/or food insecure.

College students, like dogs, are habitual creatures – or, put in a nicer way, creatures of habit. Like Pavlov’s dogs, which associated the ringing of a bell with food, college students associate the words  ‘pizza’ and ‘hungry’, and, separately, ‘energy bars’ with ‘good [things] to eat’. Neither of these word associations of students have much to do with reality, as pizza is only marginally healthy (read ‘true satisfiers of hunger’) as energy bars may be good for giving a boost when an all-night study session is at hand. But energy bars aren’t, like much else that students eat, particularly nutritious.

Anyone who knows or has in recent years known a college student shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that, given all the pressures on them to succeed in class (and, too often, in activities involving alcohol), close to one-quarter of the 3,800 surveyed said they were hungry and nearly half said they are food insecure.

Food insecurity was defined by the researchers – from a number of campus-based groups, including the University of Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (UConnPIRG), the College and University Food Bank Alliance, and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness – as the lack of reliable access to sufficient amounts of affordable, nutritious food. Very low levels of food security qualified students as hungry, a HealthDay report said yesterday (Sunday, Oct. 16).

The students were talked to by researchers at eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges in 12 states.  Hunger rates were 25% among community college students and 20% among those talked to at 4-year colleges, the research shows.

Food insecurity was reported by 57 percent of black students, compared with 40 percent of white students. Fifty-six percent of students whose parents didn’t attend college were food insecure, compared with 45 percent of students who had at least one parent who attended college, the study authors said.

“Hunger is an actual reality for far too many college students,” UConnPIRG’s Matt Talley said in a news release from the group.

“This problem threatens thousands of students who want to focus on academics but instead are left worrying about where they are going to get their next meal,” he said.

Food insecurity was a problem even for students who had jobs, were enrolled in a campus meal plan, or received some form of financial aid, the study found.

“The typical food insecure student in this study is working part-time, receives financial aid, and is reaching out for assistance from aid programs — and is still struggling to get by,” Talley said.

“When we have so many students who are doing everything right but still can’t afford food, it means we’re failing to provide these students with a viable path to success in their higher education,” he added.

OK, so much for what the researchers ‘found’, and supposedly believe. We (which in this instance means I) strongly suspect that, as anyone who pays attention to competing political surveys knows, you can, by asking the right questions, get the answers you want – or, put another way, confirm a pre-conceived notion, or idea.