Sunday, November 8, 2015


JCN asks: What the story behind permeate in milk?

Well, it is simple enough but the marketers have had a field day with it, as if it is something evil and noxious.  Admittedly the name does conjure up images of goo oozing out of leg ulcers.

Simply put, permeate is milk with the fat and protein removed.  It consists of water, lactose, vitamins and minerals.  It is to milk what plasma is to blood.

Most commonly it is a by-product on cheese production.

It is the whey in Little Miss Muffett's curds and whey.

So why add it to milk?

Labelling laws.  Milk has a nutrition panel that gives a level of fat and protein present.  No-one consults the cows and they produce a wide range of fat and protein levels.  Dairies blend full cream milk with cream, permeate and skimmed milk to produce a standardised product that matches their label claims.

So it is natural, it is part of milk and it serves a purpose.

When Woolworths say that their milk is 'permeate free', they are lying.

Where is the ACCC when you need them?

Saturday, June 20, 2015


KM asks: my friend and I had quite a discussion on white vinegar the other day. She insisted that it's absolutely necessary to buy it from an organic store while I could not be sure if there is a whole lot of difference in taste and suitability for cooking between white vinegar bought from the normal counter and from an organic store. Is organic white vinegar superior to normal vinegar and is there a marked difference in how each tastes?

Interesting question.

Firstly , white vinegar is pretty much removed from it's feedstock ancestry.  It is made by first fermenting a sugar source of some sort, using yeast.  The resultant alcohol is distilled from the fermented liquor and then fermented with a separate bacteria (acetobacter) to convert the distilled alcohol to an acetic acid solution.  The fermented liquor is filtrered through a filter aid, such as diatomaceous earth, and heated to sterilize.  It is then diluted to the desired strength.  Vinegar is a weak solution of acetic acid.

It is not out of the question that the acetic acid is a by-product of industrial processes as well.  This could be directly or by comnmercial alcohol being fermented to produce acetic acid.  The acetic acid we use in the laboratory is far too strong to have been produced by natural fermentation.

Which ever pathway it comes through, it must meet the requirements for 'food grade'.

How 'organic' plays into this is a bit obscure.  White vinegar is pretty refined and even if the feedstock was not truly organic, it goes through a serious of steps that far removes if from its origins.

I would not expect any taste difference in organic and non-organic vinegars of the same strength.  Both are just diluted acetic acid.  The 'whiteness' points to the lack of other components of note.

Other vinegars (malt, cider, red wine, white wine, balsamic etc) carry more of their original feed matrix with them and, if organic is a goal, have more of an impact from organic practices.  Certainly the flavour is very different.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Masala Chai.

KM asks:  I am used to having (strong) tea that is made by boiling black tea, milk, sugar, and spices all together. I hear that it robs tea of all its benefits. Is that true? I have tried switching to healthier alternatives (like green tea), but nothing wakes me up in the morning better than a cup of Indian Masala Chai. Thanks a lot!

So, what are its benefits?  If waking you up in the morning is a benefit, then it clearly is doing its job.

Obviously Masala Chai has more calories than straight black tea, so over indulgence is not recommended on a straight energy basis but what components (and their effects) in the black tea are removed by adding milk, sugar and spices?

To start with, tea is perfectly good for you.  Adding milk (fat, protein, lactose) is not a minus.  Adding sugar is so-so but fine in moderation.  Adding spices is not going to be a negative.  The antioxidant advocates will say that they are a plus.  It's hard to see a downside.

Without knowing what the implied special benefits of black tea are specifically, it is not possible to know what is open to being robbed from the tea.  I suspect nothing.

In the end, food should not be regarded as a medicine.  Eat and drink in moderation.  Eat and drink for pleasure.  I do not believe that there are any super foods, nor any magic bullets.  Just because some foods contain components that are bad for you in excess (eg nutmeg) it does not mean that the contrary, that some foods are exceptionally good for you, is true.  The universe doesn't work that way.

Start your day happy, with a Masala Chai.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Pass the Butter

A friend forwarded me a post on Butter and Margarine, for my comment.  My comments, in blue, are interspersed with the original item, in black.

Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to figure out what to do with this product to get their money back.

Not so, Margarine was developed as a butter substitute as a result of a competition by Napoleon III in the med-1800s.  It is not fatal to turkeys.

It was a white substance with no food appeal so they added the yellow colouring and sold it to people to use in place of butter. How do you like it? They have come out with some clever new flavourings....

Yes, it is white and unappealing.  

DO YOU KNOW.. The difference between margarine and butter?


Read on to the end...gets very interesting!

Both have the same amount of calories.


Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams; compared to 5 grams for margarine.


Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard Medical Study.

No reference given to the study so cannot confirm or deny.  Sounds dodgy.

Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods.

Yes, but so does Margarine.

Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few and only because they are added!

Broad statement with no supporting information.  Margarine has added vitamins A & D.  Butter has only natural levels but they are not necessarily as high as the fortified margarine.

Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavours of other foods.

Very true.  A lot of the flavour of margarine comes from added skim milk powder.

Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years .

False.  Centuries or more for butter, 150 years or more for margarine.

And now, for Margarine..

Very High in Trans fatty acids.

This was true for old style margarines.  Modern styles have low levels of trans fats.

Triples risk of coronary heart disease ...

No evidence supplied.

Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol)

No evidence supplied.

Increases the risk of cancers up to five times..

No evidence supplied.

Lowers quality of breast milk

No evidence supplied.

Decreases immune response.

No evidence supplied.

Decreases insulin response.

No evidence supplied.

And here's the most disturbing fact... HERE IS THE PART THAT IS VERY INTERESTING!

I have never trusted people who need to type in capitals.  

Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC... and shares 27 ingredients with PAINT.

What does "one molecule away from being plastic" mean?  What is the molecule?

Margarine is as close to plastic as butter is.  Neither is particularly close.  Pretty much every chemical is only a step or two from a plastic.  That means nothing.  Protein, as a polymer of amino acids, is a plastic.  Who cares?  And the paint?  If the writer is talking old-style linseed oil based paints, well there may be some common chemicals.  But the same could be said for any product containing animal or vegetable fats.

These facts alone were enough to have me avoiding margarine for life and anything else that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is added, changing the molecular structure of the substance).


Open a tub of margarine and leave it open in your garage or shaded area. Within a couple of days you will notice a couple of things:

* no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something)

But they don't come to butter either.  Why should they?  Neither contain much content to appeal to a fly.  Or to an ant. 

* it does not rot or smell differently because it has no nutritional value ; nothing will grow on it. Even those teeny weeny microorganisms will not a find a home to grow.

Both butter and margarine will go rancid.  Both will dry out.  Both have the same nutritional value.  The writer has forgotten that he said early that margarine had the same calories as butter.  Margarine will, if anything, tend to go mouldy more readily than butter.  Is mould a teeny weeny organism?  Yes.

Why? Because it is nearly plastic . Would you melt your Tupperware and spread that on your toast?

No, it's not.  It is a synthetically hardened vegetable oil that has added, colour, vitamins, milk powder, water and salt.  I have taken cream and made butter in my kitchen.  But there is no way I could make margarine.  Even though I know exactly what to do and I have a degree in plastics.  It is beyond even Heston's kitchen.

For more on the manufacture of margarine, see this earlier post.

Share This With Your Friends.....(If you want to butter them up')!

Chinese Proverb:
When someone shares something of value with you and you benefit from it, you have a moral obligation to share it with others.


You can share this post too, if you wish.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Past its 'Use-By'.

Don asks "How important are the 'sell by' dates on food? Clearly something like milk gets nasty. Bread can easily mold. But what about something like canned beans? Would that be more a textural issue; like they get soft or something? Some people in the U.S. stockpile food thinking something awful might happen. I don't agree but what would you expect of an out-of-date can of beans or even tuna?"

Researching it a bit, it seems there are lots of different date marking legislations.

In Australia, perishable food must have a USE-BY date.  Consumption beyond this date may present a health hazard.  But it presupposes that storage conditions have been complied with.  Leave your milk in the back of your car for a day and all guarantees are off.

Food that has a shelf-life of less than two years must have a BEST BEFORE date.  Consumption beyond this date may mean that the product is no longer of good marketable quality.  It may be stale or aged but does not imply a health hazard.  And it doesn't change from OK to dodgy on the BEST BEFORE date.  It is best before that date but can be passable for quite some time afterwards.  Again it depends on storage conditions.

Food expected to last beyond two years does not require a BEST BEFORE date but must have some identifiable marking to permit a recall (Batch code, manufactured date etc.).

So, where doe that get us with Don's question?

Canned beans will last a long, long time.  Canning produces a bacterially sterile product.  Enzymes are destroyed too.  Generally speaking changes happen at the time of cooking (flavour, texture) and then the product is in a kind of suspended animation.

With canned beans, assuming they were of good quality when canned, there is nothing much that can happen to them.  There is no mechanism for deterioration: free of bacteria and enzymes, protected from physical damage by a thick sauce, they are pretty indestructible.  That goes for most canned product.

The main issue will be the external deterioration of the can over time, resulting in the formation of small holes that permit the entry of bacteria or the possible failure of the lacquer or other coating on the inside of the can.  The only protection you really have from that is to buy good product.  If you are planning to cater for the end of civilization, don't do it with cheap, plain-wrap stuff.

If the people planning for disasters want to be safe they could rotate their stockpile, eating the oldest product and replacing it with fresh product, using it like a well-stocked pantry.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

At last, a different onion question!

Anonymous asks: "Would like to know if you can get sulphuric acid poisoning from rotting onions? Had a bag of onions in my cupboard for months and they had rotted now all I can smell is onions. Really strong at times. "

A few bits to this:

Firstly, sulphuric acid is not volatile, so you cannot smell it.   Heat it sufficiently and you will get sulphur trioxide fumes which you can definitely smell but I am talking 400degC, somewhat warmer that the average cupboard.

Secondly, it is corrosive rather than toxic.

But on to the onions.  When things rot, all manner of compounds are formed and released.  What compound and what level will be dependent on onion type and the organisms associated with the rotting.  Onions contain a lot of sulphur so the breakdown products will be smelly.  Unpleasant but not necessarily harmful.

Chuck them out and air the cupboard.  There is not much else you can do.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Nuts to that!

Reading an article in Food Quality New I was a bit confused about the about photo (above), said to be of pecan shells.  Well, there may be pecans there at the back but the foreground is all almond and brazil nuts.

For the record, pecans look like this:

The gist of the article, though, was about the use of dried, powdered pecan shells as a natural, organic antibiotic, specifically against Listeria sp.

I would just like to point out that natural and organic are not the sole criteria for food safety.  Strychnine, cyanide, arsenic and aflatoxins are all well encompassed by the 'natural and organic' umbrella.  OK,  arsenic's not organic.  Just testing.  Lots (I mean lots of lots) of things contain organic compounds that exhibit antibiotic properties when concentrated and deposited of some unsuspecting bacteria.

But nothing beats having the bacteria not present in the first place.

No amount of powdered hoodoo dust will trump good manufacturing practices and plant hygiene.