You asked, We Answered: Q/A

6 minutes to read

Q. Why does buttermilk not taste like the buttermilk of my childhood years?

A. Formerly, buttermilk was the by-product of churning cream into butter, an operation performed on farms. Currently, the major by-product of the commercial butter-making process is nonfat milk. Buttermilk is now made from sweet milk, cultured by adding suitable bacteria, or soured by lactic acid.

Q. Do you have any information about a new method to tenderize meat?

A. Hydrodynamic pressure process (HDP) is a relatively new technique, under development, to tenderize meat. A shock wave, created by detonating an explosive, is sent through the meat in a closed container of water. The result is a severing of the stringy striations that make meat tough. Because toughness varies throughout whole cuts of meat, the technique creates tenderness throughout each cut or piece. In the future, it might be possible to buy a piece of meat with filet mignon tenderness at a blade chuck steak price.

An unexpected benefit is that, in addition to tenderizing meat, HDP reduces harmful bacteria such as Escherichia coli 0157:H7 in fresh ground beef. Although HDP inactivates most meat pathogens, it does not kill all types of bacteria. For example, harmless, nonpathogenic Lactobacilli remain.

Further studies are needed to determine whether HDP can be put to practical use in a commercial setting. If so, in future, it may be possible to discard the meat pounder and papain tenderizer, and not to have to deal with tough cuts of meat for long-cooking stows and soups.

Q. When I was diagnosed as a celiac, my doctor said the disease is fairly rare in the United States. Yet, I’ve met many other people with this condition. Is it really rare?

A. Formerly, celiac disease was thought to affect only about one in 5,000 people in the United States. Newer findings suggest it is far more common than that. After screening 1,200 children between 6 months and 20 years, the prevalence of celiac disease in the United States was found to be higher than in Europe where it is believed to affect one in 250. Celiac disease was identified in one out of 57 very young American children, and in one out of 33 adolescents.

Celiac disease is a genetic disorder, and results in gastrointestinal symptoms caused by sensitivity to gluten found mainly in wheat and rye, and to a lesser extent in oat and barley. This disorder requires lifetime management, and is controlled solely by avoiding gluten-containing grains and food products made from them. Often, celiac disease goes undiagnosed or wrongly ascribed to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance. “Gluten: Good and Bad” CR February 1988.)

Q. Is it really necessary to wash fruit such as melons before cutting them? After all, the outer rind is not eaten.

A. For safety, it is prudent to wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them, even if the outer rind or skin is not eaten, There have been outbreaks of foodborne diseases resulting in illnesses and hospitalizations with people who have eaten melons that had not been washed before being cut. The cuttings transferred pathogens and pesticide residues present to the edible portions. Avoid buying pre-cut melon slices that are sold at supermarkets.

Q. Do you have any information about an ingredient in jojoba that might act as an appetite suppressant?

A. Jojoba (ho-ho-bah) oil, from a plant, is used in cosmetics and shampoos, but not in food or feed. Jojoba meal, which remains after the oil is extracted, was thought to contain toxic compounds. This belief was based on experiments in which weanling mice were fed a diet containing 15% jojoba meal. The animals are less and lost weight.

However, in the 1990s, Marnix Cokelaere, a Belgian researcher, discovered that simmondsin, a component in jojoba meal, acted as an appetite suppressant. Cokelaere then reviewed earlier experiments with mice (and with cattle) fed diets containing jojoba meal. He found that simmondsin was not toxic, but satisfied hunger and resulted in less feed consumption.

Formerly, most jojoba meal was considered waste, and was buried in landfills. After an extraction process was developed to remove the simmondsin, the meal became a nutritious feed for cattle, containing 25% to 30% protein. Yearly, several minion pounds of jojoba seeds are harvested in the United States, and the oil represents a market value of $30 million. If simmondsin is approved as a safe human appetite suppressant, this formerly shunned component of jojoba will add an even greater market potential.

Q. Supermarkets carry packages of sliced apples, with a claim to be “preservative free.” How is it possible to keep sliced fruit from browning without the use of preservatives?

A. The sliced apples are treated with a solution that kills the enzymes that turn cut fruit brown. Then, the fruit slices are washed to get rid of the solution, and the fruit slices are packaged in a breathable film. The packaging controls the atmosphere by maintaining the exact levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide and moisture needed for the slices to remain fresh for up to two weeks.

Q. Do you have any information on the recent recommendation for choline intake?

A. For the first time, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences has made recommendations for adequate intake of choline: 550 milligrams daffy for men and 425 milligrams for women. High-protein animal products such as meat and dairy foods are good sources of choline. For example, a 12-ounce beef steak meets nearly half the daily requirement for men, with 250 milligrams of choline.

Choline helps the body absorb and use fats, including those that become part of the membranes that keep our cells intact. Choline deficiency can result in fat accumulating in the liver and damaging this organ. Choline is needed to synthesize a neurotransmitter (acetylcholine) for memory storage and muscle control. Also, choline contains a methyl group used by the body to form genetic material (DNA). Choline is closely interrelated to another nutrient: folate. Both are needed for many functions. (See “What Choline Does for the Brain and the Body,” CR, December 2001.)

Q. Do you have any information about, the fruit, lulo?

A. This tropical fruit may be found in the produce sections of stores in Hispanic neighborhoods. Because of its round shape and bright orange skin color when fully ripe, the lulo may be called “naranjilla”–the diminuitive for “little orange.” The translucent green/yellow pulp is juicy and acidic. Some people describe it as a combination of pineapple and lemon flavor. Lulo is a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae).

Lulo is grown in some Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Columbia, and Panama, where it is juiced, or used in ice cream. To date, efforts to cultivate lulo in the United States have been unsuccessful. Its purees and concentrates are imported and blended with other fruit juices and drinks.

Q. I am glad to find that the shells of pistachios are no longer dyed red. Whatever was the purpose in doing that?

A. Currently, most pistachios being sold are California-grown. Before pistachio trees became an established crop in California, they were imported from the Middle East. To disguise discoloration of the hulls cause by tannic acid, the nuts were dyed a uniform red. Few California pistachios are dyed. When they are, a cornstarch-based red coloring is used.

Beatrice Trum Hunter is the author of a number of books concerning food topics of importance to consumers. Mrs. Hunter is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and at meetings of health professionals, and from time to time she appears on national commercial and public television programs.

Leave a Comment