This nanny state gets ever worse. You can’t buy anything these days that tastes any good because they’ve removed the bloody salt and sugar from it. I had a couple of hash browns from McDonalds this morning and they were devoid of flavour (they only have any if they’re crispy, and mine were bordering on soggy).
When I came home I saw this article aggregated by MSN from the Huffington Post. Neither of them are to blame for anything – the real pain in the arse is a British food nanny TV show called ‘Tricks of the Restaurant Trade’. They’ve apparently made the ‘shocking’ discovery that when you add dressing to salad, the calories go up, and that hot tomato soup contains added salt and sugar.
They cited Greggs, whose Cream of Tomato Soup claims to contain 5.7g of sugar per 300g portion – but which, when measured, was found to contain over 25g. My guess here is that Greggs calculated how much sugar they had added to their recipe, and omitted the sugar already there from the tomatoes. Take 300g of canned tomatoes and you’d find over 13g of sugar naturally present, so add another 6g and you’re not far off what Greggs claimed (the TV crew also had a larger sample than 300g and declared the total sugars, and were too stupid to adjust the figures pro rata – probably to make Greggs look bad on purpose).
Greggs has said it will reformulate if necessary – but they should leave it alone. If they take out the added sugar it’ll just be like eating tomatoes, and you don’t need much help if you just want to do that.
Then there was the startling case of the Big Mack Salad. This is a Mackerel salad, which was found to contain about 760 calories – and which sent everyone apoplectic. What they didn’t point out (and probably didn’t know because they hadn’t bothered to look it up) is that a typical single serving of Mackerel on its own – raw – would contain about 430 calories. Add a mere 30mls of Olive Oil and you’re up to 700 calories right away. Add a bit of sugar and you have your explanation without any need for a stupid Channel 4 shit stirring show. In light of this, comparing the salad’s calorie content to ‘an average fried breakfast’ as though the Big Mack is something heinous is so misleading it is plain wrong.
Unfortunately, this is what happens when you involve someone like Amanda Ursell – a ‘nutritionist’. You see, anyone can become a nutritionist – the name is not registered, nor is the ‘profession’ regulated – so the title is pretty much meaningless. However, it does attract a certain demographic, and if you’re lucky enough to be blonde, female, photogenic, and emanate from the Home Counties, then you’ll have a career in television ready to fall into your lap with very little effort on your part.
People like Ursell love to compare various foods with ‘spoons of sugar’ or ‘grams of salt’ as if there is some sort of problem, and yet the only ‘problem’ is their own vague understanding of the issue and their inability to understand science properly. They can’t get it into their thick skulls that food contains calories, and these calories often come from fats and sugars.
They even had a go at Wasabi’s Sushi boxes for having too many carbs, and likened it to ‘seven slices of bread’. More simple maths: a slice of bread has 80 calories, so seven slices is 560 calories. Cooked sushi rice is about 140 calories per 100g, so four sushi rolls would have a similar overall calorific value from carbs. It’s like, wow, rice has carbohydrates in it. In fact, it is what it is, and nothing more.
On the surface of it, this story from Cosmopolitan (no, I don’t read it – this was an MSN aggregate feed) had me all “ooh! I must try that”. But then I did a quick, mental reality check.
In the real world, potatoes usually have ‘eyes’ and other bits you don’t want. If they are anything other than straight out of the ground, they develop various dark patches which extend several millimetres deep into the flesh. Store-bought ones may have gashes which go deeper still. And however hard you try to stop them, they WILL start to sprout – especially in warmer weather. Some will have odd, natural, and very deep creases – almost as if two potatoes have fused together, but retained their individual identities.
I gave up peeling potatoes using a knife many years ago. My favoured way of peeling spuds is to use a peeler like this one (this is the OXO Good Grips Peeler, but I have used others over the years).
It also peels carrots, swedes, and pretty much anything else with a skin. The best part is that if you have an ‘eye’ or other blemish, you just give it a few more scrapes and take it down until the unwanted feature has been pared away. You can peel enough potatoes for four people in just a few minutes, and you NEVER cut yourself (unless you’re stupid).
The potatoes – well, I should say ‘potato’, since there is only one featured – used in the demonstration video are absolutely perfect. Nothing like those you’d want to peel at home.
This ‘new’ method involves cutting a slit in the skin, then placing the potato in boiling water. It effectively cooks the flesh next to the skin, which therefore goes soft, and the skin then appears to come off just like sliding off a glove. I might give it a try next time I get a chance, but in all honesty I think my peeler is probably much less bother.
Incidentally, if you buy potatoes in bulk like I do – whole sacks of Maris Pipers – they stay fresh MUCH longer if you transfer them to a proper Hessian (Burlap in America) potato sack. Store the sack in a cool dark place.
Many of you will have heard the stories about dumb labels. It’s sometimes hard to work out which end of the chain is the dumbest – the designer or the user – but whatever the reason, it is deemed necessary to state the most obvious facts in the most patronising way possible on many things that you buy.
Actually, while I was looking for examples, I came across this website with some funny ones. I particularly like the veterinary tablets for someone’s dog, with the warning of drowsiness, and not to drink alcohol or operate heavy machinery after taking them. It’s obvious that they’re mostly American – we aren’t that bad. At least, I didn’t think so until today.
I’ve joked with my local Chinese takeaway before about how their menu warns that Chicken with Cashew Nuts “may contain traces of nuts”. And it is on the subject of nuts – peanuts in fact – that an alert appeared in my inbox today.
The Food Standards Agency announced that Lidl is recalling its Alesto brand of Honey Peanuts because peanuts are not mentioned in English on the packaging. I didn’t realise things had gotten so bad. I mean, Lidl is a German company and much of what it sells comes from non-UK sources. I thought everyone was aware of that. But going a step further, what on earth would someone with a life-threatening food allergy be doing buying something to eat without knowing what was in it? Come on. We’re talking about peanuts here – or “erdnüsse” – the number one killer of humans in the UK, if you believe the media on these things.
And as if this wasn’t bad enough, another warning came through advising that Lidl is recalling its Milbona brand of Fruit Yoghurt due to – wait for it – the presence of undeclared milk! Where the hell do people think yoghurt comes from? Bees?
Food manufacturers are living a nightmare if the number of FSA alerts I see is anything to go by. Not a day passes without recalls due to undeclared milk, eggs, soya, sesame, mustard, wheat, gluten, and so on. Asda even had to do a recall a couple of weeks ago to milk “as an allergen” being incorrectly worded – I’d have though that someone who was likely to explode if they consumed milk would be aware that the word they were looking for on the label was “milk”. But it seems that manufacturers have to provide an encyclopaedic description these days, or face an expensive recall.
Still, I suppose this Lidl thing is all leading nicely toward Brexit and the New British Nationalism (if it ever happens, and let’s hope it doesn’t).
Anyone who makes their own curry needs to be aware of this. TRS is recalling certain packs of its Cumin and Coriander powders because they contain salmonella. Batches affected:
TRS Jeera (Cumin) Powder
Pack size: 100g
Batch no: P353340
‘Best before’ date: 31 December 2017
TRS Dhania (Coriander) Powder
Pack size: 100g
Batch no: A481514
‘Best before’ end: End December 2017
No other TRS products, packs, or batches are involved. You should not eat any affected pack, and return it to the store you purchased it from and get a refund.
TRS is a well-known brand and is one of the main suppliers of whole and ground spices in most specialty stores and even mainstream supermarkets.
There’s an update to this, with a new alert from the Food Standards Agency. A further batch of Cumin (Jeera) is involved, and TRS has now added a batch of Chilli Powder (Extra Hot):
TRS Ground Cumin (Jeera) Powder
Pack size: 100g
Batch no: P200116
‘Best before’ date: 30 June 2017
TRS Chilli Powder (Extra Hot)
Pack size: 400g
Batch no: P160303
‘Best before’ date: 31 March 2018
I was doing a bit of online research for some recipes for a slow cooker I just purchased. One recipe called for coconut milk, and I noticed one of the comments underneath:
I forgot coconut milk, will it still work with passata?? HELP PLS
This is what coconut milk looks like compared to passata. In case anyone is wondering, coconut milk is the one on the left.
Furthermore, coconut milk tends to come from something called a “coconut”, like this.
Passata, on the other hand, is commonly made from things called “tomatoes”, which look like this.
This gives rise to a distinct difference in the colour region when you compare coconut milk alongside passata. There are also a few notable differences between the plants which produce them.
Coconuts grow somewhere between 15 and 30 metres in the air at the top of palm trees in various tropical and subtropical locations around the world (if you’re still stuck, coconut palms are the ones on the left). Each coconut – once it is removed from its tough outer casing – is hard and woody, and weighs nearly 1.5kg, and each palm can produce fruit for 70 years or more. On the other hand, tomatoes grow pretty much anywhere you want them on bushes usually no more than about 1-2 metres off the ground. A tomato plant can live for a few years, though they’re mostly treated as annuals and new ones planted each year. A typical tomato is soft and squishy and weighs in at around 100 grams. Every 100 grams of coconut contains about 6g of sugar and over 30 grams of fat, compared with about 2.5 grams of sugar and virtually no fat in the same amount of tomato. There are a lot of other nutritional differences.
I wonder if the person who asked that question ever tried the recipe using passata instead of coconut milk?
I covered dry roasted peanuts in that last article, noting how expensive they can be. Cashews have always been a hundred times worse – with peanuts, at least you get a few handfuls. A typical bag of cashews is likely to contain less than 20 nuts and cost at least twice the price of the peanuts!
You can buy raw cashews for as little as £1.15 per 100g from Real Foods. All you need after that is salt (again, use sea salt because it has no additives).
In a saucepan, place ½ tbsp salt and about 100-150 mls of water. Bring to the boil and let the salt dissolve. Then add 500g of raw cashews. Stir to make sure that all the cashews are coated with the salt water, and keep stirring carefully until the water is absorbed/evaporates. Remove from the heat and turn out on to baking parchment laid in a baking tray.
Place in a pre-heated oven (gas mark 4, 180°C, 350°F) for exactly 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, use a spatula to turn the cashews, or simply tip them into the baking tray. Don’t exceed 20 minutes, as they burn easily.
Take the tray out of the oven and allow the nuts to cool to room temperature. Store in airtight containers or bags. They will – or should, if you didn’t over-cook them – look like those in the photo above.
If you think they’re too salty, use half the amount of salt next time.
I recently started hankering after dry roasted peanuts as a result of buying a packet for snacking purposes one sunny afternoon. The immediate and most obvious drawback to this ever becoming a regular snack item was the price – nearly £2 for small bag (roasted cashews are even more expensive – more on that in this article). Even the most heavily discounted KP nuts (the best ones) work out at nearly 70p per 100g.
That got me going on one of my make-your-own projects, and this recipe is what I came up with.
You can buy raw, blanched, skinless peanuts from Healthy Supplies for less than £4.75 per kg (that’s 47.5p per 100g). Real Foods sells them for as little as 33p per 100g if you buy 6kg (or even less if you go for un-skinned ones). All you need after that is a jar of Marmite (from any large grocery store), onion powder (also from most large grocers in small jars, or in various pack sizes online from BuyWholeFoodsOnline), garlic powder (ditto), honey, and sea salt (no additives, so don’t use table salt).
All you need to do is place the following in a saucepan (with a lid available):
- ½ tbsp salt
- ½ tbsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ tbsp Marmite
- ½ tbsp honey
- 4-6 tbsp (approx) water
Gently bring it to the boil while stirring continuously using a small whisk to break up any lumps, then simmer while still stirring for a minute or so. Remove from the heat, add 500g of raw peanuts, and put the lid on the saucepan. Toss the nuts until they’re all completely coated with the sticky brown syrup (invert the pan several times to make sure).
Turn out the coated nuts on to baking parchment laid inside a baking tray of some sort and spread them out into a single layer. Roast gently in a pre-heated oven (gas mark 4, 180°C, 350°F) for 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the nuts using a spatula, or simply tip them off the parchment on to the baking tray. They will over-cook extremely easily, so stick to exactly 20 minutes (maybe even less if you have a fan-assisted oven).
Take the tray out of the oven and allow the nuts to cool to room temperature. Store in airtight containers or bags. They will – or should, if you didn’t over-cook them – look like those in the photo above.
If you think they’re too salty when you taste them, next time try using half the amount of salt (Marmite is already salty, of course).
Are dry roasted peanuts healthy?
If raw peanuts are classed as “healthy”, the only thing in this recipe that makes them any less so is the sodium (salt) content. You have to face the fact that for many things to taste good, you need salt to act as a flavour enhancer.
Having said that, the amount of salt in an entire batch of these nuts is less than the recommended maximum daily amount of around 2.5g. So unless you scoffed 500g all in one go there would be no issue – and quite honestly, unless you have high blood pressure, exceeding 2.5g now and again isn’t going to hurt you. I’m not saying you should, just that you’re not going to die on the spot if you do.
Although I never had anything like it as a child, these days I get early season hay fever symptoms (it’s the tree blossom). Nothing too serious, but itchy eyes and a tickly throat – the latter of which always seems to be worse when the air is dry, and which I can also trigger if I have the aircon on for too long. To try and do something about it I recently started drinking water during the day. Now anyone who does a job like this will know that you normally try to avoid drinking too much of anything so that you don’t end up having to take a leak every five minutes, and that was me to a “T”. I would often start work at 10am and finish at 8pm, sneaking in a couple of McDonalds’ white coffees along the way, and apart from the inevitable need to offload these at some point, I’d wait until I got home before drinking a load of tea.
It seems fairly obvious looking back, but when you’re only drinking things that make you wee even more, and especially in the warmer weather, dehydration is likely to be an issue. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that my tickly throat cleared up completely almost immediately I began drinking water. It should come as even less of a surprise to hear me point out that after the first half litre water is boring.
A quick Google revealed myriad rehydration drinks. What I was after was a make-your-own flavouring I could buy in bulk, and since I was expelling minerals as well as fluids every time I took a whiz, replacing them using isotonic drinks made sense. What didn’t make sense were the prices – the typical cost of 500g of isotonic powder (ten servings) is around £10 – and although I found one particular brand at about a quarter of the price (and with 20% extra for free), it turned out this was a special offer. With every Spandex Boy in the country on to the case, they’d sold out when I tried to get some more.
So, long story short, I decided to make my own. After some research (and trial and error), here’s a recipe for an isotonic rehydration drink (it makes 400g, one 40g serving is dissolved in 500mls of water):
Making it is simple: just put all the ingredients in a food processor and make sure it is fully mixed. Then store it in an airtight jar and use as required. I also add a pinch of food colouring powder during mixing, but the amount used is too small to quantify.
Based on the prices I paid for all the ingredients, this mixture costs £4 per kg (25 servings). Compare that to at least £15 per kg (unless you can get it on short-lived special offer) for commercial mixes.
I bought the sugars from Bulk Powders (you need to buy the 5kg pack to get the lowest price).
I obtained Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Sodium Citrate, and Potassium Chloride from various sellers on eBay and Amazon (make sure you get food grade material). I’ve got tons of fine sea salt (sodium chloride) at home, but you can get that from just about anywhere. And the concentrated flavourings (by far the most expensive ingredient in terms of contribution to overall cost) can also be had from various online sellers. Remember that the larger pack size you choose, the lower the cost.
Ordinary kitchen scales (measuring to 1g) are fine for weighing out the sugars, but you may want to get a more accurate balance for the other ingredients. You can get small scales which weigh up to 500g with 0.1g resolution on eBay for about £15 (they look like CD jewel cases), and they’re accurate enough. Don’t even think about the tiny ones which supposedly weigh to 0.01g and cost a few pounds, because they are crap.
I buy 12 x 500ml packs of spring water from Asda for about £2.00 and add my powder to those. At 17p a bottle, each finished drink works out at around 33p. It’s worth noting that if you didn’t flavour the blend, it would only cost about £2.80 per kg, and each completed drink would cost about 28p (this is the base price). With commercial powders, each drink comes in at around £1.20!
You can adjust the recipe if you want longer term energy supply by cutting down the glucose and fructose (keep the ratio at 2:1), and increasing the maltodextrin. It’ll be less sweet, since maltodextrin isn’t sweet, but your body has to break this down into glucose by itself. You could also replace it with sucrose (cane sugar), which is sweet. And you may want to increase or decrease the amount of flavour slightly depending on what strength you buy. Just make sure everything adds up to 400g. Each 40g serving delivers 258mg of sodium and 60mg of Potassium.
It tastes rather good. I had a few fun issues to start with. First of all, it tastes very bland without any acidification, and – as I discovered – the level of Citric Acid doesn’t need to be as high as it is in the fresh fruit (my first try had eight times more acid and it gave me wicked indigestion). The acid has to be buffered using Citrate. And Malic Acid rounds off the flavour dramatically. Once I researched the formulation of soft drinks and built in the ingredients listed on several commercial packs, everything came together perfectly.
On a final note, the acids and the citrate have E numbers associated with them. You will find lots of nonsense on the internet about how that is bad. It isn’t. Citric Acid is made from natural ingredients, and sodium citrate is made from it. Malic Acid occurs naturally, although the manufacture of it commercially is via a synthetic process.
I get quite a few hits on this exact search term. I’ve said in my own recipes that you can’t make a decent curry (or Chinese, for that matter) without oil and salt – so if you’re looking for a low-calorie, low-sodium meal without either of those you’re going to have to get used to it tasting a fair bit different to one that’s made the proper way if you start leaving these ingredients out.
Oil (or fat) has a number of functions depending on what it is that you’re cooking. Simple pan frying, for example, uses oil as a lubricant and you can get away with – say – frying an egg without oil (or with the tiniest amount) if you use a good non-stick pan. It will taste slightly different, but passable. Bacon and sausages contain their own fat and so the cooked taste isn’t affected as much if you “dry” fry them (though they might be a bit dry).
When deep-frying, though – and I’ll get to the curry question later – it is the fact that oil boils at a high temperature which is the really important factor. Consider making chips (or French fries). Your potatoes are cut up and ready to go. If you drop them in boiling water (which boils at 100°C), 10 minutes or so later you simply end up with boiled potatoes – still edible, but nothing like chips or fries. However, oils like Sunflower and Rapeseed Oil (Canola) can be heated to close to 200°C, which is almost at their smoke point. The smoke point is when the oil begins to (obviously) smoke and alter its chemical structure (i.e. to break down), and this influences the taste of whatever it is you’re cooking. It’s also why you can’t use the same oil too many times, as it degrades and begins to taste bad (it can also become toxic, as unsaturated fats break down into saturated ones and other chemicals are produced).
When you drop your chipped potatoes into the hot oil, the water in them starts to boil and escape as steam – this is why the pan appears to “boil”, even though it is just very hot. However, the high oil temperature also seals the outside of the chips so that the steam can’t easily escape, and this has the effect of cooking them from within. It also keeps them moist. Furthermore, the high temperature caramelises (or browns) the outside, and this gives the tasty golden brown colour you associate with chips and fries.
To cook chips or fries properly at home, the best technique is to double fry them – first, at about 140°C for about 5-6 minutes until the chips are nearly cooked (just before they start to brown – squeeze one to make sure it’s not hard), then remove them and heat the oil to about 180-190°C and fry them again until they are golden and crisp. A deep-fat fryer is best for this process so you can control the temperature more easily, but a pan and thermometer will work. Alternatively, instead of the first frying step, you can place the chips in boiling water for 6 minutes, drain them, plunge in cold water, drain, and then fry them at 180-190°C.
If you try to cook chips at a single temperature they either turn out soggy (lower temperatures) or burn on the outside but remain undercooked inside (higher temperatures).
But what has all this got to do with the curry question? Well, with curry, high temperatures are vital in order to develop the correct flavours. Curry is not supposed to be a boiled dish, and the only way to get the high temperature for the cooking process is with oil. If you just heat the dry pan and then add water-based ingredients like onions and tomatoes they will cook at around 100°C (and stick easily). Oil helps with lubrication and cooks them at close to 200°C – which is very different, and contributes dramatically to the all-important curry taste.
Furthermore, the essential oils in the spices which give the dish its flavour are soluble in the oil, but not always in water. So as well as allowing the “cooked” taste of the spices to develop, the oil allows those flavours to become properly dispersed for when they land on your tongue. I’m sure I once read that oil-based flavours interact with your taste buds differently to water-based ones, but it is certainly a fact that the mouth feel of oil alone has a very specific effect on your brain. A wet, water-based curry doesn’t feel right when compared with an oil-based one like you get from the takeaway.
Remember that you can drain off excess oil from a curry quite easily, and in any case you don’t have to eat it if it’s formed a pool on your plate. All you do is allow the curry to stand for a few minutes until the oil begins to separate, and either pour it off or use a large spoon to ladle it out (push the spoon down gently and collect the oil as it runs into the bowl). However, remember that curry is supposed to have oil in it, so leave some in.
How can I eliminate oil in my curry?
If you mean not use any at all, you cannot. An oil-free curry it isn’t a curry anymore, just something you might try to call “a curry”. The high temperature you can heat oil to, and the simple fact it is an oil in the first place, is what makes a curry taste the way it does. Watery curry doesn’t taste right, doesn’t look right, and doesn’t smell right.
Too much oil can simply be poured or spooned off, as I explained above.
I’ve written before about how certain idiots in this country – many of them supposed medical experts – have ruined everything we eat by forcing manufacturers to either remove or reduce the salt content. This is in spite of research which shows salt isn’t as bad for you as the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) radical sect would have us believe.
Now, the same people have formed a new group – Action on Sugar – with the avowed intention of screwing up sweet stuff for us, too. This is based almost entirely on the fact that some people (and their parents) are too bloody stupid to be allowed out unsupervised, and who subsequently suffer from obesity and other health problems as result of drinking 6 litres of Coca Cola a day, and who eat nothing but chocolate and biscuits.
This newly-named bunch of activist idiots goes on to name a range of products and the amount of sugar contained in them. It’s worth reproducing it here to help us do a reality check:
- Starbucks caramel frappuccino with whipped cream with skimmed milk (tall): 273kcal; 11 teaspoons of sugar
- Coca Cola Original (330ml): 139kcal; 9 teaspoons of sugar
- Muller Crunch Corner Strawberry Shortcake Yogurt (135g): 212kcal; 6 teaspoons of sugar
- Yeo Valley Family Farm 0% Fat Vanilla Yogurt (150g): 120kcal; 5 teaspoons of sugar
- Kellogg’s Frosties with semi-skimmed milk (30g): 4 teaspoons of sugar
- Glaceau Vitamin Water, Defence (500ml): 4 teaspoons of sugar
- Heinz Classic Tomato Soup (300g): 171kcals; 4 teaspoons of sugar
- Ragu Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce (200g): 80kcals; 3 teaspoons of sugar
- Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Crunchy Oat Granola Cinnamon Bars (40g): 186kcal; 2 teaspoons of sugar
- Heinz Tomato Ketchup (15ml): 18kcal; 1 teaspoon of sugar
Out of that list, I would only ever eat or drink Coke (perhaps a small bottle or two on hot summer days), Ragu (once in a blue moon, though I’d choose Dolmio given the choice because it tastes better), and Heinz Ketchup (a tablespoon a couple of times a week). So, not every day, and not to excess. That’s because I’m not a prat who needs nannying. However, if I was one of those people who ate everything on that list every day, to excess, and who also fed it to my children, then I’d deserve to have them taken away from me and put into care.
The BBC story quotes a doctor (also a member of Action on Sugar):
Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist and science director of Action on Sugar, said: “Added sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever and causes no feeling of satiety.
I may be missing something here, but I think Dr Malhotra is deliberately trying to mislead. You see, herbs and spices have no nutritional value either, but they are essential in making food taste nice. Dr Malhotra might also want to take a close look at the food his or her countrymen have been eating for centuries. Salt has been in use since before recorded history; oil has been used for almost as long; and likewise with sugar. Is he/she suggesting they stop?
The bottom line is that not one of those listed processed foods will do anyone any harm at all as long as they don’t stuff themselves with it all day, every day. The problem isn’t that foods contain sugar. The problem is that some people are complete morons.
And that doesn’t appear to be a bar to entering the medical profession.