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Science Fare

Food Science Blog Pic

Source: Institute of Food Technologists

The science of sustenance. Diet developments. Munchie modification. Whatever alimental alliteration you choose, it’s all covered under a food processor’s “Research and Development” department. Almost all food manufacturers have an R&D division whose responsibility it is to improve existing products and manufacturing processes, extend current product lines and develop entirely new foods. Today we highlight some of what’s trending in food development.

Apples and Orange (Bananas)
Color is extremely important when it comes to food perception. Studies have shown that when it comes to our experience of food, food color is more important than food labeling or food taste. On a related note, food presentation garners similar results. Enter the “Arctic Apple”, a new breed of non-browning apple. Arctic Apples look and taste like a regular apple, but do not brown like traditional cut apples unless they sustain significant damage, like a fungal or bacterial infection. Proponents of the Arctic Apple feel that nonbrowning apples are more attractive to consumers, and thus will reduce food waste and increase fruit consumption.

Bananas are also getting a makeover. Scientists are currently testing a “super banana” with orange flesh that’s derived from genetically-modifying the banana’s amount of beta-carotene. The peel is yellow and it tastes like a normal banana, but the inside fruit is an attractive shade of cantaloupe orange. The hope is that the super banana will eventually help to prevent blindness in malnourished children around the globe.

A new variety of “Burgundine” asparagus is currently being trialed in the United Kingdom. Burgundine asparagus is the result of crossing normal green asparagus with an heirloom breed of purple asparagus. The resulting violet-hued stalks contain less lignim, the substance that makes asparagus fibrous, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Bring on the dips!

There’s Diamonds in Them Thar Jars
Put down the spoon and back away from the jar. That peanut butter that you were about to lick might be better suited for your home safe than for your cupboard. By mimicking the conditions of the earth’s mantle, a researcher in Germany has turned peanut butter into diamonds. What the what? Yes, peanut butter diamonds. Diamonds need carbon combined with intense heat and pressure in order to form, and, as it turns out, peanut butter is a pretty good source of carbon. Don’t run to Costco just yet, though. The peanut butter diamonds are small, fragile and impure, and eventually disintegrate.

Lick Or Treat
A Google search for “licking the yogurt lid” yields over 90,000 results, Facebook pages and blogs are dedicated to the activity, and ad campaigns by Yoplait and Muller have been based around it. Until recently, however, there was no solution to the obligatory-yogurt-stuck-on-the-lid phenomenon. Morinaga Milk, a Japanese company, has changed that. They’ve developed a nonstick technology for yogurt lids that’s inspired by the lotus leaf, which is known for repelling water and staying dry and clean. As to the obvious question as to why no one’s thought of this before, apparently it’s quite difficult to simultaneously repel yogurt while maintaining container sealability. Pesky physics.

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Crouching Carrots, Hidden Spinach

Brace yourself—you’re in for a shock. The “Food Pyramid” of our childhood is no more. “What?!?,” you wonder aloud. “That ambiguous, theoretical nutritive guideline is defunct? To which geometric graphic will I turn for my daily nutritional suggestions now?”

myplate_greenWell, never fear my diet dilettante, the nourishment experts at the USDA have replaced the familiar triangular doctrine of food intake with a straight-forward graphic of a dinner plate. “My Plate” depicts a plate setting divided into 5 food groups: Vegetables, Grains, Proteins, Fruits and Dairy. The message is pretty clear – this is what your plate should look like at every meal if you want to optimize your health. Oh, and, no, you’re not imagining things – half of the plate IS vegetables and fruit. Basically, the USDA is sending a not-so-subtle message that it’s time to buff up on “Meatless Monday” recipes.

As a new mom, this message hits pretty close to home. My daughter is almost a year old, and increasing her intake of solid foods every day. Right now, her palate is pretty malleable. There’s no need for the hard-sell where vegetables are concerned. I mean, she’s just discovered opposable thumbs. Plying various veggies on my (literally) captive audience of one isn’t the most difficult part of my day. However, even at 11 months, I am starting to see food preferences emerge – cheese, yogurt and bread strong among them. It doesn’t take a giant leap of thought to imagine that these food propensities will only grow to be more pronounced and may soon edge out the vegetable category altogether. So, what’s a responsible, health-conscious mother to do?

I am clearly not alone in this dilemma. American’s overall consumption of fruits and vegetables has been stuck at less than half of the recommended amount for quite some time. The statistics are worse among children under the age of 18. Only about 16% of kids are meeting the government’s vegetable and fruit guidelines, with fried potatoes accounting for approximately a third of vegetable consumption and juice making up more than a third of fruit consumption.

It appears that the tide may be turning however, if food processors have anything to say about it. Two main pro-vegetable strategies are emerging among food manufacturers. The first is to make vegetables more attractive and user-friendly. Examples include pre-prepped fresh vegetables, such as fancy-cut baby carrots or shaved brussels sprouts. The other approach is to actually make veggies “stealth” by slipping them into other more widely-accepted foods, such as casseroles and baked goods.  Along those lines, Green Giant recently introduced “Veggie Blend-Ins” – prepackaged pureed vegetables that can be added to less-healthful foods. Similarly, Kraft added pureed, freeze-dried cauliflower to a variety of its Macaroni & Cheese Dinner and Chef Boyardee has increased the amount of tomato in some of its canned pasta.

Each of these strategies is decidedly different – one is rooted in good-intentioned deception, and the other speaks to our busy lifestyles while appealing to our fondness for the aesthetically-pleasing. I am happy that the food industry is actively tackling the kid vs. veggie challenge, and am sure that I will be practicing both approaches with my daughter. Because something tells me that there will be no shortage of grilled cheese sandwiches in my future – grilled cheese with veggies, that is.

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