Heritage to Canned Tomatoes

Posted on:August 21, 2012
Hybrid, heritage, canned tomatoes

Large, bountiful hybrid tomatoes on the left; small tasty heritage tomatoes on the right and canned tomatoes in the middle. They all have a place in one's diet.

I haven’t blogged for a bit. What can I say; I’ve been busy. That, in fact, is the bases for this blog. Back in January, I wrote a blog entitled “Why I Love Processed Foods.” At the time I was in the middle of a northern Minnesota winter. Since I had not stocked up on venison jerky to carry my family through the season, I was glad to have non-local foods with extended shelf lives.

It is now summer in the Chicago area and I’m writing from the opposite situation. My vegetable garden has been producing fresh garlic, eggplant, green peppers, onions (bugs got the broccoli) and tomatoes…lots of tomatoes. We have been eating hybrid cherry, Big Boy and/or Early Girl varieties for two months with surplus to feed retired and unemployed friends and neighbors and, well anyone that shows the slightest inclination to accept the big juicy veggies being forced upon them.

I experimented this spring and also planted an expensive little heritage plant. It finally just delivered three, small, blemished but noticeably delicious tomatoes. As my husband said, “The ugly ones taste the best.” So, are heritage better than hybrid tomatoes? Are fresh tomatoes better than canned versions?

Yes and no. Yes…little can compare to the taste of sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil smothered in balsamic vinegar (a favorite “pig out” food of mine). And no…my lack of kitchen time means canned diced tomatoes and sauces have been the cornerstone of many meals this summer. A fast meal of freshly sliced and battered eggplant, pressed garlic, mozzarella all smothered in [canned] Ragu tomato sauce…wonderful. Fresh green peppers stuffed with grains and fresh vegetables and Del Monte’ canned diced tomatoes and chilies…quick, healthy and tasty. The small quantity of heritage tomatoes feeds one’s “inner gourmet.” Fresh hybrid tomatoes feed the neighborhood. Canned vegetables feed the harried cook and the masses, all year long.

Is Gluten Free a Trend or Fad?

Posted on:May 22, 2012


Cover slide for May 2012 presentation on food trends

A May 2012 presentation on U.S. food trends resulted in an audience discussion on the gluten free products. The whole presentation can be viewed through a link in the blog.

This last week I gave a presentation on trends in the food industry at the May 2012 Food Executive Women’s meeting. The Chicagoland-based group ( was founded about 21 years ago and its membership profile is somewhat similar to the Institute of Food Technologies, just all female.

The presentation covered trends previously mentioned in this blog with further details. (Click to download the presentation. It takes a bit of time.) It also included comments on a few additional trends. The audience had questions and comments on one trend in particular…that of “free from” foods for which gluten free was used as an example. Although they differ from each other, statistics from both Packaged Facts and New Nutrition Business show phenomenal growth in the U.S. gluten free market. Many in audience were nutritionists and the question arose as to whether gluten free was a trend or a fad. They also asked from where were the statistics on gluten sensitive people derived? Were they self-diagnosed?

Although I am not aware of a quantitative way to differentiate a fad from a trend (I’d appreciate comments), interest and attention to gluten free is here to stay. There are simply too many people legitimately impacted by gluten for it to go the way of low carbohydrate foods (although I’d argue that hasn’t disappeared either, just morphed into interest in new eating patterns).

While certainly many have falsely self-diagnosed gluten issues, clinical research does support very high rates.  One study (Fasano A, et al. 2003. Arch Intern Med. 163(3):286-92.) places the prevalence of Celiac disease at 1 in 133 in the U.S. based on the presence of serum antibodies and intestinal biopsies.  Another study (Sapone, A, et al. 2001. BMC Med.9:23.) places the number of gluten-sensitive individuals at about 10% of the U.S. population. They again identified Celiac patients by antigen typing and intestinal biopsies and gluten-reactive individuals by a gluten challenge carried out for about four months under clinical supervision.

Anyway, for anyone that has the interest (and patience…it may take over a minute for the slides to load), the presentation can be viewed by clicking here.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, Inc., a conference and seminar service provider

Clean Labels, Global Consumer and Food Manufacturers

Posted on:April 28, 2012
natural or organic foods

As in many countries, Mexico has regulations governing organic products. The National Counsel for Organic Production (CNPO) was established in 2007.

Processed and formulated food products that seem unprocessed and unformulated are of interest to both consumers and manufacturers around the globe.
Many discussions of the clean label trend (where only a few consumer-friendly ingredients are used to formulate a product) seem to imply that consumer attitudes are the sole driving force.
I would argue that clean labels benefit food manufactures in other ways as well. For example, as the processed foods industry becomes increasingly global and CPG companies strive to distribute their branded products around the globe, formulated foods are transferred across country borders more easily when only a few traditional ingredients are used (1). That is, countries tend to have more restrictions on the use of an ingredient like “hydrogenated oil” than on an ingredient like “butter.”
Secondly, although “natural” and “organic” are two similar product attributes generally valued by consumers, they are also in competition with each other. A food processor can chose to market an organic product or a natural one. The first is often more expensive to do since it often has to meet more specific regulations than the second. An earlier Global Food Forums blog written on this received more comments than usual, “Giving Consumers What They Want: Natural or Organic”. Manufacturers tend to lean towards developing and marketing natural rather than organic foods and beverages due to operational issues.
So what makes a label “clean?” The website owned by National Starch/Corn Products International provides a few insights. Global consumer research conducted by MMR Research Worldwide in January 2011 and reported on the website’s research page notes among other findings that:

  • in France, “Natural”/”all natural” is the most appealing front-of-pack claim and 81 percent of French consumers rate the ingredient list as quite or very important when buying a food or drink,
  • in the UK, 68 percent of British consumers find on-pack claims relating to “no additives” / “no artificial ingredients” important,
  • in Spain, 69 percent of consumers rate on-pack claims relating to “no additives”/”no artificial ingredients” as important.

Are clean labels the ultimate goal? No. In consumer poll after poll, taste, price and convenience often trump all else. Consumers have the right to “want it all.” Trying to figure out how to deliver an optimal combination of valued benefits is the food industry’s challenge.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums,Inc., a conference and seminar service provider

(1) The academic paper “Factors Impacting New Food Introductions in Emerging Markets” discusses the three key influences impacting new product decisions; company specific factors (related to the company launching the product), product specific factors (the nature of the product itself) and region or country specific factors (the area into which the product is launched). Regulations on food and beverage ingredients fall under governmental policies and regulations, a regional factor.

Global Trade to Saliva & Obesity to Breast Cancer

Posted on:April 21, 2012

A new study points to genetic differences in vitamin D receptors as potentially being responsible for higher breast cancer rates among African American women compared to European American women. A lower vitamin D level in the blood is linked to higher risk.

I keep a running copy of news items that I think may be useful for presentations, reports, articles and so on. Here’s a short list of news items that I’ve recently posted on Global Food Forums. It covers studies such as a recent one on amylase enzymes in saliva and the potential link to diabetes to the size of the U.S. and Chinese grocery market. I hope it’s useful, or at least interesting.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar organizer

Pink Slime and Sustainability

Posted on:March 31, 2012
Photo of beef ground up
A large percent of ground beef contains very finely “ground” beef known as lean finely texture beef or inaccurately “pink slime.”

I’m confused (it sometimes happens).

After reading many blogs and comments on lean finely textured beef, opps, I forgot to call it by its inflammatory name, “pink slime,” it seems that often the same people that are criticizing it are also the same ones promoting “sustainability.”

A May 29, 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “’Pink Slime’ Defense Rises,” quotes Kansas Governor Sam Brownback as saying “You effectively need to kill 1.5 million more head of cattle in a year to replace the meat that would go off the market…”

Now consider American Indians who have often been portrayed as being more in harmony with the environment than today’s consumers. An example often given of their resourcefulness and natural sustainability activities was that they were said to “use almost every part of a buffalo” for some need or another. “The tongue, heart, liver, and back fat were special treats,” notes one history site. They sought to use more of an animal than just choice cuts meat.

Although I do understand why “pink slime” has had such traction among the American public, for one, I guess many prefer to believe their hamburger is just ground up filet mignon, I’m confused as to why so few recognize that certain aspects of it are “earth-friendly.”

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar service provider

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