Why I Love Processed Foods

Posted on:January 21, 2012


Person sitting in snow drilling a hole for fish
Eating local fresh foods can be challenging. Success in drilling a fish hole is not necessarily followed by success in catching fresh fish. Happily a pizza was waiting for me. Source: Global Food Forums

My dad once said “If you find yourself in the majority, it’s time to switch sides.” Although he may have been more of an instigator than I, what he was saying was that a person should think for themself.

Throngs of bloggers, foodies and activists exhort us to “eat local fresh foods.” Some consumer advocates even compare the consumption of packaged and fast foods to heroin addiction. (Really?) A Google search for “I love fresh food” produced 382,000 web pages; a search for “I love processed food” resulted in 7,020 pages. Now we know where the majority stands.

It’s not that processed foods should be preferred over fresh, but packaged foods are or can be crucial to a nutritious diet and well-rounded lifestyle. A few days ago, I was talking to a woman who was a registered dietician and had a culinary degree…and three children. “I just can’t find the time to cook all our meals from scratch” she lamented and admitted she regularly shopped the grocery aisles to provide healthful meals for her family.

Even sourcing fresh, local foods can be a challenge…or impossible. I spend an insane amount of time tending to my vegetable garden every summer (a labor of love), and the tomatoes don’t ever seem to mature until a week before the first frost. Today I’m writing this from Minnesota in the dead of winter. It’s hard to believe this land supported human life at all a century ago. It did, but luckily as the U.S. population increased in number, both agricultural productivity and food shelf lives increased as well.

In 1830, 250 to 300 hours of labor were needed to product 100 bushels (bu) of wheat in the U.S. In 1930, only 15 to 20 hours of labor produced 100 bu and one farmer could supply enough food for 8.9 other people. In 1980, only some three hours were required to produce 100 bu and one farmer fed an estimated 75.7 people. Today, one farmer produces enough food for some 100 people. (1) And it is needed.

Even in the U.S., the number of people in the Minnesota increased from 21 people per square mile in 1,900 to 58 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Data. In the same period, California’s population density grew from 9 to 214 people/sq mile and New York’s from 150 to 391. However, it’s the world’s cities that make one contemplate the importance of efficiently supplying food. Metro New York has 2,050 people/sq kilometer (792 per sq. mile); Tokyo/Yokohama has 1,834; Lima, Peru 4,537 and Lagos, Nigeria 7,008. Mumbai, India may well be the most crowded city on the planet with 11,448 people per square mile!! (2)

I too love fresh, local food and when available, happily harvest or purchase and prepare it myself. That is a luxury many to most in the world can’t afford. The goal should be to provide nutritious food for all.

Lastly, I think I love processed foods the most when I find myself sitting on an overturned plastic bucket in the middle of a frozen lake trying to drill a hole…with the possibility of catching something to eat only a remote possibility.

U of Minnesota Food Science News Fall 2011

Posted on:January 11, 2012


Gary Reineccsius, Food Science and Nutrition department head, U of Minnesota
In a newsletter, the University of Minnesota’s head of the Food Science and Nutrition Department, Gary Reineccius, PhD, covered topics from a new natural peptide that can kill gram-negative pathogens in food to student enrollment figures.

Food scientists, in general, remain more connected to universities and colleges than many professions, I think. Much (maybe most) technical expertise is learned from experience over a food technologist’s career, however, generally those careers start with formal degrees. The three arenas of government, industry and academia all have a huge impact on the world of food science and product development.

I myself stay somewhat connected with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition (FScN). Despite the many years that have passed, personal connections remain, including with the department chair, Dr. Gary Reineccius, who was my flavor chemistry professor. I also keep tabs on the “going ons” at FScN in that it also provides source of information into the world of product development.

FScN’s 2011 fall newsletter had a few points I found of interest. They include:

  • Student enrollment in food science is up, but pales in comparison to registration in the nutrition. The department has some 100 students in food science (Reineccius believes food science was down to about 37 students at one time). Enrollment in the nutrition program (which is distinctly different from the food science program) is stable at about 360 students. Lastly there are about 130 graduate students in each of those two disciplines.
  • The department obtained approval from the University’s office that manages research for a Master Agreement for Service and Research. Reineccius notes that ownership of intellectual property (IP) and publication rights are major stumbling blocks in establishing research contracts [a key source of funding for universities]. Furthermore, Reineccius considered it good news that the University now has a program (  that, in exchange for a “reasonable upfront payment,” will forgo any consideration of intellectual property (IP) rights. “Basically, the University is recognizing that little is gained in royalties and much is lost in not working with industry when appropriate.”
  • Lastly, the newsletter carried an example of the type of research that the industry may be interested in. In August 2011, university researchers discovered and received a patent for a naturally occurring lantibiotic, a peptide produced by a harmless bacteria, that could be added to food to kill pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. The newsletter states “The lantibiotic is the first natural preservative found to kill gram-negative bacteria…  The lantibiotic could be used to prevent harmful bacteria in meats, processed cheeses, egg and dairy products, canned foods, seafood, salad dressing, fermented beverages, and many other foods.” The newsletter added that besides food safety benefits, “lantibiotics are easy to digest, nontoxic, do not induce allergies, and are difficult for dangerous bacteria to develop resistance against.”

Here is the link to the complete newsletter:

10 Food Top Trends Lists for 2012

Posted on:January 6, 2012

I always like sitting back as trend predictions for the coming year roll in.  While each one can be insightful, when they are considered together (especially if from unrelated sources), larger themes emerge.
A few disclaimers on the following list of lists include that they tend to be Europe and North American “centric.” Secondly, although I numbered the lists, the rank is arbitrary and not meant to reflect their quality or importance. Lastly, more 2012 food trend lists have been published.  If you feel I missed a nice one, send me a note at:

1. Leatherhead Food Research’s 10 Food Trends
The 10 food and drink trends that Leatherhead have identified are:

Older couple with healthy wine

  • Health and wellness
  • Sustainability
  • Convenience
  • Flavor solutions
  • “Free from”
  • Natural
  • Affordable luxuries
  • Location
  • Over 55s
  • Softer claims
Comment from source: “2012 looks set to be one in which on-going trends will be stretched to their full potential, particularly as consumer concerns about health and wellness have prevailed and continue to be high on the agenda,” says Laura Kempster, Senior Market Analyst. “Coupled with this, the uncertain economic future continues to affect both industry and consumers with a ‘tightening of belts’ attitude still very much affecting spending and investment.”
Source: Leatherhead Food Research

2. FoodNavigator-USA Predicts Top Five Industry influences in 2012
  • The 2012 Farm Bill
  • Functional (and whole) food for seniors
  • Kids’ nutrition
  • Food safety
  • The natural debate

3. New Nutrition Business 10 Key Trends in Food, Nutrition and Health 2012

Photo of carton of milk

  • “Naturality” or “natural functionality”
  • Energy
  • Digestive health
  • Feel the benefit
  • Weight management
  • Movement (muscle, bone and joint health)
  • Senior nutrition
  • Who needs health claims when you have fruit & vegetables
  • Dairy
  • Good grains
    Source: New Nutrition Business, Accessed January 6, 2012

4. Comax Culinary Trends
> Ethnic Fusion unites unexpected flavors:
photo of an asian eating a taco

Asian tacos, a food exemplifying ethnic fusion, will be on-trend.

  • Jasmine Coconut
  • Curry Mole
  • Asian Taco
  • Fiery Mango Pineapple Chutney
> The Pickled Paradise category:
  • Pickled Mango
  • Pickled Jalapeno
  • Kimchi
  • Pickled Watermelon
  • Pickled Ginger with Wasabi
>For a fanciful infusion of the taste of distinctive wines:
  • Japanese Plum Wine
  • Italian Muscato Wine
  • Sauvignon Blanc Wine
  • Spanish Madeira Wine
> Within the Regional Reverie category:
    • Herbs of Provence
    • Lemon Parsley
    • Thai Basil or Garlic Basil
    • Ginger Rosemary
      Comment from source: For 2012, Comax Flavors has developed enticing new flavor sensations and unique combinations from around the world, based on Culinary Trend Exchange™ data gathered from food visionaries throughout 2011.

5. Sensient Flavor’s 2012 Flavor Trend Predictions
photo of the fruit lucuma

Lúcuma is a nutrient dense fruit from Peru.

  • Aji Amarillo
  • Black Garlic
  • Coriander
  • Honeycrisp Apple
  • Lucuma
  • Peach Rosemary
  • Pink Peppercorn
  • Plum
  • Spicy Caramel
  • Varietal Vanilla
    Source: Sensient Flavors (from Perfumer Flavorist)

6. Innova Market Insights: Top Trends for 2012
  • “Pure” is the New Natural
  • Green is a Given
  • Location, Location, Location
  • Premium Stands Out
  • Seniors Draw Attention
  • Forty is the New Twenty
  • Grounded in Science
  • Regulators Force a Rethink
  • Unmeasurable Niches
  • Boom for Protein
    Source: Innova Market Insights Press Release

7. Food Channel Top Ten Food Trends for 2012
  1. Black Market Foods (intentional scarcity)
  2. Inconspicuous Consumption (spending quite a bit, but making it look like we’re not really spending much)
  3. Social Media: Finding Common Ground and Common Courtesy
  4. Shopping Schizophrenia (On the one hand, we have to fit our food styles to our paychecks. On the other, we have to feed our soul.)
  5. Beyond Ramen Noodles (Colleges have been forced to provide a wide-ranging food experience for the younger generation, who expect more out of what they put in their bodies than previous generations)
  6. So THAT’s What it Tastes Like! (Less sodium, fresher locally-sourced produce, and fewer smokers on premise means people are tasting ingredients as they were meant to be)
  7. The New Agri-Chef (a new breed of chefs that simply like to cook with what they’ve grown)
  8. Groovin’ On Peruvian (Peruvian cuisine may be the next Big Thing on the ethnic culinary scene)
  9. Social Cooking (Who would have thought we needed kitchens outdoors?)
  10. The Rise of the YouTube Chef (Everyone is their own food TV star these days. All it takes is a simple camera and a YouTube account)

Comment from the source: The Food Channel has released our 2012 Trends Forecast – the top ten food trends we see for the coming year. This report is put together in conjunction with CultureWaves®, the International Food Futurists® and Mintel International.

Source: The Food Channel website

8. Technomic Top Trends 2012
  • Consumers Seek a Twist on the Familiar
  • Commodities Costs Drive Rustic Fare Made In-House:
  • The Next Steps in Local Sourcing
  • Social Networking Influence Accelerates
  • Customers Want More Information
  • Operators Try to Resist Discounting
  • Brands Expand Through Flexible Formats
    Source: Technomic

9. 2012 Food Trends to Watch
    • Trend #1: Food prices
    • Trend #2: Never shop or eat alone again
    • Trend #3: The Baby Boomers keep right on truckin’
    • Trend #4: Increased emphasis on the “Farm to Fork” journey
    • Trend #5: The end of the checkout lane
    • Trend #6: The ethnic food revolution
    • Trend #7: The new role of the male shopper
    • Trend #8: Eating at home – Xtreme home cooking
    • Trend #9: How sweet it isn’t
    • Trend #10: The sound of food

10: Restaurant Hospitality Top Food Trends 2012
Restaurant Hospitality magazine offers 14 trends. Click on the source below to read then all. The last one is one of my favorites:
Trend #14 – Three Cautionary Trends
  • Misuse of words like “artisan” and “heirloom” and “local” will pollute their meaning, especially as chains co-opt them for marketing slogans. Adding a whole grain to factory bread doesn’t make it “artisan” and not all misshapen tomatoes are “heirlooms” from “local” growers. “Green” and “sustainable” fall into this category, too.
  • There’s a looming oversupply of farmers markets.
  • Too many chefs are smoking too many foods.

Why is There So Much Sugar in our Foods?

Posted on:January 5, 2012
People like sweetness cats cannot taste sweetness

Food processors add sugar to foods because people like sweetness. Sugar is not added to cat food because cats cannot taste sweetness.

I was once asked in a Public Radio interview “Why do food processors put so much sugar in processed foods?” The answer is fairly obvious, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

As a group, perhaps no ingredient category has been as maligned in recent years as those ingredients that make foods and beverages sweeter. From table sugar (sucrose) to aspartame, from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to sucralose, many ingredients that add sweetness have been the target of consumer pressure groups to diet plans.

Unlike the other four tastes (saltiness, bitterness, sourness and umami), the preference for sweet tasting foods is innate in humans and many mammals. Even hours-old newborns show pleasure and a preference for sweet tasting products(1,2,3). For example, in a study by researchers J.A. Desor and others, babies less than 84 hours old drank more water sweetened by lactose, sucrose (sugar), glucose or fructose in a three minute period than they did plain water.

It has been theorized that the ability to taste (and like) sweetness gave a survival advantage in that sugars found in fruits, for example, provide a quick energy source. The ability to taste sweetness is genetically based but is not universal among mammals, by the way. The family cat and other members of the Felidae family (tigers, leopards, lions) cannot taste sweetness(4). It has been theorized this was important in their development as carnivores. Also, certain ingredients may taste sweet to some animals, but not to others. Old World monkeys and primates such as baboons can taste that aspartame (NutraSweet) is sweet. However, New World monkeys such as the howler and spider monkeys do not perceive that aspartame is sweet.

This is not to say that people don’t differ in how much they like sweet foods. To some, salty snacks may be more appealing; however, we likely all know people with “sweet tooths” who never saw a confectionary that they didn’t like.

As obesity continues to grow in concern around the world, food manufacturers have responded by adding less sugar or switching to low calorie sweeteners in their products. No-sugar cereals are sold in the marketplace, for example.

However, why do food processors put sugar (or any sweetener) in a food or beverage? Because we like it!

(1) Desor, .JA., Maller, O. and Turner, R.E. 1973 Taste in acceptance of sugars by human infants. J Comp Physiol Psychol. 84, 496-501.
(2) Steiner, J.E. 1977. Facial expressions of the neonate infant indicating the hedonics of food related chemical stimuli. In Taste and Development: The Genesis of Sweet Preference. DHEW Publication no. NIH 77-1068, [JM Weiffenbach, editor], pp. 173-189.
(3) Berridge, KC 2000. Measuring hedonic impact in animals and infants: microstructure of affective taste reactivity patterns. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. ;24(2):173-98.
(4) Li, X, Li, Wang, WH, Cao, J, Maehashi, K, Huang, L, Bachmanov, AA, Reed, DR, Legrand-Defretin, V, Beauchamp1,GK and Brand, JG. 2005. Pseudogenization of a Sweet-Receptor Gene Accounts for Cats’ Indifference Toward Sugar. PLoS Genet. 1:27-35.

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

Developing Processed Foods for Emerging Economies

Posted on:January 3, 2012
Indian woman carrying water bucket on her head

Water scarcity is an issue in many emerging economies. Developing bottled beverages for these markets will present unique challenges.

I was watching an interview with Indra Nooyi, CEO and President of PepsiCo on CNBC yesterday. Like many other consumer goods companies, the food industry has focused a great deal of attention on potential market opportunities in emerging economies. However, the program relayed solemn reminders that producing and marketing packaged consumer foods and beverages to relatively poor and populous nations cannot be “business as usual.”

A recent United Nation report predicted that in 2030 or perhaps even earlier, India will surpass China (excluding Hong Kong) as the most populated country on the planet. The two countries will “meet” at a population of about 1.45 billion people each.

The CNBC program went on to say that bottled beverage companies are being criticized in that they are encouraging the consumption of a product that requires the use of a scare and thus valuable commodity in its manufacturer…water. That is, more than one liter of water is required to produce one liter of a soda. Nooyi replied something along the lines that she understood the concern in that she grew up in one of the most water-deprived region of India. She told the story that everyone would be rationed “three buckets” of water and they would have to decide how to use it…to drink it, launder clothes with it, bath in it. Even today if she took a shower more than two or three minutes, she fought feelings of guilt.

Should food manufacturers thus not pursue such markets? I myself believe that responsible companies will find a way to serve consumers while developing innovative ways to maximize and not squander scare resources. When I worked for Orval Kent Foods, we had plants with similar equipment making the same products in New Jersey, Chicago and the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles plant, however, used a fraction of the water that the other the plants did. Water was and is scarce in California. Cleaning regimes and other plant practices had evolved to do more with less.

The need to find innovative ways to maximize scare resources should not be a burden,  but a creative challenge for which both companies and their customers will be rewarded.

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