How the Hot Dog Became an American Icon

Hannah Selinger wrote . . . . . . . . .

No matter how you like your wiener prepared, grilled or boiled, with mustard, ketchup or chili, we can all agree on one thing, and that’s that hot dogs have become part of a certain American cultural narrative.

And this year, more than ever, hot dogs are red hot; in March, the data firm IRI reported that sales were up by as much as 127%, and that was well before grilling season started.

Billions of hot dogs

“Americans eat an estimated 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” Eric Mittenthal, president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, said.

But while hot dogs may feel “all-American,” they’re inherently something else.

Also known as the frankfurter, this specific style of cased sausage was originally thought to be from the town of Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany, but hot dog historians argue that sausage culture, native to Eastern Europe and, particularly, Germany, has no specific town of origin.

The traditional German hot dog, when it arrived in the United States, was a blend of both pork and beef; the all-beef hot dog, as we now know it, takes its roots from Jewish-American butchers, who, due to Kosher restrictions, chose not to use pork in their meat blends.

“When Germans came, you have to look at where they came from,” said Dr. Bruce Kraig, professor emeritus at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Kraig is a hot dog historian and the author of several books, including ‘Hot Dog: A Global History’ and ‘A Rich and Fertile Land: A History of Food in America.’

“A good number of the early [Germans] came from the Palatines,” which is a general area surrounding the actual city of Frankfurt, explains Kraig. Frankfurt, Kraig said, refers to the region of origin, though the actual food does not necessarily come from Frankfurt itself.

Brought over by German immigrants in the mid-1800s, hot dogs began their path into the American zeitgeist in New York City hot dog carts, where they were a natural fit for the sandwich-loving harried New Yorker, who already preferred to eat on the go.

“They appear with the first German immigrants in the late 1840s,” Kraig said.

“Germans have sausage culture, so they eat sausage from butcher shops. They eat them at home. They eat them in the street at fairs and festivals, and at beer gardens, so when Germans got to America, they set up beer gardens right away.”

Classic street eats

Americans, he said, became enamored with the German idea of sausage eating on the street. “You have lots of evidence of sausage being sold by vendors, probably in the 1840s, but certainly by the 1860s. Wherever there are Germans, there are sausages sold in the streets.”

That plural is important, actually. Germany is not known for a single sausage, after all, but for its abundance of them, from the veal- and poultry-based weisswurst to the pork-based bratwurst to the jerky-like landjäger.

German sausages are so plentiful that it’s remarkable that Americans inherited only one in the common dietary canon.

In 1867, an entrepreneurial baker from Brooklyn by the name of Charles Feltman began selling hot dogs from a converted pie cart on Coney Island. “Coney Island started becoming a spot that people would go for recreation, but there wasn’t really anything there at the time,” said Michael Quinn, co-owner of hot dog brand Feltman’s of Coney Island, which he and his brother, Joe Quinn, purchased in 2015.

Birth of the bun

Charles Feltman developed a hand-sliced, elongated bun that set the precedent for the modern hot dog bun.

When popularity surged — Michael Quinn, himself a Coney Island historian, said that, in that first summer, the cart sold about 4,000 hot dogs — Feltman set his sights higher, entering into a restaurant and hotel partnership and opening a sprawling resort in Coney Island in 1873.

“Eventually, it became billed as the largest restaurant in the world,” Michael Quinn said.

Numerous historic sources, including the Coney Island History Project, have acknowledged that, by the 1920s, Feltman’s Ocean Pavilion restaurant was serving roughly five million customers per year, and selling somewhere around 40,000 hot dogs a day.

Suddenly, hot dogs were on the national stage, and Coney Island was became the accessible epicenter of summer fun for anyone and everyone in and around New York.

Coney Island

That stage had already started to expand when, in 1875, Charles Feltman convinced president of the Prospect Park Railroad Andrew Culver to run the subway line down to Coney Island, offering public transportation to thousands of New Yorkers who had never before had access to the far reaches of Brooklyn.

The conflation of the subway line with Feltman’s massive resort made Coney Island important — and hot dogs were in the center of this major cultural moment.

Although Feltman’s empire diminished over time, and Coney Island became known less for its ritzy resort caché and more for its boardwalk kitsch, Feltman had already unknowingly contributed the greatest icon to American hot dog culture, when he hired a bun-slicer who would go on to become among the United States’ most famous hot dog vendors.

“They didn’t have machines back then, so one of the bun-slicers that the Feltman family hired was Nathan Handwerker,” Michael Quinn said. “He worked as Feltman’s as a bun-slicer!”

That same Nathan Handwerker would open his own competing brand, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, in 1916, and that brand would become synonymous with Coney Island hot dogs.

In some ways, Nathan’s hot dogs now define the Fourth of July, which is when the famous Nathan’s Hot Dog-Eating Contest takes place each summer. Hot dogs helped to frame the fame of Coney Island.

“They were such an incredible sensation that Charles Feltman ultimately built a nearly 100-year empire on them,” said Feltman’s of Coney Island co-owner Joe Quinn.

How do you take it?

New York, of course, was not the only place where hot dogs took root in the late 19th century. “Hot dogs were spread around the country as immigrants spread to different regions,” said Eric Mittenthal. “The Chicago-style hot dog took hold during the Depression, when stands would offer a variety of toppings that people would pile onto the hot dog, though Chicago is not alone in offering distinctive dogs.”

While toppings differentiate dogs from place to place, one constant is affordability. A hot dog is a food of access. It is delicious, filling and cheap, no matter where you might find yourself, what city you happen to find yourself in, and that makes it appealing to anyone, irrespective of physical location. (Even vegetarians and vegans can enjoy hot dogs now — albeit of the meat-free likes of Beyond Meats and other brands on the market.)

German immigrants spread their love for sausages to other cities through the United States: Detroit, Milwaukee, and, later, Los Angeles.

Where Germans went, hot dogs followed. New Yorkers, of course, will argue that the specificity of the hot dog — a food that’s well suited to eating while moving — works particularly well in their city, which is why the association is one that resounds, over a century later.

“The advantage of having a hot sausage on an elongated bun — it’s a very New York thing,” Michael Quinn said. “New Yorkers like to walk and eat.”

As for the name, hot dogs were first coined “red hots” — a term that’s still used in both Maine and Detroit — sometime around the late 1800s, because of the heat of the grill that was used to cook them. But the dog part was really just cheekiness. “Hot dog is a joke word,” Kraig said.

The earliest he has been able to trace the word is to 1892, to a newspaper clipping hailing from Patterson, New Jersey. “The identification of sausages with dogs is considerably earlier,” he conceded.

According to Kraig, a popular song in the 1800s, written by Septimus Winner, begged the question: ‘Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?’, allegedly a reference to a dog gone missing in sausage meat. Thankfully, in the age of transparency, we know that the hot dogs we eat today — 7 billion this summer, if not more — are all hot, no dog.

That’s a bit of a relief, for those looking to celebrate National Hot Dog Month in July. Break out the mustard.

Source: CNN

The History of Popcorn: How One Grain Became a Staple Snack

Michelle Delgado wrote . . . . . . . . .

Though their big screens are dark, the smell of popcorn, hot and freshly popped, still wafts out of some movie theaters. Closed because of COVID-19, theaters large and small are trying to stay afloat on the sale of popcorn and other snacks. “We had our doors closed and no income coming in,” Dave Loomos, co-owner of the 92-year-old Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge, Illinois, told a local radio station earlier this month. “We decided to do curbside popcorn pick-up to see how it would go, and we’ve been doing that for the past couple of weeks and it seems like it’s well-received…”

When popcorn was first sold inside movie theaters, almost 100 years ago, it actually helped buoy the business, which was flailing at the time as the country entered the Great Depression. Always an affordable treat, today, popcorn is tinged with nostalgia. For many Americans, the aroma alone triggers happy memories of going to the movies, of waiting in line to see a new release with friends and family.

With movie nights happening at home now, this April, popcorn flew off grocery store shelves, resulting in sales that were more than 30 percent higher than the previous year’s, according to data from Nielsen. But this isn’t the first time Americans fell in love with popcorn—and it won’t be the last.

The First Popped Corn

Long before boxes of Pop Secret lined grocery store shelves, corn began as a wild grass called teosinte in southwestern Mexico, according to research compiled by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. Corn was probably cultivated as a domesticated crop around 9,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until 2012 that archaeologists unearthed the first evidence of popcorn in Peru: 6,700-year-old corn cobs studded with puffed kernels.

Thanks to its versatility, nutrition, and possibly the fact that dried kernels were popped and “easily consumable with the simplest of technologies: fire,” according to Michael Blake in Maize for the Gods, there’s evidence that the nimble grain was grown and consumed all over Mesoamerica, South America, and North America.

“If tribes didn’t grow the corn, they perhaps traded that corn,” says Lois Frank, a New Mexico-based chef, author, historian, and expert in Native American foodways, who explains that a vast network of trade routes once criss-crossed the continents. Though corn wasn’t the only foodstuff that was traded, it—including the popped variety—was an essential part of the cuisine of many of these early cultures.

Early popcorn probably resembled parched corn, which is made by cooking dried kernels, often in a frying pan. (Because parched corn typically uses kernels with lower water content, curbing its ability to pop, it’s considered a predecessor of CornNuts.) “Parched corn is much crunchier,” Frank says. “We know that in the early Southwest, there was popcorn—it just wasn’t a Jiffy Pop that you’d put in your microwave.”

The fluffy popcorn we know and love today is, in part, the result of thousands of years of careful cultivation of a few different strains of corn by those early tribes. Modern processing techniques ensure its dramatic cooking process: Corn for popping is grown, cured on the stalk, picked, and then dried until each kernel contains around 14 percent moisture, according to the USDA. When exposed to heat, that moisture expands, causing the kernel to burst into the final product. (For more on the science of popped corn, see this guide to making the best popcorn at home.)

From Farms to Fairgrounds

Early American settlers adopted corn, including popcorn, and learned to grow and cultivate it, ensuring it stayed in the diet of hundreds of thousands of people for the next several centuries. In the mid-1800s, the steel plow—which could cut through tough vegetation—transformed Midwestern agriculture. In Nebraska, Iowa, and Indiana, corn—especially the poppable variety—became such an important cash crop that it was dubbed “prairie gold.” By 1917, the region had so deeply embraced this nickname that it inspired poetry: Members of the Iowa Press and Authors’ Club collaborated to produce Prairie Gold, a volume of poems and stories that celebrated the region’s corn production.

Popcorn has long been popped in pots over a flame, but the turn of the 19th century brought a flurry of popcorn innovation. In 1875, a Kentucky resident named Frederick J. Myers patented a corn-popping device that added a stay-cool handle. But popcorn’s real rise wouldn’t come until sellers could easily carry popping machines around with them. That happened in Chicago in 1885, when Charles Cretors invented a lightweight electric machine that popped corn in oil, allowing vendors to easily move along with crowds in search of a better profit. Eight years later, Cretors improved the model by adding a contraption that would butter and salt the popcorn, too. The first commercial popcorn brands also got their start around the same time, when Iowa’s Albert Dickinson Co., which sold kernels under the names Big Buster and Little Buster, came onto the scene in the 1880s.

Subsequent patents provide a glimpse of the popcorn problems inventors sought to solve, both decorative and gustatory. In 1892, James T. Nvoods of Utah applied to patent a machine that coated freshly popped corn in a sugar syrup that would help preserve the snack. The coating separated the kernels so they could be boxed or packaged without getting soggy or dusty. Around then, two brothers began to experiment with new ways to flavor popcorn. Originally from Germany, Frederick and Lewis Rueckheim sold small batches of popcorn they made with a handheld popper. In 1896, they developed a combination that stuck: Cracker Jack, a combination of crunchy popcorn and salty peanuts coated in molasses.

The 20th century brought more popcorn patents, each aiming to improve the product or refine the tools of the trade. As the century progressed, individual vendors and commercial entities alike would build on this foundation, using technology to solidify popcorn’s status as a ubiquitous, familiar snack food that could be marketed to the masses. But back then, popcorn vendors relied on crowds at street fairs, festivals, and sporting events for all of their sales. No one expected Hollywood to change popcorn’s course forever.

Popcorn Goes to the Movies

Between 1920 and 1930, an initial wave of 20,000 movie theaters opened across America, with attendance reaching 25 million weekly movie-goers in 1925. Enterprising snack vendors took note: Those who normally camped out at sporting events or festivals began to set up shop outside of movie theaters, drawing the ire of the venues’ owners. “Many movie theaters had carpeted their lobbies with valuable rugs to emulate the grand theater lobbies,” Andrew Smith writes in Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America. In an effort to avoid sticky, greasy spills, most theaters banned snacks and soda outright.

But this ban would soon be overturned. In the late 1920s, sound—dialogue, music, and sound effects—came to the movies, and the industry experienced an enormous boom. Weekly movie-going soared to 90 million people in 1930, ushering in the Golden Age of cinema, thanks in part to the fact that illiterate Americans could finally enjoy movies, too. Unfortunately, the shift to sound caused growing pains for the industry. Small community or rural theaters shuttered, unable to afford the new technology. Movie theaters that did survive “redefined the evening from one of champagne to one of popcorn and soda,” according to sociologist Richard Butsch.

Pressure mounted as the Great Depression set in. As millions of Americans lost any sense of financial security, popcorn became their go-to “affordable luxury” at 10 cents per bag, writes Smith. Desperate to stay afloat, movie theaters finally caved and began renting portions of their lobbies to popcorn and snack vendors.

Depression-era stories of wealth amassed through popcorn sales began to flourish; they seem at least partially rooted in fact. Smith writes of an Oklahoma farmer who bought back three farms with popcorn money, and of a Dallas chain that earned $190,000 from popcorn in some locations while its snack-free locations went broke. One Kansas City vendor, Julia Braden, earned an annual income worth nearly $230,000 today after she successfully negotiated with the local theater to let her sell popcorn to movie goers.

Theaters eventually began to offer their own refreshments, marrying concessions and movie tickets once and for all. They were even willing to take losses on tickets to boost attendance, encouraging guests to spend their money on the more profitable concessions. That legacy continues today: Theaters sell popcorn at a markup between 800 and 1,500 percent, since distributors claim a substantial cut of ticket sales. As popcorn became a fixture in movie theater lobbies, its aroma became inextricably tied to the movies.

Out of the Movie Theater and into the Microwave

With popcorn sales ensured by Hollywood, the big business of popcorn moved on to targeting a home audience—particularly after Americans began watching television during the 1940s.

Though the first microwave was invented in 1946, the appliance didn’t become commonplace in American kitchens until the 1980s—a match made in heaven for popcorn, which popped just as well in microwavable packaging as it did on the stove. The microwave’s arrival coincided with a fitness boom, making popcorn the perfect relatively healthy snack for diet-conscious consumers. The first microwave popcorn was released in 1981; it contained perishable butter and required refrigeration. Another version, by Pillsbury, came frozen.

It was an undeniable hit: Within two years, microwave popcorn was available nationally and brought in $53 million in sales, according to a New York Times report. By 1984, a shelf-stable version hit stores*, and sales climbed even higher. Americans bought $250 million worth of popcorn in 1986, setting off an all-out battle between snack food companies that attempted to corner the market.

*Cultured dairy products—including butter—get their distinct flavor from two chemicals, diacetyl and acetoin. These compounds are synthesized and recombined for that “natural butter flavoring” that’s stabilized, infused into oils, and dispensed at movie theaters or used to flavor microwave popcorn.

Unfortunately for Nabisco and General Mills, one agricultural scientist had already become an unlikely popcorn king among men: Orville Redenbacher, a skinny, bespectacled man from Indiana with an immaculate suit, bow tie, and swoop of silver hair. Redenbacher was a Purdue-educated farmer who became famous for tinkering with hybrid varieties of corn. In 1965, Redenbacher and his research partner, Charlie Bowman, successfully created a kernel that would expand twice as much as the yellow corn Americans were familiar with. They called their hybrid “snowflake,” for its shape and ability to expand to up to 40 times its original size.

In 1991, Redenbacher spent his 85th birthday taping an episode of The Late Show with David Letterman. A slightly awkward guest, he touched his thick, plastic-framed glasses bashfully as the studio audience clapped. “In 1970, I hired a big firm in Chicago to come up with a name. They came up with the name ‘Orville Redenbacher’—which is the same identical name my mother thought of, 85 years ago,” Redenbacher joked, pulling out an old favorite quip. “And they charged $13,000 for the idea.”

Letterman’s assessment that Redenbacher was responsible for transforming the popcorn industry still holds true. The “snowflake” hybrid Redenbacher and Bowman developed accounted for 45 percent of the total microwave popcorn market at the time of Redenbacher’s death in 1995.

Pre-Popped Popcorn is on the Rise

Though pre-popped popcorn failed to impress movie-goers in the 1930s, today, pre-popped snacks are on the rise. During the 2000s, people began to eye microwaved popcorn with suspicion. A 2008 study found that diacetyl, a chemical used in artificial butter flavoring, was linked to Alzheimer’s and lung damage in industrial settings, and microwavable bags were lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which was linked to a condition dubbed “popcorn lung” due to respiratory diseases contracted by microwave popcorn factory workers. (More recently, the same condition has been linked to e-cigarettes.)

In 2013, AdAge reported that consumers were also growing tired of waiting for popcorn to pop. Microwave popcorn’s growth was miniscule, compared to nearly 12 percent growth—or nearly $672 million in sales—among pre-popped popcorns like Smart Food and Skinny Pop. The trend suggested that consumers wanted popcorn that was ready to eat, not a snack they had to tend to. Plus, as any college student knows, microwave popcorn has a tendency to burn, setting off fire alarms when unattended. Just this month, a brand was recalled when some of its bags began to ignite in the microwave.

Regardless of the reasons, ready-to-eat popcorn seems here to stay. In 2018, one marketing agency reported that Americans were ready to be more adventurous with their popcorn. Instead of traditional butter or salt, consumers craved popcorn that was cheesy, chocolatey, or studded with mix-ins like nutritional yeast.

Still, if you’re willing to wait a few minutes, it’s cheap and easy to make popcorn the old school way—from kernels that last months in the pantry. It’s comforting to know that with a glug of oil and a few minutes on a hot stove, freshly made popcorn—plus a new release on Netflix or Hulu—is always within reach, whether you’re stuck at home for weeks on end or not.

Source: Serious Eat

The History of Ice Cream

Silvia Marchetti wrote . . . . . . . . .

From sticky cones of vanilla and chocolate to elegant scoops of exotic fruit sorbet, the globally relished treat of ice cream has origins that can be traced to Mesopotamia – an ancient region that corresponds to today’s Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey – as far back as 1200BC.

It is believed that ice cream as the world knows it now was an Italian creation – yet a 12th century Chinese ode, written by poet Yang Wanli in praise of an icy, crunchy refreshment that “appears congealed and yet it seems to float”, suggests something similar was being enjoyed in China as early as the ninth century.

The Chinese built pits to preserve the ice for cool summer drinks, says Luciana Polliotti, head of the Gelato Museum in the Italian city of Bologna and an ice cream historian.

“The Silk Road was dotted with thousands of snow huts, snow pits and ice storage rooms built to preserve these precious and miraculous products of nature, where travellers and merchants would stop to refresh themselves with delicious iced juices,” she explains.

The first type of ice cream product had a watery consistency and was more of a slush than a paste-like flavoured cream, according to the museum.

“At the beginning it was just a frozen, refreshing drink to savour and enjoy, especially in the hot summer months,” Polliotti says.

“The gastronomic use of ice and snow, and the art of mixing ice with fruit juice, honey, herbs, seeds and flowers, is as old as man himself, and it is impossible to say which country first invented a rudimentary form of ice cream. Iced drinks have been a sweet treat invented across the world, both in the Mediterranean region and Asia, and they quickly became a lifestyle trend.”

All ancient civilisations, it seems, loved frozen “cocktails” and were ready to travel far and wide to fetch snow from high on mountain peaks and store it in pits. Ruins of such structures have been recovered by archaeologists in all corners of the world.

In Mesopotamia, imperial dispatch runners walked hundreds of kilometres to find the snow and ice necessary to cool drinks served at royal banquets, while Greek ruler Alexander the Great was apparently a big fan of ancient ice cream.

“Wherever he went, as he conquered foreign countries and his empire spread, Alexander would build ice houses and he made the iced drinks culture flourish,” says Polliotti, adding that the ancient Romans’ lavish feasts often featured “snow fountains” decorated with gold and silver, used to mix ice with sweet wine and honey.

The Gelato Museum is dedicated to the understanding and study of the history, culture, technology and know-how behind the production of gelato – meaning “ice cream” in Italian. It has an interactive tour where more than 20 original ice cream machines and rudimentary coolers from the 1600s are displayed, alongside 10,000 historical images and documents, precious tools and accessories.

There are hundreds of ancient recipes, with oddities such as ice cream made with bread, red cinnamon, violets, rose buds, fennel seeds, grapes, oregano, truffle and jasmine flowers, and different kinds of milk – sheep, goat, mule, cow – each with their own supposed healing properties.

“We did thorough research and went looking for sources, historical documents and objects; we’ve put together a comprehensive archive that sheds light into the marvel of such exquisite and fascinating food which has little-known origins,” Polliotti says.

Museum visitors are also treated to ice cream tasting sessions where they can try original old recipes and compare the results with modern ice cream.

According to the museum, Arabs invented their own sugary frosted drink known as shrb (sorbet) in the 11th century. A syrup or tisane made with healing herbs, spices, roots and flowers was put in a container that was then buried underneath ice. They exported it to all lands they conquered, including Sicily, where more than 400 different types of flowers were grown to flavour sorbets.

“It was an important evolutionary step: the container was a first form of natural freezer. There no longer was any direct contact between the ice and the flavoured drink,” Polliotti says.

But Salvatore Farina, head of Sicily’s Duciezio academy of top Sicilian pastry makers and artisan ice cream masters, says that the Arab shrb actually has Sicilian roots.

“I am proud to have found an historical document by Roman writer Marco Terenzio Varrone that clearly states how the Arab word was taken from the Latin verb sorbere, meaning to ‘slowly and leisurely sip’ a frozen drink,” he says. “In olden times, sorbet was served inside the thermopolia – ancient Roman snack bars.”

Sicily is today considered a kingdom of artisan ice cream and pastry, where chefs still make the treat widely regarded as Italy’s best granita – a hybrid of ice-cream and a slushee, thought to be the direct predecessor of modern gelato.

A dense mixture of sugar, water and ice, granita is blended with pistachios, toasted almonds or the best of Sicily’s seasonal fruit such as mandarins, lemons and figs.

The granita cult can be traced back to Sicily’s so-called nivaroli, the “ice collectors”, who climbed mountains to collect ice and transport it downhill to coastal towns on the back of donkeys, Farina says. A favoured collection spot was Mount Etna, Europe’s biggest volcano.

Deep pits were dug into the volcano’s sides to preserve ice blocks beneath layers of straw, leaves and branches as in a sort of natural fridge for the summer months, when the ice was sold to make granita.

Sicilian noble families paid the nivaroli to regularly fetch them chunks of ice. Grated and mixed with fruit, it was savoured in the shade of elaborate courtyards.

Iced drinks, sorbets and ice cream were initially an elite food, a status symbol used to flaunt wealth at elaborate banquets. These sweet treats were restricted to emperors, royal courts, aristocrats, monasteries visited by rich pilgrims, and to the Holy See, Polliotti says.

“It was a food for the rich, and it was also considered healthy, refreshing and pleasant,” she says. “It was a luxury that the poor not only couldn’t afford, but never tasted.”

The real turning point in the history of ice cream came during the Renaissance, when the frozen drink stopped being just a plain icy liquid concoction and became the modern, paste-like gelato now loved around the world.

“It happened in the 1500s to 1600s at the Florentine court, when for the first time ever structured ingredients such as eggs, milk, sugar and even wine were added to the ice, making it more dense and mellow,” Polliotti says.

“This triggered a revolution and changed the production process. These ingredients were first cooked together and then frozen. Gelato was born, and it’s a more complex food.”

Poets and ambassadors started hailing this new and expensive product, Polliotti says. “It’s the milk that differentiates sorbet from ice-cream, which being a fat product requires lower temperatures to freeze, together with the addition of salt in the manufacturing process that optimised the gelato.”

It is thought Italian queen Caterina de’ Medici (who later married a French king) and Cosimo Ruggieri, a noted alchemist and astrologist, took the new recipe to Paris, where chef Francesco Procopio Cutò later opened history’s first artisan pastry shop. He served Italian gelato to Parisian intellectuals and the middle classes, spreading its fame worldwide.

Ice cream was no longer a food restricted to the elite, though its full “democratisation” and the multiplicity of flavours and shapes only came about in the 1800s, when the first automatic gelato machine appeared. A single person could use the machine and make ice cream; before automation, it took four people to make 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of gelato.

The popular ice cream cone was invented and patented in 1903 by an Italian immigrant called Italo Marchioni, then living in New York, who worked out the best way to savour gelato while strolling along the street.

Polliotti says these fragments of history prove that the origins of real ice cream are Italian. “Even though nobody in particular invented the first iced drink in history, what we enjoy today as ice cream, or gelato, for dessert, a snack or meal, is a sublime made-in-Italy product”.

Source: SCMP

Molasses

Betty Rook wrote . . . . . . . . .

What is Molasses?

Molasses, also known as black treacle, is a thick syrup which is a by-product of the sugar refining process. Its name originates from the Latin word ‘melaceres’ meaning ‘honey-like’ as it is extremely viscous. Molasses is the result of sugar crystallizing out of sugarcane or sugar beet juice during the clarification stage of sugar refining. It is extremely diverse and is used primarily for sweetening and flavouring food products, home baking, brewing ale, distilling rum, animal feed, flavouring tobacco products and as a defining component of commercial brown sugar.

History

The crystallization process required to produce molasses from sugarcane was first developed in India as early as 500 BC. However, it was not until much later that this process began to spread to the rest of the world. Arab invaders eventually brought the process from India to Spain in the Middle Ages, however the global diffusion of the process was really down to Christopher Columbus. After landing in the Canary Islands in 1493, he brought sugarcane to the West Indies where the production of molasses proved to be very lucrative.

Molasses grew to be extremely prominent during the late seventeenth century in the notoriously tragic slave trade triangles and was referred to as the ‘Colonial molasses trade’. African slave traders who brought their slaves to the West Indies often used to buy English rum and then take West Indian molasses to England. In the eighteenth century, sugar-refining produced a much higher molasses to sugar ratio than it does today, with an estimation of production being three parts molasses to four parts sugar. This molasses was primarily used for producing rum.

The trading of Molasses was unrestrained when it first began except for small local taxes. American colonies began to prefer French molasses over British because their policy provided much cheaper prices which Britain could not compete with. As a result, the Great British Parliament made the decision to impose high taxes on any molasses that was shipped from a foreign power to North American colonies. This ‘Molasses Act of 1733’ imposed a six pence fee per gallon on foreign molasses with the intention that the colonies would have to buy British molasses or stop producing rum. Instead however, the colonies ignored the new Molasses Act and thought it would be better to smuggle molasses from the West Indies rather than to comply with the prohibitive taxes. The illicit smuggling of molasses continued for many decades and had it not been for these illegal operations, the New England rum production would have undoubtedly been destroyed.

Manufacturing Process

The primary ingredients for the sugar process of which molasses is a by-product are sugarcane and sugar beet. Other raw materials used in the process include limewater and carbon dioxide. Limewater, also known as ‘milk from lime’, is used in the sugar clarification process and is produced by heating limestone in a kiln. The limestone then gets mixed with sweet water from a previous clarification process to produce limewater. Carbon dioxide is released in this limewater process, it is purified in tanks and also used in the clarification of the sugar juice.

Regardless of whether the base is sugarcane or sugar beet, the sugar refining process of which molasses is a by-product is a cyclical process of washing and heating the cane or beets in hot water. The next step is the extraction of the sugar juice which for sugarcane can be accomplished in one of two ways: diffusion or milling. Using the diffusion method means that the cut stalks are dissolved in limewater whereas in the milling method, the stalks are passed under a series of heavy rollers in order to squeeze out the juice. For sugar beet, the sliced beet roots are loaded into cylinder diffusers which then wash out the juice with the help of hot water.

Clarifying the sugar juice is the next step in the process and it is at this stage in which molasses is produced. The juice, once clarified with limewater and carbon dioxide, is piped into a decanter, heated with lime and passed through carbon filters which results in a mud-like substance known as ‘carb juice’. The carb juice is then pumped through a heater to a clarifying machine which repeats the treating process with carbon dioxide. The carb juice is filtered out and leaves behind a pale-yellow liquid called thin juice, as mentioned previously in the sugar series. The juice is boiled to the point that only syrup remains, which is then concentrated through further vacuum boiling until sugar crystalizes out of the syrup creating a substance called ‘massecuite’. Massecuite is poured into a centrifuge which separates the sugar crystals from the syrup. Finally, this syrup left behind in the centrifuge is molasses!

Benefits

As sugar is so often used in food and drink products which are generally deemed ‘unhealthy’, it may come as a surprise that commercial molasses in fact has multiple health benefits. Molasses is packed with nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium and vitamin B6. These nutrients mean that molasses has many beneficial properties. For example, molasses promotes good bone and tissue health because it’s rich in calcium and iron and research shows that it can even help with arthritis. Molasses is also a good antioxidant therefore can increase red blood cell formation and maintain haemoglobin levels – it is often used in the preparation of anti-inflammatory medication. The antioxidants found in molasses can even help your hair as an anti-ageing conditioner.

Source: Czarnikow

Video: History of Chicken Nuggets

How did the US government give rise to Chicken McNuggets? What’s in a McNugget anyway?

And will McDonald’s ever bring back Szechuan Sauce?

Watch video at You Tube (3:51 minutes) . . . . .