Yum Yum Sauce: The Making Of An American Condiment

Oliver Whang wrote . . . . . . . . .

The scene is a familiar one. People sit around a rectangular table, the bulk of which is taken up by a smooth iron cooktop. Gas flames flicker underneath. A man wearing a tall red hat and a white chef’s uniform approaches, pulling a cart filled with cold food, large cooking utensils and various bottles of sauces. He holds a spatula and a large metal fork. He brings them together: cling-clang, cling-clang. Eyes sparkling, he looks around the table. “Welcome to Benihana.”

More commonly referred to as hibachi, Japanese teppanyaki-style cooking has become part of the American dining experience. The combination of noodles, rice, vegetables and meat fried up on a griddle draws customers to these restaurants as much as the loud and showy flair of the chefs cooking at the table.

One of the more subtle curiosities of teppanyaki restaurants — beyond the stacked onion rings of fire and behind-the-back toss of metal utensils — is a creamy orange-pink sauce placed beside your steaming meal. Almost every teppanyaki restaurant will serve it, though its name differs depending on whom you talk to. White sauce (a deceptive moniker), shrimp sauce, yummy sauce, yum yum sauce — are all used interchangeably.

Considered by many in America to be a Japanese classic (one Reddit user called it “infamous”; a blogger speculated that there are really only “two types of folk that dine at a hibachi restaurant, those that get double white sauce and those that don’t know you can get double white sauce”), the sauce’s sweet, slightly tangy flavor varies between restaurants and regions as much as the name does. A little more sweetness in one place. A little more tang in another. Some versions are reminiscent of fry sauce, popular in the South. Such variety calls into question whether the sauce we taste in our local teppanyaki restaurants is even Japanese at all.

Maybe not surprisingly, the answer, it appears, is no.

Nancy Singleton Hachisu, author of three cookbooks on traditional and modern Japanese cuisine, was confused when I first asked her about the sauce. She hadn’t heard of it being used in Japan and actually objected to my initial question about hibachi restaurants. “Since hibachi is a traditional charcoal heater for the room,” she told me, “I cannot think that Japan would yield information on this topic.”

Once I sent her a description of the sauce, which I called shrimp sauce and she called “basically pink mayo,” she told me that there is no evidence of its use in Japanese cuisine.

Elizabeth Andoh, who has lived in Japan for half a century and runs the Japanese culinary education program A Taste of Culture, was also puzzled. “I don’t know of any white sauce or shrimp sauce that is served with Japanese steak,” she said. When I prompted her with a more detailed description, she responded, “This sort of mayo-based … tomato sauce is not part of any Japanese steakhouse repertoire I know of.”

And Polly Adema, director of the food studies program at California’s College of the Pacific, said that the sauce’s origins are fuzzy, though probably not deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Perhaps, she said, the sauce stems from congruent American and modern Japanese tastes for mayonnaise.

Andoh did say that, in general, the Japanese are “mayo crazy.” But such speculation doesn’t get you very far.

“Which came first: an affection for mayo or a mayo-enriched dish?” Adema asked. “[It’s] one of those questions we may never be able to answer.”

The recipe for the sauce is equally difficult to come by. I reached out to 15 different restaurants around the U.S. — large chains and independently run joints — but each turned down my request. “We cannot divulge that information,” a Benihana manager in Maryland told me. I received similar answers from a Sakura in New Jersey, an Edohana in Texas and a Flame in New York.

Chuck Cutler ran into a very similar problem 25 years ago, when he first tasted what he calls white sauce in a teppanyaki restaurant. “I noticed that all the other people at the table were asking for two bowls of white sauce … so I tried it. I was instantly hooked.”

Cutler spent a decade asking different restaurants for the recipe, to no avail. “It’s a Japanese secret,” chefs would tell him. One day, though, in a Florida grocery store, he stumbled across a sauce produced by a teppanyaki restaurant. He remembers it being called vegetable sauce. So he bought a bottle “and darned if it didn’t taste exactly like what I had been looking for.”

Using the ingredients listed on the vegetable sauce bottle, Cutler was able to come up with his own recipe (Chuck’s Easy Recipe), which, in a form of revenge against the restaurants that had rejected him, he made a website for: Japanese-Steakhouse-White-Sauce.com. According to Cutler, it was the first good recipe online. Created almost a decade and a half ago, the website now has 229 pages of comments from visitors. There “are thousands of comments from people all over the world saying, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been looking for this forever,’ ” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of them are positive.”

The popularity and intrigue around the sauce led one teppanyaki restaurant owner, Terry Ho, to start bottling it in bulk. Ho owns more than 20 restaurants in the South — some teppanyaki and some Chinese. He has lived in Albany, Ga., since the 1970s, when his grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan.

Ho’s sauce is called Terry Ho’s Yum Yum Sauce.

The name is distinctive — and a nifty branding move. According to Ho, “Yum Yum Sauce” is much more appealing than white sauce or shrimp sauce, neither of which is even a vaguely accurate description of the actual sauce. “There’s no shrimp in this recipe,” he said. “Why are you calling it shrimp sauce?” Yum Yum Sauce, though, is fitting: “Well, I mean, it tastes yummy.”

For years, Southerners who had tasted or heard about Ho’s Yum Yum Sauce — which he made a little differently from others (less oil and sugar) — would come to his restaurants asking for 16 or 20 ounces of it. He would dole it out in Styrofoam containers.

Seeing the business potential, Ho started manufacturing and bottling the sauce on a mass scale about a decade ago. Success came quickly. The sauce worked its way to larger and larger outlets, diffusing throughout the United States. It is now sold in around 30,000 grocery stores nationwide. Ho said the company is growing by 10 to 15% every year. The sauce is also stocked in U.S. military commissaries around the world. “There are people in Germany and Saudi Arabia buying the sauce,” Ho proudly said.

“My plan is to turn Yum Yum Sauce into the next American condiment,” he told me. “We don’t want to be just [perceived as] an Asian sauce. We want to be the next ranch.”

When I asked Cutler about Terry Ho’s Yum Yum Sauce, he sighed. “I tried that one, and I didn’t think it was that great.” But of course, he acknowledged, tastes are tastes. Different sauces will appeal to different people in different regions.

The sauce — delicious as it is — is something different to everyone. It’s what’s available. What’s memorable. Maybe even what has the most creative name.

Source: npr


How Sichuan Cuisine Conquered the World

Alkira Reinfrank and Bernice Chan wrote . . . . . . . . .

Many may remember the 1998 film Mulan, the tale of a young Chinese girl who pretends to be a man to take her ailing father’s place in the army.

In a joint promotion for the original animated feature, McDonald’s released a condiment called SzeChuan sauce for a limited time.

Hong Kong-born Kevin Pang, who was raised in the United States, remembers it well from his teenage days.

“It tasted very much like American Chinese food, it was too sweet. The texture was very gloopy, very sticky, and I think it was a little bit too out there for an American audience. If you eat chicken nuggets, you have barbecue sauce, you have hot mustard, but you don’t have this vaguely Asian style sauce. It was a novelty,” recalls Pang.

Interest in the sauce soon dissipated and it was forgotten until 2017, when an episode of cult adult cartoon show Rick and Morty – which featured a mad scientist and his adventures with his grandson – mentioned the SzeChuan sauce.

“The show began with Rick in this hallucinogenic dream sequence. He was dreaming that he was at McDonald’s to taste the SzeChuan sauce before it went out of circulation,” explains Pang. “And so for the remainder of the show, it became this running joke, that all he wanted was to bring back the SzeChuan sauce.”

Fans of Rick and Morty began demanding the return of SzeChuan sauce, and a few months later, McDonald’s announced it would be revived – but for one day only – on October 7, 2017.

However, on the day, the fast-food chain was completely unprepared for the onslaught of people who turned up to get their hands on the sweet, Asian-style sauce.

Each McDonald’s only had two dozen packs of the sauce to give away, and customers who had queued for hours were very angry, shouting: “We want sauce!” At one outlet in Newark, in the American state of New Jersey, the police had to be called in to calm things down.

Sachets of the sauce have appeared on eBay selling for up to US$250 each.

However, the sauce created by McDonald’s lacks any authentic Sichuan flavour. Sadly for fans of the too-sweet McDonald’s sauce, there is no such thing as a generic “Sichuan sauce” in the Chinese province, says cook and food writer Fuchsia Dunlop.

“A really good Sichuan meal is like a roller-coaster ride – you have spicy notes, sweet and sour notes, numbing and gentle flavours,” says the British cook who has been researching Chinese cuisine for 25 years. That’s a far cry from what McDonald’s was trying to emulate.

Sichuan cuisine is one of the eight great cuisines of China and is famous for its fiery dishes. But Dunlop says it’s a common misconception that the cuisine focuses only on heat.

“There’s the stereotype that it is all just fiery and hot, and of course Sichuanese love using chillies and Sichuan pepper (hua jiao) – with its lip tingling sensation – but that’s just one part of the story. Sichuan is about complex multilayered flavours,” she says.

Dunlop studied in Sichuan in the mid-1990s and was the first Westerner to train at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine. She was won over by the “stimulating, dramatic and exciting” cuisine during her first trip to the Sichuan capital, Chengdu, in 1993, and has gone on to write six books about Chinese food and culinary culture, two of which are about Sichuan.

“The really interesting thing about Sichuan cuisine is its diversity of flavours. When I was studying to be a chef there, we learned 23 complex flavours. It is like French classic sauces, but with different balances of sweet, sour, spicy and tingly,” she says.

One of the most well known attributes of Sichuan cuisine is mala, which refers to the numbing and tingling sensation caused by Sichuan pepper (ma) and the heat from the chillies (la).

“Sichuan pepper is what makes Sichuan cuisine different from other spicy cuisines like Hunan, where they use a lot of chilli but don’t use [the numbing Sichuan pepper],” says Dunlop, who is releasing a new and updated edition of her first book, The Food of Sichuan, in October.

Sichuan peppers, one of the key elements of Sichuan cooking, are little berries that grow on a spiky shrub in the mountains. Fresh or good-quality Sichuan peppers have an “overwhelming citrusy smell”. The Sichuan pepper gives you a tingling and numbing sensation when you chew it, making some people joke that it means you can eat more chillies.

The numbing properties are believed to be caused by the molecule hydroxy-alpha sanshool, found in the outer shell of the berry.

While Sichuan is one of the most popular regional cuisines in China, it only really caught on in the West 20 years ago, says Dunlop. “From the 1990s Sichuan food took off – you had all these people from all over China going to live in America and England and they wanted to eat their favourite food, which was Sichuan food.”

Currently Sichuan hotpot is a hugely popular dish in China and the West, but Dunlop says dishes such as mapo tofu, gong bao chicken, and hui guo rou (twice-cooked pork) are all famous and express the techniques and flavours of Sichuan cooking.

In Hong Kong, a cultural and culinary crossroads of the East and West, chef Kenny Chan Kai-tak, 65, is keen on passing down how to cook Sichuan cuisine. The executive chef at Sichuan Lab in Wan Chai was born in Hong Kong to a family of chefs originally from Sichuan.

They had a business in the city making doubanjiang, a thick chilli paste that’s another key ingredient used in Sichuan cooking to make spicy, hot dishes. While there is no sauce called Sichuan sauce anywhere in China, doubanjiang is the paste that is definitely the soul of Sichuan food and is crucial for dishes such as mapo tofu.

Chan started cooking at the age of 12, and apprenticed in Huaiyang cuisine, building a strong foundation in knife skills before learning Sichuan and Cantonese cuisines. Throughout his over 50-year culinary career Chan has cooked Sichuan food in various countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Canada.

He finds the fiery cuisine more difficult to learn how to cook because of the various combinations of chillies that can be used to elicit layers of spice.

“Sichuan cuisine allows your taste buds and the tip of your tongue to feel a ‘dancing sensation’. But not all Sichuan food is spicy – it can have surprisingly different kinds of spice, some that are mild, some that are extra hot, and their aroma can change depending on if they are cooked with meat or seafood. A spice that seems to be light in taste can have a very long, but strong aftertaste that hits you hard,” Chan says.

A really good Sichuan meal is like a roller-coaster ride – you have spicy notes, sweet and sour notes, numbing and gentle flavours

He also likes the fact that chillies not only taste sweet and spicy, but give diners a physical sensation due to the numbness of the tongue.

“Only one-third of Sichuan cuisine has spiciness in it. The reason why Sichuan food has varying levels of spice is because the province’s food is a mix of culinary styles, as immigrants from neighbouring provinces brought different eating habits and cultures,” Chan says.

In the middle of the 17th century, a peasant rebel leader called Zhang Xianzhong, from present-day Shanxi province, led his peasant troops south, and conquered what we know today as Sichuan province. He declared himself emperor of the Daxi dynasty, and massacred a number of people in Sichuan.

This led to many years of turmoil during the transition from the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty in China, which resulted in the population of Sichuan falling sharply. To that end, Chan says people from neighbouring regions such as the present-day provinces of Hubei and Hunan were forced to resettle in Sichuan, and brought with them culinary traditions that involved a lot of spice.

The most refined Sichuan dishes are not spicy at all, such as ji dou hua, a chicken-flavoured dish of soft bean curd that dates back to the Tang dynasty around 1,300 years ago.

As a result the elite did not eat many of the fiery hot dishes, as chillies were considered to be peasant food.

Chan is keen on introducing and educating Hong Kong palates to Sichuan cuisine and its complex layers of spice.

“Sichuan cuisine is considered aggressive in China. The flavours are so irresistible that after eating your first Sichuan dish, you slowly become addicted,” he says. “Over the last 20 years, Hong Kong has seen an influx of immigrants from China who have integrated their various food cultures into the local dining scene. This has allowed people in Hong Kong to open their taste buds to the incredible flavours that Sichuan cuisine has to offer.”

Source: SCMP

Protect Your Heart in the Heat

Hot temperatures and high humidity can cause a dangerous heat index that can be hard on the heart. Dehydration causes the heart to work harder, putting it at risk. Hydration helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. And, it helps the muscles work efficiently.

“If you’re a heart patient, older than 50 or overweight, you might need to take special precautions in the heat,” according to Robert A. Harrington, M.D., FAHA, president of the American Heart Association and the Arthur L. Bloomfield professor of medicine and chair of the Department of Medicine at Stanford University.

“Certain heart medications like angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and diuretics, which deplete the body of sodium, can exaggerate the body’s response to heat and cause you to feel ill in extreme heat,” said Harrington.

But Harrington points out that it’s important to keep taking your medications —and taking them when you’re supposed to. Talk to your doctor about any concerns.

Even people who are not on medications need to take precautions in the heat. While infants and the elderly are more vulnerable to problems from heat, extreme temperatures can cause health issues for anyone.

“It is easy to get dehydrated as you may not be aware that you’re thirsty,” Harrington said. “If you’re going to be outside, it’s important to drink water even if you don’t think you need it. Drink water before, during and after going outside in hot weather.”

The American Heart Association suggests that everyone take hot weather precautions:

Watch the clock: It’s best to avoid the outdoors in the early afternoon (about noon to 3 p.m.) because the sun is usually at its strongest, putting you at higher risk for heat-related illnesses.

Get off on the right foot: You probably sweat the most in your shoes, so choose well-ventilated shoes and look for socks that repel perspiration. Foot powders and antiperspirants can also help with sweat.

Dress for the heat: Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics such as cotton, or a newer fabric that repels sweat. Add a hat and sunglasses. Before you get started, apply a water-resistant sunscreen with at least SPF 15, and reapply it every two hours.

Drink up: Stay hydrated by drinking a few cups of water before, during and after your exercise. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.

Take regular breaks: Find some shade or a cool place, stop for a few minutes, hydrate and start again

Follow the doctor’s orders: Continue to take all medications as prescribed. If you are a heart patient, over the age of 50, overweight or just starting an exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor for your best exercise routine.

It’s important to know the signs and symptoms when you may be experiencing too much heat.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • headaches
  • heavy sweating
  • cold, moist skin, chills
  • dizziness or fainting (syncope)
  • a weak and rapid pulse
  • muscle cramps
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • nausea, vomiting or both

If you experience these symptoms, move to a cooler place, stop exercising and cool down immediately by dousing yourself with cold water and re-hydrating. You may need to seek medical attention.

Symptoms of heat stroke:

  • warm, dry skin with no sweating
  • strong and rapid pulse
  • confusion and/or unconsciousness
  • high fever
  • throbbing headaches
  • nausea, vomiting or both

If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention right away. Heat stroke is not the same as a stroke. Stroke happens when a blood vessel to the brain either bursts or is blocked by a clot, causing a decrease in oxygen flow to the brain.

Source: American Heart Association

From Trash to Treasure: The History of Barbecued Ribs

Robert Moss wrote . . . . . . . . .

Pork ribs are a staple of American barbecue. Memphis is famous for its dry-rubbed version, and rib tips are a staple at Chicago’s South Side barbecue joints. Even down in beef-centric Texas, pork ribs are in high demand, constituting one-third of the state’s “holy trinity,” along with brisket and sausage.

But that hasn’t always been the case. Historically speaking, ribs are relative newcomers to the pits. Nonetheless, many writers have erroneously assumed that the antebellum South was their likely place of origin. This explanation by Meathead Goldwyn of AmazingRibs.com strikes the standard chords that have led some people to assume barbecued ribs were a product of that time: “In the pre-Civil War South, Masters got to eat the best cuts of meat. They ate the tenderloin from along the pig’s back, ‘high on the hog’ (yes, that’s where the expression came from), while the slaves got the tougher, more gristle-riddled cuts.”

But no one was putting slabs of ribs on barbecue pits back in the 19th century. Instead, barbecued ribs are an early 20th century innovation, one driven not by the distribution of pig pars on a plantation but by the rise of industrial meatpacking, mechanical refrigeration, and commercial barbecue stands. And our barbecue menus are richer (and our fingers stickier) as a result.

The Whole Hog

It’s easy to forget how dramatically mechanical refrigeration and railroad transport changed the way Americans eat—especially when it comes to meat. Fresh meat from larger livestock like pigs and cows wasn’t available year-round before the Civil War, because there was no way to keep it from spoiling. Farmers had to wait until the first cold winter weeks to slaughter their pigs; it needed to be cold enough—below 40°F—for the carcass to cool quickly and not spoil, but also not so cold that the meat would freeze.

A hog killing on a 19th-century farm was a laborious but celebratory event, with the whole family and plenty of neighbors and friends pitching in. Almost every part of the pig was put to good use. The blood was reserved for puddings and the fat rendered into lard in giant kettles. Smaller scraps of meat and fat were ground into sausages, and the heads and feet were boiled to make “souse meat” or rendered into a thick, savory stew—hash and rice, South Carolina’s traditional barbecue side dish, evolved from these hog-killing stews.

The carcasses were then allowed to chill overnight and the next morning were cut into hams, shoulders, and “middlings” (side meat or bacon), which were taken to the smokehouse and preserved by curing and smoking. The parts left behind—the chine (backbone), the tenderloins, the chitterlings (intestines), and the ribs—were eaten over the next few days.

Those traditional hog-killing dinners featured fresh roasted spare ribs and chine served with bread, potatoes, apples sauce, and cabbage or greens. And they might well be the only fresh pork a farm family enjoyed all year. They couldn’t have a hog killing during the summer—especially not in the South—for the meat would spoil in the sweltering heat long before they finished all the butchering, lard rendering, and sausage-making.

There was one exception to this, though. At big events, where the entire community gathered, farmers could take a few pigs to a shady grove where a barbecue pit awaited, slaughter them and remove the entrails right on the spot, and put the whole animals on the pit to cook. And that’s exactly what a 19th-century barbecue entailed.

Barbecue originated not as a way of “making do” with lesser cuts, but rather as a method of whole-animal cookery—one usually staged for a large crowd. I’ve been unable to find any accounts that describe enslaved people (or anyone else, for that matter) cooking ribs or other individual cuts on a barbecue pit. Plenty of primary sources, however, describe or illustrate whole carcasses of pigs, goats, lambs, and even cows being cooked over a bed of coals in pits dug in the ground. When people in the 19th century ate barbecued ribs, they pulled the meat from a whole pig that was already cooked.

The Meat Packers’ Cast Offs

This doesn’t mean that no one ate spare ribs in the 19th century—they just weren’t barbecuing them. As the century advanced, ribs became available in greater and greater quantities, provided you lived in the right place—namely, a city like Indianapolis or Louisville, where hogs were being packed and processed to ship around the country.

Industrial pork packing arose in the early decades of the century, driven first by improved river navigation and then by the expansion of railroads. Cincinnati, blessed with a prime position on the Ohio River and close to burgeoning cornfields and hog farms, emerged as “Porkopolis,” the largest pork-producing city in the world at the time.

By 1836, Cincinnati’s four largest slaughterhouses were collectively killing and butchering some 2,600 hogs in a single day, producing between 200 and 500 barrels of pork along with 200 kegs of lard. In these early days, the tools and procedures used to slaughter a hog in a commercial setting were not so different from those of a rural hog killing; it was just conducted on a much larger scale, with each step—dispatching the pig with a blow from a hammer, scalding the carcass in boiling water, scraping the hair away—performed by a different worker, on an assembly line of sorts.

Barrels were essential to the pork trade. With no means of refrigerated transport, packers had to preserve the meat before shipping, but they didn’t want to waste weeks slow-smoking it like farm families did. Instead, they packed the hams and shoulders in barrels, filled in the gaps with chines, hocks, and jowls, then poured in a sweet and salty “pickle” made from rock salt and brown sugar boiled in water.

The spareribs didn’t fit in the barrels, and packers found themselves with literal tons of unwanted racks on their hands. “It is said that during the hog-killing season in Cincinnati,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported in 1844, “any keeper of a boarding-house, by sending a basket to the butcher’s, can have it filled with the finest and most delicious spare ribs, and ‘free gratis for nothing’ at that.”

But even the city’s boarding houses couldn’t eat up the supply. In the early days, one account recalled, “cart loads upon cart loads of spare-ribs” were “drawn to the water’s edge and emptied into the Ohio to get rid of them.”

That started to change in the 1870s, when artificial ice-making and then mechanical refrigeration transformed meat packing from a seasonal to a year-round business. Now packers could hang onto spareribs and sell them to retailers as a low-cost cut.

Recipes for spare ribs appear in cookbooks and newspapers with greater frequency in the closing decades of the 19th century. Many advised cutting the ribs into three-bone pieces and parboiling them before seasoning and finishing on a hot gridiron over coals in a kitchen fireplace. Others called for roasting them in an oven over a bed of sauerkraut and serving with applesauce, mashed potatoes, and mustard.

In 1895, the Ottawa Herald (that’s Ottawa, Kansas) contemplated options for Thanksgiving menus and noted, “Turkey and cranberries may cost more than spare ribs and turnips, but a good, well seasoned spare rib baked brown and crisp beats any turkey that ever flapped his wings.” But pork ribs weren’t destined to displace the gobbler on the traditional Thanksgiving menu. Instead, they helped transform the way Americans ate their barbecue.

The Rise of the Rib Shack

Before the 20th century, barbecue wasn’t a commercial product. It was served at occasional, large-scale gatherings where whole animals were cooked outdoors on open pits. These events were typically provided free of charge as part of community Fourth of July celebrations or political campaigns.

As the country urbanized, though, entrepreneurial cooks started selling slow-smoked meats on city street corners and in courthouse squares. Often these were farmers who slaughtered one or two of their own pigs, cooked them on a pit, and took the meat into town to sell over the weekend. The first barbecue stands were informal operations—just a tent or temporary shed—but over time they evolved into permanent restaurants, and their operators began offering a regular slate of meats. They increasingly bought those meats from local packing houses instead of raising the animals themselves, and many restaurateurs started buying individual cuts like shoulders and hams instead of whole pigs.

Those local packers had plenty of spare ribs on hand, too, which they were happy to unload for cheap. The historical record doesn’t pinpoint any particular region where barbecued ribs were introduced, nor any particular type of operation. In a matter of a few years, spare ribs could be found all over the country at barbecue stands, cafés, and take-out butcher shops—anywhere that had a barbecue pit and smoked meats to sell to the public.

In the 1920s, A.R. Hubbard’s Cafe in Houston offered barbecued ribs alongside dinners and short orders. Clegg’s Hotel and Cafe in Greensboro, North Carolina, featured “barbecued spare ribs with sweet potatoes” for its 75-cent Special Sunday Dinner. Rasmussen’s in Davenport, Iowa, offered “Tennessee Style Barbecue Ribs,” which it touted as “inexpensive—with a fine appetizing taste.”

Rasmussen’s reference to “Tennessee style” is tantalizing, but I’ve found no other evidence to indicate that rib-cooking was more common in Tennessee than anywhere else. In fact, a surprising number of the stands selling spare ribs were found in Iowa—which, perhaps not coincidentally, was prime hog-producing territory.

One notable rib fan was the famed New York Yankee slugger Babe Ruth. The Yankees swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games in the 1928 World Series, and the night after the final game, as the Yankees’ east-bound train rolled into Mattoon, Illinois, the Babe entertained his teammates and reporters with “50 pounds of barbecued spare ribs and an amber-color fluid which foamed suspiciously on being poured into serving glasses.” (This was in the midst of Prohibition, we should note.)

But you didn’t have to be a star athlete to relish a platter of ribs. In large cities—particularly those with a sizable African-American community—ribs emerged as a late-night staple for the nightclub crowd, as club owners set up small pits behind their establishments and cooked a few racks to sell to hungry revelers. In 1928 the movie editor for the Detroit Times returned from a visit to the East Side to report that “barbecue spare ribs in the doorway emporiums of the black belt” were also drawing in lots of white customers. “Served with a spicy sauce, the ribs are thirst-provoking; and nearby beer spots get a brisk play as a resort, color lines being ignored.”

Ribs were a hit among the late-night crowd in Memphis, too. The city’s rib pioneer was John Mills, who in the late 1920s opened a barbecue stand on 4th Street, just around the corner from the famous nightlife district on Beale. He cooked his ribs on a charcoal-fired brick pit in the alley out back and mopped them with a peppery hot sauce. Two decades before Charlie Vergos started selling his now-legendary dry-rubbed ribs at The Rendezvous, Mills was drawing a steady crowd of musicians and celebrities like Kate Smith and Bing Crosby, who always stopped by for ribs when they were in town.

The Golden Age of Ribs

By the 1930s, barbecued ribs could be found at thousands of barbecue stands, nightclubs, and cafes across the country. In the years just after World War II, ribs crossed over to the menus at high-end restaurants, as well. In 1948, the syndicated food columnist Ida Bailey Allen noted, “People pay fancy prices to nibble at barbecued spare ribs in a swanky restaurant,” bemused that a once-humble cut had gone uptown.

Ribs were in high demand for backyard barbecuing, too, as that form of home entertainment surged in the post-War years. In 1955, the New York Times declared, “This increasingly popular cut of meat inevitably will claim the attention of almost every outdoor cook during the summer season ahead.” A century before, packinghouses literally couldn’t give ribs away, but now, the Times reported, “their price is in their luxury bracket.” Since a pound of ribs served only one diner, effectively “the meat costs more than a sirloin steak or prime rib roast, both of which yield two to three servings per pound.”

This same period witnessed the emergence of the so-called St. Louis-style rib. This wasn’t a method of cooking, but rather of cutting the meat to gussy up its presentation. On a full rack of spare ribs, there is a line where each of the long bones ends and a short length of cartilage and fat begins. Butchers in St. Louis took to slicing away the tips (also called the “brisket” or “collar”) and removing the short, pointed end of the rack just past the 13th bone. The result was a long, squared-off slab that let diners chew the meat straight off the long bones without worrying about all the cartilage and fat on the ends.

The first mention I’ve found of trimming ribs this way appeared in 1947 in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. It describes the rib-cooking method of Adolph Feiler, the chef at the decidedly swanky Forest Park Hotel, who barbecued ribs on a charcoal rotisserie with electric powered spits, swabbing the meat at frequent intervals with a tomato-based sauce. A photo shows Roscoe Duncan, Feiler’s “first cook,” preparing the ribs by removing the tips with a cleaver. “This job is usually done by the butcher,” the article noted.

St. Louis’s local meat packers embraced the cut to differentiate their products from those of the national packing houses. In 1995, Elaine Viets of the St. Louis Post Dispatch interviewed retired local butcher Robert F. Eggleston, who recalled that in the post-War era there were 15 to 20 meat-packing establishments around St. Louis. “The major packers cut the spare ribs from the carcass and sold them that way,” Eggleston told Viets. “They left on a big hunk of bone and gristle we butchers called the collar. . . The St. Louis packers took off about half that collar. It cost consumers a little more, but it was a better value. Rib lovers bought it. That was the St. Louis cut rib.”

The method took off across the country, and by the early 1950s, butchers from California to Mississippi were advertising “St. Louis Style” ribs as a premium product. In Brownsville, Texas, in 1951, regular spares sold for 39 cents a pound, while St. Louis style ran for 45 cents. An ad in the Rockville, Illinois, Morning Star described the cut as “Center Strips of Ribs Only / The Brisket Is Removed” and declared them “Perfect for Bar-B-Quing.”

Ironically, this innovation let to packers having a new unwanted cut on their hands: the rib tip—that long strip of cartilage, gristle, and meat that had been carved away to pretty up the slab. Once again, barbecue joints came to the rescue. High-end hotels and swanky nightclubs might roast prime St. Louis cuts on motorized rotisseries, but barbecue cooks started buying up the tips and putting them on their old-school pits, letting the magic of smoke and time transform them into something delicious.

Rib tips are now a staple of St. Louis’s traditional barbecue restaurants alongside pork snoots—an even more undervalued part of the hog. In Chicago, which by the turn of the 20th century had eclipsed Cincinnati as America’s hog-packing capital, rib tips were adopted at legendary South Side joints like Lem’s and Argia B’s in the 1950s and 1960s and are now an essential part of the city’s signature style. Connoisseurs know they have to gnaw their way around a little gristle to get to the good stuff, but they swear the meat is tastier and worth the extra effort.

That’s a much better use of leftover pig parts than dumping them in the Ohio River.

Source: Serious Eats

Glucose and The Brain: Improving Mental Performance

Glucose is a type of sugar which the brain depends on for fuel. Studies show that dips in glucose availability can have a negative impact on attention, memory and learning, and that administering glucose can enhance these aspects of cognitive function. The brain also uses up more glucose during challenging mental tasks. Therefore, it may be especially important to keep blood glucose levels at an optimum level for good cognitive function. Consuming regular meals may help to achieve this.

Glucose as fuel

Glucose is a type of sugar which comes predominantly from starchy foods (bread, rice, pasta and potatoes) as well as fruits, juices, honey, jams and table sugar. The body can break down the digestible carbohydrates in these foods into glucose, which is transported in the bloodstream to the brain and other organs for energy. The body tightly regulates blood glucose levels; this is known as glucose homeostasis. A process called gluconeogenesis allows the body to make its own glucose from the building blocks of protein and fat. Glucose can be stored in form of glycogen in the liver and to a somewhat lesser extent in the muscle. Glycogen forms an energy reserve that can be quickly mobilised to meet a sudden need for glucose (physical exercise), but also when glucose intake from food is insufficient (during fasting, for example), the body can get glucose by breaking down its glycogen stores. Liver glycogen is nearly depleted 12 to 18 hours after eating, overnight fasting, for example, after which the body relies more on energy from breaking down fats.

The energy needs of the brain

The human brain is made up of a dense network of neurons, or nerve cells, which are constantly active — even during sleep. To obtain the energy needed to sustain this activity, the brain depends on a continuous supply of glucose from the bloodstream. A healthy diet should provide 45-60% of total energy from carbohydrates.1 A normal weight adult requires 200 g of glucose per day, two-thirds of which (about 130 g) is specifically needed by the brain to cover its glucose needs.

The brain competes with the rest of the body for glucose when levels dip very low — such as during starvation. By tightly controlling its share of glucose under these conditions, the brain can maintain its high level of activity. It does this through two main mechanisms: first, by drawing glucose directly from the blood when its cells are low on energy; and second, by limiting the amount of glucose available to the rest of the body so that there is more available to the brain.2,3 These mechanisms are essential for survival. Unlike muscles (including the heart), and the liver, the brain cannot use fatty acids directly for fuel.

Glucose and the mental performance

Despite this sophisticated regulation, short-term dips in glucose availability do occur in certain brain areas. These may impair various cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and learning.4

Studies on glucose have demonstrated how administering this sugar can improve cognitive functioning — in particular, short-term memory and attention.4 Most of these studies give participants a set amount of glucose as a drink. A study by Sünram-Lea and colleagues found that a glucose drink significantly improved long-term verbal memory and long-term spatial memory in young adults. The effect was similar whether the drink was consumed after an overnight fast, a two-hour fast post-breakfast, or a two-hour fast post-lunch.5 Similarly, Riby and colleagues found glucose enhanced memory.6

The more demanding mental tasks appear to respond better to glucose than simpler tasks. This may be because the brain’s uptake of glucose increases under conditions of mild stress, which includes challenging mental tasks.4

Given that the brain is sensitive to short-term drops in blood glucose levels, and appears to respond positively to rises in these levels, it may be beneficial to maintain adequate blood sugar levels in order to maintain cognitive function.4 Eating regular meals may help to achieve this. In particular, studies in children and adolescents have shown that eating breakfast can help to improve mental performance by boosting ability in memory- and attention-related tasks.7


The brain is a highly active organ that relies on glucose for fuel. Glucose comes either directly from carbohydrate-containing foods and drinks, or is produced by the body from non-carbohydrate sources. Keeping blood sugar levels at an optimal level appears to be helpful for maintaining good cognitive function, particularly for more mentally demanding tasks. Consuming regular meals may be a useful way of achieving this.

Source: eufic

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