Why Do Recipe Writers Lie about How Long It Takes to Caramelize Onions?

Tom Scocca wrote . . . . . .

Browning onions is a matter of patience. My own patience ran out earlier this year while leafing through the New York Times food section. There, in the newspaper of record, was a recipe for savory scones with onions, currants, and caraway. Though I wasn’t particularly interested in making savory scones, one passage caught my eye:

“Add the onions to the skillet and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until they begin to turn dark brown and somewhat soft, about 5 minutes. Add the oil and a pinch of the fine sea salt; continue cooking until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 5 minutes longer.”

Soft, dark brown onions in five minutes. That is a lie. Fully caramelized onions in five minutes more. Also a lie.

There is no other word for it. Onions do not caramelize in five or 10 minutes. They never have, they never will—yet recipe writers have never stopped pretending that they will. I went on Twitter and said so, rudely, using CAPS LOCK. A chorus of frustrated cooks responded in kind (“That’s on some bullshit. You want caramelized onions? Stir for 45 minutes”).

As long as I’ve been cooking, I’ve been reading various versions of this lie, over and over. Here’s Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh: “Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until the onions turn a medium-brown colour.” The Boston Globe, on preparing pearl onions for coq au vin: “Add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until golden.” The Washington Post, on potato-green bean soup: “Add the onion and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.”

If you added all those cooking times together end to end, you still wouldn’t have caramelized onions. Here, telling the truth about how to prepare onions for French onion soup, is Julia Child: “[C]ook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, 25 to 30 minutes.” Ten minutes plus 25 to 30 minutes equals 35 to 40 minutes. That is how long it takes to caramelize onions.

Telling the truth about caramelized onions would turn a lot of dinner-in-half-an-hour recipes into dinner-in-a-little-over-an-hour recipes. I emailed Sam Sifton, the Times food critic turned national editor, to ask if the Recipe Writing Guild had some secret agreement to print false estimates of onion-cooking time. He wrote back: “I can reveal that onion caramelization takes longer than the Guild believes. But it need not take as long as you believe it to take! You can speed it up with butter, so long as you are careful not to burn.”

Could onions be browned, at all, in 10 minutes? I embarked on a quest to find out. Someone on Twitter had suggested things would go faster with sweet onions. This seemed a little like pepping up a bread pudding recipe by treating sliced pound cake as a kind of bread. But I bought a Tampico sweet onion, chopped half of it into tiny bits—only half, so as not to crowd the pan—and turned my biggest burner as high as it would go. Butter seemed a little risky at that temperature, so I went with olive oil, in a cheap, lightweight nonstick skillet. In five minutes, a few flecks of brown had appeared among the otherwise raw-looking onion bits. After eight minutes, some of the onion had begun to take on the scorched aspect of the unfortunate onions stuck to bagels. At the 10-minute mark, the brown flecks had turned black, in a mince that was a mix of brown and still-pale bits. The onion was done cooking—that is, it was beginning to be ruined—but it was not very well caramelized. At 11 minutes, I scraped an inedible mess out of the pan.

But the onion lies had not yet been fully refuted. Melissa Clark, the author of the Times’ scone recipe, claimed in a Diner’s Journal post that she relies on “a somewhat unusual technique,” one that “takes less than half the time of the traditional slow-cooked method of caramelization and makes for sweeter, more intensely flavored onions with a complex, chewy texture.” The secret, she writes, is starting the onions in a dry pan, and adding the oil later.

Note that half the time of the traditional method is still 20 minutes, not 10. Nevertheless, I decided to follow her instructions to the letter. I used a red onion, as Clark specified, “halved through the root and thinly sliced crosswise.” I started slicing it paper-thin. Not good enough? I got out the knife sharpener and touched up the edge on the cleaver. Now it was tissue-paper thin. I heated the pan—dry—over a generously medium-high flame, then added the onions.

After five minutes—when according to Brown, it would “begin to turn dark brown and somewhat soft”—the onion was resolutely white and pink, and only slightly translucent. I added the oil: one tablespoon, extra-virgin. The white parts turned the color of extra-virgin olive oil.

At 10 minutes, when it was supposed to be done, the onion was translucent and soft, with only a tinge of gold. Soon after, one golden speck appeared. By 15 minutes, the onion was even softer and more golden. At 20 minutes, there were deep brown patches, and I was afraid they would scorch while I set down my spatula to take notes. At 24 minutes, the risk of scorching forced me to lower the heat to medium. By 25 minutes, they were pretty well caramelized, and at 28 minutes they were as done as I’d want.

So Clark was only off by 180 percent on the cooking time. You can save 12 minutes off caramelizing onions, provided you pin yourself to the stove.

That is the deeper problem with all the deceit around the question of caramelized onions. The premise is wrong. The faster you try to do it, the more you waste your time. This isn’t some kitchen koan. It’s a practical fact. The 10-minute-cum-28-minute caramelized onion is all labor and anxiety. Give yourself 45 or 50 minutes to brown onions, working slowly on a moderate flame, and it’s an untaxing background activity. You can chop other vegetables, wash some pots, duck out to have a look at the ballgame on TV in the next room. Keep half an eye on the pan. It will only need close tending toward the end.

Recipe writers approach kitchen time with a stopwatch. The Times’ scone recipe, as written, claimed to take 45 minutes. Once you subtract out the (fictitiously shortened) onion-cooking time, the one-minute caraway-seed-toasting time, the 15-to-17 minute baking time, and the 10-minute cooling time, that leaves the cook seven to nine minutes in the middle to mix the dough (including grating frozen butter into it), shape it, cut it into scones, and lay the scones out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Oh, and somewhere in there, the onions needed to “cool completely.” Isn’t home baking soothing?

In truth, the best time to caramelize onions is yesterday. Often enough, you need to have them ready before you can start on the rest of the dish. Thus the recipe-writers’ impulse to deceive. Browning onions is slow work, and it comes first. So get a pan going after dinner, and they’ll be ready when you need them. Or throw the onions in a crock pot and go to bed. In recipe time, that’s hours and hours. In your time, the time that matters, it’s less than five minutes.

Source: Slate

How Dietary Anti-cancer Compound Sulforaphane from Broccoli Works

Researchers have discovered one of the reasons why broccoli may be good for your health.

They found that sulforaphane, a dietary compound from broccoli that’s known to help prevent prostate cancer, may work through its influence on long, non-coding RNAs. This is another step forward in a compelling new area of study on the underlying genetics of cancer development and progression.

The findings were published by researchers from Oregon State University in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

The research provides more evidence for how these lncRNAs, which were once thought to be a type of “junk DNA” of no particular value or function, may instead play a critical role in triggering cells to become malignant and spread.

Growing evidence shows that lncRNAs, which number in the thousands, have a major role in cell biology and development, often by controlling what genes are turned on, or “expressed” to carry out their genetic function. Scientists now believe that when these lncRNAs are dysregulated they can contribute to multiple disease processes, including cancer.

The lncRNAs are also of special interest, researchers say, because they are so highly cell- and tissue-specific.

Unlike many chemotherapeutic drugs that affect healthy cells as well as malignant ones and can cause undesired side effects, the control of lncRNAs may offer a new way to specifically prevent or slow the progression of malignant cells.

“This could be a turning point in our understanding of how cancer may be triggered and spreads,” said Emily Ho, the endowed director of the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health at OSU, a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute.

“It’s obviously of interest that this dietary compound, found at some of its highest levels in broccoli, can affect lncRNAs. This could open the door to a whole range of new dietary strategies, foods or drugs that might play a role in cancer suppression or therapeutic control.”

In particular, this research showed that one lncRNA, called LINC01116, is upregulated in a human cell line of prostate cancer, but can be decreased by treatment with sulforaphane. The data “reinforce the idea that lncRNAs are an exciting new avenue for chemoprevention research, and chemicals derived from diet can alter their expression,” the scientists wrote in their study.

“We showed that treatment with sulforaphane could normalize the levels of this lncRNA,” said Laura Beaver, a research associate in the Linus Pauling Institute and College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and lead author on the study. “This may relate to more than just cancer prevention. It would be of significant value if we could develop methods to greatly slow the progress of cancer, help keep it from becoming invasive.”

The impact of diet on lncRNA expression has been largely unknown until now, the researchers said. In this study, they identified a four-fold decrease in the ability of prostate cancer cells to form colonies when LINC01116 was disrupted.

Among men, prostate cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer globally, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Worth noting, the researchers said, is that an increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, which are high in sulforaphane, appears to be associated with a lower risk of developing prostate cancer.

That same lncRNA, they noted, is also overexpressed in studies of several other types of cancer, including brain, lung and colon cancer. Some other lncRNAs have been found at higher levels in breast, stomach, lung, prostate cancer and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

In other research, a knockout of the gene that encodes one type of lncRNA in mice conferred some resistance to obesity caused by a high-fat diet.

“Taken together, this literature and our own study begin to paint a picture of the important and previously unappreciated role of lncRNAs in the body’s response to diet,” the researchers wrote in the study. “These discoveries illustrate that lncRNAs can play important roles in cancer development and may be useful targets for cancer prevention, detection and treatment.”

Source: Oregon State University


Read also:

Beyond prevention: sulforaphane may find possible use for cancer therapy . . . . .


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Sea Cucumber Used to Treat Cancer

The sea cucumber, an animal found on the ocean floor, has been used in Chinese cuisine for centuries— even as an aphrodisiac— but it’s also been known to treat a wide variety of illness, including certain types of cancer.

“They’re not only anti-viral, anti-bacterial but sea cucumbers have been used to treat gingivitis and gum disease, “ Ty M. Bollinger, author of “Cancer: Step Outside the Box,” told Fox News.

The sea animal, which resembles a large, spiky caterpillar, is used as an adjunct treatment for those undergoing chemotherapy because it’s very effective at mitigating the side effects of the cancer treatment, Bollinger said.

“Chemotherapy is an immunosuppressive set of drugs so it kills the cancer cells but in the meantime it kills your immune system… the properties of sea cucumber that are so fascinating is that it… makes [your immune system] run at the perfect speed… that’s why it’s so effective as an adjunct treatment as well as a treatment in and of itself if people decide to use sea cucumber,” he said.

Besides being immunomodulatory, sea cucumber is cytotoxic, meaning it kills cancer cells.

Sea cucumber, while long used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is not well known in Western medicine— even though it’s been studied for the last 15 years— because most oncologists use chemotherapy, radiation, and therapy as their primary cancer treatments.

“Most people haven’t heard about anything that their doctors haven’t told them about and most doctors aren’t familiar with the sea cucumber. I’m not aware of any medical school that has courses teaching them on sea cucumbers at this point,” Bollinger said.

Sea cucumber can be cooked and eaten, as the Chinese do, or dried, made into a powder and packed into capsules to take in pill form.

“One of the fascinating things about sea cucumbers also is that it is very high in chondroitin sulfate, which you’re familiar with to treat joint pain and arthritis,” Bollinger said. “Well, sea cucumber, to my knowledge, has the highest concentration of chondroitin sulfate of any animal… it’s used very effectively for joint pain and arthritic pain.”


Watch video at You Tube (5:22 minutes) . . . . .


Read more:

Sea Cucumbers Metabolites as Potent Anti-Cancer Agents . . . . .

High-Value Components and Bioactives from Sea Cucumbers for Functional Foods—A Review . . . . .

Unscrambling The Nutrition Science On Eggs

Bret Stetka wrote . . . . . .

As more research suggests some degree of dietary cholesterol is harmless, if not healthy, the egg’s reputation is slowly returning. Yet some experts worry the science is being misinterpreted and spun.

Historically, when humans have sought a reliable source of calories — particularly one that can be readily nabbed from an unsuspecting animal with minimal exertion and zero horticulture skills — we have often turned to eggs.

We’ve pilfered the ova of countless creatures since Neolithic times. But it is the nutritive and symbolic capacities of the humble bird egg, primarily that of the chicken, that we have most consistently championed: reliable nourishment, a hangover cure, an emblem of rebirth — when necessary, a supreme projectile.

As P.G. Wodehouse asked in his 1906 novel, Love Among The Chickens, “Have you ever seen a man, woman, or child who wasn’t eating an egg or just going to eat an egg or just coming away from eating an egg? I tell you, the good old egg is the foundation of daily life.”

Yet in the late 1970s, our egg appreciation soured. Doctors realized that excess cholesterol in our blood predicts a higher risk of heart disease. Cholesterol is a fatty substance necessary for digestion, cellular function and the production of hormones. When too much of it shuttles through our blood supply, it can accumulate on artery walls and up our risk for heart attack and stroke. By extension, many physicians of the day assumed that eating high-cholesterol foods like butter, red meat and eggs was probably disastrous for our health and should be avoided. Fat phobia ensued.

We now know it’s more complicated than this.

Cholesterol no doubt contributes to heart disease by literally blocking our blood vessels. And eating cholesterol can raise levels of it in the blood, but, as a growing body of research has shown, not by that much. Consuming sugar, transfats or excessive saturated fat can be more harmful to cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol itself. Most of the cholesterol in our bodies we make ourselves in the liver, and total body levels are heavily influenced by genetics, gender and age.

As more and more research suggests that some degree of cholesterol consumption is harmless, if not healthy, the egg’s reputation is gradually returning. Yet some experts worry that the science is being misinterpreted and spun by the media, the egg industry and even opportunistic doctors. Diet science tends to be presented and perceived as black or white. Take butter: bad for us one day, not so bad the next. It’s an eternal cycle of self-help revenue. Unfortunately, health and science are rarely this simple. And neither is the egg.

Our collective fear of cholesterol and other fats in part traces back to results from the famous Framingham Heart Study. Launched in 1948 and still going today, the study began by tracking the lifestyles of 5,209 people from Framingham, Mass. The results, which began to appear in journals in the early 1960s, led to our current understanding of heart health and how it’s affected by factors like exercise, smoking and diet.

Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Nutrition Department, was one of the first physicians to realize that while the Framingham findings showed that cholesterol in the blood is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, no studies at that point had shown that cholesterol consumption actually increased blood levels.

Willett and his colleagues have since studied thousands of patients for years and have found no evidence that moderate dietary cholesterol or egg consumption increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, except in people with a strong genetic risk for high cholesterol and possibly people with diabetes.

His findings echo those from a 2013 study published in BMJ reporting that eating one egg per day is not associated with impaired heart health.

“There is now general consensus that dietary cholesterol, primarily consumed in eggs, and to a lesser extent in certain seafoods like shrimp, has a relatively small effect in raising blood cholesterol,” explains Dr. Bruce Griffin, who studies the links between nutrition and cardiovascular disease at the University of Surrey in England. Griffin’s own study from 2009 found that overweight people prescribed a low-calorie diet that included two eggs a day actually saw a drop in cholesterol levels.

The renaissance around cholesterol is not lost on guideline committees, many of which are softening their stance.

In 2013 the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association rattled the medical community by releasing new cholesterol guidelines that abandoned the long-standing goal of keeping our “bad cholesterol” — our LDLs — under 100. The guideline authors based their decision on the lack of randomized-controlled trials supporting a specific target. Too many LDLs tumbling through our bloodstream are no doubt bad, they acknowledge, but dangerous levels in one person might be tolerable in someone else. Also, chasing a specific target through overtreatment could subject patients to drug side effects, which need to be considered.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans — co-developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — also broke with tradition. General clinical dogma had previously held that total cholesterol should be capped at 300 milligrams per day in healthy people, roughly the amount found in 1 1/2 average-sized chicken eggs. Yet the new guidelines don’t include a specific numerical goal. As the authors wrote, “available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and [blood] cholesterol … Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

But some nutrition scientists worry that this softened official line on cholesterol sends the wrong message.

“The lack of dietary cholesterol recommendations in recently released … guidelines is controversial,” says Dr. Wahida Karmally, director of nutrition at the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Columbia University. “This should not be interpreted as an affirmation to ignore dietary cholesterol, since there is clear evidence that it does increase LDL-cholesterol,” she says.

And it does. But by some estimates, only by around 10 percent.

Karmally also points out the danger in generalizing study results to the entire population. She notes that a significant portion of population — up to 30 percent, some estimate — are thought to be “hyper-responders,” meaning they experience abnormally high spikes in blood cholesterol as a result of consuming cholesterol. Most experts agree that hyper-responders need to be especially diligent about limiting cholesterol consumption.

Dr. J. David Spence, a professor of neurology and clinical pharmacology at Western University in London, Ontario, a known egg detractor, is livid at how the 2015 guidelines were interpreted.

“The egg industry and the media seized on the first paragraph of the media release of the new guideline, which said there is not strong data on which to base a specific numerical limit to a dietary cholesterol intake,” he points out. “But if we read on, the guidelines recommend that cholesterol intake should be as low as possible and part of a generally healthy diet.”

The report also cautions that foods high in cholesterol are often also high in saturated fat, which itself increases blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

Spence likens Big Egg to Big Tobacco in its loose interpretation of scientific data in the interest of profit.

In December 2016, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition reported that people who eat an average of one egg a day have a 12 percent lower risk for stroke compared with those who eat fewer eggs. The study also found no link, whether positive or negative, between egg consumption and coronary heart disease.

Yet note the fine print: The study was partially funded by something called the Egg Nutrition Center, a self-described “nutrition education division of the American Egg Board (AEB), a national checkoff program on all egg farms with more than 75,000 hens.”

“I am not trying to put egg farmers out of business,” says Spence. “[But] the propaganda of the egg industry rests on a half-truth.”

He is referring to the fact that many past studies funded by the egg industry that support egg consumption measured fasting cholesterol levels rather than levels after a meal. Most of us spend a good portion of our day in a post-meal state, when our cholesterol climbs to higher levels — and when it presumably does more damage to our arteries. What’s more, by not measuring cholesterol after meals, researchers are unable to identify the hyper-responders, for whom consuming cholesterol poses added health risks.

Spence’s true gripe lies not with the egg itself, but with the yolk. One jumbo egg yolk contains around 240 milligrams of cholesterol, nearly as much as an entree I was frightened to Google: the “2/3 lb. Hardee’s Monster Thickburger.” In an email, Spence recommended I try his omelet and frittata recipes while writing this article. Both are made with egg whites, which he cedes is a healthy source of protein.

Cholesterol aside, Willett points to other possible health benefits of eggs. They contain some unsaturated fats, associated with a lower risk of heart disease; also iron and a number of vitamins and minerals. And a new Finnish ­study — one not affiliated with the egg industry — even suggests that eating one egg a day could improve long-term cognitive function.

“Overall it is hard to say that eggs are good or bad,” says Willett. “They’re almost certainly no worse than sugary breakfast cereal or a bagel with cream cheese — probably better. In terms of health, they seem to be in the middle somewhere.”

However, in the interest of a healthy breakfast, before cracking into an egg, Willett says to consider fruit, nuts and whole grains, all thought to lower blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

“A bowl of steel cut oats topped with nuts and berries will almost certainly reduce risk of heart disease compared to a breakfast centered on eggs,” he says. “That’s what I have most mornings, sometimes adding a bit of yogurt. But eggs are clearly not a poison pill.”

Source: npr

Review Suggests Eating Oats Can Lower Cholesterol as Measured by a Variety of Markers

Researchers have known for more than 50 years that eating oats can lower cholesterol levels and thus reduce a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Studies during that time have focused on the impact of oats on levels of LDL (or “lousy”) cholesterol, which collects in the walls of blood vessels where it can cause blockages or blood clots.

But there is growing evidence that two other markers provide an even more accurate assessment of cardiovascular risk — non-HDL cholesterol (total cholesterol minus the “H” or “healthy cholesterol”) and apolipoprotein B, or apoB, a lipoprotein that carries bad cholesterol through the blood. This is especially true for people with metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes, since they typically do not have elevated LDL cholesterol levels.

A new systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials has concluded that eating oat fibre can reduce all three markers. The study, led by Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, a research scientist and associate director of the Risk Factor Modification Centre of St. Michael’s Hospital, was published online today in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Dr. Vuksan said oats are a rich source of beta-glucan, a viscous soluble fibre, which seems to be responsible for the beneficial effects. The first study of its kind, published in 1963, found that substituting white bread with oat bread containing 140g of rolled oats lowered LDL cholesterol.

Dr. Vuksan’s group looked at 58 clinical trials involving almost 4,000 people from around the world that assessed the effect of diets enriched with oat beta-glucan compared with controlled diets on LDL cholesterol, and, for the first time, on non-HDL cholesterol and apoB as well.

“Diets enriched with about 3.5 grams a day of beta-glucan fiber from oats were found to modestly improve LDL cholesterol, but also non-HDC and apoB compared to control diets,” Dr. Vuksan said.

The review found that overall, LDL cholesterol was reduced by 4.2 per cent, non-HDL cholesterol by 4.8 per cent and apoB by 2.3 per cent.

Dr. Vuksan said it could be difficult for people to consume the recommended amount of oat fiber by eating oat meal alone so he recommends people increase their consumption of oat bran. For example, one cup of cooked oat bran (88 calories) contains the same quantity of beta-glucan as double the amount of cooked oat meal (166 calories). Oat bran can also be eaten as a cereal, used in some baked goods (although since it is low in gluten, the texture may be tough) or sprinkled on other foods.

Canada is the third largest producer of oats in the world, so increasing consumption is good for health and the economy as well, Dr. Vuksan said. Consumption of oats has been declining considerably for many years.

Source: EurekAlert!


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