Everything You Should Know About Yams

Elazar Sontag wrote . . . . . . . . .

Knobbly and brown, with little, wispy, hair-like roots shooting off at random, yams aren’t the stateliest of foods. But if you get past their slightly odd appearance, you may very well fall in love. That is, if you even cross paths with a real yam. Chances are, unless you’re doing most of your grocery shopping at African, Caribbean, or Asian markets, or grew up eating and cooking these tubers, what you imagine when I say “yam” is actually just an orange sweet potato.

As I dug into just a little bit in my field guide to sweet potatoes—way too many puns here, I know—the practice of calling sweet potatoes yams started in the early 20th-century, when Southern farmers introduced softer-fleshed orange sweet potatoes to the American market. Farmers called orange tubers yams to differentiate them from the white-fleshed sweet potatoes people were already familiar with. The name stuck, and all these years later a good portion of us still couldn’t point out a real yam in a lineup. And that’s a shame, because their flavor and texture is completely unique, and they take well to all sorts of cooking methods and seasonings. A true yam is much starchier than a sweet potato, with a milder sweetness that becomes only slightly more pronounced when the root is cooked.

Orange sweet potatoes are often referred to as yams, though they come from an entirely different plant family.

Calling sweet potatoes yams in America wasn’t just a money-making ploy. For the first enslaved West Africans forcibly brought to America, sweet potatoes offered as close to a taste of home as they were going to get. Though sweeter and more watery when cooked, these orange sweet potatoes resembled the yams of Africa both in texture and appearance. “Slavers transporting captives from [West Africa] on the Middle Passage provisioned themselves with yams sufficient for the voyages,” wrote culinary historian Jessica B. Harris in an op-ed on the cultural significance of the yam. “But once ashore in more temperate America, the slaves found that the African tuber was unavailable, and thus substituted it with the sweet potato—leading to centuries of botanical and gastronomic confusion.”

Really, yams aren’t remotely similar to sweet potatoes. They belong to the Dioscoreaceae family of flowering plants, and grow in temperate and tropical climates, including in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. A yam is the extremely starchy tuber at the base of winding, bright-green herbaceous vines. While sweet potatoes generally don’t grow much longer or thicker than a baby’s forearm, yams can grow to be more than six feet long, and on rare occasions weigh in at over 150 pounds. That’s a very, very big tuber, and needless to say, not the sort of produce you’ll find squeezed into a grocery bin. There are more than 800 varieties of yams, and a majority of those are cultivated in Africa, with Nigerian farmers producing more than half of the world’s supply.

Some of the most common yam varieties you’ll come across include the popular white and yellow yams native to Africa, which resemble large potatoes in shape. In Asian markets you’ll find Chinese and Japanese yams, which have lighter-brown skin, and are cylindrical. Because yams are grown and eaten in different parts of the world, methods for cooking vary enormously from one kitchen to the next.

How to Buy and Cook Yams

Yams are very resilient, and they travel well. This means that, for the most part, you don’t have to worry about accidentally picking up a yam at the store that’s already spoiled—unlike the cursed-but-seemingly-fine avocado that is always rotten in the middle, no matter how beautiful its exterior is. If a yam’s skin is intact, and the root doesn’t have any soft or mushy spots, consider it good to go.

In Jamaica, you’ll find yams slowly roasting, skin still on, over an open fire. When they’re done, the interior can be easily pierced with a knife, but the skin isn’t burnt—an impressive feat. The meaty flesh of the yam, slightly smoky from the fire, is served alongside flavorful chunks of jerk pork, chicken, and other meats.

In Nigeria, where so many of the world’s yams are grown and the tuber is central to everyday life, they’re cooked into porridges, and cubed and stewed slowly with tomatoes, peanuts, greens, and spices. They’re also boiled then pounded into a version of fufu, one of West Africa’s most iconic dishes. The doughy, starchy mixture is perfect for absorbing sauce, and is eaten alongside more or less everything.

The yams eaten in the Caribbean and throughout Africa are larger and more bulbous than Chinese yams, which are also known as nagaimo in Japan. In China, the yams are sliced into rounds and boiled in soup until tender, stir-fried with fresh vegetables, blended into savory steamed cakes, and more. You can find wild Chinese yams pre-sliced and sun-dried in Chinese grocery stores. The dried yams are known as huai shan, and cooks reconstitute them in rich broths, simmering along with chicken, pork, goji berries, and dried jujubes.

Chinese and Chinese-American cooks like Lisa Lin, a food blogger and expert on Chinese cooking, also utilize a yam called yamaimo or East Asian mountain yam. This variety has a sticky, slightly slippery texture, and is often sliced finely and eaten raw. “One way to prepare the yams is to boil them in a soup,” says Lin. “My mom (the kitchen matriarch) says that the best ones for boiling are smaller ones or the ones that look very twisted and crooked—usually found in farmers markets. They don’t break down and turn to mush when they’re boiled.”

In Japan, among other applications, the starchy nagaimo and yamaimo yams are grated into the batter of okonomiyaki—chewy, savory pancakes showered in toppings and a mixture of a sweet and savory sauce and mayonnaise. The starchiness of the grated yams helps bind the pancake batter together, without adding too much moisture.

I’ve only touched on the very tip of the yam-shaped iceberg. There are hundreds of varieties of yams out there, used in more culturally diverse preparations than I could count. The knobbly root takes well to frying, braising, sautéing, boiling, roasting, and more. You just have to decide where to start.

Source: Serious Eats

23 Spice Products Sold in Hong Kong Have Cancer-causing Substances

Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has found 23 spice products sold in the city contained substances that could cause cancer, with the amount in two goods exceeding local regulatory limits.

The Consumer Council revealed on Tuesday that more than half of the 44 dried spices tested were found to have either aflatoxins (AFs), ochratoxin A (OTA) or both.

AFs and OTA are mycotoxins produced by fungi, and carcinogenic, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

It urged manufacturers to improve their production to minimise the chances of mycotoxin contamination during the process and to preserve the finished products in good condition.

“It’s hard for consumers to tell which spices are problematic, so a quality check is very important,” the council’s chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said.

Among the 15 spices found to have AFs, the amount in two nutmeg products, often used to make western pastries such as pumpkin pies – went beyond the upper limit set by the Centre for Food Safety’s regulations of 15 micrograms per kilogram (mcg/kg).

The IARC said AFs were linked to liver cancer and may affect unborn babies.

Deep-fried vegetable chips could contain twice the amount of carcinogen in potato chips, Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns

Ground Nutmeg from McCormick, marked as from the United States, contained 17.7mcg/kg of AFs.

Of the 17.7 micrograms of AFs, 12.4 micrograms were B1-type AFs – the most toxic kind of such mycotoxins – which exceeded the European Union’s maximum limit of 5mcg/kg.

Another nutmeg product from Yuan Heng Spice Co was found to have 17.5 micrograms of AFs, of which 14.6 micrograms was the B1-type substance.

The council has asked the local food authorities to follow up.

The study found these and two other spice products exceeded the stricter cap of 10mcg/kg set by the European Union.

An agency representing McCormick argued the council’s findings were abnormal, saying another test report by an independent laboratory suggested the product had less than five micrograms of B1-type AFs per 100kg. It said a small sample might produce unreliable results and that safety was its first priority.

Yuan Heng Spice Co’s agency representative said its investigation suggested there had been problems when stocking the products and the company had recalled and destroyed the batch of goods in question.

Nora Tam Fung-yee, from the council’s research and testing committee, insisted the test was conducted in accordance with international standards but admitted results from different batches might vary.

But Wong said no matter whether the manufacturers agreed with the results or not, they were responsible for finding out the cause of the problem and to check whether the products were safe to sell.

Meanwhile, the council’s tests also found 18 out of 44 samples contained OTA, which could cause cancer. They included capsicum spp. spices and turmeric which are essential for making curry, as well as nutmeg products.

The council noted there was currently no regulatory oversight on the maximum concentration of OTA in spice products.

Wong said the European Union had such regulations and another international body also had a recommended upper limit, so Hong Kong should keep up with the times and the test results warranted attention.

“But we want to bring a little bit of comfort to consumers. In Hong Kong food culture, the application of spices is not in high quantity. Unlike other Asian countries which consume curry more and use it more frequently. So relatively, the seriousness is not that high,” she said.

The council urged consumers to inspect the product packaging with care and check whether the spice was mouldy or had an unusual appearance.

It added once opened, the spice should be tightly closed and stored in a cool dry place.

Source: SCMP

What’s the Difference Between Sea Salt, Kosher Salt, and Table Salt?

Brette Warshaw wrote . . . . . . . . .

Salt, as we learn in high school, is just NaCl: a compound made from numbers 11 and 17 on the periodic table, a material so simple that it’s treated as the most basic example of how chemistry works. So why, in real life, is salt so complicated? Why is the molar mass of NaCl taught to fidgety teens instead of the differences between the various salts we consume every day? Luckily, What’s the Difference is here to step in where your AP Chem teacher failed you.

Let’s start with table salt. Table salt is made of small, regular, cubic crystals and is usually mined from underground rock-salt deposits (rather than gathered from sea water). As much of 2% of its weight is made up of additives that keep the salt crystals from sticking together—including silicon dioxide, which is used in glass and ceramics—and then more additives to keep those additives from sticking together. It’s also the densest of the salts, which makes it the slowest to dissolve—and when it does dissolve, those additives can make something like a brine look and taste murky.

On the other side of the purity spectrum is kosher salt, which is relatively more pure than the other salts on the market. Kosher salt can come from either salt mines or the sea, and it was originally used in the koshering process of meats; the salt would remove impurities and draw the blood out of whatever animal was meant to be koshered. Lots of cooks now use kosher salt in all kinds of cooking; its coarse, uniform texture makes it easy to grab, and at around $1 per pound, it’s inexpensive.

A note about kosher salt: the two top brands on the market, Diamond Crystal and Morton, behave very differently. Morton is much denser than Diamond Crystal, and therefore a volume measurement (like, say, a tablespoon) will be “saltier” than DC. Morton also takes longer to dissolve, which makes it easier to over-salt a dish with it; if you taste a dish right after salting it, it won’t taste as salty as it will be when all the salt dissolves. When given the choice, then, many cooks typically prefer Diamond Crystal over Morton.

Moving on: sea salts, as their name implies, come from the sea; they’re produced through the evaporation of sea water or water from saltwater lakes. They often contain natural minerals, like magnesium and calcium, as well as teensy bits of natural sediments that can affect their color: think Hawaiian pink salt or French sel gris. Sea salt can come in various coarseness levels—and on the coarser end, the crystals can be irregular, making them better for garnish or texture rather than for workhorse-cooking.

If you’re looking for even fancier crystals, there’s also flake salt and fleur de sel. Flake salt, like Maldon, comes in flat, extended flakes rather than granules; those flakes are made either through evaporation or by rolling out granulated salts by machine. And fleur de sel is specifically made from the crystals that form on the sea-salt beds in central or Western France, when the humidity and breeze are just right; they’re scooped off of the surface just before they have the chance to dunk beneath the water. Sounds like fancy salt production, yes, and like a dream vacation, too.

Source: What’s the Difference

DuPont Lunches Plant-based Egg White

Katherine Durrell wrote . . . . . . . . .

DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences is launching its Grinsted Plant-Tex egg white replacement system, with three different formulae appropriate for vegan alternatives to burger patties, cooked sausages and cold cuts. Plant-Tex is touted as being cholesterol and allergen free, as well as naturally sourced. The egg white replacement system is currently available in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, with products manufactured with Plant-Tex expected to reach the market by Q3 or Q4 this year and a worldwide roll out planned for 2020.

“This is a very fast growing and innovative market, and Plant-Tex products are very much designed around what customers have been asking us for,” Linda Yvonne Friis, Global Business Development Manager, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

Plant-Tex is currently available in three different forms. Plant-Tex MA1201 for burger patties increases protein content and improves juiciness and umami flavor, while also being lower in salt. Plant-Tex MA1301 for cooked sausages aids shape maintenance and mimics the “snappy” bite of cooked sausages, both hot and cold. Plant-Tex MA1110 for cold cuts gives vegan deli ham an authentic taste and texture.

“We have very strong sensory capabilities that helped us to line up our solutions with consumer ‘drivers of liking’, and working closely with customers always tends to keep us on track and moving at pace,” Friis adds.

However, she explains that there were some specific technical challenges to overcome, such as achieving the right texture. “The goal on these types of projects is to deliver the optimum overall experience rather than fixing just one particular issue. For example, a good meat-alternative sausage deserves a good meat-alternative casing,” explains Friis.

She adds that fortuitous timing aided product development, with Dupont having recently brought in additional texturant product lines relevant to plant-based foods.

The continuing rise of the vegan market

There is a promising market for plant-based meat alternatives, with 37 percent of Americans attempting to consume more plant-based foods, and 46 percent of Europeans saying they consume meat alternatives at least once a week. This has been reflected in new products available, with there being more than a 45 percent average annual growth in food and beverage launches with a vegan positioning (CAGR, 2013-2017), according to data from Innova Market Insights.

“Our research points in the direction of the primary driver for plant-based being consumer’s own health with sustainability and animal welfare being key factors also – and, of course, as plant-based solutions continue to improve, we should see more consumers including some level of meat alternatives in their diet,” Friis continues.

Additionally, she notes that unlike vegans or vegetarians, consumers who seek alternatives to meat occasionally are looking for products that are quite similar to meat with regards to bite, juiciness and appearance. “In many plant-based products, egg white is used as the binder of the plant proteins, in order to approximate meat. This launch is focused on replacing egg white and to get as close as possible to the meat product experience,” she says.

This is not DuPont’s first foray into the vegan market, with its subsidiary, Danisco, offering a line of plant-based products including fermented spreads (plant-based alternatives to cream cheeses), fermented snacks (plant-based alternatives to dairy yogurts), and plant-based beverages (nut and oat). DuPont plans to release more solutions for non-fermented spreads and to produce more meat analogs later this year. “For the meat alternatives, I am convinced that we will see more “whole muscle” type products, more ready meals and more variety,” adds Friis.

The plant-based egg space has enjoyed a spate of innovations recently. In May, Bill Gates-backed Renmatix developed Nouravant, an egg-replacement ingredient created from the botanical building blocks of plants – cellulose and lignin. It offers food manufacturers and bakers a multi-functional, allergen-free ingredient at a “fraction of the cost of current ingredients.”

Source: Food Ingredients 1st

Not All Sugars Are Created Equal

When it comes to sugars in food, you’re far better off having a bowl of blueberries than a granola bar, a nutritionist says.

Added sugars just aren’t the same as natural sugars, noted Kara Shifler Bowers, a registered dietitian at Penn State PRO Wellness, a health center in Hershey, Pa.

“Natural sugars in fruit are different because fruits carry fiber as well as many antioxidants and vitamins such as A and C,” she explained in a Penn State Health news release.

Cutting back on added sugars can prevent a number of health problems.

Women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar each day. That’s equal to just two-thirds of a can of soda or 1.5 dessert-like yogurts. For men, the limit is 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams.

“The only danger in cutting out added sugars completely is that eventually, one may binge,” Shifler Bowers said.

Instead of suddenly eliminating added sugars, it might be a good idea to cut back gradually. Try limiting sugary sweets to special occasions.

“You crave what you eat,” Shifler Bowers said. “Your body can forget about foods, so to speak, so the longer you abstain from them, the easier it will be. You can still enjoy them at times, but you won’t need to eat the same amount.”

Watch what you eat because even seemingly healthy choices such as yogurt, fiber bars, protein bars and store-bought spaghetti sauce can have high levels of added sugars.

“In granola bars, the sugars help ingredients stick together,” Shifler Bowers said. “In spaghetti sauce, sugars are used to cut the acidity. Try snacking on fruit and nuts instead.”

Parents should wait as long as possible to introduce children to sugar, even sugar in juices.

“Their taste buds are still developing, so if they get used to sweet foods, that is what they are going to want to eat as they get older,” Shifler Bowers said.

Children aged 1 to 3 should have no more than 4 ounces of fruit juice a day.

“It’s really easy to consume a lot of sugar when drinking sweet beverages. Instead of juice, try offering children fruit such as melons or berries instead, so they get plenty of fiber,” Shifler Bowers said.

Source: HealthDay