The Rise of Nissin’s Noodles – A Humble Dish that Changed the World

Julian Ryall wrote . . . . . . . . .

When Momofuku Ando died in January 2007, The New York Times devoted a large part of its editorials page to a man who had earned “an eternal place in the pantheon of human progress”.

This was not an inventor who had helped create the bullet train, founded one of Japan’s world-beating car companies or an electronics firm that had grown to become the envy of every developed economy. Ando perfected the humble dish of instant noodles and the company that he founded, Nissin Food Products, had grown to bestride the instant food sector like a colossus.

His creation – 60 years ago this August – remains unmistakable from his native Osaka to Ontario and Cape Town to Cologne, with few products better epitomising Japan’s recovery from the ravages of the second world war.

But like most success stories, Ando’s moment of inspiration had more than a hint of good fortune about it – and that story is best told in the museum dedicated to his invention in Yokohama.

On the day of my visit, it is mayhem. At least three school parties are visiting, and the children are busy trying out the interactive exhibits and racing from one display to the next.

The noise and chaos are arguably even more intense on the third floor, where children have a choice of soups and toppings to create their very own Cup Noodle – and, apparently, 5,460 potential flavour combinations.

Next door, another group is busy kneading and spreading wheat flour that is then dried and flash-fried – Ando’s breakthrough discovery – before the children take their creations home to sample.

It is likely that Ando would have approved, as he famously got the idea for instant noodles after witnessing ordinary people in Osaka queuing up for a bowl of the steaming staple at an outdoor stand.

Born in March 1910 to a Taiwanese family, Ando was raised by his grandparents in the city of Tainan after both his parents died, and demonstrated an entrepreneurial streak from a young age. He opened a textile company in Taipei at the age of 22 and later operated a clothing company in Osaka, also enrolling in the city’s Ritsumeikan University.

In the precarious years immediately after Japan’s defeat in the war, Ando was convicted of tax evasion and served two years in prison. In his autobiography, he claims he had provided scholarships to students at a time when it was considered to be tax evasion. By 1957, he had lost his business and almost everything else except his home.

Ando always credited his breakthrough to walking past a ramshackle noodle stand. Inspired, and short of cash, he immediately built a shed in his garden equipped with a stove and a workbench – an exact replica is in the museum – and set about perfecting the recipe and his idea. Initially, it did not go well, and every attempt to create a product that could be stored for a long time, yet ready in an instant, failed.

That changed one evening as he watched his wife fry “tempura” and he realised that flash-frying the noodles would eliminate the water they contained. By simply adding boiling water, the noodles could be rehydrated and ready to eat.

On August 25, 1958, Nissin released the first packet of pre-cooked instant noodles in a garish red and yellow package, with the product name – Chikin Ramen – interestingly in both English and Japanese.

The price of this new innovation was set at 35 yen, which was daring considering that “udon” noodles would commonly cost just 6 yen. But it paid off.

“They were a huge hit straight away because they were quick and convenient, but also because the late ’50s was the time when televisions were becoming more commonplace in Japanese homes and mass-marketing was evolving, while supermarkets were also appearing,” says Kahara Suzuki, a spokeswoman for the company.

“Nissin was also one of the first companies to sponsor a television programme, so the company was proactive in getting its name out there,” she says.

That policy continues to this day, with Nissin sponsoring tennis players Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka, recent winner of the US Open.

Chicken Ramen (Nissin has since fixed the name) is still available in Japan and sells for about 105 yen (94 US cents)– a third of the price of the cheapest bowl of noodles in a restaurant in the country.

Refusing to rest on his laurels, Ando sought out new markets and travelled to the US in 1966 to assess the chance of success for instant noodles in the booming post-war economy.

The American businessmen he spoke to, however, were not sure that eating noodles from a bowl with chopsticks would catch on. That prompted Ando’s second brainwave – selling the dehydrated noodles in a styrofoam cup that was easy for anyone with a fork to use.

The following year, the first Cup Noodle choices appeared on supermarket shelves – and the problem went from being how to crack the US market to how to keep up with demand.

Today, 100 billion portions of instant noodles are eaten around the world every year. By 2016, Cup Noodles had sold a total of more than 40 billion packs since its launch.

Statistics from the World Instant Noodles Association show that nearly 40 billion packs of instant noodles are consumed in China and Hong Kong each year.

“Cup Noodles are far more than just a snack; they’re a meal in their own right and ideal because they are cheap to buy, they’re warm and filling on a cold day, and very quick to prepare,” says Hiroko McCormack, who is married to a Canadian and lives in Toronto – but all too often hankers after a taste of home.

“I have to get them sent to me or buy mine directly from Japan, even if that is more expensive, because the ones we can buy in Canada taste different,” she tells the Post. “Instant noodles are very popular in Canada, although we do have a lot of Korean copies, but I have to say that I prefer the original, authentic taste.”

According to Suzuki, Nissin releases an astonishing 300-plus new products a year in Japan as it tries to keep up with the changing desires – and dietary requirements – of consumers. The vast majority of those are discontinued, leaving the most popular products in place.

“Since 2000, there has been a sharp increase in the number of 24-hour convenience stores in Japan, but each of them has limited space so we need to devise ways to show a broad range of products to customers, who are increasingly fickle,” she says.

“At the same time, there is a lot of very stiff competition in this sector, so we need to be constantly innovating and evolving.”

One of the newer products on the shelves, both in Japan and internationally, is the “Nice” range of Cup Noodles, which has the same rich flavour but fewer calories than its standard counterpart. Similarly, some products are being released in smaller portions for older people who tend to eat less, while the company has found that certain ranges – such as the Thai Tomyam Kung Noodle – have found a firm following with female consumers.

“We have found that often Japanese people will go to an izakaya after work, have a few drinks and then they decide they want a big bowl of ramen,” Suzuki says. “We feel the Nice range satisfies the needs of such consumers with none of the guilt.

“Ramen really is comfort food for Japanese people and Mr Ando’s ‘magic noodles’ are just that, plus they can be a low-calorie alternative.”

Ando remained an innovator throughout his life and in 2005, at the ripe old age of 95, perfected his final contribution to the instant noodle menu, Space Ram. Designed to be eaten by astronauts – as it has been – Space Ram uses his original flash-frying method, although the noodles come as bite-sized nuggets in a plastic pouch.

“It’s funny, but a few years ago I was on a business trip in Europe and I’d been gone for several weeks when I went into a supermarket in a town in Wales to get something to eat after a meeting,” says Chris Dunn, an export trade consultant who has lived in Japan since 1990.

“Among the biscuits and other different snacks on the shelves were these immediately recognisable Cup Noodles,” he says. “All of a sudden, as I’m standing in this supermarket, I get a lump in my throat. And I want to go ‘home’. Home for me is really Canberra, but I just want to get back to Japan and – for me – there is apparently nothing more Japanese than a Cup Noodle.”

Source: SCMP

A Brief History of Soy Milk, the Future Food of Yesterday

<Nadia Berenstein wrote . . . . . . . .

We live in a golden age of milks. You can crown your latte with a foam of almond, coconut, oat, or pea; dunk your cookies in hemp or rice; drown your bran flakes in hazelnut, flax, or quinoa. Any legume, grain, seed, or nut, it seems, can be wrung into a mild and milky fluid.

Among this next-gen crowd of plant-based milk analogs, soy milk, the first widely available nondairy milk, stands apart as the unfashionable older sister—a bit dowdy, a bit behind the times. But within the family of soy foods, soy milk is a relative newcomer, with a thin history prior to the 20th century. Other soy foods, such as tofu, tempeh, and yuba, have long been used in a variety of ways in multiple East Asian cuisines, but soy milk played only a limited role in traditional diets in China. The liquid produced from ground-up soybeans that were soaked overnight, it was sometimes served as part of a Chinese breakfast, warmed up and sweetened; seasoned with salt, it became a dipping sauce for youtiao, or fried crullers. Most often, it was not a final product but an intermediate step in the production of tofu.

Unlike the ubiquity of miso or soy sauce, the popularity of soy milk in the US is not the result of the adoption of a traditional foodstuff by a widening group of consumers. In the hands of American technologists, Adventist missionaries, hippie environmentalists, and East Asian entrepreneurs, soy milk was always viewed as a food of the future, a salvific beige fluid that held the solution for all our nutritional, spiritual, and environmental travails. For decades, soy milk’s acolytes in the US waited for its time to come, believing that a world that embraced soy milk was a world where the future could overcome the woes of the past. But, although soy milk’s day did arrive at last, its moment in the spotlight of American consumer affections now seems vanishingly brief.

One way of understanding soy milk is as a product one turns to when dairy is unobtainable or off-limits—a kind of milk of last resort. During the First and Second World Wars, when meat and dairy were rationed, soy milk and other soy foods sometimes played this role: stand-ins for the real stuff, until the war was over. For the lactose-intolerant, and others who could not drink ordinary milk for reasons of health or conviction, soy was a consolation prize, a mock milk that provided a semblance of dairy’s qualities and some of its nutritional virtues.

But there is another way of thinking about soy milk—not as a substitute milk but as a triumph and improvement over conventional dairy. Viewed in this way, soy milk is not a milk of scarcity and deprivation but a potentially ideal beverage, one that could be engineered to better serve human needs.

This also aligns with the industrial vision of soy presented by the US government, which began promoting soy cultivation in the late 19th century. In the US, soybeans were never intended primarily as food for human consumption; they were the feedstock for a new model of agriculture that was closely integrated with industry, in which soy served as the raw material for a range of processes and products, including animal feeds, oils, fuels, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. Soy milk was just one of many uses for the versatile bean, a way of capitalizing on its protein and fat content through food processing.

Henry Ford, the founder and chairman of the Ford Motor Company, was one of soy milk’s most ardent champions. Ford was deeply invested, personally and financially, in a soybean future. He owned hundreds of acres of soybean fields and funded extensive research into new industrial uses for soy oils and meals, including a “soybean car” made entirely from a soy-based plastic resin. Although he was a vegetarian, his commitment to soy foods derived not from a concern for animal welfare but from his love for technological efficiency. The cow was “the crudest machine in the world,” Ford fulminated, a slow and filthy way of making milk. “It is a simple matter to take the same cereals that the cows eat and make them into a milk which is superior to the natural article and much cleaner,” he explained in the 1920s. Why not skip the middleman and get the milk directly from beans? In 1934, Ford opened a demonstration soy-milk plant in his Dearborn, Michigan, research center. Flavored with imitation banana, his prototype was said to be particularly popular with his Filipino employees, but few others seem to have been convinced.

From History of Soy Milk and Other Non-Dairy Milks by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, reprinted with permission from William Shurtleff.

Why wouldn’t consumers give soy milk a chance? If dairy milk had once been dangerous and frequently adulterated—a white cup of death, teeming with TB, listeria, and other pathogens—pasteurization was mandated and widespread by the 1930s, and consumers had few doubts about the safety or cleanliness of dairy. While Asian-American communities maintained their soy-food traditions, most other US consumers associated soy with the unpleasant ersatz foods of wartime (soybean “coffee,” soy loaf), or with inedible products like plastics and varnishes. Why drink soy milk if you didn’t have to?

There was one big exception. Seventh-Day Adventists, for whom vegetarianism is an article of faith, have been pioneers in food technology since the days of John Harvey Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium in the late 19th century, and thus have invented an array of plant-based fake meats with irresistible names like Nuttolene, Protose, FriChik (which is still on the market), and Vegelona.

Adventism’s soy-milk saint is Harry W. Miller, a doctor and medical missionary who spent decades in Japan and China, where he first became interested in soy foods. In 1931, Miller established an Adventist medical center in Shanghai, where cow’s milk was scarce and costly and where, though a handful of commercial soy-milk factories had recently begun operations, soy milk was usually not considered suitable for young children. In a series of feeding experiments, Miller and his medical staff showed that infants raised on soy milk were healthier than those given cow’s milk or Western baby foods; only breastfed babies did better. Cheaper and more nutritious than dairy milk, soy milk, Miller believed, was a perfect food—not just for babies, but for everyone—and he planned to build a soy-milk factory in Shanghai to make it more widely available.

There were just two problems: the flavor, and the farting. As traditionally prepared in China, soy milk often had a bitter taste and a peculiar flavor that soy-industry researchers call “beany.” “Beany” has variously been described as chalky, cardboard-y, or fishy; resembling sweaty feet; or reminiscent of licking a wet popsicle stick—all of which hint at its prismatic unpleasantness, particularly to Western palates.1 Soy milk also had a well-earned reputation for causing digestive distress, which was why Chinese parents did not typically feed it to young children.

1 See, for instance, Sheue-Lei Lock, “Flavor Characteristics of Soy Products Modified by Proteases and Alpha-Galactosidase,” master’s thesis, Iowa State University, 2007.

From History of Soy Milk and Other Non-Dairy Milks by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, reprinted with permission from Danone.

According to Matthew Roth—who tells Miller’s story in his fascinating history of soy, Magic Bean: The Rise of Soy in America—Miller mitigated soy milk’s fartiness by extending the cooking time and tempered its bitterness by adding sugar, but the beaniness remained. Then, while he toiled over a hot cauldron of soy slurry, God took the ladle. As Miller recounted in his memoir, “I heard a divine voice behind me that said, ‘Why don’t you cook it longer with live steam?’” Steam distillation, God’s proposed method, was a processing technique commonly used to deodorize oils, and it swept off many of the volatile molecules responsible for the ugly flavors.

Miller’s Vetose Soya Milk factory began producing a bland, un-beany soy milk in Shanghai in 1937—a terrible time and place to start a new business. When the Japanese military invaded, Miller and his family fled, and the factory was destroyed in the ensuing fighting.

Alongside his eldest son, Willis, Miller started over in Ohio, manufacturing Soy-A-Malt for adults and Soyalac for children, and trying to persuade Americans to give soy milk a chance. Miller beat the drum in pamphlets and lectures: Soy milk was safer than milk; it was a complete protein source; it was alkalinizing; it was far easier to digest than cow’s milk. It was purer, healthier, better than milk.

It didn’t catch on. Postwar America hankered for giant strawberry milkshakes, spilling over the brims of frosty frappé glasses, and gave its children cartons of milk with their school lunches. The 1950s were the century’s peak decade for milk consumption, and soy milk remained a beverage for people with special needs—the lactose-intolerant, diabetics, Adventists, health faddists. In 1950, Miller abandoned his company and the country—passing the torch to Loma Linda, another Adventist food company—and traveled the world evangelizing for soy milk and advising on the creation of soy-milk factories in Japan and Indonesia.2

Entering the Mainstream

Despite the earnestness of Miller’s soy-milk mission, something was missing. It wasn’t enough for soy milk to be good for you, and for it to taste good enough. For soy milk’s day to dawn, it had to become desirable, craveable, delicious.

Enter Vitasoy. Founded by Kwee Seong Lo, a Malaysian-born entrepreneur, Vitasoy was proof that soy milk could have mass appeal. Lo had first learned about soy milk at a US embassy–sponsored talk in Shanghai in the mid-1930s. He began manufacturing it in Hong Kong during the war, initially to feed refugees, then selling it in half-pint milk bottles. Sales were slow: Like milk, soy milk spoiled quickly and needed refrigeration. The business soon ran out of money.

Lo tried again in 1945, after the war had ended. His breakthrough was to liberate soy milk from the bondage of its resemblance to milk, which didn’t have much of a market in East Asia anyway. Instead, Lo packaged soy milk as though it were a soft drink, in curvy glass bottles crowned with metal caps; he also worked with a chemical engineer to make it shelf-stable, as imperishable as soda pop. Vitasoy came sweetened and vitamin-fortified, in flavors including chocolate and malt. It was sold chilled in the summer and warm in the winter. Ads promised Vitasoy drinkers that they would become taller, stronger, and more beautiful. (“The drink’s main drawback is that it tastes a good deal like liquid library paste,” Time magazine snootily opined, in 1968.)

People bought it, lots of it. By 1962, Vitasoy had become the best-selling soft drink in Hong Kong, surging ahead of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and 7 Up. Its success attracted worldwide attention, including from international aid organizations, such as USAID and UNICEF. These groups saw soy milk as an inexpensive and tasty source of protein, and a weapon in the global war against hunger. Beyond those humanitarian goals, they saw geopolitical gains: In Cold War calculations, the oppressed were potential recruits to anti-capitalist ideologies. Feeding soy milk to the world’s hungry was thus a hedge against global Communist domination.

It was also a business opportunity. Monsanto, the US agrochemical company, partnered with Vitasoy to develop Puma, a bright-yellow, banana-flavored soy drink, which it introduced to Guyana in 1969. (The drink’s name was intended “to convey the idea of the energy and vitality inherent in its protein content,” explained a Monsanto rep.3) Soon after, The Coca-Cola Company began selling Saci, a vitamin-boosted, artificial-fruit-flavored rival soy beverage, in Brazil. Notably, these companies do not appear to have considered soy milk for the US market. While it was suitable for the so-called developing world, soy milk was perceived as a trickier proposition in the consumerist, dairy-besotted West.

Even as multinational corporations were getting into the global soy-foods business, and even as soy became more and more deeply embedded in the industrial agricultural system, a countercultural, grassroots movement began to embrace the bean, too. The idea of soy’s superiority, earlier preached by Ford and the Adventists, finally began to gain traction when cloaked in the ethic of environmentalism. Frances Moore Lappé’s influential Diet for a Small Planet, published in 1971, argued that a vegetarian lifestyle could prevent a global crisis. And soy, with its complete set of amino acids, was the bean that could save the planet.

The quality of commercial soy milk had also improved, thanks to food science. In the late 1960s, flavor researchers at Cornell University had definitively identified an enzyme called lipoxygenase as the source of soy milk’s reviled beany flavor. When soaked soybeans were ground at temperatures below 180°F (82°C), lipoxygenase went on a catalytic rampage, converting fatty acids into a whole spectrum of rancid-tasting and unpleasant molecules. Scientists also pinpointed oligosaccharides, or complex sugars, as the culprits behind soy-milk flatulence. By the 1970s, it was possible to manufacture a bland, creamy, and fartless soy milk—a truly inoffensive beverage, suitable for mass consumption.

Still, soy milk retained its distinctly crunchy, alternative vibe. Dead giveaway: Many of the soy milks sold in the US in the 1980s—from brands like Edensoy, Westbrae, and Swan Soy Melk—came in carob flavor, not chocolate. For many Reagan-era Americans, soy was the food equivalent of a hairy-legged gal in Birkenstocks: joyless and unappealing to most people, but there was always a niche of enthusiasts who couldn’t get enough.

Soy milk’s reputation began to change in the 1990s, when stories about soy’s miraculous health benefits began circulating in the media. In 1995, The New England Journal of Medicine published research that linked soy protein consumption with lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Four years later, the FDA began allowing makers of soy products to advertise this benefit on their packaging, which is why you often see a heart logo on soy-milk cartons, a symbol of cardiac health. There were all kinds of other health benefits attributed to soy; it was supposed to reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancers, protect bones against osteoporosis, temper the symptoms of menopause, and supercharge weight loss.

Suddenly, everyone seemed to be drinking soy milk, not just health nuts, vegans, and the lactose-wary. Guys trying to avoid prostate issues, older women dealing with hot flashes, dieters hoping to slim down. Soy-milk sales began a dramatic rise, and brands like White Wave’s Silk—founded in countercultural Boulder, Colorado, in the late 1970s—became huge sellers.4 William Shurtleff, who helped make soy a hippie staple in the 1970s and now runs the Soyinfo Center, a soy education and advocacy organization, notes that the rise in sales was in part due to a change in merchandising. “Soy milk used to be sold in the center of the supermarket,” he says, next to cornmeal, canned soups, or other random, unrelated items. “When White Wave became the biggest seller of soy milk, it’s because they moved soy milk out of the middle of the supermarket and put it where people would look for it—next to the milk.” Soy milk had gone mainstream.

And people kind of liked it. For decades, soy-milk manufacturers had struggled to convince US consumers that their product wasn’t repulsive. “Soy milk has a mild, smooth flavor nearly everyone likes,” swore an ad for Loma Linda canned soy milk in the May 30, 1944, Tampa Tribune. “A little heaven on earth,” promised Swan Foods’ Soy Melk, in 1977. But it was only in the 1990s, when soy milk became whiter, creamier, and sweeter, and came in vanilla, eggnog, chai mocha, and other tantalizing dessert-like flavors, that a broad swath of consumers started to give it a chance. You can still get carob-flavored soy milk, but you’re much more likely to find chocolate.

Decline and Fall

As so often happens in nutrition, subsequent research walked back some of the dramatic benefits of soy that earlier studies had found. But soy wasn’t simply another superfood that failed to deliver: There was a full-blown backlash against the bean, one directed against the same molecules that had been touted as the source of its health-giving powers.

Daidzein and genistein, soy’s supposedly miracle-working isoflavones, are phytoestrogens—that is, plant-derived molecules that bear a structural resemblance to estrogen. This association with the so-called “female hormone” (though, real talk, both men and women produce it) triggered all sorts of fears. Some worried that soy was an endocrine disruptor, causing early puberty in girls and increasing, rather than lowering, the risk of cancer. Further out on the fringes, soy was denounced as part of a liberal plot to feminize American males by draining them of their precious testosterone, causing an epidemic of “girlie men.” At the same time, soybeans were increasingly implicated in what were seen as the wider problems of industrial agriculture: monoculture, clear-cutting rain forests, GMOs. To many eco-conscious people, soy didn’t seem quite so virtuous anymore.

The fringe anti-soy narrative—a toxic stew of misogyny and homophobia, with some anti-Asian racism thrown in—is clearly offensive and wrong. And fears about endocrine disruption (registration required) and increased cancer risks also seem to be exaggerated or misguided. “Do you know what the most nutritious nondairy milk is?” Shurtleff demanded when I interviewed him. “It’s soy!”

And yet. Have you ever paused before the lavish selection of nondairy options in the supermarket, pondered the red carton of Silk or the beige-and-blue brick of Edensoy, wondered whether soy milk was actually that good for you, and then chosen one of the newer, hipper alternative milks instead?

This brings us to where we are today: soy milk’s exhausted prospects. After hitting a peak of $1.2 billion in 2008, US soy-milk sales began a steep decline. According to Nielsen, total sales were just short of $300 million in 2015. Almond milk, not soy, is now the top nondairy-milk choice in the US, and coconut is hot on its heels.

We are living in the future that soy milk helped create, a world where we no longer believe we need the cow for its milk, and where plant-based meat alternatives are promoted as both world-saving techno-foods and legitimately delicious. Where a cheese-loving, ice cream–eating, totally-down-with-lactose gal like me might tarry in front of the dairy alternatives and pick one just because it looks good. Is there room for soy milk in this plant-based consumer economy?

At the bodega down the block, I have to search out the soy among the array of pea, rice, almond, and coconut; the cartons of organic milk; the plastic jugs of conventional 2% and skim. Back at home, I pour myself a glass of plain, unsweetened soy. It is beige, bland, nondescript, with a faint, almost vegetal aroma. Its unremarkable flavor takes me back to the 1990s, before Whole Foods arrived in my suburban hometown, to the cluttered aisles of the local health food store, to the can-do stoicism of my teenage experimentation with veganism. In other words, it tastes like nostalgia.

Source: Serious Eat

A Brief History of Ketchup

Ken Albala wrote . . . . . . . .

Trade wars have an interesting way of revealing cultural stereotypes.

Countries often propose tariffs not on the most valuable items in their trading relationships – since that would be painful to them as well – but rather products iconic of national character. A good example of this came in the European Union’s retaliation against U.S. steel tariffs. Among the US$3.3 billion in goods it slapped a tariff on in May were Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Kentucky bourbon and Levi’s jeans.

Now, American ketchup is being targeted, both by the EU and Canada. The United States’ northern neighbor imposed a 10 percent tariff on the product in July, while the EU has suggested it would be a part of the next round of retaliatory tariffs, which could go into effect within weeks.

The EU’s threat is mostly symbolic because it is already a significant producer of ketchup – including by American brands like H.J. Heinz – and imports very little of the tomato condiment from the U.S. Canada, however, as recently as 2016 imported more than half of all the ketchup American companies send abroad.

In either case, at least part of the reasoning behind using it as a weapon in the growing trade war seems to be that ketchup, also spelled catsup, is one of those products that sounds distinctly American, poured generously on burgers and fries at baseball parks and Fourth of July barbecues across the U.S.

But in fact, the irony is that this ubiquitous condiment is anything but American in its origins or in those nationalities that love it the most. As a historian of food, I see it as a truly a global product, its origins shaped by centuries of trade. And different cultures have adopted a wide variety of surprising uses for the condiment we know as ketchup today.

The origins of ‘ke-chiap’

Although ketchup is defined by Merriam-Webster as a “seasoned pureed condiment usually made from tomatoes,” in the past it has been concocted from a wide variety of ingredients.

China – another country with which the U.S. is in the middle of a serious trade spat – was likely the original source of the condiment with something that sounded like “ke-chiap.” It likely originated as a fish-based sauce many centuries ago, a condiment akin to the many fermented sauces one finds throughout southeast Asia. It was primarily used as a seasoning for cooking.

From there it made its way to the Malay Peninsula and to Singapore, where British colonists first encountered what locals called “kecap” in the 18th century. Like soy sauce, it was deemed exotic and perked up what was a comparatively bland British cuisine, such as roasts and fried foods.

English cookbooks of the era reveal how it was soon transformed into a condiment made with other bases such as mushrooms or pickled walnuts, rather than only fish. E. Smith’s “Compleat Housewife” includes an anchovy-based “katchup” with wine and spices, more akin to Worcestershire sauce than what we think of as ketchup.

A more significant transformation took place in the early 19th century in the U.S. when it was made with tomatoes, sweetened, soured with vinegar and spiced with cloves, allspice, nutmeg and ginger – pretty much the modern-day recipe.

The first published recipe for tomato ketchup was written in 1812 by Philadelphia scientist and horticulturalist James Mease in his “Archives of Useful Knowledge, vol. 2.”

Heinz makes it ‘American’

Heinz, the American company perhaps most associated with ketchup, didn’t get into the game until 1876, seven years after Henry John Heinz set up the company to sell horseradish using his mother’s recipe. After his initial company went bankrupt, he launched a new one and began bottling tomato “ketchup,” spelled that way to distinguish it from other catsup brands.

From here, ketchup took on a uniquely American character and began its career as not only a universal condiment but a mass-produced brand-name article of trade that could last indefinitely on the shelf, be shipped around the world and used in ways never imagined by its creators.

Like so many other products, it became emblematic of American culture: quick, easy, convenient and too sweet but also adaptable to any gastronomic context – and a bit addictive. Ketchup became the quick fix that seemed to make any dish perk up instantly, from meatballs to scrambled eggs.

In a sense, it also became a “mother sauce,” meaning that one can concoct other sauces with ketchup as the base. Barbecue sauce usually uses ketchup, as does cocktail sauce for shrimp, with the addition of horseradish. Think also of Russian dressing or Thousand Island. Or consider various recipes that are often ketchup laden, like meatloaf and chili.

How the world consumes ketchup

While ketchup is indeed an American staple – 97 percent of households have a bottle on hand – it’s very popular around the world, where the condiment is used in a lot of surprising ways.

Although practically sacrilegious in Italy, ketchup is often squirted on pizza in places as far flung as Trinidad, Lebanon and Poland. Similarly, ketchup is even used as a substitute for tomato sauce in pasta dishes in countries such as in Japan, which created a catsup-based dish called spaghetti Napolitan.

In the Philippines there’s a popular banana ketchup that was invented when tomatoes ran short during World War II but otherwise looks and tastes like tomato ketchup. In Germany the local favorite is a curry powder-spiked ketchup that goes on sausages sold by street vendors everywhere.

Without doubt the most intriguing recipe comes from Canada, where people enjoy ketchup cake, a sweet red frosted layer cake that is much better than it sounds.

The modern variety of ketchup even returned home to China to become the base of many Chinese or perhaps more properly Chinese-American dishes like sweet and sour chicken. Ketchup is sometimes a stand in for tamarind in pad thai.

But the best recipe comes from my father who once told me that during the Great Depression people without money would ask for a cup of hot water to which they would add some free ketchup and have a meal of tomato soup.

Ketchup lovers today

Today, the U.S. is the biggest exporter of ketchup and other tomato sauces by country. In 2016, it exported $379 million worth, or 21 percent of all trade in the product category. While only 1.9 percent of that – $7.3 million – went to Europe, a whopping 60 percent – $228 million – was exported to Canada.

Heinz is among the biggest producers, with a market share of 80 percent in Europe – via factories in the U.K., Netherlands and elsewhere – and 60 percent in the U.S.

Put together, however, Europe actually exports the most ketchup, with 60 percent of the global trade – including countries not in the EU.

What does all this mean for the tariffs? Since the EU produces plenty of ketchup within the bloc, its proposed tariff will probably have very little impact. For Canada, however, the effects could be more complicated since it’s unclear whether it can supply enough ketchup domestically or from other countries to meet high demand.

Whether Canadians will find an alternative for Heinz remains to be seen. But what is clear is that while the signature bottle proudly bearing the number 57 may be quintessentially American, its roots are global and its progeny likewise.

Source : The Conversation

14,000-Year-Old Piece Of Bread Rewrites The History Of Baking And Farming

Lina Zeldovich wrote . . . . . . . . .

When an archaeologist working on an excavation site in Jordan first swept up the tiny black particles scattered around an ancient fireplace, she had no idea they were going to change the history of food and agriculture.

Amaia Arranz-Otaegui is an archaeobotanist from the University of Copenhagen. She was collecting dinner leftovers of the Natufians, a hunter-gatherer tribe that lived in the area more than 14,000 years ago during the Epipaleolithic time — a period between the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras.

Natufians were hunters, which one could clearly tell from the bones of gazelles, sheep and hares that littered the cooking pit. But it turns out the Natufians were bakers, too –at a time well before scientists thought it was possible.

When Arranz-Otaegui sifted through the swept-up silt, the black particles appeared to be charred food remains. “They looked like what we find in our toasters,” she says — except no one ever heard of people making bread so early in human history. “I could tell they were processed plants,” Arranz-Otaegui says, “but I didn’t really know what they were.”

So she took her burnt findings to a colleague, Lara Gonzalez Carretero at University College London Institute of Archaeology, whose specialty is identifying prehistoric food remains, bread in particular. She concluded that what Arranz-Otaegui had unearthed was a handful of truly primordial breadcrumbs.

“We both realized we were looking at the oldest bread remains in the world,” says Gonzalez Carretero. They were both quite surprised — with good reason.

The established archaeological doctrine states that humans first began baking bread about 10,000 years ago. That was a pivotal time in our evolution. Humans gave up their nomadic way of life, settled down and began farming and growing cereals. Once they had various grains handy, they began milling them into flour and making bread. In other words, until now we thought that our ancestors were farmers first and bakers second. But Arranz-Otaegui’s breadcrumbs predate the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. That means that our ancestors were bakers first —and learned to farm afterwards.

“Finding bread in this Epipaleolithic site was the last thing we expected!” says Arranz-Otaegui. “We used to think that the first bread appeared during the Neolithic times, when people started to cultivate cereal, but it now seems they learned to make bread earlier.”

When you think about it, the idea that early humans learned to bake before settling down to farm is logical, the researchers behind the finding say. Making bread is a labor-intensive process that involves removing husks, grinding cereals, kneading the dough and then baking it. The fact that our ancestors were willing to invest so much effort into the prehistoric pastry suggests that they considered bread a special treat. Baking bread could have been reserved for special occasions or to impress important guests. The people’s desire to indulge more often may have prompted them to begin cultivating cereals.

“In our opinion, instead of domesticating cereals first, the bread-making culture could have been something that actually fueled the domestication of cereal,” says Gonzalez Carretero. “So maybe it was the other way around [from what we previously thought.]” The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Andreas Heiss, an archaeologist at the Austrian Academy of Science who is familiar with the project but not directly involved in the study, finds the discovery “thrilling.” He says it shows that ancient tribes were quite adept at food-making techniques, and developed them earlier than we had given them credit for.

“It tells us that our ancestors were smart people who knew how to use their environment well,” Heiss says. “It also tells us that processing food is a much more basic technique in human history than we thought — maybe as old as hunting and gathering.”

As the team analyzed the crumbs further, they found out that the Natufians were sophisticated cooks. Their flour was made from two different types of ingredients — wild wheat called einkorn and the roots of club-rush tubers, a type of a flowering plant. That particular combination allowed them to make pliable elastic dough that could be pressed onto the walls of their fireplace pits, much like flatbreads are baked today in tandoori overs — and baked to perfection. Besides the einkorn and tubers, the team also found traces of barley and oats.

The Natufians may have had rather developed taste buds, too. They liked to toss some spices and condiments into their dishes, particularly mustard seeds. “We found a lot of wild mustard seeds, not in the bread but in the overall assemblage,” says Gonzalez Carretero.

But, she adds, mustard seeds had also been found in some bread remains excavated from other sites, so it’s possible that Natufians sprinkled a few on their own pastries. So far, the team has analyzed only 25 breadcrumbs with about 600 more to go, so they think chances are good that some charred pieces with mustard seeds might turn up. Arranz-Otaegui thinks it’s possible. “The seeds have [a] very particular taste, so why not use them?”

Exactly how delicious was this special Natufian treat? It’s hard to tell. Modern-day bread recipes don’t include ancient wheat or roots of tuberous plants. But Arranz-Otaegui does want to find out how the Epipaleolithic bread played on the palate. She has been gathering the einkorn seeds, as well as peeling and grinding the tubers. She plans to partner up with a skilled chef and baker to reconstruct the exact mixture in correct proportions.

It will be the oldest bread recipe ever created by mankind.

Source: npr

The History of Sourdough Bread

Vanessa Kimbell wrote . . . . . . . .

Bread is older than metal; even before the bronze age, our ancestors were eating and baking flat breads. There is evidence of neolithic grinding stones used to process grains, probably to make a flat bread; but the oldest bread yet found is a loaf discovered in Switzerland, dating from 3500 BCE. The use of leavening was discovered and recorded by the the Egyptians; there is some discussion about how this process happened, and the degree to which there was an overlap between brewing and bread-making, but obviously without a handy time machine it’s going to remain one a debating point among historians of ancient food. What is not in doubt is that the ancient Egyptians knew both the brewing of beer and the process of baking leavened bread with use of sourdough, as proved by wall paintings and analyses of desiccated bread loves and beer remains (Rothe et al., 1973; Samuel, 1996).

Wild yeast is used in cultures all over the world in food preparations that are so seeped in culture and history that they have been made long before any form of written words. The Sudanese, for example make kisra (fermented dough made with sorghum), The Ethiopians use wild yeast to make injera (teff), Mexicans make pool a fermented corn drink, Ghanaian kenkey and Nigerian use fermentation for their maize to make ogi, Indian idli breakfast cakes, made with rice, beans or chickpeas, and the Turkish make bona `( a ferment drink) generally with wheat, maize, sorghum, or millet and Nigerians ferment the cassava to make gari or fufu with.

Until the time of the development of commercial yeasts, all leavened bread was made using naturally occurring yeasts – i.e. all bread was sourdough, with it’s slower raise. Indeed, one of the reasons given for the importance of unleavened bread in the Jewish faith is that at the time of the exodus from Egypt, there wasn’t time to let the dough rise overnight.

From Egypt, bread-making also spread north to ancient Greece, where it was a luxury product first produced in the home by women, but later in bakeries; the Greeks had over 70 different types of bread, including both savoury and sweetened loaves, using a number of varieties of grain. The Romans learned the art of bread from the Greeks, making improvements in kneading and baking. The centrality of bread to the Roman diet is shown by Jevenal’s despair that all the population wanted was bread and circuses (panem et circenses). We have sourdough recipes from seventeenth century France using a starter which is fed and risen three times before adding to the dough. The French were obviously far more interested in good tasting bread over an easy life for the baker.

The introduction of commercial yeasts in the nineteenth century was to the detriment of sourdough breads, with speed and consistency of production winning. By 1910, Governmental bills preventing night work and restricting hours worked made more labour intensive production less sustainable, and in response, the bakers moved again towards faster raising breads, such as the baguette. It’s only since the nineteen eighties that there has been demand again for sourdoughs in the UK, to the extent that in 1993, regulations were issued defining what could be sold as a sourdough bread. In Germany, again, the use of sourdough was universal until brewers yeasts became common in the fourteen and fifteen hundreds. The overlap between brewing and baking was reflected in monasteries producing both bread and beer, using the heat of the oven to dry malted gain and the yeast to raise the bread. However, the big difference was that in Germany, sourdoughs continued to be used for rye breads, even as bakers’ yeasts became more popular for all other types.

While yeast is still used with rye flours, the sourdough is used to increase acidity, which prevents starches from degrading. This use in Germany is also seen in other countries with a strong rye bread tradition; Scandinavian countries and the Baltic states. Like France, the Germans have regulatory protection of what can be sold as sourdough.

The prospectors and explorers in the United States in the nineteenth century were referred to as sourdoughs as it was a practice to keep the mother leavening on your person, to make sure it didn’t freeze in the bitter winters. Personally I think that it was to get the yeast’s going, with the warmth so they would be more active and make better bread rather than as a freezing prevention measure. As a result, the bread in San Francisco was predominately sourdough, with bakeries such as the Boudin Bakery still baking today after having been founded in the mid nineteenth century.

Here in the UK, greater and earlier urbanisation, and the later invention of the Chorleywood process enabling the mass production of bread using softer English wheats moved baking away from small scale and artisanal production towards larger industrial methods. However, with the current triumph of television baking, and a re-invigoration of interest in the quality of the food we eat after the nadir of the post war period, interest in sourdoughs from smaller bakeries and home production is once again on the rise.

Source: The Sourdough School