Mary Helen Arthur

Food Science Communicator Alfred Bushway, University of Maine, revealed the science behind a recipe for consistently great mashed potatoes in the September/October issue of Cook’s Illustrated. To explain why boiling the potatoes whole produced better results, Bushway noted that peeling and cutting the potatoes before simmering increased the surface area through which they lose soluble substances—such as starch, proteins and flavor compounds—to the cooking water. The greater surface area also enables lots of water molecules to bind with the potatoes’ starch molecules. The result: bland, thin, watery mashed potatoes. Adding the butter before the half-and-half produced creamier potatoes because the fat coats the starch molecules, inhibiting their reaction with the water in the half-and-half, Bushway said.

Communicator Donald Schaffner, Rutgers University, discussed safe grilling practices in a Scripps Howard News Service article. “Never partly cook foods and then refrigerate or set them aside to finish cooking later. If you cook a food partly before grilling, do it immediately before putting the food on the grill,” he cautioned.

Communicator William LaGrange, Iowa State University, helped readers of the September/October issue of Cook’s Illustrated understand why buttermilk separates when frozen and how to cope with this phenomenon. When buttermilk is frozen, the solid proteins coagulate; when buttermilk thaws, the bonds between the proteins break up and the liquid “wheys off,” meaning it separates from the rest of the emulsion, LaGrange said. This separation is masked when blended with other ingredients in the test recipe for buttermilk doughnuts, he said.

Communicator Bruce Watkins, Purdue University, cautioned against frying food in canola oil in the July/August issue of Natural Health. “Any unsaturated oil, including canola, has the possibility of becoming oxidized when it is heated,” Watkins said. “Oxidation can cause the oil to become rancid, which may have negative health consequences,” he noted.

Communicator Christine Bruhn, University of California, contributed some safe microwave cooking tips in the Sept. 7 (Hammond, Ind.) Times. Bruhn recommended using a thermometer to check the temperature of cooked foods in more than one place to ensure they are thoroughly cooked and do not have any cold spots that have not reached the temperature necessary to kill foodborne bacteria. “Three places is good,” she said. “The whole thing may look steamy, but stick that thermometer in it. You want to get it above 160 degrees,” Bruhn advised. She also noted that people should use a brand of plastic wrap that says it is ok for microwave use and to avoid letting the plastic wrap touch the food during cooking.

Communicator John Rushing, North Carolina State University, discussed the chemistry behind successfully freezing fresh corn in the September/October issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Rushing explained that the secret to freezing corn is to blanch the corn to disable the enzymes that are primarily responsible for breaking the corn’s sugars down into starch. Although cold temperatures slow down the action of the enzymes considerably, it is the heat of the blanching that is able to completely disable the enzymes and protect the corn from decay.

Communicator Paul Lachance, Rutgers University, told Reader’s Digest that “twenty percent of American’s don’t get the current RDA of vitamin C each day. . . . If we didn’t have french fries, there would be outright scurvy in this country because potatoes are the second leading source of vitamin C in the American diet.”

• Joe Regenstein, Cornell University, cautioned in the August issue of Cooking Light that kosher foods are not always better for the consumer than conventional foods. “Many kosher foods can be just as high in fat and sodium as other types of cuisine,” he noted.

Communicator Manfred Kroger, Pennsylvania State University, provided the Aug. 10 Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Penn.) with a point-for-point rebuttal of anti-milk statements from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Saying the organization is a “very small, very vocal group” that is “anti-cow,” Kroger said that some of the group’s claims can be substantiated, noting that “seventy percent of the world is lactose-intolerant.” However, Kroger disagreed with the group’s contention that milk contributes to serious diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Those diseases are prominent among the elderly, and people are simply living longer, he said, concluding that “ninety-nine percent of all health professionals make the current consensus that milk is the best source of calcium, and an extremely good source of high-quality protein.”

Communicator John Allred, Ohio State University, tackled the issue of functional foods in the Aug. 16 edition of the Columbus Dispatch. “The difference between eating whole foods and those that have been fortified by extracted compounds from other foods is like putting your money into mutual funds instead of stock. Mutual funds offer diversity—the stock is just one component,” Allred said. In addition, there is a thin line between a substance that meets basic nutritional needs and one that acts like a drug, he said. “I think the important thing here is that if you use anything to get a physiological effect, that’s the definition of a drug,” Allred stated. “Food manufacturers will tell you that a product doesn’t contain a drug, that this is a ‘natural product.’ But if it has an effect on you, it is a drug,” he said, concluding, “It all goes back to moderation, moderation, moderation.”

Information Specialist