New TV series focuses on global food culture
“What We Eat,” a new 13-part series airing on Public Television, tells the story of how our present day global food culture evolved from man’s earliest history.

Hosted by food and travel journalist Burt Wolf, the series explores how the Old and New Worlds were linked through the exchange of plants and animals during Christopher Columbus’ voyages from 1492 through 1502. The series commemorates the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s last voyage.

Among the interesting facts pointed out in the series are that when the Spanish first arrived in Mexico, the local Maya were using cacao beans, the source of chocolate, as a form of currency; cane sugar originated in India and traveled to the Middle East and then to medieval Europe as a medicine and a rare spice; and in the 18th and 19th centuries, sugar influenced almost every aspect of British government policy from wages to wars.

The 13 programs will focus on the histories of sugar, chocolate, chili peppers, livestock in America, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, cheese, coffee, African foods in America, Mediterranean foods in the Americas, and wine in the Americas, and a final overview of Columbus’ impact on food.

Sponsored by ConAgra Foods, based in Omaha, Neb., the series was shot on location in the United States, Europe, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The 30-minute-programs began airing in October.

Cooking with iron pots may help iron deficiency
A joint study by scientists at Cornell University and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service has found that cooking with iron pots may help prevent iron deficiency.

The study compared the bioavailability of iron in Chinese cabbage meals cooked in pots made of iron and aluminum. It was conducted at the ARS U.S. Plant, Soil, and Nutrition Laboratory on Cornell’s Ithaca, N.Y., campus by graduate student Shumei Yun and epidemiologist Jean-Pierre Habicht of the university’s Division of Nutritional Sciences. They cooked fresh Chinese cabbage, fresh Chinese cabbage with vinegar, and fermented Chinese cabbage (sauerkraut) identically in iron and aluminum pots, following a common recipe from northwest China. They concluded that in each case, cabbage dishes cooked in iron pots had more available iron than those cooked in aluminum ones.

Consumer food safety habits improving
A Food and Drug Administration and Food Safety and Inspection Service survey found that consumers continue to improve their food safety practices.

Researchers presented the results of the 2001 Food Safety Survey, a nationwide telephone survey of 4,500 adult consumers, at the National Conference for Food Safety Educators in September. The survey found dramatic improvement in consumer food safety practices from 1993 through 2001. In 2001, most consumers reported food handling practices that were consistent with the four basic food safety messages FSIS and FDA have been stressing since 1997: clean, separate, cook, and chill. In particular, consumers reported using improved food handling practices that reduce cross-contamination after contact with raw fish, meat, or chicken.

The number of consumers eating pink hamburger, steak tartare, and raw eggs stayed relatively level. However, more people reported eating raw clams, oysters, or fish in 2001 than in 1998.

Consumers’ support of food biotechnology steady
An International Food Information Council study conducted by Cogent Research found that American consumer support for food biotechnology is holding steady and consumers are more aware of the benefits of biotechnology.

Nearly three quarters (71% vs 65% in 2001) of the respondents said they would be likely to buy produce that had been enhanced through biotechnology to be protected from insect damage and require fewer pesticide applications. More than half (54%) said that they would be likely to purchase the same produce if it had been enhanced to taste better or fresher, a number that has remained stable since October 1999. Sixty-one percent of consumers still expect to benefit from biotechnology over the next five years. Of those, 41% look to improved quality, taste, and variety, 39% cite the area of health and nutrition, and 20% expect biotech to reduce levels of chemicals and pesticides in food production.

Overall awareness of biotechnology remains high, with 72% of respondents stating they have read or heard information about the issue, and nearly half (48%) saying they have heard about a new area of biotechnology called plant-made pharmaceuticals.

Study questions benefits of ginkgo biloba
A study in the August 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that ginkgo biloba had no beneficial effect on memory and related mental functions of healthy older adults when taken following manufacturer’s instructions.

The study, conducted by researchers at Williams College, Williamstown, Mass., and The Memory Clinic, Bennington, Vt., identified 230 volunteers over the age of 60 who were physically and mentally healthy. Researchers gave the volunteers 14 tests of learning, memory, and attention and concentration, and had them and their companions rate the participants’ mental functions on subjective scales. The manufacturer of the sample used in the study claims that beneficial effects can be noticed after four weeks. After six weeks, participants in the study retook the 14 standardized tests and they and their companions re-rated participants’ mental functions. There were no significant differences between those taking ginkgo and those taking placebo on any of the objective or subjective measures.

In response to the study, press releases from the American Herbal Products Association, the National Nutritional Foods Association, and the Council for Responsible Nutrition urged consumers to put this new study in context with the total body of positive research on this botanical.

New Products
Applegate Farms launched a new line of organic, antibiotic-free chicken and turkey sausages in September. The precooked, entrée-style links are certified organic by Quality Assurance International, contain no nitrites or artificial preservatives, and are gluten- and sugar-free. They also contain 70% less fat than conventional pork sausage and are available in six flavors: Traditional Sweet Italian, Spicy Andouille, Chicken & Apple, Fire Roasted Red Pepper, Spinach & Feta, and Sun-Dried Tomato & Basil. Applegate Farms, based in Branchburg, N.J., provides healthy deli meats to natural, gourmet, and conventional grocery stores.

Britvic International introduced Amé, a line of “lifestyle drinks” blended from fruit juices, spring water, and herbal extracts, in August. The company says the product is geared for “today’s sophisticated, health-conscious consumers who appreciate fine foods and wine, yet avoid alcohol, refined sugars, and preservatives.” The sparkling beverage is 100% natural and has no fat, sodium, added sugar, artificial colors, or preservatives. It comes in two sizes and four flavors: Delicate White, a blend of natural grape juice with the flavor of apricot and a hint of jasmine; Refreshing Rose, a combination of natural grape, raspberry, passion fruit, and blackberry flavors with hints of jasmine; Radiant Red, a blend of grape and elderberry juice, herbs, and freshly pressed elderflowers; and Crisp Dry, which is blended with flavors of lemongrass and kiwi. Britvic is based in Chelmsford, England.

Carolina Soy Products Inc. introduced a commercial cooking oil that contains no trans fatty acids to U.S. markets in September. The Whole Harvest® line of cooking oils contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, is not hydrogenated, and is naturally low in saturated fats. The oil can be used for all cooking, baking, and frying applications in restaurants or food processing facilities. The company is based in Warsaw, N.C.

ConAgra Foods Specialty Potato Products introduced Lamb Weston brand Flamethrower Fries™ in September. The seasoned fries are coated with a blend of fiery spices and zesty seasonings. The company is based in Eagle, Idaho.

Gardenburger Authentic Foods Co. introduced the soybased Herb-Crusted Cutlet in August. The high-protein product features a savory breadcrumb crust and offers a meatless alternative for recipes that call for breaded pork, veal, or chicken cutlets. Gardenburger is based in Portland, Ore.

J&J Snack Foods and Coca-Cola Fountain have launched Barq’s® Frozen Root Beer and Vanilla Ice Cream frozen novelties. The products combine frozen root beer swirled with vanilla ice cream in an “easy-to-eat” squeeze-up tube. J&J Snack Foods is based in Pennsauken, N.J. Coca-Cola is based in Atlanta, Ga.

Assistant Editor