Cucumbers are Not Vegetables and other Misnomers– Solving the Fruit vs. Vegetable Debate

By Jen Chan

There is a sad moment in nearly every individual’s life when their childhood innocence is lost and fourth grade dogmas are overturned. People inevitably discover the truth: “Fruits” and “Vegetables” have some serious labeling issues.

After recovering from the initial shock of discovering that tomatoes are technically fruits, more examples of faulty horticulture categorization rise to the surface.  Strawberries are not berries, peanuts are not nuts, and many popular “vegetables” such as avocados and bell peppers are technically fruits according to biological definition.  What happened here?

The Root of the Problem

On a botanical level, vegetables are the “edible portion of a plant” (i.e. the leaves, stems, roots, tubers, bulbs, and flowers)[1]. Meanwhile, fruits are the “mature ovary of a plant.” Thus anything that holds seeds inside, including pumpkins and cucumbers, can technically be classified as “fruits.” Researchers have been aware of this differentiation for over a hundred years now (even a General Botany textbook published in 1902 pointed out this distinction[2]) but scientists ultimately lost the classification battle. According to the law, plants which “constitute the principal part of the [meal]” are vegetables.

In 1893, the struggle to a tomato as a “fruit” or a “vegetable” climbed to the Supreme Court level through the case Nix v. Hedden.  Mr. Nixon, the plaintiff, claimed that his tomatoes were actually fruits; therefore, he was exempt from the 1883 Tariff Act that placed duties on vegetables.  The tax collector, Mr. Hedden, immediately rejected the claim[3]. Thus, the classic fruit vs. vegetables question appeared on the legal scene.

Both sides brought dictionaries to the table and viciously debated using definitions of tomatoes, peas, potatoes, cabbages, and various other types of produce[3]. Finally, the court delivered its ruling: Tomatoes were officially declared as vegetables.   The court’s opinion stated:

“Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine […] But in the common language of the people, [tomatoes] are vegetables, which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are like potatoes, carrots, […] and lettuce […][4]

As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, botanical definitions suffered an irreconcilable blow.  Vegetables were officially deemed as plants that are “usually served at dinner in, with or after the soup, fish or meats” while fruits are “dessert”[4].

Conclusion

Overall, miscategorizations of fruits and vegetables stem from deeply rooted traditions. “Vegetables” are considered to be savory complements to meats, while “fruits” have a sugary dessert-like connotation. With this perception reinforced by the Supreme Court, it looks like future generations will be also plagued by faulty food pyramids and shocking fruit-vegetable category revelations.

Sources:

[1] “Frequently Asked Questions.” Vegetable Research and Information Center – Frequently Asked Questions. University of California, Davis Department of Plant Sciences, n.d. Web. 29 May 2015.

[2] Stevens, William Chase. Introduction to Botany. Boston: D.C. Health, 1902. Print.

[3] Polomski, Bob. “Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable.” The Carolina Gardener. Clemson University, n.d. Web. 29 May 2015.

[4] Nix v. Heden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893)

Got a topic? Email  Editor Jen Chan at jchan@chomplab.net

15 Countries, 4 Continents, One Meal – Breakfast from Around the World

By Jen Chan

In a country filled with fast-food egg sandwiches and on-the-go yogurt strips, Americans often opt for a simple and fast breakfast. But maybe it is time to give this commonplace meal a cultural twist.

Last weekend, 15 volunteers from various countries took photographs of their breakfast and completed a short survey. Immediately, cultural differences popped up.  While a young American kicked off her day with a slice of toast, a college student in Viet Nam picked up a steaming bowl of beef noodle soup from a street vendor.  For many people, breakfast had a bit of fruit on the side, but a common Korean breakfast  consists solely of various “side dishes” (salads, fish, and rice). Across the globe, “healthy” and “convenient” foods were the top choices for participants.

This is what “Breakfast” looks like around the world:

AUSTRIA – Breakfast Sandwich (baguette with cold cut cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions)
Submitted by Alina Ghoddousi

Austria

Breakfast in Austria typically varies depending on the day. On weekdays, a quick foods, such as sandwiches, are common. However Sunday breakfast may consist of a variety of Austrian breads, cold cuts (various kinds of meat in thin slices), eggs, and jam.

BRAZIL – Misto Quente
Submitted by Homari Aoki

Brazil 1

A toasted sandwich with yellow mozzarella cheese and ham on pão francês (french bread). A normal breakfast in Brazil consists of toasted bread with butter and coffee. As the largest producer of coffee in the world, typically Brazilians will often drink  the incredibly sweet Café com leite  in the morning (Coffee with Milk).

CHINA – Pumpkin Soup, Vegetables, Dumplings
Submitted by Junqi Peng

China

A Chinese breakfast consists of vegetables (typically carrots, cauliflower, and lettuce), steamed buns, dumplings, a mixed-grain porridge, or rice noodle rolls. Milk or soy milk are also eaten with breakfast. Food in China greatly depends on the region. For instance, salted rice porridge with deep fried dough is the most common breakfast food in south east China.

CANADA – Salmon Gravlax with Dill Sauce, Potato Latkes, Eggs, and Apple Salad
Submitted by Lucia Li

Canada

In Montreal Canada, brunch is a popular meal. There are various cafes and restaurants which serve gourmet meals such as this. Gravalax, pickled salmon, is a classic Scandanavian dish; therefore, its presence in Canada reveals European influence within Montreal

FRANCE – Grapefruit, Black Tea, Baguette with Honey, Croissant, and Pain Au Chocolat[1].
Submitted by Robin Chen

France

Bread and pastries are an essential part of the French diet. At the end of 2013, the Confédération Nationale de la Boulangerie-Pâtisserie Française (French Trade Association for bakery-pastry operators) reported that there are 32,000 pastery shops in France alone . This is a typical Sunday breakfast in France.

INDONESIA –  Rice Dish with Meatballs, Shrimp, and Scrambled Eggs[2]
Submitted by Michelle Harryman

Indonesia

Indonesians are one of the highest consumers of rice in the world. In 2012, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam combined accounted for 20% of total global rice consumption. Therefore, it is common for rice dishes to appear in breakfast.

ITALY –  Bacon, Egg, Avocado, and Water with Lemon
Submitted by Jeny Sun

italy

Pancetta, Italian Bacon, is pork belly curled into a tight roll and cured with salt and pepper. In contrast, American bacon is usually smoked.

KOREA –  Various Side Dishes 
Submitted by YuJung Lee

Korea 1

A typical Korean breakfast consists of various small dishes. The picture above shows rice, seaweed soup, stirfried seaweed stem, kimchi (pickled cabbage), mukmuchim (seasoned korean jelly), dried laver, grilled gulbi (dried yellow croaker fish). Rice is an essential part of every Korean meal.

NETHERLANDS –  Malatang
Submitted by Thomas Pak and Pamika Wantanaphan

This Shanghai street food found its way into a Holland kitchen through the Chinese community. Although this dish is typically eaten for lunch or dinner, it became an afternoon breakfast for a young couple. The soup is made with a numbing spicy paste.

This Shanghai street food found its way into a Holland kitchen through the Chinese community. Although this dish is typically eaten for lunch or dinner, it became an afternoon breakfast for a young couple. The soup is made with a numbing spicy paste.

PORTUGAL – Galão and a Pastel de Nata.
Submitted by Mário Sexias

Portugal

Pictured above is coffee with milk and a traditional Portuguese sweet pastry. Pastel de Nata features creamy custard within a flaky outer pastry. This typical Portuguese breakfast can also be found in Hong Kong and China through Macau’s influence.

SLOVAKIA – Semolina Porridge
Submitted by Ivona Szantová

Slovakia 2

Semolina is form of course, cracked wheat flour which can be used to prepare a variety of foods, but in Slovakia, it is cooked with milk to form breakfast porridge. Honey, banana, cinnamon, and dark chocolate can also be added for a sweet and quick breakfast. Young students often eat this dish.

SPAIN – Orange juice, Kiwi, Two apricots, Toast, and cold/hot Chocolate
Submitted by Robbe Armbruster

spain

In Spain, it is common to eat a light breakfast. While this picture features sweet spreads, it is also common for Spanish people to eat bread with olive oil and tomatoes for breakfast.

TAIWAN – Taiwanese Omelette
Submitted by Lawrence Niu

Taiwan

Commonly served in breakfast restaurants, a Taiwanese omelette is a salty crepe gently folded with egg that is mixed with spring onions. Bacon and cheese may also be inside. Finally, chili sauce is added on the side for a quick and delicious meal.

USA- Eggs Over Easy on Toast [3]
Submitted by Ashley Lusk

USA

This dish consists of toasted, thinly sliced bread and well cooked eggs. While the United States is stereotyped with greasy foods, studies show that younger Americans are opting for healthier and lighter choices. The Wall Street Journal reports that working-age Americans are eating approximately 118 fewer calories per day than in 2009.

VIET NAM- Phở Bò
Submitted by Kevin Dinh

viet nam

On a slightly chilly morning (26°C/81°F) it is common for Vietnamese people to eat a soup dish with herbs, rice noodles, beef meatballs (bò viên) and steak. Fresh bean sprouts, basil, lime, peppers, and dipping sauces are placed on top. Although Vietnamese restaurants around the world serve this as a dinner or lunch dish, within the country itself it is commonly found in the morning.

Sources:

Aoki, H. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Armbuster, R. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Chen, R. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Dinh, K. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Ghouddousi, A. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Harryman, M. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Lee, Y. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Li, L. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Lusk, A. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Niu, L. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Pak, T. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Peng, J. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Sexias, M. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Sun, J. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

Szantova, I. (2015, May 25). Email interview.

[1] “Bakery in France.” Bakery in France. EuroMonitor International, Nov. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015.

[2] Wailes, Eric J., and Eddie C. Chavez. “World Rice Outlook: International Rice Baseline with deterministic and Stochastic Projections, 2012-2021.” (n.d.): n. pag. University of Minnesota, Mar. 2012. Web. 26 May 2015

[3] Beck, Melinda, and Amy Schatz. “Americans’ Eating Habits Take a Healthier Turn, Study Finds.” WSJ. Wall Street Journal, 16 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015.

Got a topic? Email Editor Jen Chan at jchan@chomplab.net

The Sushi Invasion

By Jen Chan

Like Yoga pants and Rap music, a dish consisting of raw fish resting on top of a tiny ball of vinegar-infused rice is invading pop culture. Sushi, a Japanese ethnic specialty stemming from the ninth century, has recently exploded in popularity across the globe. In Vienna, sushi is dished out in casual food stalls on every corner of the city. Meanwhile, in Paraguay, the sophisticated Sushi Club Restaurant features fried California rolls as a menu item.  Undoubtedly, sushi fever has also taken hold in the United States, but how? And to what extent?

Bite Sized Beginnings

50 years ago, picking up a random slab of raw fish meat, pointing at it, and telling Americans to eat it would have been met with shrieks of horror. While describing Japanese cooking in  1929, the Ladies Home Journal, attempted to delicately dance around the subject of raw fish with a tiny disclaimer:  “There have been purposefully omitted… any recipes using the delicate and raw tuna fish which is sliced wafer thin and served iced with attractive garnishes. [these]… might not sound so entirely delicious as they are in reality.” [1]Post WWII, magazines such as Holiday and Sunset  finally mentioned sushi, but also avoided the subject of unappetizing raw ingredients. Their Americanized substitute recipe consisted of cooked shrimps on top of rye bread [1]. Truly authentic sushi didn’t arrive on the American shores until 1966.

Kawafuku Restaurant, America’s first sushi bar

When Norito Kanai opened America’s first sushi bar, Kawafuku Restaurant, in Los Angeles, he expected to attract Japanese businessmen and expats[2]. Instead, he started a wave of Japanese food fandom across the nation.  Within the next ten years, sushi bars were stationed in Hollywood and Washington DC. Creative American innovations, such as sushi rolls with rice on the outside and cooked crab, allowed hesitant beginners to jump on the sushi bandwagon[3]. The number of sushi restaurants in the United States quadrupled between 1988 and 1998[4] as chefs creatively churned out “Rainbow Rolls and California Maki”. Rising demand for healthy alternatives to red meat in conjunction with Japan’s increasing economic power created a golden opportunity for the food to flourish.

The Current State of Sushi: On A Roll

Americans changed from awkwardly ignoring truly authentic sushi to bombarding it with a level of affection that is almost baffling. Boasting a range of fanfare from pillows to memes, sushi is slicing through America with a cult-like following.  As Theodore Bestor states in his Washington Post article, “From an exotic, almost unpalatable ethnic specialty, then to haute cuisine of the most rarified sort, sushi has become not just cool, but popular[1]”.  Zagat verified his claim in their 2012 “Top Rated Restaurants Across America” report.  Remarkably, out of the Top 20 rated restaurants, four were Japanese sushi restaurants [5] .  Even rappers and pop stars are tying sushi into their lyrics.

Clearly, Americans are also putting their money where their mouth is. Currently, the sushi restaurant industry alone is generating billions of dollars annually. To be exact, American sushi bars reeled in $2.1 billion in revenue during 2014 alone[6].  According one of the world’s largest industry research sources, IBIS World, there are approximately 4,200 Japanese restaurants available in the USA and total profit is $150.5 million[6] .  These numbers are predicted to rise in the near future, with projected growth of 2.3% annually for the next five years[6] . This is a remarkable feat for a cuisine that was virtually unheard of half a century ago.

The Wrap Up

Sushi radically transitioned from a specialty food into a mainstream cultural icon of the 21st century.  Through cleverly adapting the dish to fit local tastes, an entirely new eating concept has rolled through the US.  Now, the FDA is frantically trying to stop Americans from gnawing on random slabs of raw salmon due to potential parasite problems[7],  but that is another story.

‘Till next time, as the rapper Junior M.A.F.I.A says in “Gettin’ Money,” “I be eatin’ sushi.”

Sources:

[1] Bestor, Theodore C. “How Sushi Went Global.” Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. LLC Foreign Policy.121 (2000): 54-63. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 19 May 2015.

[2] Avey, Tori. “Discover the History of Sushi.” PBS. PBS, 05 Sept. 2012. Web. 19 May 2015.

[3] Carman, Tim. “Sushi Standards and the American Way.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 24 Jan. 2012. Web. 19 May 2015.

[4] Feng, Cindy Hsin-I. “The Tale of Sushi: History and Regulations.”Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 11.2 (2012): n. pag. Web. 19 May 2015.

[5] “20 Top-Rated Restaurants Across America.” 20 Top-Rated Restaurants Across America. Zagat, 3 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 May 2015.

[6] Brennan, Andy. “On a Roll: A Rebounding Economy Will Help the Industry Recover from Recessionary Lows.” IBISWorld. N.p., Dec. 2014. Web. 19 May 2015.

[7] Matsumoto, Marc. “The Myth of Sushi-Grade.” PBS. PBS, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 May 2015.

Got a topic? Email Editor Jen Chan at jchan@chomplab.net

A Healthy Addiction to Peanut Butter?

By Jen Chan

I admit, I have a peanut butter addiction. I kick off every morning with peanut butter toast, eye Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the grocery aisle, and can hardly imagine apples without it.  For the longest time, I considered myself to be weird for sneaking spoonfuls out of the jar, but evidentially I’m not alone with this obsession. According to the National Peanut Board, Americans annually spend $800 million per year on peanut butter and an average of 1.5 billion pounds of it is consumed annually in the US alone. [1] That is a lot.

Like most people, I justify my mass consumption with health reasons. “Oh it has a lot of protein.” “It is made with peanuts; therefore it’s good for you!” But wait. Is that true? Is peanut butter truly a healthy addiction?

Inside the Jar

Before tackling that question, we need to step back for a second.  To start, what is peanut butter? By culinary definition, peanut butter is literally just roasted peanuts pulverized by a food processer until it’s smooth. On the industrial level, FDA standards require for “peanut butter” to consist of 90% peanuts.[2]

TLDR Conclusion # 1: Peanut butter has a ton of peanuts.

Nuts get a pretty bad rap because of their high fat and calorie content, but here is a fun fact: peanuts are not nuts.  They are actually legumes.

Wow, that’s a bit of a curve ball. Legumes, are edible seeds which grow in pods such as peas and soybeans. So the next time the peanut’s “food family” comes to mind, think beans instead of almonds.

Legumes are protein power houses, but the bad news is their large caloric content.  Because of its high energy density and large amount of fat, dieters often shun peanuts; but, research reveals that peanuts eaten in moderation may help weight loss. For instance, on average children who ate peanuts had a lower body mass index than non-peanut-eaters[3]. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, a study published by the American Society for Nutrition concluded that peanut consumption reduces coronary heart disease risk.[4]

TLDR Conclusion # 2: Peanuts are legumes with high fat and calories, but they may be good for you in moderation

Now, 10% of “other stuff” actually makes a pretty big difference.  Let’s look at one of America’s most popular peanut butter brands[5] vs. the pure peanut blend we mentioned before. Check it out:

The left hand side is all-natural peanut butter which consists of peanuts and a hint of salt. The right side is America’s #2 commercial peanut butter: Skippy.

Displaying 20150501_152349.jpg

Left: Natural Peanut Butter, Right: Commercial Peanut Butter

Whoa. The Skippy one is noticeably smoother, creamier, and possesses a substantially more congealed texture than its 100% peanut counterpart. To examine the overall healthiness of this product, we will break this down into bite sized pieces.

The “Other Stuff”

Taking a quick glimpse at my jar of Skippy, it is clear that there are a few more ingredients added:

  1. Sugar
  2. Hydrogenated oil

This doesn’t seem like very much.  Let’s look at what each of these entails.

  1. Sugar –  Added sugars are considered unhealthy because they simply do not contribute to the body. Therefore, any food which has additional sugar is not considered “good for you.” [6] Skippy Peanut butter possesses 3 grams of sugar for every two-tablespoon serving. Comparatively, that is surprisingly little. Nutella, for instance, possesses 20g sugar for the same serving size.

Here is the math: 4g of Sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar. Taking this into account, we can see that Skippy possesses less than a teaspoon of sugar in every serving. That’s not too bad.

TLDR Conclusion #3: There’s Not Much Sugar

  1. Hydrogenated oil – Now, this one is pretty iffy. Vegetable oil is typically hydrogenated to increase its melting point, thereby increasing the solidity of the final product [7]. This explains why Skippy peanut butter was substantially more firm than the natural brand. The greatest drawback of the hydrogenation process is that it creates trans fats, which are proven to increase levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL, i.e. “bad cholesterol”).  Harvard’s School of Public Health also found that trans fats directly reduce the healthiness of blood vessels, meaning an increased risk of heart disease.

Clearly, this is pretty bad. However, on the jars of commercial peanut butters no trans fats are reported. Why? Because there is an incredibly tiny amount of it.  Approximately 1-2% of the jar’s total weight consists of hydrogenated oils. Tests of 11 peanut butter brands conducted by the US Department of Agriculture found no detectable trans fats in any sample. [8]

TLDR Conclusion #4:  There are hydrogenated oils in commercial peanut butters, but this is a very marginal amount

Conclusion

In theory, this food product can be considered healthy. In its purest form, peanut butter is simply mashed peanuts; therefore, the product possesses “healthy fats,” high energy content, and may even reduce risk of heart disease.  However, commercial peanut butter brands also possess two unhealthy elements: sugar and hydrogenated oils.  Fortunately, both of these “bad” ingredients are quite marginal but it is still noteworthy. In other words, here is the major takeaway to the peanut butter-lovers of America: go eat  your peanut butter, but don’t go nuts with it. After all, peanut butter is actually a bean, not a nut.

Sources:

[1] “Fun Facts.” National Peanut Board. National Peanut Board, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

[2] “Food Standard Innovations: Peanut Butter’s Sticky Standard.” Food Standard Innovations: Peanut Butter’s Sticky Standard. Food and Drug Administration, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

[3] Brody, Jane E. “Nuts Are a Nutritional Powerhouse.” Well Nuts Are a Nutritional Powerhouse Comments. New York Times, 30 Mar. 2015. Web. 02 May 2015.

[4] Kris-Etherton, Penny M., Frank B. Hu, Emilio Ross, and Joan Sabate. “The Role of Tree Nuts and Peanuts in the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease: Multiple Potential Mechanisms.” The Journal of Nutrition. American Society for Nutrition, 2007. Web. 02 May 2015.

[5] Boyle, Matt. “The Popularity Issue: Peanut Butter: Jif.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

[6] “Added Sugar in the Diet.” The Nutrition Source. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 02 May 2015.

[7] “Hydrogenation of Unsaturated Fats and Trans Fat.” – Chemwiki. University of California, Davis, n.d. Web. 02 May 2015.

[8] McBride, Judy. “Related Topics.” No Trans Fat in Peanut Butter. United States Department of Agriculture, 12 June 2001. Web. 02 May 2015.

Got a topic? Email Editor Jen Chan at jchan@chomplab.net