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13 Amazing Facts About How Is Food Made

Updated on January 21, 2017

Fact 1) Frying potatoes

Frying potatoes to make chips or French fries produces high levels of a potent carcinogen called acrylamide. It’s not just the high fat content that makes potato chips and French fries bad for you; the very process used to cook them produces potent carcinogens inside the potatoes themselves. Baking, roasting or frying any starchy food at high temperatures causes an the sugars found in these foods to combine with an amino acid to produce high levels of a potent carcinogen known as acrylamide. Because all potato chips must be cooked at high heat, and because restaurants tend to cook French fries at high temperatures to bring them to the table more quickly, a healthy diet should contain only minimal quantities of these foods. For people willing to go to a little extra effort to make French fries at home, there are ways to minimize acrylamide content. Potatoes should be stored outside of the refrigerator in a cool, dark place. Before frying, they should be sliced, soaked in water for 15-30 minutes, then patted dry. They should be fried at lower temperatures for less time, until they are golden yellow—not brown.

Fact 2) Jell-O molds

Jell-O molds cannot be made with certain fresh fruits, because they contain enzymes that destroy the proteins in the gelatin and prevent it from setting Jell-O molds made with pineapple are practically a U.S. cultural icon, so many people may be surprised to learn that if you try to make a Jell-O mold with fresh or frozen pineapple, the mold will never set. Only canned pineapple can be used. In fact, according to the label on a box of Jell-O mix, fresh or frozen pineapple, figs, ginger-root, guava, kiwi or papaya will all prevent the gelatin dessert from setting. This occurs because all these fruits contain enzymes known as proteases, meaning that they break apart protein. Gelatin is primarily composed of the animal protein collagen, the major component of connective tissue. When the collagen in gelatin is heated and mixed with water, it naturally gels. Proteases such as those found in pineapple, however, break apart the collagen and make gelling impossible. This is why pineapple is sometimes used as a meat tenderizer: the protease bromelain partially dissolves the proteins in meat, making it easier to chew.

Fact 3) Popcorn pops

Popcorn pops due to superheated, pressurized steam that forms inside the kernel. Corn (maize) is nearly unique among grass species in that its seed has a strong, moisture-resistant hull, surrounding an interior composed almost entirely of hard, dense starch. It is this combination of traits that allows popcorn to pop. Popcorn is simply a specialized breed of corn known as flint corn, which has an especially hard outer kernel. When popcorn kernels are heated in a pot, the water inside the kernel naturally heats up as well, turning into steam. Because the steam cannot escape through the moisture-proof kernel, it soon becomes pressurized and then super-heated. This super heated steam cooks the hard starches in the kernel into a soft, gelatinous mass. A constant influx of heat from the pot keeps increasing the heat and pressure inside the kernel up to roughly 135 pounds per square inch, at which point the kernel finally ruptures. The released steam then expands rapidly, filling the gelatinized starch with air. With the steam gone, the starch cools rapidly and solidifies into the familiar popped corn shape.

Fact 4) The casings of sausages & hot dogs

The casings of most sausages and hot dogs are made out of dissolved, homogenized cowhides that are then extruded into a solid tube. Originally, sausages were made by stuffing an animal’s pureed internal organs into its intestines. As sausages shifted from a locally made food to a mass-produced industrial product, it became infeasible to make all sausages with traditional intestine casings. Some sausages are now stuffed into inedible synthetic casings, but for consumers preferring a more natural-seeming food, an alternative edible casing was needed. Enter collagen, the primary protein that makes up connective tissue in the bodies of humans and other animals. To make collagen sausage casings, the hides of slaughtered cows are set aside and have their hair removed. The hide is then chopped up and mixed with water, lactic acid and cellulose fiber until it swells into a slurry. A vacuum removes air from the slurry, which is then homogenized, re-vacuumed, and pressed into a thin, flat shape. This casing is then coagulated with salt, plasticized with glycerin and dried until it is needed.

Fact 5) Mechanically separated meat

Mechanically separated meat, a paste made by pulverizing animal carcasses, is used in common products including hot dogs, burgers, lunch meat, Slim Jims and Spam. Have you ever glanced at the ingredients on a hot dog or a can of Spam Lite and wondered about an ingredient called “mechanically separated chicken” or “mechanically separated meat”? This type of meat is collected from animal carcasses after all the prime cuts of muscle have been removed. In order to not waste the meat scraps still clinging to the bone, slaughterhouses remove the meat either by scraping, pressing or shaving the scraps off the bone, or by simply blasting it with pressurized air or water. The meat comes off in a reddish slurry, which is then mixed into low-grade meat products such as hot dogs and lunch-meat in order to bulk them up. Other common end products for mechanically separated meat include hamburger, ground beef, canned meat and processed meat products . Mechanically separated meat is also known as mechanically recovered meat, mechanically reclaimed meat and mechanically deboned meat.

Fact 6) Tea

Different types of tea are distinguished by when the leaves of the tea plant were harvested and how long the leaves were allowed to age before being dried. All true tea (green, black, oolong, white and pu-erh) comes from the leaves of the tea plant. What separates the different varieties is how the leaves were processed. White tea is harvested early, before the leaf buds have even opened fully. It is then air-dried quickly, producing tea with a delicate flavor. All other tea is produced from mature leaves. Green tea leaves are dried immediately after harvesting, before they can begin to oxidize, while leaves for black tea are allowed to sit out and oxidize (a process often incorrectly called fermentation) before drying. Oolong tea is produced from leaves that were not oxidized as long as black tea leaves. These different processes explain the greener, more plant-like taste of green tea and the intermediate flavor of oolong tea.A fifth type of tea, pu-erh, actually consists of two varieties. Raw pu-erh is a variety of green tea that ages well and need not be used quickly, while ripened pu-erh is made from green tea leaves that have truly been fermented.

Fact 7) Traditional pickles

Traditional pickles are made by immersing cucumbers or other vegetables in briny water, then allowing them to ferment. This produces a potent health food that resists spoiling for months on end. “Pickling” refers to preserving food by immersing it in acid. Although many pickles are now made with vinegar (acetic acid), traditionally they were made by immersing vegetables in salt water and allowing them to ferment. Probiotic bacteria would produce lactic acid, which would in turn preserve the vegetables and turn them into “pickles.” That means that like many other fermented foods, raw pickles are full of healthy probiotics that improve digestive and immune health. The pickling process increases the vitamin C concentration of foods and creates nutrients that help boost your body’s iron absorption. Pickled foods made with vinegar (ideally as an adjunct to traditional raw pickling) also boost the immune system, aid the digestive system, improve joint and bone health and blood pressure, and fight urinary infections. Traditional pickles are also made with mustard and turmeric, which are potent super-foods. To find raw (unpasteurized) pickles, look in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.

Fact 8) Mead

Mead is just fermented honey water. While not widely consumed in the United States today, mead is perhaps the most ancient of fermented beverages, and certainly one of the most versatile. Whereas all other fermented beverages are made from plants that must be either wild-harvested or deliberately cultivated (grapes or other fruits, corn or other grains, etc.), mead is made from a wild food that humans have been eating since long before the development of agriculture: honey. Mead remains one of the simplest alcoholic beverages to make at home, without the intensive processing required to make beer or the separation of juice from pulp required for fruit wines and ciders. All alcohol production requires sugars that can be consumed by yeast, and honey is humans’ most ancient source of concentrated sugar. The simplest meads are made just by mixing honey with water and letting it ferment. Because mead is such an ancient beverage, however, numerous modifications have been developed over the millennia. It can now be made with grain and hops (like beer), with fruit (like wines and ciders), or even with added spices.

Fact 9) Fishing Practices

Even tuna that is actually dolphin safe is still caught using fishing practices that kill 100,000 tons of sea turtles, sharks, rays, and other “Bycatch” every year, and that are pushing tuna itself toward extinction. Although the vast majority of canned tuna sold in the United States is no longer caught using practices that involve the deliberate harassment and netting of dolphins, tuna fishing is still one of the most destructive aquatic industries in the world. The most popular modern tuna-fishing method is called a fish aggregation device (FAD), which uses lures to attract and net tuna in huge quantities. For every 10 kilograms of tuna caught, another 1 kilogram of “Bycatch” (non-tuna) species are netted and killed, including sea turtles, sharks and dolphins. Many of these species are endangered. “Bycatch” issues aside, tuna are some of the most over-exploited fish on the planet. Of the 23 tuna stocks in the world, three are classified as vulnerable to extinction, six are considered endangered or critically endangered, four are considered over-exploited or depleted and nine are considered fully fished. FADs also appear to interfere with the life cycle of tuna that are not even caught, luring them away from their migratory routes and causing them to become malnourished. For all these reasons, Greenpeace UK suggests that only tuna caught with pole or line methods be bought or sold

Fact 10) Margarine

Most margarine on the market are made with milk, making them unsuitable for vegans or those with dairy allergies. People expecting guests who cannot eat dairy products (either due to allergies or simply dietary preferences) often turn to margarine as a dairy free butter substitute, perhaps assuming that only a dairy aversion would cause someone to prefer margarine over butter. In fact, most margarine and “buttery spreads” on the market are still made with dairy ingredients, although dairy-free versions are available. Margarine was initially developed as a low-cost alternative to butter and became popular in the United States during World War II, when dairy products were rationed. In order to make margarine as similar to butter as possible, however, the product has long been made with small amounts of dairy. When margarine was rebranded as a health food after World War II, there was still no need to make it dairy free. To this day, people seeking butter alternatives still need to read labels carefully to avoid not just dairy byproducts, but a load of toxic hydrogenated oils (trans fats).

Fact 11) Soy Sauce

The “soy sauce” packets you get at most Chinese restaurants are actually a toxic chemical imitation, also marketed as “liquid amino acids. “Asian cultures have traditionally fermented soy before eating it to make it easier on the body, and soy sauce is no exception. Fermentation takes three to six months, however, so impatient industrial food producers have developed an alternative product, disparagingly called “chemical soy sauce” by food aficionados. Rather than soy beans, the product is based on hydrolyzed soy protein (a form of MSG) derived from soybeans defatted using the toxic chemical hexane. This soy protein is then chemically processed to increase the concentration of the amino acid glutamate, which gives soy sauce its characteristic savoriness. Finally, flavoring chemicals are added to round out the taste. The whole process takes only three days, but speed comes at a cost: the final product is nothing but glorified MSG and contains carcinogens not found in real soy sauce. Chemical soy sauce is most commonly found in the little packets given out for free by restaurants. Repackaged as a “health food,” it is also marketed in stores as “liquid amino acids.”

Fact 12) A Maple Tree

Starting at the age of 30 or 40, a maple tree can be tapped for syrup yearly without causing it any harm. Until a maple tree is 30 to 40 years old, it cannot be tapped for syrup without hurting it. Once it has reached this mature age, however, a maple can sustain between one and three tap holes every year, depending on the size of its trunk. Each tree can then yield about 10 gallons of sap a year, which produces between a fifth and a third of a gallon of syrup. Because this comes out to only about 7 percent of the tree’s sap, the tree can survive yearly tapping from then on. Studies by the North American Maple Project have continuously monitored individual Vermont maple trees for 20 years of tapping without detecting any signs of harm. No differences in health were observed between trees that had been tapped yearly for two decades and trees that had never been tapped. Other studies have suggested that maples can be safely tapped until they are more than 100 years old.

Fact 13) Yolk Colors

Yolk colors are strongly influenced by a chicken’s diet. To disguise dietary deficiencies, some factory farms feed their hens brightly colored food. If you have regularly eaten both store-bought chicken eggs and eggs fresh off a small farm (or from your backyard), you might have noticed a difference in the color of the yolks. Eggs from small farms are more likely to have dark yolks, while eggs from factory farms tend to have lighter yolks. This is because factory-farmed chickens are fed a nutrient-poor diet, resulting in inferior yolk. But you also might not have noticed a difference, because many factory farmers artificially darken the yolk of their eggs in order to avoid alarming consumers. Although a healthy diet produces darker yolk, the color itself comes not from the nutrients but from naturally occurring plant pigments found in the chicken’s diet, much as how flamingos get their color from the pink crustaceans and microorganisms they eat. So you don’t actually have to give a hen a better diet to give her eggs darker yolk: you can just feed her more yellow food. Although U.S. law does not permit feeding artificial colors to egg-laying hens, it does permit feeding them marigold petals and other substances added only for their color.

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