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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Cooking, & Recipes, #81

Updated on November 12, 2019
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

I Need to Get This Off My Chest

Three weeks ago my daughter and I cleaned out a flower bed. I had grown weary of the vinca minor ground cover; what once looked charming and tidy was now overgrown and interspersed with weeds. We dug and tugged, sifted out rocks, tidied up the boxwoods and kinikinick (I love saying that name) and replanted with spring-fresh annuals.

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Fat pink ranunculus, glistening white sweet alyssum, and shockingly bright blue lobelia. It was stunning.

But then two days ago I noticed that one ranunculus was a bit tattered. I assumed it was garden slugs (I think Washington State is the slug capital of the world) and so sprinkled on some pet-friendly (but gastropod-lethal) bait.

Yesterday I planned to bake a slab of rosemary focaccia, so went out early in the morning to clip a few fresh sprigs. A rabbit hopped past me with blue lobelia hanging out of its mouth. His (or her) mate (they don't sport pink or blue ears so I can't tell the gender) was sitting in the midst of the "new" garden happily chowing down on another ranunculus.

No, I won't be cooking hasenpfeffer, but I cannot allow my $50 worth of plantings to turn into a bunny salad bar. Stay tuned.

Thanks for Listening

OK, I feel better now. Let's get started on why you are really here.

If you're an old friend, you already know how this column works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to the rest of the group. Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything goes.

Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy. Let's get started with a question from my friend Donna.

Can One Overdose on Black Pepper?

"I fear that my husband is slowly killing himself with black pepper. Seriously, when he's done adorning his plate of food it's totally black. I've heard of black lung disease from the coal mines. Could he die from black gut disease by using too much pepper?"


Donna, it seems that in the United States we have developed the habit of automatically reaching for salt and pepper to season our foods, but why? Why do we assume that those two seasonings must always go hand-in-hand?

Salt enhances other flavors (it even makes sugar taste sweeter). But pepper isn't a flavor enhancer; quite the opposite in fact. Food festooned with black pepper will taste like . . . black pepper. It will be spicier, hotter, and if you want to wax eloquent you might say that it is more "floral," but pepper is another taste, not an improver of taste.

Can one overdo it with the peppermill?

Pepper (black, white, or red—they all come from the same plant) contains safrole. Safrole is a flavor chemical which appears in peppercorns, star anise, nutmeg, witch hazel, and most notably sassafras root. In a study conducted in the 1960s safrole was found to cause cancer in lab rats. That's why sassafras is no longer used in the making of root beer (did you know that?).

So, what can happen if you eat an overabundance of black pepper? I'm not saying that it will cause cancer (you would have to consume tons of it), but it would be wise to use it (more) sparingly. Here's why.

  • It's contraindicated with certain drugs - People who are taking cyclosporine A, cholinergic, digoxin, or cytochrome P450 should avoid black pepper.
  • Black pepper can cause gastrointestinal problems and gastric reflux.
  • It should NOT be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Show this article to your husband, or click on the links below and share with him. Moderation in all things. Pepper can be an irritant and I know that Mel has problems with his stomach. Perhaps the "daily grind" is one of the culprits.


Each week we'll learn about a food item that you probably toss into the trash bin without a thought or a care—until today that is. Let's find out which discards can be re-used and re-purposed.

Breading Crumbs (not bread crumbs)

This is where I step into the confessional, admit my sins, and ask for forgiveness.

I bread chicken (many of us do). But most times the ratio is off. To easily coat raw chicken pieces with crumbs one must employ a shallow bowl of beaten eggs to act as the “glue”, and then have waiting in the wings (pun intended) a shallow bowl or sheet of parchment paper full of seasoned bread crumbs awaiting those egg-moistened chicken morsels.

You place those chicken pieces gently in the bosom of the crumbs and use your hands or a spoon to toss and coat, ensuring that every bit of naked chicken is rapturously cloaked in bread-crumby goodness. Unless you are a masochist, you will use a bountiful supply of crumbs. The task is finished, the chicken is abundantly breaded, and then immersed in a bubbling pot of oil or baked in the oven to attain crisp perfection.

But, there are still crumbs, many crumbs, a plethora of crumbs that were not used. Like the rapture, they are wondering “why was I left behind?”

Most of us would toss them into the garbage, but what a waste. I re-use them. “But wait!” you exclaim, “aren’t those leftover crumbs contaminated with raw chicken?” Yes, yes they are. So what could you use them for?

What about using them to bread future pieces of chicken?

I place those crumbs in a freezer-safe container which is BOLDLY labeled “Only Use to Bread Raw Chicken!!!” In time you will have enough crumbs available to coat a meal-worth of chicken pieces.

But wait, there’s more.

Do you ever buy fully-cooked breaded chicken? I’m thinking the bags of popcorn chicken, nuggets, patties, or “fingers” (chicken have fingers?). When the last tidbit is removed from that plastic bag, do you find that there are crumbs, lonely crumbs knowing that their inevitable fate is to be tossed away like a limp lettuce leaf? I save them too. I toss them into the same container. Don’t tell the health department or the food inspectors. This can be our secret, right?

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.

I hope that we can continue to share in this food journey together. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address:

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2019 Linda Lum


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