Saturday, June 28, 2008

A soufflé with the stress removed

C rème pat" we call it and it is, or used to be, the bricks and mortar - or mortar at any rate - of the pastry cook's art. It is the patissier's equivalent of Louis de Béchamel's white sauce, once ubiquitous but now considered very vieux chapeau .

Crème patissière , to give it its proper name, or pastry cream, or confectioner's custard, is that rich sweet gunk that used to be in every pastry shop window. The traditional millefeuille , with its zig-zag pattern in fondant on top, oozed with rich yellow pastry cream and, in a sugar-deprived diet, tasted unctuous and sweet. The fact that crème pat no longer seems so prevalent is not because technology has passed it by so much as we simply don't need it. Cream is comparatively cheap and plentiful these days. Pastry cooks used to be the most parsimonious of cooks, mainly because their margins were so meagre. At the end of every pastry cook's day, all the flour used for dusting pastry and doughs and left lying on the marble benches used to be swept up and sieved back into the store bin to be used the next day. Waste is anathema to the pastry cook. Cream was an absolute luxury and an unreliable, perishable luxury at that. The fresh cream pastries used to be kept in a separate, refrigerated counter and sold at a premium, should one be lucky enough to live in a cream-rich area. Otherwise it was crème pat .

There would be no point mourning the passing of pastry cream if it did not have other, more transcendent uses. Soufflés, in short. Pedants will argue that an appareil à soufflé is different from crème pat , but it isn't, while faddists will contend that soufflés are a thing of the past and that too is erroneous - or I very much hope it is. For all the jellies, foams and smears of modern cooking, a soufflé still gives more pleasure, both by its appearance, its fragility and its sheer lightness than almost any other dish. People get nervous making soufflés. The recipe that follows is a soufflé in disguise, with the stress removed. Apart from the fact that it never fails, it would be little noticed if it did. I first had it in a hotel in Brittany many years ago: it transported me then and will, I hope, do the same for you.

This recipe makes rather large quantities of pastry cream but it would be difficult to make less of it. Either make the gratin many times over or use the pastry cream as a filling for cakes and pastries, or as the base for a trifle.

The eau de vie is tricky to get hold of: do not get the framboise liqueur - it is heavy and rather sickly - but substitute with Grand Marnier or some other orange-based liqueur. This gratin is a seductive dish and therefore ideal for two. Besides which, you can only get two plates under most grills that I know.


Raspberry gratin


1 vanilla pod

500ml milk

6 egg yolks

150g caster sugar

75g flour

Icing sugar, for sprinkling

Framboise eau de vie

Squeeze of lemon

8 egg whites

2 small punnets of raspberries


Split the vanilla pod and put it in a saucepan with the milk and bring gently to the boil. Whisk the egg yolks with half the sugar very well until they pale and increase a little in volume. Add the flour and mix to a smooth paste. Pour the boiling milk on to this mixture, whisk it well and return to the heat. Bring this gently back to the boil, stirring constantly, and make sure that none catches on the sides or corners of the pan. Turn down the heat and continue stirring for three to four minutes. You should now have a thick, rich and lump-free custard. Pour into a bowl, sprinkle with icing sugar and then cover the surface with cling film (unless you have that strange but not unusual prediliction for custard skin) and cool.

Place four tablespoons of the mixture in a bowl and add a measure of the eau de vie. Whisk these together well to make a smooth paste. Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer (or a large mixing bowl if whisking by hand) and add a tiny pinch of salt and a small squeeze of lemon. Whisk the egg whites, adding a little of the remaining sugar at a time: when you have whisked the whites to stiff peaks you should have used half and should then fold in the remaining sugar and end up with a glossy meringue. Spoon a small amount of this into the custard mixture and whisk together to a smooth cream. Add all the rest of the meringue at once and carefully fold the two together with a spatula, blending it in to a smooth mixture without knocking out too much air.

Spoon the mixture on to two large plates and smooth over with the spatula. Push the raspberries head side up in to the mixture until it is evenly dotted with the fruit and it is all used up. Put the plates under a hot grill and wait until the gratins puff up around the raspberries and brown nicely. The mixture should not move when you give the plate a little shake. Devour immediately.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Washington officials becoming more receptive to bakers' appeals

Washington in June is quite different from Washington in March. Or so it appeared judging by the second rendition of the bakers March on Washington, organized last week by the American Bakers Association.

When the industry made its pitch about high flour prices in March and changes the government should adopt, many of the government officials with whom the group met reacted as though they were hearing an utterly foreign language. Other than fulfilling the need to appear (barely) polite for constituents, the officials (or staffers) from Secretary of Agriculture Schafer to prominent members of Congress appeared to have no idea what the bakers were talking about.

How could anyone find fault in a program wonderfully named the "Conservation Reserve?" What controversy could there be over government efforts to help reduce dependence on imported oil using domestic, renewable grain?

Finally, in meetings with the A.B.A. members on June 17, Washington officials were much more receptive to the appeals of the bakers. Driven by flooding in the United States rather than droughts in distant lands like Australia, surging grain prices have reached the radar screens in Washington. The officials with whom the bakers met last week appeared as though they were seeking help in resolving the current situation as much as were the bakers. Between ethanol and even C.R.P., the bakers still may not be granted everything they want. But now, at least everyone is speaking the same language.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Just Smelling Coffee Helps Head

Sleep-deprived rats that merely smelled coffee had genes activated in their brains that eased stress

That morning coffee is just the thing to get the brain in gear and the body moving. But it turns out that just the aroma of coffee also gets some of our genes up and at ‘em. That’s according to research in the June 25th issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The authors report that a sniff of coffee turns on several genes in the brain in ways that help diminish the impact of sleep deprivation. In rats, at least.

Rats that were stressed by lack of sleep were exposed to the smell of coffee. Seventeen different genes got activated in their brains. And thirteen of them produced proteins known to protect nerve cells from the damaging effects of stress. While there have been numerous studies analyzing the health impact of the ingredients ingested when drinking coffee, the researchers say that this is the first study to examine the effects of coffee’s aroma. So maybe you don’t have to shell out that four dollars for the latte—just walk by the counter…[old TV ad: “smell the honest coffee smell, ahhh, smell it!”]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blueberries Help Lower Cholesterol

Recent Canadian research published in the July 2008 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition shows that blueberries may have a cardio-protective effect by lowering cholesterol.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Kentville, Nova Scotia, conducted tests on pigs fed a blueberry-supplemented diet. Blueberry-supplemented diets resulted in a reduction in total cholesterol, including both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. Three levels of supplementation were tested: 1%, 2% and 4% of the diet, with the greatest reduction found in pigs fed a 2% blueberry diet—equivalent to approximately two 1-cup servings of blueberries in the human diet. The researchers note that these findings suggest that similar results could be “reasonably achieved in the adult human diet, and suggests that the observed effect from blueberry supplementation could occur in healthy humans.”

However, other dietary factors might have contributed to these results. “In feeding trials, we found that blueberry supplementation reduced plasma cholesterol levels more effectively when the animals received a mostly plant-based diet than when they received a less heart-healthy diet,” said Kalt, noting that the soy, oats and barley in the pigs’ diets “may have functioned synergistically with the blueberries to beneficially affect plasma lipids.”

The antioxidant content of the blueberries very well might have played a role in their observed cardio-protective actions. “Flavonoids may act as antioxidants to inhibit LDL oxidation, and thereby protect against vascular insult by oxidation,” says Kalt. “Flavonoids may also reduce vascular inflammation related to atherosclerosis.”

According to Kalt, pigs were selected for study because they have levels of LDL similar to humans and are susceptible to diet-induced vascular disease. Pigs can also develop atherosclerotic plaques in the aorta and carotid artery, and have a similar blood pressure and heart rate as humans.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Restaurant chains feasting in markets outside U.S.

The Americanization of the planet is evident in the restaurant world.

There's an Applebee's in Athens; a Papa John's pizzeria in Karachi; two Ruby Tuesdays in Bucharest; a Denny's in Christchurch, New Zealand; and a Chili's Grill & Bar on a riverboat on the Egyptian Nile. And then there are the outposts of McDonald's, Domino's and KFC that keep popping up.

As the domestic restaurant industry becomes increasingly dour, major brands are turning their attention abroad, where business remains relatively robust and growing middle classes are creating large pools of consumers eager to taste affordable American-style fare.

Newly arrived brands typically enjoy a novelty aura that attracts curious diners. And many franchisers sell operating rights to local businesspeople, who assume responsibility for the restaurants day to day and send royalty payments back to the chains' home offices, often giving the corporate owners a superior return on their investment.

"Trends continue to be in our favor," says McDonald's Corp. President Ralph Alvarez. "We're growing [abroad] because demand exceeds our supply."

Some investors in McDonald's and fast-food giant Yum Brands Inc. are holding the stocks because of perceived opportunities overseas.

This year Burger King Holdings Inc., McDonald's and Papa John's International Inc. are among chains intending to open more restaurants abroad than at home. And in laying out plans to combine Wendy's International Inc. with its Arby's sandwich business, Triarc Cos. said it sees substantial possibilities abroad, where both brands have relatively few outlets.

Yum, which owns Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Long John Silver's along with KFC, estimates that within 10 years 70 percent of its profits will come from outside the U.S. Today about 55 percent does.

The company is an example of mining overseas potential. China, a market it entered 21 years ago, now delivers about 25 percent of the company's annual profits. Its KFC brand has more than 2,000 locations in 500 cities across the Chinese mainland, with restaurants that not only serve chicken but also congee soup and fried dough at breakfast.

With 15,000 of its 35,000 restaurants outside the U.S., Yum continues to seek out new markets. KFC soon will enter Nigeria, its 106th country. Next year Yum plans to test the popularity of its best-selling domestic brand, Taco Bell, in India. About 17,500 of McDonald's more than 31,000 restaurants are located in 117 countries outside the U.S.

Casual-dining operators also are trekking abroad in search of profits. Chili's parent Brinker International Inc., which said its long-term vision is to become the "dominant, global casual-dining restaurant portfolio company," last year signed development agreements to expand in Australia, Canada, Ecuador, Honduras, Peru, Portugal, South Korea and Turkey.

As in the U.S., finding the right location is McDonald's biggest challenge abroad, it said. Prime real estate targets are increasingly in suburbs ringing cities of Europe, Asia and Latin America.

While McDonald's Alvarez says "we're not looking for new countries" to enter, rival Burger King has been. In fiscal 2007 the No. 2 hamburger chain went into Japan, Poland, Egypt and Indonesia. In the past two years it opened 34 restaurants in 14 cities in Brazil alone.

Another dominant U.S. player abroad is Domino's Pizza Inc., with some 3,500 stores, or about 40 percent, outside the U.S. That 25-year overseas presence recently helped offset disappointing domestic results; in its most recent quarter international comparable sales -- away from the intense competition that has roiled the U.S. pizza market -- rose 8.8 percent from a year ago while Domino's domestic business suffered a 5.2 percent drop.

Some restaurateurs modify their menus to cater to local tastes. In some parts of Asia McDonald's serves rice burgers: shredded beef between rice patties. Customers in the Netherlands can order a deep-fried patty of beef ragout. In India, its Big Mac -- called the Maharaja Mac -- is made with chicken rather than beef. But, says Alvarez, "our core menu is still what you know in the U.S. People come to McDonald's because they want an American product."

Overseas success isn't a sure bet. Papa John's stumbled on its first foreign sojourn, when it entered Mexico in 1998. "We didn't have our act together," said David Flanery, president of the pizza company's international operations. "We had the wrong franchise partner."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Yogurt’s Big Move

Frozen yogurt is back. And customers are craving it more than ever.

I’m the only person I know who began eating yogurt from a little wooden box.

It was the 1950s, and the contraption was the electric incubator my dad had rigged up in the garage. Its principle was simple. Place a bowl of milk inside with a small dab of yesterday’s batch, insert the makeshift thermostat to keep the temperature just right for yogurt-bearing bacteria, plug the whole thing into a light socket and in less than 24 hours you had a bunch of creamy white goop ready to be eaten with pleasure and ease.

So you can imagine my consternation when, 25 years later, the frozen yogurt craze began. Now everyone else was into yogurt, too. The truth, of course, was that what others called yogurt to me wasn’t yogurt at all. It was an overly sweet, sugary, colored dessert-like mess topped with odd bits and pieces of things designed to mask what little true-yogurtness remained. It was, in other words, a crass attempt to capitalize on my family secret by revealing it to the world in bastardized form.

Utterly disgusted with this new development, I turned my back on yogurt—frozen and otherwise—for years. Eventually, in fact, I almost forgot that the stuff had ever existed.

But today I bear glad tidings: Yogurt is back! It is the dawn of a new age; the thaw is finally over.

The story of yogurt is old: Most likely first fermented spontaneously by wild bacteria living on goat-skin bags, the earliest yogurt is believed to have been carried into Europe by the nomadic Bulgars who began migrating there in the second century and eventually settled in the Balkans.

Its consumption by early Turks is recorded in many books. The first written account of a European encounter with the ancient dish, however, occurs in French clinical history: To cure an upset stomach, a Turkish doctor allegedly prescribed yogurt as a remedy.

Indeed, its health benefits are legendary.

Containing live probiotic bacterial cultures, yogurt aids in digestion by helping to maintain a healthy balance among the 200-plus other kinds of bacteria living in our stomachs and intestines. It also has been investigated for possible roles in everything from improved immune function to the reduced risk of certain kinds of cancer.

Flash forward now to the early 1980s. A whole new generation of entrepreneurs stands poised to start selling yogurt, in its frozen form, to a whole new generation of consumers newly enamored with healthy foods, but relatively unfamiliar with their earthly charms. The one major obstacle to overcome is most people don’t like the culture’s tart taste. The solution: Dress it up to taste more like ice cream.

“If you go way back it was really an alternative frozen treat with less fat and fewer calories than ice cream,” says David Hall, vice president of marketing for TCBY, which pioneered the field by, among other things, marketing its product under a set of initials that originally stood for This Can’t Be Yogurt. “Our whole premise was, ‘Wow, this is so good you can’t believe it’s yogurt,’” Hall says.

The trick worked. Frozen (sweetened) yogurt became a catchword of the 1980s and ’90s with sales reaching $25 million in 1986 at growth rates in the triple digits. The market continued soaring at more than 200 percent a year until the early 1990s when it comprised roughly 10 percent of the country’s market in frozen desserts.

Then came a lull. Frozen yogurt had become a icon of American culture, true, but as the country’s love affair with health foods swooned toward marriage and purveyors like Cold Stone Creamery began fighting back with whole new lines of healthier reduced-fat ice creams, customers started falling away. In 2005 65 million gallons of frozen yogurt were produced in the U.S.—a significant decline from 15 years before when 117.6 million gallons had been made


That’s when Pinkberry came along. Founded by immigrants from South Korea, where tart-tasting frozen yogurt has been popular for years, the little company that could opened its first store in Los Angeles in 2005. The idea quickly spread, attracting such competitors as Red Mango, an older company that actually started in South Korea but didn’t make it to the U.S. until 2007.

Just within the past year retail yogurt sales have increased at least 33.4 percent. Frozen yogurt is also doing exceedingly well, with a 12 percent increase since 2006. And, according to a report by market researcher Packaged Facts, frozen yogurt sales are expected to jump from $1.7 billion to nearly $2.7 billion over the next five years.

Many attribute that, in part, to the public’s belated acceptance of the original tart flavor by which true yogurt has always been characterized.

“The market in the U.S. is finally accepting frozen yogurt that actually tastes like yogurt,” Aaron Serruya, co-founder of Yogen Fruz, which has more than 250 stores in 35 countries, recently told the Los Angeles Times. “Before it was always yogurt masked as ice cream,” says Jonathan Cutler, spokesman for Cefiore, which launched its first store in 2006 and now has 25 locations with plans for another 24–40 in the coming year.

Cefiore, owned by South Koreans but based on a formula from Italy, offers four basic flavors: original, acaiberry, chocolate, and green tea. All are tart.

People come in and ask for it,” says Mariana Salazar, who fills cups from a soft-serve machine. “Some come in three times a day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; they go crazy for it.”

On the rare occasions that supplies run low, assistant manager Gordon Herman adds, “customers get very irritated because they can’t get their yogurt.”

The market in the U.S. is finally accepting frozen yogurt that actually tastes like yogurt. Before, it was always yogurt masked as ice cream.”

Not everyone, of course, is a convert.

“It’s not good,” says a 21-year-old customer named Brittany who declined to give her last name. “Yogurt is usually a dessert, and this is way too tart.”

Her solution: Stick with the more familiar sweet yogurt also available at the store.

The divide between sweet and tart, in fact, sometimes comes between families. “This is for me and this is for my kids,” explains Paula Loftus, walking away with two separate bags. While she loves plain tart yogurt, Loftus’ three children—age 10, 14, and 17—don’t share her taste. “They like vanilla, chocolate, and coffee,” she says.

Other families don’t suffer from such generational divisions. Some even claim that their children—who, unlike many parents, grew up with frozen yogurt­—are leading the way. The taste for tart, in fact, seems to traverse age and cultural lines; Alberto Medina, 74, says he eats it regularly at home.

“We use it instead of sour cream,” Medina says.

“I just came by one day, tried it, and thought it was really good,” explains Amy Niemeyer, 17, enjoying a helping of peach. “I like plain yogurt; it’s not as sweet and tastes more natural.”

Her 18-year-old friend, Ashley Meyer, suggests adding a fruit topping. “It tastes like sweet-and-sour,” she says.

The time for hesitation is through. Taking a deep breath, I march up to the counter looking the man behind it straight in the eye. No strawberry, peach, or blueberry for me; I am going directly to the source.

“Give me plain yogurt,” I say. “No toppings.” Maybe chocolate, my favorite.

Yogurt is definitely back.

“This probably wouldn’t have worked 20 years ago,” Cutler says. “People’s tastes are evolving. This is back to the basics of what real yogurt’s about. I call it the new millennium of interest in frozen yogurt, but really it’s retro.”

Tyler Bargas, sales director at YoCream International Inc., a leading manufacturer and marketer of frozen yogurt products, agrees. “Yogurt is back,” he says. “It’s always been entrenched in the economy, but it kind of flattened out and now there’s a big resurgence. It’s not a hippie food anymore.”

Leading the charge, Bargas says, are the tart-tasting products that have finally been embraced by a generation of consumers that have either never tasted them before or once rejected them but are now more open-minded.

“Tart yogurts are growing exponentially,” Bargas says.

His company recently reported a 23.3 percent sales increase for the quarter ending January 31, 2008, its seventh consecutive quarter of double-digit growth.

“The interest seems to be percolating,” Bargas says. “We expect tart to surpass our sales of strawberry. What’s changed is the consumers’ level of education. They know what yogurt is now. Even my kids reach for yogurt.”

While some establishments offer such enhancements as chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or green tea, the underlying tartness of the yogurt is distinct and unmistakable, with most customers preferring the undisguised original or plain flavor.

“We try to make all our flavors still taste like yogurt,” says Matthew Wallace, co-owner of BerryLine, which opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2007. “We pick flavors that go well with the tartness of the yogurt; if we have pomegranate, we want it to taste like plain yogurt with a little bit of pomegranate in it. I’ve had several people come in and say it tastes just like the Greek yogurt their mom used to make.”

While most customers have an immediate positive reaction, he says others aren’t so sure at first. “Only a few have gone ‘Eeww’ and walked out,” Wallace says. “But then even they often come back saying, ‘You know, after thinking about it, it doesn’t actually taste so bad.’ The yogurt phenomenon,” Wallace says, “is definitely satisfying and surprising.”

Eden Burch, manager of a Dolci Mango in San Diego, has a straight forward explanation. “The taste,” she says of the tart yogurt her store sells, “is simple but addicting. They’re surprised when they taste it, but mostly it’s a good surprise.”

That certainly seems to be the case at Golden Spoon in Long Beach, California, where plain tart yogurt is in high demand.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Feeling thrifty, the thirsty reach for tap, not bottle

Tap water is making a comeback.

With a day's worth of bottled water — the recommended 64 ounces — costing hundreds to thousands of dollars a year depending on the brand, more people are opting to drink water that comes straight from the sink.

The lousy economy may be accomplishing what environmentalists have been trying to do for years: wean people off the disposable plastic bottles of water that were sold as stylish, portable, healthier and safer than water from the tap.

Heather Kennedy, 33, an office administrator from Austin, Texas, said she used to drink a lot of bottled water but now tries to drink exclusively tap water.

"I feel that (bottled water) is a rip-off," she said in an e-mail. "It is not a better or healthier product than the water that comes out of my tap. It is absurd to pay so much extra for it."

Measured in 700-milliliter bottles of Poland Spring, a daily intake of water would cost $4.41, based on prices at a CVS drugstore in New York. Or $6.36 in 20-ounce bottles of Dasani. By half-liters of Evian, that'll be $6.76. All of which adds up to thousands a year.

Even a 24-pack of half-liter bottles at Costco Wholesale, a bargain at $6.97, would be consumed by one person in six days. That's more than $400 a year.

Compared to water from the tap? A little more than 0.001 cent for a day's worth of water. Based on averages from an American Water Works Association survey, that's just about 51 cents a year.

U.S. consumers spent $16.8 billion on bottled water in 2007, according to the trade publication Beverage Digest, up 12% from the year before. Yet it was the lowest growth rate since the early 1990s, said editor John Sicher.

Coca-Cola Enterprises, the bottler of the biggest brand Dasani, recently cut its outlook for the quarter, saying the weak North American economy is hurting sales of bottled water and soda.

"They're not walking in and spending a dollar plus for a 20-ounce bottle of water," said beverage analyst William Pecoriello at Morgan Stanley. Flavored and "enhanced" waters like vitamin drinks are also eating into plain bottled water's market share.

Pecoriello said Americans' concern about the environment was also a factor, driven by campaigns against the use of oil in making and transporting the bottles, the waste they create and the notion of paying for what is essentially free.\

The Tappening Project, which promotes tap water in the U.S. as clean, safe and more eco-friendly than bottled water, launched a new ad campaign in May. The company has also sold more than 200,000 reusable hard plastic and stainless steel bottles since last November.

Linda Schiffman, 56, a recent retiree from Lexington, Mass., bought two metal bottles at $14.50 from Corporate Accountability, a consumer advocate group, after she swore off buying cases of bottled water from Costco.

"I've been doing a lot of cost-cutting since I retired," said Schiffman, a former middle-school guidance counselor. "Additionally, I started feeling like this was a big waste environmentally."

Aware of those concerns, some bottled water makers are trying to address the issue.

Nestle says all its half-liter bottles now come in an "eco-shape" that contains 30% less plastic than the average bottle, and it has pared back other packaging. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have also cut down on the amount of plastic used in their bottles.

While it is difficult to track rates of tap water use, sales of faucet accessories are booming.

Brita tap water purification products made by Clorox Co. reported double-digit volume and sales growth in May and have seen three straight quarters of strong growth.

Robin Jaeger of Needham, Mass., fills her kids' reusable bottles with water from the house's faucet. But she doesn't use water straight from the tap.

"My kids have come to the conclusion that any water that's not filtered doesn't taste good," she said.

Her reverse-osmosis filter system costs about $200 every 18 months for maintenance — still cheaper than buying by the bottle.

Kennedy, the tap convert from Texas, has a filter built into her refrigerator. She also recently bought a reusable aluminum bottle made by Sigg, a Swiss company which has stopped selling its $19.99 metal bottles from its website, saying demand has swamped its supply.

While Brita is the dominant player in water filtration, according to Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Schmitz, sales of P&G's Pur water filtration systems are also growing. Sales from the Pur line have increased almost every month since mid-2007, said Bruce Letz, its brand manager. He declined to give sales figures but said "the water filtration category is expanding very rapidly."

"There's a backlash against the plastic water bottle," Schmitz said.

Cities and businesses, big to small, have also gotten in on the action.

Marriott International distributed free refillable water bottles and coffee mugs to the 3,500 employees at its corporate offices in Bethesda, Md., and installed multiple water filters on every floor. The Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., got rid of bottled still water in the summer of 2006 and started sparkling its own water in early 2007.

"Does it make sense to bottle water in Italy, trek it to a port, ship it all the way over here, then trek it to our restaurant?" said Chez Panisse general manager Mike Kossa-Rienzi. "We were going through 25,000 bottles a year. ... Someone has to end up recycling them."

Many cities, including New York, have enacted pro-tap campaigns, and some have stopped providing disposable water bottles for government employees.

Chicago started a 5-cent tax on plastic water bottles in January. San Francisco has done away with deliveries of water jugs for office use, instead installing filters and bottle-less dispensers, and banned the purchase of single-serving bottles by city employees with municipal funds. The city has already cut its government water budget in half, to $250,000 a year, said Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

"It's becoming chic to say, 'Oh no, I don't drink bottled water, I'll have tap water,' " he said.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Eating a big breakfast, heavy in carbs, is the key to keeping slim, according to new research

A new study found that women who eat half of their daily calories first thing in the morning lose more weight in the long term than those who start the day with a small breakfast.

And they are also less likely to pile the pounds back on.

Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz, from the Hospital de Clinicas in Caracas, Venezuela, who led the study, said: "A very low carbohydrate diet exacerbates the craving for carbohydrates and slows metabolism. After a short period of weight loss, there is a quick return to obesity."

It is thought that eating a meal packed with protein and carbohydrates helps cut cravings for sweet or starchy foods, and boosts the metabolism.

Scientists compared the "big breakfast" diet with a strict low-carb weight-loss regime.

Jakubowicz and a team at Virginia Commonwealth University studied 94 obese, inactive women and found that low-carb dieters initially lost more weight.

The strict low-carb diet caused an average weight loss of 28 pounds; the big-breakfast version cut 23 pounds.

However, after eight months, the strict dieters had regained 18 pounds. The big-breakfast eaters continued to drop weight, losing another 16.5 pounds.

Those on the big breakfast diet lost more than 21 percent of their body weight, compared with just 4.5 percent for the low-carb group.

Women who ate a big breakfast reported feeling less hungry, especially before lunch and had fewer cravings for carbs than the other women did. The big breakfast dieters ate an average of 1,240 calories per day, 610 of which were consumed at breakfast. The low-carb dieters ate just 1,085 calories per day.

The findings will be presented this week at ENDO 08, the 90th annual meeting of The Endocrine Society in San Francisco.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pizza: It's Not Delivery--It's From the Grocer

Anyone can enjoy pizza, from vegans to carnivores to those following kosher and gluten-free diets. Pizza provides sustenance and satisfaction at all times of the day.

Frozen-pizza evolution

Frozen pizza has come a long way from those decades ago with overly chewy crusts, bland sauce, rubbery cheese and meat specks tougher than jerky. Today’s retailers’ freezer cases stock all types of pizzas, from thin and thick crusts to stuffed and self-rising. An alternative to supermarket frozen pizza is refrigerated pizza sold in the deli, commonly referred to as take-and-bake—and many of these pizzas are delivered to the supermarket in frozen form. The retailer defrosts them for refrigerated merchandising.

The primary challenges with any frozen pizza are preventing the sauce from combining with the dough and producing a crust that can be frozen and reheated without becoming rigid. Traditionally, the dough is partially prebaked, or parbaked. The ingredient toppings tend to be precooked. More recently, frozen pizzas with raw toppings are being developed as upscale, all-natural offerings.

Kraft Foods, Northfield, IL, debuted the self-rising crust in 1995. Patents on the process cover the preparation and safe storage of frozen, yeast-leavened dough, a process involving the meticulous addition of hydrocolloids for stability and surfactants to facilitate flour hydration and initial dough development. Modified-atmosphere packaging keeps the pizzas bathed in inert gas rather than oxygen, which can erode the dough.

In 2004, Schwan’s Consumer Brands North America, Bloomington, MN, provided another new concept for retailers’ freezers—brick oven—which relies on a fried-baked crust.

Most recently, Schwan’s introduced a frozen pizza it promotes as “restaurant-style pizza without the hassle of take-out.” The secret is the company’s proprietary one-step bake-and-serve tray that cooks the crust crisp and evenly.

Crust as a canvas

Pizza brings out the artist in everyone. But before the sauce gets spread and the toppings applied, pizza manufacturers must determine the type of crust they plan to work with.

Thick or thin, crust comes down to flour, yeast, water and a variety of optional dough improvers and adjuncts. The crust processing factors include mixing time, management of the dough (proofing time and temperature, forming the dough and storage), stretching (or rolling, pressing or sheeting), ovens and bake time. The last two variables are for parbaked crusts. Rising crusts are raw dough, sometimes called live dough due to the active yeast.

Flour selection comes down to the desired texture and other sensory attributes of the crust. Choosing the right flour is all about gluten content. Formation of a homogenous gluten network is important, as a flexible, homogenous gluten structure is able to retain the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast during proofing.

“The development of the gluten takes place during dough mixing,” says Susan Kay, senior application technologist, bakery innovation, Danisco USA, Inc., New Century, KS. “The most-important parts of gluten development are the hydration of the gluten, as well as gluten interactions. Good, even hydration is very important for dough flexibility and behavior in the later stages of making the crust. If hydration can be improved, it is possible to improve the properties of the gluten network. The same is the case when gluten interactions are improved.”

Going with the grain

All-purpose wheat flour has a moderate amount of gluten and is often the flour of choice for pizza dough. However, bread flour also works. It’s higher in gluten, which gives the crust a lighter texture and more volume, even a bit of chewiness.

Choose the flour carefully. If the flour or flour blend is too low in protein, the crust of the baked pizza will be soft. If there’s too much protein, the crust can be tough. The flour for pizza crust usually ranges from 8.5% to 14.0%, depending on thick or thin, and the desired baked texture. Because higher-protein flour absorbs more moisture than lower-protein flour, if a softer-crust pizza is desired, then use lower-protein flour.

“As a rule of thumb, thin-crust pizzas are produced with higher-protein flours—up to 14.0%—and thicker-crust pizzas are produced with lower-protein flours,” says Harold Ward, senior quality specialist, research quality & innovation, ConAgra Mills, Omaha, NE. “I’ve seen thick-crust pizzas produced with as low as 11.0% protein flour.”

Some dough formulas call for semolina flour to add color, texture and chew to the crust. Others will call for a dusting of cornmeal on the bottom of the crust. This, too, adds color and texture. It also gives the frozen pizza a fresh, pizzeria feel.

“Formulating dough for manufacturing is worlds apart from making dough in a retail pizza shop, but developers can certainly create formulas that deliver pizzeria-style crust in the production environment,” says Ward. “Unlike a retail pizzeria, manufacturers will typically use one type of flour for all crusts, whether it is thick, thin, pan, etc. Usually, this is a medium- or low-protein hard-wheat flour between 11.0% and 12.5%. In general, the mixing process in manufacturing is high-speed and is aided by the use of reducing agents to achieve a dough consistency that is easily pressed.

“For whole-grain pizzas, flour choice depends on the characteristics of the finished product,” continues Ward. “If a lighter-colored, smoother-textured crust with a mild, sweet taste and broad appeal is desired,” he recommends the company’s whole-grain white wheat flour. “For a more-traditional whole-wheat or whole-grain look and taste, products ranging from fine whole wheat to coarse products can be used in any number of combinations,” he says.

Other grains, including rye and ancient grains, alone or in conjunction with wheat products, are also possibilities, notes Ward. “For example, a grain and seed inclusion sprinkled on a finished crust tastes great and gives a unique, hearty look,” he says. Or, if the target market requires it, he points to a number of traditional grains for gluten-free applications.

To deliver pizza to those with gluten intolerances, it is possible to simulate a yeast-leavened, wheat crust through the use of hydrocolloids, such as xanthan gum, and alternative flours. Gluten-containing flours are replaced with alternative flours such as amaranth, arrowroot, brown rice, buckwheat or tapioca.

“Our corn bran is a great way to increase the fiber content in pizza crust,” says Casey Lopez, associate scientist, Grain Processing Corporation, Muscatine, IA, noting that it provides 85% dietary fiber, making ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ fiber source claims possible. “Because it is corn-based, it is not an allergen concern, making it ideal for wheat-free and gluten-free applications.” In gluten-free crusts, nonfat dry milk can provide additional solids. Yeast can add flavor. However, the dough does not go through a proofing stage. Instead of yeast, to give the crust an Italian flavor, some pizza manufacturers add spices, such as garlic, onion, parsley, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano and marjoram.

Customizing the dough

Commercial frozen-pizza manufacturers often rely on optional ingredients to assist the dough manufacture. “The main ingredients for improving process tolerance and the final baked product are DATEM (diacetyl tartaric acid ester of monoglyceride) and enzymes with amylase and xylanase activities,” says Kay. “These ingredients compensate for variations in flour quality, facilitate easier handling and improve dough stability during production. They also provide for uniform volume and texture.

“DATEM works as a dough strengthener primarily due to its ability to interact with gluten, forming the homogenous network important to the crust-making process,” continues Kay. “The improved gluten network increases gas retention in dough and results in increased volume. DATEM also alters the water-binding properties of dough, resulting in a drier surface. This, together with improved dough stability, results in easier dough handling and machinability, since the dough will not stick to the equipment.”

Typical DATEM usage is 0.2% to 0.5%, based on flour (baking percent). Industrial operations often use a liquid version, as it is pumpable and easy to add. Powder and flake forms are also available.

DATEM is usually not used in microwavable frozen pizza, as it can have a softening effect. Microwave cooking tends to soften foods anyway, because it prevents moisture from evaporating.

Enzymes containing amylases, which hydrolyze damaged starch, result in a drop in viscosity, whereas enzymes containing xylanase will change the water absorption of the arabinoxylan part, resulting in higher dough viscosity.

“Danisco’s bakery enzymes have been specially developed to modify the starch and arabinoxylan in flour for optimal baking performance,” adds Kay. “The results are improved dough-handling properties and a better gluten structure with an improved ability to retain the gas produced by the yeast during fermentation.” Usage level is in the range of 100 to 200 ppm.

“Use of both DATEM and bakery enzymes give the pizza manufacturer a high degree of flexibility during the crust-making process,” says Kay. “The combination of the two results in a dough that is more tolerant to the whole baking process, including variations in processing times.” This is particularly important when considering the range of oven conditions the pizza will encounter when the consumer bakes it at home.

For standard parbaked crusts, dough is proofed at 35 to 45°C, which enables the yeast to ferment and produce carbon dioxide. The dough is then stretched, shaped and baked at about 400°F, with baking times ranging from 2½ to 4 minutes. Variables that must be considered when parbaking crusts include the variety of ovens: deck, conveyor, rotating, wood-burning, etc. After baking, the crusts are typically cooled prior to topping.

Some upscale frozen pizzas use classic Italian methods, which include baking the crust in specially designed stone or brick ovens that reach temperatures exceeding 800°F. This produces a crust that is tender on the inside and crispy on the bottom.

When dough enters the oven, it is exposed to significantly higher temperatures compared to the proofing cabinet, which is usually held at about 95 to 110ºF. This causes rapid expansion of the gas trapped in the gluten network and the subsequent rising of the crust.

“The mechanical handling of proofed doughs on conveyor belts or racks is often highly vigorous,” says Kay. “The improved dough tolerance obtained using DATEM and enzymes stabilizes the dough and improves all-around shock stability.”

Dough for frozen self-rising crusts is proofed, but the yeast is protected to ensure that all of the dough rising takes place in consumers’ ovens.

Protecting the crust

Before getting creative with sauces and toppings, many pizza manufacturers choose to seal the top of the crust to help maintain its integrity. Many barrier options are available, including a basic liquid egg-white wash. Various hydrocolloid and emulsifier sprays also can provide a moisture barrier.

For example, an innovative blend of a vegetable-based emulsifier—acetylated monodiglyceride—and beeswax forms an imperceptible layer that melts and becomes invisible to the consumer when the pizza is baked in the oven or cooked in the microwave. Beeswax’s water-barrier properties combine with the emulsifier’s film-forming properties to form a flexible barrier that can withstand mechanical stress without breaking.

This watertight barrier prevents liquid migration into the pizza base from high-moisture toppings. “This way, the base does not become soggy, and the overall pizza maintains its freshly made appearance and eating qualities,” says Kay. The barrier is sprayed directly onto the surface of a parbaked pizza after it has cooled. The cooler it is, the faster the barrier film solidifies. The temperature of the crust must not be higher than 113°F.

Danisco has teamed up with Spraying Systems Co., Carol Stream, IL, to develop the optimum spraying solution for this application. To ensure even coverage and prevent clogged nozzles, the temperature of the barrier is precisely maintained throughout the system. Advanced spray-control algorithms automatically adjust for variations in line speed, providing accurate intermittent spraying without overspray.

“For refrigerated take-and-bake pizza, the barrier extends the shelf life of the pizza and ensures overall pizza quality and topping integrity,” says Kay. “Toppings maintain their original colors, taste and shape throughout refrigerated shelf life.”

A modified food starch from Grain Processing Corporation is also an option. “This ingredient can be used to increase the crispy texture in pizza crust,” says Lopez. “It works well in raw, parbaked and fully baked pizza crust by helping slow down and reduce absorption of the sauce into the crust. As a result, the pizza is less likely to get soggy.”

Just say cheese

Cheese is an essential ingredient on pizza. But with pizza, cheese stretch is key. Whether or not a cheese melts or stretches, and how well it melts and stretches, depends on the chemistry and thermodynamic properties of its casein network.

Most cheesemakers influence the chemistry and physics of cheese melt and stretch when they adjust the following factors: the milk’s heat treatment, pH during cheese manufacture, cheese composition, the lowest pH obtained in the cheese, and proteolysis, or the breakdown of intact casein. Stretch is the ability of the casein network to maintain its integrity and not break when pressure is applied to the cheese.

“Observing the elasticity, or stringy behavior, of mozzarella baked on a pizza is a simple way to see stretch,” says Mark Johnson, senior scientist, Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Stretch is also responsible for the blisters that form when cheese is baked. Stretch is most often associated with high temperatures but, like melt, it can occur at much cooler temperatures.

“The melt and stretch properties of cheese are based on the number of interactions between casein molecules, the major milk protein. The fewer the interactions, the greater the melt,” continues Johnson. “Stretch requires an intact, interconnected casein network and is lost as the interactions between casein molecules—or aggregates—decrease. Stretch is the result of casein-casein interactions that are broken easily, but also readily reform at different locations in the casein network.”

Melt is important in the release of milkfat from cheese during baking. “If the flow or melt of the cheese is restricted, the release of the fat is also restricted,” says Johnson. “The faster and greater the rate of flow of a cheese, the greater the release of milkfat.” The consumer sees this as oiling-off.

“Since cheese is a network of interconnecting molecules of casein, the hydrolysis, or breaking, of bonds within the casein molecule will increase melt, but decrease stretch,” continues Johnson. “Proteolysis can be slowed by using less coagulant, or in the case of Swiss, Parmesan, Romano and mozzarella, higher cook temperatures or mixer-molder temperatures can inactivate some of the coagulant. Some coagulants are more sensitive to heat than others.”

Jo Smewing, applications manager, Stable Micro Systems, Surrey, England, says: “The extensibility of cheese is an important textural characteristic in a wide range of food applications—in particular, pizza. Freezing, shredding, thawing and even cooking cheese can have a significant impact on its textural characteristics. Reduced-fat products also display very different characteristics compared to full-fat versions. All of this may result in a texture with undesirable mouthfeel.

“Previously, one of the most-common ways to test the stretchability of cheese was to manually lift it with a fork and assess the force required to stretch it, as well as the length to which it stretches,” adds Smewing. “This method is inherently subjective and unreliable.” To provide an objective, repeatable test method, the company developed a rig to use with a texture analyzer. The rig includes a microwavable vessel, sample retainer and double-sided fork probe. To use, cheese is cut into small cubes and then microwaved in the vessel until molten. The sample retainer is slotted into the vessel, which is securely fastened to the base of the texture analyzer. After the fork probe is attached, the arm of the texture analyzer pulls the fork upward through the molten cheese and software measures the force required to stretch the cheese and the distance to breakpoint.

Cheese choices

There’s no doubt that mozzarella is the preferred melting and browning cheese for pizza. Mozzarella and Cheddar, and Italian four-cheese blends (adding Romano, Parmesan and provolone) are commonly used to give a little extra punch. But don’t stop there.

“Mozzarella readily blends with most other cheeses, and a little bit of those other cheeses can really give pizza a signature flavor,” says Patrick Geoghegan, senior vice president of corporate communications, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Madison. “The strong flavor of blue cheese has become a secret for many gourmet pizzerias.”

Blue cheese is an expensive topping for pizza, but for many, well worth the investment. “It brings a bit of bite to pizza, something no other cheese can do,” says Geoghegan, adding that “industrial pizza manufacturers can get a jump-start on their competition” by blending cheeses.

Painting the canvas

Under the cheese, most pizza is topped with some sort of Italian-spiced tomato sauce. However, select pizzerias also offer a white, creamy Alfredo sauce option. Barbecue sauce provides a variety of flavor sensations, including sour, sweet, spicy and tangy. Sometimes, smoky flavor is included, which complements a brick-oven baking process.

Pizza sauce should not be slow cooked—it shouldn’t taste like marinara sauce. It’s also a good idea to have a smooth sauce. Chunky sauces break down, leading to a watery top. Pizza sauce tends to be highly seasoned, as compared to marinara, with a higher solids content of 14% to 18%.

Top picks

Toppings run the gamut and provide opportunities for measuring up to delivery, as well as points of differentiation.

Roasted and sautéed fruits and vegetables add color, flavor, nutrients and texture to frozen pizza. Jon-Lin Foods, a division of McCain Foods USA, Inc., Lisle, IL, uses direct heat with no water blanching (which can add moisture) to deliver individually quick-frozen (IQF) fruits and vegetables with high solids and negligible moisture loss. It creates caramelized options by slow-cooking the fruits and vegetables in natural juices or soybean oil. Fire-roasted and smokehouse-roasted products are cooked over direct fire in natural juices or extra-virgin olive oil to create authentic grill marks and sear-in natural flavors.

To battle the ill effects of vegetable moisture loss, Gilroy Foods, a division of ConAgra Foods, Omaha, NE, offers controlled-moisture vegetables that “work extremely well in frozen-pizza applications, particularly pizzas intended for the microwave,” says Dan Hemming, manager, research & development. “Because of the short cooking time in microwave ovens, vegetables weep moisture into the pizza, making it soggy and less desirable. Because controlled-moisture vegetables are lower in moisture, they don’t lose water, retaining their bold color and strong flavor, resulting in a more-authentic and flavorful pizzeria-style pizza. These vegetables come in fire-roasted and grilled varieties, fitting well in the trends toward bolder flavors and innovative pizza toppings. A barbecue-style pizza, for example, may benefit from some flavorful controlled-moisture onions with distinct grill marks and slightly charred flavor.”

All types of cooked meat can top pizza. The best sausage is irregularly shaped and chunked. There’s a trend in upscaling pizza with steak topping. This premium topping adds a juicy flavor profile to pizzas. Steaks may be grilled, pan-fried or broiled, and marry well with other ingredients and sauces.

“Meat toppings on pizza can be a key element in developing a pizza’s flavor profile,” says Sean Craig, senior executive chef, Gilroy Foods. “Barbecue chicken pizza works well, because the meat not only carries the flavor of the barbecue sauce, but also the grill.” Companies can develop meat toppings that bring out the flavor of a cooking method, along with flavors from marinades and seasoning blends. “Italian sausage, for example, can add a hint of smoke flavor, along with a spicy touch of fennel, for a gourmet twist,” he says.

Amy Marr, vice president of marketing, Gilroy Foods, says: “With smoke, we’re expecting the popularity to continue to grow beyond barbecues. How about a pizza topped with smoked cheese, or a special applewood-smoked bacon pizza? With North African flavors, it’s all about bold flavor combinations. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see Moroccan flavors like a harissa as a sauce base on one of America’s traditional favorite foods—pizza?”

For a Latin influence, try chorizo with onions and jalapeños. Other Latin trends include topping the dough with a black-bean sauce. A side of sour cream and guacamole can readily be added into the frozen pizza package.

Nuts, too, can enhance pizza with flavor and texture. Most nut ingredients come in a variety of forms, which enables their inclusion in pizza in numerous ways. For example, nutmeats can be ground into various consistencies. A coarse grind produces nut meal; a finer grind results in nut flour. Both can serve as a partial substitute for wheat flour. Sliced, diced or chopped versions can top pizza right along with other toppings.

For thin- and medium-crust pizzas, toppings should go to within 1 in. of the edge. The rim of the dough keeps the toppings from bubbling over the edge of the pizza. Because the center of the pie always takes the longest to bake, the thickest amount of toppings should be toward the edge of the pizza rather than in the middle. If there is a heavy concentration of toppings—including sauce—in the center, the outer edges may overcook before the center is done. Once topped, pizzas should be quick-frozen to prevent any moisture from seeping into the dough.

But sometimes, to get your business plans in order in terms of frozen-pizza endeavors, it’s best to take a step back in time to where America’s passion for pizza began: Naples. This is where pizza was nothing more than a simple slab of irregularly shaped, leftover dough smeared with tomatoes and dressed with cheese and whatever fresh ingredients were lying around.

Think nothing more and nothing less.

Donna Berry, president of Chicago-based Dairy & Food Communications, Inc., a network of professionals in business-to-business technical and trade communications, has been writing about product development and marketing for 13 years. Prior to that, she worked for Kraft Foods in the natural-cheese division. She has a B.S. in Food Science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at

Pizza From the Deli

A supermarket alternative to frozen pizza is take-and-bake refrigerated pizza. Such pizza is typically sold in the self-service deli and can be prepared at the store. However, like many deli-counter offerings, refrigerated pizzas are delivered to the store prepared and packaged for merchandising. Sometimes they are even delivered in frozen form.

The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, is in the midst of phasing out a never-frozen refrigerated deli take-and-bake pizza line and replacing it with one that is now shipped to stores frozen. According to the company, the quality and variety available through frozen-fresh deli pizza better meets the needs of its shoppers.

Long a player in frozen pizzas with brands such as Freschetta, Red Baron, Tony’s and, most recently, Wolfgang Puck, Schwan’s Consumer Brands North America, Bloomington, MN, entered the refrigerated self-service deli pizza business in 2006 with the introduction of Belafino Take & Bake Pizza. “Only premium ingredients are used, including 100% real cheese, specially formulated sauce, no fake proteins and special, super-moist crust,” says Peggy Copeland, Belafino spokeswoman, Schwan’s. The product is shrink-wrapped on a cardboard tray and presented with “high-end and impact packaging graphics,” she says. “It’s available in a pizzeria-style crush-proof box or overwrapped with a label in bulk.” It’s shipped to stores in a boxed six-pack case or a bulk nine-pack case. The product has a 10-day refrigerated shelf life and 180 days frozen.

Pizza Sales Still Rising

According to the June 30, 2007 “Nielsen Market Summary Mid-Year Report,” ACNielsen, New York, household penetration for frozen pizza is 70.9%. Further, frozen pizza accounted for $2.8 billion in sales at supermarkets in 2007, a 4.3% increase from the previous year, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago.

Innovation in process, package and product is driving growth in the category. Quality ingredients, often in unique combinations, team up with advanced baking and cooking technologies. Controlled-atmosphere packaging, sometimes with special, disposable baking accessories, allows for frozen pizza to fool some of the most-discerning pizza eaters.