Friday, December 16, 2016

Grapefruit & Salt: The Science Behind This Unlikely Power Couple

By: Cecily Costa

Taken in part from NPR, the Salt (November 14, 2016—Nadia Berenstein)

Ad campaigns from the first and second world wars tried to convince us that "Grapefruit Tastes Sweeter With Salt" as one 1946 ad for Morton's in Life magazine put it. The pairing, these ads swore, enhanced the flavor and there's science to prove it.

The origins of our grapefruit habit—
Grapefruits originated in Barbados in the middle of the 18th century. They are a hybrid formed from the Javanese pumelo and the East Asian sweet orange. First grown commercially in Florida at the end of the 19th century, grapefruit quickly went from being a novelty to being a daily necessity and made fortunes for farmers.

Early 20th century cookbooks and recipes in magazines offered an abundance of ways to use grapefruits in sweet confections, as well as in savory-sweet salads. But the most common option was the one that's still familiar to us today — at breakfast, chilled, sliced in half, sprinkled with sugar and (optionally) crowned with a bright-red candied cherry.

In 1911, an Iowa woman calling herself "Gude Wife" wrote in to the "The Housemother's Exchange," a national advice column, to recommend salting grapefruits. "Salt neutralizes the bitter taste as well as the acidity," she advised. Others wrote in to back up this endorsement. "I think you will find that many Southerners always salt their grapefruit," wrote "M.B.L." from Philadelphia. "I am sure that if you once try it you will agree with me that it is good." In fact, salting fruit remains a regional practice alive and well in the South.

Go salty for Uncle Sam—
But when World War I disrupted the global sugar supply chain, causing sugar shortages and skyrocketing prices, grapefruit sales plummeted. Americans were apparently reluctant to eat the fruit if they couldn't drown out its pungency with sugar.

Panicked, the Florida Citrus Exchange, in an effort to boost sales, launched a national advertising campaign in 1919 to convince Americans that grapefruit "need no sugar, and never should have much." After the sugar crisis ended, so did the campaign. But when World War II came along, and sugar once again became scarce, salt and grapefruit's high profile romance was rekindled — this time by salt manufacturers. "Vitamin-rich Grapefruit — a 'Victory Food Special' — is one of the fruits Uncle Sam advises you to eat," explained one 1943 ad from Morton's Salt.

Ads like this made an overt appeal to patriotic sentiments. Eating grapefruit with salt was a way civilians could support the war effort, both by consuming nutritious, domestically grown food, and by limiting their use of rationed sugar. The campaign proved so successful that it continued into the 1950s, long after rationing had ended.

The science behind adding salt for sweetness—
Even as salt-makers boasted about the taste-enhancing effects of salt on grapefruit, they were at a loss to explain just why the combination worked. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that Gary Beauchamp and Paul Breslin at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia began to unravel the complex, dynamic process through which salt transforms and enhances flavor. By testing the interaction between three taste sensations — salty, bitter and sweet — they found that salt increased the perception of sweetness by diminishing our ability to taste bitterness. Beauchamp, now emeritus director of Monell, explains that this is because of the ions in the salt, which block many of the receptors on our tongues that detect bitterness.

But would reducing bitterness make something taste sweeter? Our sense of taste doesn't just play out on the surface of our tongues. Our brains receive signals about what we eat from our mouths, noses, eyes, ears and skin, integrating and interpreting these different messages to produce the complex, multi-sensory experience that we know as flavor. There is strong evidence that, at this cognitive level, bitterness and sweetness inhibit each other. In other words, the more bitter something tastes, the less sweet we perceive it to be, and vice versa. Grapefruit is rich in bitter-tasting plant compounds, especially one called naringin. By diminishing our tongue's ability to sense naringin and other bitter compounds, salt also produces a secondary cognitive effect, which we perceive as "a relative bump in sweetness," according to Breslin, a professor of nutrition at Rutgers University.

Something else might be going on, too, he says. Salt changes the chemistry of water. In a watery food like grapefruit, the addition of salt makes it easier for volatile molecules — the chemicals responsible for odor — to launch themselves into the air, where we can breathe them in and smell them, intensifying our experience of the fragrance of the fruit. So that enhanced scent might heighten our enjoyment as well.

Yet other cultures have long embraced the beauty of pairing salt and fruit. In Mexican and border cuisines, it is common to douse fruits (especially mango) with a combination of salt, chili powder and lime. Similarly, salting fruit like guava or, say, an unripe mango is common practice in India. Thai prik-kab-klua combines salt with the heat of fresh red chilies and sugar, and is served on tart fruits. Chinese li hing powder, a puckery mauve mixture based on salted, pickled dried plums, is often sprinkled on apples and pineapples.

This ain't your grandma's grapefruit—
Why does the practice remain relatively uncommon in the U.S. now? In the case of grapefruit, the explanation may lie not with the salt, but with the fruit. We are eating different kinds of grapefruit than Americans were eating in the 1940s and 1950s. Generally speaking, as the 20th century progressed, grapefruits became redder, sweeter and more completely seedless. Currently, about three-quarters of the grapefruits that we eat are red. Redder grapefruits contain less naringin, and therefore taste less bitter. This means that there is less of an incentive to curb bitterness with a dash of salt.

So, if you have never salted your grapefruit, give it a try—you might find you like it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Healthy Eating Department - Why is High Fructose Corn Syrup so scary?

Recently, a UCSF researcher stumbled upon the fact that, back in the 1960’s, the Sugar Research Foundation (now the Sugar Association) paid three Harvard scientists to minimize the link between sugar and health suggesting that saturated fat is more the problem. Now we are learning the reverse is true. And, not all sugars are created equal. Here’s the breakdown...

Regular cane sugar (sucrose) is made of two sugar molecules bound tightly together—glucose and fructose in equal amounts. (50/50). Glucose is our main fuel source for energy. Glucose is a simple sugar in foods that are easily broken down by every cell in our body. The enzymes in our digestive tract break down the sucrose into glucose and fructose, which are then absorbed into the body. Natural fructose, from fruits and vegetables, has good nutrients and fiber to slow down digestion and make us feel full. Fructose the ingredient, is digested so quickly you don’t feel full and you eat more. More importantly, it contains no essential nutrients and is completely “empty” in calories.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is bad because it consists of glucose and the ingredient fructose, not in a 50-50 ratio, but a 55-45 fructose to glucose ratio in an unbound form. Since there is no chemical bond between them (glucose and fructose) no digestion is required. The glucose is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and the ingredient fructose is metabolized in the liver and triggers lipogenesis (the production of fats like triglycerides and cholesterol). This is believed to be the major cause of liver damage in our country and causes a condition called “fatty liver” which affects over 70 million Americans. Dr. Joseph Mercola, a NY Times best selling author and personality states that HFCS is as dangerous to the liver as alcohol. The ingredient fructose can cause visceral fat accumulation—the worst type of body fat. It’s also linked to health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, body-wide inflammation and obesity.

Dr. Mark Hyman, MD—best selling author on nutrition and wellness, and a regular on PBS—states that HFCS and cane sugar are NOT biochemically identical or processed the same way by the body. HFCS is an industrial food product. The sugars are extracted through a chemical enzymatic process resulting in a chemically and biologically novel compound called HFCS. HFCS contains contaminants including mercury because of chloralkali products used in its manufacturing and are not regulated or measured by the FDA.

The USDA reported the ANNUAL average for sugar consumption in the US in 2013 was 128.4 lbs per person and that corn sweeteners made up over 55% of that (58.6 lbs per person). That is a staggering number. The USDA recommends a 2,000 calorie diet include no more than 40 grams (1.5 oz) of added sugar per day (that’s about 10 teaspoons a day, or 32 lbs a year!). That’s a long way from caveman days when our hunter gatherer ancestors consumed the equivalent of 20 teaspoons per year.

Products with HFCS are sweeter and cheaper than products made with cane sugar. To be fair, HFCS is not the same as pure corn syrup; but corn syrup is GMO, which is another issue altogether. Interestingly, Karo Corn Syrup in retail is pure corn syrup while the foodservice product is HFCS. What can you do? You could use cane, agave, maple syrup and raw honey if you want a better liquid sugar. These products might cost you more, but they are healthier. Our health matters!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Healthy Eating Department - Gluten-Free is Not a Fad

By: Cecily Costa

Though an estimated 1% of Americans have celiac disease (about 3 million people), US News & World Report believes approximately 6% of the US population have “gluten sensitivity” (headache, eczema, tingling of extremities, iron deficiency, allergies, internal discomfort...the list goes on). That means about 7% of customers, twice the amount of people who eat vegan, eat gluten-free. Gluten sensitivity is even believed to be linked to autism and other autoimmune diseases. 

Until recently, people with gluten sensitivity did not test positive for celiac. But, this past July, UPI reported that researchers at Columbia University Medical Center confirmed that people without celiac disease can experience a body-wide immune response to wheat thought to be related to intestinal cell damage and a weakening of the intestinal barrier. Translation—people with a wheat sensitivity, but not celiac disease or a wheat allergy, are not imagining symptoms they feel after eating wheat, according to this new study.

It wasn’t long ago that most restaurants didn’t even have a vegetarian option on the menu. Vegetarian dishes were done on the-fly without much thought or finesse. Now there are all sorts of great meatless options on menus everywhere and most of these dishes are more profitable for operators too! Hello 2016. 

How many of your menu items reflect gluten-free options? If the answer is zero, you might want to consider adding a few gluten-free options, or better yet, tweaking some of your existing recipes by just switching out one item (see below for some easy ideas). 

A 2015 Gallup poll found 20% of Americans were including gluten-free foods in their diet and a 2014 Consumer Reports survey found ⅓ of adults where trying to cut gluten from their diets. And if that is not enough to show what a strong trend the gluten-free market is, the US retail packaged food market has grown to $1.77 billion in 2014. That’s a huge number! Regardless if you think gluten free is a fad, or that some items are just marketing themselves as gluten free for publicity, you can’t deny the powerful impact this is having on our economy. 

Speaking as a gluten sensitive person, I can’t tell you how challenging it can be to dine out at a restaurant where there are few to none regular menu options and the wait staff is uninformed . I went to one restaurant recently where they had a totally separate menu for gluten and dairy allergies! This took the stress off me and the waiter, and I can’t help but think of the relief the kitchen feels from not have as many special orders—hat’s off Stark Restaurant Group!! 

So get on board the gluten free train, it will satisfy the needs of your customers, and also your bottom-line! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What’s all this talk about canned tuna from Sausalito?

By: Cecily Costa

There is a new tuna on the market (Safe Catch) that is getting some buzz thru a lot of radio ads and marketing regarding Mercury testing.

I have been asked by a few customers and sales rep about them so I would like to share what I know. For the sake of this article, I will compare them to our highest quality and domestically produced albacore tuna on the market—Oregon Seafoods.
  • Safe Catch is not domestically produced. Their office is in Marin, and the tuna is packed in Thailand. They produce “Elite” (Skipjack) and Albacore.
  • Safe Catch albacore tuna is harvested in northern Pacific and southern Pacific oceans. Oregon Seafoods is a domestic product fished off California, Oregon and Washington waters.
  • Safe Catch proudly states it is high in Omega 3’s and lists a fat content of 1.5 grams per serving. Oregon Seafoods fat content is 6 grams per serving. The higher the fat, the better! Higher fat content also reflects the content of healthy Omega 3’s.
  • Safe Catch markets their tuna as better protein at 35 grams per can—that’s 14 g per 2 oz serving. Oregon Seafoods has 16 grams of protein for the same size serving.
Mercury testing each individual tuna may seem like a game changer, but it does not tell you the whole story. It seems they have new proprietary equipment to test each piece of tuna for Mercury, which is different. Currently, the industry standard is to test schools of fish on a regular basis.

They claim their albacore testing is 3x stricter than the US FDA’s 1.0 parts per million (ppm). That would come out to .33 ppm. Currently the industry standard for albacore is .33 ppm. Below is a chart from The Safina Center (formerly Blue Ocean Institute) in New York, a well respected non-profit sustainable seafood program (more at

The Safina Center also discovered that sunlight in shallow waters of the Pacific Ocean can destroy up to 80% of methyl-mercury in fish. Conversely, in the deep oxygen-poor water, bacteria are converting significant amounts of mercury to the problematic methylmercury. This is why fish that live and feed in deeper waters have more mercury in their system.

The industry now believes that as long as there is MORE selenium than mercury in tuna, you are fine. Basically, it is Mother Nature’s way of taking care of balancing things out.

Both the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council ( and the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation (CHMSF have published information regarding selenium, see chart below. 

So, how does mercury get into our food supply? Mercury is naturally occurring from volcanic activity and weathering of rocks, and human activities like mining and fuel. Once released, mercury enters air, water and soil, and moves from one to another until it comes to rest in sediments or landfills.

Albacore tuna typically live up to 10-12 years in the warmer south Pacific. Domestic (north Pacific) albacore tuna is caught in more shallow, colder waters where the fish harvested are typically 3-4 years old and weigh 7-24 lbs...too young to have accumulated harmful levels of Mercury. Oregon Seafood's albacore is between 3-5 years old.

All fish have some trace amounts of mercury, most fish have less than 0.1 parts per million (ppm). The general rule of thumb is that the larger or older the fish, the higher the level of methylmercury in its flesh. Up until recently, mercury content of tuna was averaged for all species, making no distinction between small, young albacore from the cold north Pacific and the much larger, older tuna from the warm south Pacific. So Oregon State University researchers sought to compare mercury content among all the major commercial species of tuna. They found that small, young albacore tuna caught off the Pacific Northwest coast have low mercury levels, below most commercial brands and below FDA guidelines. In fact one test by the Oregon Albacore Commission and the Western Fishboat Owners Association had mercury levels at 0.14 ppm (that is HALF what the other tuna is advertising).

Traceability—it is difficult for the FDA to police the tuna industry worldwide. In many areas it is self-governed. The strictest controls for responsibly fished tuna comes from domestic producers (fished, packed and processed in the US). Fish that is harvested in Asia and India is at best spot checked for origin, species and by-catch. Oregon Seafoods is proudly fished, produced and packed in the US. They buy directly from family fishing boats that take care of their catch. They pay living and fair wages to their employees and fisherman. All of their product is traceable down the to boat and day. They don’t have extra marketing dollars for radio or print ad campaigns. The put their monies into producing the best tuna available on the market.

I did a cutting of a 5 ounce can of Safe Catch and another domestic albacore tuna the other day. The most surprising result was the drained weight of the Safe Catch was 4 ounces. The drained weight of the other brand was 4.8 ounces. And the Safe Catch tuna was more expensive.

Let me show you the difference of Oregon Seafoods and tell you who has it on their menu. Contact me today for a cutting. See and taste the difference!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Food Cost 101

By: Cecily Costa

Most people think that a 35 lb jug of oil is 5 gallons—in fact, it is less. Because the unique density of each oil type and brand, the number of gallons per jug can be different. Look at how you are costing your oil to make sure you are getting the correct food cost.

Type of Oil        35 lb Jug        Gallons        Actual Pounds        Liters

                           Canola                  1                    4.52                  39.39
                           EVOO                                          1                                                  3.8
                         Grapeseed              1                    4.62                   37.89        

                            Peanut                 1                    4.47                   39.15

                          Pure OO                1                    4.61                   37.94

                         Rice Bran               1                    4.45                   39.33

                              Soy                    1                    4.56                   38.39

                        Sunflower                1                   4.52                    38.72

                        Vegetable                 1                   4.4                      39.39

Also, you may want to look at transitioning to Expeller Pressed oils if you haven’t already. These oils are free of Hexane, a petroleum derivative now getting a lot of attention as being unhealthy. Hexane free oils are called Extra Virgin, Organic and Expeller Pressed. If you are working hard to make your menu clean and healthy, then you will want to investigate switching out your commodity bulk oils. We carry a wide variety of healthy bulk size oils. Ask your sales rep about doing a cutting and cost analysis. You might be surprised how affordable they are.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Shrimp Dilemma: Wild or Farmed?

By: Cecily Costa

We Americans eat about 3x more shrimp than we did 35 years ago, says Consumer Reports—that’s about 4 pounds per person, per year. Over 90% is imported, primarily farmed from India, Indonesia and Thailand.

Most shrimp labels are confusing and deceptive. “Natural” or “wild “shrimp does not necessarily mean fresher, more flavorful or safer. Organic? There is no US standard for organic labeling of shrimp and “natural” or worse, “environmentally aware” mean nothing. Sometimes shrimp is mislabeled. If your wild shrimp is consistent in size, shape and color, it may not even be wild. If your wild shrimp has the shell still on but has a clean vein, it is probably farmed (farmed shrimp stop being fed before harvesting so that their veins empty). Consumer Reports even found some “chemical free” shrimp tested positive for antibiotics, which, of course, are chemicals. As far as taste, wild shrimp can often have a briny flavor because of natural compounds called bromophenols as well as iodine. This flavor is generally stronger from shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico and milder in the Florida Keys and the Atlantic. Nutritionally, they are the same.

Consumer Reports recommends buying shrimp certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and those listed as “Best Choices” or “Good Alternative” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide. Up until now, only WILD shrimp had this certification.

We are the first in the United States to stock 'Pond To Fork' shrimp from Sustainable Shrimp Initiative™ (SSI) - which is labeled “Good Alternative” or “Yellow”. SSI has created a sustainable solution for shrimp. This is NO commodity shrimp. Traditional farmed shrimp uses 1 pond per crop, SSI uses 3 ponds—one to grow, one to clean the just used water and one to hold the cleaned water for the next cycle. And it’s “Never Ever” - no drugs or antibiotics are used, at any point in the production process. When working at the pond level of the supply chain, not only is sustainability addressed, but flavor and eating characteristics are also brought into consideration.

SSI’s water management method of infrequent exchange ponds is a game changer. Contained Aquaculture (CA) farm raised shrimp from Thailand is the first generation of environmentally sound, sustainable farm raised shrimp to receive the positive Monterey Bay Aquarium rating. In addition to water management, the CA method of farm raising shrimp continuously monitors other factors such as habitat, chemicals, feed, and disease. The process is one where water is naturally cleansed with plant and wildlife. This allows the water to be reused for multiple harvests or grow cycles. It should be no surprise that Europe, with its higher food quality standards, is the largest consumer of CA shrimp (they even call it out on the menus). CA farm raised shrimp are significantly better for the environment in several ways:
  •  CA shrimp is the ONLY “Good Alternative” or “Yellow” rated in the world!!
  •  3 pond versus 1 pond system
  •  Committed to producing good shrimp that doesn’t hurt the environment
  •  Complete traceability
Though wild shrimp from the US were among the least likely to test positive for bacteria or chemicals, there is still need for concern. Nets dragged along the ocean floor can severely damage the ecosystem. Though there are nets to protect turtles and other fish from shrimp nets, some estimates say that at least 1 to 3 pounds of other species can be killed for every pound of wild shrimp. There is a US federal law requiring shrimpers to have these nets, though a law on Louisiana’s books prohibits the enforcement of those rules for their local fisherman. Despite the fact that some nets have roller balls which are gentler on the ocean flour, the majority use heavy nets that grate the fragile floor and everything in its path. Basically, the bigger the trawler, the bigger and heavier the net. The fact is, the majority of wild shrimp on the market is caught on big trawlers. Google it, you will see that “wild” is not always the environmentally best choice.

True, farmed shrimp are usually grown in huge industrial tanks or shallow man-made ponds where they are fed commercial pellets, sometimes containing antibiotics to ward off disease—one pond per crop. Though imported farm-raised shrimp is NOT supposed to be raised using antibiotics or pesticides, the fact of the matter is that the FDA “examines” (i.e. reads the label) less than 4% of imported shrimp and “tests “under 1%. Consumer Reports found that 28% of raw imported shrimp tested positive for antibiotics. Environmental pollution and disease, which are symptomatic of traditional aquaculture methods, are the reasons why other Asian farm raised shrimp continue to receive the negative rating of “AVOID” or “RED” by watchdog groups that monitor sustainable and environmentally sound aquaculture practices. Note, traditional farmed shrimp from Thailand have had the cleanest record regarding bacteria over Vietnam, Ecuador, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh.

We think our farm raised CA shrimp from SSI is the answer to this dilemma. Pricing for this shrimp is really good too. It will save you about $1.50-$2.00 per pound over wild and only cost around $1.00 more per pound ($0.25 portion) over traditional farm raised. Available now — 21/25 (#477500) and 26/30 (#457870) peeled, deveined, tail on, IQF. Ask your sales rep for a sample and do a cutting on what you are using now. Maybe this is your answer to the dilemma too!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Vegan 101

By: Cecily Costa

The word “vegan” was invented by Donald Watson, the founder of the UK Vegan Society in 1944. He was born in 1910 and died at the age of 95 in his home in Northern England. In 1944, he got together with a group of friends to find a word that would describe their diets. He suggested “vegan,” using the first three and last two letters of “vegetarian.” A vegan is a person who does not eat or use animal products. (Sourced from and

Oh no, 10 vegetarian foods that surprisingly are NOT vegan:

  1. White Sugar—refined white sugar is bleached in a process that entails running the sugar through “bone char” or “natural car-bon”...basically charred cattle bones.
  2. Vanilla (non-dairy) Ice Cream—the “natural vanilla flavor” may come from Castoreum, a yellowish-brown, musky secretion from beavers.
  3. Orange Juice with Omega-3’s & Vitamin D—unless they’re synthetic Omega-3’s, they come from anchovies, tilapia and/or sardines. Orange Juice with Vitamin D generally comes from lanolin, a waxy substance from sheep’s wool.
  4. Bananas—if it not “organic” bananas have probably been sprayed with the preservative Chi-tosan, a bacteria-fighting compound made from shrimp and crab shells.
  5. Bagels—turns out that some “dough conditioners” contain the enzyme L Cysteine, sourced from duck and chicken feathers.
  6. Red Candies—”natural red #4”, aka carminic acid, is made from crushed up beetles.
  7. Hard-Coated Candies—”shellac” or “confectioner’s glaze” (and the stuff in your manicure and hairspray) comes from a resin from the female Lac Bug. Don’t worry, M&M’s are safe!!!
  8. Beer & Wine—some are clarified using Isinglass, a gelatin from fish bladders (vegetarian clarifi-ers are made from clay or algae).
  9. Salted Peanuts—some brands use gelatin (from pork).

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Other Reason to Salt Pasta Water

By: Cecily Costa

Hopefully, we all know that seasoning pasta water will add more flavor to your dish. How much salt should you add to your pasta water? A common opinion is that the water should taste like salt water, or 1.5 tablespoons of salt to 1 pound of pasta. This will ensure your pasta is seasoned throughout and needs less added salt at the end.

The other reason for seasoning the pasta is to help reduce the gelation of the starch. The starch in pasta is the form of microscopic grains. When these grains come into contact with cold or lukewarm water, they become trapped (think cornstarch in cold water), but when the water is hot, they swell up like balloons and merge with each you starch gelation.

Does salt help with cooking time? Really, no. You would need to add a lot of salt (20% !) to make even a marginal difference of just a few degrees. What type of salt should you use? Anything except iodized salt because it can give off a metallic taste.

Some chefs believe you should salt boiling water only. Why? One, because the salt dissolves completely and thoroughly versus it being put into cold water and not dissolving completely. And secondly, salt corrodes metal so the longer the salt is in the pot, it might tarnish the finish.

So while you are seasoning your pasta water, you might want to add some acid (lemon or cream of tartar) to your pasta water too! Tap water in most cities is made alkaline (including the Bay area), which increases the starch loss from the pasta to the water, making the pasta stickier. Most tap water leans to the alkaline side of the chart. Adding some vinegar or lemon juice to water to raise its acidity will keep the pasta from sticking. How much? You'll have to experiment.

Resources &