Algin

Purpose:

As a food additive, algin is used as a gelling agent.  It is used to thicken and/or stabilize various foods.

Description:

Algin or alginic acid is a compound abundant in the cell walls of brown algae and certain forms of kelp.1

picture of kelp

Algin and associated salts (sodium alginate, calcium alginate, ammonium alginate, and potassium alginate) are collectively referred to as alginates.  They belong to a group of chemicals called polysaccarides.  Other polysaccarides include gum arabic, sterculia gum, carob bean gum, guar gum, gum ghatti, gum tragacanth, carrageenan, methyl cellulose, and agar-agar.

They are used as a thickeners for colours in printing textiles, glazing and sizing paper, special printers’ inks, paints, cosmetics, insecticides, and pharmaceutical preparations.  They are also used in making molds, castings and in taking dental impressions.

One unique use is as a hardener and thickener for joining threads in weaving.  Once the fabric has been formed, the alginates may be dissolved, giving special effects to the material.

Common Uses:

Alginates are commonly used in jams, jellies and marmalades.

They are used as stabilizers in prepared whipped-cream (pressure-dispensed whipped cream) where they help provide a creamy texture and prevent formation of ice crystals.2

They are used in making popsicles where they help provide a smoother texture by ensuring that the fruit flavors are evenly distributed in the ice crystals during freezing.  They also help to stop dripping.

Ammonium alginate is commonly found in pie filling and gravy.

Calcium alginate is used in icings and imitation fruit pulp.

Sodium alginate is used in desserts (ice cream), puddings, sauces, toppings, and edible films.

Side Effects / Health Issues:

No known adverse effects, however large quantities may inhibit the absorption of some nutrients

In 1973, the FDA concluded that there was no public health hazard if sodium alginate was consumed at low levels.  However, they could not make any conclusions about it’s safety if consumption amounts were increased.3

E Number:

Algin (or alginic acid) has an E number of 400.

Sodium Alginate has an E number of 401.

Potassium Alginate has an E number of 402.

Ammonium Alginate has an E number of 403.

Calcium Alginate has an E number of 404.

Other Notes:

Sodium alginate is commonly used in a technique called spherification.  This technique is used to make faux caviar with some very unique flavours.  The following video shows the process using blueberry syrup:

More information can be found at Khymos, the producer of the video.

Personal Notes:

Alginates are derived from algae and I suppose you could say they are somewhat “natural”.  Still, it all seems a bit too industrial for my liking.  I’ll probably still eat foods containing them (until I start making my own ice cream at least).

If you want to avoid these kinds of chemicals, buy and cook your own fresh unprocessed food.  This is my preferred approach.

Do you have questions or comments about this post? 

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.  Thanks.

 

Sources:

1. Wikipedia

2. College of Heath and Human Sciences, Oregon State University

3. FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) Report

 

Posted in Firming Agent, Food Additives, Ingredients

Potassium sorbate

picture of ingredient list containing calcium sodium edta

What is Potassium Sorbate?

Potassium sorbate is a common food preservative.

Description:

Potassium sorbate is a white crystalline powder. It is a potassium salt version of sorbic acid.

Sorbic acid is a naturally occurring polyunsaturated fat that has antimicrobial properties.  That means that it helps to prevent the growth of molds, yeasts, and fungus.  It was originally discovered in the 1850’s, and was derived from the Mountain Ash Tree.  Today, potassium sorbate is synthetically created.1

Common Uses:

Potassium sorbate is one of the most common food preservatives.  It is used to slow the growth of molds and yeasts in foods.  It is commonly found in margarine, wines, cheeses, yogurts, soft drinks, and baked goods.  It makes a good preservative because it does not have any taste or after taste.

picture of ingredient list containing potassium sorbate

Potassium Sorbate

Potassium Sorbate in Wine:

When brewing wine, yeast is used to convert sugar to alcohol.  This process is called fermentation.  When the wine reaches the desired flavour and body, you want to stop the yeast from growing.  Potassium sorbate is added to inhibit yeast growth.

Side Effects / Health Issues:

Potassium sorbate has been used has a food preservative for many years.  There have been extensive long-term tests that have confirmed its safety and it is on the Center for Science in the Public Interest list of safe additives.3

However, many people have reportedly suffered from allergic reactions to potassium sorbate and other food preservatives.2

E Number:

Potassium sorbate has an E number of 202.

Other food preservatives have E numbers in the range 200 to 299.  This includes preservatives such as sodium benzoate (211), formic acid (236), and sodium nitrite (250).

Personal Notes:

Potassium sorbate is everywhere.  If you’re going to eat processed foods, this additive is almost impossible to avoid.

If you want to avoid these kinds of chemicals, buy and cook your own fresh unprocessed food.  Based solely on my own instincts, this is my preferred approach.

Do you have questions or comments about this post? 

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.  Thanks.

 

Sources:

[1] USDA Agricultural Marketing Service

[2] Wikipedia

[3] Center for Science in the Public Interest

Posted in Food Additives, Preservative

Storing Beans

picture of dried beans

Storing Beans

Fresh Beans:

Tips for storing beans

Beans in the Garden

Fresh beans are highly perishable.  They need to be stored in a cold moist eviroment to prevent them from wilting or drying out.  The easiest thing to do is to store your beans in the refrigerator crisper in a plastic container or a perforated plastic bag.

Fresh beans can generally be kept for 8 to 12 days.

Tips:

  • Don’t trim the beans before storing.
  • Don’t wash beans before storing
  • Before using the green beans, wash them under running water. Trim the ends of the beans by snapping them off or cutting them with a knife.

Dry Beans:

picture of dried beans

Dried Beans

Dry beans such as kidney beans, navy beans, and pinto beans are very easy to store, and can be kept for years.

Dried beans should be stored in dry, dark, cool locations.  Glass jars are great for storing beans.  Ideally, they should be kept off the floor and out of reach of rodents or other pests.

Exposure to oxygen can cause the beans to turn rancid.  To prevent this, remove all of the air if you are storing beans in plastic bags.  If you are using glass or plastic jars, you can buy oxygen absorbing packets to place in each jar.

Posted in Food Storage, Fresh Food

Learn How to Store Grapes

picture of grapes on the vine
picture of grapes - how to store grapes

Grapes on the Vine

How to Store Grapes

Fresh grapes are too good to go to waste.  Eat them right away!
Otherwise, store grapes to keep them tasting great for as long as possible using these tips…

Store Grapes in the Refrigerator

The ideal temperature for storing grapes is 32°F to 35°F (0°C to 2°C).

Prevent Moisture Loss

One method of preventing moisture loss would be to keep your grapes should be loosely wrapped in plastic.

Don’t Wash Your Grapes Before Storing

Never wash grapes before storing them.  Too much moisture will damage the grapes.

When you are ready to eat the grapes, hold them under cool running water to rinse them. Drain, dry, and enjoy.

Store Away from Ethylene Producing Fruits and Vegetables

Grapes produce very little ethylene, but they are very sensitive to it. It is best to not store grapes with high ethylene producers like apples, kiwi, or pears.

How Long Can You Store Grapes?

Grapes can easily be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
You can store grapes in a bowl on the counter for about a week.

Other Options

If all else fails, try using your grapes in some of these recipes:
50+1 Recipes for Grapes
 

Posted in Food Storage

Scoville Scale

Picture of a green pepper

“Think of the cooking of the Southwest: Arizona, anything on the border of Mexico, the rich chili culture, the unbelievable stews”

-Mario Batali

The Scoville Scale

When you’re cooking, you need to know the preferences of those that you are serving. Some people enjoy really spicy foods and others (myself included) would rather have something on the mild side.  The Scoville Scale can help you determine the amount of heat contained within various pepper varieties.

There are a lot of different kinds of peppers. Some can be very spicy while others have very little or no heat. The heat in peppers is caused by a chemical called capsaicin. In 1912, a man named Wilbur Scoville created a scale based on the amount capsaicin found in different pepper varieties. On this scale, a sweet green bell pepper, which has no capsaicin would have a score of 0 heat units. Hot chili peppers like habaneros would have a score of 200000 or more heat units.

How is the Scoville Scale Calculated?

The original method used by Scoville was to dilute the capsaicin oil extracted from peppers with sugar water. A panel of tasters would determine when the heat was just barely detectable, and the amount of dilution at that point was measured. This method of using human testers has now been replaced with more scientific methods. Still, there are inaccuracies. The amount of capsaicin present in a pepper can be affected by growing conditions such as soil and humidity.

You can still use the basic principle in your own kitchen. For example, if you find that your chili is too spicy for your taste, try adding a bit of sugar to balance the heat. This sweet chili recipe is a result of doing just that.

Scoville Scale Scores for Popular Pepper Varieties

The following Scoville Scale lists the score of some common pepper varieties.


Scoville Heat Units Variety
0 Sweet Bell Pepper
100-500 Pimento
100-1000 Cubanelle
1000-2000 Ancho
2500-5000 Jalapeño
5000-10000 Chipotle, a Jalapeño pepper that has been smoked
6000-23000 Serrano
30000-50000 Cayenne Pepper
50000-100000 Thai Pepper
100000-325000 Scotch Bonnet
100000-350000 Habanero

So, what kind of peppers do you like? Do you like hot or mild?

Please leave a comment and let us know.

Posted in Fun, Ingredients, Spices

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