Saturday, June 23, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Gazpacho!

     As I think I've mentioned several times before, one of my eating quirks is that I hate hot liquids.  Beverages should always be cold, in my view.  And when I was a kid I used to put ice cubes in soups to cool them down, before I figured, "why bother?" and stopped eating this disappointing substance entirely.  This dislike also applies to most stews, since they're at least soup-like.  Anyway, whenever I've told people about this over the years, in addition to the disbelief and eye-rolling, they often ask, "What about soups that are supposed to be cold, like gazpacho?"  To which I've always replied that I've never tried these, but would do so if I had the chance.
     Well, that chance finally arrived.  The Food Lion supermarket in Eden, North Carolina had gazpacho.  A 500 ml. (16.9 ounce) carton, distributed by a company that I've discussed several times before, the New Jersey-based Goya.  Goya only distributed though--the gazpacho was actually made in Spain (perhaps on a plain, I don't know).  And, because of gazpacho's nature I didn't even need to heat it up on a stove or in a microwave--all I had to do was open the top.
     The origins of gazpacho are quite murky.  The Southern Spanish region of Andalusia is always given credit, but the "when" is extremely conjectural.  Some think that Roman soldiers introduced a precursor to it roughly 2000 years ago, others maintain it was a North African-inspired dish, from between about A.D. 700 to the late 1400's.  Part of the problem is that what's referred to as gazpacho can be many different things.  The oldest version is thought to have been a makeshift, rough soup consisting of stale bread, water, olive oil, and garlic.  But modern versions are very diverse--many of the different cities in Andalusia have their own specific takes on this soup.  Some of the various ingredients used include avocado, parsley, watermelon, cucumber, grapes, bell peppers, onion, wine vinegar, meat stock, and seafood.  The color can range from red, to green, to white.  Finally, in the 19th century many cooks started using tomatoes in it.  This type, associated with the city of Seville, has become the best known one, especially outside of Spain.  Even the name "gazpacho" is wrapped in mystery.  Some think its Greek in origin, other Arabic.  The Hebrew word "gazez," which means, "break into little pieces" is another contender.  So too is the Latin word "caspa," which similarly means "little pieces" or "fragments."  Finally, the nutrition of most versions of gazpacho is impressive too, with all of the veggies.  Some refer to it as "liquid salad."
     The kind I had was obviously the popular, Seville-based one, as it was made from tomatoes, green and red peppers, cucumbers, olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, and salt.  It was clearly professionally blended, as I couldn't really pick out recognizable chunks of specific vegetables.  It was red, of course, and looked like tomato juice.  The package said it was commonly eaten both out of a bowl like regular soup, or drunk out of a glass as a thick beverage.  I tried it both ways.  Also, I had mine chilled, as I'd put it in the fridge several days before.  To my astonishment, I enjoyed it.  It wasn't great, but it was decent.  Nicely tangy and spicy, and refreshing.  I had no trouble finishing the entire carton.
     I know this sounds strange, but this experience was oddly traumatic for me.  Previously I've always hated tomato soup, V-8, etc., in addition to loathing soups in general.  It was a similar reaction to my liking butter beans (a type of lima bean) back in my December 16, 2017 post.  It's almost a challenge to my very identity.  I don't know who I am anymore!
     But, more seriously, I've added at least one soup to my list of acceptable foods.  I'll also have renewed interest in trying other cold soups, like the Korean changuk (aka naengguk), the French vichyssoise, the Russian okroshka, and the other Spanish kin of gazpacho, such as salmorejo, pipirrana cojondongo, porra antequerana, and ajoblanco.
     I won't, however, retry any hot soups anytime soon.  Save at the point of a weapon, or in a starvation situation.  I haven't changed THAT much.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Plant-Based "Milks"

     Since ancient times, many folks have been interested in consuming non-dairy milks--whether it was from lactose intolerance, allergies, or to avoid using/exploiting animals.  The first one appears to have been almond milk, which was developed in the Middle East around the 13th century.  Since that time, many others have been invented, from a whole host of grains and seeds.  The most popular are "milks" made from soy, rice, hemp, coconut, barley, walnut, flaxseed, pumpkin, quinoa, and oats, but others exist, too.  Although soy was long the plant-based milk king, it was finally overtaken by almond milk in 2013.  Currently plant-based milks make up almost 10% of the total milk market in the U.S.  Anyway, upon seeing an entire shelf of the stuff, I snatched up the oddest ones I could find, which were a pea/tapioca/potato based one (Veggemo, from Global Gardens Group), a hemp seed one (Tempt, from Living Harvest Foods), and an oat one (from Pacific Foods).
     Global Gardens Group (GGG)is a Canadian company.  They state that their goal is "helping to enhance people's health, well being, and to better the quality of life."  They maintain that plant based milks are healthier, one example being that they do not contain bad cholesterol.  Also, these products they feel are more environmentally friendly (less greenhouse gases, for example), and are more ethical, since animals are not being exploited.  Aside from the vanilla flavor I got, they also make original and unsweetened kinds.  GGG says that the peas are for protein, nutrition, and flavor, the tapioca is for nutrients and the creamy texture, and the potato makes the liquid smooth and milky white.  The company also states that the milks are high in Vitamins D, Vitamin B12, and calcium, and lack cholesterol, gluten, and soy (I didn't know that last one was a concern).  They are furthermore non-GMO, vegan, and kosher.  Oddly, President and CEO Rob Harrison previously introduced Haagen-Dazs  and Ben & Jerry's ice creams to Canada, which are distinctly dairy-based, of course.  Evidently he had a change of heart.
     I was unable to find out much about Living Harvest Foods.  They were founded in 2002, are based in Connecticut in the U.S., and their parent company is Healthy Brands Collective Corporation.  Other products include hemp-based foods, and non-dairy frozen desserts.  They're also big on environmental sustainability, and are gluten-free.  The hemp seed milk I drank is purported to be a good source of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and omegas, but it wasn't very specific about that.  They also clearly had "no THC" printed on their carton, no doubt to dissuade both potheads and those afraid of being arrested by the DEA.  Since there is no THC in it, you can't get high on hemp milk, nor will you get false positives on drug tests, as sometimes happens with poppy seed products (because of the poppy plant being the source of opiates).
     Pacific Foods was begun in 1987, in the U.S. state of Oregon.  Aside from plant-based milks, they manufacture soups, meals, beans, and sauces, to name a few.  Weirdly, though, they're not completely meat-free.  They sell bone broth, and have several other products that contain chicken and beef.  These animals are evidently free-range, locally grown, and from environmentally conscious farms and all, but still, that struck me.  I realize that some people who are against say, factory farmed meats and dairy products, but not these products as a whole, but it still seems like an odd combination, to go along with their meal alternatives and plant-based "milks."  On a trivial note, the company's VP of Operations is named Joe McCarthy.  I think if I was Mr. McCarthy's parents, I would have gone with a first name that wasn't identical to one of country's worst, most destructive senators.

1) Veggemo vanilla "milk,"Global Gardens Group.  Aside from the pea/tapioca from cassava/potato starch, it also contains water, organic cane sugar, sunflower oil, sea salt, gellan gum, natural flavors, and various vitamins and nutrients.  Had a slightly brownish-white color.  Odd taste.  Rather watery.  Some vanilla overtones.  Kind of "meh" overall--not good, but not really bad, either.

2) Tempt hemp "milk," Living Harvest Foods.  In addition to the hemp seed base, this one contains water, pure cane sugar, brown rice syrup, sunflower lecithin, sea salt, gellan gum, and various vitamins and nutrients.  An off white color.  Thicker texture, less watery than the Veggemo.  Better taste, too.  Decent as a beverage, and poured over Cheerios cereal.

3) Oat "milk," Pacific Foods.  As with the others, this one also had sea salt, water, gellan gum, and various vitamins and nutrients, to go along with the main oat base.  Brownish-white hue.  Tastes pretty oat-y, which to me is a positive, as I'm quite the oat fan.  A bit sweet.  Liked as a beverage, and also with cereal.  (Cheerios again, which was sort of eating oats in their own blood.)  It's close, but I liked this one best, with the hemp one a close second.

     So, I was prepared to kind of hate on these strange "hippy milks," but they actually weren't too bad.  Even the worst one, the Veggemo, was alright.  And the other two were pretty good.  I may even buy the last two again, and try the other flavors from the same companies.  (Not that I'm giving up dairy, though--with my obsessive love of cheese, I don't see that ever happening.)  Also, if you're good at sleight-of hand, you might be able to trick your friends and use these plant-based milks to successfully complete the "gallon challenge" without vomiting.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Italian Cookies/Biscuits

     As I mentioned back in my Australian cookies post (May 5th, 2018), my local ShopRite grocery seems to have upped its game lately, as far as adding foreign products to its shelves.  In this case, I discovered four different kinds of Italian cookies--ladyfingers (aka savoiardi), two kinds of biscotti, and amarettis.
     As it turns out, ShopRite's parent company, Wakefern, also was the company which imported and marketed these cookies.  (Although they were all made in Italy, using Italian ingredients and recipes, so that's why I counting them as Italian.)  Wakefern is an immense retailing cooperative, the largest group of supermarkets in the U.S., and the fourth largest cooperative of any kind in the country.  It is also reportedly the largest single employer in the state of New Jersey, with 36,000 employees.  Wakefern was incorporated in 1946, and its main supermarket, ShopRite (which has stores in the Mid Atlantic states of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania) was begun in 1951.
     Let's move to the cookies/biscuits themselves.  Both of these terms apply to the same type of food--basically small dessert pastries.  The latter term is used in much of Europe, and Australia, while the former is used in the U.S. and some other places.  Ladyfingers are, as the name suggests, roughly similar looking to human fingers, and are dry, low density, egg-based sponge-like cookies.  Although the inventor(s) is lost to history (as far as I could tell--I welcome students of cookies to provide me with any precise details), the place was the former Duchy of Savoy (now part of France), and the time was the late 1400's.  These biscuits are often dipped in syrup, or liqueurs, or coffee, to offset their dryness, and are also commonly used as parts of other, more complicated dessert creations.  They're also good food for teething babies.  Ladyfingers are amazingly popular worldwide too, as they're readily consumed in much of North and South America, Europe, and Australia.
     Amaretti biscuits came along a little later, in the early 1700's.  Once again, details are limited.  It's known that they were developed in the Saronno comune (essentially a township) in Lombardy, Italy, but the name of the creator(s) is not recorded.  They were made to honor an also unnamed bishop or cardinal to the small community.  Amarettis are almond-flavored macaroons, or a sweet meringue-based confection.  In Italy traditionally they're flavored with bitter almonds.  Bitter almonds are a little dicey to use, as they contain forty-two times the amount of deadly cyanide than do their regular sweeter sibling.  Because of this, bitter almonds aren't approved by the FDA in the U.S.  So I only got to try the non-traditional, safer version.
     Biscotti is a bit of a misleading name.  In Italy it refers to cookies/biscuits as a whole, meaning it could refer to dozens of separate types.  However, to Americans such as myself biscotti is synonymous with an Italian cookie called cantuccios.  These are (again) almond-flavored, twice baked (to preserve longer), dry, crunchy biscuits.  As with ladyfingers they're also often dipped in a drink to soften them up--traditionally a dessert wine called Vin Santo.  Their history is even more murky--the place is known (the town of Prato, Italy), but the time period is nonspecific--the Middle Ages, or by most reckoning the years 400-1400 A.D.  Antonio Mattei rediscovered an original recipe and reintroduced them in 1867.  His ingredients consisted of eggs, flour, sugar, pine nuts, and unroasted, unskinned almonds.  And no yeast or fat.  Modern chefs sometimes use cinnamon, baking powder, pistachios, and anise.  Other dipping drinks include orange juice, coffee, and tea.

1) Ladyfingers.  These were roughly rectangular rods, about 4 inches (about 10 cm.) long, 2 cm.  (about .75 inch) wide, a yellowish-brown color, with a white sugar coating.  Very crunchy and incredibly bland.  Disappointing.  Dry and uninteresting.

2) Biscotti, cranberry flavor.  Once again these were roughly rectangular-shaped, about 5 cm. by 2 cm. (about 2 inches by .75 inch), with a light brown exterior, and a whitish-yellow interior, offset by occasional visible pieces of cranberry.  They looked unappetizing--like corners of stale bread.  But, while dry and hard in texture, they're okay.  Some sweetness and a nice cranberry tang to them.  So solid overall.

3) Biscotti, chocolate flavor.  Same size and shape as the cranberry kind, with the only difference being visible chocolate chips instead of cranberry pieces.  Same dryness and hard texture, too.  But once again, they were pretty good.  Sweet enough, and the chocolate was a pleasing additive.

4) Amarettis.  These were circular, about 3 cm. (about 1.25 inches) in diameter, and yellowish-brown in color.  Strong almond flavor, which made sense since almonds are 20% of their makeup.  Tasty.  Weird, sweet flavor.  Crunchy.  Good.

     As you can see, I enjoyed 3 out the 4 kinds.  But the fourth one, the ladyfingers, was awful--one of the worst cookies I've ever had.  To be fair, I didn't know about the standard process of dipping them into liquids to soften them up, and evidently improve the flavor.  I guess it's possible that doing so might have made them palatable.  (And if I'd dipped the cantuccios and amarettis, maybe I would have liked these even more.)  But I have my doubts.  I won't be buying ladyfingers again.  I will probably buy the others, though, and would try those made by other companies or restaurants.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Two Unusual Bananas

     I know I often do this, but I strongly encourage readers to look over my August 24, 2014 post about plantains, since it covers a lot of information about bananas versus plantains, and my thoughts about bananas in general.  With that in mind, I'll try not to repeat myself as much as is feasible.
     Anyway, while at the Food Lion supermarket in central North Carolina the other day, I beheld some weird looking bananas.  Specifically, red ones, and "baby" ones.  It wasn't long before they were in my shopping cart.  Both came from Ecuador.
     As I touched on a bit in the plantain post, the classification of bananas is both complicated and somewhat controversial.  Carl Linneus came up with a system back in 1753, and this was used for the next 200 years or so.  However, in the late 1940's and 1950's scientists implemented some changes in this system, while some "OG" botanists and scientists still prefer the original Linneus plan.  Long story short, the distinction between bananas and plantains is slight at best--much of it is based on how humans consume them--i.e. cook it as a starchy main course or side dish, or enjoy it raw as a dessert-type fruit.  If you want more info, I encourage you to research this yourself, but be forewarned, it'll take quite a bit of time.
     Accordingly, estimates of the total number of banana varieties range from 300 to over 1000.  Some are yellow when ripe, while others are red, purple, green, or even brown.  The world's biggest producers of bananas/plantains are India and China, with Ecuador in fourth place.  The name "banana" itself is believed to have originated from the Wolof language, from a group of people who live in Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania.  Their word is "banaana."  (The Wolof language may also have given us the impetus for the words "yum" and "yummy," from their word "nyam"--evidently the "n" at the beginning is silent.)  Also, my description of "unusual" for the red and baby bananas is based on my living in the U.S., where the yellow Cavendish (Dwarf Cavendish, to be exact) has been the most common type sold since the 1950's.  Currently this type accounts for nearly half of the global banana production.  In the first half of the 20th century or so, another variant, the Gros Michel, was the world banana king.  Alas for it, Panama Disease devastated the plant, and the mostly resistant Cavendish took its place.  It's thought that the Cavendish's days of prominence may be numbered too, though--its lack of genetic diversity means it's particularly susceptible to another disease or fungus.  It could be wiped out rather quickly. (If you're curious, the Gros Michel banana variety is still grown, albeit in much smaller numbers.  It's still prevalent in Malaysia and Thailand.)  Furthermore, bananas are heralded as being THE best food source for potassium, but that's exaggerated.  Some tomato sauces, cooked soybeans, grilled portabella mushrooms, baked potatoes, and spinach actually have more of this nutrient.
     But here's what I thought:

1) Red banana:  This was from the Dole company.  It was slightly shorter than the average Cavendish, and maybe a little fatter.  The outer rind was a deep reddish-purple, while the inner flesh was essentially the same as a regular Cavendish, being a cream or light yellow color.  I thought it tasted basically the same as a Cavendish.  I didn't do a blind taste test with a Cavendish as a control, but I doubt I would have noticed much of a difference.  As I mentioned previously, I'm not a fan of bananas in general.  Plus I think I have a minor allergy to them, since they sometimes give me a slight upset stomach/sore throat.  Therefore, I was disappointed--I was hoping for a significant taste distinction, and received none.  I won't be buying this one again.  To be fair, maybe there is a difference if the red banana is cooked, but since I'm also not a fan of cooking, and am currently living in a hotel, this isn't going to happen.

2) Baby banana:  As the name suggest, this one looks a tiny Cavendish, or a "Mini-Me" version.  It's the same shape and yellowish-green color, but it's only 3-4 inches (about 7.5 to 10 cm.) long, and about an inch (about 2.5 cm.) in diameter.  Alternate names for this variety are Ladyfinger and Pisang Mas. This came from the Del Monte company.  Once again the taste was about the same as a regular Cavendish, much to my dismay.  Maybe it was a tad sweeter, but not enough to matter.  So I won't be purchasing this type again, either.

     While I was reading up on red and baby bananas, other consumers stated that they thought they tasted sweeter, and/or had a "dense, creamy texture," with "vanilla and caramel undertones," and so on.  Either these writers were a bit overly imaginative and pretentious, or my palate is dull and unrefined.  (Or perhaps both.)  But, all of this is coming from someone who admittedly doesn't like bananas much at all (but does, oddly, really enjoy plantains), so take this under consideration.  If you  really like this fruit, maybe you'll also appreciate different kinds of it.  And maybe you'll even detect notes of creme brulee, toffee, and gossamer sugar in them.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Couple of Peruvian Drinks

     For a time back in early to mid 2016, there was a long stretch when pretty much all the foods and beverages I featured were from Washington D.C.'s Union Market, with its large selection of stores which sell many foreign products.  Well, I kind of lost track of at least one, so it'll be discussed today--Inca Kola, from Peru.  And then by coincidence I located another Peruvian drink, chicha morada (From Inca's Food), in a supermarket near the NJ shore.
     Chicha morada is a traditional drink in Peru, made from purple corn, which is another term for blue corn.  Purple corn is quite popular in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, especially.  One website I consulted claims that purple corn is a special type of corn, which can lower cholesterol and fight obesity.  It didn't link to scores of scientific test results and journal articles, so I don't know if this is necessarily accurate, much less "proven," as the site stated.  But, whatever its health benefits, aside from traditional corn dishes, purple corn is used in the previously mentioned areas as a natural food coloring and also in a popular pudding dessert and smoothie.  Chicha morada is usually made with pineapple, cloves, cinnamon, and sugar.  Chicha de jora is the alcoholic version.  Otherwise, I'm unable to do my usual brief company overview, as I couldn't find a website for Inca's Food, and its New Jersey based importing company, Peruvian Import Company, has a website, but it's in Spanish, with no English translation provided (which I found odd for an American business).  I was able to discern that Inca's Food also sells peppers, pasta, sauces, grains, fruit, snacks, olives, and herbs/spices.
     Inca Kola is made by the Landley Company.  This beverage selling business was created in 1910 by a British immigrant to Peru, Joseph Robinson Lindley.  In 1935 Lindley decided to come up with a new drink to help celebrate the 400th anniversary of Lima, Peru.  The resulting Inca Kola was flavored with lemon verbena, and its taste is often compared to bubble gum, or typical cream soda.  Inca Kola quickly became huge in Peru, partly because it became synonymous with the country itself.  This pride in their country's unofficial national drink was so strong that Inca Kola successfully outsold the American soda giant Coca-Cola in Peru.  Finally, in 1997 the Coke corporation gave up and bought out the Lindley Company.  Since then, Inca Kola sold in every country in the world save Peru is done by Coca-Cola, while Peruvian consumption of this soft drink is still done by Lindley.  Lindley also is now licensed to sell other Coca-Cola drinks in Peru.

1) Inca's Food, chicha morada purple corn drink.  Came in a 16 ounce/473 mL bottle, and was, not surprisingly, a rich purple color.  It had an odd taste.  Sweet, but strangely savory, too--I guess it's the corn.  My initial impression was that it was alright, but not great, and I wouldn't buy it again.  But as I kept drinking it, it kind of grew on me.  By the end I was sort of liking it.

2) Inca Kola.  Alas, I misplaced my notes for my reactions to this.  However, I do have some recollection of it.  It's a yellow color, which is why it's also known as "champagne kola," or "golden kola."  I seem to recall thinking it was like a weak cream soda.  I don't remember particularly liking or disliking it--I think it was kind of average, or "meh."  Certainly I wasn't impressed enough to try it again.  Although I do appreciate that this local drink beat Coca-Cola.  Even if I don't like it that much, that's pretty cool.

     I'll conclude with a few fun/interesting facts about Peru.  As you can tell from both the drink names, it was the center of the powerful and influential Inca Empire, which comprised much of what's now South America from 1438-1533.  Moving on, the world's tallest sand dune, Cerro Blanco, is found here--it's 1176.5 meters (3860 feet) from the base to the summit.  The potato was first grown in Peru, and parts of Bolivia.  Peru is also one of the places where the largest flying bird lives--the giant Andean condor.  This creature can be up to 33 pounds (about 15 kilos), with a wingspan of up to almost 11 feet (3.35 meters).  The start of the mighty Amazon River is in Peru, at Cordillera Rumi Cruz of the Rio Mantaro.  Getting ridiculous, and a little gross, the world's most expensive coffee, which can run $1400 per kilo, is Peru's coati dung coffee.  (The coati (aka coatimundi) is a small mammal, in the raccoon family and this situation is reminiscent of the civet crap coffee, which I discussed in my October 13, 2014 post.)
     As far as famous Peruvians, there's Hernando de Sota Polar, a world renowned economist.  Actor Henry  Ian Cusick is probably best known for roles on the television shows "Lost" and "Scandal."  Alex Acuna is a successful and respected drummer, who played with the band Weather Report, and with famous musicians like Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, Ella Fitzgerald, Carlos Santana, Chick Corea, Seal, and Beck, to name just a few.  Sofia Mulanovich Aljovin  won the world title in surfing in 2004, and she was elected to the Surfers Hall of Fame in 2007.  Boxer Kina Malpartida was the women's WBA featherweight champ from 2009-13.  Going fictitious, the Paddington Bear character was originally from Peru.  Finally, for the category of bizarre human feats, there's the world's youngest mother, Lina Medina.  In 1939 she gave birth at the age of only 5 years, 7 months, and 21 days!  She suffered from an extreme case of precocious puberty.  Some folks (reasonably, I guess) think that this was a hoax, but there's supporting evidence in the form of photos, medical records, doctor's accounts, etc.  The people at the Snopes website accept it as true, if that helps convince anyone.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Indian Treats

     This week I'll be discussing four items--three snacks foods (from the MTR company), and one beverage (from Sresta).  These all came from a grocery (Kroger, if my memory serves) in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, which apparently has a sizable population of folks with Indian heritage, or at least a lot of people who like that country's cuisine.
    MTR Foods Pvt. Ltd. started out as a restaurant in Bangalore, India, owned and operated by the Maiya family, back in 1924.  In 1975 they expanded into a company which manufactures pre-made and instant food mixes.  Currently they make ready-to-eat curries and rice, gravies, frozen foods, mixes, spices, beverages, snacks, ice cream, and pickles.  In 2007 MTR was bought by the Norwegian company Orkla.  Orkla is an extremely old company, beginning as a pyrite mine in 1654.
     In contrast, Sresta is quite the recent endeavor.  It was started in 2004 by Raj Seelam.  This company's passion is for organic foods, almost to a ridiculous degree.  If you check out the company website, you'll read tons about how chemicals, and pesticides, are bad for food products, for the consumers, and for the farmers who grow the plant ingredients.  Aside from fruit based drinks, often under its 24 Mantra line, Sresta makes flour, breakfast cereal, spices, oils, teas, jams and spreads, honey, nuts and dried fruit, and cookies.

1) Sresta mango fruit beverage:  Ingredients are water, organic mango pulp (25%), organic sugar, citric acid, vitamin C, mixed carotenoids, and natural flavor.  This, not surprisingly, had an orange color.  In general I enjoy mangoes.  Also, when I eat at Indian restaurants I almost always love to get a mango lassi, a mango-yogurt drink.  Anyway, this Sresta drink was good.  Not as great as a mango lassi, but still tasty.

2) MTR SnackUp ompudi:  These were yellow string-like pieces with occasional green leafy bits.  Bland.  Not very good.  Crispy and crunchy, but dull.

3) MTR SnackUp cornflakes mixture:  This one looked like orange cornflakes with occasional peanuts and cashews.  Not sweet like a cornflake breakfast cereal, but savory and slightly spicy.  These were alright.  Not great, but decent.

4) MTR SnackUp avalakki mixture:  This one consisted of tiny, orange-colored rice flakes, mixed with peanuts, cashews, and curry leaves.  Had kind of a sweet and spicy thing going for it.  I really liked this one--the pick of the MTR litter, for sure.  It was very messy to eat, though.

     Therefore, the items I sampled ran the gamut from below average up to good.  Given my usual appreciation of Indian foods, I would certainly be willing to try other products in both companys' lines.  And I would buy the Sresta mango drink and the MTR avalakki mixture again, too.
     Finally, I was interested to learn that the mango is part of the Anacardiaceae plant family.  Other members of this group include cashews, pistachios, and....poison ivy.  This shocked me.  Poison ivy is something that Eastern U.S. archaeologists commonly encounter, much to our annoyance and even horror.  I've had coworkers who had such a bad skin rash from touching it that they needed medical attention, or even steroids.  Two people even got it on their eyes!  Moving on, parts of the cashew and mango plant also contain substances which cause skin irritation.  Not usually as extreme as the urushiol oils in poison ivy, but nasty all the same--people who harvest or process these plants have to take precautions.  It's weird to think that these tasty foods and the "demon weed" are kin.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Malaysian Energy Drink

     Okay, right off the bat, the title of this week's post is a little misleading.  The drink I had was truly made in Malaysia.  However, it was invented in Australia, and is a product of the biggest food company in the world, Nestle, which is headquartered in Switzerland.  So the drink I'll be discussing, Milo, is essentially Malaysian on a technicality.
     But first, some background.  Industrial chemist Thomas Mayne invented Milo in Sydney, Australia, way back in 1934.  This beverage is a bit unusual in that its ingredients vary a bit depending on what country it's being made for.  The basic formula is sugar, chocolate, and some kind of malted grain--usually barley, wheat, or cassava (see my April 10, 2014 post for more info on that food item).  Typically it's sold as a powder, which is then added to hot water and milk, kind of like Nesquik, or Ovaltine, or other powdered milkshake-like drinks.  Sometimes, though, it's premade, and sold in cans or bottles.  And Nestle additionally makes Milo cereals and candy-type bars, too.  Some folks even add it to distinctly non-healthy foods, such as sprinkled (in the powder form, obviously) on top of ice cream.  Plus, to return to my blog post of only a week ago, this drink is one of the ways to perform a Tim Tam Slam.
     There's no denying the drink's popularity.  It's sold in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Peru, Colombia, Chile, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., and Canada.  And it's especially popular in Malaysia--there it has a 90% market share.
     Milo was named after the real life Milo of Croton, a man renowned for his strength in the Ancient World.  Specifically Greece, and its Magna Graecia (Greater Greece) holdings around the Mediterranean, back in the 6th century B.C.  Milo was a seven time Olympic champion in wrestling, from 540-520 B.C.  He's also the subject of various, probably apocryphal tales about his strength, and appetite.  For example, he was allegedly powerful enough to carry a bull on his shoulder, and to break a band around his head by simply bulging his veins.  As for his diet, his daily intake was said to be 20 pounds (or 9 kilos) of meat, 9 kilos (20 pounds) of bread, washed down with 10 liters of wine.  He was also credited with saving the life of philosopher Pythagoras when a banquet hall roof collapsed on them.  (Some historians claim that this was a different man named Pythagoras, who was a wrestling coach.)  But my favorite Milo story is about his supposed death.  Some men were cutting down a tree, and had gotten as far as cutting wedges out of it.  Milo decided to impress his audience by sticking his hands into the tree wedges, with the idea being that he'd rip the tree apart by himself.  Alas, the wedges closed, trapping his hands, and he couldn't tear open the tree and get free.  Which left him defenseless later when a pack of wolves devoured him.
     The Milo I tried was premade, and in an 8 ounce (240 ml.) can.  Mine was made with barley malt.  Its appearance was just like a regular chocolate milk.  The taste was similar to chocolate milk at the surface, but it then had a decidedly nasty undertaste.  I wasn't a fan at all, and won't be buying this one again.  It was very disappointing.
     As for Milo's energy and nutritional benefits, it does contain 10-20% of the recommended daily amount of calcium, thiamine, niacin, pantothenic acid, Vitamin C, phosphorus, biotin, Vitamin D, riboflavin, and iron.  Plus the theobromine in the cocoa has caffeine-like stimulating qualities.  So I guess it is healthier than some energy drinks, but I think it wasn't worth it due to its flavor.  But clearly many people around the world, and especially in Malaysia, disagree strongly with me.