Saturday, May 20, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Couple of Bermudian Diet Ginger Beers

     Sometimes I encounter exotics, or disgustings, even when I'm not actively looking for them.  For the past month or so I'd been drinking probably gallons of a diet ginger beer I'd found up in Massachusetts, called, awkwardly enough, Cock n' Bull.  On a whim, I checked out the soft drink aisles in two Shop Rites near me, and came upon some other brands of this same soda.  It turns out that both (Barritts and Goslings) are Bermudian companies.  (It seems that both may bottle their products in plants in the U.S., too, but since it's under the authority of the parent companies, using their recipe, ingredients, etc., I'm counting them as Bermudian.)
     So I'll begin with a very brief background about Bermuda.  This island chain, consisting of 181 islands/islets, is in the Atlantic Ocean, about 1070 km. (665 miles) South/Southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  The first sea captain to record his encounter with it was Juan de Bermudez of Spain, back in 1503.  Although the islands were named for him, he never actually set foot on them.  The first human settlement was from the English Virginia Company, in 1609.  It's still affiliated with England, being a British Overseas Territory.  The capital city of Bermuda is Hamilton,  The main industry of Bermuda is tourism--the island's pink sandy beaches are a particular draw.  One oddity of Bermuda, perhaps explaining why it was settled so late, relatively, is its lack of fresh water.  To this day Bermudian residences are required to collect and utilize rainwater that falls on their roofs.  The only indigenous mammals are five species of bat.  One famous Bermudian (she was born there, and left at age 5) is actress Lena Headey, probably best known for films like "The Remains of the Day" (1993), "300" (2006), "Dredd" (2012), and the HBO series, "Game of Thrones."
     The history of ginger beer itself isn't well known.  Humans have been using ginger in food and beverages for thousands of years, but the drink probably was invented in England in the mid 1700's or so.  The Barritts website claims ginger beer is derived from mead and metheglin, which are both honey-based beverages (Mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage, period).  Early versions of ginger beer were also flavored with honey.  And were strong--up until the mid 1800's they could be 11% alcohol, or as powerful as wines or super strong IPAs and barley wines.  However, in 1855 England limited ginger beers to 2% alcohol, and so it became more of a soft drink.  (This law was obviously relaxed at some point, since currently you can buy English ginger beers that are akin to regular beers in strength, about 5% alcohol.)  Additionally, ginger beer is clearly very similar to ginger ale, but it is different--among other things it's known for its more robust taste.  Aside from England and Bermuda, ginger beer is also popular in Canada, the U.S., Ireland, and South and East Africa.
     The Barritts company dates back to 1874.  William John Barritt arrived in Bermuda in 1839, from England, and spent several decades as the head jailer of the Hamilton jail.  However, his family expanded to 12 children, and his request for a raise was rejected.  In 1874 he opened up a dry goods store, which also included a bottling machine which he used to make ginger beer.  Alas, he died that same year, but his descendants have kept up the family beverage.  The website included many drink recipes which incorporate their ginger beer, many of which are (country/city name) Mules.  To describe a few, a Moscow Mule is vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer.  A Mexican Mule is tequila, lime juice, and ginger beer.  An Irish Mule is, you guessed it, Irish whiskey, and ginger beer.
     Goslings is an even older Bermudian company, dating back to 1806.  This company is known for making several versions of rum as well as their ginger beer.  Yet another alcoholic drink, the Dark 'N' Stormy, is a registered trademark of Goslings.  This drink is made with dark rum, ginger beer, and lime juice.
     As for my ratings, I found Barritts diet ginger beer and Goslings diet ginger beer to be very similar.  Both were cloudy and light yellowish in color, carbonated, and tasted about the same.  Both were gingery, but not that intense, and had a lemon-y, citrus-y flavor to them as well.  Both of which, sadly, I found somewhat disappointing.  They weren't terrible or anything, but they weren't great, either.  I don't plan on drinking more of them.  The (U.S. made) brand I mentioned earlier, Cock 'n Bull diet ginger beer, was vastly superior, in my opinion.  It had a very strong, spicy ginger bite to it, and was delicious.  Now, to be fair, we have to acknowledge the obvious point that diet soft drinks are pretty much always worse than their regular counterparts.  So I will try both Barritts and Goslings regular versions if/when I have the chance.  Plus I've had, and enjoyed, the Dark 'N" Stormy I had a couple of years ago.  (Oops, for legal reasons I'll refer to it as a dark and stormy, or as a Dark 'N' Stormy--like equivalent, since it wasn't made with official Goslings dark rum and official Goslings ginger beer.)  But, at this point, trying what I've tried to date, I think England's Idris Fiery Ginger Beer (see June 9, 2013 post) is still the best regular ginger beer I've had, and the Cock 'n Bull is the best diet ginger beer.  And the England's Crabbies is the best alcoholic ginger beer.
     Finally, I was amused to see that a bad bottle of ginger beer led to a landmark legal case concerning negligence in the U.K. back in 1932.  In Donaghue vs. Stevenson, a Mrs. Donaghue was sickened by a snail found in a Stevenson's ginger beer, while in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland.  There's even a documentary about it.  (And for anyone worried about/perversely intrigued by this story, I couldn't find evidence that Stevenson's is still in business.  Presumably the fine settlement, legal bills, and the notoriety severely hurt their business.)







































Saturday, May 13, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Few Baked Goods from the U.K.

     Today I'll be talking about two products from McVitie's, and one from Jacob's.  More specifically, a couple of types of "digestives," as they're known in the U.K,. and a kind of cracker.
     Even my usual cursory look at the manufacturers quickly became complicated, and more than a little confusing.  Jacob's dates back to either 1850 or 1851 (sources vary) in Ireland.  However, they were bought out by United Biscuits in 2004.  McVitie's began in Scotland in 1803.  Both companies are now owned by pledis (no capital "P", for some reason), along with famous food brands like Godiva Chocolates, Ulker, and DeMets Candy.  Pledis in turn is owned by Yildiz Holdings, which is a Turkish/Middle Eastern company, and is the food wing of CEEMEA.  Between all of these the overall business operates in at least 120 countries, and employs over 50,000 people.  So we're talking about an absolutely immense company.
     To me, the McVitie's offerings I got, the milk chocolate with caramel digestives, and the milk chocolate with orange digestives, would be called "cookies," or a dessert-like baked good.  But they're called "digestives" because they were thought to aid in digestion.  Which is true, by the way.  They contain baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), which does indeed help with indigestion.  Even learning this, I still find the name puzzling.  Referring to these by this term almost makes them sound like medicine, and not a pleasant culinary treat.  (What Americans call cookies are also sometimes called "biscuits" in the U.K.)  Clearly consumers in the U.K. don't care, though, as McVitie's are the most popular brand of this type of food.  They are often a major part of "tea time," sometimes dunked into the tea itself before being eaten.  A man name Alexander Grant developed digestives back in 1892.  Switching gears a bit, this product also allegedly sparked an argument between George Harrison and John Lennon of The Beatles.  Supposedly John's girlfriend Yoko Ono helped herself to some of George's McVitie's digestives during the recording sessions of the "Abbey Road" album in 1969, and Harrison protested, leading to a fight.
     The Jacob's crackers I tried were the cream crackers, first made in 1885.  There's no different names here--we Americans call this food type "crackers" as well.  (Although the Jacob's crackers also contain baking soda/sodium bicarbonate--don't know why they're not given credit for helping with digestion, too.)  I did read something controversial about the company, though.  Famous labor activist Rosie Hackett was once employed by Jacob's, and the company was one of the ones that she and her trade unions protested against, in 1911-13.  Hopefully the treatment of their workforce has improved significantly in the past century!
     But let's get to the food itself.  Both kinds of digestives were round, and a light brown color, with their company name stamped on one side, and with a milk chocolate coating on the other.  They had a diameter of about 6 cm. (or about 2.25 inches) and had a grid-like pattern under the chocolate.  The orange one had some orange flavor to it.  They were solid, but unspectacular.  Not as sweet as most American cookies.  They had a soft, chewy texture, layered like a candy bar.  The caramel kind was a bit better.  A little more sweet, and tastier.  I probably like caramel flavor more than orange in my cookies/digestives/biscuits, it appears.
     The Jacob's cream crackers were square, 7 cm (about 2.5 inches) to a side, whitish, with brown cooking marks on them.  They also had the brand name stamped on them.  I found these to be rather bland. With things on them (cheese, mustard, etc.) they were good, but they were rather boring by themselves, unadorned.  I like a typical saltine cracker better, as the greater salty taste has a little more pep.  To be fair, my mother quite enjoyed these crackers, more than me--she and my father remembered eating them when they lived in England for a year back in the early 1960's.
     Therefore, of the three baked goods, the cream crackers and the orange digestive were okay, but not dazzling.  Certainly not bad, but not especially memorable, either.   I would get the caramel digestives again, however.  And I would be willing to try other McVitie's/Jacob's/pledis products.  Given that there are over 300 brands under this company umbrella, that's quite an extensive choice!
     Also, maybe any U.K. readers can help me answer a question I have.  On the computer, some websites track your visits, and relay this info to your web browser.  We call these "cookies."  Do you call them "biscuits," or "digestives," or something else entirely?


































Saturday, May 6, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Japanese Rice Candy

     We're heading back East again, back to a familiar destination on my blog--Japan.  The brand of candy I'll be discussing goes by a couple of names.  The box I picked up, the export, is called Botan rice candy.  "Botan" is Japanese for "peony," the type of flower, and a picture of this is on the box, alongside one of a traditional dog-shaped toy called a inu-hariko.  However, in Japan the brand is named Bonton ame.  "Bonton" means pomelo (see February 20, 2014 post for more info about this fruit) and the candy's flavor is thought to approximate this.  The overall company which produces Botan/Bonton ame is Seiko Foods.
     The Seiko company website was informative, at times amusing, and even a little depressing at one point.  The company has gone through several name changes over the years, but a precursor of it dates all the way back to 1903.  Once in the business of producing glutinous starch syrup, they now make various candies, desserts, and frozen meats and vegetables.  The website is very detailed, even going so far as to print which banks the company employs.  On the sad side, their Company Profile page also includes a "memories of the war" section.  To end on a lighter note, I really enjoyed some of the advertising slogans for Botan/Bonton ame over the years.  In the mid 1920's (the candy was developed in 1924) their catch phrase was "the long-nosed goblin's secret recipe."  Who can argue with that?  These hideous monsters are traditionally the best candy makers, after all!  A more recent slogan boasts that the candy is "known and tasted at least once by anyone and everyone in Japan."  The cynic in me is a little suspicious that this claim is 100% accurate.  (And if it is, that is truly amazing.)
     Anyway, the rice candy is made from glucose syrup (corn syrup, water), sugar, sweet rice, water, lemon flavor, orange flavor, and Allura Red AC food coloring.  Inside the box were six reddish-pink pieces, measuring about 2 cm. by 1 cm. (or about .75 inches by .5 inches)  And here's where I have to admit something a little embarrassing.  After taking off the outer wrapper I was confronted by an inner wrapper surrounding each piece of candy.  Or, really, stuck onto/into the candy.  I tried to peel off this inner wrapper without success.  I quickly grew frustrated, and angry.   I bit into the candy as I could.  But after only a few brief tastes I threw the lot into the trash, cursing and carrying on about the terrible packaging.  Well, it turns out I was being unobservant, and bit foolish.  On the website, later, I read that the inner wrapper is made from edible material, and is designed to dissolve in the consumer's mouth.  "Why don't they print this on the box?" I wondered.  Then I looked at the box more closely.  On the inside of the end flaps it does indeed read, "Each candy has an edible inner wrapper that melts in your mouth."  Oops.  For the record, what little of the candy I did eat wasn't that great.  Kind of average, and not very sweet.  Fruity, in a pedestrian way.  But I'd be lying if I said that the annoying-at-the-time packaging didn't influence my overall opinion, so take that into account.  The box also came with a sticker, featuring a wild haired waiter standing next to a brown dog.  Don't know if this is a character from some other entertainment medium, or original to Seika.
     Therefore, I don't know if I'll try this again, if/when I get the chance.  Part of me doesn't want to, since I wasn't blown away by the taste, and out of slight shame/spite about the weird inner wrapper.  I guess I'll go with another of their candies, or an ice pop, instead.  And, as I said, the Seika website is definitely a cut above most food company websites, with its comprehensive business details, entertaining historical anecdotes, and even a touch of pathos for balance.


    Apparently I'm not the only one who was put off by Botan's strange inner wrapper.  My friend Keith found an image, which I'm posting below.


























Sunday, April 30, 2017

Latest Publishing Update--"The Big Book of Bootleg Horror Vol. 1"


     I'm happy to announce that another anthology is out which features one of my horror stories.  As you can see from the cover above, this one comes from HellBound Books, whose website address is:  hellboundbookspublishing.com  I'll include the "blurb" below:

Twenty tales of terror, darkness, the truly macabre and things most unpleasant from a delectably eclectic bunch of the very best independent horror authors on the scene today!

S.E. Rise, Kevin Wetmore, Paul Stansfield, Craig Stewart, Shaun Avery, Jeff Myers, Marc DeWit, Timothy Wilkie, Quinn Cunningham, Melanie Waghorne, Marc E. Fitch, Stanley B. Webb, Tim J. Finn, Ken Goldman, Ralph Greco Jr, Roger Leatherwood, Vincent Treewell, David Owain Hughes, J.J. Smith and the inimitable James H. Longmore.

In this superlative tome, HellBound Books have embraced the taboo, gone all-out to horrify and have broken the flimsy boundaries of good taste to make The Big Book of Bootleg Horror the perfect anthology for those who take their horror like we take our coffee - insidiously dark and most definitely unsweetened.

    The paperback format is $15.99, and the Kindle ebook version is $4.99.  Enjoy!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Slovenian Mineral Water

     I have to admit, that up until very recently I wasn't entirely sure what mineral water was all about.  I can recall the use of it in the classic 1980's movie, "Heathers," but that's about it.  (For those that don't remember, in the film it's a sign of how backward and homophobic the town was, as consumption of this beverage made folks automatically question one's sexuality.)  Well, basically, mineral water is simply water that has minerals in it, such as salts and sulfur compounds.  Certain areas in the world are famous for their mineral water sources, as these were often supposed to have medicinal and healing qualities.  Spas often sprung up around them, and then people started to bottle and sell these waters.  Some are naturally carbonated.
     Obviously, Slovenia has some of these naturally occurring mineral water sources.  The brand I bought was Radenska.  In addition to marketing a few types of mineral waters, they also make flavored waters (their Oaza line), and carbonated soft drinks (their Ora line).  The former includes some exotic flavors, such as thyme, linden/honey/lime (linden is a tree sometimes used in herbal teas and tinctures), and elderflower and white tea.  I thought I was trying two types of mineral water, but alas I was careless and bought two bottles of the same kind by mistake, as the labels were slightly different.  So the only kind I was able to locate was their classic mineral water.  This beverage has high concentrations of calcium and magnesium in it.  Which is also the distinction of what constitutes "hard" water.  "Soft" water is water with low concentrations of magnesium and calcium.  (And evidently waters with a moderate amount of these substances are just "semihard, regular" water, I guess.)  If your home water supply is "hard," that can have negative effects.  Boilers' function may be affected, and household pipes may get clogged with mineral deposits.  Also soap may not lather properly in dishwashers and washing machines.  (Alternately, I've stayed in some hotels with overly "soft' water, which is unpleasant, too.  It feels greasy--like you still have soap on your hands even after rinsing thoroughly.)
     Anyway, I tried the classic Radenska, which came in a 1.5 liter plastic bottle, and a 1 liter glass bottle.  I had it chilled, but plain, and then over ice.  I could tell a difference between this and regular tap water.  Not really in a good way.  It wasn't as refreshing, somehow, as normal water.  A major factor was probably the carbonation.  Plus, to be fair, I think I've tried domestic mineral waters in my life, and came away similarly unimpressed.  So, while I didn't like it, and wouldn't recommend it, maybe avid mineral water drinkers would enjoy it.  (My father, for example, said he liked it just fine.)
     Finally, to throw out some very brief info about the country of Slovenia, it gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.  In 2004 the nation joined NATO and the European Union.  And the 2012 Global Peace Index rated them as one of the world's most peaceful countries.




















Saturday, April 22, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Amish Cup Cheese

     We return once more to Amish cuisine.  Or the Pennsylvania "Dutch," as they're often called, which is incorrect and confusing.  That's a corruption of the word "Deutsch," or what the Germans call themselves.  So the Amish are originally from Germany, not The Netherlands.  The Amish, and the related Mennonites, are best known as being hardcore pacifists, who live a traditional, rural life, eschewing many modern technological inventions, such as zippers, computers, cars (for the Amish, that is, Mennonites sometimes drive black, nonfancy autos), etc.  The Amish and Mennonites live in other U.S. states (and parts of Europe and Canada), such as Delaware, Ohio, and Indiana, but the Keystone State-dwelling ones are the most famous.
     I happened to be in the heart of Pennsylvania "Dutch" country, near Lancaster, when I came upon something new in a huge grocery called Maple Farms.  It was authentic Amish cup cheese.  This is a soft, spreadable cheese, which gets its name from the container it's usually stored in.  Appropriate--a simple, basic name from folks who value plain things as a philosophy.  The cheese dates back to the late 1600's. when the Amish first settled in Pennsylvania, before it was even a U.S. state.  It's based on the German cheese called Kochkase (aka Koch Kse), and is also sometimes referred to as "soda cheese."  Cup cheese is made with soured milk which is then heated, strained, and melted.  Many consumers report a mild flavor, similar to French brie.  More infamous, though, is the purported odor.  Some think it has a strong, rank smell, akin to the notorious limburger cheese (see September 24, 2012 post).
     The kind I got was made by September Farms, out of Honey Brook, PA.  The label listed its ingredients as being processed American cheese, pasteurized milk, salt, rennet, and cheese culture.  It was about $5 for an 8 ounce (226 gram) container.  The cheese was light yellowish in color, and was indeed very soft.  Gooey, almost like a dip in texture.  I was surprised, and oddly disappointed, sort of, to discern no horrible scent.  In fact, I couldn't detect much of any odor, good or bad.  The taste was mild, and similar to liquidy American cheese, only a tad saltier.  Basic, but tasty.  Good both by itself, and on a cracker.   I was maybe a little let down that the flavor wasn't more strong and distinctive, but it certainly wasn't negative  My father tried it and had the same positive reaction, and echoed my opinion about the cheese's lack of terrible odor.
     All in all, then, I would recommend Amish cup cheese.  But if you're looking to gross someone out with a foul-smelling food, I'd look elsewhere.  (Or at least not buy September Farm's kind--it's possible this dairy tones down the smell.)

















Saturday, April 15, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Fijian Ginger Candy

     As with previous posts, the topic's origin is more than one place.  The ginger does indeed come from Fiji, but the company that packages it and distributes it, the Ginger People Group, is based in the U.S., California specifically.  This business is aptly named, as their products all revolve around ginger.  They make several kinds of ginger-based candies, ginger beer, and ginger energy drinks.  Also various products designed for ginger's alleged medical benefits, which are said to aid in digestion, help battle prostate cancer, nausea, and arthritis, and boost circulation, immunity, and energy, among others things.  The wonderful cable television program "Mythbusters" actually tested the notion that ginger pills can ward off seasickness, using a bizarre seasickness torture chair, and found that they actually worked, with no side effects.  (It was graded "plausible" for other, more detailed reasons--see episode guide for more information, if you care.)  According to the Ginger People Group, Fiji boasts some of the best ginger on Earth.  They cite the island nation's nutrient-rich soil, pristine ecosystems, and natural tropical rainfall irrigation.  Also, the farmer's strategy of rotating the crops with cassava and taro supposedly pays dividends, too.
     To give a very brief overview, Fiji consists of over 330 islands, and over 500 islets, in the Melanesian area of the Pacific.  The island's inhabitants traditionally used the term "Viti" to refer to their home, but their neighbors the Tongan Islanders used the name "Fiji."  English explorer Captain James Cook help promote the Fiji term, and it's stuck.  The island group has been independent since 1970, and a republic since 1987.  Alas, it's also been marked by political instability, with several military coups and other governmental changes during this time.  One of its old nicknames particularly interested me--the "Cannibal Isles."  In this case the title, often used inaccurately to deride an enemy country, appears to be accurate, as there is evidence that Fijians did partake in this controversial practice.  The Guinness Book of World Records even has one for the person who ate the most people in their life.  A Fijian chief, Ratu Udre Udre is listed as the champ, with at least 872 (and perhaps up to 1000) individual human victims consumed.  (This number was taken from the tradition of keeping a type of stone for every human eaten, and counting the pile later.)  (Furthermore, I don't mean to pick on the Fijians here.  Every country has had, shall we say, morally questionable cultural practices at one time or another.  This particular bit of historical trivia just piqued my interest.)
     But back to the product.  I ate a bag from the company's gin-gins line, the basic crystallized ginger flavor.  Other flavors in this line include spicy apple, peanut, uncrystallized ginger drops, double strength, super strength, and hot coffee.  The individual pieces were about .75 by .75 inch cubes (or about 2 cm. by 2 cm.), which were light brown in color, coated with crystallized sugar.  The texture was firm and chewy, but not exactly crunchy.  To be blunt, these candies were very much like the other dried, crystallized ginger candies I've had over the years.  Which is to say, excellent.  A nice spicy "bite," but not too much.  I love ginger, and ginger candy such as this has always been very tasty.  I don't know that the Fijian ginger was better than the other company's ginger, but it certainly wasn't any worse, either.  If you like ginger, you'll probably enjoy these.  Also, not surprisingly, these candies are billed as being all-natural, fat free, vegan, and gluten free, if you care about any of these things.  Finally, don't know if this is coincidental, but the gin-gins cartoon logo mascot is a little funny and strange.  It's a anthropomorphized piece of ginger, complete with limbs and a face, who's reclining on a pile of dried ginger, and tossing a piece in his (or her, that's not clear!) mouth.  Or, put another way, this individual is lying on the dried, dismembered corpses of his/her comrades, while also cannibalizing them!