Saturday, October 21, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Brazilian Drink, and a "Brazilian" One

     These are two more beverages bought from a Wegman's grocery.  The first, a cashew concentrate from the dafruta brand (apparently they are modest, or are capitalization contrarians, like poet/author e e cummings), was made in Brazil. For the second, although the label reads, "The Best From Brazil", it's named "Guarana Brazilia," and shows that country on a map, is actually manufactured in New Jersey.  Evidently some of its flavoring is from Brazil, and it's a Brazilian-style, inspired, soft drink.  So that's why I put in quotation marks in the post title.
     Alas, the maker of the Guarana Brazilia, the Crystal Beverage Corporation, does not have a website, so I wasn't able to find out much about them.  Some business-related sites claimed that they employ 16 people, have an annual revenue of $3,000,000 dollars, and have been around for about 34 years.  Otherwise, guarana is a fruit that's common in the Amazon rain forest, and is very popular, especially in Brazil and Paraguay.  The seeds contain twice the caffeine as does coffee.  This helps deter herbivores from eating them.  As such, this plant's fruit and seeds are utilized in energy drinks, usually listed as guaranine.  The seeds and fruit resemble eyeballs, which is why one of the plant's origin myths involves deities creating them using human eyes.  Also, I was amused to see that this drink covers both bases on its sweeteners, as its ingredient list says, "sugar and/or corn sweetener."
     In contrast, dafruta does have a website, although it is rather bare bones.  The brand's parent company is Liberty Imports, out of Allentown, Pennsylvania in the U.S.  It was founded in 1983 by Gloria Negrao.  The company's stated purpose is bringing Brazilian products to the U.S., and presumably the world.  In addition to the one I got, the brand makes various other fruit concentrates,as well as other fruit-based drinks, dried fruit, and crystalized ginger.  The beverage I tried is not made from cashew nuts--rather it's made from the fruit that's attached to the nut, the so called "cashew apple."  This is what botanists refer to as an "accessory fruit."  (Briefly, these are ones whose flesh come from adjacent tissue, and not from the plant's ovary.  Apples and pears are two examples.  Older terms for this phenomenon were "pseudocarp" and "spurious fruit.")  The sources I read stated that the cashew fruit is unsuitable for transport due to its fragile skin.  This explains why it's often seen as a bottled concentrate rather than a fresh fruit.
     But, on to the reviews.  The Guarana Brazilia came in a 2 liter plastic bottle (67.6 ounces). The drink itself was a light brown or honey shade.  It had a unique taste--like a fruit juice, but not a flavor I'm familiar with.  Evidently that's the natural flavor of the guarana.  I thought it was okay--not particularly dazzling, but a respectable drink.
     As for the dafruta cashew concentrate, because it's a concentrate, the label recommends that consumers don't drink the liquid straight. Instead, they advise cutting it with water, at a 1 part cashew concentrate to 7 part water ratio, along with a dose of sugar or other sweetener, to the individuals' taste.  I tried this product in several combinations.  The 1:7 ratio resulted in a rather weak tasting drink.  I preferred 1:2 or even 1:1, for a stronger flavor, and used truvia (stevia, itself a Brazilian/Paraguayan plant) to sweeten it. This brownish-yellow soft drink had a citrus-y flavor, similar to lemonade, I thought.  (Which surprised me--I thought it would taste like cashew nuts, until I read about the whole accessory fruit information.)  As with the Guarana Brazilia, I wasn't blown away by it, but it was alright.  Drinkable, certainly, and solid, but not great.  I give both drinks credit for being at least different from the usual crop of soft drinks, but I don't think I'll be purchasing them again.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Underrated Science Fiction/Horror Gems--"The Hidden"

     "The Hidden" is a 1987 film that did alright at the box office, and got okay to good reviews (currently Rotten Tomatoes has it at a 7.0 rating).  But, obviously since I'm writing about it using the title that I did, I don't think it has received the acclaim it deserves.  As is my usual practice, I'll open with a general summary, followed by a longer, spoiler-rich synopsis.  And then I'll close with some discussion about some of the movie's themes and some info about the filmmakers and cast.
     The people of Los Angeles seem to be going mad.  One by one, regular, law-abiding citizens are committing violent armed robberies, and murdering anyone who gets in their way.  Detective Thomas Beck is unable to piece together the mystery, and the connection between all the perpetrators.  An FBI agent, Lloyd Gallagher, partners up with Beck, as he's been investigating these murderers for some time.  Alas, the odd Gallagher isn't very helpful, and seems to be holding back vital information about the crimes.  The bodies keep piling up.  Finally, a speech by a Senator running for President leads to a stunning, unbelievable climax.
     (SPOILERS AHEAD UNTIL NOTED!)  "The Hidden" opens at a bank robbery in progress.  We see a trench coated man murder several people, grab a bag of money, and then go on a long car chase, which only ends after he's been shot several times and severely burned in an explosion.  The police learn that this man is Jack DeVries, described by neighbors as a normal, quiet, decent man.  DeVries has killed 12 people (including 2 children), and wounded 23 others, and robbed multiple banks and stores.  At the police station a young looking FBI agent, Lloyd Gallagher, announces he's looking for DeVries.  Back at the hospital, the mortally wounded DeVries approaches another patient.  A disgusting 2-3 foot long slug-like creature emerges from DeVries and enters the other man's body through his mouth.  This man, Miller, then abruptly leaves, just ahead of Gallagher.  We next see Miller in a music store, shoplifting cassette tapes.  When confronted by a clerk Miller brutally murders him, steals a gun from the cash register, and leaves.  Gallagher and Beck quickly establish that Miller is indeed the perpetrator.  Next, Miller discovers a local Ferrari dealership, and takes a shine to one of their cars.  To get it Miller murders 3 more people, including a shady customer who just bought the car that Miller steals.  Miller goes to the customer's business, an import company, and there discovers a huge stash of guns and other weapons.
     Beck invites Gallagher to his home for dinner.  Lloyd acts strangely in the presence of Beck's wife, Barbara, and their young daughter Juliet.  He then passes out after drinking some alcohol.  Meanwhile, Miller goes to a strip club.  We see his adopted body is in bad shape, as he's bleeding heavily, and clearly the alien possessing him needs to switch hosts soon.  He does so, possessing Brenda, one of the strippers.  The police arrive at the strip club and find Miller's corpse, and are on the lookout for the missing Brenda.  She's down the block, having violent sex with a local man in his car.  She kills him, and steals the car.  Beck and Gallagher chase her, and a crash traps her at a mannequin factory.  They appear to kill her, although it takes about 15 bullets and a fall off the roof to do so.  The alien quickly possesses Lt. Masterson's dog, and thus escapes, before Gallagher can get to Brenda's body.  Later that night, it leaves the dog and jumps into Masterson's body.  By this point Beck is frustrated by Gallagher, and has him arrested.  A check with the Seattle FBI reveals that Agent Gallagher is dead, and that a man named Stone has stolen Gallagher's identity.  During an interrogation, Stone tells Beck that he's an alien, and that they're chasing another, evil alien that can take over people's bodies.  Beck doesn't believe this story, and has Stone returned to a jail cell.
    The next morning a police lab worker activates Stone's weird alien weapon, which causes an explosion.  Masterson hears the commotion, and forces Beck at gunpoint to take him to Stone.  Along the way he confirms Stone's story about their alien natures.  After a gunfight, Masterson is mortally wounded, but manages to flee and possess Detective Willis before Stone and Beck can catch up with him.  Willis then goes to the building where Senator Holt is giving a speech.  After another gun battle Beck is shot and severely wounded, and Willis is shot up, but manages to possess Holt's body before Stone can stop him.  During Holt's speech, when Holt announces his intention to run for President, Stone is able to destroy the Senator's body with a flamethrower, although he's shot several times.  Then, Stone kills the alien as everybody sees it emerge from Holt's mouth.  In a hospital, Stone goes to Beck, and witnesses him die.  He then possesses Beck's body, and greets Barbara and Juliet.
     One of the first things that struck me about "The Hidden" is how it was another take on the cliche about the two opposite cops forced to partner up, that eventually become friends.  To be fair to the movie, in 1987 it wasn't as hoary a cliche, but it had been done before, obviously.  But this film's version is, I think, still satisfying.  I enjoyed the back and forth between the frustrated human Beck and the alien Gallagher (aka Stone, and Alhague).  Gallagher has an endearing child-like quality to him, as he happily admits to stealing his Porsche, and doesn't know how to take Alka Seltzer or aspirin.  And Beck is appropriately sympathetic--from his point of view this case makes no sense, and it's clear that Gallagher isn't being straight with him.  And then when Gallagher finally is honest with him, he answer is even more seemingly crazy.
     I found the concept of an alien that can jump from body to body, hiding itself, an intriguing one.  How do you fight a killer that can do this?  I found it reminiscent of another movie I discussed on this blog, "Fallen" (see September 6, 2012 post).  (Technically "The Hidden" predates "Fallen," so maybe the latter was influenced by the former.)  Although the movie geek in me is curious--Gallagher says his gun is the only thing that can kill the evil alien, but is this true?  It appears to have a soft, fleshy, tangible body.  Wouldn't bullets, or blades, or fire wound and even kill it, if you were quick enough to attack while it was in the middle of switching bodies?  Or even when it's inside a host, wouldn't enough bullets eventually hit the alien body within the host body?  Surely it has vital areas--a brain (or the equivalent), circulatory system, digestive system, etc.  I know, I know, it's a movie, and they wanted to set up that only the good alien's laser gun could kill it, but I question that.
     Another aspect of "The Hidden" reminded me of "Alien," and its sequels.  And that is, simply, oral rape.  Both the evil alien, and Alhague/Gallagher/Stone enter their host via the mouth.  The former's is a revolting, tentacled slug forcing its way into the victim's body, while the latter's is a yellow light, but the avenue is the same.  (Also, perhaps importantly, the evil alien enters people who are still alive, while we only see Alhague possess Beck after Beck dies.)  Plus it leads to questions about the invaded person.  Once this happens, are they then permanently dead?  Gallagher says that "the real" Masterson is dead, but is this so?  The evil alien uses its host's bodies harshly, going along until it's too shot up and mortally damaged before switching to a new one.  But if, say, Masterson was caught, and securely bound, could you induce the alien to leave his healthy body, and thus have the real Masterson then revive in his own body?  Also, were the hosts conscious, at any level, about what the evil alien possessor was making their bodies do?  If so, that's a terrifying concept.  To be trapped, helpless, while your body commits terrible crimes and atrocities--how unsettling.  It's like another movie stereotype, the violent split personality.  Your body is robbing and murdering people, but the real you is innocent.  But no one will ever believe the truth....
     Then there's the ending.  I find this extremely disturbing.  Because, as presented, it appears that Alhague/Gallagher/Stone is going to appropriate Beck's identity.  We hear him admit that the evil alien killed his partner, wife, and daughter.  So it appears that he's simply going to adopt Beck's family as a replacement.  Which is, obviously, a terrible idea.  He's an alien--he knows the basics of human society, but certain mundane things elude him.  Plus a huge one--Beck's memories.  There's no evidence that the possessing alien gains the host's knowledge.  Some examples are that the evil alien doesn't know where Gallagher is, and where the Senator's speech is being held, even though his host, Masterson, knew these things.  We've already seen how shaky Gallagher is at convincingly playing a human--how will he ever portray Beck to Beck's wife, or his daughter, or his friends and colleagues?  He won't be able to.  Even if he tries to secretly learn about Beck's life and opinions, etc., he'll be tripping up and making mistakes constantly.  So his wife (and colleagues, etc.) will naturally believe the only rational explanation--his coma from the bullet wound damaged his brain, and changed his personality.  (This all assumes that Alhague doesn't come clean about the details of the alien, even after many people saw it emerge from Holt--but I think it's safe to assume Alhague will keep this secret, given his personality and history.)  So they'll tolerate it, because they have to--"In sickness and in health" after all, but secretly, they'll know something is wrong, and not completely accept it.  And then the guilt hits, from apparently rejecting your spouse because he suffered a wound while doing his job.  Barbara Beck will be unhappy, and frustrated, and guilty, so how can this marriage be a healthy one?  Her subconscious will know that this "Thomas Beck" isn't the "real" Thomas Beck, but she can't really admit this.  (Again, assuming the real details of the evil alien, and then Alhague, weren't made clear to the police, etc.)  Beck's colleagues and friends will go through this too, to a lesser degree, and also his daughter.  In short, if Alhague tries to recreate his family, using humans, he's being incredibly selfish, and is deluding himself if he thinks this will work on any level.  The only decent thing thing to do is possess Beck's body long enough to say a nice goodbye to Barbara and Juliet, and then let Beck's body die, and switch into another person's body, and/or leave Earth.  (Furthermore, if Barbara does learn that aliens can possess people's bodies, she's going to suspect Alhague is inhabiting Beck's body really quickly, and will quite naturally be furious about this.  The lying, deception, rape by trickery, etc. would clearly be monstrously unacceptable to anyone.)  After I wrote this, I checked the plot description of the movie's sequel, "The Hidden II," which was released direct-to-video in 1993.  (It's also very poorly regarded, with a 2.7 score on Rotten Tomatoes, and judging by most of the reviews I read on IMDB.)  In it Alhague has indeed continued to inhabit Beck's body, and his relationship with his family is limited and dysfunctional.  It's been at least 15 years, and Juliet is now a cop, investigating the evil alien's children, grown from eggs that the original one hid long ago.
     (END SPOILERS--SAFE FOR ALL READERS)  As for the filmmakers and cast, most of them had limited careers, or continued to work as character actors, often in smaller films and television.  Director Jack Sholder is probably best known for "Alone in the Dark" (1982, not to be confused with the Uwe Boll video game adaptation disaster), "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2:  Freddy's Revenge" (1985), "Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies" (1999), and "Beeper" (2002).  He's currently a stage and screen teacher at Western Carolina University.  Writer Jim Kouf (he used the alias Bob Hunt for "The Hidden"), wrote "Class" (1983), "Up the Creek" (1984), "Stakeout" (1987) "Rush Hour" (1998), and "National Treasure" (2004), among others.  Surely the best known of the people involved with "The Hidden" was star actor Kyle McLachlan, who played Gallagher/Stone/Alhague.  He's known for roles in "Dune" (1984), "Blue Velvet" (1986), "The Doors" (1991), "Showgirls" (1995), "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Part 2" (2008), and in television shows like "Twin Peaks," "Sex and the City," and "Desperate Housewives."  Michael Nouri, who played Thomas Beck, appeared in "Flashdance" (1983), "Finding Forrester" (2000), "The Terminal" (2004), "The Proposal" (2009), and "The Squeeze" (2015), among others.  The actress who played Barbara Beck, Katherine Cannon, is best known for roles in "Private Duty Nurses" (1971), "Women in Chains" (1972) and on television's "Beverly Hills 90210" in the 1990's.  Claudia Christian, who played the stripper Brenda, was also in "Clean and Sober" (1988), "Hexed" (1993), and on TV's "Babylon 5" in the 1990's.  Chris Mulkey ("Jack DeVries") was in films such as "First Blood" (1982), "48 Hrs" (1982), "Dreamscape" (1984), "Behind Enemy Lines" (1997). "Cloverfield" (2008), and "The Purge" (2013).  Richard Brooks ("Detective Sanchez") was also in "Teen Wolf" (1985), "Shocker" (1989), and the television show "Law & Order" in the late 1990's/early 2000's.  Clarence Felder, who played Lt. Masterson, is probably best known for roles in "After Hours" (1985), "Ruthless People" (1987), and "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child" (1989).  The actor who played Lt. Flynn, Clu Gulager, is known for films such as "The Killers" (1964), "Shaft" (1974), "The Return of the Living Dead" (1985), "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge" (1985), and "Piranha 3DD" (2012).  Finally, Danny Trejo has a tiny, blink-and-you'll-miss-it, role as a prisoner.  Trejo has been in dozens (hundreds?) of movies, including "Desperado" (1995), "From Dusk til Dawn" (1996), the "Spy Kids" series (started in 2001), and as the title character in "Machete" (2010) and "Machete Kills" (2013).
     All in all then, "The Hidden" is an entertaining sci-fi/horror/action romp.  It has an engaging plot, numerous fun car chases, and lots of exciting gun fights.  There are moments of levity, but the movie doesn't make the mistake of going too campy and self-aware.  I think fans of these genres will enjoy it.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Raw and Sprouted Foods

     The topic of this week's post can be termed as another "food with a philosophy."  In this case, the raw food movement.  Briefly, proponents of this diet claim that raw foods are healthier than processed and cooked ones, since some nutrients are destroyed, or at least minimized, during these actions.  Some folks, of course, take this to extremes, and think that humans shouldn't eat any cooked foods, and that avoiding these can protect consumers against most diseases, even serious ones such as cancers.  Later in this piece I'll cover the opposing views.
     I purchased three raw and sprouted foods, all from the Go Raw line  of the Freeland Foods company, out of California in the U.S.  I had the sweet spirulina and the pumpkin seed kinds from their "sprouted bites" line, and the lemon pie flavor from their "sprouted cookie" line.  Other categories in their catalog include sprouted bars, coconut crisps, raw chocolate, grow protein bars, sprouted flax seed, sprouted granola, salad snacks, and sprouted seeds.  Freeland Foods are billed as junk-free, sprouted, raw, all organic, GMO-free, and (for most kinds) vegan and kosher.  The company also endorses responsible farming.  Each of the bags I got were 3 ounces (85 grams) and were fairly pricey, being between $4 and $5.
     The sweet spirulina bites were made from sesame seeds, banana, unsulphured coconut, dates, and spirulina (a kind of cyanobacteria (nee blue-green algae)).  They were square in shape, about 1.25 inches (about 3 cm.) to a side, with a dark green color, with visible sesame seeds at the surface.  I tasted the banana sweetness, and not much else.  They were fairly bland.  Although as I continued to eat the bag they grew on me slightly.  But still, mediocre at best.  The pumpkin seed kind was made from sprouted pumpkin seeds (of course), sprouted flax seeds, dates, agave nectar (see September 13, 2015 post), and Celtic sea salt.  These bites were square, about 2.5 cm. (about 1 inch) to a side, with a greenish/yellowish/brownish hue, with visible seeds pressed into them.  This kind had a granola-like taste, with a hint of sweetness.  Solid, but not great.  The best of the bunch, but not awesome.  Finally, the lemon pie cookies were brownish-yellow in color, and round, with a diameter of about 1.25 inches (about 3 cm.), yet again with seeds apparent on the surface.  These contained unsulphured coconut, sprouted sesame seeds, dates, and lemon oil.  These cookies had a slight lemon tang, but were blandish once more.  The label claimed they were "decadent and sweet," which I think is an overstatement.  However, as with the spirulina one, they did kind of grow on me as I finished the bag.  Overall though, I don't think I'll buy any of these again.  They were average to kind of alright, but not special enough to become a regular snack for me.
     As for the claim that raw and sprouted foods are much healthier than cooked ones, there are certainly detractors.  For example, while some foods' nutrient load is lessened by cooking, for others, such as spinach, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and sweet potatoes, their nutrients are actually improved by cooking.  Also, the act of eating, and digestion, starting with the saliva in chewing, and ending with a bath in stomach acid, destroys many of the healthy enzymes anyway, whether the foods were raw or cooked.  So, all in all, some nutritionists contend that the health benefits of raw/sprouted foods are exaggerated in many cases.  Furthermore, there are some health risks with eating a raw/sprouted diet.  Consumers can suffer from Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and calcium deficiencies, cholesterol problems, and poor bone density, which can be magnified in children.  Also sprouted foods have the danger of becoming contaminated with very serious bacteria, such as e. coli, listeria, and salmonella.  This is especially risky if one is drying and sprouting their raw foods at home.  I think the general consensus of nutritionists is that raw and sprouted foods can be beneficial, but avoiding all cooked foods may be too extreme.  So, as with all alternative diets, it's probably best to get all the available information first, and check with your doctor, etc., before making drastic changes.  (For a discussion about another alternative diet, the Paleo Diet, see the December 13, 2015 post.) 


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Guatemalan Juice Drinks

     Recently I found myself back at a Wegman's supermarket, so I stocked up on more exotic foodstuffs, and "drinkstuffs," if that's a word.  Today I'll be talking about a couple of Del Frutal beverages--a banana strawberry flavored one, and an apple flavored one.
     Del Frutal is a brand of the Alimentos Maravilla S.A. company, out of Guatemala.  This company manufactures a variety of beverages, including nectars and juices, soft drinks, flavored teas, milk drinks, and sports and energy drinks.  Currently they export to Central America, South America, North America, Europe, and Africa.  Alimentos Maravilla boasts of 25 years of experience.
     Each of the cans I bought were 330 ml. (11.16 ounces), and contained some actual fruit juice--11% for the banana strawberry one, and 20% for the apple.  Nutrition-wise each had 100% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C, and trace amounts of calcium and iron for the banana strawberry type.  Like many nectars/juices, these were not carbonated.  The banana strawberry drink was a reddish-brown color.  It had a thick texture, or "mouthfeel."  I was a little surprised how much I enjoyed this one, considering that I'm not generally a fan of bananas, or things flavored with them.  Anyway, it was a solid, refreshing beverage.  The apple kind was a yellowish-brown hue, and had the same thick texture.  Its apple flavor was reminiscent of a cider.  Once again, I came away fairly impressed.  Neither drink was excellent, but both were better than average, and quite good.
     I got to looking up some famous Guatemalans, or in some cases, Americans with Guatemalan heritage, and recognized several.  For example, NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks, who played from 1969-83, was born in Guatemala.  The 6'7" (201 cm.) Hendricks, nicknamed "The Mad Stork," played on 4 Super Bowl winning teams (Super Bowls 5, 11, 15, and 18, with the Baltimore Colts and Oakland/LA Raiders).  Actor Oscar Isaac also was born in Guatemala, and has a parent from there.  Isaac is best known for roles in "Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013), "Ex Machina" (2015), "X-Men: Apocalypse" (2016), and for playing Poe Dameron in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (2015) and in the upcoming "Star Wars" movie(s).  Actress Daphne Zuniga, who's part Guatemalan, Polish, and Finnish, is notable for her roles in "The Sure Thing" (1985), "Spaceballs" (1987), and in the television show "Melrose Place" (1992-96).  Doctor Rudolfo Robles (1878-1939) was the first to describe and document the hideous parasitic worm disease onchocerciasis, better known as river blindness.  Finally, Guatemala has produced 2 Nobel Prize winners.  Author Miguel Angel Asturias (1899-1974) won the 1967 Nobel Prize for Literature.  And Activist Rigoberta Menchu won the 1992 Nobel Prize for Peace for her efforts on behalf of the indigenous people of Guatemala.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Thai Tamarind Candy

     Tamarind is a tropical shrub, albeit one which can grow to be 18 meters (59 feet) tall, so by my standards a really large shrub.  Its origins are a bit mysterious.  It's thought to have originated in tropical areas of Africa, but this isn't conclusively known.  Others think its ancestral home is the Indian subcontinent (India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives).  Wherever it was originally born, it's now grown all over the world, in just about any area with the proper tropical climate, such as parts of North America, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.  Although India does get the prize for cultivating the most of it.
     Rather like the sugar palm tree I talked about two posts back, the tamarind is an incredibly useful plant to humans.  The wood makes for excellent furniture.  The seed oil is used in textile processing, and in the manufacture of industrial adhesives and gums.  The fruit, which is actually a poddy legume, is often consumed as a flavoring agent, or in jams, juices, sweetened drinks, and ice cream.  (It also can be made into an effective metal polisher.)  Nutritionally it contains decent amounts of B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.  Tamarind's alleged (folk) medical benefits include treatment for constipation, as a laxative, and to combat fevers.  Finally, the plant is also grown as an ornamental, even sometimes as a bonsai "tree."
     You can see the exact type of candy I bought in the pictures above.  (I'm not up on internet image copyrights, so I hope this is considered "fair use."  If not, I'll remove them.)  The manufacturer is Asia Sun World Corp., Ltd., out of Bangkok, Thailand.  I wasn't able to find out much of anything about this company.  As the pictures hopefully show, the individual candies are brown, and dusted with sugar, and salt.  They were about the size of large beans.  Some of them had black pit-like seeds in them, which I discarded.  Later, I read that these seeds are technically edible, but require so much roasting that they're probably not worth the trouble to most people.  The brownish fruit pulp was very chewy.  The texture, and taste, was fairly reminiscent of ginger candy.  The flavor was decent, kind of sweetish and salty at the same time, like a honey roasted peanut, I suppose.  The hot variety was spicy, but not too extreme.  I couldn't really choose which one was better--both were about equal in quality.  I found both tamarind candies alright, but not awesome.  Certainly they get points for being different.  I'm not sure I'll buy these again, but I would try other tamarind flavored foods.  In fact, after I thought about it, I realized I already have--I drank Goya's tamarind pulp juice, and Jarritos (see August 8, 2013 post) tamarind-flavored soft drink, and enjoyed both, especially the latter.  These candies were another find from the North Carolina based Bitter Melon Asian Grocery which I've referenced in the sugar palm fruit and milkfish posts of the past month.
     Two potential warnings.  One website claimed tamarind could interfere with several drugs, and cause tooth decay, hypoglycemia, and gallstones.  (Although other, more legitimate-looking online articles made no mention of this, so I'm not sure these healthy warnings are true.)  Also, the U.S. Food & Drug Agency issued an alert for the company I bought from in 2009, for alleged issues with "filth."  (For the record, I didn't notice any dirt or contaminants in the candy I ate, and I didn't have any sickness or stomach upset or anything like that afterward, either, so my batch seemed fine.)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Swedish Cookies

     Once again some cultural differences will be evident in the names of the products I'll be discussing today.  As I've mentioned previously (see May 13, 2017 post), some places, notably the U.K., Ireland, and other English-speaking, former British colonies, call thin, individual-serving sized dessert-type pastries "biscuits," while here in the U.S. we call these "cookies."  To Americans, a "biscuit" is a savory-type roll, often used as a side dish, covered in butter or gravy.  Well it gets even more confusing this time.  The foods I ate are named various kinds of "crisps."  Which is what folks in the U.K. call salty, crunchy potato chips, while referring to what Americans call "French fries" or just "fries" as "chips."  To add to the fun, under the brand name for the products I'll be talking about it reads, "for good cookies."
     All these cookies I tried were made by a Swedish company called Gille.  This company was started by Tord Einarsson in 1967.  By the 1980's they'd successfully expanded into Germany, Norway, and Denmark.  By the 1990's Gille became the market leader in Sweden.  After this they were absorbed by the conglomerate Continental Bakeries North Europe AB.  Continental is wonderfully ancient--it was started by Jacob Bussink in Deventer, in what is now The Netherlands, way back in 1593!  Some of Gille's other cookie offerings include ginger snaps, blueberry rings, apple oat crisps, sweet cardamom, and punschrolls, a traditional Swedish pastry covered in green marzipan with its ends dipped in chocolate.  Their website also mentions how they use very little food coloring, rarely use preservatives, don't use trans fat, and utilize only sustainably-grown palm oil.  They also avoid using peanuts and hazelnuts, evidently because of some peoples' severe allergic reactions to these substances.
    The three Gille cookie kinds I got were the orange flavored oat crisps, the sweet oat crisps, and the double chocolate crisps.  (The last is their best seller.)  Each cookie type was round and about 6 cm. (about 2.5 inches) in diameter.  The orange oat crisps also had chocolate on them, in the form of thin stripes.  I tasted the oats and chocolate up front, and an orange tinge at the end.  These were pretty good.  Respectable, but not spectacular.  I guess orange and chocolate isn't the best flavor pairing for me.  The double chocolate crisps were, of course, two thinner cookies stacked onto each each other.  One side was glazed, and the other side was coated in chocolate chunks.  The flavor pairing of chocolate and oats was better than that with both of these and orange.  This cookie could maybe have been a little sweeter (or maybe I'm used to (possibly) overly sugary sweet American cookies).  Again I'd rate these as solid, but not great.  Finally, I liked the plainer sweet oat crisps the best.  Yet again these weren't overly sweet, but for this one it seemed to work better (oddly, the first ingredient for all 3 cookies types was sugar, so I don't know why they didn't taste that sweet).  Just the simple oat taste was the most pleasing to me, and this is the one I'd buy again.  Plus, even the other two were decent, so I'd certainly give other Gille cookies (or "crisps," or whatever) a chance.
     Finally, I noticed on the Gille website that famous drag artist "Babsan" helped the company celebrate their 50th anniversary on May 24th of this year.  It would appear that Babsan is Sweden's answer to Dame Edna, or RuPaul.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sugar Palm Fruit

     Before this, I wasn't familiar with the sugar palm tree.  Since, I've learned a bit.  It's quite the amazing plant, all things considered.  As with many of the foods and drinks I discuss in this blog, the focus goes by many names.  Doub palm, toddy palm, wine palm, tala palm, palmyra palm, ice-apple (British name), taati munju (in the telugu language of India), and kaong (Filipino name).  This last one is particularly appropriate, as the sugar palm fruit examples I tried were both produced in the Philippines.  This is another gift from the Bitter Melon Asian Market in Angier, North Carolina (near Fuquay-Varina), which I referenced in the milkfish post recently (see the August 26, 2017 post).
     Like many palm trees, the sugar palm requires tropical temperatures; it's native to South Central and Southeast Asia (Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia).  It's also been successfully transplanted to parts of China and Pakistan.  The tree itself can grow up to 30 meters high (or 98 feet), and has separate male and female individuals.  I was reading up on how humans utilize it, when I quickly grew tired.  The sugar palm is basically a living embodiment of The Giving Tree, from the Shel Silverstein book of the same title.  The fruit, stems, and sap are edible.  The leaves are useful as thatching material, mats, fans, umbrellas, paper, and even hats.  The skin and trunks can be made into fibers or a stout rope.  And the wood itself is a fine building material.  It's no wonder that the folks in these areas value the plant so much.
     The two sugar palm fruit examples I bought were from Tasty Joy (through Golden Country Oriental Food Co. again) and Pinoy Fiesta (distributed by Northridge Foods).  Both contained oval fruits that were about 2 cm. by 1 cm. (about .75 inch by .375 inch) with a jellylike texture.  The natural color of the fruit is a whitish, almost translucent shade, but the folks at Tasty Joy artificially colored them red, and those at Pinoy Fiesta artificially colored theirs green.  They both had a pleasing, sweet flavor.  This, too, was enhanced by additives, in this case the addition of cane sugar, but still.  I enjoyed the jelly-like texture, too.  Overall, it was another example of a "nature's candy"--I had no trouble finishing each 12 ounce (340 gram) jar in one sitting.  The green ones (Pinoy Fiesta) were maybe a hair tastier, but this may have been a psychological effect (I like the color green more than red), which I couldn't test because I bought and ate the two jars several days apart.  I recommend both, and will buy these again when/if I can.  I would also be willing to try other sugar palm products, especially the fermented sap drink called toddy.
     Healthwise I noticed a discrepancy.  One website claimed that the sugar palm fruit was chock full of Vitamins A, B, and C, along with calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, and phosphorous.  However, the labels on the jars I got noted that they were not a significant source of these vitamins and nutrients.  Maybe the processing removed these, or else someone is wrong, or exaggerating.  Some people claim that sugar palm fruit is good for dermatitis, ulcers, liver problems, and as a laxative, but these have not as yet been substantiated by medical science.
     I didn't find out much about either the Tasty Joy or the Pinoy Fiesta companies.  The former also markets water chestnuts, fruit mixes, purple yams, and straw mushrooms, while the latter also makes jackfruit, mung beans, peppers, and various types of fish and seafood.  Both jars of sugar palm fruit were about $3, or not too expensive.