Saturday, June 27, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Special Candies

     Typically, candy epitomizes the term “empty calories.”  Candy is usually sugar-packed (or in the case of the ridiculous Pixie Stix, is basically just artificially colored sugar granules) and sometimes fatty to boot.  That’s what makes candy so delicious, and so hard for most to resist.
     Well, a few companies have tried to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak, and manufacture candy that’s tasty and healthy.  Snap Infusion, out of Massachusetts, U.S.A., has come up with something called Supercandy.  To quote from their website, the candy has “5 kinds of awesome”—B vitamins, electrolytes, antioxidants, fewer than normal calories, and is natural.  They also have the slogan, “Yes, your tongue has dreams.”  (Which makes me wonder—do all our organs do this?  Does my spleen sometimes dream it’s naked except for cowboy boots, back in school being forced to take a test it hasn’t studied for?)  Fittingly, there are currently five kinds of Supercandy—gummy multi-berry, bean multi-berry (it looks like a jelly bean, not like it’s lima bean flavored or something), caramel, sour gummy fruit-full, and tart fruit-full.  Additionally they are endorsed by a female free style skier, Taylor Urlich.  I’ve heard of free style swimming, but not skiing.  But evidently it’s a thing.
     Also, the folks at AWAKE Corporation (from Canada) have invented their own spin on candy.  It’s not advertized as being healthy, but it is energizing.  Specifically, it’s billed as an eye-opener—each bar has the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee (about 100 mg.), and each smaller piece “bite” has the same as a half cup.  Because of this, their candy has a maximum amount per day warning (4 “bites,” or 2 bars).  All chocolate has some caffeine in it naturally, but this has been infused with over ten times the amount.  It has a vigilant-looking mascot, in the form of an owl named Nevil.
     For the Supercandies I was able to locate the gummy multi-berry and the caramel.  The former was orange and cherry flavored, and tasted like….gummy candies, or decent.  Which I guess is good— it wasn’t noticeably inferior or even nasty like some diet/”healthy” foods.  The caramel one was better—a nice sharp caramel flavor.  I would buy either again, especially the caramel type, as they’re both respectable candies.
     Although, to be fair, there is some criticism of these types of candy.  As a health website (the Mettler Center) points out, even “healthy” candy is still largely sugar based, with all the detriments that entails.  It’s still not as nutritious as say, a piece of fruit.  Furthermore, consuming diet type candies or snacks can backfire, as they result in slower drop of the hunger hormone ghrelin, meaning a person will be less satisfied with the diet version, and may end up eating more than if they were eating regular candy/food.  So keep this in mind—Supercandy may be better than most candy, with some benefits, but don’t go thinking it’s a healthy meal or anything.  (As an aside, I really like the name “ghrelin.”  I think it would make for a good monster name—“The marks on that haberdasher’s corpse show all the signs of a ghrelin attack,” or “While we were just talking, Ghrelin just razed Luxembourg and the better part of Helena, Montana.”)
     As for the AWAKE, I tried the caramel flavor, in the bite sized piece format.  It tasted like a typical carmel-filled chocolate.  Good, but not spectacular.  I might buy it again, but I don’t think I would necessarily seek it out.  Alas, I’m not really the target audience for this product, as caffeine doesn’t seem to really affect me.  Even so, I decided to be prudent and follow the stated piece maximum for each day.  But, I can see this being a viable alternative for coffee drinkers, as they could save some time in the morning by not having to brew up a pot, or drive to Starbucks or whatever.  As with any caffeine-based food or beverage, there are the usual health issues—addiction, nervousness, trouble sleeping, etc., so if you do indulge, I would follow the warnings on the package.  (Amazing caffeine trivia—severe addict Voltaire reportedly consumed a staggering 50-72 cups of coffee a day.  How he ever slept, or managed to be out of the bathroom for more than five minutes I’ll never know.)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Writing Announcement and Another Rare Poem

     Got some more good writing news recently.  "The Literary Hatchet" accepted another one of my stories, for their upcoming August issue.  You might recall that this same publication published a story of mine, "Sudden Death Overtime," back in April of this year.  The story that was accepted this time is titled, "St. Vincent," and it's about a decidedly unorthodox hitman.  This one is definitely only suitable for adult reading, as it's one of the more disturbing ones I've written.  I'll post more details when I get them.

     Just to fill out this post a little, I was revisiting some of my old papers from childhood.  Included in them was a poem I wrote in high school, in 9th grade as I recall.  As I discussed way back in my 2nd ever blog post (February 14th, 2012), I'm not much into poetry, either reading or writing it.  So with that negative endorsement, here it is:

I needed some money, that much was very clear,
To buy my family a Christmas gift.
If I did not, my mom would shed a tear,
And everyone else would be really miffed!
After searching for money in the park,
I still could not hit upon an answer.
I guessed I could have gone to a loan shark,
But dealing with them was worse than cancer!
I thought I might earn by shoveling snow,
But there was just none on the ground.
I soon did find it was a very tough go,
I realized there were no jobs to be found.
        But then a thought came to me on my deck,
        I could make cash betting football with Eck!

     I received an "A" and a "Nice work."  (Again, it was a small school, and I was only like 15.)  And to explain, the "Eck" in the last line was my teacher, Mr. Eck, and I did indeed bet football games with him (I think I came out ahead, too).
     For those not big on poetry, like me, this is an example of an English sonnet.  Also commonly known as a Shakespearean sonnet.  Ol' William didn't invent the form, but he did help to popularize it.  It differs from the classic Italian sonnet in that its end rhyme scheme is a-b, a-b, c-d, c-d, e-f, e-f, g-g.  Additionally, I learned that the term, "Sonneteers," for people who write sonnets, of course, can be used as an insult, apparently.  I plan to start using this myself, although presumably inaccurately.
     Finally, to end on a sad note, I recently found out that my teacher passed on about a year ago.  So RIP, Mr. Eck.  Thanks for being a fun, and informative English teacher, and for teaching us "Liar's Poker," which is a gambling game using dollar bill serial numbers. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Golden Berries

     The first thing to know about golden berries is that they have more names than a 1970’s-1980’s European zombie movie.  Here’s some of their alternate names:  Aztec berry, Inca berry, Cape gooseberry, African ground cherry, Peruvian ground cherry, Peruvian cherry, giant ground cherry, and my favorite—amour en cage (French for “love in a cage,” which presumably is also a cliché S&M movie title).  Or, evidently in the U.K. folks stay stiffly clinical, and refer to it as physalis, after its scientific name Physalis peruviana.  As some of their names indicate, golden berries originate from South America.  But they’ve been introduced worldwide over the past several hundred years.  Now they’re grown in the U.K., South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Thailand, and Turkey, among others.
     The French “love in a cage” moniker comes from the fruit’s structure.  Each berry is enclosed within a papery, wrapperlike hood called a calyx.  The fruit itself is usually yellow or orange, and they are typically the size of a large marble.  The “cherry” part of many of the names is a misnomer, as they’re not related.  Actually they are close cousins of the tomatillo.  Traditionally they’re eaten in fruit salads, or as dessert garnishes.  Golden berries are also dried and made into their version of raisins.  Perhaps in Paris that form is known as, “the love in a cage whom you’ve forgotten to feed or water for weeks on end.”
     I found mine in the Stop & Shop in central Jersey, the same place I located the Indian snacks from last week’s post.  They were, as advertised, very sweet and tart, with an unusual, distinctive taste for a berry.  I enjoyed them, and would have them again.  However, with one caveat.  I don’t know if this was Stop & Shop’s fault or what, but at least 60-70% of the individual fruits were inedible—most were dried out, blackened husks, and some were literally sporting penicillin-like colonies.  I think the calyx might be the cause for this, as you couldn’t see the individual berries through their covering.  Maybe the calyxes help keep them fresh, but in this case the batch I had was clearly way too old.  But, as I said, assuming that they’re ripe the berries themselves are very tasty.
     Nutritionally golden berries are a good choice, too.  They have less sugar than many similar sized berries, and have a decent amount of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, niacin, thiamine, beta carotene, and antioxidants.  The alternative medicine crowd is big on them as well.  They claim the berries are effective against jaundice, help regulate blood sugar and keep your kidneys and liver healthy.  But, as always, these claims haven’t been scientifically proven to date.  Finally, they’re also touted as being superfoods—see May 1, 2014 post for more discussion on that issue.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Indian Snacks, and the World's Hottest Food

     So, for the first time in a grocery store I found premade Indian snacks for sale.  (Incidentally, I mean Indians as in the country, not Native Americans.)  The store, Stop & Shop, had a decent international foods selection in general.  And evidently the area between Princeton and New Brunswick, NJ, has a decent sized population of folks with Indian ancestry, or at least customers who like the cuisine. 
     Obviously, given the theme of this type of blog post, I’m pretty much always willing to try new and exotic foods.  However, in this case I was particularly eager, as I’m quite the fan of Indian food.  Everything from the appetizers, to the entrees, to the bread on the side, to the yogurt-based beverages are very tasty.
     Here are the snack foods I found.  I’m yet again using the U.S. scholastic method for grading—A for excellent, B for good, C for average, D for unsatisfactory but barely passing, F for failing, and pluses and minuses as necessary.

Peanut Bhujia, distributed by Deep Foods, Inc., made in the U.S.A.  These were peanuts wrapped in a coating made of chick pea flour, corn starch, corn and canola oils, urad flour, salt, chili, black salt, mango powder, black pepper, citric acid and spices:  A-.  I love peanuts, and these were basically just crunchier, spicier versions.

Cruncy Chor, also a Deep Foods, U.S.A. made product.  These were tiny yellowish crackers made from chickpeas, corn and canola oil, salt, red pepper, black salt, citric acid, and spices:  B-.  These were pretty good, but not as palatable as the previous bhujia.  Spicy again.  Rather messy to eat, too, as the crackers were easily broken into essentially powder.

Hot N’ Crunchy, once again distributed by Deep Foods, but actually made in India.  Clearly, this is a generic name—I couldn’t find a more specific one on the bag, or during brief internet research.  This snack looked sort of like trail mix, with small rods, pea sized spheres, and tiny crackers all together.  Made from gram flour, rice flour, rice flakes, corn flakes, peanuts, palm oil, red chilis, and spices:  B+.  These had a chip-like flavor to them, which I suppose comes from the corn flakes.  Decent again, and also spicy.

     Therefore, even the worst of these was still pretty good.  I would recommend any of them, unless you’re not into spicy foods.  Because the spice is noticeable—I could only eat a moderate amount at a sitting, as the spice grew on me.
     Speaking of spice, I was curious about the hottest foods in the world.  I’ve been in multiple restaurants that advertised extremely spicy food, usually in the form of hot chicken wings.  Back in my college days, I remember chowing down on the Thermonuclear wings at Cluck U Chicken in New Brunswick, NJ.  During one particularly embarrassing, (drunken) night, I was so overwhelmed by the wings that I drank the ranch side dressing to try to get some relief.  Some places which tout ridiculously hot foods even require potential customers to sign a legal waiver so the restaurant doesn’t get sued if you harm yourself.
     The standard scale used in defining food hotness is the Scoville Scale, named after its developer, the pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, in 1912.  Various types of pepper are the undisputed hotness title holders.  Back in 2007, the champ was the Bhut Jolokia, commonly known as the ghost pepper.  It scored a high of 1,000,000 Scoville units.  But the hot pepper game is constantly changing, so it was surpassed repeatedly in a short amount of time.  The Infinity Chili scored a 1,067,286, and then the Naga Viper Pepper got 1,382,118.  Then the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion scored a 2,000,000.  The latest champ is the Carolina Reaper (whose original moniker was the boring “HP22BNH”), which clocks in with a high of 2,200,000.  It’s a cross between the ghost pepper and a red habenaro.  Its developer is Ed Currie of the South Carolina based PuckerButt Pepper Company (really).
     I should note all of these scores are somewhat controversial.  Some folks contend that the Scoville Scale is too subjective.  They point out that the Scoville process involves 5 (trained) human tasters judging each candidate (after it’s been dried and dissolved in alcohol, and then diluted in a sugar water solution).  Differences in the human raters’ personal tastes, or simply sensory fatigue (taste buds can be desensitized after repeated tastings) can lead to different scores from different spice labs.  An alternate method is considered more objective and empirical, since it measures the capsaicin amounts (the substance that causes pepper hotness) using high performance liquid chromatography, and comes up with American Spice Trade Association Pungency Units.  (Roughly, one of these corresponds with 15 Scoville units.)
     But, my personal favorite will always be the fictional pepper featured in the chili cook off episode of “The Simpsons.”  It’s the episode where Chief Wiggum uses a super hot pepper which causes Homer to run off in a panic, and have various terrifying yet ultimately insightful hallucinations, assisted by his coyote spirit animal, voiced by Johnny Cash.  I’ll end by including Wiggum’s description:  “The merciless pepper of Quetzalacatenango… grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum.”