Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Brazilian Cookies, and a Brief Rant About Anheuser-Busch

     This one's admittedly a bit weak; the company which made these cookies is Goya, which is American owned.  However, Goya's products are sold throughout the U.S., Central and South America, and the Caribbean, and as such they have manufacturing plants and distribution centers scattered all over these areas.  And the cookies I'll talk about today were truly made in Brazil.  Although they can be purchased in the U.S. in stores with good foreign food sections (For example, Wegmans supermarkets, and the Washington, D.C.--based Union Market district, where I bought these), they're mostly targeted to and bought in, Brazil.  So long story short, I'm counting them.
     The cookies I tried were all Brazilian variations on a common type, the vanilla wafer.  These are the thin "sandwiches" which consist of two, cross-hatched outer wafers with an interior cream filling.  As it turns out, the Brazilian Goya wafers come in eight different flavors--vanilla, chocolate, mango, coconut, dulce de leche, guava, strawberry, and pineapple.  I tried the latter three.  Incidentally, the three I tried don't contain any actual fruit, and I strongly suspect that the others also got their flavors from artificial means.  So these aren't health foods.  If you're suffering from scurvy, these cookies won't help you a bit.  Also, each cookie had the traditional yellowish outer wafers, with fillings that are the same color as the fruit flavor, again, surely produced by artificial means.
     I'll return to the U.S. scholastic system for rating these--"A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, and "F" for failing, with pluses and minuses as necessary.

Goya wafers, guava flavor:  B+.  Very nice.  I enjoy guava, especially its juice, and their chemicals apparently approximated this fruit very well.

Goya wafers, pineapple flavor:  B+.  Also very good.  Once again, had the billed flavor.  Kind of an unusual one for a wafer cookie, but it worked somehow.  Even a bit tangy.

Goya wafers, strawberry flavor:  B.  Still good, and with the required fruit flavor, but a tad blander than the others.  So the weakest of the bunch.

     To summarize, all of these were at least good.  Nice new (to me, anyway) twists on an old favorite.  They were also modestly priced, being about $2-3 for a 5.6 ounce (160 gram) pack.  I'd certainly buy these again, when/if I get the chance.  I'll also eagerly seek out the kinds I haven't tried (except for maybe the vanilla and chocolate kinds, since I had these flavors in wafers many times before).  But, they weren't awesome, either.  They're not Nutter Butters, or Pecan Sandies, or Thin Mints.  Just a good to very good wafer cookie.
     Moving on, in case you're curious, the family that owns Goya, the Unanue family, is the second wealthiest Hispanic/Latino family in the U.S., with a fortune estimated at over a billion dollars.  Founder Prudencio Unanue Ortiz was born in Spain, and came to New York via Puerto Rico.  The company was started in 1936.  Their headquarters are in my home state, in Jersey City, New Jersey.

     Oh, and just to end on a short diatribe, as readers may already know, Budweiser is changing its name to "America" during this Presidential election year.  Kind of ironic for a company owned by the Belgian/Brazilian run InBev.  In my opinion, it's a pretty disingenuous gesture, to appear more patriotic.  Not that I'm against foreign beers at all--I'm just against the sleazy dishonesty being shown here.  So, to reference one of their annoying television commercials, instead of drinking (phony) "America," I'll "sip my pumpkin peach ales"--my craft beers, and good foreign beers,  You know, beers which have some actual taste.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--German Gummi Candies

     I first became aware of gummi candy as a kid, maybe around 12 or 13 (or about 1983-4).  Initially it was gummi bears, then gummi worms, then sometimes sour versions of either.  They were okay, but not one of my favorites.  So, they were an occasional purchase, but not a regular one.
     When I picked up a couple of the HARIBO gummi candy bags (once again, at a store in Washington D.C.'s Union Market district), I figured they were foreign versions of the U.S. gummi candies I'd grown accustomed to.  In this case, according to the bags' labels, Turkey's knock offs.  But even a cursory bit of research showed that I was wrong on two counts.  First, while these candies were indeed made in Turkey, HARIBO is actually a German company.  And, I had it turned around.  HARIBO invented gummi candy.  The U.S. versions (I can't remember the brands, but I'm pretty sure they weren't HARIBO products) I had were the knock offs.  Ethnocentrism strikes again. 
    HARIBO was started in 1920, by a Johannes "Hans" Reigel in Bonn, Germany.  The company name actually stands for HAns RIegel, BOnn.  In 1922 he invented gummi candy, including the traditional gummi bears.  The company was highly successful, and to date has plants all over Europe, and also, of course, Turkey.  They began to export to the U.S. in the 1980's.
     Anyway, the two kinds I bought were the Mini Rainbow Frogs and the Sour Gold-Bears (or "SOUR!!" as the cartoon bear on the label is yelling, while he closes his eyes and jumps around).  The frogs were, as advertised, very small red, green, and yellow gummis.  And they tasted like regular gummis--no better and no worse.  So alright, but not awesome or anything.  The sour gold-bears, despite their name, were colored red (raspberry flavored), orange (orange flavored), green (strawberry flavored), golden (pineapple), and yellow (lemon).  I liked them better--they were better than average, good even.  Although, to be fair, I've always liked sour gummi candy more than the non-sour regular variety, so this makes sense.  I did get a bit of a surprise as I further examined the candy wrappers.  Both were past their "best by" dates.  The gold-bears were about 3 months past, while the frogs were about a year and a half over this.  Considering this, I'm kind of impressed that the frogs were even average-tasting, given how relatively ancient they were.  And I should have been more vigilant about checking the dates when I picked these off the rack.  Plus, evidently that particular store doesn't check the dates of their wares very consistently, or else doesn't care--either way, a strike against it.
     Lastly, HARIBO has had a couple of controversies surrounding it.  First off, some have accused the company of using Jewish forced labor during World War II.  (The company denies this, and I couldn't find definitive proof of this.)  Then in 2014 HARIBO's Skipper Mix, which was released in Sweden and Denmark, contained candies in shapes that some found offensive.  Specifically, they were facial caricatures and masks of Africans, Asians, and Native Americans, that some thought were racist.  The bags were pulled off the shelves, and the offending candy shapes were discontinued.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Olluco

     So I'm finally done with talking about the foods and drinks from Washington D.C.'s Union Market.  Ha!  Just kidding--there's still many more, including the one for this post.
     Olluco, aka ulluku, chugua, ruba, milluku, and others, is a very important crop in the Andes region of South America.  Especially in Peru.  In fact, it's second in importance to the potato.  The tuber is the main part eaten, but the leaves of the plant are also edible.  Olluco is actually based on the Quechua term for tuber--ullucu.  It's believed to have been first cultivated in Peru, and was a key food source for the Incan Empire.
     At a glance, ollucos look like a small, slightly weird colored potato.  They range from orange to yellow mostly, although some are red or even pink.  They also commonly have red/pink/purple "freckles" on them.  Unlike the potato, they have a fairly substantial water content, meaning they're not very good for frying or baking.  Healthwise, they're a good source of Vitamin C, and also have some iron and fiber.  For dieters they're not a bad choice, either--my 20 ounce can (560 gram) can was only about 200 calories, total.
     My ollucos came right from the motherland--Peru.  Specifically from Inca's Food, and then imported into the U.S. by PEIMCO (stands for Peru Import Company, Inc.) out of New Jersey.  They were a light brown in color, with brownish freckles.  (I assume they were originally yellowish or orange, and they turned brown due to the canning process.)  Each one was about 2-3 inches long (about 5-7 cm.), and about an inch wide (or about 2.5 cm.)  Recipes advocated cooking them, usually with meat and other vegetables.  But, I was feeling lazy, so I just sliced them up and stuck them in the microwave.  Their water content was easily recognized--after only 30 seconds they started sizzling.  Once this was done I tried some plain, some with salt, and some with ketchup.  I thought they tasted very similar to potatoes, which is a compliment.  The salt and ketchup helped, but plain was decent, too.  I'll certainly be willing to give ollucos another try, if I can find them.  (This might well be possible only with a return trip to the Union Market, but we'll see.)  The price was reasonable as well--about $2 for the can, as I recall.  Although next time I think I will attempt to cook them up with some meat and veggies, to get the full effect.
     Also, my internet access might be very spotty next week.  I'll try to post on time, but it's possible it might be delayed for a few days.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Basil Seed Drink

      Basil is, of course, an extremely common herb, one which is enjoyed around the world.  While its beginnings aren't conclusively known, it is believed to have originated in India.  Wherever this original homeland was, it's been cultivated by humans for the past 5,000 years.  And though it's used pretty much everywhere, it's particularly important to Italian and many Southeast Asian cuisines.
     In fact, it is sometimes referred to as the "king of herbs."  However, at least four other herbs contend for this "title"--ginseng, tarragon, reishi mushroom, and soma (not the wonder drug in "Brave New World," but an ancient Proto-Indo-Iranian drink whose exact components have been lost).  I kind of hope some deranged chef does a parody of "Game of Thrones," wherein these various herbs battle it out.  Hell, tarragon's name is already fairly close to Targaryen.
     Like many of the foods I've discussed on this blog, basil has quite a following, and many attributes are ascribed to it, other than to spice up bland food.  It may indeed have some antioxidant and antiviral qualities.  Followers of alternative medicines go much further.  Depending on the source, some claim basil can help treat stress, asthma, diabetes, digestive problems, colds, skin infections, obesity, and even cancer.  But, and I'll write this for perhaps the twentieth time--these claims are as of yet unproven by medical science (also, ironically, basil contains estrayole, which is known to be a carcinogen, although the amounts you'd have to eat to increase your risk significantly are nearly impossibly high).
     As a horror fan, I am also amused to see that basil has a morbid side.  In some European cultures, it was traditionally put in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey to the other side.  Dying folks in India sometimes had basil put in their mouths, for the same reason.  The ancient Greeks and Egyptians even believed that basil could open up the gates of heaven.  (Which leads to all sorts of theological questions for me--mainly, what if a deceased evil person, say a serial killer, still has basil with them?  Was this herbal loophole something that even deities couldn't prevent?)
    Anyway, I've gotten off the track.  While basil isn't exotic at all, a drink which features it is, at least to Americans.  This is yet another jewel from the Union Market in Washington, D.C.  Sources I read had some disagreements, but it appears I sampled the drink called nam manglak.  It's from Thailand, and my bottle was, too.  The label called it a "basil seed drink with honey."  Besides water, it contained basil seed (obviously), sugar, honey, gellan gum, artificial honey flavor, and caramel for color.  It was made by Deer in Thailand, and imported by Best Foods NJ Inc.  In addition to thanking my friend Keith one more time for introducing me to the Union Market, he also took the photographs that accompanies this post.
     As you can see from the pictures, I hope, the basil seed drink looked quite odd.  The basil seeds themselves made it look like I was drinking tadpoles (ooh, another blog post idea).  The taste, befitting the honey description, was very sweet and syrupy.  I tried some of the basil seeds separately, and they didn't have much of a flavor.  I didn't love it, but I did like it, and I would have it again.  Keith thought it tasted like the milk at the bottom of the cereal bowl, which I can see.  It also reminded me somewhat of the aloe drink (See the June 17, 2012 post) because of the weird solids suspended in it.  To sum up, then, it was a solid beverage, good but not spectacular.
     But, to answer the bigger question, I don't know if holding a bottle of basil seed drink in your dead hands will help your position in the afterlife.  Consult your local clergy, I guess.