Saturday, March 25, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Scottish Drink and Candy Bar

     These two were yet another Wegman's international aisle find.  Today I'll be discussing Lees Jaffa orange chocolate candy bar and A.G. Barr's Irn-Bru soda.  Lees has been around since 1931, and basically makes desserts.  Snowballs, teacakes, meringues, and confectionery bars.  For the latter, aside from the one I was able to get, they also make macaroon, creamy strawberry, raspberry coconut ice, mint chocolate, Scottish tablet, and Scottish fudge.  Their website also has a place where kids (or adults, I suppose) can play a "Space Invaders" ripoff called "Cake Invaders."
     A.G. Barr started as a cork-cutting business in 1830, but in 1871 they ventured into carbonated soft drinks, then called "aerated water."  The business promptly flourished, partially for depressing reasons.  As reported on the website, many Scottish industrial towns at the time were known for their poor sanitation, and correspondingly bad quality water, so a soft drink made from clean water and ingredients was the safer bet.  (Of course, taken to an extreme this would lead to severe dehydration, but in small doses it seems to have helped.)  In 1901 the company launched their signature drink, Iron Brew.  It became known as "Scotland's National Drink," after whisky (also spelled whiskey in much of the world),  They even made fun of the drink's orange color, by having the slogan, "Made in Scotland from girders."  One of Iron Brew's earliest celebrity pitchmen was Alex Munro, who was a champion in a quintessentially Scottish sport--caber tossing.  Due to World War II's strict rationing of food and beverage supplies, Iron Brew was not made from 1942-47.  When A.G. Barr found out that this rationing would end soon, they decided to change the drink's name, out of fear of reports about the new food regulation labeling laws.  The rumor was that labels and names had to be absurdly literal, so much so that calling their drink Iron Brew might be targeted because while it did have some iron in it, it wasn't technically brewed.  So Iron Brew became Irn-Bru.  One additional odd detail about this is these laws reportedly didn't go into effect until 1964, and when they did they weren't as ridiculous as feared.  So, basically the name was changed for nothing.  Once the drink was produced again, it was as popular as ever.  Currently it's the most popular soft drink in Scotland, beating out Coke and Pepsi, even.  And, like Coke, the recipe for Irn-Bru, using 32 ingredients, is a strict secret, known by only 3 people.  Aside from their signature drink, A.G.Barr also sells fruit drinks, drink cocktail mixes (their Funkin line), original, old timey soda styles, and other soft drinks.  The one that really caught my eye was D'N'B, a dandelion and burdock flavored drink (see the January 12, 2015 and April 13, 2013 posts for more info on these foods).  Irn-Bru does have some controversy, though.  It uses the Sunset Yellow FCF and Ponceau 4R food colorings, which are thought to possibly cause hyperactivity and ADHD in children.  Also, quinine, which in extreme cases can cause nasty side effects like headaches, irregular heartbeat, deafness, and other symptoms, some pretty serious.
     The Jaffa orange bar looked like a typical one, covered in wavy dark chocolate.  The inner portion was a yellowish-orange color, not surprisingly.  Since I prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate, this bar had that hurdle to overcome, for me.  It was okay--the filling was noticeably orange-y, and it somehow had a York Peppermint Patty thing going for it.  So overall, it was pretty average for a chocolate bar.  Of course those who prefer dark chocolate would probably enjoy it more than I did.
     The Irn-Bru was in a 16.9 ounce (500 milliliter) bottle, and had the expected orange hue.  The 32 secret flavors were hard to pin down.  I kind of associated it most with a root beerish flavor.  Once again, I didn't hate it, but also didn't love it.  Alright, kind of "meh."  Famous Scottish comedian Billy Connolly had a bit on his 1975 album extolling Irn-Bru's alleged benefits as a hangover cure.  I didn't test this property myself.
     In conclusion, then, I wouldn't really recommend either the Irn-Bru or the Lees Jaffa orange bar, but I wouldn't warn against them, either.  If/when I get the opportunity, I think I'll go with other A.G. Barr and Lees varieties.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sour Oranges

     Sour oranges (aka bitter oranges, Seville oranges, marmalade oranges) are native to Southeast Asia, as are many/most citrus fruits.  They're a hybrid of the mandarin orange and pumellos.  Currently they're grown all over the world, at least the parts of the world that have hot enough climates.  Here in the U.S. they're cultivated in Florida, and obviously the area around Seville, Spain, is another spot that produces a lot of them.
     In looking this fruit up, I learned that is has many non-edible uses.  Perfumes sometimes use the essential oils from sour oranges.  The wood from their trees is used for carved items.  Soap can be made from their fruit.  Plus, sour oranges are utilized in herbal medicine, usually as an appetite suppressant or as a stimulant.  (More on this later.)  Not to say that they're not used in edibles, of course.  One of their nicknames reveals that they're used in making marmalade.  And the Belgian witbier (white beer) style sometimes uses the peel of this fruit as a flavor additive.
    There are several subspecies of sour orange.  The one I bought was greenish-yellow in color, and small, maybe the size of a typical tangerine, or a small orange.  The pulp inside was roughly the same hue.  The taste was.....absolutely wretched.  Here are the notes that I wrote after eating it:  "Ugh.  Tastes like grapefruit--sour as hell.  Awful.  Why do people eat this?"  I choked down two segments, then I stopped punishing myself.  I squeezed some juice out of the remaining pulp, and tried that separately.  This was similarly crappy.  The sour orange was definitely one of the worst fruits I've tried, and probably one of the worst foods, ever.  It was an even more atrocious version of grapefruit. Maybe the scent is good, or the marmalade made with it.  I've liked some Belgian wit biers, so it's possible I've enjoyed sour orange in that limited context.  But as a regular fruits, as a snack, or in a salad, I would only wish it upon my worst enemies, and even then I'd have to think about it.  It was cheap, at least, being about $0.80 for the one I got.
     As for sour oranges in herbal supplement form, there are many red flags.  Evidently its negative side effects are similar to ephedra, with an increased chance of angina, ischemic colitis, and strokes.  So beware of sour orange in that form, too.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Israeli Snacks

     I'm heading to the Middle East for this post.  Wegman's grocery came through yet again.  Today I'll be talking about two products from Osem--Bamba peanut snacks and Petit Beuree biscuits.  And then two products from Unilever--the Klik La-Hit and the Klik Choko-kid candy bars.
     I'd never heard of Osem or Unilever, which shows how little I know about European and Middle Eastern companies.  Because both are absolutely huge.  Osem started in 1942, as a consolidation of several noodle factories, accomplished by a group known as the Amazing Seven.  "Osem" means "plenty" in a Yom Kippur prayer.  Osem started off making pastries, baked goods, sauces, ketchup, and soup.  Then, in 1995 they partnered up with the immense international company Nestle.  Nestle now owns a majority of the company.  Through this merger, Osem now also manufactures pet food, pickles, canned foods, and jams.  And probably many other things--I grew exhausted reading through their website!
     Unilever began in 1929, as the Dutch margarine company Unie and the British soupmaking Lever Brothers combined, and merged their name as if they were a Hollywood acting couple in a tabloid.  It was a natural marriage, since both companies depended heavily on palm oil.  Unilever grew into the mammoth outfit that they are today.  It has offices and factories on every continent save Antarctica, and they're presumably negotiating with the few scientists on that icy world to eventually open some there, too.  Included in the Unilever umbrella are Dove, Lipton, Lux, Sunsilk, and Hellmann's to name just a few of its brands.  Unilever's main competitors are Proctor & Gamble and.....Nestle.
     But enough about business, let's get to the food.  The Klik La-Hit candy bar is a crispy bar filled with nougat, coated with milk chocolate.  The one I had was good sized, being about 5 inches by 1 inch (or about 12.5 cm. by 2.5 cm.).  Its texture was rather like a Kit Kat bar, and the filling was certainly distinct.  It was good.  Not spectacular, but tasty.  I've found it's difficult to truly mess up a chocolate candy bar, and this was no exception.  The Klik Choco-kid bar was a bit smaller, about 4 inches by 1 inch (about 10.5 cm. by 2.5 cm.), and strange looking.  To use a particularly unappetizing comparison, it looked somewhat like a turd.  It was composed of about 20 roundish shapes pressed into each other.  Its color was brownish, with a white coating.  This bar was milk chocolate around an milk cream filling.  And the taste was really top notch.  The milk cream filling really made it stand out.  An excellent example of a chocolate candy bar.
     The Osem Petit Beurre biscuits were pretty big, about 2.5 by 2 inches (about 6.5 cm. by 5.5 cm.) roughly rectangular shaped.  It had regular protuberances around its edges, like it was a badge or something, and was yellowish-brown in color.  The company and product name were etched on the front of the cookie.  The flavor was not as sweet as most American cookies.  But it was still okay.  I should explain, in the U.S, a "biscuit" is like a dense roll, a dinner side, often buttered or covered with gravy.  And a "cookie" is the sweet dessert baked good, such as an Oreo, vanilla wafer, chocolate chip, etc.  Apparently in much of Europe a biscuit is their name for cookies.  Cultural differences, like football/soccer all over again.  Moving on, the Osem Bamba is a peanut snack, which looks like a yellowish-brown cheese curl, or cheese doodle.  When the Bamba was first developed, in 1964, it was very similar to a cheese curl, since it was also cheese-flavored.  However, in 1966 they were switched to be peanut flavored.  And they flourished.  To a ridiculous degree.  I read that Bambas are the most popular snack in Israel, as an astounding 90% or households buy them regularly.  They're reportedly healthier than most snacks, jam-packed with vitamins.  (I noticed an irregularity, here, as the nutrition information on the label for mine listed 0% Vitamin A, C, calcium, and iron.  Don't know what the deal is.)  A recent British study suggests that snacks like Bamba might explain why Israeli children suffer from less peanut allergies than American kids do.  Supposedly the Israeli tots eat lots of peanuts when young, unlike Americans, and as a result they don't develop that allergy.  (I want to stress that this study isn't completely substantiated, or the situation may not be this cause-and-effect, so don't feed your toddlers tons of peanuts based on this!)  I thought the texture of the Bambas was just like a cheese curl.  The taste was a little weird at first--kind of like a salty snack, but the peanut flavor made it seem a little sweetish, too.  It really grew on me, though.  I finished the bag eagerly, and really enjoyed it.  I also found the product's character logo to be amusing--it's a baby, lifting a huge barbell with one hand while the other is giving a "thumbs up."
     All in all, then, the Israeli snacks I tried were pretty impressive.  Even the weaker ones were solid, and the stronger ones were quite tasty.  I'd advise grabbing them if you can.  And given how ubiquitous their manufacturers are, you probably can locate them fairly easily.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Danish Fontina Cheese

     Once again, the subject of this post is a little irregular.  As readers might suspect from its name, fontina cheese is actually an Italian invention.  Quite an old one, actually, dating back to the 12th century.  The remote, relatively unpopulated Aosta Valley is where the cheese was born, which is an area of Italy which borders with Switzerland and France.  Fontina is noted for its distinctly strong odor and flavor.  "Young" (unaged) fontina is soft and known for being a good choice for making fondue, while "old" (aged) fontina is a hard cheese.
     However, since the cheese is popular, imitation was inevitable.  Derivative fontinas are made in Denmark, obviously, and Sweden, Argentina, the U.S., Quebec, and France.  The Danish version is particularly popular in the U.S. because it's cheaper than the Italian original--roughly $12 per pound versus $15 per pound.  Some cheese purists (apparently they're an actual thing) are critical of the non-Italian derivatives, feeling that they're inferior knockoffs.  The Danish kind is semisoft, and is considered to have a milder odor and taste.  A sweet, nutty flavor, rather than the original's mushroom-y, earthy, woody taste.  Fontina is also considered to be an excellent cooking cheese, due to its melting point.  So it's commonly used for macaroni and cheese, and also in sandwiches.
    The Danish fontina I bought was fairly expensive--$5.28 for 7 ounces (about 200 grams).  It was light yellowish in color, semisoft, with a red wax rind.  It was a Di Bruno Brothers/Celebrity International product, imported by Atalanta Corp. out of New Jersey.  I had it plain, and then on Wheat Thins crackers.  The taste was simple and plain, but good for both ways.  I didn't really pick up on the "nutty" flavoring, but it was still a very respectable cheese.  My father tried some, too, and had the same opinion.  It probably goes without saying that I'll certainly try the original Italian version of fontina if/when I get the chance, to compare and contrast with the Danish kind.  But, I found the knockoff to be more than decent in its own right.
     Now I'd like to throw out some fun and interesting facts about the country of Denmark.  It  rates as being excellent in social mobility, income equality, low levels of corruption, and has led the world in having the "happiest citizens" during 2 years.  It also ranks very well on worker's rights, and has the highest minimum wage, and....correspondingly high personal income tax, and some other taxes.  (For an example of the latter, evidently the tax on a new car is 150%!)  Additionally, it was the first country to completely legalize pornography, back in 1969.  Famous Danes include the brass-nosed astronomer Tycho Brahe (he lost part of his nose in a sword duel), the atomic physicist Niels Bohr, fairly tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, and the Lego toy brick company.  Also, the Bluetooth technical device is named after the second Danish King--Harald Gormsson, also known as "Bluetooth."  It's not conclusively known how he got this nickname--either it was a linguistic corruption of "dark chieftain," or the King didn't practice great dental hygiene.  And, finally, Denmark sounds like a good place for hipsters to visit--a website I checked noted that the Danish people have "a strong sense of irony."