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.