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.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Czech Dessert Snacks

     Today I'll be discussing two Czech foods--wholegrain chocolate rice squares and wholegrain rice checkers (mini rice cakes covered in chocolate).  I wasn't really sure what to call these, as the rice part would typically indicate a snack, while the chocolate part suggests a dessert type concoction.  Hence the title.  Both of these came from the sublime Wegman's supermarket once again.
     Both of these products were made by Paskesz.  Paskesz bills itself as the "premier brand in the kosher food market," and I for one can't dispute this.  A look at their product line on their website showed cookies, crackers, pasta, snacks, cereals, chocolate, gum, canned veggies (mostly cucumbers, olives, and peppers), and, oddly, candles.  They also are licensed to distribute some other major companies' products, such as Pez candy, Orbit gum, and Haribo candy (see May 18, 2015 post for more on Haribo).  The company history was a little peculiar in that it didn't give exact dates.  So I can report that Paskesz originated in Mako, Hungary, in the early 20th century, and that it's been family owned and operated for over 60 years.  Anshel Paskesz started a store that sold hard candy and citrus fruit, and the company took off from there.  After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust Paskesz moved to the U.S. in 1954 and cornered the market on kosher cookies, and then kosher gum in the 1960's.  While the company's corporate offices are located in Brooklyn, NY, the rice products I bought were made in the Czech Republic.  (They also used authentic Belgian chocolate, to increase the whole scenario's cosmopolitanism.)
     After seeing all that Paskesz manufactures, I was disappointed that the two foods I could locate were extremely similar to each other.  But, I went with what I could.  The rice squares were about 8 cm. (about 3 inches) on a side, and about .5 cm. (about .2 inches) thick, and had a chocolate coating on top.  They tasted pretty much exactly like I expected.  The rice cakes were bland, as are all rice cakes, in my opinion, but the addition of chocolate made it okay.  Not great, but alright.  I occasionally eat regular rice cakes, but they're always flavored (usually with cheese powder), or else I put a condiment on them (mustard, taco sauce, ketchup, etc.) to make them more palatable.  These were kind of the same situation, only with chocolate instead of a savory type condiment.  They were made from 55% dark chocolate, which surprised me when I read it after eating them.  Normally I don't like dark chocolate much (see September 20, 2015 post for more detail on that) but the dark chocolate on these rice cakes was quite good.
     The mini rice cake "checkers" were essentially the same thing as their rice square sibling.  They were smaller and round--about 5 cm. in diameter (about 2 inches), but were once again a white rice cake with a chocolate coating, which this time was 50% dark chocolate.  And yet again I liked them, but didn't love them.  A rather "meh" reaction.
     Therefore, to sum up, I don't think I'll buy these particular Paskesz products again, as I wasn't very dazzled by them.  I would, though, try other Paskesz foods if/when I get the opportunity.
     I'll end with a couple of tidbits about kosher foods.  I grew up in a mostly Christian town, and the Jewish friends I've made since haven't been very strictly observant of their dietary laws.  So much of this is a new concept for me.  From what I read, there is a ban on flying animals that creep on the earth, with four exceptions--2 kinds of locust, grasshoppers, and beetles/crickets (the former is from an older translation of ancient writings, while the latter is a 19th century translation).  Also, it is forbidden to eat hyraxes.  These are the wonderfully weird and obscure Middle Eastern and African animals which appear to be rodents, but are actually most closely related to manatees and elephants.  (Like their larger cousins, they have unusually-placed teats, and males lack a scrotum.)  I don't think a lot of people, whatever their religious beliefs are, eat hyraxes much, but be that as it may.