Home cooking – Soon a historical activity?

At an altitude of 30,000 feet with the seat belt sign illuminated and grim looking airline stewardesses policing the aisles and helping increase the pressure in my bladder, I had just about enough of gazing at the various types of clouds that we passed. I tried to recall the numerous types that were taught once upon a long time ago by teachers who assumed that this specific knowledge would prove useful some day - cirrus, cumulus, nimbus, stratus…..

I dozed for a while, waking up, I picked up my book, but found the small text heavy going, on that day. Looking around was the next thing to do. The kids in the front row were making a racket, their seat backs rattling my deteriorating knees. The old man across the aisle was eyeing me suspiciously, looking to see if the brown man with a moustache (i.e. me) would jump out with a box cutter or something like that. A couple of colored hair teens were busy musically necking (listening to their Ipods at the same time), a lady was knitting with her brow furrowed in concentration, a pretty girl was trying to sneeze silently and ladylike but not making much headway with tears streaming down her eyes instead. The tanned executive with his crisp white shirt and gelled hair was busy on his laptop, but I saw that he was actually watching a movie. The stewardess mercifully started down the aisles with the snack trolley. That was great!! Getting a snack instead of peanuts!! This time we got a biscuit. It was eaten with gusto in no time, leaving behind only the white covering with nice print on it, and I started to examine the wrapper idly. Nice picture and well known name – Distinctive, deep rich chocolate, exquisite flavored biscuit…. proclaimed the plastic cover with the silvered inside.

Do not use if package is open or torn!! I wondered… hmmm… we ate biscuits, not ‘used’ it! Ah! Well you can’t tell people what to do these days, perhaps; they use biscuits for something, other than eating, who knows?? And I wondered about the possible uses, to prop open a door? To blackmail a crying child? Toss at somebody when annoyed? To smell the vanilla when you felt airsick?? After I while I gave up trying to figure out potential ‘uses’ and thought of the saying that was drummed into our heads - an idle mind is a dangerous thing!!

Weight 0.75Oz, it said. Turning the wrapper over, I read through the Nutrition facts – 120 calories, 5mg cholesterol, 55mg sodium (but it did not taste salty, it was sweet so why so much salt??), various other vitamins and so on thus confirming that it is indeed great for one’s health. Then I came to Made from – unbleached enriched flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, chocolate liquor processed with alkalis, soy lecithin, palm and/or interesterified and hydrogenetaed soyabean and/or cottonseed…… Chocolate liquor processed with alkali’s…

The list went on…and I wondered…what the hell, in the old days you took some flour, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla essence and made a cookie. Why add interesterified and hydrogenetaed (I could not even guess what those terms meant!) cottonseed and reduced iron?? I promised myself that this needed some later study..

Reading how this biscuit was made later convinced me that it is
rather sophisticated a process. But when I read about its marketing campaign as an everyday reward, I was astonished. Not that additives and all that stuff is necessarily bad for health, but the huge difference between traditional home cooking and mass production simply amazed me…

What is interesterified oil?
Using either chemical or enzymatic catalysts, interesterification rearranges the fatty acids in soybean oil to allow the blended oil to function like the partially hydrogenated oils it replaces, but without the trans fats associated with the partial hydrogenation process.

Hydrogenetaion – well it is better known, and much talked about - Hydrogenation is the chemical name for the addition of hydrogen to an existing molecule, usually an organic molecule which has a double bond between two carbon atoms. This is achieved by forcing hydrogen, at high temperature (250-400C) and pressure into the liquid oil, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as nickel or platinum, over several hours. The prime reason for inventing these oils was that the producers (mostly in the USA, especially in the early days) needed them to survive the long transatlantic ship journey required to reach the markets in Europe. Unfortunately the transfats created in the process are not so good for health!!

Fortification of flour – Needed to take care of iron deficiencies. Flour fortification with iron is an important component of any public health strategy for the prevention of iron, folic acid and other vitamin and mineral deficiency. It works well to deliver iron in constant small needed amounts to a majority of the population.

Propylene glycol monoester – Apparently an emulsifier -
Cake batter is also an oil-in-water emulsion, with shortening or oil as the dispersed phase and water as the continuous phase. Emulsifiers, especially hydrophilic types, aid in mixing the fat phase with other ingredients. They aid in fat dispersion by breaking the fat into a large number of smaller particles.

Humectant – Have you ever heard of this additive that prevents food from drying out? Can you believe that you consume cyanides? Well, they use ferrocyanide salts as an anti caking agent!

New methods of production -
According to Felicity Lawrence, author of the book, Not On The Label, bread making changed in the Sixties when scientists discovered how to make a loaf quickly and bulk it up with water. “Instead of allowing two to three days fermentation they found that air and water could be incorporated into dough if it was mixed at high speeds,” she says. “Double the quantity of yeast was needed to make it rise, chemical oxidants were essential to get the gas in and hardened fat had to be added to provide structure. The process gave a much higher yield of bread from each sack of flour because the dough absorbed so much water.” The added fat, often in the form of unhealthy hydrogenated fat, helps today’s bread look firm and spongy. It is often included as a part of the ambiguous-sounding “flour treatment agent” usually found listed in the ingredients.

Yes, I have heard of water forced (or water retention agents added during processing) into meat to increase weight and it is evident when you make a chicken curry, these days, you do not have add water!! UK now limits it to 15% but they had samples which showed over 43% of water added. Note here that chicken meat by
itself is 66% water.

Keep it fresh (also from above express.co.uk article) - The apples in your supermarket may look fresh but many are treated routinely with SmartFresh, the innocent-sounding trade name of the gas 1-methylcyclopropene. This is pumped into crates of apples & tomatoes to stop them from producing ethylene, the natural hormone that causes fruit to ripen.

A daily mail article provides some details and a list of some not so good additives – It says - Parents have been warned to avoid artificial additives used in drinks, sweets and processed foods amid a link to behavior problems in children. A study funded by the government's Food Standards Agency (FSA) is understood to have drawn a link with temper tantrums and poor concentration.

Well, the drive for profit and a good life is taking us to outrageous extents. Who ever imagined that the days of home cooking are slowly but steadily being replaced by these manufactured foods with all kinds of permitted colors, additives and substances??

It is most definitely even more outrageous than the 65 year old stripper (well she looked ok though) who was shown on TV today. What beat that was the fact that there is also a (I reserve my comments) 65
year old male stripper.

I think it best to stop….there are better things to do in life than analyzing the methods and machinations of the food industry (You can try reading Toxin by Robin Cook)!!

But for the cakes and biscuits and bread, we ourselves try to eat freshly cooked food, everyday.


Nanditha Prabhu said…
This was informative interesting and an eye opener too!i am glad that a flight journey prompted you to such a wide research.the way you depicted and read your fellow passengers sounded interesting.it is indeed scary when one has to measure and research before relishing food. but as you said we are people who still cook our daily meal, except for biscuits n bread.I have experimented on a food blog, check out when u find time:)
narendra shenoy said…
Great post again, Maddy. And a scary one, esp for us here in India. At least in the US, there is a well developed (extremely well developed) mechanism for suing the tar out of anyone who might transgress the safety line when hydrogenating their fat or emulsifying their anti-caking agent. This presumably ensures that no one will do it.

In India, the justice system is a laugh. Courts routinely fine large corporations with amounts like Rs. 3,000/- (food adulteration)and Rs. 10,000/- (criminal negligence). These are grand sums of 75 and 250 US respectively. Even boogers in the CEO's nose would cost the corporation more than that.

Ergo, if a corporation should decide to add a cholestrol depositing, cancer inducing, hepatotoxic food stabiliser to increase the shelf life of its products, all it risks is a 250 dollar fine and a court judgement which says, couched in the appropriate number of whereases, heretofores and interalias "Please stand up, say sorry and next time don't add so much."

In India, you really want to eat home food!
Maddy - funny, scary, informative. These are some of the reasons why organic food is the rage these days. Btw, speaking of SmartFresh, did you know that some fruits like apples have a wax on them to make them appear shiny longer?
harimohan said…
dear maddy ,
the post was enjoyable specially because it had an endearingly funny side to it specially in the first half when you examine the biscuit wrap with care and give your observations ,later on you fell into your informative mode which is nice of course but the streak of humour shows you can write satire well so hoping for more such anecedote posts ,i look forwards to them
Vidhya said…
A very informative post Maddy.. Thanks for scaring us enough to get back to our good old kitchens and get the stoves going!

Regarding your reference to Toxin...yes thats a wonderful book .. one of my personal favourites.
Happy Kitten said…
Well... I agree with Vidhya.. the post was very informative and it makes it even more important for us to use the kitchen the old fashioned way!

In US or India, I am sure all these additives will cause more harm than good. And with the industry demanding more shelf life we will have no idea what we are consuming and half of it will be additives.

Toxin was a good read!
Maddy said…
nanditha, narendra, BPSK, Vidhya, HK, hari - thanks a lot - I have never really been lured by fast food. yes, there are one or two exceptions, but the logic is simple, the smallest and the most personal hotels will provide the best food. They do not have that yearly pressure to double revenues and profits - which go on to push cost reductions in the food industry, longevity of produce & produced food, looks etc..

today if you go to supermarkets and department stores, you find the number of aisles and the assortment of pre produced or easy to cook food is increasing steadily. Yes, in double income families, there is hardly any time to cook and western homes are no longer supposed to be more than show places of some sort, no smell, no grease, everything spick and span...

eggs dont taste like they did, bread does not taste like it did..milk tastes funny...so i complain...but fortunately for me, i have a reference point.. A person bred here wont even notice a difference!!