Protein developments

finalIn its snapshot of this year’s Sustainable Foods Summit, organiser Organic Monitor reported that, during last year’s World Climate Summit (COP21) it was concluded that food generates a quarter of all greenhouse gases, with over half coming from livestock production. At the same time, population growth and dietary changes have led to a substantial rise in meat and dairy consumption over the past two decades.

The FAO expects meat consumption to double by 2050 when the global population is projected to reach nine billion. Therefore, a shift towards sustainable proteins is deemed necessary if the food industry is to lower its environmental impacts. Plant-based proteins are considered part of the solution, with investment pouring into new enterprises that have developed innovative meat and dairy analogues.

So critical is the issue that leading international businesses and NGOs have formed The Protein Challenge 2040, the world’s first collaboration across the protein system that aims to address the question: How can we feed nine billion people enough protein in a way that is healthy, affordable and good for the environment?

Facilitated by the non-profit Forum for the Future, The Protein Challenge 2040 coalition is founded by leading NGOs including WWF and GAIN, retailers Target and Waitrose, dairy nutrition firm Volac, taste and flavour expert Firmenich, as well as food manufacturers The Hershey Company and Quorn. It is the first partnership that brings together representatives from animal, plant and alternative protein industries to understand the protein system’s challenges, identify a common way forward and come up with new solutions together.

Through in-depth research and work with food, nutrition, health and technology experts across the world, the coalition has mapped the interrelationships within the entire protein system for the first time. It has pinpointed six areas for innovation, which the group will take immediate action on to meet future demand sustainably.

The coalition is now looking for additional partners with resources, expertise and drive to take action in these areas together.

In its recent report ‘The rise of plant protein: Opportunities to capitalise on the protein trend using plant alternatives to meat and dairy’, Canadean confirms that plant protein sources such as soy, pea and nuts are growing in popularity to meet our voracious ongoing demand for protein.

‘Asian countries show the highest positive consumer uptake (of vegetable-based proteins) as their diets already consist of many plant proteins such as tofu and soy,’ confirms the report, which stresses that meat avoidance is also growing for various health, financial, sustainability, and ethical reasons. At the same time, there is insatiable demand for protein, creating opportunities for companies to incorporate plant-based sources into food and beverages in place of animal-derived ingredients.

EHL Ingredients sales director Tasneem Backhouse confirms that ‘it’s all about protein this year!’

“High protein diets were the runaway success of 2015, with devotees embracing the benefits of eating larger amounts of protein and fewer carbohydrates – a trend which is set to continue into 2016 and beyond. We have seen increases in sales for our protein-packed ingredients such as seeds, nuts and grains,” said Tasneem.

Industry figures from Kantar show that sales of nuts have risen by 6.6%, which echoes EHL’s own sales figures. The most popular nuts sold by EHL are now almonds and walnuts.

Ancient grains such as Freekeh are also growing in popularity, according to Tasneem, who said: “Grains such as quinoa have paved the way for other, lesser known products, and Freekeh has proven popular with EHL’s customers. A staple of Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries, Freekeh has a smoky, nutty flavour, but absorbs flavours well. It’s a great addition to chicken or vegetable dishes. It’s low in fat, and – again – high in protein.”

The Almond Board of California (ABC) highlights that recent studies have found that snacking on almonds, which are a natural source of protein, can also boost satiety and result in reduced calorie intake for the rest of the day. Plus, new research from Innova Market Insights shows that almonds are the number one nut in new food products worldwide, with launches featuring almonds having grown 148% since 2005.

According to AB, some of the primary reasons for these positive statistics are the versatility and added value of almonds as snacks and inclusions. When compared gram for gram, almonds are the tree nut highest in protein, fibre, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin and are among the lowest in calories, it says. The protein level is significantly above that of most other tree nuts at 6g per
30g serving.

Ingredient launches

To meet the increased demand for plant-based protein ingredients, ingredient supplier Cambridge Commodities has launched a range of high quality vegan proteins. The ProEarth range consists of black bean, almond, cranberry, buckwheat, hemp, pumpkin seed and quinoa powders with protein content ranging from 20% to 80%.

Extracted from superfoods, ProEarth vegan proteins are clean label, often allergen-free and easily digestible due to their fibre content. Plant protein sources can provide a full profile of amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids, connecting with key drivers of health-conscious consumers.

Cambridge Commodities research and development nutritionist Emma Cattell commented: “The ProEarth range is the next generation of vegan proteins, beyond the traditional soy, pea and rice. Vegan proteins have a host of other benefits in addition to protein including being rich in vitamins and minerals, more natural, less processed, environmentally friendly and ethical.”

Highlighting pea proteins as a particularly dynamic source of innovation currently,

PGP International uses advanced extrusion technology to produce a High-Protein crisp from pea proteins that is totally free of hexane and allergens and perfect for a wide range of applications such as energy bars, nutrition-rich food, cereals, snacks and confections.

Recent studies reveal that pea protein may yield health benefits that promote a sense of fullness and stimulate the body’s peptide production, abating the feelings of hunger. High Protein Crisps suit manufacturers looking for high quality ingredients for their consumer products that are rich in protein, tasty and allergen-free.

Nizo has been looking at several pea protein developments.

Common issues with commercial plant proteins are their low solubility and off-taste, according to Nizo experts, who studied these issues and created new opportunities with green pea proteins. The protein extracts were dried and spray dried under different conditions (heat loads), using freeze drying as reference. These optimised extraction and drying processes not only affected the degree of denaturation and solubility of the pea protein powder, but also had a beneficial impact on the flavour/taste profile.

Further protein activity includes research into how the technical functionality of blends of proteins in terms of texture and foaming or emulsifying properties may be higher than for individual proteins. In particular, Nizo showed that mixtures of soy and gelatine form a bicontinuous system in which the two proteins form two independent protein networks.

Nizo has also developed usable, functional and tasty fibrous plant proteins that can be used in vegetarian products, fish substitutes and savoury bakery products. Using a special treatment, the functionality and efficacy of the fibrous proteins are maintained and are now being scaled up for mass production. The resulting taste and texture (mouthfeel) of the fibrous proteins is unique with excellent juiciness and bite, according to Nizo, which has worked with Ruitenberg to develop the industrial production process for the fibrous plant proteins.

Drawing on pulses, researchers from Wageningen University have developed a meat substitute that they say has the bite of real meat.

To produce this ‘plant-based beef’, the researchers from Food Process Engineering used Shear Cell Technology, with which it is possible to mould plant material until it has the fibre structure of a beefsteak. The new technology was first used to make fibres from dairy proteins. Processing plant-based proteins in pulses such as soya beans is a lot more complex but the researchers managed to identify the mechanisms by which plant proteins form structures.

The new technique is not limited in format so it can be used to make more products besides familiar little stir-fry pieces. Working with colleagues from the Technical University of Delft, the Wageningen researchers have built a prototype machine that could produce plant-based meat cuts of several kilos. Eventually local butchers should be able to produce the meat substitute themselves, and will just need to use natural flavourings to give the product flavour. Key partners in the study are The Vegetarian Butcher and the Peas Foundation.

GoodMills Innovation has introduced two new products for the meat alternative sector. Wheat texturates in the form of flakes will allow for the creation of vegetarian and vegan dishes, minced meat substitutes as well as bakery and snack fillings; while, YePea (toasted pea meal) offers a non-GMO and allergen-free alternative to
soy grits.

The extruded wheatmeat flakes are characterised by their high water binding capacity and are especially suitable for adding texture and structure to bakery and snack fillings as well as for the production of meat-free hamburger patties. Based on high-protein wheat fractions, the flakes can achieve end products with up to 76% protein.

YePea (an abbreviation of yellow pea) is derived from the yellow-podded snow pea. This almost forgotten legume is an alternative to soy grits, which are often used in baking mixes, bread recipes and small baked goods to improve texture. The toasted and coarsely ground peas enhance water binding capacity and provide a soft texture. 

Product launches

In the US, Impossible Foods was founded five years ago and has dedicated itself to developing a new generation of delicious and sustainable meats made from plants.

By looking at animal products at the molecular level, then selecting specific proteins and nutrients from greens, seeds, and grains to recreate the complex experience of meat and dairy products, Impossible Foods hopes to replicate the work that animals have done for years of transforming plants into proteins: meat, milk, cheese and eggs.

The first Impossible Burger is scheduled to appear in the market during 2016. After launch in the US, the company plans to expand its production capacity and make the burgers and future products available further afield!


Nut milk brand Plenish launches cashew nut milk to the UK

Cashew-Nut-Mlk-HRNut milk brand Plenish has expanded its dairy-free M*lk range by launching what it has called “the UK’s first 1 litre organic cashew nut milk”.

Containing only three simple ingredients – cashews, filtered water and Himalayan salt – the organic cashew Nut M*lk has launched following the success of the almond nut variety. It contains 6% cashew content and no additives, preservatives or sweeteners – meaning there are more nuts and no fillers. Perfect to drink straight up or blended in a smoothie or cappuccino, the Nut M*lk will be available from Ocado from mid-April and Waitrose in July.

The cashew Nut M*lk is also a natural source of plant-based protein, which Plenish said helps to maintain healthy muscles and bones. The milk alternative also contains heart-healthy mono saturated fat and helps to protect cells from oxidative stress, contributing to the normal operating of the body’s immune system.

Plenish founder Kara Rosen said: “After the positive response from consumers on the launch of our almond M*lk in January, we responded and developed a new innovative Nut M*lk with the launch our new organic cashew M*lk, the very first 1 litre available in the UK. First, we challenged the juice category with our cold-pressed range and launched the first cold-pressed juice into national retailers and now we’re excited to raise the quality bar in the non-dairy market by using only three simple ingredients: nuts, water and a dash of Himalayan salt. The cashew Nut M*lk contains no fillers like rice, oil, sweeteners, soya or stabilisers. We are big believers that you get out of life what you put in, so eat and drink products with integrity and your body will reward you with optimum health and vigour to chase your dreams”.

The innovation is timely in the content of the dairy-free alternatives market. Now purchased by one in four households, a consumer shift towards dairy-free consumption due to allergies, health reasons and taste preference has helped the market to year-on-year growth of 19.9% and a value of £243.2m.


Chia Charge adds compact sports bars that can be eaten ‘on the run’

thumbnail-chia1British sports nutrition brand Chia Charge has launched two new products in the lead-up to the London Marathon.

Created for marathoners, trail runners, cyclists, obstacle racers and other high-energy competitors, the 30g bars are built on the goodness of chia seeds. Blending the tastiness of flapjacks with the energy credentials of a sports gel, the bars are the perfect balance of flavour and function, Chia Charge has claimed.

Small enough to slip into a pair of running shorts, the new mini Chia Charge flapjacks are designed to help athletes refuel on the go. A blend of oats, butter, golden syrup, brown sugar, chia seeds, sea salt flakes and rice flour, the original mini Chia Charge flapjack is a compact version of its full-sized counterpart. In addition, a mini berry flapjack offers dates and cranberries for sweetness, with butter, oats, chia seeds, salt flakes and rice flour binding the fruits together.

As a source of omega-3 and antioxidants, the compact bars deliver a balanced carb supply that is designed to burn slowly for ongoing energy and endurance, which means that after the initial benefit of the simple sugars wears off, the complex carbohydrates sustain energy. This eliminates the post consumption crashes triggered by gels, and keeps athletes moving forward with real food, Chia Charge said.

Founder and creator Tim Taylor added: “At the end of the day we’re all about fuelling the needs of athletes, so when we get flooded with the same requests we take action. Compact bars that can be consumed on the move were a major request in 2015, and this year we’ve responded by recreating our bestselling flapjacks, in mini bars of easy to use goodness.”


Tipa – from start-up to World Food Innovation Award in 5 years

Tipa Corp. was proud and honoured to have been awarded the best environmental/CSR initiative award for its range of 100% compostable flexible packaging for fresh produce, TipLock zipper bags, stand up pouches, paper applications, and for coffee and snacks.

Finalists and winners for the awards were announced during a special event on Tuesday 1 March at Hotelympia in London’s ExCel exhibition centre. “We are constantly impressed with the scale and pace of innovation in the global food and beverage industry,” said FoodBev Media director Bill Bruce. “This year’s awards scheme once again features truly innovative and exciting products and initiatives which are not only on-trend but likely to set trends for the year ahead.”
a4-1Challenges on the road to sustainability

Building any packaging company from scratch is not for the faint of heart. Building a packaging company dedicated to developing biodegradable and compostable packaging takes the level of gumption required to a whole new level, but that is exactly the kind of company that Daphna Nissenbaum and Tal Neuman had in mind when together they founded Tipa in Israel in June 2010.

Daphna and Tal looked through the lens of a software engineer (Daphna) and an industrial designer (Tal) and thought, “imagine if you could treat flexible food packaging like an orange peel, like organic waste, a natural resource”.

Sustainability and the kind of world that their children would live in one day was hugely important to Daphna and Tal, and this philosophy continues to run like a green thread through Tipa to this day.

The flexible packaging challenge

Crisps, rice and coffee are only a few of the products to be found in flexible packaging, which can be made of paper, plastic film, foil or any combination of these.

Flexible packaging has become ubiquitous on supermarket shelves. It is almost easier to describe what is not packaged in some kind of flexible packaging than to describe what is. From a sustainability perspective, the major strength of flexible packaging – that it is hugely source-reduced – is also its major weakness when it comes to recycling and end of life solutions, with the result that the majority ends up in landfill.

To Tipa, the difficulty of recycling became a mission for sustainable innovation, because with the biodegradable flexible packaging Daphna and Tal had in mind, the idea was that the packaging could be composted at end of its life, preferably along with food waste.

If the Tipa biodegradable flexible packaging was to succeed, it would have to have all the qualities of traditional plastics, eg in terms of transparency, tensile strength and shelf life. It would also have to be fully compostable.

Tipa’s compostable flexible packaging breakthrough

It took countless hours of development time, but today Tipa has developed the first fully compostable flexible packaging with the necessary moisture and oxygen barrier properties to meet the required shelf life standards for a wide range of foods.

This breakthrough innovation allows for the first time a full replacement of currently non–recyclable flexible packaging with organically recyclable/compostable packaging. Not only can Tipa’s packages be diverted from landfills and incineration centres but, as an added value, they can also serve as a feedstock for producing energy (eg bio-gas facilities) or land fertiliser (compost facilities).

Tipa’s unique advantage over existing sustainable products lies in its high mechanical properties and optical advantages, while still preserving compostability.

According to Daphna, “our products have the same mechanical properties as most ordinary plastics, serving consumers and manufactures. Consumers enjoy the same level of packaging functionality. Manufacturers get bio-plastics that meet all their manufacturing requirements and that is adaptable to their current packaging and production practices.”

Daphna continued: “Tipa’s IP and knowhow encompass resin, multi-layer films structures, laminates and more, enabling the creation of optimal solutions for any specific application with any desired properties. Tipa’s patented technology and strong manufacturing know-how solve a variety of issues concerning the applicability of bio-plastics to flexible packaging.”

What began for Tipa five and a half years ago as a dream to treat flexible food packaging like an orange peel has grown into the reality of a company with sales in Europe as well as the United States – and now recognition for excellence and innovation from the World Food Innovation Awards.


UK business crowdfunds for ‘groundbreaking’ cooking process

test-prod-shotA UK-based food technology pioneer Carritech Research has launched a campaign on crowdfunding site Seedrs, as it aims to raise £350,000 in equity funding for expanding the commercial development of its new “groundbreaking” formulation and process platform technology.

ColdBake is a patented process that enables biscuit or snack products to be produced at close to human body temperature, enabling the production of products enriched with vitamins, omega-3, sports nutrients, bioactives and medicines using only natural and commonly used food ingredients. The products appear and taste like they have been baked – but use a pioneering vaccuum process to avoid normal baking temperatures that destroy active ingredients, Carritech explained.

It claimed that the technology opens up opportunities to create entirely new ranges of functional foods, such as appealing nutritional supplements for children, vitamin-enriched biscuit products for seniors, cancer supportive care foods, emergency nutrition products and medicine-enriched pet and livestock foods. Coldbake has previously undergone an extensive independent testing process to confirm nutrient “bioavailability” and currently has patents granted in the UK and Europe, South Africa, New Zealand and Mexico.

As well as developing the technology further, the Belfast-based business wants to use the money to progress its licensing negotiations with major food manufacturers.

Carritech plan to license their platform technology and capabilities to strategic partners and are currently in discussion with producers across a broad range of food sectors including bakery, breakfast cereals and sports nutrition.


Fabrizia Spirits imports US’ first lemon-peeling machine to increase limoncello production

peelerUS-based Fabrizia Spirits, a craft producer of all-natural citrus spirits, has imported a custom-built lemon-peeling machine from Pompei, Italy, to best meet consumer demand for its all-natural limoncello.

The machine is the first of its kind to be used in the US and enables Fabrizia to increase beverage production and maintain a superior level of quality.

In autumn 2015, brothers and co-owners Phil and Nick Mastroianni travelled to Italy to purchase a lemon-peeling machine to aid in expansion. Prior to the purchase, Fabrizia peeled all lemons used to make its limoncello by hand, totaling 155,000 lemons in 2015 alone.

The new machine streamlines that time-intensive process and is capable of extracting the zest of 2,400 lemons with minimal pith every hour. Previously, it took the Fabrizia team an entire day to peel that equivalent number of lemons. Once the zest is peeled, the remainder of the fruit is juiced on site to make lemonade for Fabrizia’s Italian margarita, a ready-to-serve cocktail.

“Our goal every day is to produce fresh limoncello that mirrors what is served in Italy – and we have successfully been doing so since 2008,” said Fabrizia founder Phil Mastroianni. “Our investment in this machine ensures we are operating as efficiently as possible, and bottling the same quality liqueur our customers have come to expect from Fabrizia.”


What part does packaging play in reducing food waste?

packaging-1024x680The statistics around global food and drink waste are staggering. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3bn tonnes — gets lost or wasted. In Europe alone the food currently wasted could feed 200m people.

Wasted food and drink can be tackled in a variety of ways – from technology to education, at both an international and a domestic level. But the role of packaging in these reduction efforts has been underplayed.

In reality, the lifecycle of the products we buy and consume each day is inextricably linked with the packaging that protects and preserves them. Cans, bottles and wrapping have a crucial stake in whether food ends up wasted or consumed. Plus, as the last and most powerful call to action in our decision to buy, packaging represents a key intersection between retailer and customer.

The Courtauld 2025 Commitment, led by resource efficiency charity British Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), is a sign of things to come – and not just in the UK. Britain is often viewed as less environmentally friendly than its European neighbours, but this week saw retailers and brands come out in force. International players such as Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut agreed to ambitious 20% reduction targets across food and drink waste, emissions – along with efforts to reduce the impact associated with water use in the supply chain.

As those with the power to fix the inefficiencies of the food and drink join forces, packaging designers must stand up and be counted too.

It’s easy to forget that the packaging industry already does an effective job of ensuring food lasts longer. The vegetables we buy in the supermarket are a typical example. The shelf-life of cucumbers, for instance, would be reduced by three to five days without plastic wrapping. We take for granted that many day-to-day products remain fresh and edible because of the packaging designs that sustain them.

So how will packaging evolve to counteract food waste going forward? In the years ahead we’ll see the continued rise of intelligent packaging. The technology at the heart of temperature indicators used in beer cans could be used to show when food is no longer suitable for consumption. Chemical indicators will provide more accuracy in alerting us to approaching use-by dates.

Informative labelling on-pack will also be key. Now more than ever, retailers will have to ensure that guidance around reducing waste is clear and accessible. Technological solutions such RFID and image recognition can play a part here too, allowing consumers to view additional details online where on-pack space doesn’t permit.

As well as trying to influence behaviour, packaging must also adapt to it. According to Love Food Hate Waste, the main reason we throw away good food is through either preparing too much or not using food in time. Designers can’t help what consumers do with the food they cook from scratch, but with they can cater better to changing modern lifestyles.

In 2014 the most common household type in the EU was the single person living alone (32.7%). As our cooking habits change, with the proliferation of ready meals, for instance, portion control can have a powerful effect. Resealables can also solve the issue of wasted pre-prepared food but forward-thinking ideas are emerging in other areas too. Ever discovered an old, soggy bag of salad in the back of your fridge? Salad packs designed in two halves with separate portions, thereby extending the life of the pack, demonstrate that often the simplest approaches are the best.

Given the global issues of food waste, the packaging industry is constantly finding innovative ways to ensure responsible consumption– but of course we can do more. New advances are a signal of what will hopefully be a brighter, more responsible future. Ultimately though, the deciding factor will be a unified response across all fronts.


IFE World Food Innovation Awards – best new food concept

crobar610The World Food Innovation Awards once again hosted a wonderful array of products in the best new food concept category – all revolutionising their respective segments of the food and beverage industry, from snacking to ingredients and convenience food.

Offering a truly groundbreaking option that challenges long-established culinary traditions in the UK, Crobar by Gathr stands out with its natural dairy- and gluten-free energy bar that contains cricket flour. As an alternative protein source, crickets emit 80 times less CO2 than cattle, use ten times less space and a lot less water, while containing as high a protein content as beef but lower in fat.

Cereal Lovers also taps into the ever-expanding healthy, on-the-go food trend of recent years with its Crunchtime Nuggets. This convenient snacking option uniquely bakes all of its ingredients together, making digestion easier and healthier, offered in resealable pouches that double as a mobile cereal bowl and can be eaten dry or with milk or juice.

On the dairy front, V&H’s Little Moons brings a new concept to the ice cream category with scoops of gelato wrapped in mochi, which is made by steaming and pounding sticky rice flour until it gains a soft and delicate elasticity. Mochi not only brings taste and texture to gelato, but also allows the ice cream – free from gluten and artificial colours, flavours and additives – to be eaten by hand.

Mexicana Hot Shots from Norseland, on the other hand, snackifies another dairy favourite, cheese, by offering spicy cubes of cheddar wrapped up in a ready-to-go packaging. Flavoured to perfection with a blend of bell peppers and hot chilli spices, each cube promises the same punch as the last with a unique spicy flavouring consistent throughout the cheese.

Simply Saffron of Ethical Blends is made by using a unique low energy process that ensures the actual spice is encapsulated in an additive- and preservative-free, ethically sourced saffron paste, offering a completely new way of consuming saffron. The ingredient is available in jars and single-dose Easysnap sachets, which makes it possible to add the saffron in seconds to recipes in a pre-measured portion, removing the risk of overdosing.

Another innovation in the ingredients shelf is FortiSalt, which provides a full, rich and salty gourmet flavour but with 50% less sodium than regular salt. Furthermore, FortiSalt combines nutritionally balanced essential minerals and trace element salts, such as magnesium and potassium that help our bodies to better balance and utilise sodium.

For those looking for a visually enticing pasta experience, Le Violetta from Surgital offers a revolutionary ravioli with a purple filling, which is made mainly from the small, sweet and soft-textured violette potatoes, rich in antioxidants and anthocyanins that give them their vivid colour.

Making the world kitchen classics accessible for all, the Versatile Mini Koftes from Snowbird Foods offers a convenient solution for fans of authetnic Middle Eastern flavours, with a delicate heat that has found favour with older children as well as adults, while Foodie Fusions’ Green Gram Pudding brings a traditional Indian taste to the world stage. A traditional recipe with the delightful aroma of clarified butter, the pudding serves as the ideal end to any meal.


Why the kitchen scale will make life so much easier

As a professional recipe developer, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. In fact, I often call myself a “professional dishwasher,” and though it’s a joke, it’s not too far off. Despite these credentials, when I tell people that a kitchen scale is one of the useful, helpful tools you can own for cooking and baking, I’m often greeted with skepticism. It sounds like something too finicky or controlling for the everyday cook—sure, maybe it’s something a professional pastry chef would use, but isn’t it easier just to grab a set of nested measuring cups?

Using a kitchen scale to measure cupcake ingredients
Using a kitchen scale to measure cupcake ingredients

No way! A kitchen scale is a must-have for anyone who wants to be a better, happier, healthier cook. It’s a game-changer in two ways: first, a scale’s accuracy makes it a 100 percent guaranteed approach to keep your portion sizes under control. Second, it’s an all-around champion at making your prep work and ingredient measuring more efficient. Accuracy and efficiency? Two of the sweetest sounding words in my book.

Even as a professional cook, I have always found portion control one of the hardest things to, well, control and to wrap my head around. I’m frankly terrible at eyeballing a single serving of pasta and figuring out how much of a block of cheese constitutes 1 ounce. Trying to estimate these portions did me no favors and all that excess just piled up around my waistline. But with a kitchen scale, it’s easy to see exactly how much I am eating and how much I should be scarfing down. A half cup of almonds (2 1/2 ounces) might sound like a sensible snack portion for the day, but when you realize you’ve been eating an entire cup of almonds in one fell swoop, it’s a big eye-opener. Never again!

And then there’s the help it provides with prep and measuring—even better than a second set of hands. Whether or not you own a dishwasher, I’m sure you’ll agree that the pile of dishes left in the sink after cooking is no one’s favorite part of the meal. But by using a kitchen scale, you can cut that pile down considerably. Instead of chopping onions, then piling them them in a 1-cup measuring cup, then scraping them out and adding them to a mixing bowl or casserole, wouldn’t you rather just chop a 6-ounce onion and add it directly to your bowl?

For an even more visually compelling example of how much time and dish-washing you’ll save with a scale, I’ve prepared this tasty beet-chocolate cupcake recipe measuring by both weight and volume. Measuring all the ingredients—from pureed beets to chocolate chips to cocoa powder—by volume leaves you with a mess of measuring cups. But if you measure by weight, you’ll only need 3 bowls: one for the melted chocolate, one for the cupcake batter, and one for the frosting. That’s a huge difference!

Baking can require lots of measuring cups, and that's just more dishes to wash.

Ready to buy a kitchen scale and change your life? Look for a scale with these two functions:

  • a tare/zero button, which lets you zero out the weight in between additions to the bowl
  • the ability to switch between ounces (oz) and grams (g), since many baking recipes include both (Why? It’s easier to measure smaller amounts for ingredients like herbs, spices, or yeast in grams, since they’re so light.)


Sweet Snacks Could Be Best Medicine For Stress

051128011306_1_540x360Researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) have found that eating or drinking sweets may decrease the production of the stress-related hormone glucocorticoid–which has been linked to obesity and decreased immune response.

“Glucocorticoids are produced when psychological or physical stressors activate a part of the brain called the ‘stress axis,'” said Yvonne Ulrich-Lai, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychiatry. “These hormones help an individual survive and recover from stress, but have been linked to increased abdominal obesity and decreased immune function when produced in large amounts.

“Finding another way to affect the body’s response to stress and limit glucocorticoid production could alleviate some of these dangerous health effects.”

The laboratory findings were presented during a poster session Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Ulrich-Lai and a team of researchers from the department of psychiatry showed that when laboratory rats chose to eat or drink sweet snacks their bodies produced lower levels of glucocorticoid.

She said that sweets–especially those made from sugar, not artificial sweetener–might do the trick.

“The sweets we are talking about are not the low-calorie, sugar-substitute variety,” said Dr. Ulrich-Lai. “We actually found that sugar snacks, not artificially sweetened snacks, are better ‘self-medications’ for the two most common types of stress–psychological and physical.”

Psychological stress could involve things such as public speaking, being threatened, or coping with the death of a loved one. Examples of physical stress are injury, illness, or prolonged exposure to cold.

During the study, researchers gave adult male rats free access to food and water and also offered them a small amount of sugar drink, artificially sweetened drink, or water twice a day. After two weeks, the rats were given a physical and psychological stress challenge. Following both types of stress, rats that had consumed the sugar drink had lower glucocorticoid levels than those that drank the water. Those drinking the artificially sweetened drink showed only slightly reduced glucocorticoid levels.

Dr. Ulrich-Lai noted that although her team was not studying the health effects of the sweetened drinks, they did not notice a body-weight increase in the rats consuming the sugar drinks.

James Herman, PhD, co-author, professor and stress neurobiologist in the department of psychiatry, said the next step will be to determine how these sweetened drinks are decreasing glucocorticoid production.

“We need to find out if there are certain parts of the brain that control the response to stress, then determine if the function of these brain regions are changed by sugar snacking,” he said.

Co-authors also included Dennis Choi and Michelle Ostrander, PhD, both of UC’s psychiatry department.