The Taste of Tomorrow
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  • November30th

    A recent article in the New Yorker sent us on a mad, and unsuccessful scramble, through Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood in search of some yaji.

    What caused the yaji hysteria at the TofT headquarters?

    The news that in parts of Ghana a good yaji is treated with the same obsessiveness as a good kimchi. Reports that yaji is an aphrodisiac with Viagra-like powers.  The description of the spicy sauce (a mix of black, red, and white peppercorns, dried ginger, cloves, dried red peppers) stimulated group salivating,

    and stirred us to begin thinking of yaji-marinade bulgogi and yaji-encrusted chicken wings.

    Mohammed Naseehu Ali, the author of The New Yorker piece, and a well-regarded short story writer, started the yaji excitement with a description of his childhood in Kumasi, Ghana.  In the Ali household, there were two types of yaji.  One was the regular, industrial yaji,  which his mother used for soups and other staples, and served to all. And then there was a special yaji reserved only for Ali’s father.   This yaji was, literally, kept under lock and key in glass cupboard in the living room.  In fact,  Ali’s mother warned her children. “Don’t even think about opening that jar, you hear me?”

    This yaji, Ali later learned, had a secret ingredient called masoro, known in English as “bush pepper.”

    Yaji is typically used as a condiment on suya, a thinly sliced skewered beef delicay that is popular on West African roadsides. Ali, who now lives in Brooklyn, described a particularly life-changing moment at a roadside suya stand in Nigeria.

    “It has the aroma of a dozen different spices with a long-lasting titillating taste that makes you lick your lips in search of leftover particles.”

    The TofT staff are now on a full-APB in search of yaji. Reports to come.   If you have access to the NYer, definitely check out the piece.

  • November29th

    As readers of this site will soon know, we are unashamedly envious of the Japanese.   It’s not just because they have higher-quality produce, and better fatty tuna, and super-high-quality food standards. It’s also because they have interesting junk food.

    We recently tried the Karamucho, the current best-selling spicy snack in Japanese.  The Karamucho  is a mix of the Japanese word “kalai” (spicy) and the Spanish word “mucho” (very).  The excellent blog, Japan Trends,  posted a Karamucho a great commercial shot in Mexico with a mariachi band. (If you listen closely, and you’ll realize that they’re all singing in Japanese, not Spanish.)

    The Karamucho is not for everyone — it’s spicy, with a blend of paprika, garlic and onion flavors. But if you’re craving the Karamucho and you’re not planning a trip to Japan, you can buy them on Amazon for $4 a bag.

    At the end of the day, we like the Karamucho, but it’s never going to replace a classic, like the Matsutani Ajituske Seasoned Seaweed Snack.

  • November23rd

    One of my stinging regrets– ranking right up there with The Aborted Seaweed chapter, and my decision to play soccer instead of football in first grade — was the abandonment of the fungi chapter.   Due to this stinging regret, we’ll make great efforts to provide extensive catch-up coverage of the latest news on the fungi frontier.

    One of the most interesting fungi visionaries is mycologist Paul Stamets.  Probably the country’s best known fungi evangelist/idealist, Stamets, owner of Fungi Perfecti, has been stumping for fungi for years.  Here, gives a TED talk about six ways mushrooms could save the world.

    Stay tuned to The TofTomorrow for more coverage of fungi’s surprising range of applications.

  • November23rd

    Consider the fact du jour, on October 30, 2011, the day the world’s population breached 7 billion:

    Oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth, yet yield two percent of our total food. 2 percent? That’s puny, and that’s not because oceans are unproductive. It’s because they’re untapped. We humanoids don’t use what the ocean offers us — and I’m not talking about obscure fish or shellfish species.

    The roughly 80 million metric tons of fish landed each year by the world’s commercial fisheries derive from over 10,000 million metric tons of phytoplankton. In other words, phytoplankton —aka seaweed aka kelp — represents the overwhelming majority of the ocean’s food.

    With demographers predicting 9.1 billion people by 2050, with limited fresh water and arable land, marine plants — yes, that’s seaweeds — must become the primary crop for food, feed and other applications.

    This is an argument that I first heard from John Forster, a well-respected aquaculture scientist and consultant based in Port Angeles, Washington. Forster, a Brit, who worked for years in the farmed salmon industry, makes his case in a fascinating post “Towards a Marine Agronomy.” As those of you who read the “About Us” section might recall, this short talk with Forster was one of the reasons this site was created — to continue to investigate new food sources.

    As Forster points out in his essay “Towards a Marine Agronomy,” the only countries that farm seaweed at any significant scale are in Asia; the Chinese, the world leaders, produce about 10 million tons of seaweed each year. But according to Forster, the potential for growth is astronomical.

    Consider fact du jour #2:

    Laminaria, a seaweed species, can average nearly 20 metric tons of per hectare per year, according to data from Chinese aquaculturists.

    Pulling from this data, Forster offers that “only one percent of the Earth’s ocean surface would be needed to grow and amount of seaweed equal to all the food plants currently farmed on land.”

    The idea of marine agronomy isn’t new — kelp is widely believed to be the world’s fastest growing plants — but it’s an idea that has gained little traction in the United States. One of the few examples is Ocean Approved, a small Maine-company that is believed to be America’s only commercial kelp farm. Three years ago, two guys started cultivating kelp in Casco Bay and began marketing it as an exotic vegetable. They’re the first we’ve found that are pitching the idea of kelp noodles, kelp salad, kelp slaw.

    Next month:
    Beyond Seaweed Salad. What do marine vegetables taste like?
  • November22nd

    The Killer App from the Wildman

    Wildman Steve Brill has given us some of the best  foraging guidebooks around. Now, the New York City foraging guru, and author of forager essential, Identifying and Harvest Edible and Medicinal Plants in the Wild (and Not So Wild) Places is going high-tech.

    In what could be the killer app of mobile technology, the Wildman had developed  “The Master Foraging Apps,” available in I-tunes.  You can go a la carte — for $2.99, for instance, you can get Steve’s edible shrubs guide — or you can get the complete Wild Edibles series for $7.99.

    It’s a user-friendly, hand-held tool — complete with illustrations and text — to aid in the search for fiddlehead ferns and pawpaws.

    The New Yorker Goes Foraging — And We Grow Envious

    Earlier this week, the New Yorker ran a fascinatingly detailed travelogue investigating the surging interest in foraging.  Writer Jane Kramer spent weeks traveling Europe — mushroom-hunting in England, searching for wild mint and asparagus in Umbria, scouring the beaches of Denmark for reindeer moss.  Kramer went wild food hunting with a forager’s dream team — including Rene Redzepi.   Reading it was painful –due to the striking pangs of jealousy.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    I ate reindeer moss at Noma, deep- fried, spiced with cèpes, and deliciously crisp. It was the third of twenty-three appetizers and tasting dishes I ate that night, the first being a hay parfait—a long infusion of cream and toasted hay, into which yarrow, nasturtium, camomile jelly, egg, and sorrel and camomile juice were then blended. The second arrived in a flower pot, filled with malted, roasted rye crumbs and holding shoots of raw wild vegetables, a tiny poached mousse of snail nestling in a flower, and a flatbread “branch” that was spiced with powdered oak shoots, birch, and juniper. I wish I could describe the taste of those eloquent, complex combinations, but the truth is that, like most of the dishes I tried at Noma, they tasted like everything in them and, at the same time, like nothing I had ever eaten. Four hours later, I had filled a notebook with the names of wild foods. Redzepi collected me at my table, and we sat for a while outside, on a bench near the houseboat, looking at the water and talking. I didn’t tell him that I’d passed on the little live shrimp, wriggling alone on a bed of crushed ice in a Mason jar, that had been presented to me between the rose-hip berries and the caramelized sweetbreads, plated with chanterelles and a grilled salad purée composed of spinach, wild herbs (pre-wilted in butter and herb tea), Swiss chard, celery, ground elder, Spanish chervil, chickweed, and goosefoot, and served with a morel-and-juniper-wood broth. I told him that it was the best meal I had ever eaten, and it was.

    The whole piece “The Food At Our Feet” is readable on the New Yorker’s site.   One takeaway note for Anglophile foragers: Get  The New Oxford Book of Food Plants.

  • November22nd

     

    Since this is the inaugural post in the Good GMOs category, let’s briefly explain our position.

    You can use a computer to build a web site that raises money for starving refugees in Darfur.   You can also use a computer to create malware that destroys web sites, disables businesses, and thwarts efforts to raise money for starving refugees in Darfur. You can use airplanes to deliver food.  Or you can airplanes to deliver bombs.

    It’s true.  There are some bad genetically engineered crops out there. Some GMOs, circa 2011,  are created by rapacious petrochemical corporations.  They are herbicide and pesticide tolerant, so they encourage the spraying of more chemicals on crops, that, in turn, increase sales for these large petrochemical corporations. Intellectual property law, circa 2011, makes it possible for the wealthiest, most powerful corporations to own genes, the very building blocks of life. It’s true that GMOs, by and large, circa 2011, advance monoculture, thwart biodiversity and are not the ally of small farmers.

    Still,  as with computers, and other technologies, there are BAD THINGS and there are GOOD THINGS.

    One of the goals of The Taste of Tomorrow is to spotlight smart, safe, promising uses of GMO crops that can help protect the earth, improve food quality, and save lives.

    ***

    As many parents of  school-age children in the US know,  peanut butter – once a staple of school lunches – is often verboten.

    Peanuts and  peanut butter are banned by a number of schools across the country, and others have created so-called “nut-free zones.”  There’s some talk that the FAA will institute a total ban on peanuts on commercial airlines. This makes sense.  Although the numbers of people allergic to peanuts is small, those who are allergic have a a potentially life-threatening response.. Even trace amounts of peanut dust can leave a child covered in hives and gasping for air.

    (Personal encounter: When my four-year-old daughter mistakenly called her sunflower butter sandwich a peanut butter sandwich, we got an immediate call from a school administrator. Why? There’s a boy in her class with an extreme peanut allergy.

    But there is promising work  that could bring peanuts back to schools.  Even allowing Kate’s classmate to have a PB&J some day.

    For the past decade, Peggy Ozias-Akins of the University of Georgia in Tifton has been using genetic engineering to grow hypoallergenic peanuts.

    In research profiled widely in the biotech world,  Ozias-Akins and her team have developed peanuts that do not produce two proteins that are among the most intense allergens.   A story in Wired, summarizes the paper that appeared in the Journal of Food Chemistry:

    The biologists shot a customized DNA sequence into the plants with a gene gun, causing the legumes to produce hairpin-shaped RNA molecules, which halt the production of the two proteins. Messing with the genetic code of a plant could potentially cause the seeds to develop improperly, change the taste of the crop, or render it more susceptible to fungal infections. But Ozias-Akins’ team found that they grow normally and can resist a common mold without any problems.

    Still, getting rid of every allergy-causing substance in peanuts would not be easy, Ozias-Akins said. “Given the number of allergenic proteins in peanuts, I doubt that developing an allergen-free peanut is realistic.” Although it may be impossible to make a perfectly safe peanut, clipping the right genes out could make food accidents far less common.