Episode #116: Nutella, Palm Oil, Twinkies, Caraway Seeds, Organic Herbs and Spices

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ASK A VEGAN PROGRAM TRANSCRIPTION:

Hello everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you are listening to the Ask A Vegan show. It is the 25th of November 2012. Thank you for joining me today.

I missed last week. And it always seems like such a long time when a week goes by and I haven’t done a program. But we were having some technical difficulties and it makes me realize over and over again how dependent I am and how so many of us are on technology and what do we do when the juice is off or the Internet is down. Of course I need to have some backups and I don’t. I just have the one DSL line here in the home. I probably need a smart phone and an iPad, and all kinds of different ways to get online but I only have one way right now.

And so I took a week off. And you know, it was a good time to take a week off because we had Thanksgiving holiday and we all need a break, right? Thanksgiving, such an important holiday and the it’s just a great opportunity for foodies to just post their heart out with all kinds of wonderful recipes. I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. I decided to continue the Thanksgiving feeling for the entire weekend, savoring all my favorite kind of Thanksgiving flavors: corn and sage and pumpkin. The food party continues. And I hope you had an opportunity to watch our Thanksgiving Celebration Feast video, and even though it’s after Thanksgiving if you haven’t caught it, it is online at our website: ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com all year long and those recipes are great any time of the year.

What’s going on in the world today that’s food-related? There is always something going on. So of course you have heard the Twinkie story: so Hostess is going out of business, and there are a number of mixed stories going around about why the company is going out of business. A lot of people want a spin that it had to do with the Union and that people were demanding to many things. But actually the company has been dealing with bankruptcy issues for many years and I think their products, I want to think that their products are not as desirable and they used to be. Although they are very important in many of our memories, myself included. I grew up where Hostess cakes were truly a delightful treat; Twinkies and Snowballs and Cupcakes. And things change, that’s all. I think all children should have an opportunity to have something to look forward and have a treat. I think we have kind of gone a little too far, where treats are not treats anymore, they are everyday expectations. And, maybe – there are some articles I’ve read where parents are putting more healthy snacks and fruits in their child’s lunch bag instead of these Hostess treats. I am not sure if that’s true all-around. But I’m not going to miss the Twinkie. And I also wanted to share with you, this link will be on my website when I post this podcast later on in the week, but if you have a Twinkie fix and you really want to have one, you know you certainly can make one. And my friend Fran Costigan in her book, Great Good Dairy Free Desserts has a vegan Twinkie recipe and it is excellent. So I would definitely recommend when you have that Twinkie fix you can make ‘em. And that certainly makes it more of a treat; and you know when you’re making it that the ingredients you are putting into it, number one you know what you’re putting into it, number two you can choose the best quality ingredients – and that’s only going to make anything you make better.

There’s another little business going out, going under, and I’m sure there are many businesses that are suffering because of Hurricane Sandy here in New York City and any other area that’s been affected. There’s little ice cream, a vegan ice cream shop in Manhattan called Stogos; and I was just reading an article where they’re going out of business. They’ve been around for four years and they’ve been struggling and they just started to see an upswing in business around October. And they were thinking they are finally get flush and make it and then the hurricane came and destroyed all their inventory. They lost a lot of money and they just decided to close. And it’s sad.

There is another vegan ice cream shop in the same area and I always heard that it was better. I’ve only been to the other one, which is Lulu’s. And it’s sad when businesses go under but these things happen; and there are a lot of different vegan businesses that go under but there are many that survive. And it takes a lot to run a food business it takes a lot of planning but you also need to have a really good product that people like. So companies come and companies go and some of them are good and some of them are not so good and there you have it.

Lately when I have a fix and I want to have ice cream, you know some people may call me a martyr or something but I like to go to the trouble of making it myself and that makes it fun and that makes it treat. And we made our annual pumpkin spice ice cream for Thanksgiving and we still have some of it in the freezer and that’s the way I like it.

There’s another food product in the news and this is a very interesting subject. It touches on so many different things. Maybe you’ve heard about it. So you know the product Nutella. It’s a spread, not unlike peanut butter for example. It’s made with hazelnuts. I think it’s a Swiss product. I used to see it a lot when I lived in France and we can certainly get it here in the United States. It has sugar and milk and hazelnuts and it’s always been advertised as a wholesome, natural product; something that children love that they can spread on their toast in the morning and get some good nutrition. Now I have not eaten Nutella because I’ve been a vegan for a long time and it has milk in it. But I know the marketed qualities around Nutella. Well, in France they’ve recently decided, their Senate has approved an amendment where they want to tax products with palm oil. And to many people’s surprise, that wholesome, natural product Nutella is loaded with palm oil. France wants to levy a 300% tax on products that have palm oil in it, for two major reasons. They’re acknowledging that palm oil is high in saturated fat and it’s not healthy especially, in large amounts; and more and more of it is going into many food products; and the other thing is that most, and maybe all, I’m not sure this but most of the palm oil that is harvested from palm trees today is causing tremendous amount of devastation to the rain forests. And there’s a big movement to stop using palm oil. The problem is that in the last, let’s see, seventy, since around 1945, the use of palm oil has drastically increased; and as the world develops, especially China and India, and as the population grows the demand for palm oil, along with many other things, increases. But the problem is that many people believe that growing palm is devastating to the rain forest because you’ve got to destroy some of the rain forest in order to grow more palm trees.

So Nutella is being… is the targeted product, but not the only product that is going to be affected by this French tax. Of course the company that makes Nutella is fighting it and saying that Nutella is a healthy product. And they are saying that, if not now, they will be getting their ingredients from sustainable sources. There is a group called the Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil, RSPO; and basically I like the concept behind this organization. It’s a combination of nonprofit organizations and giant agribusiness companies that are using palm oil and they are working on measures in order to grow palm oil sustainably and to regulate the industry voluntarily. Whenever I see that “voluntarily” saying, I’m suspect because I don’t think any businesses, not many of them, will comply when things are voluntary; and because these big businesses have a tremendous influence on this organization I’m not quite sure that the best decisions are going to be made. But it’s something. The thing is we definitely need to have a focus on the growing industry of palm oil and think about the future of growing palm, sustainably as well as looking into all the products that use palm oil and see if it’s really necessary. There are a lot of different things here at stake. So, Palm oil has a lot of interesting qualities that make companies that manufacture food want to use it; and some products have replaced hydrogenated vegetable oil with palm oil. Palm oil is solid, and it has saturated fat or affect of saturated fat and it’s a natural solid fat. Where as hydrogenated vegetable oils have to be manufactured to be solid at room temperature and have similar properties. But the problem, is when we eat any of those fats, they are not healthy. We don’t want products that have long shelf lifes to begin with; we want to get our food and eat it as fresh as possible. So whether it’s palm oil or whether it’s one of these other oils, for the most part our diet should consist of whole, minimally processed, fresh fruits and vegetables. If we’re going to be having products with palm oil in them it should be a treat. That is continually my message. I don’t have a lot of palm oil products in the home. I do use Earth Balance, which is a vegan margarine. But it is not an everyday food, it’s a treat. And I think too many people all around the world are consuming too much manufactured food, frying too much of their food, and getting too many processed foods that have palm oil or hydrogenated vegetable oil. It’s not healthy. It’s not good for the environment. I think it’s a good thing that France is doing: this putting a focus on some important things; giving attention to consumers about what it is they’re feeding their children. And what is interesting is, if you read the ingredient label on Nutella – now the United States you’ll see it says sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals, whey (milk), lecithin as emulsifier from soy, vanillin: an artificial flavor. Those are the ingredients. When you read the ingredients on the French label, I am not sure if the laws are different but they will tell you, they will list the ingredients not in order of the most popular ingredient first or the ingredient that there is the most of, like we do here in the United States. They’ll list them in any order they want and they can put the percentage of that ingredient in the product. So they list hazelnuts first and it really gives the impression that that’s what the product is made of, even though it’s not, it’s mostly sugar and palm oil. It’s not just Nutella, it’s so many products. I’m curious about palm oil though. I know there’s a lot of focus on it. There are a lot of groups that are saying we shouldn’t be using palm oil. Palm oil doesn’t just go in food, it goes in many, many products. It’s quite mind-boggling actually all the things that it’s used for. So we need to really rethink the use of palm oil, but what I am wondering about is; palm oil is not the major cause of destruction of the rain forest. It’s one of many, and I believe that it’s a distraction from some of the other bigger causes. I am not saying it’s insignificant but I think we can solve a big part of the rain forest’s problem with a vegan diet. I’ve looked at a number of different sites that have these pie charts of the causes of rainforest destruction. And it’s, on a superficial little review, its really hard to make sense of some of it because the sites don’t agree. But the feeling that I’m getting is cattle – cattle ranching, pasture for cattle grazing, and agriculture some of its subsistence agriculture, some of it’s big agricultural business – growing soy to feed cattle is taking up a major chunk of rainforest destruction, bigger than palm oil. But people don’t want to talk about giving up their meat; and the taste for meat is growing outside of the United States, in China and India. So we point the finger at Palm Oil, but we should also be pointing a finger and more of them, more fingers, at raising cattle for food for people. And people forget the piece of cattle production, growing plants to feed those animals. You can’t forget about it. Those animals have to be at lots and lots of plants, a lot of it soy; and a lot of the rainforest has been destroyed to grow the plants, the soy, to feed the cattle that are going to feed people. And part of the problem is the land that gets destroyed, the rainforest that gets destroyed or gets hazed and plowed to be able to plant, that soil is not really great for agriculture. It wears away very quickly and then you have to ruin some more rainforest in order to plant more soybeans. It’s not sustainable and what’s behind it is the growing demand for meat. It’s decreasing in the United States, it’s going up around the world. This is a big problem and we need to be talking about, so I’m talking about it. And people like to point the finger at palm oil because of its connection to the rain forest, before, because of its connection to the destruction of ways of living for indigenous people and the people that end up rolling some of the palm, they are not getting livable wages. All around, whenever we’re dealing with any kind of agricultural product there are so many things that are involved that those of us who are not involved with the growing, those of us who are just involved with going to a store and buying whatever we want, we are really quite privileged, but we don’t connect dots and realize is that product grown sustainably. Meaning, can the earth continue to create a product over and over and over and over and over forever and are the people involved with producing that product treated well? Are they getting paid a sufficient amount of money to not only continue to grow that product but to feed their families and get them educated get health care when they need it, have a home. Are they making a livable wage? And these should be the minimal thing that all food products have. That the people that are involved in preparing all the food products that we are so fortunate to have in our stores, they should be given a livable wage. So there are organizations that are trying to bring this information to the forefront; there are number of labels that let us know that some products are friendlier than others but we have a lot of work to do and it’s not just with palm oil.

We have issues here in the United States with tomatoes, with lots of different food products, where we have migrant workers coming in, exposed to all kinds of toxic chemicals when the plants are grown conventionally with herbicides and pesticides. They are paid horribly; many are illegal and fear for their lives. It’s amazing. Our whole foods system clearly needs to change. All of that from something that happened in France with Nutella, that’s in the news.

Now rather than eating a product like Nutella which gives you the feeling that it’s lovely hazelnut spread; and I love hazelnuts; and ground hazelnut, hazelnut butter is phenomenal. But I’ve never really been interested in Nutella because it’s a processed food, it had sugar, it has palm oil, it has skim milk, it has soy lecithin, and it has an artificial flavor, vanillan. Why not just eat nut butters? Plain nut butters – I always like to say, in peanut butter, now peanut butter isn’t a nut, we consider it a nut, peanut butter is a legume, but I always like to say, what’s in your peanut butter? Now peanut butter is probably one of the least expensive of the nut and seed-like, fatty spreads around, and it’s a great food. But the mainstream peanut butter products like Skippy and Jiff, god, don’t read those ingredients, if you are wondering why you are calling it peanut butter it’s got everything else in it; it’s got like 25 ingredients in those products. It’s crazy and a lot of them aren’t healthy. Mono and di-glycerides and hydrogenated oils and sugar. Hah! Peanut butter should contain peanuts and nothing else. Maybe a little salt but I don’t think it’s even necessary, salt, just peanuts ground up. Almond butter should be almonds, raw or roasted. I prefer the raw but sometimes it’s not available; and all the nut butters. And seed butters, sesame seed butter which is tahini. I can’t live without it! It’s a wonderful food. Pumpkin seed butter – they are all great; and you can make them at home or you can buy them; and a little goes a long way. They are great spread on bread and cookies and crackers and muffins. They are also great if you thin them a little with water and you can add a little citrus or vinegar; it’s a lovely salad dressing. And I hope people wake up to this. At some point organic nuts and seed butters, let’s forget about Nutella, we don’t need extra oil added to our nut and seed spreads. We don’t need artificial colors, we don’t need artificial preservatives, we don’t need hydrogenated oils, we don’t need skim milk, or whey, just the simple nut or seed will do. I love nut and seed butters and sometimes I’ll soak the nuts and seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, just soak them for a few hours and then you can blend them in a food processor, and that makes a very lovely spread. You don’t need any fancy equipment to make that kind of spread; you just need to soak the nuts or seeds and blend them up and they are actually healthier when you soak them. They won’t last very long, you have to eat them within a few days.

Okay what else is going on in the world on this planet? I wanted to talk about some great recipes that I recently added to our website. You know I am into gluten-free baking and there so many different flours out there. I like to study one at a time; so I’m doing little focus now, more on sorghum flour, and I’m liking it very much. I still haven’t figured out quite everything that it does and doesn’t do, but I’m incorporating it into my recipes. And I just recently made a gluten-free, rye-style bread. And I use the sorghum flour, I used some rice flour and then some starches and yeast. And it made ta really incredible bread. The trick is, of course, the caraway seeds. And that gives you more of the feeling of the rye bread because most rye breads typically here in the United States has caraway seeds on it. That’s the flavor that you are looking for. And most rye bread too is sourdough. So you can give a little sour flavor to the bread with some vinegar and you have that sourdough caraway flavor. You can also make a sourdough starter. I was going to do this a few weeks ago and I haven’t gotten to it yet, so stay tuned. But you can get a real sourdough flavor with your own sourdough starter instead of using yeast.

Another recipe we recently added was corn chowder. This is such a simple recipe and it’s great for Thanksgiving, it’s great for any time. But I like it kind of in the late autumn/wintery time. The real secret is a good sweet corn; and I don’t usually promote different people’s products, but Trader Joe’s frozen organic corn is consistently outstanding and consistently sweet. Now somebody’s going to tell me what’s wrong with it, I don’t know! But that’s what I have been using in my corn chowder. But again, caraway seeds – I have been using caraway seeds in some of my soups that have potatoes that have corn. I put them in this soup as well and what a great flavor. Caraway seeds in soup add another dimension to your broth and a number of seeds can really do that. I’m always looking for what can flavor my food because I don’t want to use salt or I don’t want use very much salt. And finding different things to flavor food makes things so much easier, not easier, make things so much more interesting. Caraways seeds is definitely one of them.

Another one that I’ve been using is fennel. Fennel seeds are amazing. They give almost, almost a meaty flavor, not that I am looking for meaty flavor per se because I don’t enjoy the taste of meat. Although I haven’t eaten meat in decades, but the smell of it is quite unpleasant. But in sausages for example, fennel is one of the ingredients that are used. That’s how I connect the dots with a meaty flavor because I’m actually getting one of the seasoning flavors in, that are used in meats or sausages, putting it in my vegetable foods – but the fennel will give a great flavor to a soup or a sauce – outstanding. Now I use and lots and lots and lots and lots of herbs, dried herbs in particular, spices and feeds. And when you go to regular supermarket they have these things in tiny little jars. I know that a lot of my recipes on the ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com website call for lots of herbs. When I’m making soup I’m really liberal with my dried herbs. Certainly if I had fresh herbs in a big garden I’d be cutting tons of them and adding those to my foods. But I don’t always have access to fresh herbs and it’s easy to have dried herbs around. But little jars can be really expensive, the little jars have like a half an ounce of a product and they can be three dollars $4, $5 a jar and they’re gone, quickly. It’s expensive. And some people have told me that they want to make some of my recipes but they don’t have all of those ingredients and they don’t know they’re going to like it; so that I make it. Here’s my recommendation: you can buy lots of herbs and spices on the Internet in bulk. Now you may not want to use a pound of a certain herb or may take a very long time; but the holidays are coming up, you can make some creative gifts where you buy a bunch of different herbs in bulk and put them in little containers and give them, give different people a collection of herbs. Make them pretty, with ribbons and packaging. And it can make fun and very useful gift that’s relatively inexpensive and you end up benefiting because you get all kind of herbs as well. If you do a search on organic herbs or organic herbs in bulk, there a number of different websites that come up and they have great buys on herbs. Let me give you an example. You can buy a pound of dried basil or a pound of thyme, or a pound of parsley. That’s 16 ounces for about $10 when you’re getting less than an ounce for three, four or five dollars. A pound is crazy cheap. The thing is most people don’t use that much and I’m saying go for the big bag and use them! They’re delicious and they’re nutritious.

There are some places that offer four ounce bags and 4 ounces is a lot, really. I like to buy the big bags, put them in jars and then use them. That’s the thing – use them! They’re so good and the herbs that I use a lot of – you know there’s that song: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. I have them all: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, marjoram. And then there are some spices: cinnamon and cumin, turmeric. Turmeric is such a great spice. It is so good for us. I put it in so many things. Most of my soups get a little turmeric is because it gives a nice color. I hope you take advantage of that tip.

Now if really curious to me an e-mail and I will send you my favorite places where I get my herbs and spices. There are some stores in my neighborhood – you could always go to an ethnic store. Indian stores, Middle Eastern stores often sell large, large bags, larger than what you see in the standard American supermarket of herbs and spices. And that’s great and they’re reasonably priced. I like them organic though and I don’t typically seek the organic versions of these herbs and spices. The prices for organic herbs and spices online are the same as conventional, so it’s not more expensive just takes a moment and then you’ll have a big supply for a long, long time to enjoy. Why not?

A couple of other foods I wanted to talk about that seem to get a little attention over Thanksgiving, are number one, Brussels sprouts and number two, turnips. I remember, oh gosh, I was in my 20s I think, I had a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house and a couple of my high school girlfriends came. And one of them brought a dish with Brussels sprouts and all of us really harassed her because none of us like Brussels sprouts and we were all just like little kids that were now in adult bodies and we were still acting like little kids. Well a lot has happened since then and I love Brussels sprouts and I’m really sorry that way back then I insulted my friend for bringing such a wonderful food. But Brussels sprouts are really outstanding and unfortunately you don’t see them as much as other foods in many stores. You have to look for them sometimes. I don’t often see them organic and when I do they are really expensive. But they are a really lovely delicious food and sometimes you see them proudly on the Thanksgiving table.

I just interviewed Anne Dinshah on my It’s All About Food show last week and she was talking about how on one date she had a guy who said that he didn’t like Brussels sprouts and she ended up making three or four courses for dinner that contained Brussels sprouts. Only he couldn’t tell, they were a hidden ingredient and he loved everything. Brussels get a bad rap and Thanksgiving is a good time to get to know Brussels sprouts and really enjoy them.

The other one is turnips. When – I’ve been exposed to turnips in two ways. One was early as a child going to Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house and I would see this big fluffy bowl of mashed orange and I would think it was sweet potatoes; and then I was hungry and I couldn’t wait to start eating. I would put some on my plate and I would dive into it and I would be very disappointed because it wasn’t sweet potatoes. It was mashed turnips. And so many years I fell for it. The funny thing is, it’s the kind that my grandmother, grandmother would make. I think they were actually rutabaga which is a larger plant compared to the smaller turnip but they are very similar in flavor and taste. But the rutabaga is orange-y flesh rather than a white yellowy flesh, closer to the sweet potato or the yam. All these different foods and we don’t even call them the right names. And they have different colors. The point is I was very disappointed and I never really was able to give the turnip it’s due, because I thought it was something else. It’s not unlike carob. Carob has a lovely flavor but when you’re biting into something that is carob and someone tells you it’s like chocolate, it’s to big disappointment. Carob is nothing like chocolate. Carob is lovely but it’s not chocolate. And when you want chocolate, carob is a disappointment. The same thing with turnips.

Then the other way I got introduced to turnips was when I was living in France I discovered that turnips were a very popular item that people included in their soup. In fact they, you could easily buy prepackaged, a combination of one small turnip, at one small leak, one small onion and a carrot, I think, that buy them together and that was the basis of any soup that you were going to make or a broth. And I love including one small turnip in my soup. It gives a really lovely flavor and a really lovely dimension.

Okay so we just had Thanksgiving and sure enough, my mom to continue the tradition that her mom started, brought the turnips. To make it more palatable for the younger people around the table she added some sweet potatoes to it, which was really a sweet thing to do. But I’m telling you give turnips and rutabagas a chance.

Thanks for listening, this is another episode of Ask A Vegan. And please let me know what’s going on in your life when it comes to food – something you’ve discovered, something you’ve enjoyed, some question you have, whatever it is, I love to hear about. You can e-mail me at info@realmeals.org, info@realmeals.org and we can have a nice conversation. Okay have a really delicious week. Bye bye.

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