Don’t Blame the Bean for the Burger!

27 04 2010
Just a little sprout, nothing to fear

Don't fear the bean

Oh, the terrible things we do to food. It just makes you want to shadow the stuff from seed to plate, if you only had the time. Thankfully, we have the good people at Cornucopia Institute to do some of the heavy lifting on this one.

Recent articles, notably in Mother Jones, based on the study by the Cornucopia Institute)( have blown the lid off of the soyburger industry and its dirty little secret. As people have been pushed to try soy based burgers as a healthy alternative, the industry that makes them has been using hexane and often acetone in their processing. This process leaves measurable residues of these neurotoxic chemicals in the burgers, despite the manufacturers theories that they must just evaporate in cooking. Unless your soyfood is labeled as organic, not “contains organic ingredients” or “made with organic soybeans” it may well be part of this hexane tinged group. In fact, the Cornucopia study reports soy protein bars, powders, and infant formulas have been found to have 10 times the acceptable limits.


Hexane is listed as a “hazardous air pollutant” by the EPA, and at this time, 70% of the hexane emissions in the country are from the soy and grain processors-not the gasoline manufacturers. Hexane converts to ozone and is a danger to the people who have to work and live around it. This fact alone is a good reason to stop supporting its use by buying these products.

Why on earth would a healthy, natural food need to have a neurotoxin hidden in the mix? It’s all about getting the fat out. Our freakout about fat motivates the market, as your typical healthy shopper wants a nice, low fat content on the label. The soybeans are processed in a hexane bath, which strips the oil out of them like a good solvent should. The remaining denuded protein is then processed further to make the fat free soy powders and chunks that consumers think will keep them slim.

Is this shocking news? I know it dates me, but back in the 80’s I lived in soybean land (Central Illinois) and everybody in my healthy food world knew that the burgers and powders were made with solvents. The soy juggernaut was all about making cheap soy oil, and once the oil was out, the manufacturers had lots of fibers and protein left over. The earliest burgers were widely shunned in the whole foods world because they were known to be solvent extracted and crazy over-processed. We had groovy tofu burgers we made by hand, and okara burgers made from the stuff leftover from making soymilk.

Unfortunately, the things people do to soy, and the sick foods that they produce, just pile on the bad news for soy. The innocent bean, rich in protein and oil, packed with beneficial plant chemicals, gets a bad rap because manufacturers make bad decisions. And then they keep it secret, so nobody feels very trusting.

The side issue in the Cornucopia report is the sneaky way that manufacturers sidestep organic rules, and buy suspicious soybeans from China that are probably not organic. Lots of familiar brands are participating in practices that organic consumers would find appalling, and the PDF link above will take you to that eye-opening list.

Just as before, whole soy is good, tofu, tempeh, edamame, soymilk, miso, etc are really healthy, safe, and natural. “Natural” products like Clif bars and Amy’s soy burgers are not-but they shamelessly market themselves as such.

The mantra is the same-eat real food, not messed with, and keep it low on the food chain. Don’t immerse your food in paint thinner to strip out the oils. A little water will do a much better job in the kitchen.

Burgers that use Hexane:

Amy’s Kitchen

Boca Burger, conventional

Franklin Farms

Garden Burger

It’s All Good Lightlife

Morningstar Farms

President’s Choice

Taste Above

Trader Joe’s

Yves Veggie Cuisine

Hexane-free products:

Boca Burgers “Made with organic soy”

Helen’s Kitchen

Morningstar “Made with organic”

Superburgers by Turtle Island



Or, try this very simple, easy-looking recipe at Foodista!

Oat Burgers


Are Vegetarian-Friendly Wines Endangered?

20 04 2010

Is wine as we know it changing forever?

I love wine. It adds a little joy to life, complements fine food, and is even good for you, in moderation. But a few years back, I started cutting back on it. I chalked my newfound inability to quaff a half bottle and still function the next day up to my advancing age. Just wasn’t rolling with it the way I used to.

Then I started reading labels, and it dawned on me. Some of my favorite wines were quite high in alcohol, and according to wine experts, only getting higher every year.  All those juicy reds I was washing down red sauced pasta with were loaded with the strong stuff. So, I started paying attention.

Now you can disagree about whether human activity is to blame for our advancing temperatures, but the fact is, the wine growing regions of the world are getting warmer. Wine producers have been worried about this for a long time, and for good reason. The documented 1.7 degree increases in temperature in places like Napa California or the Burgundy region in France have changed the way the grapes behave. Heat makes the grapes produce more sugar, and sugar makes alcohol. It also takes the acidity away from wines, making them one-dimensional and not as food-friendly.

I thought I would ask a wine expert, so I contacted Liz Caskey, who lives in Santiago Chile and has a bustling business, Liz Caskey Culinary and Wine Experiences, leading tours of the wine regions there.

Liz agreed that the warming climate is having an effect.

“Well, as the climate gets warmer, for example, places like Burgundy that formally produced delicate reds like Pinot Noir are having hotter years and the wines are going up in alcohol, tannins, and flavors completely changing. If it continues, the Pinot could resemble more new world than old world. However, it also brings consistency in France where it was very marked between a cold, rainy year (green/unmature wines) and years like 2005 in Bordeaux that were very hot with the wines already succulent.”

So there is a slight upside to the change, kind of like the happiness we feel when spring comes early in Minnesota, even as the heat drives away native species, from fish to plants.

Vegetarians who like wine often pick lower alcohol wines, anyway, since lighter styles, from whites to reds like Pinot Noir, go best with veggies and with the spicy and global fare we enjoy. But what will we do, when our pinot gris is no longer dry, or when finicky pinot noir won’t grow in California? When even medium body reds become rough with alcohol, and make your food taste weird?

The wine world right now seems to be in flux-just imagine that you have been growing grapes in a vineyard for years, and now those grapes are turning out all wrong. Do you tear them out and plant something more heat-friendly? Do you invest in winery property a few clicks north, so you can still make cool weather wines? Do you investigate ways of reducing the alcohol in your wine? Actually, all of the above are being reported and discussed in the world of wine.

Ms Caskey was of the opinion that the flux will continue, even though Chile is less affected than other regions.

“In Chile, the climate change for some reason feels less noticeable although our spring and fall have been reduced, we still are a Mediterranean climate. I think people will continue to search for new terroir and cooler climates as the temperature increases. After all, who wants a wine cocktail at 15 percent alcohol??”

I feel you, Liz. That 15% Zin just doesn’t work for me, or go with my meal. Here’s hoping that winemakers can figure out how to keep wine great, and still make some lower alcohol wines.

The Power of Suggestion-Another Reason to Keep Secrets

13 04 2010

MMMM, let's bake up some sawdust bars!

Does your mind play tricks on you, when it comes to food? Oh, believe me, as much as we all like to think we are objectively assessing our food choices, we are actually easily led. Take the latest study on the ease with which a simple word can change how you feel- physically- after eating.

The study, done at the University of Chicago and published in the Journal of Consumer Research, posed the question-will telling people that something is healthy, versus telling them it is tasty, have a different outcome on how full they feel after eating?

Are you kidding? Have you ever served someone food and called it healthy?

In the first experiment, researchers asked 51 college students to sample a chocolate-raspberry protein bar. Students were either told they were sampling “a new health bar,” containing lots of protein, vitamins and fiber, or a “chocolate bar that is very tasty and yummy with a chocolate-raspberry core.”

Later, when asked to rate their hunger, those who ate the “health” bar rated themselves as hungrier than those who ate the identical bar described as “tasty,” according to the study.

But here is where it gets weird.

A third group of students was asked to examine the bars and rate their hunger but they did not eat either bar. Their hunger levels were about the same as students who ate the bar described as “yummy” — meaning that eating the “healthy” food actually made them feel hungrier than if they hadn’t eaten a bar at all, the researchers said.

So, eating something healthy actually made people hungrier than eating nothing. Even after examining what must have been a verrry appealing bar.

This research is very similar to the work done by Dr Brian Wansink, of Cornell University. In his book, Mindless Eating, he described many such studies, all of which showed time and again just how subjective our perceptions of fullness and taste are. One of my favorites was the one where they told half the group that a bar had soy in it, and half that it was a new energy bar. Every person who thought it had soy thought it was gritty and funny tasting. The others thought it was tasty. The bar had no soy protein.

I tell this story often when I am teaching about healthy cooking. Cooking delicious, health promoting fare is a great gift. It’s also best not discussed. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Putting a basket filled with steaming warm buns on the counter with a stick of butter next to it is a great way to lure a kid to eat some whole grains. Just don’t say anything about it.

Seriously, I cook all kinds of food including healthy and vegan, and when I see those labels, even I wonder if it will taste crummy. Unfortunately, in my case, it comes from experiences eating sawdust-y vegan muffins and shudderingly tasteless fat free dishes. The best vegetarian, vegan, whole grain or even gluten free foods are the ones that can stand on their own. I know we have to label them so that the people who want them will know what they are.

But I wish we could just leave it to the tastebuds. Then the person who takes a bite of food can just experience it, free from labels and preconceptions. Maybe, just maybe, you might find yourself liking and being satisfied by something that is


Good for you.

Have You Had Your Maple Syrup Today?

6 04 2010

Antioxidant Rich Tree Sap Being Harvested

Good news, maple syrup is a health food!

Or at least a new study, funded by Canadian maple syrup producers, has found some nifty antioxidants in their delicious and natural product. Antioxidants protect the body from damage caused by free radicals, which makes you less vulnerable to coronary artery disease, cancers, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and general ageing.

The news broke when a University of Rhode Island plant scientist named Navinda Seeram announced at an American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco that he has discovered 13 new compounds “linked with human health” in maple syrup.

Among the previously unidentified chemicals were phenolics believed to have “anti-cancer” properties. The trees appear to make the chemicals as part of their immune response to the wounds made to tap the syrup, and they act to boost our immunity when we eat them. The researchers also think the trees exposure to sun causes them to produce more antioxidants.

Real Maple also is high in manganese and zinc, both of which are missing in refined sweeteners. Manganese and Zinc also qualify as solid antioxidants, and are necessary for all kinds of crucial processes in the body.

This is great news, and I heartily recommend using maple instead of white sugar. The thing is, there are also minerals and nutrients and antioxidants in other unrefined sweeteners. Take a look at real unrefined dried cane juice, called Sucanat.

Nutritional Analysis of Sucanat:

approximately one cup

* water…………………………………..2.7g
* calories………………………………..570g
* carbohydrate………………………..135.g
* fat………………………………………..0g
* sodium……………………………….0.5mg
* potassium…………………………1,125mg
* vitamin A……………………………1600IU
* thiamin (B1)………………………..0.21mg
* riboflavin (B2)……………………..0.21mg
* niacin……………………………….0.20mg
* calcium………………………………165mg
* iron……………………………………6.5mg
* vitamin B6………………………….0.60mg
* magnesium………………………….127mg
* zinc…………………………………..2.3mg
* copper……………………………….0.3mg
* pantothenic acid……………………1.8mg
* chromium……………………………40mcg
* phosphorus…………………………..48mg

Source: USDA Handbook of Nutrient Content of Foods

A quick google found a study of cane juice done in 2006 that identified some antioxidants, there, too. They included flavones and phenolic acids, just like the maple syrup. The point here is that whole, real foods have antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and it is when they get processed and stripped down, they become empty calories.

There have always been debates about the value of certain sweeteners, as we sweetness craving animals try to find a way to eat treats and still be virtuous. Whole sweeteners are always better, because they have the nutrients and antioxidants, and are less concentrated. The bottom line is that we need to eat moderate amounts of sweets, and preferably sweets made with natural sweeteners like maple, sucanat, agave, brown rice syrup, fruit sweeteners and raw honey.

And for pancakes? Pure maple syrup is the best. Try simmering fresh or frozen fruit in your maple syrup, anything from apples to mangoes, then pouring the warm, delicious mixture over pancakes or oatmeal.

Mmm, all those tasty antioxidant rich real foods, how can you go wrong?
Blueberry Maple Syrup