Monday, January 15, 2018

Good, pure food

When I was a graduate student, I was allowed into the chemistry staff Tea Room. In those days, my degree had only just changed from Applied and Industrial Chemistry to Chemical Engineering, and we still had strong ties to the Chemistry Department.

In the tea room, there was lots of scientific reading matter. There were bound copies of journals, some in German, and some going back into the 19th century. One which fascinated me was "The Analyst", dating back to 1878 and still published by the Royal Society for Chemistry today.

Much of the early work had to do with the adulteration of food. There were ways of measuring the amount of chalk added to milk, or pigfat added to butter, or glycerine to wine. It was pretty horrifying what the Victorians came up with to enrich the butcher or grocer without killing the customer. Sweeney Todd was no joke!

Fast forward to today. I do quite a lot of cooking for myself, and rather enjoy it. A recent recipe for sauerkraut from the Economist has proven a great success, even if I had to visit the local spice emporium to find fennel. But I soon found there was something funny about chicken. When I cooked it, it oozed a white, unappetising goo. Then my supermarket had a special on Brazilian chicken, and when I cooked that, it didn't ooze.

Curious, I did a bit of digging, and found that the local chicken had "brine" added to it. Now brine is a colloquial word for salt water, and salt water doesn't contain goo. A bit more digging, and I found I was buying not just chicken, but chicken fattened and moisturized with chicken blood plasma in brine. So that was why it oozed and shrank.

Then I observed the same phenomenon in bacon. The commercial stuff was limpid and ended up half the size when cooked - if you were lucky. The German butcher sold me the real thing at a small fortune per kg, but it was firm and didn't ooze and shrink when you cooked it.

Soon I was finding ooze everywhere. The kipper that barely fitted into the pan, but looked like a sardine once it was done. The gammon that looked big enough for ten hungry mouths, yet had to be sliced very thin to celebrate Christmas.

I'm cross, and so should you be. Why do we allow ourselves to be ripped off in this way? To be sold something that contains about 30% that isn't what it claims to be? I see the poultry producers are complaining about unfair competition from imports. If they would stop adulterating our food, perhaps we might be more sympathetic.

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