Pick Your Peppercorns

Black, white, pink, and green peppercorns can add color and complexity to a dish

Pepper, together with salt, makes up the most basic of spices, included in almost every type of cuisine. Almost every savory recipe calls for salt and pepper to taste, without specifying exact amounts, because they are so basic and necessary in flavoring, that most home and professional cooks are able to eyeball the necessary amount which will make the dish come out perfect according to their taste preferences. Pepper has some health benefits as well. It has antimicrobial properties, possibly helping prevent infection, and is also thought to help in the digestive process. Pepper contains some key vitamins and minerals, and may have some therapeutic properties against pain, cancer, bronchitis, and malaria. Like most spices, for food it should be used in appropriately small amounts. An overload of pepper can make dishes inedible and may have negative side effects for the diner. If plain old ground black pepper isn’t exciting enough for you, many other types of pepper exist. Below is a guide to some of the common types of peppercorns available.

Black Pepper

Black pepper is the most commonly used type of pepper in the United States. It has a spicy taste, and is often made available in shakers, alongside salt, on restaurant tables. You would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant kitchen without black pepper handy and used in dishes, and for good reason, since its taste can enhance pretty much any dish when used in small amounts (like salt). Black pepper is a dried form of not yet ripened, and therefore green peppercorns, sometimes boiled briefly before the drying process to help the darkening process during the drying. The slow-drying process allows enzymes within the pepper to darken its color. Purchasing it in the form of peppercorns, and grinding it close to the time it will be used, will help it keep its flavor longer compared to the pre-ground form. Peppercorns are also the chosen option for flavoring clear stocks and soups, since it can be strained out after cooking. If a restaurant was to choose only one type of pepper to keep on hand, black pepper would be it.

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Sweeter Than Sugar

Agave nectar has become a popular sugar alternative among dieters as well as health-conscious consumers.

There are many types of sugars and sweeteners out there, and almost every year that number grows. From natural to synthetic, some of our favorite beverages are enjoyed with such sweeteners. Some are considered “bad” while others are considered “healthy,” but they all have their pros and cons. This article aims to put some of the pros and cons into perspective.

Sugar

The pros: Sugar, both white and brown, are the most widely known and used sweeteners in restaurants. Though they gets a bad rep for being high in calories and a plethora of other health considerations, customers are likely to make sugar their top choice for sweetening drinks.

The cons: Sugar is quite possibly the dieter’s worst enemy. Studies have shown that the more a person chooses to consume fatty, sweet foods, the more he/she craves them. Sweetened beverages have shown a correlation with obesity, due to increased calorie counts in the resulting products. Sugar consumption has been linked with an increase in “bad” cholesterol levels. It is important to note that though these negative considerations are often reflected on white sugar, many other types of sweeteners, whether containing fructose and/or glucose, have the same effects. Despite the connotations associated with white sugar, it continues to be the go-to sweetener.

Honey

The pros: Though there is a conception that honey is healthier than sugar, it actually has more calories. However, since it is sweeter than sugar, less of it is usually used in drinks and recipes, which can lead to a lower overall calorie count. Additionally, many appreciate its “spiced” taste when compared to sugar.

The cons: In addition to its high calorie count, honey may contain a significant amount of pesticides. A 2010 study found that 98% of apiary-extracted bees’ wax contained pesticides. This is probably due to the concentration of the pesticides on the plants from which bees extract nectar. Another factor to take into consideration is young children. Parents are usually instructed to refrain from giving their babies honey, until they pass one year of age. Therefore, in a family-friendly venue, honey may not be the best choice of sweetener.

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Types of Chocolate

Chocolate is hard not to love, taking on foods both sweet and savory.The chocolate production industry is one of the world’s most thriving industries, being estimated at roughly $100 billion per year. The treat, originally prepared as a drink in Mesoamerica, has inspired patisseries, restaurants, and entrepreneurs around the world. It has become a basis for desserts, savory sauces, and the creation of unusual flavors. It has been dissected scientifically and built up again to make the most of its crystal-forming abilities. Despite its widespread availability and antiquity, it shows no sign of wearing out its welcome. And as its antioxidant properties and mineral content continue to be unveiled to the public, the justifications for its consumption only increase. Though chocolate is so familiar and well-known to the United States population, many are not aware of the true differences and similarities between different types of chocolate, apart from their color and flavor.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is typically made of cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugar. It is often the best chocolate to use in baking brownies, soufflés, and pies, due to its powerful, rich, bitter-sweet flavor. It can also be a great basis for ganache, truffles, and mole sauce. At times its cocoa content is indicated on the packaging, typically ranging from 70%-99%. The higher the cocoa content, the more flavorful the chocolate, with the dominant difference often being extra bitterness in “darker” chocolate when compared to chocolate with low cocoa content. The more cocoa in the chocolate, the healthier it is, since most of the healthful compounds in chocolate originate from the cocoa. Since dark chocolate contains a higher percentage of cocoa than milk and white chocolates, it is considered the healthiest type of chocolate. Dark chocolate is also known as semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, depending on the amount of sugar it contains. (…Read More…)

Top 3 Cooking Oils – Which is the Best?

Olive oil is probably the most widely used oil…and not only in the kitchen.

With consciousness on the rise about obesity and the detrimental effects of a bad diet on health, many are developing an aversion to fats. However, it is almost impossible to imitate the texture and flavor that fats give foods, with alternatives. Kitchens would be hard-pressed to prepare food without fats, even without taking deep-fried options into consideration. Despite the many options available, by choosing just a few cooking oils to keep in stock, food businesses can easily prepare high level, healthy, and delicious foods. The type of oil used for each dish depends on the preparation of the dish, making it important for chefs and cooks to know the basics of which oil can be used for what. Venues offering food on a budget, with deep-fried options on the menu, will probably choose to stock up on inexpensive oils with high boiling points, such as soybean oil, while other venues will choose to occasionally deep-fry in Canola oil, an alternative which is often considered healthier.

Before diving in to share our top 3 picks, it is important to understand why smoke points matter in cooking oils. An oil’s smoke point will go up, as its chemical structure gets more saturated. That’s the same type of “saturated” people are referring to when they say that you should try to eat more unsaturated fats and fewer saturated fats. The difference in health and smoke points in saturated and unsaturated fats are due to the same reasons. The less saturated a fat is, the more reactive it will be. This means that it is easier for the body to break down, but also that it can react with oxygen in the air to get oxidized. Oxidized oils are even more reactive than unsaturated oils, which can cause health damage when consumed over time and in large quantities. Oxidized oils also have a rancid taste. So what does this have to do with cooking? When you heat an oil, you enhance its ability to react with its surroundings, making oxidation occur faster, and making the oil go rancid faster. Therefore, you want a highly saturated oil when using high temperatures, since it has a higher smoke point, which means it will be less reactive at a higher temperature. Burnt oil has carcinogenic components as well as a foul flavor, making it non-servable. Due to all these reasons, saturated fats are best for deep-frying and cooking at high temperatures.

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