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UC Food Safety

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A honey of an event

Honey, sometimes described as the soul of a field of flowers, seized the spotlight at a recent benefit in Sacramento for UC Davis honey bee research.

The occasion: The Bee Informed event.

The site: The historic ballroom of the Citizen Hotel, Sacramento.

“Honey is one of my favorite ingredients to use in desserts because of its beautifully nuanced flavors and gorgeous colors,” said Bee Informed coordinator Elaine Baker (top left) of the Citizen Hotel/Grange Restaurant. “It’s just magical.”

The event, open to the public, raised $600 for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.

The event buzzed with bee and honey aficionados—and folks who just wanted to learn about bees and the products they produce.

For the occasion, Baker created mini-desserts made with Sacramento-area honey. Guests sipped cocktails laced with honey and sampled a variety of honey provided by area beekeepers. Honey ranged from dark buckwheat to a light tupelo. Tupelo is a honey that doesn’t granulate.

Baker, who blogs about food, came up with the idea of a “Bee Informed” event to raise public awareness about the plight of the honey bees.

Keynote speaker Eric Mussen (below), UC Davis extension apiculturist, updated the crowd about colony collapse disorder (CCD) and talked about the health of honey bees.

“The news media wrongfully reports that 33 percent to 35 percent of our nation’s honey bees are dying of CCD,” he said.

“Thirty-three to 35 percent is the average; only 25 percent of beekeepers have reported CCD in their colonies. Some lost 40, 80 or 100 percent of their hives due to CCD. So CCD is not killing 33 percent of our bees.”

CCD, the mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, may be due in part to an undiscovered microbe, but the malady “is going to be with us for awhile,” he said.

The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, open to the public year around, is a half-acre bee friendly garden planted last fall next to the Laidlaw facility. It serves as a year-around food source for the Laidlaw bees and other pollinators; raises public awareness about the plight of bees; and provides educational opportunities for visitors, who can learn what to plant in their own yards to attract pollinations.

It is also a research garden; native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, has found more than 50 species of bees, including leafcutter bees, metallic green sweat bees and bumble bees, at the site over the last two years.

Baker described the Bee Informed event as a great success. “Fantastic speakers, terrific vendors, delicious cocktails and desserts, not to mention all the beautiful honey.” A drawing for prizes included honey from Sacramento-area beekeepers and specially bottled honey made by UC Davis bees.

When asked to share one of her favorite honey recipes, she provided this one. Bon Appétit!

Buckwheat Honey Tea Bread
Makes 1 9x5” loaf

In a bowl whisk together: 
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest, finely chopped
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Set aside.  In a mixer with a paddle attachment combine:

3/4 cup buckwheat honey
3/4 cup hot water
3 tablespoons brandy
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Blend on low until combined. Add dry ingredients and blend on low speed just until combined. Put into a greased 9x5” loaf pan. Bake at 350F about 50-60 min. or until the bread tests done and is a deep golden brown color.  Remove from oven and let cool until barely warm, then remove from the pan. In a small saucepan heat up a small amount of the buckwheat honey with a little bit of water to make a glaze and brush on the top of the loaf.  Let cool completely. This bread is best served the same day.

If you don’t have a mixer this recipe can also be mixed by hand.  You can use any flavor of honey you like – wildflower, orange blossom, etc.  Elaine Baker likes buckwheat honey because of the assertive flavor and beautiful color.

Show me the honey
Show me the honey

A BEE with jars of honey graced a table at the Bee Informed event. This display is the work of Nancy and Donna Stewart of Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies. (Photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, October 18, 2010 at 7:12 AM

Community gardening cultivates well-being

An innovative pilot gardening project, "LA Sprouts," produced significant improvements in the health of the participating children. They gained less weight than their peers who did not participate and saw a significant improvement in their body mass index. Equally important, motivation to eat and preferences for fruits and vegetables increased. Students learned about soil health, watering, recycling, and how to plan a garden, compost and cook what they grew.

With funding from the Kaiser Foundation Hospital - Los Angeles, researchers from USC and UCLA, and master gardeners from UC Cooperative Extension's Common Ground Garden Program offered the gardening and nutrition intervention pilot project to a group of Los Angeles elementary school students, most of whom are Latino.

The 12-week project took place at the Milagro Allegro Community Garden in the Highland Park neighborhood of Northeast Los Angeles. What sprouted was quite inspirational.

"Encouraging our children to explore, grow, touch, smell, pick, prepare and eat their own organic fruits and vegetables will provide a positive healthy future for the rest of us," says Milli Macen-Moore, resident Master Gardener of the Milagro Allegro Community Garden.

The promising results will be published in two peer-reviewed journals, Journal of the American Diabetic Association and Public Health Nutrition, and the pilot study's coordinators expect the intervention to be effective in preventing obesity with a longer intervention period. The garden-based nutrition education study is the first of its kind to evaluate obesity-related parameters.

The Milagro Allegro Community Garden was founded in 2009 by Nicole Gatto, assistant research professor at UCLA. The site integrates urban farming, art and education in the heart of Northeast Los Angeles and acts as a center where peace and beauty exist among the growing fruits, vegetables and flowers. The garden features 32 raised bed plots and accommodates more than 40 families.

For more information about the study or community garden, visit the Milagro Allegro Community Garden website and/or contact Gatto at info@hpgarden.org.

Posted on Friday, October 15, 2010 at 6:06 AM

Keeping olives on the table

Table olives have always been a staple on my family’s fall relish tray so I took notice when I heard this discouraging news: Labor costs are killing the table olive industry. Table olive growers spend more than half of their gross returns on the cost of manually harvesting their crop.

“That’s a ridiculous equation,” says Dennis Burreson of Orland, grower and chairman of the research committee of the California Olive Committee. “We can’t survive if we’re spending more than half our gross returns on labor.”

But here’s the heartening news: With the help of UC Cooperative Extension specialist Louise Ferguson (right) and a large group of collaborators, the industry is doing something about it. They are developing the means to mechanize the devilishly difficult task of picking table olives.

“I think mechanical harvesting will soon revolutionize the table olive industry,” said Ferguson, pomologist with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and director of the UC Davis Fruit & Nut Research and Information Center.

Mechanical harvesters are commonplace for countless commodities, including olive oil olives. What is it about table olives that make them so hard to mechanically pick?

They bruise easily, for one thing, and bruised olives don’t cure well. Plus, table olives are harvested while still immature – unlike the more mature olive oil olives – so it takes more force to knock them off the tree. And then there is the tree canopy: Table olives trees tend to be wispy, less accommodating to mechanical harvesting than the high-density hedgerows you see in olive oil orchards.

Visit a typical table olive orchard and you will see the problem. It’s hard for a mechanical shaker to clean fruit off a tree that just sways, especially when that fruit is hard to dislodge in the first place. Plus, olive tree trunks get knobby with age (like the rest of us). If a machine rubs the bark off those knobs, it opens the tree to disease.

Scientists and engineers have been trying for decades to come up with a viable mechanical harvester. As with earlier attempts, a few versions designed and tested in the mid-90s didn’t pan out because they didn’t remove and capture enough high-quality fruit. But more recent efforts are showing great promise.



The two leading picking technologies are “canopy contact harvesting heads” (it resembles a huge hair brush) and trunk shakers. The canopy contact harvester can be used in existing orchards when they are pruned into a hedgerow and can also be used in the new high-density orchard Ferguson and her team designed, modeled after olive oil orchards. The trunk-shaking technology can be used in new high-density orchards but not in conventional orchards.

And here is the good news on fruit quality, the piece of the puzzle that now makes mechanical harvesting so promising: Even trained testers couldn’t tell the difference between manually and mechanically harvested table olives.

“That’s huge because fruit quality had always been a sticking point,” Ferguson says. “Jean-Xavier Guinard (sensory scientist with the UC Davis Food Science and Technology) worked with an expert panel trained to detect even the slightest defect in texture, taste, aroma – the works. They detected virtually no different between olives that were manually and mechanically harvested.”

More taste tests with both expert and consumer panels are in the works. In the meantime, several growers have decided to take the plunge. Burreson, for example, has planted 120 acres of table olives in the high-density hedgerows Ferguson helped design. In about five years, his olives will be ready for harvest.

So keep your fingers crossed as you enjoy your table olives, figuratively if not literally. It’s hard to keep your fingers crossed if eat them the old-school way, one at a time off each finger and thumb.

Posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 8:54 AM

Nuts contribute protein, fiber and healthy fat to diet

Two free publications on nuts have recently been published by ANR — Nuts:  Safe Methods for Consumers to Handle, Store, and Enjoy and Nuts:  Safe Methods for Home Gardeners to Harvest, Store, and Enjoy.

Both publications outline the nutritional benefits of eating nuts, including information from the FDA affirming that:

  • Including nuts in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

  • Almonds, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts contribute to health through their protein, dietary fiber and unsaturated fat.

The consumer publication includes a handy table outlining optimal freezer and refrigerator storage times for a variety of nuts as well information on nut allergies, nutrition and resources for recipes.

Home gardeners with nut trees will find useful information on harvest times and methods, hulling and drying procedures, safe handling procedures, storage, and nutrition information for almonds, chestnuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts.

Inside both publications is a discussion of recent bacterial outbreaks in nuts and the steps producers have taken to minimize the risk of exposure to consumers.

Posted on Monday, October 11, 2010 at 8:38 AM

President's Blend: Yudof chooses olive oil

Signed, sealed and soon to be delivered: University of California President Mark Yudof’s own blend of olive oil.

UC Davis already has its own popular olive oil, sold in the campus bookstore and online, with customers including Yudof. The self-supporting UC Davis Olive Center – the only academic center of its kind in North America – is looking to branch out with the UC-wide President’s Blend.

A day before Yudof began his tour of high schools to promote access to a UC education, he visited the UC Davis Olive Center on Sept. 30 to give his official seal of approval to the President’s Blend olive oil.

Accompanied by UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and leaders of the campus’ Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, Yudof chose from five blends made with olives grown in California. His favorite? A blend 25 percent Frantoio (Italian) olives and the rest Arbequina (Spanish) olives, the most commonly planted olive in California. Nutty? Yes. Pungent? Check. Bitter? No. Yudof also chose a label design with an image of olives, the UC seal in the middle and the words “President’s Blend.”

“I’m really humbled,” said Yudof, who plans to buy bottles of his blend to send to relatives.

The President’s Blend is expected to be available by the winter holidays. The plan is to sell it at all UC campus bookstores in quarter-liter bottles for $12 apiece.

“We’re hoping we can get out to the other campuses and expose them to really good olive oil,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center.

In July, the Olive Center garnered international attention with its study that found many imported olive oils sold in California are not “extra virgin” as their premium labels claim they are. The center is doing a second study to confirm the results, UC Davis professor and sensory scientist Jean-Xavier Guinard said.

The center, part of the Robert Mondavi Institute, collaborates across campus and among producers and the community to promote olive and olive oil research and education. Before testing the olive oil blends, Yudof visited a mobile olive mill, enclosed in a custom-built 38-foot trailer. Olive to Bottle owner Thom Curry brought it for the center’s sold-out course for olive oil producers. “It’s basically like making fruit juice,” Curry said. “The fresher, the better with olive oil.”

Yudof, who also toured the Robert Mondavi Institute’s newly completed, environmentally cutting-edge winery, brewery and food-processing complex, noted the economic promise of California’s growing olive oil industry. California produces almost all olive oil made in the United States, although that amounts to just 1 percent of total domestic consumption in the import-dominated market.

“The olives have the potential to be one of the leading crops in the state, with UC Davis being a leader in the industry, just like with wine and almonds,” Yudof said.

Read more and view a slideshow at Dateline UC Davis.

Posted on Friday, October 8, 2010 at 1:07 PM

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