UC Food Blog
Do you remember when store-bought produce was succulent every time you took a bite? Then you’re old – well, at least you’re not a kid. Today’s youth in America have a different experience with store-bought fruits and vegetables – sometimes they’re yummy and juicy, sometimes they taste like chalk.
What’s a mother to do?
"It’s a problem, because often you have only one window of opportunity to introduce a new fruit or vegetable to your child,” says Beth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension (CE) specialist with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, director of the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center and concerned mother. “And if the food doesn’t taste good, they aren’t going to like it.”
And if they don’t like it, they’re not going to eat it. That’s how it is for all of us, but new research by Mitcham and a broad group of experts may remedy the situation. Mitcham and her team recently received a nearly $6 million grant from the USDA for a project designed to improve the flavor quality of fruits and vegetables available to U.S. consumers and thereby increase their consumption.
A collaboration between UC Davis and the University of Florida, the project is co-directed by Mitcham and Jeff Brecht from the UF along with nearly 30 faculty members between the two institutions including CE Specialists Marita Cantwell, Trevor Suslow and Carlos Crisosto and Assistant Professor Florence Negre-Zakharov from the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. Other UC Davis faculty represent Agriculture and Resource Economics, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Food Science and Technology, Viticulture and Enology and Public Health Sciences. More than twenty-five stakeholders from the produce industry are also on board.
As a postharvest technology specialist, Mitcham knows full well the challenges growers, packers and shippers face in getting crops from the field to the market in a condition shoppers will buy.
“Experience shows produce buyers rarely reject produce because it’s under-ripe,” Mitcham says. “But they will reject it if there is any bruising or decay.”
Most of us understand the problem – in broad strokes, at least. Take a tomato, for example. If we have the time, space and climate to grow them ourselves, the shelf life of our homegrown tomatoes would be the time it takes to pick one from the vine, walk into the house and slice it open. (Or the time it takes to bite into it right there in the yard. Yum.) If we’re harvesting tomatoes to deliver to a friend some distance away, we might want to pick them when they’re a little less ripe so they won’t get squished along the way.
Imagine, then, the challenge growers, shippers and retailers face delivering tomatoes to customers all across the globe year-round. Since shoppers eschew bruised produce, growers have to harvest them before they’re fully ripe, before their flavor has reached its full potential.
The team is looking at how they can alter that equation so our produce is more flavorful and still safe and economically viable for the industry. Their research will examine each step in the post-harvest chain asking questions like these:
- Can we slow the ripening process, so it can be picked later and still be fresh when it reaches the market? Is there new technology – in sorting, packing, shipping or anything else - that can help? How is flavor enhanced and inhibited during shipping and storing?
- If produce was riper during postharvest handling, would that affect our food safety risk? Would more pathogens survive?
- If produce was consistently flavorful, would consumers buy more?
“I think we can do a better job developing varieties with more flavor and improving postharvest performance so consumers can count on flavorful fruits an vegetables,” Mitcham says. “And I think this project will help.”
More information on this flavor project can be found in The Spring 2010 Leaflet.Archives of Internal Medicine found that consumption of the delicacy appears to be associated with depression.
The scientists examined the relationship between chocolate and mood among 931 women and men who were not using antidepressants. Their surprising conclusion: Participants who screened positive for possible depression ate an average of 8.4 servings of chocolate per month; those who weren't depressed ate on average 5.4 servings per month.
People who reflected major depression ate an average of 11.8 servings per month. What does that say about people like me who eat 30 or more servings of chocolate every month? It is depressing to contemplate.
The study's authors offered some possible explanations for the seeming correlation of chocolate consumption with depression:
- Depression could stimulate chocolate cravings as 'self-treatment'
- Depression may stimulate chocolate cravings for other reasons
- Chocolate could contribute to depressed mood
- Inflammation could drive both depression and chocolate cravings
If you are looking for some good news associated with chocolate consumption, go to the UC ANR website Feeling Fine Online and view the 15-minute video of UC Davis nutrition professor Carl Keen explaining the health benefits chocolate.
According to Keen, a diet high in flavanols, such as those in chocolate, can reduce inflammatory conditions associated with cardio vascular disease, vasoconstriction and the risk of forming a blood clot.
A new study indicates that flavanols may increase a population of certain cells in the blood that scientists think help repair the inner walls of blood vessels, improving blood flow and potentially lowering blood pressure. This suggests that, in the future, isolated flavanols or flavanol-rich foods might be useful in preventing or possibly even treating coronary artery disease. For more information, read the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences story Flavanol-rich foods may help heart disease patients, study suggests.
(Ann King Filmer contributed to this story.)
To the rescue is a series of free, downloadable publications from the ANR Catalog. I've always noticed that these publications move to the top of our download charts each summer, so this year I decided to try one of the recipes.
This comes from the category, "What do I do with all of these peppers?" and is actually called Peppers: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. I had some dried apricots in the pantry, so I opted for the Apricot Pepper Jelly.
The ingredients are simple enough, dried apricots, peppers, apple cider vinegar, sugar and pectin.
A lot of people think making jam is complicated and requires special equipment. It's actually quite easy. If you can read and follow directions, and have good attention to keeping things clean, making preserves is a snap. The only piece of special equipment I have purchased for canning is a jar lifter. And of course you need the jars, lids and bands. Note that while the jars and bands can be used over and over, you cannot safely re-use the lids.
I wanted my jelly to have a little extra kick, so I substituted habanero for the jalapeño called for in the recipe.
When handling hot peppers, always wear rubber gloves!
After soaking the dried apricots in hot water, they are drained, then added with the peppers and the vinegar to a food processor.
This looks like it needs a couple more pulses.
Then into the saucepan it goes, along with the sugar and pectin as directed. The recipe calls for food coloring, but since that is only for appearance, I left it out.
Less than 10 minutes later, the mixture is ready to ladle into sterilized jars.
Purists probably would not call this a jelly, as it contains small bits of the apricots and peppers.
Once all the jars are filled and capped, into the waterbath they go. The recipe contains a chart of processing times based on altitude; mine is a short 10 minutes.
After the proper processing time, lift the jars out of the waterbath. Handle them carefully with the jar lifter, as they are very hot. After a few minutes out of the hot water, you will hear the ping! ping! ping! of success as the vacuum seal is made.
An initial taste test before processing revealed a piquant flavor, so I'm going to let the flavors settle in and mellow for a couple of weeks before use. I think it will taste great with goat cheese on crackers as an appetizer, or as a glaze on baked chicken.
Also in this series are similar publications for tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries, garlic, oranges and apples.
Rose Hayden-Smith, Ventura County Cooperative Extension director and U.S. historian is passionate about the power and possibilities inherent in gardening. She uses her extensive knowledge of homefront war efforts to help influence public policy in regards to local food systems.
Earlier this year Dr. Hayden-Smith gave a lecture, Victory Gardens: Join the Garden Revolution, at the San Diego Natural History Museum about this topic.
More about the lecture.
At no point in our lifetimes has the interest in gardening, urban agriculture, and local food systems been so intense. It’s coming from all fronts—economic need, challenges presented by climate change, community-development needs, health and nutrition, food security, reconnecting youth with land, changing understandings of how we use space in urban areas, and a growing desire of Americans for civic engagement and participatory democracy. The past has the ability to inform the present. Review historical case studies, learn about current national policies and models, and discover the future work needed to sustain the Victory Garden model as part of the overall local food movement. Also, learn about urban agriculture and how the local food-systems movement is addressing a wide range of challenges facing Americans today.
The presentation has been archived on our website. The presentation begins approximately six minutes into the video. In addition to the inspiring message, many sources for further reading and a way to connect to the movement are available towards the end.
The surge in popularity of home chicken-raising is astounding. From cities to farms, more and more people are keeping small numbers of chickens for egg production, as family pets, and sometimes for meat production. The city of Davis, Calif. even had a “Tour de Cluck” recently – a bicycle tour of 25 home chicken coops in Davis (the tour sold all 500 tickets and served as a local educational fundraiser).
The amount of attention and care that families spend on their chickens shows that chickens are a labor of love, much as any family pet. Every hen I visited on the Tour de Cluck had a name, and each owner assured me that their “girls” all have their own personalities. Some of the chicken coops were woodworking pieces of art.
Chicken stories are showing up in all types of mainstream media. Feature articles have appeared recently in The New Yorker (Susan Orlean’s home chickens), the New York Times (why Americans raise chickens; women in Berkeley who raise chickens); and a book review of raising chickens in the city), and in the CA&ES Outlook alumni magazine where I work at UC Davis – the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (backyard chicken farming, page 10).
Chickens aren’t difficult to manage, but like raising any animal, the prospective chicken owner should know what he or she is taking on, and should be a responsible animal owner. While it may be fun to muse over the fancy breeds, or to salivate over the thought of fresh omelets each day, it’s important to learn about housing, nutrition, health, local ordinances (which may limit the number of hens and/or the ability to keep roosters), and other pertinent topics.
Where to get information?
- Bookstore shelves are awash with chicken-raising books. Check your local bookstore or online book source. There are even chicken-raising books in the “idiot’s” and “dummies” series (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raising Chickens; Raising Chickens for Dummies; and Building Chicken Coops for Dummies).
- Sunset magazine has a useful list of books on raising chickens
- Sunset magazine also has a free download on how to raise chickens
- Backyard Poultry is a popular bimonthly magazine with special topics each month (breeds, health, nutrition, etc.).
- Your local Cooperative Extension or 4-H office should be able to match you up with chicken-raising resources. Here are two University of California sites with information on raising chickens: UC Davis Poultry Page, and ANR publications.
Whatever your reason for raising chickens — and the reasons are many — do your homework first and make sure you get the proper supplies and the breeds that will give you years of pleasure . . . and fresh eggs.