UC Food Blog
I’m lucky enough to live about a mile from a small, family-run strawberry patch in Yolo County. From some time in April until October, the Laotian family members pick berries in the mornings and sell them from their small wooden stand until they run out of fruit for the day.
Flats of 4 or 6 baskets are the most economical to buy. I carefully place the flat on the floor of the passenger seat; by the time I have walked around to the driver’s seat, the fragrance of the fresh berries has filled the car with instant summer.
Once home, I don’t wash the berries unless I plan to eat them right away. Instead I keep the berries in their baskets and cardboard flat and just cover them loosely with a paper towel. They keep their flavor and texture up to 5 days this way.
According to UC ANR Food Safety Specialist Linda Harris, washing berries in a sink filled with water can spread contaminants from one berry to another; it’s best to hold them under running water, drain them in a clean strainer and pat them dry with a paper towel. I use a clean grapefruit knife with a serrated, slightly curved tip to cut out just the green stem and white part of each berry.
On summer days I get up early and prep the berries like this before my dog and I head out for a run in the cool morning air. Then all I must do when we return—hot and thirsty—is toss the smoothie ingredients in a blender and turn it on.
You can keep your smoothie simple or pack it full of healthy ingredients, as I do below, so it essentially serves as a full breakfast. Either way, its fresh strawberry flavor is one of the culinary pleasures of an early California summer.
Serves two; exact amounts are not critical
3 – 4 ice cubes
1½ – 2 cups washed strawberries, stem and core removed
1 banana, peeled
½–3/4 cup protein drink, such as Odwalla Super Protein
½ cup pomegranate, orange or any real fruit juice
½–2/3 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt
Optional: a handful of other fruit such as a peeled, cored pear or a slice of cantaloupe
Place ice in the blender first, then add fruit, yogurt and juice. Cover and blend 1–2 minutes or until ice and fruit are pureed.
If you don’t use a full flat of strawberries, you can freeze, dry and can the extra berries. See Harris’ Strawberries: Safe Methods to Store Preserve and Enjoy http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8256.pdf for information on those methods.
Cleaned strawberries ready to be prepped
There are a number of short (two-minute) NewsWatch segments on the UC Davis YouTube channel on various aspects of food. These timely and straightforward videos are easy to view and educational. Some food-related topics of interest include:
- Shaking up salt perceptions [link]
- Do we obsess about being fat? [link]
- Why diets don’t work [link]
- UC Davis creates “bettermilk” (dairy goat milk that protects against diarrheal diseases) [link]
- UC Davis nutritionist advises: save your money on diet books [link]
- Recession-proof foods (weighing cost against nutritional value) [link]
- Beer v. wine: which is the real energy drink? (a 14-minute UC Davis Frontiers program) [link]
You can view all UC Davis YouTube videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/UCDavis.
The ever popular pasta salad is sturdy and economical, but is it nutritious?
It sure can be, and research from UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences professor Jorge Dubcovsky is helping to make that so. Dubcovsky’s team discovered a gene in domesticated wheat that had been damaged, a gene that controls the distribution of nutrients to the grains in healthy grain plants. What’s more, they discovered a copy of that damaged gene in wild wheat, enabling them (and others) to breed new varieties with substantially increased levels of protein, iron and zinc.
Wheat provides about 20 percent of all the calories people consume worldwide. In other words, we eat a lot of it – it’s second only to rice as a human source of calories. Sometime during its domestication (some 10,000 years ago) wheat underwent a change that lowered the protein, zinc and iron content in its grain.
In 2006, after years of mapping, Dubcovsky and his team discovered the culprit - a mutation in a gene called NAM-B1. In healthy grain plants, NAM-B1 controls the remobilizing and distribution of nutrients to the grains when the leaves die off. Without a working copy of the gene, cultivated wheat is not a good processor of its nutrients, so large amounts of protein, iron and zinc are left in its straw.
Dubcovsky’s team then examined the ancestors of commercial wheat and found, amazingly enough, a fully functional NAM-B1 gene within the genome of wild emmer wheat. Emmer wheat can be freely crossed with domestic wheat using conventional means, so no controversial genetic engineering methods were needed to restore the lost gene.
The University of California has already released one variety – Lassik - with the increased nutritional punch. Lassik also is genetically improved for stronger gluten and resistance to both stripe-rust and leaf-rust disease. And because the new strains were bred from widely used commercial varieties, the new variety retains its farmer-friendly characteristics such as high yield and consumer-friendly trait like excellent taste.
The new plants are in the public domain, distributed to breeders across the globe. Some 2 billion people around the world lack adequate micronutrients, so more nutritious wheat could make a big difference in fighting world hunger.
So when friends ask, “What’s the secret to your fantastic pasta salad?” you know what to say:
“Protein, iron and zinc.”
For more on what the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences is doing to make our salads more tasty, nutritious, safe and affordable, see The Spring 2010 Leaflet
Wild wheat, Triticum turgidum ssp. dicoccoides
The University of California’s campus-run dining halls and restaurants are offering a healthier and more environmentally friendly menu to diners.
For years, many campuses have offered organic food choices or engaged in practices such as using locally sourced products and composting that cut waste and conserve resources. Trayless dining halls, which also reduce waste and water use, are emerging as a trend at universities across the country and are highlighted in a UC Newsroom story about UC’s systemwide foodservice sustainability policy.
The food guidelines, enacted in September, will encourage green dining efforts on all campuses and codify what was already happening. Students inspired UC’s green foodservice efforts, sending 10,000 postcards to the Board of Regents asking for more sustainable options.
Scott Berlin, UC Santa Cruz’s dining director, summed it up nicely when he said that UC’s sustainability efforts fulfill the university’s mission of public service and education and can serve as model for best practices when it comes to foodservice. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Carl Winter has been called the “Elvis of E. coli” and the “Sinatra of Salmonella,” but you won’t find him headlining a lounge act in Las Vegas. Instead, the UC Davis food toxicologist crosses California – and the United States – to sing about a subject near and dear to him: food safety.
Combining science-based information with a synthesizer, Winter performs food safety music parodies such as “You Better Wash Your Hands” (from the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand”) and “Don’t Be a Gambler” (from Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”). He also has created animated food safety music videos such as “Stomachache Tonight,” a parody of the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight” that, ironically, recounts a time he got sick in Georgia while on tour performing about food safety.
Although a lot of food safety information exists already, food safety music is a great way to supplement the message, said Winter, who has produced parodies for nearly 15 years and distributed more than 20,000 copies of his CDs with songs about food safety, nutrition and pesticides. “We found people retain information better through music,” Winter said.
Food safety is a timely topic. The Food and Drug Administration just held meetings April 26 and 27 in Monterey County to discuss plans to develop a nationwide produce standard for growing, harvesting and packing fruits and vegetables. Foodborne diseases cause about 76 million illnesses in the United States each year, according to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We need to understand the science better,” said Winter, who directs UC Davis’ FoodSafe program. “We need to communicate better.”
Winter is doing his part to spread the word about food safety. He is in the middle of putting together a new CD for kids, with songs such as “Who Left the Food Out?” – a parody of the Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out?” – as well as some original music.
The lyrics may change, but the message remains the same: Wash your hands, avoid cross contamination, cook meat to proper temperatures and refrigerate leftovers promptly. It’s important to eat a balanced diet and take as much control over your foods as you can, Winter said. Eat fruits and vegetables – just wash them first. And enjoy Winter’s songs. For more information, visit Winter’s home page at http://foodsafe.ucdavis.edu and his YouTube page at www.youtube.com/foodsafetymusic.