Bookmarks–November 12, 2023
In this edition of Bookmarks, we move from millet and managing blood sugar to the wild world of plant breeding, in the form of strangely coloured fruit and excessively hot chili peppers. Plus the origins of spiral ham and a rebrand of a classic name in salt.
India’s millet revival: how the once-neglected seed is making a comeback
I quite enjoy millet but don’t have a lot of good recipes for it, nor do I know much about its history. I have some in my cupboard and this article has inspired me to seek out some new ways to prepare it. The plant is hardy and less resource-intensive to grow–which I also didn’t know–so it sounds like an excellent option for our era of rapidly changing climate.
“At a large millet expo on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi this past June, the goal was to capitalize on that slow but steady resurgence of the humble seed, with dozens of booths set up by small businesses or local government agencies determined to talk up millets…One of them is manned by employees of Millets for Health…Its co-founder Pallavi Upadhyaya was squarely focused on the power of millets to tackle climate change, ‘a reality that’s staring us in the face…Going back to indigenous methods like millets is so helpful,’ she said, not just for India but the entire globe struggling to bring down greenhouse gas emissions with crops that can thrive without a lot of water, pesticides or fertilizers.” (CBC)
Why knowing your blood sugar level is important and how you can manage it
I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic last year and had to do a lot of learning about how to get my blood sugar down. Initially I just cut back on sugar. When that barely moved the needle, I started doing some reading into what else I could do. This article offers a good summary of what is needed to reduce and control blood sugar levels: more dietary fibre–from foods like millet–and exercise.
“Dr. Kaberi Dasgupta wants to set the record straight on blood sugar levels…The professor of medicine at McGill University says people often think high blood sugar levels are from eating too much sugar…That could be to blame for high blood sugar levels, but most of the time, she says excess weight and lack of physical activity are the causes.” (CBC Radio)
The fruit aisle is getting trippy
I don’t think I’ve seen a yellow watermelon yet but I have seen some strange colours in the produce department, orange cauliflower among them. (That will never not resemble cheese popcorn in my eyes.) It’s interesting to consider why these things even exist, as this article does.
“For consumers who stumble upon them, the experience can be trippy. The new colors can come with tastier fruit—a red kiwi is sweeter than the original tart green. But color shapes our expectations for flavor, which weird-colored fruit can thwart in a way that feels novel and exciting, if not nonsensical.” (The Atlantic)
The shocking, stupendous rise of superhot chillies: ‘The stomach cramps can last for 14 hours’
Superhot chillies are definitely not my thing so I had never heard of Pepper X. Nothing in this article has convinced me I want to go anywhere near it either, but it is an interesting overview of chili pepper culture and the “hard economic rationale” behind the breeding of increasingly hotter peppers.
“…a liking for spicy food is not the same thing as an appetite for tremendous pain. Superhot chillies have spawned a trend for daredevil consumption in the form of TikTok and YouTube “challenge” videos with titles featuring parenthetical asides such as “(Goes Very Wrong)”, “(Ends Badly)” and “(Vomit Alert)”. They have also given rise to an endurance sport: competitive chilli-eating. In a standard competition, contestants consume a whole chilli each round, working their way up the Scoville scale until there is only one person still chewing.” (The Guardian)
The sweet success of the spiral-cut ham
My in-laws have always served spiral ham at holiday meals. We recently had an “off-season” holiday dinner and had a hard time finding a spiral ham, which tends to only be available at grocery chains in the days leading up to Thanksgiving or Christmas. (We later found a butcher who makes them to order any time of year, so that saved our bacon, so to speak.) I can’t eat pork so I’ve never indulged, but I got to wondering why these things are so special. This brief history of the spiral ham answered my questions.
“In the 1930s, Harry J. Hoenselaar was just another ham salesman in Detroit trying to find an edge…He spent his days handing out samples of honey-glazed ham and teaching drugstore clerks how to slice it for sandwiches. Although he was a master at knifing ham from the bone, he knew there had to be a better way…[T]he answer came to him in a dream. With a tire jack, a pie tin, a washing machine motor and a knife, he fashioned the world’s first spiral ham slicer — a contraption that would become one of the world’s great ham innovations.” (New York Times)
Choosing the right salt just got more complicated
When I first started baking bread, several years ago now, Diamond Crystal was the salt referenced in the recipes. I knew nothing about kosher salt. I stuck with Diamond Crystal because it was what I started with and because my bread book noted that it was not interchangeable with other kosher salts. (I don’t think its main competitor, Morton, is sold in Canada either, or at least not in the area where I live.) Diamond Crystal became increasingly hard to find, so I would buy multiple boxes when I happened upon it. According to this article in the New York Times, the brand was initially intended for restaurants, not home cooks, which is why its availability in stores was somewhat spotty. Not anymore. Apparently the salt market is quite competitive–thanks in part to influencers and “media fawning”–and the makers of Diamond Crystal want to increase their share. The company recently redesigned the box and has also launched a new “baking salt,” a finer version of its existing kosher salt. It seems to me a lot of to-do over something so basic. And, for the record, I like the old box much better.
“This increased fuss around salt seems part of bigger shifts in the food world. For one thing, there’s the need for brands to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded market…That means branding and pricing that de-emphasize the sense of Diamond Crystal as being thrifty and industrial, moving it from a commodity salt to a premium salt.” (Eater)