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American food gone sweet?

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  • fara Jul 23, 2006 07:20 PM
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I was reading another post about ordering dessert first. I think that would be great if "savory" hadn't turned into sweet and savory in so many dishes. I never eat dessert out because by that point in the meal I'm already sick of the sweeteners they put in food. I've also noticed a trend among home cooks to put sweet raspberry flavors, honey, or even lots of ketchup in things. (I'm not talking about using a flavor like unsweetened cocoa). Every product seems to have high fructose corn syrup, which worse for you or not, desensitizes you to sugar.
Do you all ever get grossed out by an accumulation of sweet flavors in restaurants or in people's homes for dinner?

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  1. I continually fight against the incursions of sugar into meals.

    Salad dressing is probably the most egregious offender to my mind -- in my head, a vinaigrette consists of mustard, vinegar or lemon juice, salt, pepper and oil, and maybe shallots and/or herbs. No sugar. Yet every time I look at a bottle of salad dressing in the market, it ALWAYS has sugar or HFCS in it. So I don't buy it. I always make it.

    The same with red sauce. People so often put sugar in their red sauce, and it drives me insane! If your tomatoes are too acidic, you can cut it with a sweet vegetable such as carrots, but leave the sugar OUT!

    11 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      The sugar in salad dressing is especially prevelant in low fat dressings. Another example of people being so set on eliminating fat that they replace it with something that is essentially no better, and perhaps worse, for you.

      I used to be against buying dressing in the store for this reason. Then I discovered Annie's All Natural dressing, which are very good, contain no sugar (at least the varieties I've tried don't), and only contain ingredients I'd put in a dressing.

      Some people put a little sugar in their tomato sauce to help bring out the natural sweetness in the tomatoes. Sure, this isn't necessary if you have great, fresh, local tomatoes. I tend to add both a little sugar and a little salt, for example, in the winter when I use canned tomatoes.

      1. re: Darren72

        balancing tomatoes with a hint of sugar is something I was taught to do, it's not supposed to be noticeably sweet though. my grandmother corrected me one time with an, "aargh, this tastes like store brand!"

        1. re: fara

          That's right -- the tomatoes are supposed to take more "tomatoey".

      2. re: Das Ubergeek

        I generally agree that the American palette has evolved into a liking for sweet. Not only "sweetness" has creeped into processed and fast food, but also into fresh fruits. The last few years, I've been tasting peaches, nectarines and melons in our farmer's markets and find them sugary and low in acid. Most of the growers told me that they are growing varieties are are high in sugar and low in acid because that is what consumers want. I find the extra sugar and the lack of acid diminish the flavor of the fruits.
        Personally I don't find anything wrong of putting a pinch of sugar to balance a dish. For dressing with lemon juice, a pinch of sugar or a little honey makes the dressing less puckery. And with canned tomatoes being so unpredictable, sometimes a little sugar can help. Frequently it's too late to add more sweet vegetables to balance the sauce or sometimes one doesn't want the extra carrots and onions in there.

        1. re: PBSF

          >>The last few years, I've been tasting peaches, nectarines and melons in our farmer's markets and find them sugary and low in acid. Most of the growers told me that they are growing varieties are are high in sugar and low in acid because that is what consumers want. I find the extra sugar and the lack of acid diminish the flavor of the fruits.<<

          Yes! And don't leave out corn. High-sugar varieties are popular with growers and retailers because corn begins losing sweetness the minute it's picked, so the more sugar in the kernels to start with, the longer the shelf life. For the last couple of years, what used to be a simple task -- buying fresh local corn at the farmers' market -- has turned into a series of interviews, of my having to grill the growers (about variety, sugar levels, etc.) before I can grill the corn. Last year I actually threw out a batch of one of my late-summer staples, chilled corn soup, because it tasted like dessert. It's distressing how what was once an inducement to buy -- a farmer's stand banner proclaiming "super sweet corn" -- has become a caveat emptor.

          1. re: carswell

            Carswell, so what are some of the varieties and sugar levels that you look for in farmers' market corn?

            1. re: Darren72

              Alarm bells sound when the name contains any reference to candy/kandy, sugar/sugary, supersweet or SH2 hybrids.

              While few heirloom varieties of anything have made their way to Quebec, it's a pretty sure bet that heirloom corn isn't going to be supersweet. As far as I'm concerned, Golden Bantam remains the, er, gold standard. Ashworth is another fine variety. And though I've never seen it in Montreal (our growing season's probably too short), Stowell's Evergreen is a really flavourful white corn. Edit: forgot to mention that my current fallbacks are Silver Queen and Peaches and Cream; years ago I used to avoid them -- yellow corn is or was more flavourful -- but these days when I find a merchant selling them it seems like a godsend.

              One trick is to ask vendors how long they've been growing the variety. If it's only a couple of years and they aren't a heirloom grower, you're probably best taking a pass.

              1. re: Darren72

                I didn't find any heirloom corn at my local (Berkeley) farmers markets last year. Or even any Silver Queen.

                I think most consumers these days don't even know what corn tastes like.

              2. re: carswell

                I agree about the corn problem, but a tip I picked up in another Chowhound post might help. A squeeze of lime on your corn cuts the sweetness, and also has the benefit of being much less caloric than butter. Try it the next time you're stuck with supersweet corn.

                1. re: cloudy

                  LOL! You may have picked up the lime tip from me. You're right that it helps. But lime (and salt and cayenne) corn is even better when it's not a supersweet variety to begin with.

              3. re: PBSF

                >Most of the growers told me that they are growing varieties are are high in sugar and low in acid because that is what consumers want.<

                That's a self-serving rationalization if not an outright lie.

                Vendors pick fruit unripe to avoid damage and loss in shipment.

                Unripe fruit is unsweet and sour. To compensate, they plant hybrids specially developed to be sweeter and lower in acid, which makes them less awful when unripe.

            2. Yes, definitely. I don't really buy the type of packaged products that are likely to have sugar added, but in L.A. there is a whole class of restaurants (usually called fusion or pan-Asian) that serves nothing but sweet food. It's like an updated version of all those syrupy pineapple sauces from old-fashioned Polynesian food. Every dish is coated with a sweet soy sauce, or honey mango glaze or something similar, and the overall effect is totally cloying. But at least you don't have to order dessert. The banana/fried calamari salad at Asia de Cuba is one glaring example.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Chowpatty

                ROFL! I hereby brand all sweetened disgusting fusion cuisine "Trader Ick's".

              2. A Thai friend and I have a standing lament about the overly sweet dishes routinely served in Asian restaurants. I assume this appeals to the standard American palate.

                1. ok, now I'm really ranting, -- but today I had splenda instead of sugar with the office cofee (not used to drinking coffee black) and it was a fairly disgusting experience. I had to pour it out and drink the coffee black. While drinking the coffee plus splenda, I started craving bread (i had already had breakfast).
                  Is it just me or are artificial sweeteners appetite stimulants? And -how do people consume that stuff?
                  Please enlighten if you eat normally and use artificial sweetners...

                  1. It's not just the Asian restaurants. About 5 years ago I had dinner at a "serious" French restaurant in NJ (Bernardsville, I think - can't remember the name of the restaurant). The foie gras came with an accompaniment that was super-sweet (yes, I know it's usually served with something sweet, but this was over the top), the main course also was sweet (can't remember what it was). Dessert was an overly-sweet Grand Marnier soufflee. Not my idea of French.

                    Then at the other end of the scale are the places that put chili/hot sauce in everything (I cannot eat hot stuff, and detest the sensation of a burning mouth). One of the worst was a hotel restaurant in Berkeley, CA, that dusted Eggs Benedict with cayenne - it was horrible !!!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: souschef

                      Dont blame the Aians for making sweet food.Try blaming the American pallete for basterizing the flavors into sour syrup.

                    2. You are so right! I used to love Wheat Thin crackers, but they are no longer edible, in my opinion. A few years ago they "improved" them to make them sweet. Yuck!!!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: jmnewel

                        Is that because they decided to reduce the fat content, and had to compensate by adding sweetness?

                        1. re: jmnewel

                          If we didnt want sweet wheat thins then why didnt Nabisco turn around and make "Wheat This Classic"? The sorry fact is the majority of people dont "taste" food they consume it.

                        2. And who the heck started adding candied nuts to salads? Nuts are fine, but sweet, candied walnuts or pecans on a green salad??? Save them for dessert.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: judybird

                            Applebees I would have to guess or one of them cant tell them all apart anymore. Also like the high protein diet craze food monsters sit around thinking of new ways to sell a new food craze. Its a great boost for the new fiscal year.

                          2. Here I was thinking the problem was typical to the midwest. When we moved here from northern NY state I was taken aback how sweet the food was compared to what we used to have. Even the bread, same brand but here in the mw noticably sweeter. If I wasn't making my own I got real careful about lable reading and bottled pasta sauces were just horrible.

                            Like PBSF I sometimes will add a tiny pinch of sugar to a salad drressing I also think it sometimes rounds a dressing I find a bit too tart.

                            Corn? I just give up. I hate the supersweet varieties and the toughness of the kernels. I was in our local co-op a couple of weeks ago and saw they had local corn and bought a couple of ears to make some fresh creamed corn. It was a waste we ate very little of it and the rest was discarded. It was too crunchy and chewey. I want tender corn that tastes like corn.

                            What I don't object to is our very sweet lush musk melons that are available right now. They are pretty special commercially grown canteloupes cannot compare.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Candy

                              The tuna caserole is something you can blame on the midwest but when it come to sweet foods blame food companies for adding sweetness to coverup the loss of flavor during processing.

                            2. Americans in general have a high tolerance for sweet flavors. Our palets desire sugar and we qualify sweet flavors as being delicious. Part of it stems from growing up with so many sweet food products catered specificlly for kids. I am often surprised when going out to "great new trendy hot spots" the sauces are so sweet and heavy on the tounge lacking any complimentary acidic qualities. When I first started cooking I was working at the top restaurant in NYC and found myself struggling at first to adapt to the flavors because it did lack that recognizable sweetness I grew up with. When working in Europe I finally "got it" and started really tasting food and the flavors not looking for sweetness only. So American food hasnt gone sweet, it always has been.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: lacuisine

                                I grew up with very little sugar. My mom was always on the watch for it because one of my brothers had teeth that did not calcify properly and as a baby the poor kid was getting fillings. So it may be why I am so sensitive to it being added to food.

                              2. French and Italian cooks who move here often complain that our onions and carrots are too sweet.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I've heard the same complaint about the onions from Mexican cooks.