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Nominations for Most Over-Maligned Ingredient, Technique, or Equipment

Reading CH, I see a post just absolutely hating on something that I sort of like. Vehemently and stated not as opinion but as fact, as though God Himself throws up in His Mouth every time____ is made. I resist the urge to defend the _____ in question. But it comes up so often.

Well, here is a thread to defend those slandered, maligned, and scorned aspects of our culinary culture. I ask you hounds - what ingredient, technique, or equipment is the most over-criticized?

I'll start out with a few things that didn't quite make my #1 spot:

It's not chicken liver - that's merely overlooked and undervalued.

It's not iceberg lettuce - that was overused for years, but now is so hated that you can scarcely get away with using it when it's the perfect lettuce for the situation. Nothing else has quite that crunch.

It's not boxed wine - I believe I have even heard some grudging admittances that it can taste ok and be useful for cooking.

It's not sous vide - sure lots of people hate on it (despite it being not just useful, but a GREAT technique, and probably a game changer for the industry), but most people don't even know they've eaten it, and it does have plenty of supporters.

My pick: foam. Hear me out. I don't think foam is a game changer like sous vide is. I don't like every foam I've ever tried. But I'm a baffled as to why it bothers people so much. The criticism I always read/hear is 'it looks like spit' (of course it couldn't look like sea foam or bubble bath or blowing bubbles). Fine - you don't like lecithin foams. Are its detractors even aware of siphoned foams stabilized with gelatin (and/or a few other methods)? These look like and often have a texture similar to whipped cream. Yet no one ever mentions em. As far as its detractors are concerned, all foams look like spit and siphoned foams don't exist.

The other criticism I see a lot: it's pretentious molecular gastronomy bullshit. Ignored is that there are perfectly good reasons to use a foam (it's just a sauce that is easier to keep distinct from other sauces and also doesn't saturate items that can get waterlogged like pastry crust). Unacknowledged is that the difference between a 'molecular' foam and whipped cream or mousse is not much more than academic. One is pretentious and the other is not. Why?

I know a cook at a very good restaurant. The restaurant uses all kinds of new techniques - sous vide, tapioca maltodextrin powders, fluid gels from hydrocolloids, etc. But no foam. Conspicuously absent. I asked him about it - it would seem a natural on their menu. He said they can get away with just about anything as long as its tasty, but the chef knows from recent ventures that as soon as they put foam on the menu, a certain portion of the restaurant's clientele disappears and the words 'molecular' and 'pretentious' start showing up in all the online reviews along with impassioned criticisms, even though only one thing changed on their menu.

I've rambled enough. Lord knows it felt good though. I'm sure some will find my ridicule of the argument against foam personally offensive. And if you want an argument, then I've got one for you - i'm that type of poster. But something to keep in mind - I have almost certainly talked some arbitrary and poorly considered smack on an ingredient or technique you love too (and if it wasn't me, someone surely has). I know this. Didn't you want to defend your favored ingredient?

So is there an ingredient or preparation whose reputation you want to restore to glory? Do tell.

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    1. I blame Top Chef. A show that I watch and enjoy - but now I hear people always making the "go to" vague criticisms that the judges always make on that show. And several seasons ago one of the contestants (Marcel) put foam on every dish he made. It became the "go to" criticism of him and his food by all the contestants and all the judges . . . . and I think the death of "foam" began.

      1 Reply
      1. re: thimes

        You may be onto something. Marcel for better or for worse (err. who am I kidding - definitely for worse) is possibly the single face many or most Americans associate with culinary foams.

      2. The microwave. A lot of people say they don't use one except to heat leftovers. I can't imagine steaming vegetables any other way. I don't tend to make my veggies into fancy dishes. Brocolli - rince the whole head under water. Shake and chop to size. Cover and cook on high for just a few minutes. It comes out cooked just righr, crunchy and bright green. Even a piece of corn straight from the farmers' market. Peel, rinse, shake cover and zap. Perfection in less time than it takes to

        15 Replies
        1. re: calliope_nh

          oh microwave that is a good one - how about a crock pot . . . so associated with bad "white trash" foods but really a very handy device to keep things warm, no scorching, actually kind of handy when you need it.

          1. re: thimes

            The crock pot makes miraculous jam. No pectin, no additives, no shame there!

            1. re: happybaker

              I think my crockpot is white trash (costco bought - is that good or bad???). It overheats above the coils, underheats otherwise, so it can burn and undercook all at the same time. Wow

              1. re: Eliza804

                Dang! That's not good!

                I got my crockpot from costco as well - but it behaves.

                If it didn't then it really would be trashy!

              2. re: happybaker

                Makes an excellent light chicken stock as well.

            2. re: calliope_nh

              You don't even have to peel the corn before you microwave it- you can just leave it in the husk. The peel and silk come right off with no mess and almost no effort after it comes out. I learned that here. I don't use the MW a ton but I do use it for corn.

              1. re: ErnieD

                Ditto. And double ditto about the silk- so much easier.

                1. re: ErnieD

                  Holy cow! Really? Tell me more! Do you need water, or do you seriously just put the corn in, husk and all, and nuke it? I usually shuck mine right in the grocery store, but I can't get the silk off and there are always other people waiting to use the trash barrel to do theirs. So if I can just avoid the whole task, wow!

                  1. re: Isolda

                    I wrap corn in wax paper or plastic wrap first, but I don't know if you really need to. The silks really do come right off with the last layer of husk. I use the pulled-back husks for a handle, too.

                    1. re: Isolda

                      Not quite the same, but one of my favorite ways of making corn is keeping it in its husk and just throwing it in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour - 40 minutes. Steams it gently, even seems to concentrate the flavor a bit. And it avoids the wrinkled, chewy texture I've had on occasion with microwaved corn (though I've never microwaved in-husk).

                  2. re: calliope_nh

                    That IS a good one.

                    I've seen some pretty cool things done in a microwave - take a look at this bread:

                    1. re: calliope_nh

                      I so agree. When did a microwave become uncool anyhow??? My broccoli is best via microwave - so there (as my mother used to say).

                      1. re: Eliza804

                        You can reduce sauces/broths FAST in the microwave. I even use it to make dulce de leche. So why the hating? Use it for what it's good for, don't use it for what it's not.

                        1. re: happybaker

                          How do you use it to reduce sauces? My stuff always explodes in the microwave....

                          1. re: harryharry

                            I use a WAY bigger cup/vessel then I would on the stove. Like 1 cup of liquid in a 4 or 5 cup bowl at least. This gives me plenty of room to avoid boil overs etc.

                    2. i'm one of the lecithin foam haters, most notably because it tends to bear a striking resemblance to the salivary substances my cat used to spit up...but my "issue" is limited to this specific type of foam.

                      as for the rest:
                      - i'm anti-boxed wine based on *my own experience* with it...which is limited to some truly awful, cheap plonk at college dinner parties 20 years ago
                      - i *adore* chicken liver
                      - i appreciate the texture of iceberg but just don't enjoy it unless it's mixed with other lettuces
                      - i'm all for sous vide (and most MG techniques) if the results are tasty and texturally pleasing

                      ingredients that i absolutely love but *many* people seem to hate:
                      - mushrooms
                      - beets
                      - brussels sprouts!

                      15 Replies
                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        Brussels sprouts seem to be getting popular recently - maybe riding kale's slightly bitter coattails. I see a lot of beet salads at nice restaurants, though I don't see many other beet preparations. I didn't realize that mushrooms were particularly hated upon, though I certainly know some people who seem to have an aversion to them for no reason they can particularly articulate (my wife hates em, says they're slimy - but if i sear em so they're dry, she still won't try em... she's finicky).

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          i've seen scores of posts on CH by people who claim beets taste like "dirt." and as far as i can tell, your wife is in the majority with the mushroom aversion being more of a textural issue, though some people have a problem with their earthy flavor as well.

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            Beets do taste like dirt. Delicious, yummy, life-affirming dirt.

                            Seriously, y'all, I was actually in my 30s before I ate a beet for the first time, but I have been making up for lost time ever since. A good beet is one of summer's greatest joys.

                            In another thread recently, I mentioned that the first food piece I ever had published during my newspaper days compared brussels sprouts to Yoko Ono: many of the people who reflexively hate on sprouts have never actually eaten one, but since they're lazy shorthand for "nasty food that people hate," they just assume they don't like them.

                            1. re: cowboyardee

                              Hi, cowboy:

                              Brussel sprouts were never high on my list until I learned to roast them (OK, in plenty of fat). They carmelize nicely, and lose the bitterness that turns many off. Having lived in England (aka, The Land of Boiled Brussel Sprouts), I still have to *thinK* when the roasted version comes to fork, but they really are good.

                              Beets I consider an aphrodesiac in the same league as oysters and a good artichoke. In all cases, one is allowing one's self to revert to the earth.

                              #1 wife/mushroom cure: get fresh Morels. Milk+flour breaded, and panfied in your beloved cast iron. Draped over your wife's favorite steak, and enrobed in her favorite sauce. Serve with beets and Champagne. Take your ginseng now, so you're ready.


                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                Howdy Kaleo,

                                I love roasting brussels sprouts. I'm a big fan of deep fried brussels sprouts as well - cut out the core and break em up mostly into individual leaves. Fry in 350 deg oil until mostly crispy. Sprinkle with salt, capers, diced onion, and some balsamic. Far tastier than kale chips IMO (and less healthy).

                                My wife doesn't eat steak. Or milk. Or beets. Maybe I should start with the Champagne, lots of it. Sounds delicious though.

                                See yinz later (that's 'aloha' in Pittsburghese)

                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  Hi, cowboy:

                                  You Portagee? There are a lot of Portugese in Hawai'i (from fishing, I think), and what they call Portagee sausage is a breakfast mainstay. You make sausage?

                                  The fried Morels are good on anything or just by themselves. I made a mess of them last night for grilled chicken, and I saved the extras and diced the leftover chicken and stored it all in the cooking butter. All went on a sandwich today... All I can say is that if your wife doesn't like infused mushroom butter, check to see if she's an alien.

                                  See yinz later,

                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                    I'm wondering why you ask if I'm Portuguese - I don't remember mentioning it, and you would have to be pretty sharp to pick it out of my posts. Actually, my mother was raised by adopted Portuguese immigrant grandparents and I grew up eating a lot of Portuguese food. So no Portuguese blood, but it's still my main food heritage, along with American homecooking classics. But aside from quick seafood sausages and the like, I've never made any sausage. Definitely never tried linguica and such, though I'd love to eventually.

                                    I'll see if I can get away with a morel butter. My wife is partial to decent bread with a little butter. I don't have high hopes though. I've checked my wife many times - she does not appear to be an alien. I haven't ruled out Cylon.

                                  2. re: cowboyardee

                                    Yinz. YINZ! I haven't heard that in YEARS!


                              2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                I think anyone who has every had a pet can relate to your foam-aversion:-)

                                I mix iceberg with other lettuces every day - love the crunch. And it really is the only lettuce, for me, on a BLT.

                                1. re: EM23

                                  2 cats and a dog currently. Doesn't bother me. OTOH, ever since my mom had a couple rabbits, I'm iffy around raisins.

                                  Glad to see iceberg getting a little love.

                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                    The iceberg wedge at Eva with the homemade green goddess dressing? OMG, I could LIVE off of it.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      I've mentioned this elsewhere, but fellow iceberg users: Please look up Barbara Kafka's spirited defense of iceberg in "Vegetable Love" . . . One of the most delightful, common-sense pieces on this badly maligned staple. Also, Jacques Pepin is very big on iceberg in his "Fast Food My Way" books.

                                  2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                    Yep, I've only had the nasty sort of foam myself. Personally, I don't see the point of it.

                                    Agree with you about liver, beets, 'shrooms and iceberg. And my green posole recipe absolutely requires iceberg in the bowl you serve it in. Other lettuce gets gross and loses texture when you pour the hot broth over it.

                                    But, as I've stated before, I will never love Brussels sprouts. I am incapable of it. I just recognize that they taste better to others than they do to me.

                                  3. I still don't wanna eat bubble bath OR sea foam!

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                      But you could form non-food visual associations with all sorts of foods. It's easy.

                                      Herbs can look like grass clippings.
                                      Lobsters are giant bugs
                                      Egg yolk looks like yellow paint
                                      Raspberry sauce looks like blood
                                      I don't think I have to elaborate on lemonade, do I?

                                      Why should that stop you from enjoying something delicious?

                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                        Well, I have yet to have a truly delicious foam is the main problem...

                                        1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                          It's just a liquid, like any other sauce. Most often, the foaming agents contribute no flavor and generally don't dull the flavor that is there.

                                          In other words, if you normally find a sauce delicious, more often than not it can be foamed and taste the same (in some cases, concentrating the sauce before foaming is useful, but not always).

                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                            I think it's a silly fad thought up by somebody needing to be "wildly creative" rather than a good cook, and I say the hell with foam.

                                            1. re: jmckee

                                              It was thought up by Ferran Adria. His bona fides as a 'good cook' are pretty damn impressive, if you ask me.

                                              The important thing is not THAT you dislike it but rather WHY you dislike it. I don't really like peanuts or pudding but I'm not gonna pretend that's because they're inherently bad.

                                    2. I was just going to nominate sous-vide because every time I mention it, people's eyes glaze over and I hear disparaging remarks about how it's not real cooking.

                                      However, I'm going to say "modern" techniques (including SV) and molecular gastronomy as a whole as there's plenty of haters who come out of the woodwork, especially by the passionate within the slow food movement (the Italians banned MG powders for a year).

                                      I think a lot of it has more to do with the "monkey see" that a lot of places did just to be part of the in crowd, as well as that people remember AdriĆ  for visual trickery rather than as an open-minded attitude towards what's considered food. To me, what's wrong with a well prepared piece of protein or a sauce that happens to have both the right viscosity and yet remains beautifully clear?

                                      And I'm okay with foam. Chorizo foam somewhat so-so (had too much of it for a while).

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: wattacetti

                                        "I was just going to nominate sous-vide because every time I mention it, people's eyes glaze over and I hear disparaging remarks about how it's not real cooking."
                                        I see this quite a bit too. But at least with sous vide there is usually a push back against the haters. Foam and 'molecular gastronomy' are becoming so broadly condemned that it's starting to look untenable for most new restaurants to be associated with them. I went with foam specifically because it seems like a lot of 'molecular' techniques are being quietly, almost secretly incorporated into New American cuisine (New European cuisine as well, I believe) without most people noticing, while foam for whatever reason has become the red-headed stepchild of that movement.

                                        I think you're right that a big part of the problem was newcomers not using molecular techniques particularly well and those chefs becoming a lot of peoples' frame of reference for the movement. Beyond that, I think the movement got associated with the naive zeal of the young, which particularly seems to piss off a lot of old heads. Instead of new techniques being evaluated for what they were, the evaluation was reframed as 'what the hell is wrong with foods and sauces cooked the good old-fashioned way, huh?' The answer of course is that there is nothing wrong with em... and also that said question completely misses the point.

                                      2. Ingredient: Salt and MSG (1 and 1A)

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          You have probably personally redeemed MSG in the minds of more than a few internet goers, ips. Keep fighting the good fight.

                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                            I'll take that as a compliment ... I think.

                                          2. re: ipsedixit

                                            Yeah, I'd go for MSG. What pushes it up is that most of the people who malign it don't actually know what it is or where you find it. So they'll insist they can't eat Chinese food because they're allergic to MSG, while chowing down on a bag of Doritos.

                                            Fat is similar to that, although the revulsion towards it has faded in recent years. Sure, too much fat isn't good for you, but fat does make a big difference in cooking techniques, and it does carry flavours beautifully.

                                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                              Despite the fact that Im a pretty avid practitioner of modern cooking techniques (I really dont like the term "molecular gastronomy") and have heard lots of people malign the movement much to my dismay, the first thing that popped into my head when I saw this thread was MSG. So many people are misinformed about what its used for or to its safety. Used correctly its pretty amazing stuff!

                                          3. I've actually only encountered the foam thing recently (molecular gastronomy doesn't seem to be big in Taiwan). And I could see why people get annoyed at it, although I don't have any particular issues about texture or appearance.

                                            The foam on the first dish was quite nice. By the third it was getting kind of boring. By the sixth, I wanted to tell the chef to learn another trick. I think they put foam on pretty much everything in that meal.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                              That would be obnoxious, though in my mind it's no different than if a restaurant had a tasting menu and put an emulsified egg sauce (Bearnaise, hollandaise, mayo, aoli, etc) on every dish. It's just overuse of the technique that's the problem. Also like I said in the OP, foam's best uses are in specific situations - plates with multiple sauces, finger foods that need to be sauced, foods that can get soggy. It's unlikely that all of those plates were ideal situations for the technique.

                                              Is there something about foams that inclines people to abuse them? Some sort of unfortunate showiness to them that attracts hacks? I don't know. There may be something to that. Or again maybe Marcel had a hand in this somehow.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                I'd be willing to bet it's 90% Marcel backlash. I hear people hating on foams that have never even had a dish with foam on it because they saw it being panned on Top Chef.

                                            2. Technique: Inedible garnishes

                                              What's wrong with a plastic sprig of parsley? Sometimes I want my food to look healthy without actually having it *be* healthy.

                                              I know I would feel *so* much better if my order of pastrami chili cheese fries came with a nice green verdant floral arrangement of herbs and veggies -- plastic, of course.

                                              9 Replies
                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                For starters, I can't really tell to what extent your tongue is in cheek. But I'll take your post as earnest, cause why not.

                                                I had to think on this one. My gut response is: 'inedible garnishes - those are just WRONG.' But maybe that's just what's been beaten into me, what I've heard repeated enough times that I've accepted it without questioning.

                                                For one, I guess the argument against inedible garnishes goes like this.
                                                1. They're tacky
                                                2. They up the cost of the plate adding nothing but visual appeal
                                                3. What if someone eats em?

                                                Retorts to all three come readily
                                                1 - Why? Because they're out of style? So they're out of style because they're out of style. Not much of a damning indictment.
                                                2. Edible garnishes cost money too. So do the flowers on your table and that nice flatware you're using. Isn't a garnish just the same thing but closer to your food?
                                                3. Not me. In fact with the right outlook, someone trying to eat an inedible garnish can provide entertainment and hilarity for all. Just make sure the garnishes aren't sharp or poisonous.

                                                But the best argument I could come up with in favor of the inedible garnish - the unpopularity of inedible garnishes is probably associated with an enormous increase in the incidence of shitty, poorly chosen edible garnishes. This is the worst case scenario, since eating something unpleasant or at least incongruent with my meal is a far greater problem than having to gently nudge aside something that is plainly not to be eaten.

                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                  Actually, I was being serious cowbarardee.

                                                  I think alot of "tackiness" we feel about inedible garnishes come from the fact that the garnishes themselves are tacky. But just because the garnish is tacky, does not necessarily make the technique tacky, right?

                                                  So much of food is visual. Why shouldn't a chef make as much use of all techniques to make the food not only delicious on the palate, but also on the eyes?

                                                  And, really, is the "boat" in a Sushi Boat a plate or a garnish, or a comb of both?

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    My problem is that you don't necessarily know it's inedible until after you eat it. It's like a wedding I went to where the favours were candies for the men, and ornamental soaps (that looked like candy) for the women. You can see the problem.

                                                    Then there's that plastic grass stuff they give you at lower end sushi places, which just serves to remind me that I'm not getting any tasty shiso with my meal.

                                                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                      Again, that's a problem that lies with the actual garnish, not the technique, right?

                                                      For example, there are some places that will serve a lobster salad in the lobster tail shell. I think that's actually kind of cool, and it works and is apt. Now, obviously the shell is inedible, and wouldn't you consider the shell a "garnish" of sorts?

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Word. The problem may just be inedible garnishes that look edible.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            this whole exchange reminded me of the episode of The Next Iron Chef when Ming Tsai used banana peel as a garnish...two of the three judges tried to eat it.

                                                2. re: ipsedixit

                                                  Mr. Huntress, who was a chef in a past life, has always said "Never put anything inedible upon a plate. Someone will always be stupid enough to try and eat it.".

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    I must be way out of the loop. The only inedible garnish I've ever encountered (other than the ones that were made out of actual food that just wasn't edible) is the little green plastic fence thing you get in your take-out sushi.

                                                  2. I love limas, both fresh and dried , even frozen in a pinch, but won't serve them to new guests without checking.
                                                    Christmas limas are on my YUM list

                                                    1. I like the MSG nomination, but also would add in prosaic things like dehydrated onions or garlic powder that were common in the American pantry 50 years ago but foodies have been trained to despise as unworthy of purchase.

                                                      Rehydrated dried diced onions are perfect when you need the moist, balanced flavor of onion but don't need to caramelize it. They are never bitter, btw.

                                                      Garlic powder is often better on things like croutons than steeping fresh garlic in oil or in a rub for grilling. It doesn't scorch or get imbalanced in flavor.

                                                      This is just illustrative.

                                                      (Oh, slightly off topic, a PS to recipe writers: anyone who specifies pearl onions in a braise or stew or other moist recipe and does not remind readers that frozen, peeled pearl onions are perfectly fine (and so much easier) should be shot.)

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                        Good points -

                                                        What, I ask, has replaced the dehydrated onion once it fell out of favor? Fresh onion isn't used the same way. And I understand people hating on jarred garlic when there's perfectly good fresh garlic around to use in stead, but garlic powder is truly its own thing, with its own uses. It's actually rather nice browned or slightly charred on crispy chicken skin.

                                                        I do wonder, though, if you think frozen pearl onions can be substituted for the following (rather simple) recipe.
                                                        Like the sound of one hand clapping, huh?

                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                          lol i cant believe someone took the time to write that

                                                      2. using the word or just "confit". I get annoyed when people abuse/misuse the word and say they are confiting something but in reality just frying the crap of it. Say things such as, " I am going to confit garlic" but in reality, they are jsut frying up garlic and not confiting anything.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: jester99

                                                          oh - "osso bucco" is one of those that I have seen and drives me crazy (though I haven't seen it in the past year or so I don't think). Osso bucco is shank - period - it must be shank, it must have marrow - and I'd argue it must be veal. You can't have another cut of meet on a any old bone and call it osso bucco - then it is just braised meat people . . . . .

                                                          1. re: thimes

                                                            It also needs to be cut so you can actually eat the marrow....however, this is not an example of a food that is disparaged that should not necessarily be disparaged, which is I think the OP's goal of the thread.

                                                          2. re: jester99

                                                            confusing confit with frying? wow, that's a stretch - the techniques are completely different. but i don't see how that fits into this thread...?

                                                          3. High fructose corn syrup. It's not that I support it or even eat many products that have HFCS in them. And when possible, I will avoid it. But its demonization seems out of proportion to its actual threat to the human race.

                                                            11 Replies
                                                            1. re: Cachetes

                                                              I think people who are really upset about corn syrup tend to worry about its role in the increasing numbers of diabetes cases. One neighborhood in the Bronx has a nearly 20% rate. When numbers like that start popping up regularly, health experts get worried and many believe that processed foods sweetened with HFCS are major if not the primary players in the epidemic.

                                                              I have noticed more places serving Mexican Coke here in NYC but wonder if there is a huge difference in nutritional content between the two products. I can taste the difference although I think its slight.

                                                              1. re: JeremyEG

                                                                It's not the chemical composition of HFCS that's so much the issue as the issue of subsidies and price supports: corn sugar is in effect subsidized to keep them cheap (and HFCS processing allows even less to be used, so that it makes items sweetened by them that much cheaper per calorie), and tariffs on foreign cane sugar protect US cane sugar from competition.

                                                                It is utterly natural in human history for poor people (or any people who for whatever need have to cut the amount of coin they spend on food) to gravitate to foods that deliver the most energy for the least amount of cost.

                                                                The chemistry issue is unhelpful food religion crap that obscures the economic and political problem (and it, importantly, helps to obscure class issues in a way that flatters the self-conceit of the chattering classes).

                                                                In any event, to tie this back to the post, I would say that most of the foods involved in the nutrition policies wars don't fit the post, precisely because they are still demanded by lots of people (and it's that very demand that disturbs the bien pensant classes).

                                                              2. re: Cachetes

                                                                I'm sorta with Karl on this. HFCS gets criticized way too much as an ingredient. After all, it's more or less the same as cane sugar with pretty similar upsides, downsides, and uses. And though I don't particularly find either cane sugar or HFCS to be very good for you, they are ENORMOUSLY useful ingredients that I wouldn't go without.

                                                                But from a political and economic standpoint, I can see a reasonable argument to be made against it. Still, best not to conflate arguments about HFCS as an ingredient with arguments about HFCS as a commodity. And as Karl pointed out - there is quite a market for HFCS, despite various rants on places like CH.

                                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                  But from a political and economic standpoint, I can see a reasonable argument to be made against it. Still, best not to conflate arguments about HFCS as an ingredient with arguments about HFCS as a commodity. And as Karl pointed out - there is quite a market for HFCS, despite various rants on places like CH.

                                                                  Well, said. A voice of reason.

                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                    Agreed, absolutely. Perhaps my view of public perceptions about HFCS is skewed by the fact that I live in a relatively wealthy and liberal area, where HFCS at times acts as yet another way for some to, well, for lack of a better phrase, develop a taxonomy of society based upon what people consume. You are right to point out its distinction from, say, foams, in terms of its broader role.

                                                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                      In what sense is high-fructose corn syrup an "enormously useful ingredient" to the home cook? It's not available to individuals as an ingredient. Or did you just mean you wouldn't want to go without many of the items in which manufacturers use it (soft drinks, etc.)?

                                                                      1. re: ellabee

                                                                        A) it can do almost anything sugar can do. It's more or less interchangeable. Most home cooks are more used to using sugar and most recipes call for sugar rather than HFCS, but that has more to do with tradition and familiarity than with the actual properties of HFCS. I didn't say specifically that HFCS is 'enormously useful,' but rather that HFCS and cane sugar as two forms of the same thing are 'enormously useful.' Very few people forgo added sugar entirely in their cooking.

                                                                        B) it is specifically indispensable in candy making, useful in ways cane sugar is not. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples, but that's what my bottle was bought for.

                                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                          Your post is the first time I'd realized that HFCS is being sold directly to consumers for cooking and/or baking. What's the brand, and where did you get it?

                                                                          1. re: ellabee

                                                                            Ellabee, it seems I spoke out of turn. I was under the mistaken impression that Karo syrup was HFCS, whereas in fact it is a syrup made from corn and a few other substances without the high fructose content. It apparently used to have HFCS added, but they removed that after bad publicity. I have used this for candy making. My bottle is so old that it may actually be part HFCS.

                                                                            Apparently if you want to buy unadulterated HFCS, it seems you can, but you have to buy very large amounts. Various beekeeping suppliers offer it, for example. 55 gallon drums aren't necessarily hard to come by.

                                                                            Of note though, imitation maple syrup is nearly pure HFCS, but I don't know of any way to get rid of that crappy fake maple flavor.


                                                                          2. re: cowboyardee


                                                                            I don't disagree with you that HFCS tends to get vilified by the mass media, but I think most people who have issues with HFCS vis-a-vis sugar is that the body somehow metabolizes HFCS differently than sugar.

                                                                            They say this because, according to the naysayers, HFCS is something like 55:45 fructose to sucrose whereas sugar is something like 50:50 (or is it 45:55) fructose to sucrose. This difference in ratios somehow leads to all sorts of evil in the body.

                                                                            Not agreeing with that line of thought, just wanted to make the record clear why some people are so delusional.

                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                              Point taken. On the other hand, it seems like more often than not the person ranting about the health effects of HFCS is unaware that cane sugar breaks down to glucose and fructose in the GI tract.

                                                                    2. Transglutaminase aka "meat glue". People are really afraid of this stuff, and I guess used improperly it is a less than desirable product, but in the hands of a real cook this stuff is capable of doing some AMAZING things. I've been playing with it for a little while now and have managed to recreate some pretty amazing dishes from Wiley Dufresne's shrimp noodles to david chang's brick chicken and many recipe's in between. It allows you to get really creative with meat and its totally safe.

                                                                      8 Replies
                                                                      1. re: twyst

                                                                        I was worried that there would be some hysteria about transglutaminase after that crappy Australian news story went viral. It hasn't been as bad as I feared, but I'm not convinced we're out of the woods yet, so I'm trying not to even mention it and hope that those who are easily terrified without understanding why forget how to pronounce it and go back to claiming that MSG causes atrial fibrillation or some other standard nonsense.

                                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                          Gluten. I know so many people who are avoiding it because they say they are "sensitive" or they think it's healthier and they'll lose weight if they avoid it. I know only TWO people who genuinely suffer from Celiac, but the others I know who avoid it? They can't quite explain why they do it. I finally asked one friend who said she "gets tired" after eating bread etc. She's not considering the sugar and starch that may be making her tired.

                                                                          also some canned foods like soup and veggies. Not that their sodium content doesn't concern me, but foe Heaven''s sake! I can't make tuna casserole without canned cream of mushroom soup and I don't a;ways have time to make my own! And please, don't malign my canned corn and peas either!

                                                                          1. re: Miri1

                                                                            But gluten is not germane to the OP's point. Gluten is still widely and WILDLY loved by most bread-eating peoples.

                                                                            1. re: Karl S

                                                                              I'm breaking my general practice of not responding to posts related to what deserves to be in a thread or not, b/c it can be quite arbitrary.

                                                                              But, I plunge forward in this case. You are using the breadth of a product's use to define which things should be included as germaine to the OP's point, and I agreed with most of what you had to say about HFCS. But another measure of this could be the level of fervor used to criticize a particular product or method, even if only being done by a small segment of the population, to the point where it takes up a disproportionate amount of airtime and has a wider impact than might be merited.

                                                                              1. re: Cachetes

                                                                                I hear you, but few are criticizing gluten for the purposes for which it is rightly used. Indeed, it is highly praised among bakers and food writers in that context. American bakers are given more and more illustrations about how best to tease out its wonders. (So, my remark wasn't only about use, though I agree it was equivocal on the point.)

                                                                                The complaints are about allergies and sensitivities, not about merit of the ingredient.

                                                                                And I do think, given how easily this very interesting thread could go off-rail to more mundane and hackneyed conversations, it was worth noting the difference.

                                                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                                                  Ha, yes - "And I do think, given how easily this very interesting thread could go off-rail to more mundane and hackneyed conversations, it was worth noting the difference."

                                                                                  That seems to be the story of Chowhound, with myself often being an offending party.

                                                                              2. re: Karl S

                                                                                Karl, I'm in Los Angeles, and there are a LOT of people who are avoiding gluten. Even my dad, an MD has been getting a lot of medical journal articles about how so many people are avoiding gluten because they think it's healthier and will lose weight by avoiding it.

                                                                                1. re: Miri1

                                                                                  I have a theory about that - people used to loose weight when they avoided gluten because they cut out pasta, bread and baked goods - now there are so many replacement products (pretty good ones) that they aren't cutting much out of their diet - so I think that major weight loss will be a thing of the past....

                                                                        2. Foam is what I thought of immediately... just call it something different.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: harryharry

                                                                            Call it 'espuma' and the yelpers will cry 'pretentious' until they hurt themselves.

                                                                          2. Iceberg lettuce, IMO, is unfairly maligned nothing more than a tired leftover from the 1950's cooking repertoire mainly used by those with underdeveloped palates. I know it has 'zero' nutritional value, but it's watery crunch makes it unique and refreshing. And as a wedge salad with Green Goddess dressing or shrimp with blue cheese it's unbeatable.

                                                                            1. My vote is for part ingredient/part technique in the creation of the Tex-Mex cuisine. No, it's not interior. It's not Cali-Mex or the chile-rich New Mexican. It IS Tex-Mex, and that is what makes it GOOD - it's its own entity, it's own regional cuisine.

                                                                              It's thick with refried pinto beans (no black beans, thanks), red enchilada sauce, gooey melted cheddar cheese, and yes, even sour cream... generally all on one plate.

                                                                              1. I *love* tofu. I live in a small town, and most people I know - who have never tried tofu - have a big "bleccchh" reaction at the very word. I'm used to that, but it really bugs me when TV chefs act the same way, like nobody would ever eat tofu voluntarily. But they're all ga ga for eyeballs and veins and guts and hooves. Does not compute.

                                                                                6 Replies
                                                                                1. re: occula

                                                                                  Hey, I'll take dofu (well, at least firm dofu) over boneless skinless chicken breast supremes any day!

                                                                                  1. re: occula

                                                                                    Tofu is a pretty good call. I regularly make and/or eat miso soup, for example - just wouldn't be the same without tofu.

                                                                                    I suspect tofu's in public poor reputation is the victim of particularly bad fusion. In this case, not the Creole sort like Louisiana's French-African-Spanish-etc or even the more modern and chef-driven sorts like Korean-Mexican which can actually be quite delicious when done well. This is the VaguelyPanAsian--Vegetarian--MyBodyIsATemple&IHaveNoInterestInMakingFoodDelicious type of fusion. Pretty much never had a hope of being good. Which is a shame, because tofu is a fantastic ingredient when it's not used as a meat substitute in crappy cooking.

                                                                                    1. re: occula

                                                                                      I could not agree more. Tofu is a nearly perfect food, but ya know what, folks? It ain't meat, so stop trying to treat it like meat and you'll be much happier.

                                                                                      1. re: occula

                                                                                        *standing ovation* Tofu is the winner!

                                                                                        I am not a vegetarian, and I LOVE tofu, The problem with tofu is that it is not meat, and can't be just handled/cooked/served like meat. It's only a meat "substitute" nutritionally, not by application.

                                                                                        I have had some luck getting people to try tofu by explaining that it's like eating a main dish that has cheese as the main ingredient, instead of meat. Once they make that connection, they are usually willing to "try" the tofu. And, once tried, they are usually converts - at least in a limited way.

                                                                                        Great thread. It's amazing how many food snobs there are out there. I live by the "if it tastes good... eat it in moderation" rule. As a matter of fact, I have a box of Velveeta in my fridge. I use it as an extra ingredient when making mac and cheese, and you know what? My mac and cheese is awesome. Without the Velveeta it's just good. It's not something I would use everyday or for every occasion, but why not? It's not poison, and it has an actual application. So turn up your nose all you like, but you will probably be taking seconds at my buffet =P

                                                                                        1. re: Jaz Cooks

                                                                                          I am not a vegetarian, and I LOVE tofu, The problem with tofu is that it is not meat, and can't be just handled/cooked/served like meat. It's only a meat "substitute" nutritionally, not by application.

                                                                                          Uh, no.

                                                                                          Tofu is not a meat substitute nutritionally. Not at all. Ounce for ounce, tt's lower in protein, vitamins, and if compared to beef, lacks iron, as well as B vitamins.

                                                                                          It is only a meat substitute (with certain types of tofu) in terms of texture. Beyond that, it's not a substitute for anything.

                                                                                          And therein lies the undeserved reputation of tofu.

                                                                                          Why is tofu always considered a "substitute for _____"? Why can't people just accept tofu as, well, tofu?

                                                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                            Wow! What a round-about way to say that you agree with me! Have a nice day =))