Category: Food & Wine

The age-old question: Why do hot dog buns come in packages of 8, while wieners come in a dozen?

“Here’s one of life’s deeper mysteries,” writes John Olson in Ottawa. “Why do hot dog buns come in packs of eight while the wieners are sold by the dozen? Are the extra four dogs for wieners and beans?”

A question all-too-often asked by Globe readers on Canada Q&A, we tasked The Globe’s resident hot dog expert Gabe Pulver with an investigation:

At the centre of the case: packaging.

Factory machines are calibrated to make hot dog wieners of varying sizes (jumbo, foot-long, etc) that can be packaged into three standard sizes.  Wieners are packaged by weight – no matter the number of hot dogs in the package, be it six, eight or ten. The package will always one of three weights – 375 grams, 450 grams, and 900 grams. It’s just easier to price, ship, and store.

The most common weight is 450 grams, or one pound. Check out this very scientific video we made, showing how six hot dogs and 12 hot dogs are equal weight:

https://vine.co/v/eudBnbIwAl5

On the other hand, The Globe’s Toronto grocery store investigation revealed that despite the number of buns in the package and the different brands, all of the packages are exactly the same physical size and shape. The reason for this has to do with production and shipping efficiencies. Ever notice how your buns seem torn apart on one or both sides? That’s because they are baked in pans that hold 3 or 4 buns in order to bake them to exact size. This size, seemingly universal across all brands, fits in uniform square shapes inside their plastic bags. Once again, this would make it easier for shipping and storage.

The question remains: why not make hot dogs that fit, say, 8 to a pound? Or bun pans that fit, say, 6 to a square? In industrial sized operations like these, any change to the production system will cost significant time, money, and effort. As you can see in this disgusting video,  some hot dog factories make millions of wieners a day. These are not small changes to make.

Simply put, they’re selling enough hot dogs and buns to not have to spend the money.  The idea that Big Meat and Big Bread are conspiring to force you to buy multiple packages of each to get your money’s worth just doesn’t cut the mustard. Sorry, Steve Martin:

That said, representatives from both declined to comment for this story.

 – With files from Josh O’Kane

Suddenly in the mood for a barbecue? Check out our BBQ basics video series, and amp up your hot dog game with this recipe.

 

There’s an apple that will never brown for sale in Canada. What health risks do GMO foods pose?

Paul Marck, a reader in Kelowna, B.C., asks “The non-browning Arctic Apple is now approved for sale in Canada. Is there any science suggesting GMO foods pose risk to human health or envrionmental risks? And is there a risk they will contaminate non-GMO fruits?”  The Globe’s Dave McGinn responds:

The Arctic apple, engineered to be non-browning, became the latest genetically modified food to be approved by Health Canada this week. We’ll likely start seeing it in stores in 2017, according to Neal Carter, founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., the British Columbia-based company that created the apple.

While there are a small number of scientific studies suggesting that these foods pose risks to human health and the environment, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that they are as safe as any other conventional food. Health Canada, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Academy of Sciences and the American Medical Association all endorse that view.

GMO crops have been part of our lives for more than two decades. The first such crop was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1994.

They have proliferated ever since. More than 120 genetically modified foods have been approved for sale in Canada. These range from insect resistant soy to virus resistant squash. (The complete list of “Novel Foods” approved by Health Canada can be found here.)

In explaining its approval of the Arctic apple, Health Canada provided this statement: “A gene was introduced into the Arctic apple that results in reduction in the levels of enzymes that make apples turn brown when sliced. In every other way, the Arctic apple tree and its fruits are identical to any other apple.”

The statement goes on to say that a thorough review was conducted by scientists with expertise in molecular biology, microbiology, toxicology, chemistry and nutrition.

“Following this assessment, it was determined that the changes made to the apple did not pose a greater risk to human health than apples currently available on the Canadian market,” it said. “In addition, Health Canada also concluded that the Arctic apple would have no impact on allergies, and that there are no differences in the nutritional value of the Arctic apple compared to other traditional apple varieties available for consumption.”

While there are a small number of studies that have suggested GMO foods do pose health risks, including linking GM corn to cancer in rats, or that DNA from GM crops can be transferred to humans who eat them, most of these studies have either been retracted, published in non-peer reviewed journals or questioned by independent scientists.

Meanwhile, there are more than 2, 000 studies that have concluded GMO foods pose no greater health risk than convention or organic foods.

“In order to maintain the position that GMOs are not adequately tested, or that they are harmful or risky, you have to either highly selectively cherry pick a few outliers of low scientific quality, or you have to simply deny the science,” Steven Novella, an assistant professor at the Yale University school of medicine, has written.

However, there is evidence to suggest that genes from GMO crops can migrate to non-GMO crops, as noted by the World Health Organization. (The WHO and other organizations refer to this as “outcrossing,” rather than the loaded term “contaminate.”) Separating GM crops from conventional crops is one way to address this problem.

Many people who oppose genetically modified food, including David Suzuki, argue that we still do not know their long term health effects. After all, these foods have only been part of our diet since 1994.

By its very nature, this is objection is difficult if not impossible to address without getting caught in an unproductive line of reasoning: Thousands of studies say these foods don’t pose a health risk, but on a long enough timeline they just might. Okay, but thousands of studies say they’re fine.

One way out of this is to label GMO foods. That way, supporters of labelling argue, those who are skeptical or simply don’t wish to consume GMOs would be able to exercise choice at the grocery store. Suzuki has called this a “basic right to choice.”

More than 60 countries currently require such labelling – and Canada is not one of them. Why? The government has said it does not mandate labelling because there are no known health risks to eating GM foods.

Do consumers nevertheless deserve labels in order to make informed decisions? That is a whole other question.

Follow Dave McGinn on Twitter and read more from Globe Health

How can I order wines not available at my local LCBO?

In Timmins, Ont., reader Jim Wilson asks: “How do go about ordering wines that are not available at our local LCBO?” Beppi Crosariol, The Globe’s wine expert Beppi Crosariol explains, “You have several options, and it all depends on which wines you seek.” He elaborates:

Perhaps you have your eye on specific wines that happen to be carried by other LCBO locations in Ontario (but simply not your local store). In this case it’s possible, in principle, to have the wines ordered in by your local store manager. This is called an interstore transfer, an underappreciated free service offered by Ontario’s liquor board. The request must be initiated by your local store manager, whose staff can access a record of quantities and locations around the province to source the products. Technically, there is no minimum quantity (it could be a single bottle), but the local manager may be reluctant in the case of consumers who simply want, say, a single can of beer. There are, after all, costs to the LCBO or importer associated with shipping.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to expand your horizons beyond the retail choices available at the LCBO, you can do that, too, though the process is slightly more involved. About 125 importers in the province participate in what’s known as the consignment program, which is unique to Ontario and which permits these agents to warehouse and distribute specialty products (not just wine but also spirits and beer) by the case. Mainly it’s a service designed for restaurants that like to carry offbeat selections produced in quantities too small to merit widespread distribution across the LCBO’s more than 600 locations. But it can also be accessed by the general public. The only caveat is that you must commit to a one-case minimum. Twelve bottles is the typical case size, though some rare wines come in six-bottle cases, and that quantity still qualifies as a single order.

Read more

What’s the current recommendation about eggs? How many should I eat per day?

In Yellowknife, reader Sarah Mann asks:  “What’s the new recommendation about eggs?  How many can we eat per day?”  Globe Health columnist and registered dietitian Leslie Beck says, “eggs have long been vilified for their high cholesterol content. One large egg has 183 milligrams of cholesterol, almost two-thirds of a day’s worth for healthy people.” She says a 2013 study about eggs “might make you swap sunny-side up for a whites-only omelette.” We asked Beck to revisit her 2013 article on the subject and provide an up-to-date explanation of eggs’ bad rap – and current dietary recommendations:

A 2013 report, published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that eating an egg a day – yolk included – did not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy people.

The bad news: Egg eaters were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. And among people who already had diabetes, an egg-a-day habit substantially upped the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. That said: Cholesterol is essential for life. It’s needed to build cell membranes, form healthy nerve fibers and make vitamin D and hormones such as estrogen and testosterone.

Although high blood cholesterol is an established risk factor for a heart attack and stroke, the link between cholesterol in foods and cardiovascular disease remains unclear. Most studies have found that dietary cholesterol has little, if any, impact on blood-cholesterol levels.

While eggs may have little effect on your fasting blood-cholesterol level, that may not be the case for your “after-meal”, or postprandial, blood cholesterol. (Fasting blood cholesterol is measured after consuming no food or drinks, with the exception of water, for nine to 12 hours.)

There is mounting evidence that, depending on what you eat, postprandial blood fats can damage blood vessels and promote atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries). Small studies have shown that eating a cholesterol-rich meal can enhance the blood-cholesterol-raising effects of saturated (animal) fat and increase the chance that your LDL (bad) blood cholesterol becomes oxidized.

So what are we to make of all this? Are eggs off the menu? Most people don’t have to worry about eating an egg yolk to two each day; the evidence that the amount of cholesterol you eat raises LDL blood cholesterol is weak.

So weak, in fact, that scientific advisory panel for the 2015 iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is recommending the decades-long recommendation to avoid eating foods high in cholesterol be dropped.

Some people, though, are sensitive to the blood cholesterol-raising effect of food cholesterol. People with diabetes and those with heart disease should limit their intake of egg yolks to four per week (some experts advise avoidance).

Instead of eating a two-egg omelette with 266 milligrams of cholesterol, have a cholesterol-free white-only omelette for a good source of protein, riboflavin (a B vitamin) and selenium. Try a cholesterol-free egg product sold in the egg case at grocery stores.

Keep in mind that there are variables we do not yet know. It’s possible that consuming antioxidant-rich foods (e.g. berries, citrus fruit, red peppers, spinach, green tea) or anti-inflammatory foods (e.g. salmon, chia seeds, ground flax, walnuts) with an egg could mitigate the harmful postprandial blood fat effects.

But most of all, let’s not forget that preventing cardiovascular disease is about a whole lot more that cutting back on egg yolks. Limiting refined (white) starchy foods and added sugars, reducing trans fats, emphasizing monounsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil, avocado, almonds), increasing omega-3 fats from fish oil, limiting sodium intake, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are key strategies to guard against heart disease and stroke.

Follow Leslie Beck on Twitter and read more of her columns here

I’ve read rice contains arsenic. Should I limit how much I eat?

Reader Carol G. asks: “I read that rice products have low levels of arsenic.  I am gluten-free for health reasons, so I consume rice regularly.  Is there a maximum quantity that I should consume to limit my exposure to arsenic? Or am I concerned unnecessarily?”

Globe Life contributor Kat Sieniuc investigated:

The short answer is: yes, there are low levels of arsenic in most of the rice we eat. Not surprising to chemists and food safety experts, trace amounts of arsenic actually is present in many foods, and rice is especially prone to accumulating it. For consumers, this may come as a shock.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element present in rock, soil, water and air that was once used in pesticides and, until 2009, by poultry farmers in medication targeting parasites in their birds. Today, arsenic shows up as largely a byproduct of heavy metal industry.

It exists in two chemical forms: a less toxic organic form that we can ingest with virtually no risk and a slightly more toxic inorganic form that reacts in our bodies and can do damage.

In 2012, Consumer Reports conducted a study that found measurable levels of arsenic in almost all of the 60 rice variables and rice products they tested. Further study showed that the inorganic arsenic levels found in rice varied across geographic locations and types of rice.

The breakdown:

  • White basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S. had half of the inorganic-arsenic amount of most other types of rice.
  • Rice from Arkansas, Louisiana, or Texas had the highest levels of inorganic arsenic.
  • White rice from California had 38 per cent less inorganic arsenic than white rice from other parts of the country.
  • Brown rice had 80 per cent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type (this is because it accumulates in the grain’s outer layers, which are removed to make white rice).
  • And rice that’s grown organically took up arsenic the same way as conventional rice.

But how dangerous is arsenic – and should we be limiting the amount of rice we eat?

“Essentially… you would need to eat 3 kg of rice a day to get noticeable toxic effects,” says Keith Warriner, a professor of food science at the University of Guelph.  He says an international group of food safety experts called Codex has recommended a maximum level for arsenic in rice of .02 mg per kg – which means most of us don’t come close to eating toxic levels.

While Codex recommends adults limit their rice servings to four per week, and zero for children under five,  Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency say the trace amounts of arsenic found in food are not considered a safety concern for Canadians.

Warriner says that while the risk of arsenic exposure from eating rice is minimal, there are precautions you can take if you are really concerned:

  • Eat white rice,  which has a lower arsenic level than brown
  • Soak rice overnight prior to cooking – this eliminates inorganic arsenic by 30 to 60 per cent
  • Choose rice sourced from geographic regions known to have lower levels of arsenic in its soil like India, Pakistan or California

Follow Kat Sieniuc on Twitter, and read our Globe Health coverage here

Why do you only cover the Toronto and Vancouver food scenes?

“As the national newspaper, why is it that you cover only the Toronto and Vancouver food scene?” writes Ted G. in Calgary.  “Is there nothing in between, or to the east of Toronto worth mentioning?” The Globe does indeed have two restaurant critics – Chris Nuttall-Smith in Toronto, and Alexandra Gill in Vancouver.

Our decision to focus our weekly restaurant coverage in Toronto and Vancouver is a result of a few things:  Firstly, those cities are internationally recognized as dynamic, culinary centres. Secondly, a large portion of Globe readers are located in those two areas. Also, our resources – like any publication – aren’t unlimited, so we have to choose where it’s best to have our weekly restaurant critics.

All of that being said, of course there are many great cities with not-to-be-missed food in various parts of the country:

Check out our recent story A top chef’s guide to Ottawa, where Globe Travel took readers on a tour of great food in Canada’s capital.

Learn how to thrill your taste buds in Tofino, B.C.

Discover 7 spots to explore in cosmopolitan St John’s

Read about what’s hot in Winnipeg – including where to get top-notch Vietnamese food and stellar cocktails.

In Montreal, critic Chris Nuttall-Smith recommends his 9 market-driven top restos

Since you are located in Calgary, we asked Globe restaurant critic Alexandra Gill for her current picks in that city. She writes:

In Calgary, River Café and Rouge are renowned fine dining restaurants. The former is a leader in the Prairie locavore scene; the latter is one of only two Canadian restaurants to have ever graced the S. Pellegrino top 100.

They’re both great. Yet on recent visits, I have been just as entranced by their casual siblings. Boxwood Café is a sunny rotisserie in Central Memorial Park where wholesome salads burst with freshness, warm ciabatta is baked in-house and crackling-crusted porchetta is slowly roasted behind the bar. Bistro Rouge is a French-inspired bistro that folds local ingredients into classic dishes and then slathers them with butter, cream, love and all the good things in life.

Gill adds another amazing – yet not technically Canadian – restaurant to your to-eat list:

The Willows Inn on Lummi Island isn’t a Canadian restaurant. But this idyllic retreat is so close to the Peace Arch border that we really should claim it as our own. Start your prix-fixe meal with a Douglas fir-infused aperitif on the patio while soaking up the San Juan Islands sunset. The first tasting morsel in a succession of several might be salmon or spot prawns – caught off the beach across the road, smoked in a shack behind the kitchen and served in a lidded cedar box on a bed of smoking moss that hits you with a waft of sauna-scented steam. From there it just gets better.

Chef Blaine Wetzel spent 18 months at Noma in Copenhagen and has adapted Rene Redzepi’s hyperlocal sensibility to the Pacific Northwest. Almost every ingredient is fished, farmed or foraged on the island. In every bite is a delightful surprise.

For a trip down memory road, read Ian Brown Eats Canada, where we sent our (lucky) correspondent on a coast-to-coast discovery of our nation’s offerings.

Read more about Calgary’s culinary landscape here, and discover 20 ways to enjoy Canadian winter (none on skis, many involve eating.)

Share your picks for underestimated, incredible Canadian restaurants with Globe Food & Wine on Twitter,

I’m allergic to sulphites in wine. Can you cook them out?

“I love wine but can’t drink it anymore,” writes Lois Vatcher, in Duncan B.C. “Does cooking with wine remove the sulphites?”  The Globe’s wine expert, Beppi Crosariol says yes – but cautions sulphites may not be your issue:

Sulphites break down when wine is cooked, especially in the presence of other ingredients, such as herbs, vegetables and stock. They also evaporate when the liquid is simmered in an uncovered pan and reduced to make a sauce, as in a stew or gravy.

Andrew Waterhouse, a professor of oenology and wine chemist at the University of California Davis, one of the world’s leading wine-research institutions, says “boiling the sauce in air will completely eliminate the sulphites.”

Sulphites (also spelled “sulfites”) – a hot topic among many wine consumers – are typically added in small quantities at the production and bottling stages to curb microbial growth and shield wine from the bruising effects of oxygen. They’re also a natural product of fermentation, which means that virtually all wines contain the compounds to some degree, even bottles that have been produced organically.

But you might want to make certain that sulphites are indeed at the source of your intolerance before you empty all that expensive cabernet into the stock pot. Health concerns surrounding sulphites are vastly overstated. Only about 1 per cent of the general population is sulphite-sensitive. This notably includes a small percentage of asthmatics, who can suffer severely because they lack a sufficient quantity of the enzyme that neutralizes the compounds . That latter group is a key reason several countries (including Canada, as of 2012) require wine labels to carry a “contains sulphites” warning.

Prof. Waterhouse stresses that sulphites are present not only in bottles of wine but also in our bodies. “We produce in our bodies between half a gram and a gram a day of sulphites” as a result of amino-acid metabolism, he says. That concentration is 50 to 100 times greater than you’ll find in a typical glass of wine, at 10 milligrams. All cells in the vast majority of people contain sulphite oxidase, which prevents chronic toxic sulphite overload.  You can visit his website, Waterhouse.ucdavis.edu, for more information. (Click on the “What’s in wine” link.)

You may be surprised to learn that a wide range of other foods and beverages contain sulphites, some of which contain higher levels and yet are not required to carry warning stickers. One key example: light-coloured dried fruits sold in bulk, such as dried apricots and apples. Sulphites are added to those products to prevent browning.

It’s wise to check with your doctor, but if you want to test your sensitivity conclusively, ask yourself whether you have ever reacted to dried apricots, a two-ounce serving of which contains about 10 times the dose present in a typical glass of wine. Other foods that frequently contain sulphites include beer, baked goods such as pizza and pie crusts, frozen shrimp and frozen lobster (to prevent “black spot”), corn starch, shredded coconut, jams and jellies and canned seafood soups – and that’s a small fraction of the full list.

If your sensitivity to wine involves headaches (a common complaint), it’s far more likely that you’re reacting to the alcohol itself or even a group of compounds known as amines, which have nothing to do with sulphites.

“The medical literature has no reports on sulphites inducing headache,” Prof. Waterhouse says. “There’s nothing credible out there.”

Read more from Beppi Crosariol, and follow Globe Food & Wine on Twitter

What are the 10 best wines under $20?

Don Kram in Courtice, Ont. asks: “What are the ten best wines under $20?” In a recent Globe Life column, our wine & spirits expert, Beppi Crosariol, shares his picks for great, bargain-friendly  vinos. But as a general caution – please keep in mind that wines are often seasonal, and aren’t always readily available at every wine store across the country, making a definitive ‘best ever’ list impossible.

So here then, is a list of eight great wines right now – at a January-friendly, post-holiday budget:

I’ve assembled a few of my own selections from newly released vintages. It’s by no means comprehensive, just a few solid under-$15 values (based on the Ontario price) to look for this month – and to sip until the Farmers’ Almanac people get in the game.

Rabl Kittmansberg Gruner Veltliner 2013 (Austria)

SCORE: 91 PRICE: $14.95

If you love quality white wine at a very fair price, get to know the gruner veltliner grape, Austria’s signature variety. It’s usually produced in a crisp, dry style. This one, from the excellent producer Rabl, is light-medium-bodied and silky, with succulent peach and apple fruit, soft and round yet very dry. Versatile at the table, it could pair especially well with delicately cooked seafood, sushi or spicy chicken dishes. Available in Ontario.

Heartland Stickleback Red 2012 (Australia)

SCORE: 89 PRICE: $13.95

Australia may frequently be maligned as a land of fruit bombs, but here’s an affordable, full-bodied red that proves the sunny land Down Under can dish up impressive savoury elements amid all that ripe fruitiness. A rich berry core comes laced with notes of vanilla tobacco, black pepper and bitter chocolate. A blend of firm cabernet sauvignon, luscious shiraz and crisp dolcetto, it’s juicy and lively and would pair well with burgers, pork roast or grilled sausages. $16.99 in B.C., $13.97 in Man.

Read more

Ask them anything: Have a question for The Globe’s food critics?

Have questions about the food scenes in Toronto or Vancouver? Ever wondered what it’s like to be a food critic? Today, The Globe’s restaurant critics, Chris Nuttall-Smith in Toronto and Alex Gill in Vancouver, are taking your questions.

Join the conversation:

Toronto: Chris Nuttall-Smith will host a reddit AMA from 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm ET. Look for the chat on the Reddit Food.

Vancouver:  Alex Gill hosts a live Facebook chat at 12:00 pm -1:00 PT. Look for the chat on her Facebook page.

Follow Globe Food & Wine on Twitter, and check out The Globe’s Top 10 Best New Restaurants for Vancouver and Toronto.

Any favourite vegan dish ideas for the holidays?

Cooking a holiday feast can be a daunting task, especially with so many palettes to please. Reader @DearAuntPatty asked for our favourite vegan holiday dishes. Here are some suggestions from Globe Food & Wine that are sure to satisfy all your holiday dinner guests:

Start the evening off with this Roasted Eggplant Dip. Serve with these quick and easy Festive Crackers, made from tortilla.

Lure guests to the table with this seasonal Beet and Roast Root Salad. A sensational alternative to a meat main, serve Roast Portobello Mushrooms with Chestnut Stuffing as the heart of the meal. Balance the dish with a side of Sauteed Sesame Asparagus.

Here’a delightful apple and almond stuffing that, with a few tweaks (use vegetable stock and vegan butter or olive oil; instead of eggs, use a animal-free binding agent like potato starch), will make all the vegans at your table full of holiday cheer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3_oH-K59iU

A holiday meal wouldn’t be complete without something sweet. Equally as moist and delicious at its non-vegan counterpart, serve this iteration of Chocolate Cake. And just in case your guests aren’t full enough, top it off with Strawberry Sorbet.

For more holiday recipes, browse through our database  and follow @GlobeFoodWine on Twitter.