Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In the Name of Technology

It amazes me when I think about how I am part of the last generation to have encountered a typewriter, watched VHS tapes, phoned with a cellular as tall and heavy as a carton of milk...How much mankind has leaped forward in a couple of decades! What possibilities and unknown are ahead of us?

While technology has bestowed upon us so much more than the ingenious and now affordable motor navigation system, it has also given us genetically modified food, ways for food producers to cut corners using corn syrup, saccharin, partially hydrogenated fats, a phone book of E-numbers, and other substances with undecipherable names.

While the Whole Food movement has gathered substantial momentum in affluent and cosmopolitan cities, most common folks of Buenos Aires are still happily tucking in deep fried empanadas soaked in rancid oil. The yogurt which mothers conscienciously feed their darling young ones is so well emulsified, in all shades of pastel, that it looks more appropiate on the nursery walls than as food for the young kidneys and liver. (Incidentially, after the closure of Parmalat, there is no natural, unsweetened yoghurt availabe in supermakets in Buenos Aires. I make my own through diluting a tub of natural flavour Activia with 500ml of milk.)

The other day, I found, in an Asian supermarket, jars of Japanese style pickled ginger in an unnatural Hello Kitty pink. Upon closer examination, the ginger was fibrous and cut way too thick however far we are from Tokyo. I wondered why it was necessary to resort to additives when a small clove of garlic would have done the trick. I have made pickled ginger from young shoots using a vegetable peeler; to obtain that quintessential blushing effect, I added the said clove of garlic in the sugar and white wine vinegar mixture. After a couple of weeks of preserving, you cannot detect the taste of garlic; and the almost translucent pink morsels hold up next to any authentic sushi and sashimi. So the question is: have our technological advancements created a beast which we have carelessly left in the unconscionable hands of food producers?

I list my much loved childhood favourite – Nutella, as another victim of mass production. According to Ferrero's website, Nutella was created in the 1940s in the midst of a chocolate shortage. Pietro Ferrero, a pastry-maker, stretched chocolate by thinning it out with ground hazelnuts. Mind you, Pietro was in Torino, Italy where hazelnuts were probably falling off trees everywhere while chocolate was still proper chocolate, hence expensive, in the days prior to the omnipresence of partially hydrogenated fats in processed food. Pietro's alchemy became so popular that he gave it a catchy name and the rest is history.

Fast track to 2006, lamentably, a regular jar of Nutella lists sugar as its primary ingredient, contains only 50 nuts (13% of the content),1 1/2 cups skim milk, enough cocoa powder to make it brown, and wait, wait for this, lots of hydrogenated vegetable fats to make it spreadable. As much as I love Nutella, today's commercial version is probably worse for you than the equal weight in lardo (cured lard; popular in Northern Italy, eaten as snack).

The search of good food knows no bounds...I can now dip my spoon into my own version of Nutella, low in sugar and free of trans-fats, adapted from a recipe in le hamburger et le croissant. OK, fingers-crossed for my translation work right here...

Pate a tartiner chocolat noisettes:

30g ground hazelnut or roasted hazelnut without skin

1 tsp hazelnut oil

1 tsp Dutch cocoa powder

1 tsp icing sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

75g dark chocolate

Melt chocolate in a bain-marie or microwave. If using roasted hazelnuts, place the nuts in a processor and pulse until a paste is formed. It takes about 30sec to 1 min. Add oil, cocoa powder, icing sugar and vanilla to the paste followed by melted chocolate. Process until a homogenous paste is formed. If the mixture is too dense, do not hesitate to thin it with more oil. Transfer the paste into a small bowl and leave it to cool. That's all folks!

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home