Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Traditions in Food Processing

Traditions in how foods have been grown, harvested, stored, processed, cooked and consumed have developed over time. Thousands of years. Literally, I mean thousands. Archaeologically we see the dawn of humans cultivating food about 12,000 years ago with remote evidence of neo-lithic humans eating grains about 115.000 years in the past. I don't have any recipes from either of those eras, I doubt anyone does. Lots of barbecue, lots of unleavened flat breads. With the advent of pottery and then the ability to work metals came the introduction of soups and stews. Most people never stopped to think that the modern day Crock Pot is actually about ten thousand years old. And just having safe, fire-proof vessels opened up a whole new world to the cooks of the day back at the dawn of civilization. That then really, is where so many of the traditions for preparing foods began. When humans were able to contain water in a vessel and do differing techniques to the foods that were rapidly becoming available as staples; civilization advanced. The reason, tradition. Well, and trial and error. Those simple things that our ancestors did to grains, seeds and legumes over time and with many trials, became techniques that those ancient peoples adopted into their very culture. Simple stuff, like soaking dried corn in lime and water not only made it easier to grind, but it made it more digestible, and more nutritious. And every culture on the planet discovered the tradition of soaking and sprouting. Grains and legumes when soaked or sprouted, became better. And of course the big one, wheat. When it was ground, mixed with water and allowed to sour, it made way way better breads. 

So, what happened?

We all know the answer, we just don't want to take the time to admit it. The answer is money. And in the preparation of food, time is money. And tradition, well, let's just say that business and science can imitate tradition, but never rival it. My ex used to love to go out to eat. And she liked to go to the chain restaurants and get ribs. She loved them. Tender, sweet sauced and fire grilled, all the chain places have them. Strange though, she never knew the secret that I knew, that they cooked them in huge 15 gallon pressure smokers. Load them up with about a dozen racks of ribs and poof, in 20 minutes they were cooked and had a smoky flavor to them. Certainly not like real overnight smoked ribs at the real Texas BBQ joints, but since they all put sticky sweet sauce on them, it was pretty hard to tell the difference. Boy, don't the old cavemen wish they had one of those things back in the day? (pressure smoker)

The thing is, tradition, the long slow smoke cooking of meats is a tradition. Chain restaurants cut the process down in order to save time, and money. The same thing happens with virtually every processed food product out there on the shelves and served in restaurants in the Industrialized world. If it can be made quicker and cheaper with greater profits, then that's how it's done. Everyone my age knows that if you want to make beans then you soak the beans overnight. Then rinse them and cook them. The resultant cooked beans are less gassy, more easily digestible. That soaking step, takes time, money. Canned beans are made using water and beans sealed in a can and then autoclaved to cook them. Your local chain Taco restaurant doesn't take the time to soak pinto beans for refries. They use industrial processed precooked beans. Made in as little time and therefore unsoaked and as far from traditional methods of preparation as money and time can get. But then the big Taco chain serves up their beans by adding three kinds of sugar, two types of MSG, TBHQ (the known endocrine disruptor) and up to 2% silicon dioxide. Which basically is ground up sand. That is a tradition of sorts, just not a tradition developed by real humans. Science rules the making of their food-like products. Not humans. But then the big Taco chain readily admits that their taco meat is only 88% meat and 12% secret ingredients. 

Anyway, this whole blog posting began when I learned about a new process for making corn masa and ultimately that gets made into chips, tortillas and the traditional basis of all Hispanic foods. Corn, for thousands and thousands of years traditional peoples in the Americas learned that if you took wood ashes, (lime) and soaked their corn in a mix, rinsed it, then ground it and made stuff out of the resultant masa, it was easily digestible, and more nutritious. The process itself took a lot of water, and there was the waste water problem, and it took time. Lots of time. And we all know, especially in the food industry, time is money. So, a new company has created a huge machine that will take dry corn, make it into wet masa in twenty minutes. With no soaking, no waste water, no lengthy and costly unneeded traditions.  (Masa-Maker

The reasons for all of the traditions that have developed over the last 12,000 years are actually easily explainable by science. Plants, and even animals themselves, all have molecules in them that we call lectins and phytates (lectins) (Phytates) Each of these evolved as a means to store nutrients and as a defense for the plant or animal. The lectins are toxic, and if eaten, made the animal eating the lectins, sick. In some cases, like soy or castor beans, possibly could kill them. The traditions discovered over millennia rendered these molecules inactive. Simple things, soaking, sprouting and let's throw in there, steaming, all made real natural foods BETTER. 

Science, and the quest, no sorry, the NEED to make profit, have all overridden the time honored traditions with techniques that no one knows whether or not they will sustain the human race.

Money trumps tradition, humans lose. 

I pretty much only eat things that I myself cook. The dead areas in my bones have regrowth, I feel better, I am losing weight, I believe now that I just might live a little longer than what the doctors told me. It just takes time. 

I think it might be worth it though.


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