Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Emmental (cheese)

Emmental, Emmentaler, Emmenthal, or Emmenthaler is a cheese from Switzerland. It is sometimes known as Swiss cheese in North America, Australia and New Zealand, although Swiss cheese does not always imply Emmental.

The cheese originally comes from the Emme valley in the canton of Bern. Unlike some other cheese varieties, the denomination "Emmental" was not protected ("Emmentaler Switzerland" is, though). Hence, Emmental of other origin, especially from France and Bavaria, is widely available. Even Finland is an exporter of Emmental cheese.

Emmental is a yellow, medium-hard cheese, with characteristic large holes. It has a piquant, but not really sharp taste. Three types of bacteria are used in the production of Emmental: Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus, and Propionibacter shermani. In the late stage of cheese production, P. shermani consumes the lactic acid excreted by the other bacteria, and releases carbon dioxide gas, which slowly forms the bubbles that make holes.
* Emmentaler Switzerland AOC is registered since 2006 as an AOC (Appellation d'origine contrôlée). This “original Emmentaler” has to be aged for a minimum of 4 months. It is produced in a round shape with a natural rind and aged in traditional cellars. The original Emmentaler exists with different age profiles, classic 4 month, reserve 8 month, Premier Cru 14 month. It is produced with raw cow milk adding only natural ingredients (water, salt, natural starters and rennet). Preservatives or ingredients from GMO modified organism are not allowed. Emmental AOC is still produced in small rural dairies.

* Emmentaler Switzerland Premier Cru is a special Emmental aged for 14 months in humid caves. It was the first cheese from Switzerland to win the title World Champion at the Wisconsin (USA) Cheese World Championships in 2006. It was nominated best cheese among over 1,700 competitors. For this achievement it has received a place in the Historic Museum in Bern Switzerland.

It is noteworthy that "Swiss Cheese" not made in Switzerland typically tastes considerably different, primarily because the raw milk to make the cheese should not be transported over long distances, as the vibrations homogenize the milk, and thereby change the outcome.

It features prominently in the cuisine of the United States where it is a standard cheese for use in the preparation of sandwiches.

In cooking, it is often put on top of gratins, dishes which are then put in the oven to let the cheese melt and become golden-brown and crusty. It is also used for fondue in which case it is blended with Gruyere cheese.


Mozzarella is a generic term for several kinds of originally Italian cheeses that are made using spinning and then cutting (hence the name; the Italian verb mozzare means "to cut"):

* Mozzarella di Bufala (buffalo mozzarella), made from domesticated water buffalo milk
* mozzarella fior di latte, made from fresh pasteurized or unpasteurized cow's milk
* low-moisture mozzarella, which is made from whole or part skim milk, and widely used in the foodservice industry
* smoked mozzarella

Fresh mozzarella is generally white, but may vary seasonally to slightly yellow depending on the animal's diet.[2] It is a semi-soft cheese. Due to its high moisture content, it is traditionally served the day it is made[3], but can be kept in brine for up to a week[4], or longer when sold in vacuum-sealed packages. Low-moisture mozzarella can keep refrigerated for up to a month[5], though some pre-shredded low-moisture mozzerella is sold with a shelf life of up to 6 months.[6] Mozzarella of several kinds are also used for most types of pizza, lasagna, or served with sliced tomatoes and basil in Insalata caprese.

The mozzarella from bufala campana (DOP 1996) is a particular type of mozzarella; some consider it the best for flavour or quality and it is protected by European DOP. It is a raw material in Italian style neapolitan Pizza - rather than mozzarella made with pasteurized cow's milk.

Mozzarella is available fresh; it is usually rolled in the shape of a ball of 80 to 100 grams (6 cm diameter), sometimes up to 1 kilogram (about 12 cm diameter), and soaked in salt water or whey, sometimes with added citric acid, until sold.

Fior di latte (written also as fiordilatte) is used to distinguish the mozzarella made from cow's milk from that made from buffalo's milk.

When slightly desiccated (partially dried), the structure becomes more compact; then it is better used to prepare dishes cooked in the oven, for example lasagne.

When twisted to form a plait it is called treccia.

It is also available in smoked (called affumicata) and reduced-moisture packaged varieties.

The production of mozzarella involves the mixture of curd with heated whey, followed by stretching and kneading to produce a delicate consistency -- this process is generally known as pasta filata. According to the Mozzarella di Bufala trade association, "The cheesemaker kneads it with his hands, like a baker making bread, until he obtains a smooth, shiny paste, a strand of which he pulls out and lops off, forming the individual mozzarella." [7] It is then typically formed into ball shapes or in plait. In Italy, a "rubbery" consistency is generally considered not satisfactory; the cheese is expected to be softer.

It has been said that the name "mozzarella", which is clearly derived from southern Italian dialects, was the diminutive form of mozza (cut), or mozzare (to cut off) derived from the method of working. Other theories describe its origins as a minor preparation of "scamozza" (Scamorza cheese), which in its turn probably derives from "scamozzata" ("without a shirt"), with allusion to the fact that these cheeses have no hard surface covering typical of a dry cured cheese.

The term mozzarella is first found definitively mentioned in 1570, cited in a cookbook by Bartolomeo Scappi, reading "…milk cream, fresh butter, ricotta cheese, fresh mozzarella and milk…"

Cheese curds

Cheese curds are the fresh curds of cheese, often cheddar. They are generally available in retail stores operated at cheese factories throughout the countries of Canada and the United States (especially in USA's Upstate New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Canada's provinces of Ontario, and Quebec, where they can be found in many grocery stores. ) Cheese curds are little-known in locations without cheese factories, because they should ideally be eaten within hours of manufacture.

Their flavor is mild with about the same firmness as cheese, but has a springy or rubbery texture. Fresh curds squeak against the teeth when bitten into, which some would say is their defining characteristic. Cheese curds are sometimes referred to as "Squeaky cheese." They are sometimes somewhat salty. The American variety are usually yellow or orange in color, like most American cheddar cheese. Other varieties, such as the Québécois and New York variety, can be roughly the same color as white cheddar cheese.
After twelve hours, even under refrigeration, they have lost much of their "fresh" characteristics, particularly the "squeak". This "squeak" has been described by the New York Times as sounding like "balloons trying to neck".[1] After twenty-four hours, they will lose their freshness entirely. If they are purchased locally and need to be kept for a couple of days, room temperature, rather than refrigeration, may preserve the flavor and "squeak".
n Wisconsin, Minnesota, Upper Michigan, South Dakota, Northern Illinois, and Iowa, deep-fried cheese curds are often found at carnivals and fairs, and often local non-chain fast food restaurants and bars. Deep-fried cheese curds are covered with a batter, like that used for onion rings, or are breaded and placed in a deep fryer. In the United States, A&W Restaurants and Culver's have added fried cheese curds to their menus and they are available nationwide.
Cheese curds are a main ingredient in poutine, a dish in which cheese curds are served layered on top of french fries, and melting under steaming hot gravy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How to Relieve Bloating With Food

Try fresh pineapple. Fresh pineapple contains bromelain and this is a digestion-promoting enzyme.
Try fresh papaya. This also contains bromelain and it is great for breaking down food and digesting proteins.
Munch on celery. Celery helps to relieve fluid retention because it is a diuretic. Try a handful each day until your bloating is under better control.
Choose asparagus. Asparagus encourages the growth of friendly gut bacteria. Friendly bacteria work to reduce the build-up of stomach gas.
Add yogurt to your daily diet. Yogurt brings helpful bacteria to your gut.
Season your food with freshly ground black pepper. Black pepper aids digestion and massaging the essential oil of black pepper on your stomach region can also help.
Drink peppermint tea. Peppermint tea aids digesting by helping food pass through the stomach quickly. It also calms flatulence. Either pre-packaged peppermint tea in bags or fresh mint leaves will work.

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, fat granular cheese, cooked but not pressed, named after the producing areas of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, in Emilia-Romagna, and Mantova, in Lombardy, Italy.

Parmigiano is simply the Italian adjective for Parma; the French version, Parmesan, is used in the English language. The term Parmesan is also loosely used as a common term for cheeses imitating true Parmesan cheese, especially outside Europe; within Europe, the Parmesan name is classified as a protected designation of origin.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from raw cow's milk. The whole milk of the morning milking is mixed with the naturally skimmed milk (it is left in large shallow tanks to allow the cream to separate) of the previous evening's milking, resulting in a part skim mixture. The milk is pumped into copper-lined vats (copper heats and cools quickly). Starter whey is added, and the temperature is raised to 33-35C. Calf rennet is added, and the mixture is left to curdle for 10-12 minutes. The curd is then broken up mechanically (spinitura in Italian) into small pieces (around the size of rice grains). The temperature is then raised to 55 °C with careful control by the cheese-maker. The curd is left to settle for 45-60 minutes. The compacted curd is collected in a piece of muslin before being divided in two and placed in moulds. There are 1100 L of milk per vat, producing two cheeses each. The curd making up each wheel at this point weighs around 45 kg (100 lb). The remaining whey in the vat was traditionally used to feed the pigs from which "Prosciutto di Parma" (cured Parma ham) is produced. The barns for these animals were usually just a few yards away from the cheese production rooms.

The cheese is put into a stainless steel round form that is pulled tight with a spring powered buckle so the cheese retains its wheel shape. After a day or two, the buckle is released and a plastic belt imprinted numerous times with the Parmigiano-Reggiano name, the plant's number, and month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is buckled tight again. The imprints take hold on the rind of the cheese in about a day and the wheel is then put into a brine bath to absorb salt for 20-25 days. After brining, the wheels are then transferred to the aging rooms in the plant for 12 months. Each cheese is placed on wooden shelves that can be 24 cheeses high by 90 cheeses long or about 4,000 total wheels per aisle. Each cheese and the shelf underneath it is then cleaned manually or robotically every 7 days. The cheese is also turned at this time.
A factory of Parmigiano-Reggiano. There are two storerooms, both with 20 of these shelves.

At 12 months, the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano inspects each and every cheese. The cheese is tested by a master grader whose only instruments are a hammer and his ear. By tapping the wheel at various points, he can identify undesirable cracks and voids within the wheel. Those cheeses that pass the test are then heat branded on the rind with the Consorzio's logo; those that don't used to have their rinds remarked with lines or crosses all the way around so consumers know they are not getting top-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano but are now simply stripped of all markings.

Traditionally, cows have to be fed only on grass or hay, producing grass fed milk. Only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter, together with calf rennet.[1]

The only additive allowed is salt, which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated to near total salinity with Mediterranean sea salt. The product is aged an average of two years. The cheese is produced daily, and it can show a natural variability. True Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese has a sharp, complex fruity/nutty taste and a slightly gritty texture. Inferior versions can impart a bitter taste.

The average Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel is about 18-24 cm (7 to 9 inches) high, 40-45 cm (16 to 18 inches) in diameter, and weighs an average of 38 kg (80 pounds).

Uses of the cheese include being grated with a grater over pasta, stirred into soup and risotto, and eaten in chunks with balsamic vinegar. It is also a key ingredient in alfredo sauce and pesto.

Parmigiano cheese is considerably harder the farther it gets from its center and very hard near the crust; however it's exactly from this harder portions that the best grated cheese is obtained: a fine whiter dust which is more aromatic and tasty than the grating resulting from softer sections.

One traditional use of a whole Parmigiano head is to use it as a serving pot. Once the head is used up and thoroughly hollowed out so that the bare crust remains, steaming pasta is poured in it and served from therein.

[edit] History
Parmesan cheese being taste tested at a festival in Modena with balsamic vinegar drizzled on top.

According to legend, the Parmigiano was created in the course of the Middle Ages in Bibbiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia. Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th-14th century Parmigiano was already very similar to that produced today; this suggests that its origins can be traced far before.

In the memoirs of Giacomo Casanova, he remarked that the name "Parmesan" was a misnomer in his time (mid-18th century) as the cheese was produced in the town of Lodi, not Parma. This comment originates probably from the fact that a grana cheese very similar to the "Parmigiano", the Grana Padano, is produced in the Lodi area.

It was praised as early as 1348 in the writings of Boccaccio; in the Decameron, he speaks of a mountain made completely of Parmigiano to accompany macaroni and ravioli.

Samuel Pepys is reputed to have buried his Parmigiano during the Great Fire of London of 1666 to preserve it.

[edit] Use of the Name Parmigiano-Reggiano
Parmigiano-Reggiano festival in Modena; each wheel (block of cheese) costs 490 euro.

In the European Union, "Parmesan" is a protected designation of origin; legally, it refers exclusively to the Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP cheese manufactured in a limited area in Northern Italy. Outside Europe, most notably in the United States, similar cheeses may be sold under the name Parmesan, considered generic. When they are sold in Europe, they must use another name, such as Kraft's "pamesello italiano".[2]

The name is trademarked, and in Italy there is a legal exclusive control exercised over its production and sales by the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Consorzio, which was created by a governmental decree. There are strict criteria each wheel must meet early in the aging process, when the cheese is still soft and creamy, to merit the official seal and be placed in storage for aging. Parmigiano-Reggiano has become an increasingly regulated product; in 1955 it became what is known as a certified name (not a brand name).

Outside Europe, the name "Parmesan" is treated as generic. The European Union campaigns against the use of protected European food labels by producers outside the designated region of origin, which might eventually lead to dropping the word "Parmesan" from cheese products originating outside the designated production region of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Other Cheeses Sold as Parmesan
An American version of pre-grated Parmesan.

The Grana Padano is an Italian cheese very similar to the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Differences are:

* It is produced mainly in Lombardy - the name Padano derives from the Pianura Padana
* Cows can also be fed silage, not grass and hay only
* The milk contains slightly less fat
* Milk of several days can be used
* It is aged for up to 20 months

Commercial Parmesan cheeses common in North America typically differ from Parmigiano-Reggiano in several ways:

* The cheese is aged for a shorter time
* The curds for Parmigiano-Reggiano are cut into fragments the size of wheat grains, which is much finer than the fragments created in the manufacture of the American version of Parmesan. The smaller curds drain more effectively;
* American Parmesan is mechanically pressed in order to expel excess moisture.
* Parmesan wheels in the United States average 11 kg (24 pounds). The size difference can affect their salt saturation during the brining process; Parmigiano-Reggiano on average contains two-thirds less salt than the average Parmesan.
* It is often sold grated.
* There is no outside body regulating or supervising the quality of the raw ingredients or of the production process.

[edit] Parmigiano Aroma and Chemical Components

Parmigiano has many aroma-active compounds, including various aldehydes and butyrates. Butyric acid and isovaleric acid together are sometimes used to imitate the dominant aromas.

Parmigiano is also particularly high in glutamates, containing as much as 1200 mg of glutamate per 100 g of cheese, making it the naturally produced food with the second highest level of glutamate, after Roquefort cheese. The strong presence of glutamates explains the strong umami taste of Parmigiano, and the fact of being present in so many dishes of the Italian cuisine helps explaining why Italian food is so much liked by umami-loving easterners and why so many Italians like Chinese and Japanese dishes heavy in umami flavours

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Durian fruit Stinky, Pricey Delicacy

The world's smelliest fruit may now also be the most expensive. It's the spiky, sulphurous durian, which has been selling in Thailand this summer for $200 each.

Adored by Southeast Asians and Chinese, the durian sends most foreigners fleeing, thanks to its unmistakable odor. "Gasoline" and "blue cheese" are two tame metaphors people often use to describe it; "garbage," "stinky socks" and "manure" also are frequently invoked. Even here in Thailand, durians are banned in hotel elevators, subways and airplanes. But they are the center of attention at Bangkok's upscale Otokor Market, where they are displayed in stacks, like pineapples on steroids.

The only thing about the durian more striking than the smell is the price: $200 for a prized specimen, and that is in a city where almost every tropical fruit is a bargain. Speaking of food inflation, that's an increase of 50% in just two years.

The Mon Thong, the most plentiful of Thailand's 30-odd species of durians, can be had for a mere $10 to $15 each. But prices rise to the stratosphere for the Kan Yao, a prized variety whose best specimens come from the Nonthaburi province, next to Bangkok. Thais swear Nonthaburi's soil and water produce the perfect kan yao durians -- better than those grown elsewhere in Thailand -- or for that matter in Malaysia or the Philippines, whose local durians have their own enthusiasts. In the U.S., imported durians sold at Asian and specialty markets usually have been picked so green that by the time they ripen they bear scant resemblance to durians eaten in Asia.

At Bangkok's Otokor market, durians attract devoted customers.

Behind the kan yao's high price -- $200 is a record this year -- is the confluence of two factors: Nonthaburi is turning into a bedroom suburb of Bangkok, with high-rise condominiums replacing the orchards. At the same time, as Bangkok's middle class grows, more people each year clamor after Nonthaburi's reduced durian crop. Especially in the past two years, demand has seemed to soar, even as supply plummeted.

This makes Vibhavadi Mapobsuk a popular woman. At her tiny stand in Otokor, she sells kan yao and 20 other species of durian harvested from trees she and her relatives own in Nonthaburi. She says her trees are at least 80 years old. Her customers are such devotees that some of them visit her orchard three months in advance, when the durians are tiny, to pick the ones they want, paying half the purchase price as the deposit. Ms. Vibhavadi prides herself on remembering everyone's selection without having to place tags on branches to identify which durian belongs to whom, as many other growers do.

An interview with Ms. Vibhavadi is a drawn-out process. Every minute or so, a customer interrupts waving stacks of 1000-baht notes, each worth about $30. One woman in line buys so many durians she can barely carry the plastic bags away; it's enough to feed an army platoon. "They're for my extended family," she explains. How many is that? "Four people," she answers. A man is spending $15 for a tiny misshapen kan yao; the $200 kan yaos by contrast are huge and perfectly symmetrical. "I'm not eating any because the price is so high," he says. "It's only for my wife, to show how much I love her."

Another customer gets sent away empty-handed. After he picked out the durian he wanted, Ms. Vibhavadi cut it open for him, looked at the meat and rejected the fruit as not up to her standards. She cut a second durian -- the only other one in his price range -- and rejected that one, too. Ms. Vibhavadi brags that she uses no chemicals, and she holds up with pride a durian whose top half is squashed and dark brown because of an invasion of predators.
[Durian photo]

Cutting open a durian, whose season extends from April to July, requires considerable skill. The spikes are sharp, but Ms. Vibhavadi doesn't wear gloves as she slices the durian lengthwise with a big knife and pulls apart the two halves. Each wedge yields three or four big dark brown pods covered with yellow flesh -- the part that's eaten. The taste -- sweet, nutty -- and the custard-like texture bear no relation to the smell, which is so powerful that a durian will quickly impart its aroma to milk, juice and everything else in the refrigerator, even if it's in a sealed container. A mon thong is so custardy it adheres to the fingers, and Thais complain that the taste is excessively sweet. By contrast, the flesh of the kan yao is firmer and the taste much more subtle.

One problem buyers face is knowing when the durian is ready to eat, since different species -- and even the same species from different trees -- come in varying shades of green and brown that don't betray their ripeness. Ms. Vibhavadi, who grew up on a durian farm, says the solution is to listen carefully as you tap them with a knife handle. "When you hear 'peng, peng, peng,' they're not ready yet," she states. " 'Boop, boop, boop' and they're ripe."

In February, ten researchers from Warsaw Agricultural University, in Poland, published what they claim is the first extensive study of the durian's health benefits. They found that the Mon Thong was so high in antioxidants that they suggested it be included in diets to prevent heart disease. The Kan Yao also was found effective, but less so.

That should come as a relief to durian eaters who have suffered from its extreme richness and curious heat-inducing properties. Many people perspire excessively for an hour or two after consuming a durian -- the high sulfur content is generally thought to be the cause, says Bob Halliday, a Bangkok restaurant critic and a Western expert on Thai foods. A common remedy is to eat durian along with mangosteens, a small fruit with a hard purple shell and sweet, white flesh that many Thais believe has a cooling effect. Durian orchards often have mangosteen trees growing adjacent to them, and durian growers say the two fruits are like brothers; the branches grow intertwined.

Both durians and mangosteens were available in profusion at this year's annual Nonthaburi durian fair, held on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. Last year, the fair drew 20,000 visitors over a nine-day period. Organizers certify each grower to make certain no one falsely claims to come from the province. The durian is so beloved that it practically sells itself -- when a pickup truck loaded with durians comes from a farm to Bangkok, it need only pull over to any curb, and a crowd of smiling Thais will instantly surround it. The fair is no exception. "I just sold a small kan yao for 2500 baht ($80)," brags Prakong Krutthai, whose small table of durians was surrounded by potential buyers.


When celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened Spice Market restaurant in New York City in 2004, durian ice cream was on the menu, and its stinky-socks aroma and blue-cheese finish were the talk of the food scene. Then pastry chef Pichet Ong left to open his own restaurant, P*ONG, and, in April, a takeout place called Batch. Durian ice cream is available by special request, and so far, he's had all of 15 orders -- at $18 a quart -- from curiosity-seekers and from people who have lived in Southeast Asia. "It is definitely an acquired taste," Mr. Ong says.

--Katy McLaughlin
Pichet Ong's Durian Ice Cream
[Durian ice cream photo]
Andrew Scrivani for The Wall Street Journal

Makes: 1 quart
Prep time: 5 minutes
Freezing time: 20 minutes to chill, plus 20 to 30 minutes for freezing (time depends on your ice-cream maker)

1 pound frozen durian meat, preferably a variety such as Mon Thong, thawed (found in plastic boxes in the freezer section of some Asian markets)
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup well-shaken coconut milk, chilled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• Put durian meat, milk, sugar, and salt in a large, heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat, whisking often to break up the durian, until the mixture scalds, 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl.

• Ladle 1 to 2 cups of the warm durian and milk mixture into the bowl of yolks and whisk quickly to combine and temper the eggs. Add the remaining durian mixture and whisk to combine.

• Whisk the coconut milk and vanilla into the mixture. Set the bowl of custard in a larger bowl filled with ice and water (an ice-water bath) to chill.

• Once cooled, churn ice-cream base in maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Depending on your machine, you may need to transfer the ice cream to a container and place in your freezer to achieve desired consistency.

Chef's tips: Be sure to use a variety like Mon Thong, which is golden yellow and has a soft, custard-like texture when ripe. For a smooth texture, blend the durian and the milk in a blender before placing them in the saucepan. My preference, however, is for a chunkier texture.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Grown in Transit

Grown in Transit

Supermarkets and modern food transportation systems have sacrificed freshness and seasonality in favour of warehousing depots, bulk transportation and blemish-free produce. But a new attitude is emerging, with the creation of innovative ways of growing food in transit rather than refrigerating products into suspended animation.

Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Agata Jaworska's project "Made in Transit" aims to eliminate the wasted time and trapped inventory in many supply chains by actually growing produce en route to the store. Jaworska's concept aims to move from "Best Before" preservative packaging to "Ready By" cultivational packaging which consumers would open when the product was ready for consumption. Jaworska's first example [below] would grow mushrooms on the way to the supermarket.

The instant a crop is removed from the ground or separated from its parent plant, a steady process of deterioration begins, says Jaworska. Methods to compensate for the loss of quality, taste and nutrients can only slow the process of deterioration but the result will never match what we have at the source of life. The Grown in Transit concept enables growth along the way, to deliver absolute freshness and allow the consumer to harvest their own food. The idea would also minimise excess packaging such as the plastic film and crates that protect delicate food items in transit. These are rarely reused.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Banana: R.I.P.

They're in trouble. Can biotechnology save the fruit?
The banana we eat today is not the one your grandparents ate. That one - known as the Gros Michel - was, by all accounts, bigger, tastier, and hardier than the variety we know and love, which is called the Cavendish. The unavailability of the Gros Michel is easily explained: it is virtually extinct.

Introduced to our hemisphere in the late 19th century, the Gros Michel was almost immediately hit by a blight that wiped it out by 1960. The Cavendish was adopted at the last minute by the big banana companies - Chiquita and Dole - because it was resistant to that blight, a fungus known as Panama disease. For the past fifty years, all has been quiet in the banana world. Until now.

Panama disease in Hawaii
Photo: Scot Nelson
Panama disease - or Fusarium wilt of banana - is back, and the Cavendish does not appear to be safe from this new strain, which appeared two decades ago in Malaysia, spread slowly at first, but is now moving at a geometrically quicker pace. There is no cure, and nearly every banana scientist says that though Panama disease has yet to hit the banana crops of Latin America, which feed our hemisphere, the question is not if this will happen, but when. Even worse, the malady has the potential to spread to dozens of other banana varieties, including African bananas, the primary source of nutrition for millions of people.

Crop disease is only half the problem. The other part is denial. One of the most recent places Panama disease struck was Australia. Three years ago, when I was researching my book on bananas, growers down under were bragging that they'd found a way to control the disease, which first appeared in 1997 near the Northern Territory town of Darwin. "We have developed a rapid and accurate DNA-based diagnostic test...used in the detection and management of outbreaks," asserted a brochure issued by the country's Cooperative Research Centre for Plant Protection.

The Australian management program consisted of quick quarantine of fields that were proven by the test to be infected. But early detection doesn't necessarily buy enough time. The plan came apart in March 2006, when Cyclone Larry ravaged Australia's banana growing regions. High winds destroyed more than 85% of the banana crop, and flooding spread infected water and dirt to the surviving banana trees. An October report from the Australia Broadcasting Company documented the rapid spread of the blight on previously-disease free plantations. Reporter Anne Barker wrote that the "industry, which once had such bright prospects, is now facing collapse."

Panama disease hasn't hit our hemisphere yet, and the big banana companies appear unalarmed. Chiquita's 2006 annual report doesn't mention banana disease at all. The company's 2007 end-of-year SEC filing names plant disease as a "risk factor," but only mentions black sigatoka, which can be controlled chemically.

Why should it be? After all, Latin America, where we grow all of our bananas, is a hemisphere away from the places where the disease is now spreading. With all that ocean, could the epidemic could actually reach our bananalands?

Not only is it possible, it might already be happening. In late December, 2007, Philippine agriculture secretary Arthur Yap announced that the U.S. had agreed to import a large shipment of Cavendish bananas from Philippine plantations (overall, we import about 8.5 billion pounds of bananas each year, all from Latin America).

Transgenic plants in field, Uganda
Photo: Rony Swennen
Panama disease is so virulent that a single clump of dirt tracked in on a tire tread or a shoe can spark a country-wide outbreak. It isn't hard to imagine that a stray banana box from the Philippines, loaded into a Dole shipping container could be left unloaded at Long Beach, California, and continue on to Guatemala, where it could infect that nation's crop and tear through Latin America. In fact, the original Panama disease outbreak that decimated the Gros Michel almost certainly went from Asia, to the Caribbean, to Central and South America, though the exact path was never determined. The spread of Panama disease from Asia to the banana plantations of the Western Hemisphere is more than imaginable. With shipping containers traveling the world, and bananas crossing hemispheres, it's likely.

When the first outbreak of Panama disease hit the Gros Michels of South and Central America, it nearly put the entire industry out of business. Only at the last minute was a substitute banana - the Cavendish - found. The Cavendish was thought to be resistant, and for 50 years, that was true. No longer.

Transgenic banana plantlet in Belgian lab
Photo: Dan Koeppel
Now, the future of the Cavendish lies in genetic engineering. Scientists have created bananas that resist Panama disease in the lab. The problem with these engineered bananas is that they lack the other characteristics - ideal ripening speed, a thick skin, and the right taste - that make a banana variety attractive for export. Making a single banana with all of those attributes may take years. Another issue is consumer acceptance: surveys have shown that most shoppers would reject modified bananas, even if they were proven to be safe.

Bananas are, however, excellent candidates for genetic modification. They are sterile - no seeds or pollen by which mutations might spread - and reproduce vegetatively. Right now, regulations have prevented even publicly funded research organizations from testing more than a handful of transformed bananas in the field. Most of this research has been conducted under the auspices of Bioversity International, an umbrella group that works mostly on food security issues. The bananas being field tested were developed by scientists in Leuven, Belgium, and are being grown at experimental plots in Uganda, a country where about 80 percent of some local diets is made up of the fruit, and where the consequences of a banana wipe-out would be disastrous. The millions of people like those in Uganda who depend on bananas to survive would be the real beneficiaries of a better banana.

There's little time left. If there is a "grail banana," it is likely to be found in the lab. The question is whether we'll let it split from there.

Dan Koeppel is the author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. He spent three years hanging out with banana growers, scientists, and banana consumers around the world. His website is

Just the cricket: Eating insects is good for us and for the environment, scientists claim

It might be a while before they appear on the shelf at Tesco.

But scientists claim adding insects to our diet would be good for us and the environment.

Crunching into crickets or snacking on grilled caterpillar is apparently a means to a nutrient-rich diet that also helps reduce pests and puts less strain on the planet than eating conventional meat.

Enlarge insects

Some insects in their dried form are said to have twice the protein of raw meat and fish, while others are rich in unsaturated fat and contain important vitamins and minerals.

Experts believe they could one day be marketed as a healthy alternative to fatty snacks.

In most of Europe, bug-eating is largely restricted to the belated realisation that there has been an unwelcome addition to the salad.

It is common elsewhere, however, with some 1,700 species of bug eaten in 113 countries.

In Taiwan, stir-fried crickets or sauteed caterpillars are delicacies. A plate of maguey worms - larvae of a giant butterfly - sells for £12.50 in smart Mexican restaurants.

Sago grubs wrapped in banana leaves go down well in Papua New Guinea, as does dragonfly in Bali.

In many parts of south-east Asia market stalls sell insects by the pound and deep-fried snacks are served up as street food.

Insects are arthropods, much like crab, shrimps and lobster which are all accepted by the European palate. In North Africa locusts are sometimes called sky prawns.

But Patrick Durst, of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, said that if consumers were to be tempted to broaden their culinary horizons the trick might be to make the bugs look more palatable.

'You need to get the food into a form where someone doesn't have to look the bug in the eye when they eat it,' he said.

Earlier this year the Food and Agriculture Organisation held a conference to discuss how entomophagy - eating insects as food - could contribute to sustainable development.

Bug-farming preserves forests - which are needed to attract insects - and is encouraged in some countries.

As for pesticides, some experts have pointed out the irony of using chemicals to get rid of bugs that are more nutritious than the crops they prey on.

In Thailand when pesticides failed to control locusts, the government urged locals to eat them and distributed recipes.

Chef Paul Cook, who supplies exotic and unusual food through his Bristol-based business Osgrow, has sold a range of insects including locusts.

He said: 'You have to get past your feeling when you look at a whole locust or cricket. They are very clean and nutritious.

'But I don't think we are going to see Jamie Oliver encouraging us to have sky prawns on the school menu.'

Sunday, May 4, 2008

How to Make a No Bake Cherry Cheesecake

As it starts to get warmer and cherry season kicks into a gear, you might yearn for the refreshing and enriching flavor of a cherry cheesecake but shudder (or sweat) at the thought of turning on the oven. With this recipe, all you need to do is mix the ingredients, chill, and savor this light dessert.

* 16 ounces cream cheese ([2] 8 ounce packages, 0.45 kg)
* 1 tablespoon (13g) vanilla extract
* 1 teaspoon (5g) lemon juice
* 1 14 oz. can (415mL) of sweetened condensed milk
* 8 oz. (227g) cherry pie filling
* 1 pie crust (already baked)


1. Soften the cream cheese by letting it stand for about 10 minutes at room temperature.
2. Chill lemon juice in refrigerator for 5 minutes.
Mixing ingredients
Mixing ingredients
Mix together the softened cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Mix or beat until smooth.
4. Add the lemon using a wooden spoon for stirring.
Pouring batter into the crust
Pouring batter into the crust
Pour the batter into the pie crust.
Evenly spread the filling
Evenly spread the filling
Spread the cheesecake filling evenly throughout the pie crust.
Chill this cheesecake in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or until cold.
Adding cheeries on top of the cheesecake
Adding cheeries on top of the cheesecake
Top the cheesecake with cherry pie filling.
9. Chill the cheesecake for another 10 minutes.
10. Serve.


* The cherry pie filling does not have to be cold, but can be if desired.
* Chocolate or other favorite topping may be used instead of cherries.

Things You'll Need

* Large mixing bowl
* Wooden spoon
* Mixer
* Can opener
* Regular spoon

Saturday, May 3, 2008

How to Make an Oreo Cheesecake from Scratch

This cheesecake is a proven crowd pleaser. It’s great for holidays or family gatherings. This recipe uses Oreo brand cookies, but any chocolate sandwich cookie can be substituted. Constructing this piece of art is a two-day process, taking approximately 13-14 hours to complete. Although time consuming, the taste is well worth the wait.
[edit] Ingredients

1 pound (16 ounces, 455 grams) of Philadelphia Cream Cheese

1 cup (200 grams) of granulated white sugar

5 large size eggs

1/2 cup (119 grams) of heavy whipping cream

1 bag (510 grams) of Oreo cookies

For decorating:


1 cup (238 grams) heavy whipping cream

3/4 cup (90 grams) confection sugar

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

[edit] Steps

1. Remove cream cheese from the refrigerator and allow softening for approximately 1 hour.
2. Use 9” (23cm) cheesecake pan to measure parchment paper for covering the bottom and sides.

3. Remove an entire row of Oreos from the bag.
4. Use a knife and remove the icing in the middle of the Oreos. Don't worry if it breaks, it will be crushed up anyway.

5. Put the outside of the Oreos in the food processor. After processing, place the crushed Oreos aside.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 280 degrees F (138 degrees C).
7. Cut the softened cream cheese into approximately 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) slices

8. Adding the slices one by one, put 1 pound (450 grams) of the cream cheese in the mixer.
9. Add half of the sugar to the mixer and allow mixing for approximately 2 minutes.
10. Adding the slices one by one, put the last of the cream cheese in the mixer.
11. Add the rest of the sugar to the mixer and allow mixing for approximately 2 minutes.
12. Add five whole eggs to the mixer, one at a time, and mix each until yolk is no longer visible

13. Add 1/2 cup (119 grams) of heavy whipping cream and allow mixing for approximately 1-2 minutes.
14. Add approximately 2 spoonfuls of the crushed Oreos to the mixer and allow mixing.
15. Break Oreos (half a row) into pieces and add to the mixer.
16. Make sure the previously measured parchment paper is correctly placed in the bottom and around the sides of the pan.
17. Place the previously crushed Oreo crumbs into the pan, spread as evenly as possible.

18. Pour the cheesecake filling from the mixer into the pan.
19. Fill the half-sheet cake pan 1/2 with water and place the 9” cheesecake pan in the middle.
20. Bake cheesecake at 280 degrees (138 degrees C) for 2 hours and 35 minutes (use convection oven if available).
21. Remove cheesecake and let cool for 1 hour.
22. Refrigerate cooled cheesecake for 8 hours.


1. Remove cheesecake from pan and place on serving dish.
2. Put 1 cup (238 grams) of heavy whipping cream into the small bowl.
3. Add 3/4 cup of confection sugar to the heavy whipping cream.
4. Mix ingredients with a hand mixer until it becomes thick and fluffy (approximately 5-7 minutes).
5. Using the rubber spatula, spread the cream over the top and sides of the cheesecake.

6. Crumble Oreos onto the top of cheesecake.
7. Sprinkle mini chocolate chips onto the top of the cheesecake.
8. In a medium pot heat water (medium to high heat).
9. Place the melting pot into the heated water.
10. Put 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips into the melting pot.
11. Cut a very small hole in the corner of the snack size zip lock bag.

12. Scoop the melted chocolate into the snack size zip lock bag.
13. Squeeze the bag and drizzle melted chocolate onto the top of the cheesecake and enjoy!

[edit] Things You'll Need
For making the cheesecake

9” cheesecake pan

Parchment paper

Half-sheet cake pan


Food Processor

Measuring cups (1 cup and ½ cup)


A History of Cacao and Chocolate

The book Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, is an interdisciplinary attempt by scholars from different fields, linguists, botanists and archaeologists, to track the history of cacao in Mesoamerica, from pre-Columbian times until today. The Swedish natural scientist Carolus Linnaeus called the cacao tree Theobroma (“food of the gods”) cacao. The word ‘cacao’ generally refers to the species T. cacao, although among the Maya of Mesoamerica it is sometimes also applied to the closely related Theobroma bicolor.

In the introduction, editor Cameron L. McNeil writes:

Chocolate is made from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao L. tree, commonly referred to as the ‘cacao tree.’ For many pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas, cacao seeds and the comestibles produced from them were literally part of their religion and played a central role in their spiritual beliefs and social and economic systems. In isolated areas these traditions continue to this day. Parts of this plant have been consumed in Central and South America for thousands of years. For many of the ancient and modern cultures in these regions, cacao was not only an important part of religious rituals, but also a component of beverages and foods, a topical cream, and an ingredient in medicine. It reached its height of importance in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, whose northern limit begins in Central Mexico, and which then encompasses Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and western Honduras. Mesoamerica is renowned for its myriad highly stratified societies including the Olmecs, Maya, and Mexica (Aztecs). Cacao played a central role in the complex elite culinary traditions and practices of these cultures.

According to her, “The origins of the cacao tree remain unknown, with scholars debating both its natural distribution and area of domestication. The variety of comestibles that were made from this plant in pre-Columbian times is also the subject of disagreement. Was cacao used to produce only beverages, or was it also a component of other types of food? Were beverages made from the pulp of cacao pods or only from the seeds? Who consumed cacao — only members of the elite, or was it widely available to the lower socioeconomic classes?”

The genus Theobroma evolved in South America, where both its greatest number of species and most closely related genus, Herrania, are to be found. From the upper Amazon basin, T. cacao spread through Central America and into Mexico either naturally or through human agency. Scholars continue to debate how this tree migrated, but also in what form — wild or as a cultigen. The earliest cacao iconography in the Americas may come from Peru. A 2500-year-old Peruvian vessel is decorated with pod elements that could be cacao. The written history of cacao is definitely Mesoamerican (we know of no true writing system in pre-Columbian South America), from perhaps as early as the mid-third century A.D. (Early Classic Period) in the form of glyphs on ceramic vessels. Mexica, Maya and Mixtec codices from later periods record the ritual significance of cacao. Domestication is uncertain, but a vessel form known throughout Mesoamerica as well as Andean South America from around 1000 B.C. supports a date for domestication by at least this time.

As McNeil says, “Debates continue as to whether T. cacao has two domestication spheres, one in South America and one in Mesoamerica, or only one, located either in South America or in Mesoamerica. The concept of domestication itself further confuses this issue as scholars today recognize that domestication is a process with many steps. For example cacao could have arrived from South America as a cultigen, only to be more fully domesticated in Mesoamerica. It seems likely that if cacao was domesticated in both South America and Mesoamerica, the focus of selection for these two processes was not the same, as South Americans most commonly have used the pulp for consumption, while Mesoamericans most commonly used the seeds.”

It is likely that maize was first cultivated, indeed created, in Mesoamerica and later imported to South America, but for the most part it seems that cultural exchanges between the civilizations of Mesoamerica and those of South America were surprisingly limited. There are two subspecies of Theobroma cacao. According to Cameron L. McNeil:

Before the arrival of Europeans, criollos were endemic to Central America and forasteros were endemic to South America (A. M. Young 1994). Whether through natural evolution or human selection, the T. cacao species in Mesoamerica came to produce fruit and seeds distinct from those in the southern hemisphere. Criollo seeds are milder, that is, less bitter, than the South American members of their species and make a tastier chocolate. Forastero-type cacao plants are hardier, and, not only do they generally produce pods two years earlier than criollos do (at three years), they also produce more pods per tree (Millon 1955a:11). However, the flavor of forastero beans is bitterer than the flavor of criollos. After sixteenth-century European contact, criollos and forasteros were hybridized as the Spanish tried to create breeds of cacao that produced larger amounts of pods while still retaining some of the criollo flavor.

Cacao treeToday, most of the world’s cacao beans are grown in Africa, ironically while much of the world’s coffee, an African crop, is grown in Latin America. Forastero beans account for about 95% of the global production of cacao, whereas the high-quality criollo beans are still mainly grown in Latin America, for instance in Venezuela. The hybrid form is called trinitario.

As McNeil says, “Most scholars believe that only the pulp, not the seeds, of T. cacao was consumed in pre-Columbian South America (A. M. Young 1994). The pulp, which also contains theobromine and caffeine, can be removed from the seeds and made into a fruit beverage or can be fermented to produce an alcoholic drink. It may seem surprising that the South American cultures discarded the stimulating seeds, which were so important in Mesoamerica. Nathaniel Bletter and Douglas Daly (this volume) suggest, however, that cacao seeds were not used in pre-Columbian South America because there were several other plant species containing higher levels of stimulating compounds that required far less processing.”
- - - - - - - - -
These caffeinated substances were not available in Mesoamerica, and their absence may explain why cacao seeds became widely used in one area but not in the other. There are many steps involved in preparing cacao seeds for use in beverages, and “If other species provided stronger stimulants while requiring less time investment, it is not surprising that South Americans did not find the need to create a process for using the bitter seeds as well as the pulp. The less bitter flavor of criollo seeds may be a product of a process of selection for seeds more appealing to the palate.”

Cacao and maize constituted an important ritual pair in Mesoamerican cosmology. Both were combined in ritual beverages with sacred water to feed the gods and ancestors so that they would provide agricultural fertility. Maize, which is grown in open fields, was associated with light. Cacao may have been associated with darkness, death and the underworld because it is grown in shaded areas. In certain regions of Mexico until at least the twentieth century, people continued to provide the dead with cacao for the journey to the afterworld. It was also associated with blood, and was “sometimes mixed with blood and offered in rituals.”

According to McNeil, “Cacao was also associated with blood and sacrifice in the pre-Columbian period. For Mesoamerican peoples, blood was an important offering to the gods. Not only were animals sacrificed, but people — particularly elites and rulers — offered their own blood and that of human captives.”

We should remember that human sacrifice was unusually widespread among Mesoamerican cultures, the Aztecs in particular. The usage of cacao reflects this. Cacao beverages were sometimes colored red with achiote (also called annatto), and several colonial chroniclers noted the similarity between red-dyed cacao drink and blood. Cameron L. McNeil writes:

“The people of Cholula, Mexico, made a cacao beverage from water in which knives used in human sacrifice had been washed (Acosta 2002 [1590]:325). In the Florentine Codex, Sahagún (1950-82, Book 6, 1969:256) records that ‘heart’ and ‘blood’ were metaphors for ‘cacao…because it was precious.’ J. Eric S. Thompson (1956:100) proposed that hearts and cacao pods share associations, because both are ‘the repositories of precious liquids — blood and cacao.’ Rosemary Joyce has suggested that the frequent exchange of cacao in marriage ceremonies may signify the mixing of bloodlines (Meskell and Joyce 2003:139-140). A range of images supports the association of cacao with sacrifice and blood. A stela from the archaeological site of Santa Lucia Cotzumalhuapa on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala depicts a human figure sacrificing a cacao pod as though it were a human heart: the cacao pod spouts a liquid substance. In Mixtec codices, bleeding cacao pods are depicted both on the tops and insides of temples, which were places of sacrifice (Mary E. Smith 1973:236). In the sixteenth century, Diego García de Palacio wrote that in pre-Columbian times the Pipil people in Nicaragua marked war captives for sacrifice with strands of cacao seeds, feathers and green stones.”

Breakthroughs in the deciphering of Mayan glyphs have led to a renewed interest in the Mayan civilization during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. According to scholar David Stuart, “The importance of cacao in Classic Maya society was not widely appreciated until the decipherment of glyphic texts on ceramics in the 1980s, when it became clear that seemingly countless ceramic vessels were inscribed with a dedicatory formula identifying them as drinking vessels for chocolate.” Now scholars readily see cacao as a key element of courtly life, having a profound role in political economics and display, feasting events and ritual. It even permeates many examples of Maya religious iconography.

Cacao — MayaAccording to Dorie Reents-Budet, “The ancient Maya developed a complex society renowned for its monumental architecture, colossal sculptures, and portable carvings that adorned their towns and the bodies of the elite; for scientific and intellectual achievements in mathematics, astronomy, philosophy; and for the only true writing system (that is, the graphic representation of spoken language) in the ancient Americas. During the Classical period apogee (A.D. 250-900) of the Maya culture, artisans created copious objects in a variety of media that were essential components of the sociopolitical and economic systems of the ruling elite (M. D. Coe and J. Kerr 1998). Among these artefacts were decorated pottery vessels for serving food, especially vessels for kakaw (chocolate) beverages (Reents-Budet 1994a). Unlike their ceramic predecessors of earlier centuries (1200 B.C.-A.D. 150), which were characterized by elegantly simple forms and monochrome or occasionally bichrome slip-painted surfaces, Classical period elite service wares were elaborately embellished with painted, incised, or modeled imagery or various combinations of these. Skilled painters adorned the service wares with renderings of elite life and portraits of powerful rulers. They also portrayed the supernatural beings and religious myths that explained the universe and the place of the Mayas therein.”

Moreover, “During Late Postclassical times and continuing into the Colonial period, kakaw beans functioned as an abstract representation of value; that is, as money. For example, in the markets of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, the beans could be exchanged for any number of commodities. They also served as payment for work service and to buy one’s way out of forced labor (slavery) (S. D. Coe and M. D. Coe 1996: 98-99). Kakaw beans were the preferred payment for tax or service obligations because they were a readily convertible capital medium in most of the prevailing economic systems of the myriad cultures of Mesoamerica and also of those to the south in Central America.”

The Aztecs developed a tribute system based on the payment of cacao beans by conquered peoples. They also used the beans to create an alcoholic beverage. Most commonly, the kernel was ground and beaten with water, flavorings and usually maize to make a drink. In historical times, the pulp that surrounds the kernels inside the husk has been and is often fermented to produce an alcoholic beverage. The strongest evidence for the use of fermented cacao beverages comes from the Late Postclassic Mexica (Aztecs), as recorded by Bernardino de Sahagún. According to John S. Henderson and Rosemary A. Joyce, “The Nahuatl-speaking informants, describing the food consumed by the lords of Tenochtitlan, the Mexica capital, enumerated a wide range of cacao beverages, including some that recall the ‘tree fresh’ cacao of the Classic Maya and the honey-cacao identified as possibly a fermented drink.”

The only way a person could become intoxicated on new cacao would be by drinking the liquid of fermentation, which is otherwise a waste product. As Henderson and Joyce state, “The product of fermentation is a clear liquid (unlike the dense suspension of ground cacao) that is lighter in color than chocolate. References to ‘fresh’ cacao could mark the distinction between the primary fermented beverage and the secondary, unfermented chocolate. The fermented beverage would have to be consumed new, or fresh, as soon as it was produced, since it would continue to ferment and get sour.”

According to them, “among the forms of cacao consumption in the sixteenth century, there was at least one means of drinking cacao as a fermented, intoxicating beverage. It is impossible to produce the conventional form of chocolate without producing a fermented cacao drink as one stage in the process.” Moreover, “after the available sugars in the seeds and pulp are converted into alcohol, a second stage of fermentation starts, which converts alcohol to acetic acid. In order to recoup drinkable cacao chicha, fermentation could not be allowed to continue too long, or the product would be effectively undrinkable, cacao vinegar.”

Chocolate was also used as an aphrodisiac. According to scholar Manuel Aguilar-Moreno:

“Sahagún and numerous Colonial sources state that the drinking of chocolate was exclusive to the Aztec elite: the royal house, the lords and nobility, the long-distance traders (pochteca), and the warriors. Apparently, the only commoners who were privileged to consume this luxurious commodity were soldiers in battle, because cacao was considered to be a stimulant (S. D. Coe and M. D. Coe 1996:93). As an eyewitness to the Conquest, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, described a banquet given by the Emperor Motecuhzoma II, where: ‘they brought him some cups of fine gold, with a certain drink made of cacao, which they said was for success with women; but I saw that they brought more than 50 great jars of good cacao with its foam, and he drank of that; and the women served him drink very respectfully.’ (Díaz del Castillo 2002 [1568]:167). In this passage, Díaz makes a statement about the aphrodisiacal property of cacao, an idea that would be reinforced by the studies of Francisco Hernández, the royal physician and naturalist to Philip II of Spain. Hernández was in Mexico from 1572 to 1577 in search of medical plants to add to the European pharmacopoeia.”

How did the word “chocolate” come into being? According to Cameron L. McNeil, “The most commonly used ancient Maya term for cacao was kakaw. There has been some debate about the linguistic antecedent of these words. Lyle Campbell and Terrence Kaufman (1976) proposed that their origins lie in proto-Mije-Sokean and that this language was spoken by the Olmec of the southern Veracruz and the western Tabasco lowlands of Mexico. Karen Dakin and Søren Wichmann (2000) have presented arguments supporting a Uto-Aztecan origin for kakaw-tl, but Terrence Kaufman and John Justeson (this volume) refute the Dakin and Wichmann linguistic analysis with persuasive evidence for the previously proposed proto-Mije-Sokean source. The origin of the word chocolatl (the basis for ‘chocolate’) is almost as contentious and appears to have been a late development within Nahua, possibly as late as the sixteenth century (Kaufman and Justeson, this volume).”

Cacao IncaThe widely attested pre-Columbian term for “cacao” was kakaw. Scholars Terrence Kaufman and John Justeson claim that this term originated in the Gulf Coast of southern Mexico, among speakers of an early Mije-Sokean language, and spread across Mesoamerica, but did not reach South America in pre-Columbian times. The Olmecs (which meant “rubber people” to the Aztecs), one of the earliest significant cultures in Mesoamerica (and sometimes labeled the “mother culture” of Mayans and others, although this is now disputed) are believed to have spoke a language ancestral to the Mije-Sokean languages.

Mije-Sokean vocabulary is found in languages across Mesoamerica. “No other language families in Meso-America had anything like the impact that Mije-Sokean had, either in the range of linguistic families they affected or in the number of items that were borrowed from them.” As they see it, “Some of the Mije-Sokean loans probably go back to the influence of the Olmecs, while others are attributable to a post-Olmec era of Mije-Sokean influence. The widespread and early diffusion of the word kakaw (a) into a large number of Meso-American languages and language families fits the profile of these typical Mije-Sokean loans. In addition, one of the prime areas of cacao cultivation, in the lowlands of Tabasco, was part of the (Mije-Sokean-speaking) Olmec heartland, where Gulf Sokean languages are still spoken.”

According to Kaufman and Justeson, “Aztecs, and arguably Teotihuacanos and other pre-Columbian societies, made strong efforts to control the production and distribution of cacao. The kernel came to be used as currency, reflected, for example, by Xinxa / tuwa/, meaning both ‘cacao’ and ‘money.’“

They also state that “Traditionally, words for drinks made from cacao appear to have consisted either of the word for cacao itself or of that word together with modifiers. Other terms, not including the word for ‘cacao,’ but including a word meaning ‘water, liquid’ or a word meaning ‘(a) drink,’ are known from Colonial and modern sources in various Meso-American languages. Among these is a Nawa word, attested variously as chikol=a:-tl and chokol=a:-tl, which spread to several European languages and then around the world. This term may have been coined during the sixteenth century. Contrary to persistent but uninformed speculation, Mayan languages played no role in the development of this term.”

Regarding the origins of the word “chocolate,” they demonstrate that the earliest Spanish sources all used the word “cacao” to refer to the drink made from cacao beans. They didn’t use the term “chocolate” at all:

Chocolate-makingThe first occurrence of the Spanish word chocolate is in Book 4, Chapter 22, of Historia natural y moral de las Indias, which was published in 1590 by Joseph (José) de Acosta. The above evidence also shows that in the Spanish spoken in Central Mexico, chocolate was called cacao until well into the seventeenth century, and we know of no evidence of the word chocolate or chicolate being used there at this time. José de Acosta, however, who lived in both Mexico and Peru, was using the word chocolate by 1590; we must suppose that his usage in Spanish was simply different, for reasons which we are not at the moment able to determine, though his place of writing, his place of origin, and his social group affiliation are all possibly relevant.

Kaufman and Justeson suggest that “the words chikola:tl and chokola:tl may not have existed in pre-Columbian times.” The word “chocolate” existed by late the sixteenth century, but nobody knows for sure how it came into being in Spanish, and from there spread to other European languages. They conclude that there are “serious gaps” in our knowledge here.

According to Cameron L. McNeil, “In many regions of Mesoamerica, cacao use has significantly diminished since the Colonial period. In those areas where cacao is still used, there is sometimes a continuity with pre-Columbian and early Colonial practices. Ethnographers document the role of cacao in ritual life as an offering not only to ancestors but also to the Chacs (rain gods), the gods of the mountains (sometimes ancestor deities), and the Earth Goddess, as well as to the saints and to Christ, who are often barely disguised representatives of pre-Conquest deities.”

Cacao is still used as a gift for major life passage events: “When the author asked people in various regions of Guatemala when they used cacao, the most common answers were: for holidays, for childbirth and for breast-feeding mothers, as a gift that men offer to the family of a woman whose hand they wish to request in marriage, and for Easter. Cacao seeds were formerly an important item of exchange, akin to, but not the same as a currency (Millon 1955a). This use, as well as the importance of cacao in elite rituals, has connected it to concepts of wealth and power.”

As Patricia A. McAnany and Satoru Murata state: “Belizean chocolate — the moniker does not carry the same cachet as Swiss or Belgian chocolate, does it? Although the heavily marketed European brands have gained global prestige and name recognition, the nations of reference are far away from the tropical climes in which cacao is grown today and was grown in the past. Contemporary name-tagging of chocolate is linked to processing techniques and packaging locales rather than to centers of cultivation.” However, “Belizean chocolate, sold under the sobriquet of Maya Gold, is enjoying modest recognition today under a fair trade agreement negotiated between a British candy company and Maya cacao-growers of southern Belize.”

Cacao farming has been undertaken in the region from Middle Preclassic to contemporary times (perhaps 800 B.C. to present):

“Long after European cacao processing — including the addition of sugar and the production of ‘solid’ chocolate — had become the norm, the traditional mode of cacao consumption among Toledo Maya maintained a strong degree of pre-Columbian continuity in the form of liquid cacao drinks. Preparation of the drink by the Mopan Maya as documented by J. E. S. Thompson (1930) entailed shelling, fermentation, and then drying the cacao beans on a piece of bark. The beans were then roasted on a pottery comal (or sok) and ground on a stone metate. The ground cacao was next mixed with maize flour and soaked in water, after which the mixture was reground on the metate. Finally, the mixture was placed on the fire, boiled, and served after the addition of ‘a considerable quantity of black pepper’ (J. E. S. Thompson 1930:186). Thompson considered black pepper to be a modern substitute for chile.”

There is thus some continuity, but gradual change has come with the addition of sugar and pressure from alternative beverages such as coffee. Despite decline in cacao consumption due to the disruption of traditional societies, traditional practices are carried on in some regions. Religious syncretism is also quite common, with older ideas continuing under nominally Christian forms.

Cacao may have been used in certain combinations with foodstuff, but it was primarily used in liquid form. The Florentine Codex describes the variety of chocolate beverages offered to Mexica Aztec rulers, including green cacao-pods, honeyed chocolate, flowered chocolate, chocolate flavored with vanilla and bright red chocolate. Cacao was highly prized for its foam. Early colonial writers describe how it was produced by pouring the beverage from one container to another to agitate it or by mixing it with a specially constructed stick, but they may have missed a key ingredient of the frothy beverage.

Among the products usually added to cacao beverages were flowers which taste spicy like black pepper, vanilla, and a relative of black pepper. Because of its bitter, astringent flavor, it took time for the Spanish and other Europeans to develop a taste for chocolate. The Europeans added sugar and milk to counteract the natural bitterness and removed the chilli pepper and similar ingredients. One indigenous American spice they did continue to use was vanilla.

The Little Book of Chocolate by Katherine Khodorowsky and Herve Robert is not intended to be as scholarly as the above mentioned book about chocolate in Mesoamerica, but it is reasonably accurate and will be widely quoted regarding the history of chocolate in Europe.

A chocolate partyChristopher Columbus brought some cocoa beans to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, but the drink didn’t catch on immediately. In 1585 the first shipment of cocoa beans arrived in the Iberian Peninsula from New Spain. The Spanish tried to guard the secret of cacao, but it eventually spread to the rest of Europe. In the beginning it was a drink for kings, nobilities and elites, as it had been in Mesoamerica, which added to its prestige and status. Cacao beans gradually spread across Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In France, they owed their official introduction to Anne of Austria, daughter of Philip III of Spain, who married Louis XIII in 1615. The interest for chocolate at the French court increased in strength at the Versailles under the “Sun King” Louis XIV, and later under Louis XV. Some very fine top-quality chocolate is still being produced in France, for instance Valrhona, a manufacturer near Lyon founded in 1924 by a pastry chef from the Rhône valley.

Pepper and chilli were replaced in Europe by vanilla (an indigenous American plant that was used in combination with cacao also in Mesoamerica) and spices such as cinnamon or other additions — milk, wine or even beer. Cacao drinks still didn’t much resemble chocolate as we think of it today. The drinking of chocolate was introduced to Italy in 1606 by a Florentine merchant returning from Spain, Antonio Carletti. According to Khodorowsky and Robert:

The simplest of his recipes contained cocoa, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Members of the Italian aristocracy, however, like their French counterparts, enjoyed experimenting with unusual flavorings, including citron and lemon, musk and ambergris and, at the court of the Medicis, jasmine. Antonio Ari was the first cioccolatiere to put the drink on sale in Turin, which by the seventeenth century had become the Italian chocolate capital, a distinction which it retains to this day. Eighteenth-century Turin saw the invention of chocolate bavareisa, or mousse, and above all of the delectable bicerin, a drink prepared with equal parts of coffee, chocolate and cream, which delighted Alexandre Dumas in 1852. The name is derived from the charming small glasses or bicerin in which it is still served today. Turin was also the birthplace in 1861 of the gianduja, invented by Caffarel: these ingot-shaped chocolates, with their meltingly smooth mixture of finely ground hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, sugar and chocolate, are now famous throughout the world.

The most popular Italian chocolate worldwide today is the small, praline-filled Ferrero Rocher, but they are also famous for the small squares of chocolate known as neapolitans, which are enjoyed with cups of coffee across the Western world. The Italians played a prominent role in the early history of chocolate inEurope. As Khodorowsky and Robert say:

Sacher TorteDrinking chocolate arrived in Austria via Italy in about 1640. Monks who discovered a taste for the beverage ensured its spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire, notably in what is today Germany. On his return from Spain in 1713, Charles VI introduced it to his court in Vienna. From this grew the firmly established Viennese tradition of serving cups of rich chocolate flavoured with sugar and vanilla and topped with a cloud of whipped cream (Schlagsahne) sprinkled with cacao powder. The beverage also became popular in Germany. But it was in the realm of pâtisserie that the Austrians surpassed themselves, producing the first recipe for a cake made with chocolate in 1778, and thus opening up a whole world of inspiration which has yet to be exhausted. In 1832, in response to Prince Klemens von Metternich’s request for a ‘dense, compact and masculine’ dessert, his chief pâtissier, Franz Sacher, produced a rich chocolate cake sandwiched with a fine layer of apricot jelly and covered with chocolate fondant icing. Known henceforth as Sacher Torte, it was to become a classic throughout the world.

Another masterpiece of Austrian cuisine, Imperial Torte, alternates fine layers of milk chocolate and almond paste. A German classic is Black Forest gateau, a confection of chocolate, whipped cream, cherries and kirsch.

According to Khodorowsky and Robert: “The vogue for drinking chocolate, already established in Spain, reached the British Isles thanks to a Frenchman, who in 1657 opened the first chocolate factory in London. Unlike in France, where it was a pleasure strictly limited to the aristocracy, this ‘excellent West Indian drink’ was made available to the middle classes from the outset. Soon, alongside the coffee houses which made their appearance from 1652, there opened the first chocolate houses. London was also the setting, in 1674, for a historic invention: solid chocolate, presented in the form of ‘Spanish rolls’ or pastilles, and sold by the Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll shop.”

The drinking of chocolate had to compete with tea, introduced from East Asia, and coffee introduced from the Middle East at about the same time. Britain, then in the process of changing human history through the Industrial Revolution, made significant contributions to the development of chocolate:

The British were also responsible, in 1728, for the first factory equipped with hydraulic machinery, for the first clubs exclusively for devotees of chocolate, and above all for the development of the chocolate bar (although this attribution is disputed by the Italians), created by the Bristol firm of J. S. Fry and Sons in 1847. But the symbolic father of British chocolate is undoubtedly John Cadbury (1801-1889). In 1824, Cadbury opened his first coffee, tea and chocolate shop. In 1831 he started manufacturing chocolate, and following his Quaker conscience and the example of the great French chocolate-manufacturer Menier in caring for the social conditions of his workers, he created a model town for his employees in the Birmingham suburb of Bournville.

Wikipedia, in its entry on the history of chocolate, credits the Frenchman Doret with inventing a machine to crush cacao beans and mix and blend the chocolate paste: “At the end of the 18th century, the first form of solid chocolate was invented in Turin by Doret. This chocolate was sold in large quantities from 1826 by Pierre Paul Caffarel. In 1819, F. L. Cailler opened the first Swiss chocolate factory. In 1828, Dutchman Coenraad Johannes van Houten patented a method for extracting the fat from cocoa beans and making powdered cocoa and cocoa butter. Van Houten also developed the so-called Dutch process of treating chocolate with alkali to remove the bitter taste. This made it possible to form the modern chocolate bar. It is believed that the Englishman Joseph Fry made the first chocolate for eating in 1847, followed in 1849 by the Cadbury brothers.”

As mentioned above, an extremely important achievement in the development of modern chocolate was made in the Netherlands, when the Amsterdam chocolate maker Coenraad Johannes van Houten (or his father Casparus van Houten Sr., the sources differ on this) in 1828 patented an inexpensive method of making cacao powder. He wanted to improve the quality of drinking chocolate, which was still by far the most important way of using cacao beans even though a paste version was available, but his invention made solid chocolate much more feasible. The use of chocolate gradually spread to cover most regions of Europe. The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin allegedly drank a cup of chocolate in St Petersburg just before his fatal duel in 1837.

The Spanish encouraged plantations of cacao beans in their colonies in Latin America. In the seventeenth century, the British managed to acclimatize the cacao tree in Jamaica, as did the French in Martinique and the Dutch in Surinam. Not until the nineteenth century did the tree cross the Atlantic, first to the island of São Tomé, initially a Portuguese colony, later to West Africa. The Dutch in the late nineteenth century introduced the tree to Southeast Asia, to Java and Sumatra where they also introduced the coffee shrub.

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish king was the most powerful man not only in the Americas, but also within Europe. The Spanish ruled much of the European continent, including present-day Belgium and the Netherlands. As Khodorowsky and Robert say:

For two centuries, Flanders was part of the immense Spanish empire. As early as the sixteenth century, it thus became one of the first European countries to taste the new cocoa-based drink. In the late seventeenth century, the first chocolate factories were established in Brussels. It was to Jean Neuhaus, chocolatier in the exclusive Galerie de la Reine shopping arcade, that Belgium owed the invention of the praline chocolate, in 1912, and of the protective cardboard packaging, the ballotin, in 1915. Belgian praline chocolates are generally molded: the liquid chocolate is poured into a mold to form a shell, and when this has been filled, the base is sealed with a layer of chocolate.

Among the innumerable varieties available are praline in a milk chocolate shell, crème fraiche or butter in dark chocolate shell, known as fondant; marzipan in chocolate fondant; and, most celebrated of all, the Manon. Garnished with a walnut and crème fraiche or butter, the Manon is encased in white chocolate or fondant sugar icing and is sometimes flavored with coffee. Belgian praline chocolate is now made in large quantities. Most of it is exported from major companies such as Leonidas, Godiva, Neuhas and Guylian.

Although the fact that Belgium became an important center for chocolate can perhaps be attributed to her historical connections to Spain, the success of her Swiss rivals is more difficult to explain. After all, the Swiss were never under Spanish rule, did not have any colonies and do not even have access to the sea. Switzerland was a relative latecomer to chocolate making, as it was to the making of clocks and watches, but the country created both technical advances and new recipes, with the invention of chocolate with hazelnuts, milk chocolate and fondant chocolate.

Heinrich Escher, the mayor of Zurich, first introduced chocolate to Switzerland after a stay in Brussels in 1697. It was discreetly consumed for some time, but the Zurich Council banned it in 1722. Chocolate had a reputation as an aphrodisiac, as it once had among the Aztecs in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and concerned citizens were afraid that chocolate could be put to improper uses, such as seducing women. Nevertheless, despite initial resistance, the first chocolate manufacture was set up around 1750 by two Italians near Bern, and the first chocolate shop in Switzerland opened in Bern in 1792. During the course of the nineteenth century, the country was to become an important center for chocolate making in its own right.

François-Louis Cailler, inspired by chocolate makers in Turin, Italy, created a smooth chocolate that could be formed into bars and opened a chocolate factory near Vevey in 1819. His success inspired others in Switzerland, such as Charles-Amédée Kohler, who mixed chocolate with hazelnuts and opened a factory in Lausanne in 1830. Heinrich Nestle, the founder of Nestlé S.A. which is today the world’s largest food and beverage company, was born in Frankfurt on Main in Germany, but changed his name to Henri Nestlé after moving to Switzerland. He was to become one of the inventors of milk chocolate.

According to Khodorowsky and Robert: “In 1875, Daniel Peter (1836-1919), son-in-law of François-Louis Cailler, adapted the process for condensing milk discovered by the chemist Henri Nestlé (1814-1890): thus milk chocolate was born, earning worldwide fame for Switzerland. Soon, theSocieté Suisse de Chocolats, founded in 1904, was to unite the four great names of Callier, Kohler, Peter and Nestlé. ButSwitzerland’s most remarkable commercial success most be Philippe Suchard’s Milka bar, launched in 1901 and still for many the chief symbol of Swiss chocolate; Suchard remains the best-known brand of Swiss chocolate inEurope. Another great figure, Rudolphe Lindt (1823-1893), was the father of fondant chocolate. According to the website, “Suchard did not enjoy instant success; chocolate was expensive and regarded by many people as suspiciously exotic, and orders were slow at first. But by a strange quirk of history Neuchâtel was not only a Swiss canton, it simultaneously also belonged to the far-away King of Prussia, and in 1842 Suchard received an order for his chocolate from the royal court in Berlin. The factory eventually took off, and was soon marketing its output abroad as well as inSwitzerland. Suchard chocolate won gold medals at theLondon’s Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855. In 1880 Suchard was the first Swiss chocolate maker to set up a factory abroad, in Lörrach inGermany, just over the border from Basel. By the early 1880s the Suchard company was producing about half the total national output of chocolate, and employing about half the total number of people working in the industry.”

ChocolateIn 1908, the Swiss Jean Tobler invented Toblerone, a chocolate bar with almond-and-honey nougat, molded in triangular sections recalling the mountains of his native land. Ironically, a Swiss family also contributed to the fame of Belgian chocolate. In 1857 Jean Neuhaus from Neuchâtel in Switzerland settled in Brussels. As a pharmacist, he did sell some chocolate (which was still viewed as medicine by many at that point), and his son Frédéric persuaded his father to move into confectionery. His grandson (also named Jean Neuhaus) in 1912 invented the bite-sized chocolate which he called praline, and registered a patent for a cardboard container for loose chocolates, the ballotin. Swiss and Belgian chocolate remain important export goods in the twenty-first century, but per capita consumption of chocolate is also high domestically in both Switzerland and Belgium.

The process of “democratization” of chocolate, initially a luxury good available only to the elites, was set in motion in the nineteenth century and accelerated during the twentieth century. Chocolate was made a standard component of army rations in Europe and North America during the First and Second World Wars. In hindsight, the use of cacao beans in the modern world is so different from the one we encountered in pre-Columbian America that it’s easy to forget that we are talking about the same substance.

I have seen suggestions that cacao was used in combination with certain types of foodstuff in Mesoamerica, but there can be no doubt that to pre-Columbian Americans it was first and foremost a drink, which it remained for some time when it was transplanted to Europe. Chocolate bars and other forms of chocolate in solid form are almost entirely a European invention. I admit I prefer buying a Toblerone, Milka bar or box of Belgian praline chocolate over the Aztec custom of mixing cacao beans with the blood of freshly killed victims of human sacrifice. I’m sure this will be viewed by some as culturally insensitive, but I think I can live with that.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Flowery Find That Left Us in the Dust

A Flowery Find That Left Us in the Dust

(By Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
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By Jason Wilson
Wednesday, April 2, 2008; Page F05

My brother Tyler and I sometimes play a game we call Liquor Store Archaeology. The aim is to make a pith-helmeted visit to older, neglected liquor stores, the sort of family-owned shops that perhaps were once prosperous and now do business mainly in pint-size flasks or liters of cheap wine or beer by the can. Inside, we scour the dark bottom shelves and dank back corners of the place, looking for forgotten bottles of spirits that have been languishing, perhaps for decades.
This Story

Spirits: A Flowery Find That Left Us in the Dust
Recipe: Blue Moon Cocktail

More often than not, we indeed turn up something rare or just plain strange. Our finds span the world: caraway-flavored kummel from Germany, an Armenian brandy called Ararat, eaux de vie with all manner of fruit floating in them, a wasabi-flavored liqueur, even a honey liqueur bottled with a real honeycomb.

It has become rather competitive. I thought I had taken the lead with something called Panache, a sweet aperitif wine with a 1970s-looking label that was made by Domaine Chandon but now is impossible to find. Then Tyler countered with a wonderful liqueur from Sicily made from mandarin peels, called Mandarino del Castello, about which we can find no information.

I figured I'd won when I'd unearthed a bottle of Cordial Campari. Though made by the same company, Cordial Campari is not to be confused with the more famous Italian red aperitivo; Cordial Campari is a clear, sambuca-like after-dinner digestivo. I'd heard tales of Cordial Campari and seen it in a few old-man bars in Italy. But it has not been widely available in the United States, and my bottle is probably decades old. It may once have been valuable, but probably not anymore -- mainly because my friends and I broke into the bottle during the holidays, and it's now sitting half-empty in my cabinet.

So Tyler became the clear victor not too long ago when he turned up something called, somewhat disturbingly, Peanut Lolita, a thick, peanut-flavored liqueur that once was produced by Continental Distilling in Linfield, Pa. The logo and fonts on the label suggest the early 1960s, but according to what little research exists, Peanut Lolita was still around in the mid-1970s, when infamous presidential brother Billy Carter "often made drunken appearances" with the liqueur's spokesmodel, according to an essay by Christopher S. Kelley in "Life in the White House: A Social History of the First Family and the President's House" (SUNY Press, 2004).

We may now own the only two bottles of Peanut Lolita left in existence. Due to the liqueur's overwhelming whiskey-and-peanut taste and grainy texture -- not to mention its unfortunate name -- it is unlikely to make a comeback anytime soon. But Tyler has created a respectable drink with the stuff: He layers ice-cold Peanut Lolita and raspberry-flavored Chambord in a cordial glass and calls it a PB&J.

For a while, the holy grail of our archaeology has been Creme Yvette, a purple-colored, violet-and-vanilla-flavored liqueur originally made by Sheffield in Connecticut and then by Charles Jacquin et Cie in Philadelphia. Nearly all mid-century bartending guides suggest that Creme Yvette was part of any well-stocked bar, and it was essential in classic cocktails such as the Blue Moon. But in the 1960s, it disappeared.

Creme Yvette is a variation on the traditional creme de violette liqueurs found in Europe, and the closest Tyler and I had come to tasting it was when friends brought home versions from France (Benoit Violette Liqueur) and the Netherlands (Bols' Parfait Amour).

That is, until last summer, when I finally had a taste of real Creme Yvette in New Orleans at the Tales of the Cocktail conference during a session on rare and obscure spirits. Rob Cooper of Charles Jacquin generously served tastes to everyone who attended, poured from one of two bottles left in existence. To judge from the reaction of many of the cocktail geeks in the room, you'd think it was a life-altering experience. Cooper suggested that if he had anything to do with it, Creme Yvette would soon be back on the U.S. market.

One importer has beaten him to the punch. Eric Seed, who owns the Minnesota-based Haus Alpenz, has brought in a delicious creme de violette liqueur made by Austrian distillers Rothman & Winter. This creme de violette is more floral, with less vanilla, than the others I've tried.

It's not the first time Seed has unearthed some long-lost spirit. In Indonesia, he rediscovered Batavia Arrack, a spicy rum cousin that was a standard in pre-Prohibition punches. In the Austrian Alps, he found Zirbenz, a liqueur made from the fruit of the native stone pine. And from Barbados, he began importing falernum, a spirit that until now I've had to manufacture myself if I wanted any (see recipe here).

Though recently called "the Indiana Jones of lost spirits" by Food + Wine, Seed is actually more cerebral and mild-mannered than he is swashbuckling. His hunts often begin at the request of high-end bartending clients, including those at Central and Cork in D.C. When asked what motivates his quests, Seeds says simply, "The customers I sell to, they take a very dim view of vodka."

Needless to say, Seed wins Liquor Store Archaeology in a landslide.