Sunday, July 8, 2012

Is Peace Tea All Natural?

Peace Tea was pretty popular in my world for about 3 weeks. I guess I should have known it was too good to be true; Peace Tea is only 99 cents, has only 150 total calories for a large 23 oz can, it tastes sweet yet retains the tea flavor, and it is widely available in the cold section of almost any convenience store.

There are so many times when even I get confused by marketing loopholes like this one. The outside of the can is fun and sexy, like Woodstock if it was on a golf course and Bill Murray was there. Doesn't Bill Murray just make everything seem awesome? There are four 'wooden' markers on the side of the can stating that this product is 100% natural tea, no artificial flavors, no preservatives, and no artificial colors. A quick nutrition label check proves there are only 50 calories, well 50 calories per serving but I'm smart enough to do the math and see there are an approximate 3 servings per can which calculates to 150 calories. A little tricky of them to assume either 3 people will share this can, or I will save it for 3 different servings on different occasions and not drink it all at once, but 150 calories really isn't that bad compared to the other options on store shelves.

It wasn't until I had been buying these fairly frequently that I checked the full ingredients label; and there it was - Sucralose. "How can that be?" I asked myself, "the label clearly indicates it's 100% Natural Tea!" Ah yes, loop-holes. 100% Natural Tea does not say anything about the rest of the ingredients, it is only stating that the tea used in this drink is natural. Duh, of course tea is natural. And my presumption when I saw the word "no" paired with "artificial flavors, preservatives, and colors" was that it was saying nothing was artificial, wrong again. I would presume that this company wanted to make a cheap beverage, widely available, that is still low in calories. With all of the 'antioxidants in tea' rage right now, and market demand for 'all natural' products, they buried their sins at the bottom of the bottle.

Sucralose may not be the worst thing in the world, but it is definitely not natural.
Tate & Lyle manufactures sucralose at a plant in Jurong, Singapore. Formerly, it was produced at a plant in McIntosh, Alabama. It is manufactured by the selective chlorination of sucrose (table sugar), which substitutes three of the hydroxyl groups with chloride. This chlorination is achieved by selective protection of the primary alcohol groups followed by acetylation and then deprotection of the primary alcohol groups. Following an induced acetyl migration on one of the hydroxyl groups, the partially acetylated sugar is then chlorinated with a chlorinating agent such as phosphorus oxychloride, followed by removal of the acetyl groups to give sucralose.
Source: wikipedia

I don't really know what any of that scientific mumbo jumbo means, but I'm pretty sure I shouldn't need it to explain to me what is in something I'm drinking.

More proof that the more money you spend on your marketing team, the more likely it is that you're trying to sell a bad product.

Ingredients label for Peace Tea Caddy Shack

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How to brine a chicken

Dorking Rooster using a brine solution.
Tender, flavorful, and juicy.
If you do not brine, you should.
I brine, therefore I am.

Brining adds incredible depth and flavor to any cut of meat, but especially to those tough, cheap cuts that are usually hard to work with.

I have cooked approximately eight home grown chickens now, and exactly one of them has been exceptional. I raise Dorkings which are a slow grown, hearty bird with dramatically dark flavorful meat. Each one I have cooked has placed the bar well above a store bought chicken, but only one had me begging for more: a year old Dorking rooster who mistakenly put his spurs up to my daughter and met his fate the following morning. Usually a vigorous rooster of this age would be very chewy and tough. I was worried he would be unpalatable, so I finally tried using a brine. I have had an aversion to brining under the assumption that it would take away the flavor of the meat and instead make it salty. I am a cook who prefers the true flavor of the food, not the mandatory masking of salt and pepper. I wish I did not wait all this time to try brining, the results were remarkable.

I did some research on what brining actually does to the meat, since I can never settle for 'It just works.'

FYI It works like this:
  1. Meat cells contain a concentration of salt.
  2. The brine that the meat is soaking in has a higher concentration of salt than the cells in the meat.
  3. Through the magic of osmosis the concentration level of the salt in the meat cells and the concentration level of salt in the brine attempt to balance.
  4. The water transfers from the meat cells to try to balance the concentration of the salt solution between the cells and the brine.
  5. The water in the cell moves from the cell to the space surrounding the cell so the ratio of salt to water within the cell is at a higher concentration which will balance with the solution that it is soaking in.
  6. This might seem confusing as it appears through basic osmosis the meat would end up dry and salty, however, there is more than just osmosis taking place here...
  7. As water moves out of the cells salt moves in and begins to break down some of the proteins in the meat cells.
  8. Cell membranes are semipermeable and allow both salt and water to flow back and forth freely.
  9. To make things even more complex, larger molecules like denatured proteins and other solutes the meat released by the salt cannot pass through the cell barrier.
  10. So... This transfer of salts and water back and forth 'trap' the larger solutes and proteins until the pressure from holding more solvent equals the rate at which the solvent is moving through the semipermeable membrane, this is the definition of osmotic pressure.
  11. Brining actually changes the state of the cells so they hold more water than they did before, resulting in tender and juicy cuts of meat.
  12. If you brine for too long the meat will taste quite salty, but still edible.
Since I had no prior experience with brining, and I was of course worried this rooster would be too tough to eat, I actually let the bird brine for a week straight. As far as #12 on the how it works list goes, that is straight from experience. Yes the rooster was salty, it was very very tender, but still exceptionally tasty.

Basic Recipe

A basic brine consists of 1/2 cup - 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water. Kosher salt because it is usually an inexpensive choice.
The brine solution varies depending on the structure of meat and the time you plan to brine.
More salt typically means less time brining.
Place the meat in the solution using a non reactive container (stainless steel, plastic, ceramic...) and keep in the refrigerator, or at approximately 40 degrees for 2 - 6 hours.
Meat should be completely covered in brining solution, rinse meat after brining is complete, and do not reuse the brine solution.

Flavorful Recipe
This is the recipe that I used for a very tough rooster and it turned out tender, juicy, and full of flavor

1 gallon water
1/2 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup olive oil

Stir all ingredients in a large non reactive container until dissolved. 
Place the meat in the solution making sure the brine covers all of the meat.
Refrigerate anywhere from 4 hours to overnight, or for a saltier taste and very tender meat you can even leave the meat in the brining solution for several days.

Not much left it was so good!