What is hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)? You know already

March 11, 2010 in Food Porn, Food Science


You have likely heard about the hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) shenanigans afoot.

A company that makes HVP – Basic Food Flavors – found that its product was contaminated with the pathogen Salmonella Tennessee (thats a specific flavor of salmonella easily ID’d by genetics and the SAME strain that was involved in a similarly ethically challenged peanut butter processing plant in Georgia that killed many – CDC link). It proceeded to ship its product anyway, to food manufacturers (assemblers?) across the US (and where else?) even though this company KNEW their product was contaminated with this pathogen that can kill you.

When did this company know? JANUARY 21 on HVP made and shipped out since SEPTEMBER 17 2009

When the FDA found out (FEBRUARY 12), they did not (do not) have the authority to FORCE a recall of a substance that can KILL us, no they had to request and then to BEG this ethically impaired company to do a voluntary recall .. the company ignored these requests for WEEKS.

FDA did NOT issue a recall notice until MARCH 4th.

What about all of this reassures you about food safety? Nothing at all. The FDA is toothless, no doubt from all that HFCS they love so much.

If you take a look in your pantry at just about any label of processed food you WILL find hydrolyzed vegetable proteins.

Like I mentioned in the title of this post, you already know what HVP is.

HVP is a legal euphemism for MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE. Our political representatives are not ours, they are wholly owned by corporations and the legality of calling MSG by alternative terms is pure proof of this reality. So is the toothlessness and impotence of the FDA.

I have blogged about the atrocity that is MSG, see that here: Monosodium Glutamate: Bad for your brain, your figure, and your health.

Do we all REALLY need even more reason to avoid MSG? Seriously? People?

So what the heck is HVP or rather, how is it made, you may be asking (well, some of you).

You fill a ginormulous vat with waste proteins (waste and low quality cereals, soy, wheat, corn), you bring it to a boil and you pour hydrochloric acid all over this stew. You let the acid eat on this until the proteins are broken down into amino acids (lord only knows what sort of carcinogenic reactants arise in this process, its not tested properly).

Once you have what must be a gruesome snotty mess that would be considered a biohazard, extremely caustic sodium hydroxide (lye) is poured onto the toxic gloop. This neutralizes the acids.

What happens next?

You eat it.

Why do they add MSG to so many foods? Because without it you would taste the reality – that you are eating food utterly devoid of nutrition and flavor. If these manufactured high throughput foods were not spiked with this neurotoxic excitotoxin – you would likely never ever eat it and the food processing industry would wither.

Its all about making money at the expense of YOUR health, it is definitely not about real actual bonafide nutritious life sustaining non-toxic delicious food.

St. Patricks day brisket – sous vide style

March 9, 2010 in Food Porn, Food Science, review


[Follow this link for a recipe for Whole Wheat Cheddar Cheese Kefir Irish Soda Bread]

St. Patrick’s day is almost here and I feel like I am getting whiplash with how fast this year is passing already! The stores put out St Patrick’s day decorations right after Christmas so by now, all that Chinese import crap is in the clearance bins which makes it seem like the holiday never had a chance!

Here in New England, St. Patrick’s means something more than green beer, crappy bar food, bar crawls, and green dye dumped in midwestern rivers. Here it is actually linked in with an authentic memory and nostalgia for Ireland. The traditional meal eaten for this holiday is the New England Boiled Dinner: boiled cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and a spiced but boiled corned beef brisket. This is traditionally served with a side of strong mustard or even horseradish (I adore this meal with sour cream and horseradish, I almost like that part more than the rest, just like I am with wasabi and sushi, I prefer the wasabi! Same with oysters and red sauce – LOVE the horseradishy red sauce).

This is not to say that this meal is traditional for Ireland. Not at all. But it IS traditional for New England for this holiday. We also enjoy it with soda bread which IS traditional and authentic to Ireland. I will blog separately about the Whole Wheat Kefir Cheddar Cheese soda bread I made later.

Today’s corned beef brisket is all about method.

I had a 2 week opportunity to test out the Sous Vide Supreme, a consumer level self regulating hot water bath that is the same as that used in a huge range of food provider settings from haute cuisine restaurants to crap food high throughput food companies.

Sous Vide Supreme

Here it is opened up to show the inner chamber where the hot water and rack is.

Sous Vide Supreme

Sous Vide = under vacuum and refers to the use of food grade plastic bags into which your food goes and then most if not all the air is vacuumed out. It was “pioneered” by the French in the 1970s as a method used in the food production setting.

Sous Vide Supreme: cheap sealer - works!

The vacuum packed food is then put into a hot water bath.

Sous Vide Supreme: eggs into the onsen

As a scientist, I have used circulating hot water baths for many things including making nucleic acids, precipitating proteins, etc. This sort of water bath is common in the lab. It used to be the only way to do PCR (polymerase chain reaction) which meant a lot of futzing with little microfuge tubes floating on little styrofoam rafts on the surface of the hot water. Sometimes these baths were even behind radiation shields when the stuff being heated was radioactive. Nowadays, much less radionucleotide is used and PCR is done in cute little benchtop thermocyclers.


Water bath manufacturers probably freaked when this change came. I am guessing that is when they started to market heavily into the restaurant and molecular gastronomy spheres.

So, my experience was that these baths were nasty contaminated in a food sense (you could not SEE any contaminants but you sure could imagine it) – it took a bit to reorient my brain to using hot water baths for cooking in.

There is no reason to think this water bath will be anything but super clean! You really should use distilled water so that you do not get water scale build up on the walls of the bath interior. You should also dump the water after each cooking session and clean the bath with non-abrasive means.

The key reasons to cook this way:

  • NO juices lost to cooking water or as steam or roasted off and are left to reabsorbed into meats
  • Very little fat needed to cook moist foods
  • your food is infused with the seasonings you added (dont add too much!)
  • you set the water temp to the desired end temperature – your food will not burn or over cook if you set it to the correct end temp!
  • you can put in collagen containing meats like short ribs and allow it to cook very slowly for DAYS so that at the end you have almost completely solubilized the collage which = tender tender TENDER meat
  • you can cook temperature sensitive things like fish and shrimp to the very minimum temperature needed and loose NO moisture (dont leave seafood in for long – doesnt help it and might lead to possible protein degradation = drying out)
  • you can par-cook foods to almost done and then put the food in the fridge to be ready to be warmed for later
  • you can cook meat to the PERFECT internal doneness – you will then need to char the outer surface to get your maillard reactants that we perceive as delicious on meat

I made quite a few different recipes (even bread!) but today I am writing about using the Sous Vide to make corned beef. I can attest that the corned beef we made in the sous vide was the very best we have ever had – so moist, so tender, just amazing.

Note that at this time of year we get corned beef with spice packets. I used those spices in this recipe.

Sous Vide Supreme: corned beef

You simply remove the corned beef and the spices to a bag, seal it, stick it in the sous vide at 175 F for 10 hours, remove, cut, enjoy!

Sous Vide Supreme: corned beef - melting!

I served it with boiled potatoes and carrots, no cabbage, and on top of some of the whole wheat kefir cheddar cheese soda bread I made. Also, horseradish sour cream and some mustard.

Sous Vide Supreme: corned beef - melting!

I made the left overs into corned beef hash the next morning. Explosively delicious. I could recommend making this corned beef JUST for corned beef hash alone!

Sous Vide Supreme: corned beef hash

We loved our experience with the Sous Vide Supreme and regretted having to return it after our loan period!

Product Details:


  • Model SVS-10LS
  • Water Baths 1
  • Total Volume 11.2 liters
  • Capacity 10 liters (Max Fill Line)
  • Power 120 Volt 850 Watts @ 60Hz

Dimensions (w/d/h):

  • Overall 11.5″/14.2″/11.4″ (Metric 290mm/360mm/289mm)
  • Bath 9.9″/12.6″/6.8″ (Metric: 252mm/320mm/173mm)
  • Weight (approx.) 13 lbs (5.9 kg)


  • Display Digital LED 0.1°F (0.1°C)
  • Range 41°–203°F (5°–95° C)
  • Sensitivity 1°F (0.5°C)
  • Over-temperature Alarm +5°F (+4°C)


  • Display 1 minute resolution
  • Settings Variable 0—99hr:59mins
  • Cycle End Audible buzz & “end” message

You CAN have fun canning!

September 1, 2009 in Food Science, In the Kitchen


I had the most brilliant Sunday at the Canning-Across-America Canvolution event with a group of people who were so fantastic and so interesting I didn’t want to leave.

But we worked so hard canning so many things and the kitchen was such a BEAST that by the time that things were winding down, I was utterly wiped, and starved, and freaked out because I had a long ride ahead of me and I still had to milk the goats! All this conspired to make me zombie-like at the end of the day and totally forget to go back into the restaurant and thank everyone for coming and get emails etc.

Canvolution: stove!

Lets back up and start from the beginning as I share snapshots and a report from the day.

Canvolution: tools

As you know from this post (“Join the Canvolution!“), the objective for the day was to share canning skills with others. This was done in Somerville but also across the US as the meme of the Canvolution spread like wildfire!

I think that you can simply switch out food preservation for “canning” throughout because actually the topics were not just about canning. Other than my demo on pressure canning, we had Alex who spoke on lactofermentation. You can see the lacto-fire in his eyes! Reminded me of Sandor Katz who is ablaze with the lactofermentation affliction.

Alex blogs at FeedMeLikeYouMeanIt on topics of wholesome nutrition as well as lactofermentation. I have only taken a tiny peek at his blog but plan on poking around more!

Canvolution: Lindsey

Linsey, the woman who made this event possible with her amazing hard work, organization, and positive attitude, did an extremely thorough overview, demo and hands on experience for all 20 in attendance (max number!) of boiling water bath canning. She just blogged about it in her post “The Can-o-rama Cantacular! We Can, and We Did!“.

She had roasted plum tomatoes to loosen the skins (better than blanching them!!) as well as some garlic.

Canvolution: prep

Canvolution: garlic for pickles

The structure of the day was adapted to deal with the time taken up by actual canning in the hot water. This meant that we started with some great canned vinegar dill pickles.

We cut organic pickling cucumbers into quarters or smaller and then in groups of 5, people went into the commercial kitchen with Linsey and stuffed the cucumbers into hot jars.

Canvolution: slicing cukes

We then filled the jars with hot dill brine, sealed the jars, and then Lindsey put the jars into the hot water to process them.

Canvolution: jars

Canvolution: making pickles

Canvolution: making pickles

Canvolution: making pickles

Canvolution: making pickles

Canvolution: making pickles

Canvolution: making pickles

Canvolution: lids

While the pickles were doing their thing, people got to work skinning the plum tomatoes that Linsey had roasted before we all got there, early in the morning!

Did I mention that Lindsey is amazing? This would not have gone off so well without her hard work.

Canvolution: prep

Canvolution: prep

The skinless tomatoes were then crushed and put on to simmer and reduce a bit. Linsey added salt, garlic, ad lemon juice as she explained to the group about how the pH, even for tomatoes, must be at or below 4.6 to be able to use the boiling water bath method. (The low pH inhibits growth of nasty bugs!)

Canvolution: prep

Next came the crushing of an impressing amount of blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Linsey must have bought out all the farmer’s markets in a 100 mile radius!

Canvolution: masher

Canvolution: black berries

Canvolution: raspberries

Canvolution: crushing berries

Canvolution: crushing berries

Canvolution: crushing berries

Mixed in between all of this crushing and simmering and jarring Alex held forth on lactofermentation and got everyone shredding cabbage, salting it, and crushing it into pint jars to take home with them.

Canvolution: starts!

I think a lot of people learned some new principles especially regarding the beneficial bacteria in ferments and how store bought pasteurized pickles are dead, not living like the sauerkraut everyone was making.

Somewhere in there, I shared (without really doing anything formal) some of the foods I have been dehydrating to show people just a hint of what they might be able to do in terms of dehydrating foods.

Excalibur dehydrators should have paid me for the day cuz I have a feeling a few people might be checking out their goods after Sunday!

Canvolution: pressure canner

I did a demo on the pressure canning with just jars filled with water. I brought some sample jars with food but we didn’t can anything because it takes so very long by this method that it wasn’t practical to can actual food. People got to see how the pressure canner is constructed and also how it behaves as its being used. They learned about the importance of venting the canner for 10 minutes before putting the regulator on and then how to handle the very hot canner when its time to let it cool.

I brought two jars of colored water that I had canned to let people open them to see how much of a seal forms and also how much of a vacuum develops inside.

All the while, berries were simmering on the hot beast of a stove in the kitchen. Linsey showed people how to watch for the proper amount of time to boil the berries (she was using no pectin) so that the syrup was just right for proper gelling of the jams!

At this point, my brain begins to fuzz over! I had the opportunity to chat with such interesting people about local and sustainable foods, canning, fermentation, cheese making, our goats and chickens, homesteading, renewable power, finding ways to afford solar panels, and dehydrating food. What a day!

I know that Linsey and others chatted a bit, after I had to leave, about future events. I look forward to them and getting to know everyone better!

I will let you know when I hear about more events and if you live in the New England region, try to make it!

Melamine, oh thy name is legion

October 28, 2008 in Food Science, gluten, Local Food, melamine

More egg business - Egg underwater

Melamine is the scourge that was completely optional; it really didn’t have to happen. It’s all about greed and industrial food gone wholly amok.

Melamine poisoning spans animal feeds, pet foods, milk, baby formula, fish, wheat gluten, and now EGGS.

Wheat gluten, eggs and milk are everywhere. If you think you can protect yourself from tainted dairy and egg products from China, think again.

This post is all about melamine: what it is, how it hurts you, how it got in your food.

What exactly is Melamine?

Melamine is an organic compound (learn more) that is a key component in fire retardants and it is also a pesticide (this sets off major flags for me, more later).

It can be combined with formaldehyde to make a plastic compound and a foaming polymeric cleaning product. It is a primary component of a colorant in inks and plastics called Pigment Yellow 150.

A specific type of melamine is added to cement to make it hyper-plastic, flexible, so that it can have more attractive structural qualities.

In the 50s and 60s there was some use of melamine as a fertilizer but it proved to be inefficient as it would crystallize into salts and not be available to plants.

The thing about melamine that made people interested in using it as a fertilizer, the nitrogen aspects (amines), is what brings us closer to the current problem.

Plants need nitrogen to make proteins.

The use of melamine as a NonProteinNitrogen (NPN) in animal feeds was tested back in the 50s but it was shown that the cows didn’t use this sort of nitrogen very well.

Melamine is not that great for helping plants or animals make protein BUT it fools low-cost testing methods into thinking that it IS protein. (tests like Kjeldahl and Dumas tests estimate protein levels by measuring the nitrogen content, so they can be misled by adding nitrogen-rich compounds such as melamine. See note at bottom of this post).

Melamine itself is relatively low in toxicity but it becomes quite lethal when made into melamine cyanurate.

IMG pending http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Melamine-cyanuric_acid_chemical_structure_color.png

What the Chinese are putting in food, milk, feed and lord knows what else – Melamine Cyanurate

The kind of melamine implicated in the Chinese scandals is called melamine cyanurate (learn more), a chemical that is commonly used a fire retardant (as with straight melamine). It is considered more toxic than melamine or cyanurate, from which it is made.

When melamine cyanurate is ingested by mammals (those poor dogs and cats in the massive melamine Chinese pet food scandal (learn more)) it hurts the kidneys and throws the animal or person into acute renal failure.

LD50 in rats and mice (ingested):

  • 4.1 g/kg – Melamine cyanurate

From USA Today’s article “Poison pet food woes seem to hit cats harder”:

“FDA scientists explained that when melamine and cyanuric acid are absorbed into the bloodstream, they concentrate and interact in the urine-filled renal microtubules (sic), then crystallize and form large numbers of round, yellow crystals, which in turn block and damage the renal cells that line the tubes, causing the kidneys to malfunction.”

Besides renal failure (which is seen in the recent baby formula scandal – something like 94,000 children hospitalized and 4 dead from melamine poisoning Learn More), melamine has been implicated in possibly causing kidney stones, bladder cancer and reproductive organ damage.

For recent information on the scale (94,000!) of impact of the tainted milk scandal read this October 8, 2008 report from Reuters “China milk victims may have reached 94,000

The government has not updated figures issued on September 21, when it said that 12,892 infants were in hospital, 104 with serious illness, and close to 40,000 others were affected but did not need major treatment.

But reports from local media across the country compiled by Reuters suggest the number of affected children has risen to nearly 94,000, although most are not in a serious condition.

China Floats in an Ocean of Melamine

China is one nexus in the coming and current collapse of food production (fertilizer, falling acres of non-toxic land, water shortages, etc). They, like the rest of us, MUST find a way to boost soil fertility even though they (nor any other large concern) is going about it in a rational way, only in an industrial, non-sustainable way.

To this end, China has been deliberately pushing to increase it’s melamine production (from coal gasification) in recent years. Coal gasification is used to make urea – the key nitrogen component in plant fertilizers around the world. Urea, being derived from a non-renewable resource that is under massive demand pressures, is becoming more and more expensive. Because of this, many melamine manufacturers and suppliers outside of China have found it too expensive to make locally and so chose to source this from China’s growing surplus of melamine.

Even though melamine is a poor fertilizer, it is also a pesticide, so it “seems” it is attractive still. This may be scary, true, but this may be NEXT WEEK’s scandal as the melamine outbreaks we have been suffering through in recent times is due to something else.

As I mentioned, melamine can be used to dope foods so that they can LOOK protein rich while being very weak knock-offs of the original. Its like a sick pathetic rational extension of the piracy ethic in China, “fake it till you make it” no matter the costs. The same thing happened with the Baxter Heparin scandal, exact same sort of doping only with different chemicals for a different use.

The contaminant has been identified as an “over-sulphated” derivative of chondroitin sulfate, a popular shellfish-derived supplement often used for arthritis. Since this “over-sulphated” variant is not naturally occurring and mimics the properties of heparin,the counterfeit is almost certainly intentional as opposed to an accidental lapse in manufacturing. The heparin was cut from anywhere from 2-60% with a counterfeit substance due to cost effectiveness, and a shortage of suitable pigs in China. (SOURCE)

HEAT egg

It’s the Eggs, kids. Its in the eggs, in China. Are we next? Is it already happening to us?

The New York Times reported on 10/26/08 in an article “Tainted Eggs From China Discovered in Hong Kong” by David Barboza:

SHANGHAI — Hong Kong food inspectors have found eggs imported from northeast China to be contaminated with high levels of melamine, the toxic industrial additive at the heart of an adulteration scandal in Chinese milk products.


The discovery of contaminated eggs in Hong Kong was announced Saturday by the Center for Food Safety, a Hong Kong government agency, which said the eggs had been imported from a farm in the city of Dalian, in northeastern China. The center reported that the melamine level was almost double the legal limit for food sold in Hong Kong.

The general wisdom is that the melamine gets into the eggs because the chickens are fed feed doped with melamine (by feed producers to fool the farmers or is it farmers who are desperate for any nitrogen in the feed – I am guessing the former).

This phenomenon is called bioaccumulation (learn more) of toxins in eggs and tissues of animals fed a poison (think about how DDTs were making some birds go extinct due to DDT buildup in scavenger birds leading to egg failures). Its also known as Biomagnification (learn more)

An article out of China on two possible sources of melamine in chicken feed (“Melamine Scandal Hits China’s “King of Eggs” October 28, 2008 at Chinastakes.com):

According to Wang, two reasons most probably account for the melamine in eggs. Feed producers may add melamine directly into chicken feed, or the feed may contain overdue milk powder with high level of melamine content. “Either can lead to melamine residue in eggs.

“Many illegal additives, appearing as “new technology,” have brought an unprecedented crisis over quality to China’s feed processing industry,” said an expert of a national research institution to China Business News.

This is why we grow our own chickens for our own eggs and drink milk from our own goats in our backyard

You can learn a whole lot more about the Chinese and US FDA inaction on the problem of toxic eggs from Chinese and potentially US producers by a former emergency programs specialist with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on DailyKos at this diary “Melamine just reported in eggs…as I warned in 2007” and this diary “The ominous silence about eggs from gluten-fed chickens”

Is there an even larger crisis “we” are not talking about?

I am just going to throw this out for those of you who have had the tenacity to read to this point. This may be an algebra that will become critically important to the entire world as time passes.

– If we know that melamine has some nominal and sub-par attraction as a fertilizer
— Then it may be being used in China (elsewhere?) as a fertilizer

– If it is known that melamine falls out of solution and accumulates as salts in soils
— Then misguided use of melamine as a fertilizer and pesticide will lead to increasing retained toxin loads in soils across China and the world (3rd world countries?)

– If China has a melamine surplus
— Then China may be channeling that into even more melamine for local and misguided global use as a fertilizer, pesticide, and dope for feed stock (land and water livestocks such as fish farms that under massive pressure to source cheaper and more abundant protein)

– If there is a growing soil toxicity with yearly added melamine
— Then more and more crops will become and maintain dangerous levels of melamine toxicity
It seems to me that this is MUCH more relevant and dangerous than any GMO crop yet this crisis is flying totally under the radar.

To me, that is a global malfeasance on the part of all countries.

In one of those Daily Kos diaries, the comment stream reveals these nuggets:

The FDA, USDA, and the EPA is not our friend in these matters, especially Bush’s FDA, USDA, and EPA. For example, in 1999, the EPA tolerance level for melamine was lowered after a request by Novartis.

Melamine is also a breakdown product of cyromazine (pesticide) which bioaccumulates. It seems that (all?) the testing (ever?) done on cyromazine was done by Ciba-Geigy.

And there is this comment:

A few months ago, the Admin made subtle changes in oversight requirements for regs. If you aren’t familiar with reading this sort of language, you would not see flashing red lights – assuming you stayed awake past the first few lines.
Among the agencies affected was the FDA. Here are a few links to posts on these changes:
The Executive Order’s Effect on Regulation: Science & Technology Hearing;
White House Power Grab by OMB Regulation

Bottom Line(s):

  • DeGlobalize/ReLocalize your food, take it back America
  • Need I really say it? – EAT LOCALLY, ALWAYS
  • Eat NOTHING from China
  • Find out if your favorite prepared foods or even your fresh veggies and fruits are sourcing from China, they way well be
  • the FDA has grown VERY lax under the Bush administration and is not protecting us from this grave Chinese-related risk
  • Melamine contamination (and what else?) should be considered potentially widespread throughout our food system and that of others
  • The ubiquity of gluten, dairy, and egg products almost ensures widespread and nonconsensual exposure to these tainted source proteins in prepared foods and infant formulas
  • Be vigilant

Resource Pages:

About the Kjeldahl and Dumas tests:

Traditionally, food protein is measured by a method developed by Danish brewer Johann Kjeldahl in the late 1800s. In this analytical technique, a strong acid digests a sample, breaking down the organic matter and releasing nitrogen, which is then converted to ammonia. The amount of ammonia indicates how much nitrogen was in the original sample and, hence, the amount of protein. This “proved to be a robust, precise method,” says Julian McClements, a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It is attractive because it can be used for a variety of products and protein types. Another, similar nitrogen-based technique, called the Dumas test, is also popular with industry. It relies on burning the sample to release nitrogen. The Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) International, a scientific association that sets standards for analytical methods, lists the Kjeldahl and Dumas techniques as the standard methods for measuring protein in food.