Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chew on this...

Viewed from one perspective, cooking was the key to our emergence as an intelligent species.

Take the issue of digestion. Wrangham makes the case that our ability to heat food and thereby soften it spares our bodies a lot of hard work. And the calories saved in easy digestion reserve energy for other types of physical and intellectual activity. To understand why, simply consider how you feel after eating a light meal versus a heavy one. That shrimp salad demands less work from your intestines and makes you feel energetic afterwards; the 16-ounce steak makes you want to take a nap while your body attacks and breaks down the meal. The same differences apply to softer, cooked food versus raw, unprocessed food.
Our ancestors instinctively understood these benefits. Even when cooking wasn't possible, they found ways to soften or tenderize food. Steak tartare, for example, is thought to get its name from the Tartars who rode in Genghis Khan's army. Moving swiftly and without time to make camp or cook a hot meal, the riders would put slabs of meat under their saddles, riding on them all day until they were tender enough to eat. Softer food can be eaten more quickly than raw food, and that fact has allowed the human species to reallocate the way it spends its time. In the Western world, men and women each spend an average of five percent of their time chewing, about 36 minutes in a 12-hour day, Wrangham reports. Raw food, in contrast, must be chewed longer. For a human being to eat the same diet as a great ape, researchers estimate that we would have to dedicate 42 percent or five hours simply to breaking down our food. [More]
[Memo to self: Pass on the "saddle of mutton".]
Actually, some worry the decline in chewing is both destroying flavor in some cherished foods...
After a lifetime of studying — and eating — le pain francais, he says that he has witnessed with despair the slow death of the crust.
“This is a significant and catastrophic trend,” Kaplan told The Times. “The crust is what stands between France and the Armageddon of soft, mushy, repugnant loaves that we get in the US and you get in Britain, too.”
A baguette de tradition should be a “voluptuous pleasure and an exulting moment that speaks to all our senses,” he says. “But I am getting hacked off because the basic quality is essentially being thrown away.”
According to Kaplan, bakers are cutting cooking time — usually between 18 and 22 minutes at 250C to 260C — by 60 seconds or more in search of a less crusty crust.
The upshot is the loss of the Maillard reaction, a chemical process occurring at high temperatures and leading to browning and crispiness, that Kaplan says is vital to the production of a good loaf.
Bakers say that they are merely responding to market forces, determined by the growing proportion of customers who demand a baguette pas trop cuite (not too cooked). They argue that they cannot impose a crunchy surface on a society that has grown accustomed to the notion that food should melt in the mouth . [More] well as contributing to our obesity problem.
The study examined how chewing almonds may impact physiology including
appetite and hunger, hormone response and the efficiency of fat absorption.(1)
The study revealed that those who chewed two ounces of almonds longer, 25 or
40 times before swallowing, absorbed significantly more good, unsaturated fat,
than those who chewed the almonds only 10 times before swallowing.

The study also explored the implications of thoroughly chewed almonds on
satiety, measuring the effects on hormones and hunger scale ratings. Increased
fat in the small intestine often stimulates secretion of several hormones
associated with feelings of fullness. Researchers measured these hormones and
also required participants to fill out an appetite questionnaire before and
after eating almonds. Although overall there were only significant effects on
the hormone insulin, subjects who chewed almonds a greater number of times,
reported feeling significantly less hungry and more full than when they chewed
the almonds less. [More]
I am beginning to suspect we're going to be focusing much more on food and eating as the obesity rates rise. Depending on how the health care cost situation progresses, novel social and economic signals could develop to help us change what appear to be some bad eating habits and unhelpful food trends.

[via 3QD]


Anonymous said...


Have you seen Food Inc the movie yet or read David Kessler's book about the physiology of food cravings and obesity? The movie is not showing in a lot of places but if you get a chance you might want to go see it. Strong medicine for fundamentalists in the ag business.

Chuck said...

A good read on eating habits and how our ag policy contributes to unhealthy eating is Mark Bittman's "Food Matters."

It (and things like Food Inc and Kessler's book mentioned earlier) have me thinking about transitioning our operation away from big corn and soybeans into something more sustainable for our next generation that will be starting to farm soon.