A Deeper Look at Where Food Starts… the Pasture

A-Deeper-Look-At-Where-Food-Starts-The-Pasture

While the sheer amount of rain in Ontario this spring has wreaked havoc on lower grounds such as Toronto Island and the Beaches, the rain certainly has meant healthy grass.  To us at The Healthy Butcher that means one thing, 2017 will be an epic year for locally raised 100% Grassfed beef.

In this week’s video we take an in depth look at what makes up a healthy pasture at Pure Island Beef in Manitoulin Island, one of our favourite Ontario farms.

 

Wine Pairing Rules (plus a nifty infograph)

The-Healthy-Butcher-Wine-Pairing-RulesClick on the image above for a nifty infograph of food and wine pairing.

The following are three general rules, and 5 specific rules that will suit you well as you drink your way through our wines

The sheer volume of books and websites that exist to explain “the rules” of how to pair wines is astounding, which is why our General Rule #1 is the correct starting point.

GENERAL RULE #1:

There are no rules – only suggestions and personal preferences. If you like a combo you’ve had before, run with it.  Experiment and Enjoy!  If you have a glass of wine in your hand, realize how lucky you are and enjoy every drop.

GENERAL RULE #2:

If you’re cooking a recipe typical of a certain wine region, stick with wine from the same region. The foods of a country and the wines of a country have a historic bond that forms part of that country’s
culture.

GENERAL RULE #3:

When thinking of how to pair a food, concentrate on the dominant flavour.   That means that how a meat is prepared is usually more important than the type of meat itself. Chicken with a lemon butter sauce will call for a different more delicate wine to play off the sauce than a grilled chicken breast smothered in a spicy BBQ sauce.   So broad statements that say a certain meat pairs well with a certain wine are only sometimes correct.  The key is to think about the dominant flavour.

SPECIFIC CAN’T GO WRONG RULE #1:

Pair a dry Rosé when serving a wide range of Hors D’oevres.  A Rosé combines the crispness of a white with the fruitiness of a red, so it will pair well with the variety of flavours being served.

SPECIFIC CAN’T GO WRONG RULE #2:

Acid needs acid.  If squeezing a lemon on the food you’re serving is a good idea, pair with a light, acidic, unoaked white.  A pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc will be perfect.

Our pick: Perlage Pinot Grifio delle Venezie IGT

SPECIFIC CAN’T GO WRONG RULE #3:

Tannins need fat.  A marbled rib eye steak, grilled sausages or duck confit need a big red.

Our picks:

Eos Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast

Ryder Estate Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

Four Vines Lodi Old Vine Zindandel

Fanti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

SPECIFIC CAN’T GO WRONG RULE #4:

Heat needs sweet.  e.g. Riesling with spicy Indian food.

Our pick: Southbrook Connect Organic White

SPECIFIC CAN’T GO WRONG RULE #5:

Earthy needs earthy.  e.g. Mushrooms, bison or venison pair beautifully with Pinot Noirs.

Our picks:

Southbrook Triomphe Pinot Noir VQA

Craftwork Estate Pinot Noir Monterey

 

Has Local Gone To Far?

Has-Local-Gone-Too-Far-Title-Header-1600by Jonathan Silver

In today’s blog post we’re featuring an article entitled “Has Local Gone Too Far?” by Jonathan Silver, a local writer, activist, and food philosopher.

No doubt, “buy local” is a contentious issue; the demand for foods labelled in some way “local” has exploded from virtually zero in the 80s to almost mandatory today. That said, the same people that absolutely demand local and shun people who don’t look demand local also buy oranges, kiwi and coconuts, use olive oil daily, and will wear clothes from the far reaches of the Globe.

Jonathan’s article puts things into perspective. Yes, buying local is great for many reasons but it isn’t the be all and end all. It simply is one of many values we must weigh when making a purchasing decision. Organic vs. Local vs. GMO-free vs. Ethically Raised vs. Grassfed vs. Free of Chemicals and the list goes on – all of which have merits.

At The Healthy Butcher, without a doubt we prioritize local when a quality, Organically-produced or raised product is available. But that’s not the case. Our 100% Grassfed Wagyu Beef imported from Firstlight Farms in New Zealand has easily become our best selling beef… why wouldn’t it, it fills a void we don’t have in Ontario. And our vote is to buy Organic imported strawberries over sprayed conventional local strawberries every time (especially because strawberries are always one of the dirty dozen, see: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php).

Has Local Gone Too Far

The importance of eating locally grown food has gained a strong presence in public consciousness—perhaps its presence is a little too strong. Being local is often considered the ultimate indicator of ethical food. But, in truth, local is just one of many factors we need to weigh in before putting an item into our grocery basket.

When a grocery store, a food package or even a farmer tells you that a product is locally grown, locally made or locally crafted, why is that a reason for buying it? To answer that question, it’s helpful to start from the bottom, by asking the most basic question: What does “local” even mean?

“Local” means, in the most basic sense, that the product you’re holding didn’t come from afar. But that raises another question: What counts as far away? A person who prefers Ontario-grown tomatoes might think tomatoes from Mexico are grown far away, yet another person might even avoid Ontario-grown tomatoes if they grow tomatoes in their backyard. Putting that question aside, it’s safe to say that if we want local food, what we really want is food that isn’t from too far away, whatever “far away” means.

So the next question we need to ask is why don’t we want food that comes from far away? Or to put it the other way around: Why do want food that comes from close by? There are many answers to this question. Let’s look at a few of them.

Reducing Carbon Footprint

Food from afar must travel long distances to get to us, and that uses fossil fuels. The idea seems simple: if you eat food that travels less distance from where it’s grown to where it’s processed to where it’s eaten, you will consume less fossil fuels.

But if you’re just interested in using less fossil fuels, sometimes it makes sense to buy the apple grown further away if it travelled a more fuel efficient journey on a freighter truck than the apple grown nearby that travelled an inefficient journey in the farmer’s van that got caught in stop-and-go city traffic. Mass freighting can create efficiencies in carbon expenditure that you don’t get with small-scale freighting.

Keep Money in the Community

Another reason to buy food from nearby is to keep money in your community. If you spend $100 on locally grown food, then a good part of that money will stay in the hands of local businesses, where local residents can use it to make local purchases again and again. When you buy imported foods, you’re paying for distributors and importers and wholesalers and insurers and warehouses who often have their head offices and shareholders outside your community, or even outside your country. Buying local food keeps money in your community; buying food from afar funnels money out of your community.

But if keeping money in community hands is what matters most to you, then sometimes you may be better off buying non-local food from a locally owned business instead of a locally grown product sold in Walmart.

Trust in the Supply Chain

Perhaps you like buying local food because small supply chains make it easier for you to know where your food is coming from. There’s something reassuring in holding an Ontario-grown apple in your hand—you can put some trust in the labour and farming practices that went into growing that fruit. Getting the backstory on foods from afar can be incredibly difficult or impossible.

But you don’t need to travel far away to find agricultural and labour practices you don’t like. GMO crops, inhumanely raised animals, heavy chemical footprints (think herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides) and monocultures all exist in Ontario. So if you buy local in hopes of avoiding practices you don’t like, sometimes the imported option will be the better one.

Health Benefits

A lesser-known reason for choosing local is for the health benefits. Many nutrients degrade during transport (e.g. antioxidants oxidize), and many distantly-grown foods are bred for transportability instead of nutritional content. But if nutritional content is what you’re after, then sometimes it makes sense to choose the non-local option. For example, if you’re trying to make the most nutritious tomato sauce, then you’re better off going with imported canned tomatoes than locally grown tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are pasteurized and this process makes their lycopene content more bioavailable(1) than the lycopene in fresh tomatoes (lycopene might reduce risk of cardiovascular disease).

We Value Different Values

As you can see, buying local is about buying foods produced nearby, and there are many reasons why being grown nearby is important. I’ve listed a few of those reasons, but there’s a long list of other considerations: developing local food culture, creating a market for local varieties (which improves biodiversity!), having access to better information about varietals (“Is this tomato an Atomic Red or a Bolero?”), and building social relationships with food producers and manufacturers.

Weighing Values

As if making good food choices isn’t complicated enough, other factors often weigh in and make things more complicated. As a conscious eater, no doubt you’ve experienced this before: You’re standing in the grocery store trying to decide between two options. There’s a pint of certified organic strawberries grown in California and there’s a pint of non-organic strawberries grown locally. Which do you buy: local or organic?

What’s happening in this scenario is you have to make a value calculation. There are two values weighing in on your decision—your value for local food and your value for organic food. This is why it’s important to get clear on just why local is important to you. Do you want local because you want to minimize your carbon footprint, or because you want to support local farmers, or because of another reason? If you want local mostly because you want to support local farmers, you can put down the Californian strawberries.

These complicated scenarios are ubiquitous in our food choices. Do you go for the locally produced GMO soy milk or the imported organic soy milk? Do you prefer the local butter produced by cows fed on GMO corn or the imported butter produced with cream from grass-fed cows? In the winter, do you eat pesticide-intensive greenhouse-grown local strawberries or organic strawberries trucked from Mexico? In February, do you eat local corn-fed beef or grass-fed beef imported from New Zealand? (Remember, grass doesn’t grow during Ontario’s winter months…and hopefully it never does)

Once you know your reasons for buying local, you’re in a better position to choose the food option that most aligns with your values—whether that option is local or not.

Making these decisions can feel overwhelming. But there’s good news! There’s no right answer in these scenarios. When we’re forced to make these sorts of calculations, we have to pick and choose the criteria that are most important to us based on our values. So instead of getting hung up on what is the right decision, try getting clear about what you value and which options align with those values.

If you’re interested in making ethical food choices, then it’s crucial to understand that “local” is just one of many factors to consider when evaluating options at the grocery store or farmers’ market. But it’s tough to dig up information on our food and make value-based calculations. The best way to avoid all this confusion is to make fewer decisions; find a trustworthy grocer who can answer your questions, and let them do the deliberating for you

Jonathan Silver is an activist and food philosopher. He tweets @silverjonsilver.

 

 

(1) Shi, J. 2000. “Lycopene in tomatoes chemical and physical properties affected by food processing”. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 40 (1): 1-42. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11192026

Real Recipe: PORK CHOP, DANDELION GREENS & MAPLE-MUSTARD

Pork-Chop-Dandylion-Greens-Maple-Mustard

Paleo Master Ronny Joseph (cookingprimalgourmet.com) has created the following simple, yet divine recipe.  All photos currently of Ronny Joseph.

Aside from bacon, I’m not a huge fan of pork. I’m much more of a beef guy. Also really big into fish, in case you were wondering. Setting my carnal preferences aside, the folks at RealFoodToronto.com, which is the grocery delivery service offered by The Healthy Butcher, carry some of the absolute best pork products you can find in Toronto. In fact, I’m going to venture a guess that it’s about as good as you can get anywhere in the world. They carry heritage breed pork, Berkshire and Tamworth, and the animals are raised on a happy, local, Ontario farm. By happy I mean free of antibiotics, hormones, and allowed to pasture year-round. Believe me when I say that you can taste the difference. You may already know that I am a huge fan of their grass-fed beef, which I used in my YouTube recipe on How to Cook the Best Steak. If you want to take a break from beef, this Pork chop will hit the spot.

I love these bone-in, centre-cut loin chop with the fat cap still in tact. Maximum flavour at a very reasonable price. Especially considering the quality and size of the chop. You can have a look at their website for the different prices but it was low enough that I decided to order two.

This pork is very rich in flavour, partly because of the bone and amazing fat cap. Look at that thing. It’s a crescent moon of all things right in this world. If you’re looking for something to pair the meat with, try dandelion greens. They are bitter and cut through the rich, fattiness of the pork. You’ll want something to counteract the bitterness of the greens though. I like to make a really simple vinaigrette with maple syrup and whole-grain mustard. The grains of the mustard also give a really nice texture.

If you go to Big Crow in Toronto, my favourite BBQ joint in the city, you may come across a similar dish. A few years back I had a spectacular BBQ pork belly with dandelion greens and honey mustard. This dish is my riff on the flavour combination. Sadly the dish is no longer on their rotating menu. So if you work at Big Crow and are reading this, please put it back on the menu. Pretty please!

This is also my first time cooking with my brand new Hestan Nanobond Stainless Steel Skillet. The generous folks at Hestan very kindly sent me this pan for free. It’s still too early to give the skillet a fair review but I can tell you that it worked wonders with this recipe. Very responsive, even heat distribution, comfortable handle and superior non-stick capabilities. It will be very interesting to see how this pan performs after a month or two. I will be sure to follow-up with a separate review of the pan after I have a chance to cook some more with it.

Give this recipe a go and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Cheers,

Ronny

 

Ingredients:

FOR THE MAPLE-MUSTARD:

  1. To a mason jar, add the mustard, maple syrup, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Seal the top of the jar and shake the Dickens out of it. Taste for seasoning and adjust as required. Set aside.

FOR THE PORK AND DANDELION GREENS:

  1. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Pat pork chop dry with paper towel and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. Drizzle one tbsp avocado oil into the pan and carefully add the pork chop by laying it away from you to avoid oil splatter.
  3. Sear the pork for 4-5 minutes per side (depending on thickness). Remove pork chop once internal temperature of the thickest part reaches 145F – use a meat thermometer for accuracy. Let rest on a wire rack or cutting board.
  4. Reduce heat to medium and add dandelion greens to the skillet. If the skillet is dry, add 1 tbsp avocado oil.
  5. Season the greens with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook greens for 3-4 minutes while stirring constantly. Note: it’s ok if the leaves get a bit charred.
  6. Transfer the dandelion greens to a serving dish along with the rested pork chop. Drizzle everything with the Maple-Mustard and enjoy!

Pork-Chop-Dandylion-Greens-Maple-Mustard-Step1

Pork-Chop-Dandylion-Greens-Maple-Mustard-Step2

Pork-Chop-Dandylion-Greens-Maple-Mustard-Step3

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Pork-Chop-Dandylion-Greens-Maple-Mustard-Step7

 

Should GMO Foods be labeled?

Should-GMO-Foods-Be-Labelled-w720

This week we are encouraging you to get your voices heard in regards to new legislation that’s currently being debated in the House of Commons.

Private Members Bill C-291 would make it mandatory to label genetically engineered foods (“GMO”) as genetically modified.

At issue here is not whether GMO foods are safe, but providing the information to you, the consumer, to make informed decisions. 100% Transparency is the foundation upon which The Healthy Butcher and RealFoodToronto.com have been built, so needless to say we are in favour of Bill C-291, and we hope you are as well.

The bill was first debated for an hour on March 10, 2017 in the House of Commons. The second hour of debate is scheduled for May 5, 2017.  Will your MP vote YES to Bill C-291?

The reality, from our meat-heavy perspective, is that the ultimate wording of the Bill won’t go far enough.  As proposed, the Bill is a shell with very little detail.  If it were to get to the next stage, the Committee stage, then the wording and details would, presumably, be hashed out.  But if the wording falls in line with other legislation internationally, animals that were fed GMO corn would not be labelled as such – totally unfortunate.  Nonetheless, Canada has nothing now.

Sixty-four other countries around the world require labelling of genetically modified foods, but not Canada – and that’s pitiful.  We hope you have your voices heard.

The CBAN website (http://cban.ca/take-action/label-gm-foods/) has all the information you need as well as steps you can take to be involved. This is an important step in food transparency.

 

The Beginning of an Epic Battle in Grocery Home Delivery

The-Beginning-of-an-epic-battle-in-grocery-home-delivery

by Mario Fiorucci

 

I was invited to speak at Home Delivery World 2017 in Atlanta this past week on the topic of consumer adoption to online groceries. I was honoured to share the stage with an all-Canadian cast: Egil Nielsen (Penguin Pick-up & Penguin Fresh), Lawrence Farbman (WineOnline.ca), and Chris Bryson (Unata) all innovators in their field. Truth be told, this conference was one of the most enlightening conferences I’ve attended in quite some time. Enlightening mainly because it is abundantly clear that we’ve only now reached an inflection point in grocery home delivery, and the industry that I’ve been in since 2012 with RealFoodToronto.com is about to move from driving on a city street to the fast lane on the Autobahn. Of course, grocery delivery isn’t a new concept per se… the milk man was around long before the iPhone. But the combination of today’s technology and consumer adoption leads to projections like these: In 2017, 1 in 3 people will order groceries online; by 2020, online sales overall will reach $4 trillion (USD); and by 2025 online groceries will make up 20% of all grocery sales. These are serious numbers that will make every grocer, no matter how large or antiquated their current processes, wake up and hire new IT teams. To add more ammunition to the battlefield, traditional grocers are joined by innovative small companies (like mine), pure play online grocers, and of course let’s not overlook the real disrupting forces – Amazon and Google. In this article I will quickly summarize the various models that exist in the grocery delivery market (the “how” and “when” as I like to call them), and then in the next article I’ll move to the points of differentiation (the “what” and “why”).

In essence there are two variables that determine the model of all online grocery companies: (1) How the groceries reach the customer; and (2) When the groceries reach the customer. And I limit my discussion to fresh groceries only – like produce, fresh meat, fresh fish, etc. The e-commerce industry that offers and ships non-perishable food products, or for that matter frozen meat that’s shipped in insulated containers via traditional shipping companies, is a whole other industry completely that will have to compete with Amazon for a slice of the pie now and for the distant foreseeable future. But the game changes once you add delicate peaches and fresh steaks to the mix.

The How and When of eGrocery

The How and When of eGrocery, Mario Fiorucci

When you combine the various options of how groceries can reach customers with when the groceries can reach customers, you get 24 variations, and the logistical operations will change drastically from one extreme to another. And as I’ve indicated in the diagram, generally as you move to the top of the “how” and “when” columns the cost of providing that service will increase. I could add more models by simply adding a “where” column – as in where the groceries are coming from, the two options being from existing retail stores versus dedicated fulfillment centres.

RealFoodToronto.com offers home delivery to the door as well as click & collect in-store (The Healthy Butcher locations) and independent attended pickup locations (Penguin Pick-up). And to achieve some solid operational efficiencies those “how’s” are paired with either same-day or scheduled next day time slots. Penguin Pick-up is worth pointing out specifically as it is an example of innovative Canadian thinking that is poised for serious success worldwide as it will level the playing ground between the massive grocery chains and independent grocers. Penguin Pick-up is owned by SmartCentres, Canada’s largest developer/operator of shopping centres, currently has 54 locations with the majority being in the Greater Toronto Area. I couldn’t possibly provide the same click & collect convenience as, let’s say, Loblaws, but by offering pick-up to Penguin, I have effectively added dozens of convenient locations for pick-up around Toronto. But more than that, they aggregate orders of many companies so that when a customer picks up, they can be picking up groceries, apparel, electronics, housewares, etc from many retailers while keeping costs of delivery down to manageable levels.

E-Grocery is no doubt a complicated industry. The food industry operates on extremely slim margins, and no matter the model a company uses, there are added costs. I personally feel that consumers are ready to accept the added costs, or at least some of them for the gain of time and convenience. Everything you do currently when you drive to a typical grocery store is now being shifted to the e-Grocers. Someone or something needs to pick products off shelves, those products need to be amalgamated, and then delivered somehow to the selected destination. The next few years will be exciting to be a part of, as we’ll see a lot of innovation. What I certainly hope we don’t see is Amazon, Walmart, and major grocers, get caught up in a race to the bottom when it comes to recouping at least some of the added costs. It is a race that nobody will win.

Meat Tenderness

Rocky Tenderizing Beef

The human race has done strange things in the quest for tender meat. Case in point: In the 13th century, Mongol horsemen led by Genghis Khan – the “emperor of all emperors” – would wedge raw, salted meat under their saddles. The Mongols were a fast-moving, cavalry-based army that rode small sturdy ponies for days on end without ever dismounting. When it was time to eat, the horsemen would grab the warm, tenderized meat from under their saddles and dinner was served.

Tooshie-made jerky aside, tenderness is one of the two most important palatability characteristics relating to consumer satisfaction (the other being flavour). In this newsletter we will attempt to answer all the questions we regularly answer for customers related to the tenderness of meat. The article is, admittedly, a bit long – but we’re sure this article will become the consumer’s “bible” on the subject, as we have not found any other source – online or otherwise that have dealt with all these matters in one place. Enjoy.

What is Meat? And why is some meat tender, and some not?

Meat = Muscle

 

First and foremost, understand that meat is muscle. As a result, the easy-to-understand and easy-to-remember rule is: Regularly used muscles will result in tougher meat, while lesser used muscles will result in tender meat. Muscles can be split up into two categories: Locomotive or Support. Locomotive muscles allow the animal to move, like the fore and hind limbs, and are always used and generally tough. Support muscles, on the other hand, are not exercised to the extent of locomotive muscles; examples of support muscles are those from the rib, loin, and sirloin section.

Beef Tenderness - Muscle Tissue

Let’s take a deeper look at muscle tissue. Muscles are made up of three parts: fibres, connective tissue and fat. The more a muscle is used, the greater number of protein filaments within the fibre, and therefore the tougher the muscle will be. Connective tissue is mainly made up of protein called collagen. The more a muscle is used, the thicker and tougher the connective tissue – mainly the collagen – needs to be, and therefore the tougher the muscle will be. Fat in meat is actually just another form of connective tissue. However, the more intramuscular fat there is (called “marbling” in meat lingo), the more perceived tenderness a cut of meat will have because fat acts as lubrication when chewing and aids in the separation of fibres.

Judging Tenderness

Tenderness is a complex trait. Do you determine tenderness using an objective machine, or do you rely on subjective humans to determine tenderness? The truth probably lies in some complex amalgamation of the two.

The most common objective test is called the Warner-Bratzler shear force test. In this test, a device records the amount of force required to shear a piece of cooked meat. On the subjective side, we would take human judges, let them eat pieces of meat, and allow them to rank cuts based on ease of chewing. Not surprisingly, the results of the two tests are completely different. As seen in the table below, three out of the top five most tender cuts are different! For the purposes of this article, we will just pretend we live in a perfect world where we, and all machines, agree to what tenderness actually is.

MOST TENDER as determined by Warner-Bratzler Shear Force Test

  1. Tenderloin (Psoas major)
  2. Flat Iron (Infraspinatus)
  3.  Rib Cap (Spinalis Dorsi)
  4. Boneless Short Ribs (Serratus Ventralis)
  5. Sub-Eye (Multifidus Dorsi, a very small muscle that runs through the Loin, Rib, and Chuck section and is present in Striploin, Rib, and Blade Steaks)
MOST TENDER as determined by panel

  1. Tenderloin (Psoas major)
  2. Flat Iron (Infraspinatus)
  3. Strip Loin (Longissimus Lumborum)
  4. Rib Eye (Longissimus Thoracis)
  5. Sirloin Tip (Rectus Femoris)

SOURCE: Ranking of Beef Muscles for Tenderness, by Chris R Calkin, Ph. D. and Gary Sullivan, University of Nebraska

 Factors that play major roles in the tenderness of meat

Age

Don’t confuse the age of an animal with “ageing meat”, discussed below. In general, the amount and overall toughness of connective tissue within muscles increases as animals get older. So the meat from younger animals will be – all other factors being equal – more tender than that of older animals.

Stress

It has been proven that stress in transport, yarding, handling and slaughter has a major impact on the ultimate tenderness of meat. This is one of the areas that The Healthy Butcher does very well relative to most competitors. First off, we simply won’t deal with a farmer if we know that the animals will be transported long distances and improperly handled during the transport. It is remarkable, actually thoroughly disgusting, when you realize how far conventional animals travel in a cramped truck to get to an abattoir. The transfer alone plays a huge role in the ultimate quality of the meat. Once the animals arrive at an abattoir, good abattoirs will have a pen where the animals can rest for a period of time; preferably enough time so that the animals become comfortable in their environment.

Fat Content

Fat plays multiple roles in meat. First, the intramuscular fat or marbling improves tenderness by acting as a lubricant between meat fibres making the fibres easier to pull apart. Fat also stimulates the flow of saliva which has the effect of further stimulating taste and further increasing tenderness or perception of tenderness. Fat also provides some protection against overcooking.

Feed and Nutrition

The feed given to an animal indirectly affects tenderness. Firstly, an animal – let’s say a beef – that is fed a diet of corn and grains will, generally, gain more fat. As we have learned, fat will increase tenderness. Secondly, animals that are fed a corn and grain diet tend to gain weight faster and will be slaughtered at a younger age; younger animals are naturally more tender.

Genetics

Genetic make-up of animals is one of the most important factors in determining the muscular structure of an animal, and therefore the tenderness of individual muscles. More importantly, different breeds will respond differently to different feed programs… Angus beef for example, develops a good amount of marbling when it is finished on grains, and as we have learned above, the marbling increases perceived tenderness. In the beef industry, for example, there are specialized farms that own highly prized bulls and cows and they sell and ship semen and embryos around the world for lots of money.

Methods of increasing tenderness

Above we explained that meat – muscle tissue – is made up of fibres, connective tissue and fat. The level of fat is determined by the type of animal and its diet. Once a piece of meat is on our plate, there’s little we can do to increase the fat within the muscle. We could lard it or “bard it”, but we won’t get into that here. So that leaves dealing with the fibres and connective tissue – and that’s what ageing, marinating, proper cooking, and slicing across the grain accomplish.

Dry Ageing vs. Wet Ageing vs. No Ageing

It’s time to dispel some misunderstandings about what “aged meat” is and is not. To do this, let’s simply group all meat available for purchase into three categories: (1) not aged; (2) Wet Aged; and (3) Dry Aged. We’ll start with the latter since it is, in our opinion, the most important.

Dry Ageing is a lost art. It is the process of hanging meat, usually the whole carcass or large portions, in a temperature and humidity controlled environment for a period of time. During this hanging time, two important processes are at work. First, the natural enzymes begin to break down the fibres of the muscle, and in turn tenderize the meat. Second, the water or moisture in the meat evaporates – which is why we refer to the process as “dry ageing”. The loss of water will have the effect of concentrating the flavour of the meat; upwards of 20% of weight can be lost during dry ageing which adds to the final price tag. Paradoxically, the loss of water actually makes for moister meat when cooked. When wet meat, or meat that is not dry aged, is cooked the water in the meat expands as the temperature rises during cooking, thereby stretching the fibres of the meat and leaching out between them. Further, if you plan on freezing your meat then meat that has been dry ages will freeze better – less water in the meat means less freezer burn. Up until the 1960s, dry ageing meat was the standard. Of course, there is a huge cost to dry ageing – both because there is a significant loss of weight (and meat is sold by weight) and cost of storing the meat in refrigerated environments. The result of dry ageing beef, when done properly, for at least two weeks but preferably four weeks, is a nutty smelling steak that is tender and has a concentrated, complex beefy taste that is unmistakeable and delectable.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is not ageing meat at all. In today’s modern meat processing industry, the standard is to break the carcass down and vacuum-seal the meat in plastic bags within 24 hours. Cuts of meat will usually be on grocery store shelves for sale within two-to-four days after harvest. The result of non-aged beef is iron- or bloody-tasting meat that is fairly tough unless you’re picking only tenderloin and a couple other muscles.

Wet Ageing is the industry term used for keeping the meat in the vacuum bags for longer periods of time. Industry experts are quick to point out that the tenderizing effect still takes place because the enzymes are still at work breaking down muscle tissue. While that is true, let’s call a spade a spade, the meat is essentially marinating in its own blood. Not only will the flavour of the meat not concentrate as it does in the dry ageing process, but I have yet to taste a wet aged steak that doesn’t taste somewhat iron-like.

It is important to point out that most meat that is dry aged is beef – and there is a reason for that. Younger animals such as pork, lamb and veal do not take well to lengthy dry ageing as they are unlikely to have the fat covering or the marbling to protect the meat from becoming rotten.  Even 100%

Further, there are many beef that do not take well to dry ageing.  Case in point is a lot of the local 100% grassfed beef we sell.   This beef, which is usually leaner, has to be very carefully dry aged for the same reason as above.

The main point to remember is that ageing beef or any meat is an art, and thankfully it is not a lost art because of the few quality butchers shops in Toronto that realize our experience of food is important and it is not all about selling cheap food.

Marinating

Using a liquid or powdered tenderizing agent can, in some cases, be very effective – and in other cases useless. By far, the most common method of tenderizing involves marinating meat in some form of acidic liquid, such as vinegar. Such marinades are fairly slow in their ability to tenderize and require lengthy marinade times, so the overall effectiveness is questionable. Tea, which contains a lot of tannins, can also be used to naturally tenderize meat.

The most effective of the marinating techniques involves the use of enzymes, the two most popular being papain and bromelain. Papain is found in papaya fruits, and bromelaine is found in pineapple plants. These enzymes act by breaking down the collagen in meat.

The problem with marinade tenderizers in general is that only the surface of the meat is fully exposed to the marinade. Usually, the result is meat that is mushy on the outside and unaffected on the inside. Ultimately, we are not proponents of marinating to increase tenderness. If you are using a marinade to tenderize, then limit your choice of cuts to thin ones that can benefit from tenderizing, like flank and skirt steak for example.

Manual and Mechanical Tenderizing

Beating a piece of meat senseless can be quite effective at improving tenderness, in addition to having a Zen-like effect to the beater… a la Rocky Balboa. The only problem is that the meat will look like you’ve beaten it senseless.

SwissmarMeatTenderizer

The most common tenderizering tool is a meat mallet. Generally speaking, meat mallets are two-sided, with one side being flat, the other set with rows of pyramid-shaped spikes. By hammering at the meat, the fibers will be softened, thereby making the meat easier to chew, it will also allow you to make cuts thinner and wider. If you’re goal is to make tender cutlets or schnitzel, then look no further than this method.

jaccard-meat-tenderizer-48

The other form of tenderizer uses blades that are designed to puncture the meat and cut the fibres. Such tenderizers exist both in small hand-form tools, as well as large machines used in processing plants. Blade tenderizing can be an effective tenderizing method, but used only on cuts that truly need the help. If anyone uses a blade tenderizer on any of the dry aged steaks from The Healthy Butcher, you will be banned from the store. 😉

 

meat-grinder

Of course, grinding meat is the ultimate method of mechanical tenderization – used to turn otherwise very tough cuts of meat into extremely tender sausages and burgers.

 

Cooking

OK let’s keep this section simple because it is a huge topic and one we have dealth with already…

Click here for our article on Cooking The Perfect Steak

Click here for our article on Braising

Slicing Thin Across the Grain

Recall, we explained that muscle is made up of muscle fibres. These fibres are bundled together in strands. If you cut meat parallel to its fibre you can plainly see the fibre bundles with the naked eye, stacked up like the wall of a log cabin. If you cut across the fibre bundles, called “cutting across the grain”, you can see the ends of each bundle. It is always easier to pull the bundles apart than it is to cut them. So, by far the easiest method of tenderizing meat is to simply slice across the grain, as thin slices as possible. When you chew this sliced meat you will need to cut less of the fibre bundles with your teeth, making the bite easier to chew. In other words, the goal is to slice meat across the grain, in order to chew with the grain.

Conclusion

Age, stress, fat content, feed, and genetics all play a role in determining meat tenderness. Should we avoid tougher muscles? Absolutely not, on the contrary, those muscles are the tastiest. The key is to pick the appropriate cooking method for the cut you are cooking. The rule is that tougher meat requires slow, moist cooking methods (such as braising, stewing and boiling); such cooking techniques loosen connective tissue creating tender, juicy, and tasty meat. On the other hand, the more tender cuts of meat from lesser used muscles can be cooked with dry heat methods (such as grilling, roasting, and broiling). If you are grilling tertiary cuts, like Flank, Tri Tip, and Flat Iron, slice thin across the grain. Limit the use of chemical and mechanical tenderizing methods; if you are buying quality meat, it deserves better treatment.

 

Sources and Further Reading

McGee, Harold.  On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.  This book is the bible of gastronomical science

Ranking of Beef Muscles for Tenderness, by Chris R Calkin, Ph. D. and Gary Sullivan, University of Nebraska

 

Sparkling Mineral Water – Sodium Content, pH Level, Bloating, and our Taste Test

Sparkling Water

Article by Andrea Cole, Registered Holistic Nutritionist

A RealFoodToronto.com customer recently asked if she had to worry about the sodium content in sparkling water. In this article I will answer that question, discuss pH, common bloating, as well as provide an overview of the major brands of sparkling waters on the market.

When I refer to “sparkling water” I’m referring to naturally sourced mineral water that is carbonated in some way, and not Club Soda or Seltzers. And by “mineral water” I’m talking about water taken from underground springs, mountains or other physically protected water sources. It seems that generally the European sparkling waters have higher amounts of minerals compared to the Canadian contingent in this article (Eska), but all have at least 250 parts per million of dissolved mineral solids including Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Bicarbonate, Sulfate, Nitrate and Silica. Minerals are a necessary part of our diet, but our bodies only need small “trace” quantities. Certainly if you are consuming whole foods, you’re getting enough minerals and I would not go as far as to say drinking sparkling water is beneficial for its mineral content.

Sodium Content

Since mineral waters are naturally sourced, the sodium comes from natural sources as well which we know to have health benefits. The amounts are not huge, anywhere from 3mg/L (Eska), 12mg/L (Perrier), 32mg/L (Pellegrino) to 118mg/L (Grolsteiner) (3) – none will put you over the recommended intake of sodium. The Recommended Daily Amount for sodium is around 1300-2300mg/day (2), and as long as you are eating a diet based on whole foods and not solely consisting of processed or restaurant foods, you’re probably well within that limit.

pH Level

We know that our bodies need to maintain a very narrow pH range of 7.35-7.45 (this range is effectively neutral, or very slightly alkaline – since the range is from 0 – acidic to 14- alkaline). Having too many acidic foods and drinks, or acid-causing foods and drinks, will disrupt this balance. Now, our bodies will maintain balance no matter what otherwise death occurs. But, is it harder on our kidneys, digestion, teeth and bones to have acidic things? Maybe. In the case of mineral water, it seems it is only a small concern. They are only slightly acidic, not anywhere near the acidity of colas or other sweetened carbonated drinks:

LIQUID

pH LEVEL

Battery Acid 1
Coke 2.5
Club Soda 3.5
Sparkling Mineral Waters in this article 5.3-6
Pure water 7
Normal range for surface water systems 6.5-8.5

The bottom line is there is no concern from a pH perspective in drinking naturally occurring mineral water that has been carbonated. The carbonation does make the pH more acidic, but nothing to be concerned about.

Bloating

Most, if not all people, will experience some degree of bloating from drinking carbonated beverages of any sort. This really depends on your body and how much you’ve consumed. I realize that the feel of the bubbles in your mouth elevates the water to something special, but obviously, if you’re experience uncomfortable bloating after drinking sparkling water, than don’t drink sparkling water.

An overview of major brands and our in-house taste tests:

I have not assigned an official rank since taste is subjective.  From our panel of 8 judges tasting the following four waters, Pellegrino, Eska and Perrier were all ranked as favourites amongst the judges.  Only Gerolsteiner did not receive top ranking from any judge.

 BRAND

ABOUT

QUOTES FROM OUR JUDGES

Pellegrino

(purchase from RealFoodToronto here)

From the foothills of the Italian Alps near Bergamo, Italy and has added CO2 from a natural mine. “That’s Pellegrino!”, “Minerally aftertaste in mouth”, “Fine bubbles”

Eska

(purchase from RealFoodToronto here)

From underground at the St. Mathieu Esker, Quebec from underground glacial rock. CO2 is added at bottling.  “Clean taste, fine bubbles”, “Fizzy, tangy, tingles on the tongue”, “Tastes and feels more carbonated”.
 Perrier From the Vergeze spring in France, it is naturally carbonated but the CO2 is removed and re-added for consistent carbonation. “Milder”, “Very bubbly”, “Mineral aftertaste”.
Gerolsteiner  From a volcanic crater lake in the Eifel region of western Germany.  It is naturally carbonated.  “Very Club-Soda-ish”, “Tasted like bar soda from a gun”, “flat”.

Try your own taste test and see which you like, but feel free to enjoy sparkling water without worrying about salt or acidity.  We all need to stay hydrated and pure, clean natural water benefits our health with needed minerals too!

 

Endnotes

  1. Spritzler, Franziska. Carbonated (Sparkling) Water:  Good or Bad?   Authority Nutrition.    Jan 10, 2017.  http://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/differences-mineral-water-tonic-club-soda-seltzer-article
  2. Government of Canada. Sodium:  The Basics.  2013.  Web. Jan 18, 2017.  http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/healthy-eating-saine-alimentation/nutrients-nutriments/sodium/basics-savoir-eng.php
  3. Reinagel, Monica. Is Mineral Water Good For You?.  July, 2010.  Jan, 18, 2017.  http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/healthy-eating/is-mineral-water-good-for-you

References

Asprey, Dave.  Mineral Water Benefits:  Why Drink Bubbly Mineral Water Every Day.  Web.  Jan. 10, 2017.  https://blog.bulletproof.com/mineral-water-benefits-pellegrino-sulphates/

Dukor, Matt.  The Differences between Mineral Water, Tonic, Club Soda, Seltzer Water. Epicurious.com, Feb. 2015.  Web. Jan. 11, 2017.  http://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/differences-mineral-water-tonic-club-soda-seltzer-article

Gunnars, Kris.  Authority Nutrition.  The Salt Myth – How Much Sodium Should You Eat Per Day?   Web.  Jan 11, 2017.  https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-sodium-per-day/

Llyod, Robin.  Livescience.  Acids in Popular Sodas Erode Tooth Enamel.  March, 2007.  Web.  Jan 18, 2017.  http://www.livescience.com/7198-acids-popular-sodas-erode-tooth-enamel.html

http://www.eskawater.com

https://www.sanpellegrino.com/ca/en

https://www.perrier.com

http://www.gerolsteiner-usa.com/home.html

Does eating Soy harmfully increase estrogen in your body?

Does eating Soy harmfully increase estrogen in your body?

Article by Andrea Cole, Registered Holistic Nutritionist

There is plenty of controversy over Soy and Soy-based foods in the media and depending where you look or who you ask, you can find just as much information and studies relating to how Soy is a protein-rich, healthy superfood as well as it being an endocrine disrupting, anti-nutrient danger.  These opinions and the findings of studies vary greatly depending on who is conductingor funding the studies and differing interests (omnivores vs. vegetarians, medical doctors vs. nutritionists, etc).  The majority of “studies” on humans have been observational, and therefore not scientifically valid.  One of our biggest questions at The Healthy Butcher and RealFoodToronto.com is around Phytoestrogen.  Specifically, do the Phytoestrogens in soy cause hormonal issues in our bodies? I’ll explain what Phytoestrogen is and why there is a cause for concern.

A Phytoestrogen is defined as “any group of non-steroidal substances found in plants, including Isoflavones, that are structurally similar to estrogen and can mimic or modulate the action of endogenous estrogen when ingested by humans and other animals”(1).   It is the Isoflavone content in soy that constitutes it being a Phytoestrogen, specifically Genistein, Daidzein and Glucitein.  These Isoflavones are similar in molecular structure to the hormone Estrogen and as a result they have effects of stimulating the estrogen receptors in human cells (called the “estrogenic effect”) (2).   Bottomline, they can disrupt your body’s normal function.  Just how much they disrupt your bodily function depends on a host of factors, including the amount of Phytoestrogen already in your body and a slew of genetic factors (3).  I should note that the majority of external estrogen is consumed from milk and factory-farmed meat (where it is common to feed GMO Soy as a major part of their diet).

Historically, Isoflavones first came to the attention of scientists in the 1940’s because of breeding problems in female sheep in Australia grazing on a type of clover rich in Isoflavones.  Twenty years later, it was established that isoflavone-rich soy fed as part of the diet to cheetahs in North American Zoos was a factor in the decline in their fertility (4).   In the 1950’s, Isoflavones were being studied by the animal feed industry as possible growth-promoters because of reported estrogenic effects.  In the 1960’s, soy isoflavones were established as Phytoestrogens because of their binding affinities to estrogen receptors (5).

On the positive side, some studies have found that consuming phytoestrogens can have protective factors including reducing symptoms of menopause and hormone-sensitive cancers and some studies have found possible cholesterol-lowering effects.  The Soy industry has largely promoted Soy as a health food as it is high in protein, low in fat and containing the full amount of amino acids making it a complete protein as well as containing Iron, Vitamins B and C, Magnesium, Folate, Niacin and Zinc.  Now, there is an issue with absorption of these nutrients due to the Phytic acid content like in many nuts, seeds and legumes, but that’s a whole other article.

On the negative side, according to the Weston A. Price foundation, the negatives outweigh the positives when it comes to Soy.  They list a myriad of health issues including the potential to reduce fertility, promote breast cancer, accelerate brain decline, contribute to hypo-thyroid and thyroid cancer, trigger early puberty, disrupt development of fetuses, affect erectile function and depress the immune function (6).  They also state that in infants fed soy milk formula there is a link to auto-immune and thyroid disease as well as early puberty and fertility issues later in life (7).  A recent article in Scientific American compares the main isoflavone in soy, genistein to BPA’s which are known xenoestrogens found in plastics that are linked to brain harm and reproductive disruptions (8).  There is controversy over the validity of these statements, and the Soy industry spends money on debunking these studies and funding ones with more positive outcomes.  Make no mistake about it, the Soy industry is a massive one and Soy is found in more foods than you think (9), so the economic impact is significant.

Of main concern to me as a Nutritionist, and us here at The Healthy Butcher and RealFoodToronto.com is the large amount of soybean oil and soy protein isolate in our food system today.  Soy ingredients are in more than 60% of processed and packaged foods and in nearly 100% of fast foods (10).  These ingredients are things like flavourings, preservatives, emulsifiers and sweeteners and are found in things like meal replacement bars, chocolate bars, soups, sauces, meat alternatives, cereals, bullion, ice cream, bakery products and bread and are also called Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Lecithin, “Natural Flavour”, MSG and Mono and Diglyceride.  These processed “foods” with heavy marketing lead to overconsumption of something that isn’t meant to be consumed at all.

So I arrive at my conclusion, which is the same conclusion I come to in most of my articles.  Eat real, whole foods and don’t worry about over analyzing the nutritional content!  Traditional ways of consuming soy, like organic whole soybeans (edamame) or fermented soy like tempeh, miso, natto and soy sauce have been consumed as part of a healthy traditional Asian diet for countless years and the consensus from many doctors and nutritionists is that these are a safer, healthier choices.  In general, it’s hard to go wrong with whole, organic, unprocessed foods in balanced amounts.  Problems typically occur with processed food in all forms, including Soy.

 

REFERENCES

(1) The American Heritage Medical Dictionary.  Houton Mifflin Company, 2007.  http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/phytoestrogen
(2)   Andrew, Ryan.  Precision Nutrition Inc. Soy:  The Latest Research.  Web. Nov 2016. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/soy-latest-research
(3) Ibid.
(4) Mesina, Mark.  The Journal of Nutrition:  A Brief Historical Overview of the Past Two Decades of Soy and Isoflavone Research.  California, 2010.  J. Nutr. 140: 1350S–1354S, 2010.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Nienheiser, Jill.  The Weston A. Price Foundation.  Studies showing adverse effects of Soy, 1939-2014.  August 2003.  Web. Nov. 2016.  http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/studies-showing-adverse-effects-of-dietary-soy-1939-2008/
(7) Ibid.
(8) Konkel, Lindsey.  Environmental Health News.  Could Eating Too Much Soy Be Bad For           You?  Nov 2009.  Web.  Nov 2016.  https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soybean-fertility-hormone-isoflavones-genistein/
(9) The US is one of the largest producers of soy worldwide (55%) and 90% of soy crops are GMO.  Andrew, Ryan.  Precision Nutrition Inc. Soy:  The Latest Research.  Web. Nov 2016. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/soy-latest-research
(10) Daniel, Kaayla.  The Weston A. Price Foundation.  Response to Dr. Mark Hyman.  Soy:       Blessing or Curse? Sept. 2010.  Web.  Nov 2016.  http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/response-to-dr-mark-hyman/