The ‘chocolate helps weight loss’ hoax

How hard is it to fool people with “news” about nutrition and weight loss? Not hard at all, as it happens. From I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.

“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily”, page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.”

I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

Here’s how we did it. [continue]

See also: Why a journalist scammed the media into spreading bad chocolate science at NPR.

More eggs, please. Cholesterol is OK now

From The Times: More eggs, please. Cholesterol is OK now.

If you are reading this before breakfast, please consider having an egg. Any day now, the US government will officially accept the advice to drop cholesterol from its list of “nutrients of concern” altogether. It wants also to “de-emphasise” saturated fat, given “the lack of evidence connecting it with cardiovascular disease”.

This is a mighty U-turn, albeit hedged about in caveats, and long overdue. The evidence has been building for years that eating cholesterol does not cause high blood cholesterol. A 2013 review by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology found “no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum [blood] cholesterol”.

Cholesterol is not some vile poison but an essential ingredient of life, which makes animal cell membranes flexible and is the raw material for making hormones, like testosterone and oestrogen. Your liver manufactures most of the cholesterol found in your blood from scratch, and adjusts for what you ingest, which is why diet does not determine blood cholesterol levels. Lowering blood cholesterol by changing diet is all but impossible.

Nor is there any good evidence that high blood cholesterol causes atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease or shorter life. It is not even a risk factor in people who have already had heart attacks. In elderly people — ie, those who have the most heart attacks — the lower your blood cholesterol, the greater your risk of death. Likewise in children. [continue]

It’s illegal to throw out good food in France

It’s not often that news of a new law cheers me, but this one’s great. From Mother Jones: This Is the Unprecedented New Law France Just Passed to Eliminate Supermarket Waste.

On Thursday, France’s parliament unanimously approved a new law prohibiting large supermarkets from throwing out unsold food, instead mandating stores donate any surplus groceries to charities or for animal feed use. (…)

The new regulations will also ban the common practice of intentionally destroying unsold food by bleaching it—a process meant to prevent people from searching for food in dumpsters, which has lead to lawsuits after people became sick from eating spoiled food. [continue]

So, let’s just do this everywhere.

When the woolly mammoth ran out, early man turned to roasted vegetables

From the L.A. Times: When the woolly mammoth ran out, early man turned to roasted vegetables.

Long before early humans in North America grew corn and beans, they were harvesting and cooking the bulbs of lilies, wild onions and other plants, roasting them for days over hot rocks, according to a Texas archaeologist.

The evidence for this practice has long been known of in fire-cracked rock piles found throughout the continent, but archaeologists have tended to ignore it "because a new pyramid or a Clovis arrow point is much sexier," said archaeologist Alston V. Thoms of Texas A&M University. [continue]

12-year-old’s a food critic, and the chef loves it

From the New York Times: 12-Year-Old’s a Food Critic, and the Chef Loves It.

Everyone’s a critic, and apparently it’s never too soon to start.

That’s why David Fishman, an Upper West Sider who turned 12 last month, decided to take himself out for dinner one night last week. His parents had called him at home to say they were running late, suggesting that he grab some takeout at the usual hummus place.

Hummus, again? David thought he could do better than that.

He had recently passed by the newly opened Salumeria Rosi, a few blocks from his home, and had been intrigued by the reflective black back wall, the cuts of dried pork hanging from the ceiling, the little jars of cured olives and artichokes adorning the walls. If it was O.K. with his mom (and it turned out it was), he wanted to try that instead. [continue].

Cake in a mug

OK, who has a microwave oven? I don’t, so I’m relying on you to test this recipe and let me know how it goes. From Make cake in a mug.

You’re working at home and your mind starts to wander to snack possibilities. There are probably some prepackaged, good-until-the-next-millennium baked items in your cabinet, but you’re in the mood for something warm from the oven. Something chocolate. However, your compulsion to work is just strong enough to keep you from leaving the computer long enough to make something from scratch. Guess it’ll have to be another stale Twinkie after all.

But wait! With Cake in a Mug, you can have a hot, delicious, fresh-baked chocolate cake in minutes! And all it takes is a microwave, some hot chocolate mix, and a couple of ingredients you’ve probably got in your kitchen.

Ready to make your own Cake in a Mug? Everything you need to know is below. [continue].

Dry-ice martini and electric cake

From the New York Times: Dry-Ice Martini and Electric Cake.

When does a recipe become a science project?

Is it when the compulsion to create an edible electrical circuit keeps a cook up all night, wrapping Twizzler string licorice in pure silver?

Is it when a baker decides to bake 20 equilateral-triangle-shaped pecan pies for Thanksgiving, then attach them together with magnets to form an 80-serving icosahedron? (The recipe begins with 30 cups of flour and 2 large sheets of 24-gauge steel.)

Certainly, when the urge to build a better chocolate fountain — and then fill it with 10 gallons of hot gravy — becomes irresistible, some line between cooking and science has been crossed. [continue].

World’s oldest cooked cereal was instant

From World’s oldest cooked cereal was instant.

European diners around 8,000 years ago could enjoy a bowl of instant wheat cereal that, aside from uneven cooking and maybe a few extra lumps, wasn’t very different from hot wheat cereals served today, suggests a new study that describes the world’s oldest known cooked cereal.

Dating from between 5920 to 5730 B.C., the ancient cereal consisted of parboiled bulgur wheat that Early Neolithic Bulgarians could refresh in minutes with hot water.

"People boiled the grain, dried it, removed the bran and [continue].

Wine flowing from Italian taps is hailed as a miracle

One of my fantasies has come true, but alas — for somebody else, not for me. Slashfood explains:

When a woman in Marino, a small Italian town south of Rome, turned on her kitchen tap, she got a spurt of wine instead of water. "Miracolo!" she shouted, and ran outside to tell others.

Word quickly spread, and soon residents all over town were filling bottles and containers with Frascati, the local white wine made from trebbiano and malvasia grapes.

It turns out the wine [continue]

The Telegraph has more on the story: Wine flowing from Italian taps is hailed as a miracle.

City restaurant offers feast fit for a polar explorer

From The Times: City restaurant offers feast fit for a polar explorer.

He was the very model of the Edwardian gentleman explorer: the heroic trailblazer of the polar south and inspiration to generations of intrepid spirits. Sir Ernest Shackleton has never, however, provided much in the way of inspiration for London’s chefs.

To the men who followed him towards the South Pole in the winter of 1908, he offered only biscuits, a stodgy, greasy stew supplemented with horse food and the occasional piece of pony.

Chefs all over London studiously ignored his contributions to cuisine. But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Yesterday, as the descendants of Shackleton prepared to recreate his extraordinary journey, Pawel Jursa, the Polish chef at the Green Door Bar & Grill, in the City of London, offered bankers and stockbrokers the chance to consume 6,000 calories at a single sitting, the required daily intake when trekking towards the pole. [continue]

Library to share 14th-century royal cookbook online

Now this is the kind of thing that makes the Internet worthwhile. From the Guardian: Library to share 14th-century royal cookbook online.

A rare medieval cookbook is to be digitally photographed page by page and the results uploaded to the internet for gourmands around the globe to study.

Forme of Cury, a recipe book compiled by King Richard II’s master cooks in 1390, details around 205 dishes cooked in the royal household and sheds light on a little-studied element of life in the Dark Ages.

Written in Middle English, it contains the instructions for creating long-forgotten dishes such as blank mang (a sweet dish of meat, milk, sugar and almonds), mortrews (ground and spiced pork), and the original quiche, known in 14th century kitchens as custard. [continue, see photo]

I will probably dream of this all night, and wake up tomorrow obsessing about the book.

Student meal credits feed homeless people

From the Univesity of Toronto’s alumni magazine: Lunchtime Express.

Students living in residence often reach year’s end with unused credit on their meal plans. Students Against Hunger (SAH) converts donated meal credits into bagged lunches for the homeless in Toronto.

Olivier Sorin, a former don at the Margaret Addison residence, recalls the meeting in fall 2003 when students on his floor conceived the idea. "We realized that students didn’t have great riches," he says, "but had intangible resources. We had our time, our energy – and we had these meal credits."

In partnership with the Burwash Hall cafeteria, Sorin and the founding executive members created a meal credit bank, and the donations began pouring in. They haven’t stopped. Last year, SAH distributed 50 meals each week, through the soup kitchen at nearby Church of the Redeemer. Since the group’s inception, students have delivered thousands of meals to those in need. [continue]

Ferreti: a medieval instrument for forming macaroni

I happened to notice this in one of our cookbooks, A Mediterranean Feast.

A medieval instrument for forming macaroni is still used today in Calabria. Ferrassoli or ferrazzuoli is a kind of pasta made with a device called a ferreti, a thin iron rod. A ball of dough is rolled as thick as a pencil and cut into 2 1/2 inch lengths. One kind of ferreti is an iron rod that is greased and placed lengthwise on the rolls of pasta dough and rolled back and forth, wrapping the dough around the ferreti until one has 6-inch lengths. The dough slides off the ferreti and one ends up with, depending on the diameter of the ferreti, a kind of spaghetti with a large hole in the middle — what is called perciatelli or bucatini today in most parts of Italy, or ziti, rigatoni, or macaroni. Other instruments traditionally used to make this pasta in southern Italy and Sicily have been knitting needdles and billiard cues.

Fascinating, no? I’d love to watch somebody making this kind of pasta.

Did I tell you that one of my recent New Year’s resolutions was to make pasta? Well. I did it, but it was way more work than I’d bargained for, and my pasta was horrible. Two bites, then into the rubbish it went. But hey — resolution accomplished! I have since resolved not to make any more pasta unless I find a better way.

A ‘miracle tree’ that could feed sub-Saharan Africa

From A ‘miracle tree’ that could feed sub-Saharan Africa.

As a child growing up in India, I greeted the appearance of one particular vegetable on my plate with exaggerated distaste: tender seedpods from the moringa tree, locally known as "drumsticks." Imagine my surprise when I heard a health worker from sub-Saharan Africa describe this backyard tree as a possible solution to malnutrition in tropical countries — he called it a "miracle tree," no less.

Ounce for ounce, says Lamine Diakite, a Red Cross official from French Guinea in West Africa, moringa leaves contain more beta carotene than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas. Its protein content is comparable to that of milk and eggs, and its leaves are still available for harvest at the end of the dry season, when other food may be scarce. Malnourished children gained weight when put on a timely dietary supplement made from the leaves, Mr. Diakite says. He passed around pouches of the green, hennalike powder at a recent international summit in Boston.

Until a decade ago, [continue]

Continue reading

Stone-age pilgrims trekked hundreds of miles to attend feasts

From The Guardian: Stone-age pilgrims trekked hundreds of miles to attend feasts.

Stone age people drove animals hundreds of miles to a site close to Stonehenge to be slaughtered for ritual feasts, according to scientists who have examined the chemical signatures of animal remains buried there.

The research suggests that Neolithic people travelled further than archaeologists had previously realised in order to attend cultural events. (…)

"We are looking at communication networks and rituals that are bringing people from a large area of southern England to the Stonehenge area before the Stonehenge stones were in place," said Dr Jane Evans at the British Geological Survey in Nottingham. "I think what we are seeing is basically a sort of bring-your-own-beef barbecue at Durrington Walls."

The evidence points to groups of people driving animals from as far away as Wales for the feast events. [continue]

Another slice of magpie tart, please

From the Times Online: Another slice of magpie tart, please.

When the culinary arts began to flourish across Europe in the Middle Ages, British courts were as self-consciously enthusiastic as their Italian and French counterparts. Instead of wasting money on foreign wars, Richard II’s court was conspicuously lavish when it came to food and drink. In fact, the earliest extensive British culinary manuscript to survive was penned by his master cooks back in 1390.

The 196 recipes in this rare scroll include instructions for hearty soups, slow-cooked stews and complex dishes of boiled and roasted meats. They use a wide variety of fresh and saltwater fish, a dizzying array of herbs, and promote dishes rich in root vegetables and pulses — just as the Italians do now.

Among King Richard’s recipes is even our earliest one for salad. It uses only the smallest leaves of parsley, sage, borage, mint, fennel, cresses, rosemary, rue and purslane mixed with minced garlic, small onions and leeks, decorated with slivered, toasted nuts and pomegranate seeds. [continue]

Significance of milk in development of culture to be studied

From Science Daily: Significance Of Milk In Development Of Culture To Be Studied.

The capacity to drink and tolerate milk may have been of tremendous importance for the cultural development of Europe. In a major EU project, being launched today and coordinated by Uppsala University in Sweden, researchers will now study when and where this capacity emerged and what it entailed.

Lactose tolerance, which provides the ability to drink milk as an adult, varies across countries. In Scandinavia, excluding Finland, it is widely disseminated. Most of us tolerate dairy products without any problems. The question of just where this ability arose and how it spread has spawned various theories. By gathering 15 research teams with different specializations in genetics, organic chemistry, and archeology, it will hopefully now be possible to find out what the truth really is. [continue].

How to cook a whale found dead

From we have a translation of a old Kwakuitl recipe: How to cook a whale found dead.

A kettle of water is set to boil on the beach, and the strips are boiled to render the oil. The oil is ladled off and stored in watertight storage boxes. Whale oil is best stored in the corner of your house.

Then, you take cedar bark, and split it into long strips. Poke holes in the middle of the boiled pieces of whale blubber, and thread them onto the long strips of bark. When finished these strings of blubber are called "tied-in-the-middle."

Dry these strips in the smoky rafters of your house for at least a month. When you want to eat some "tied-in-the-middle" take it down from the rafters, and [continue]

Of course, these days people in charge of whales found dead are more likely to get some dynamite and blow a whale up than eat it, but such is life. Good to know there are still traditional recipes one might try.

New giant clam found; may have fed early humans

From National Geographic: New Giant Clam Found; May Have Fed Early Humans.

Genetic analysis has helped identify a new giant clam species in the Red Sea, a new study says.

The mollusk may hold clues to how and why humans migrated out of Africa more than a hundred thousand years ago.

The apparent near collapse of the species around that time likely points to overharvesting by early hunter-gatherers, says the study, published this week in the journal Current Biology.

Living specimens of the shallow-water species today are scarce. Researchers have located only 13 along the Jordanian Rea Sea coast, though the species appears to have been the dominant giant clam in ancient times.

The findings feed speculation that modern humans migrating out of Africa into the Red Sea region 110,000 years ago were motivated in part by disappearing seafood — perhaps the earliest example of marine overharvesting — the study said. [continue]

Food words that ought to exist but don’t

From epicurious: Food Words That Ought to Exist But Don’t.

Flopcorn (flop’ korn) — n. The unpopped kernels at the bottom of the cooker. (…)

Lactomangulation — n. Manhandling the "open here" spout on a milk carton so badly that one has to resort to using the "illegal" side. [continue]

There are a few good words in the Epicurious list of ten. My favourite might be omnibiblious.

And shall I add one from our household? Books say that dogs are carnivores, but here we know that they are really opportunivores.

Just when did the cows come home?

From the Jerusalem Post: Just when did the cows come home?.

Until now, researchers thought that the processing, storage and use of domesticated cow, sheep and goats’ milk in the Middle East and the Balkans began around 5,000 BCE. But now an international team of archeologists, including an Israeli from the Hebrew University, have concluded on the basis of milk residue in over 2,200 pottery vessels from the area that it goes back 2,000 more years. [continue]