Today, a friendly lettre from a friend in Singapore. It begins by "Before you left I mentioned I had some questions to ask you, here they are (note I might be a bit neophobic)"
Neophobia is the human behavior of being cautious about new food. This is a quality, otherwise the human species would not be here today: we would have been poisoned by the consumption of plants (remember that nature is very dangerous, and we eat only the fruits and vegetables that we can eat, either because we are manipulated by plants, for dispersing their seeds, or because we domesticated some dangerous species).
I was thinking of the future and the use of Note by Note, and thought that, nutritionally, we could have a great gap between rich and pour when we separate components. We know a vitamin or phytochemical will be inevitably more expensive than a starch, cellulose or sugar.
Nowadays, we have more equality in this sense. When buying a vegetable or fruit, it comes as whole and everyone has access to it. It is, in a way, a more fair game.
This is really true : the compounds that makes up the majority of food ingredients (water, protides, glucides, lipids) are much more abundant than vitamins, for example, and this explain why they are cheaper. This is also part of the explanation of obesity in the world: when you eat too much fat and sugars, you gain weight and sick. And it is not a surprise that the poorest populations are the most obese in developed countries... But this last observation also shows that there is not much equality, even today.
My question is: what are the advantages of separating, at the farm, produce in its pure components besides increasing food creation possibilities? Why not just dry a whole carrot?
Indeed, forget about note by note cooking as a new art as a start, and let's start from facts :
1. we will have to feed 10 billion people in 2050, and the sole solution today is to fight spoilage. Why spoilage? In part because we consume fresh products: hence the idea to fractionate at the farm (by the way remember that the milk and wheat industries are already fractionating).
2. if we fractionate at the farm, we make the prices more level, and this is good for everybody, because if the efficiency of agriculture is increased, the price of products is not hampered by the price of spoilage.
3. imagine that someone would be able to pay for a fruit, why would he pay more for the fractions ?
Now, drying is very energy consuming, and membrane techniques are much more powerful. In France, il particular, they are already applied for making drinkable water as well as for milk fractionation.
Moreover, having the fractions of carrots (including vitamins and phytochemicals) has the advantage that :
- we would not transport water
- we would probably save energy for cooking
- we decide for the nutritional properties of food
- we decide for the toxicology of food (including managing questions of allergies).
We have quite a few studies and line of thoughts suggesting that highly processed food can be detrimental to our health.
One example from the book Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, T. Colin Campbell
“Every apple contains thousands of antioxidants whose names, beyond a few like vitamin C, are unfamiliar to us, and each of these powerful chemicals has the potential to play an important role in supporting our health. They impact thousands upon thousands of metabolic reactions inside the human body. But calculating the specific influence of each of these chemicals isn’t nearly sufficient to explain the effect of the apple as a whole. Because almost every chemical can affect every other chemical, there is an almost infinite number of possible biological consequences.”
This question of transformed food being detrimental to health is not correctly managed in the public debate. For example, recently, there were articles about a certain (and bad) "Nova" categorization of food... but one forget to say that if you eat too much salt, sugar and fat, you get sick ! And remember that smoking is the worst... and main cause ! Drinking alcohol as well, is bad. And driving too fast. And, etc.
This is exactly the topic of my last book: bad faith! Because we all say that we want healthy food, but we forget that dietetics knows ONLY ONE rule: we have to eat of everything in small quantities, and make exercise. Do we apply this rule? No, certainly no... and this is why we are too fat, and sick.
I understand you classify process food/artificial food as any food that was, in some way, modified from its natural status. Example: boiled potato, scramble egg, etc. But when drying, coping (color or flavor compounds additions) and extracting pure components, we made those dishes much more artificial than boiling a potato.
Is it true ? For years, I tried to tackle this question without finding an answer. Consider a choucroute, for example: the cabbage was selected, cultivated, fermented, cooking for hours. The sausage was produced from meat that was destroyed, added with ingredients, processed... About spicy crab? The sauce seems to be important, and you know perfectly how it is made, with spices addition. Indeed I could not find an "index of naturality".
And to finish about the potato:
- the potato that we have today is the result of MANY selections, like apples are certainly not wild apples
- is boiling more or less "natural" (indeed we should say artificial) than frying ?
I am thinking of ingredients’ natural “chemical balance” or proportions and level of processes.
I don’t think, eating Note by Note, or highly process food once in a while will kill you, but if Note by Note is the future of food, how much are we looking into its health impact when consumed daily?
When you speak of "natural balance", may I tell you that you are going too far ? There is no proof that there is any balance at all ! And the proof was given by elementary nutritional studies: when you give meat stock only to dogs, they die. I remind you the sole rule in dietetics: we have to eat of everything in small quantities and make moderate exercise.
By the way, all compounds from fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, etc. are toxic at various levels. And this is why we have to vary, to change, otherwise we would get over the toxicity level. For example, one whole nutmeg would kill you; or basil, or tarragon, or the phenolics of grapes; or lycopene from carrots; or beta carotene from carrots...
This is why I am promoting the idea that we now have 30 years in front of us in order to work scientifically so that we get ready when note by note cooking will be the main way of feeding people. I don't say that I have THE solution; I simply say that we have to work fast in order to be ready. And this calls for a lot of nutrition, toxicology, but also culinary work in order to be able to produce the needed dishes (I make a difference between a bunch of compounds and a dish, for many reasons, including questions of satiety and pleasure, but here I would be too long explaining).
I was thinking of the peach pie/tart you’ve mentioned in one of your lectures. You told us it was more sour (acidic) once was cooked. During that session I thought: maybe it was just perceived as more sour. Maybe before cooked its natural shape does not let our taste buds capture the acidic flavour or sensation, but once its cooked and the shape it’s changed or released your taste buds than can perceive the flavour. I’ve imagined the acid component being “trapped” in some structure which changes once cooked. In its natural form not anatomically suitable to our taste buds.
The time I was working with salt crystals and its different shapes and how salty we perceive a product depending on the salt crystal used.
Indeed I did not discuss peach by apricots. For sure, the issue of perceiving is important, but why would the perception so much changed ? This calls for interpreting the chemical and physical environment of the various acids in the fruit. And yes, perceived acidity is not the same as pH, as shows the experiment of drinking vinegar vs vinegar with a lot of sugar: whereas the pH does not change with the addition of sugar, there is certainly a difference in perception. But anyway I am smiling because this question about apricots is only one of the thousands of questions that I have... and I shall not spend too much on this one in particular, but I find it useful for the discussion of scientific strategy ;-).
For salt, yes, the various salts give various salt perceptions, but this is only when the crystals are present (and crunchiness or ions release is then to be considered); when the different crystals are put in solution, we did not observe any difference, when the chemical composition of the crystals are the same.