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Surprising Views Towards Olive Oil Revealed by Survey
29 April 2014

Despite conventional thought in recent years that olive oil should not be used for cooking, consumers do it anyway, according to a UC Davis Olive Center report, which is great to see.

The report was based on a survey designed to discover consumer attitudes and perceptions towards olive oil. Among six areas surveyed, Executive Director Dan Flynn was most surprised by consumer responses about cooking with olive oil.

Research shows that olive oil’s smoke point, the temperature at which it gives off smoke and degrades in quality, is high enough to support most cooking, but the “media, cookbooks and celebrity chefs tell people not to cook with olive oil,” said Flynn. Consumers “apparently did it anyway and found the sky didn’t fall.”

More than 2,200 consumers responded to the Olive Center’s online survey. After analyzing the results, researchers concluded that “consumers believe that they know more about olive oil than they actually do.”

As an example of the disconnect between perceived and actual knowledge, no more than 25 percent of survey respondents correctly answered questions testing their understanding of “extra virgin,” “pure,” and “light” grades, even though the majority indicated that they knew the differences between the grades.

Nearly half of the participants thought that the label “pure” designated the highest quality oil, and many consumers believed that olive oil labeled “light” pertained to its calorie count, when it actually means that the oil was refined and is more neutral in flavor than higher grades.

The survey showed that flavour was the top factor affecting consumer purchases of olive oil, but descriptive words used by the industry to describe the positive taste attributes of olive oil, do not always have a corresponding impact on consumers. Consumers agreed that that the word “fresh” describes good-tasting oil, but the words “fruity,” “peppery,” and “grassy,” did not resonate well as indicators of tastiness.

The report also revealed that consumers choose olive oil over other fats because they perceive it as healthier and tasting better, even though a large percentage of responders did not think that olive oil is good for consuming as it is. Many make their olive oil selection based on “best before date,” although a UC Davis Olive Center study showed that the date bears little correlation to quality.

Flynn believes that the report provide insight that producers or industry associations could use to improve marketing and to help consumers better understand olive oil.
Although the survey focused on U.S. customers, it “would be interesting to see how the results would compare to other countries,” said Flynn.


Test your Olive Oil knowledge and do the Olive Oil General Knowledge Test - click on the link


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Brazil to release British GM mosquitos to combat dengue fever
29 April 2014

Brazil has authorized the use of genetically modified (GM) Aedes aegypti mosquitos in an attempt to take an important step forward in the fight against the most common transmitter of dengue fever. The disease infected 1.5 million people last year in the country, causing 545 deaths. The National Technical Commission on Biosafety, an organization run by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, approved the commercialization of the male OX513A strain of the species on April 10 with 16 votes. There was one vote against the measure.

The project involves the modification of male Aedes aegypti mosquitos to carry two additional genes that prevent the production of viable offspring. The mosquitos can breed but their offspring will die before reaching adulthood – a method that could result in a significant reduction in the Aedes aegypti population. Some organizations, however, say there is no scientific evidence to validate this thesis or evaluate the environmental risks of eradication.

British firm Oxitec will be in charge of mass producing the modified strain after three years of experiments in collaboration with Brazilian organization Moscamed. The decision of the Brazilian government is based on two trials carried out in Juazeiro, in Bahia state, where, according to researchers, the release of transgenic mosquitoes led to 81 percent and 93 percent reductions in the population of the species.

The Commission has warned that large-scale release of these insects should be accompanied by comprehensive control of the population of the other carrier-species, Aedes albopictus, “due to the risk that it may take over the ecological vacuum caused by the eradication of Aedes aegypti.” These observations are already being implemented in a third trial in Jacobina, a town of 80,000 in Bahia, where Moscamed is releasing millions of transgenic mosquitos to analyze the behavior of the Aedes albopictus. In order to guarantee a reduction in the Aedes population, researchers say there is already proof that 500 GM insects per resident will need to be released .

“As a scientist, I cannot state that there is zero risk, just as a vaccine is never 100 percent effective,” said Margareth Capurro, a molecular biologist and researcher who specializes in mosquitos. “What I can say is the project is working and the potential of this genetically modified insect is very good. It’s important to take precautions such as ensuring quality control measures in the production. We cannot release defective mosquitos on the market or allow females to escape. That would be like selling contaminated milk.”

According to the Ministry of Health, 321 cities in Brazil are at risk of suffering an epidemic and 725 others are on alert. Every year, during the rainy season that starts in March, a state of collective hysteria overtakes countless Brazilian municipalities as a result of dengue fever. The disease causes vomiting, fever and muscle fatigue and there is no known effective vaccine against it. The variant that causes hemorrhages is the most feared because it can lead to death. For now, the only preventive measures are to avoid spaces with stagnant pools of water, which become breeding grounds for Aedes aegypti; to use repellents; and to spray pesticides – an option that may present health risks.


After the green light from the Commission, which only limited itself to endorsing the safety of commercializing GM mosquitos, the National Health Surveillance Agency will have to approve the sale of the product and control its entry in the market.

Capurro assures the release of transgenic insects “does not aim to eradicate the species, but rather to reduce the population to levels that minimize the transmission of dengue fever.” She points out that in the 1950s insecticide use eradicated the species, which is originally from Singapore and arrived in Brazil aboard ships and planes, in the country, but it returned in the 1980s.

According to Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry, “the beneficial environmental profile, coupled with excellent efficacy to date, make the Oxitec mosquito a valuable new tool for health authorities around the world to complement their existing efforts in tackling the mosquitos that spread dengue fever.”

“There is no evidence that shows the mosquito reduces the incidence of dengue fever,” says Gabriel Fernandes, a consultant for Brazilian organization AS-PTA, which supports family farming and sustainable rural development.

“Ineffective and dangerous, the transgenic Oxitec insects are a showcase for British exports to Brazil,” says Helen Wallace, director of British organization GeneWatch. “A desperate attempt to support British biotechnology and to reward venture capital investors should not blind the governments of the United Kingdom and Brazil to the risks of this technology,” she added.

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The Best Ham in the World ....and how to cut it!
08 April 2014

Its not the first time I’ve decided to talk about Spanish ham. But the other day I was fortunate enough to try what many consider to be the best Spanish ham in the world and I must admit it was spectacular. Whether or not it is the best in the world or not, I will leave up to the experts but what I can say is that you will not be disappointed in the slightest.

Ibérico cured ham from the free-range, acorn-fed Ibérico pig has always been a hallmark of Spanish cuisine and enjoyed all over the country. But now it is making its mark all over the world and one brand stands out for the quality of its product: “Joselito”, the one I was fortunate enough to try the other day, cut by a professional may I add. At the end of this post I have added a video on how to cut a Spanish ham because it is an art form and takes quite a bit of practice. A good cut can make a mediocre ham good and a bad cut can make a good ham mediocre. Cutting ham is actually a profession in Spain and takes many years to perfect. However if you are patient and practise a little you shouldn’t have any problems cutting a ham by yourself to a respectable standard. I’m pretty fussy when it comes to ham and I do not like thick-cut slices so to enjoy a professional cut the other day was just divine.

A certain mystique has grown around Spanish cured ham and, among the experts, the town of Guijuelo in Salamanca province (Castile-Leon) has acquired a reputation for producing the finest examples. In fact, while the hams are cured here, the pigs are to be found largely in the Extremadura region in the west of the country where tens of thousands of pigs roam over endless pastures, gorging on the abundant acorns from the thousands of oak trees. Of all the ham producers in the country, none enjoys greater prestige than the family run business “Joselito”, which now exports its products to 48 countries.

Hams from Joselito, among the most expensive on the market and worth every penny, have won acclaim from leading chefs. According to Basque maestro Juan Mari Arzak and Ferran Adría (considered world’s best chef), ‘Joselito’ is "the best ham in the world."

At first sight, Guijuelo with a population of 6,000 is a discrete sort of place. But, thanks to its flourishing business in pork products, it is one of Spain's most prosperous communities, with relatively few unemployed. At 1,000 m (3,280 ft) above sea level, the town enjoys an ideal climate for curing pork: chilly in winter, hot in summer. As it is a brand with such an established reputation I thought I would research the reasons behind its success.

( photos by 'Joselito Ham' )

The first requirement for a superior-quality ham is a superior breed of pig, the native cerdo ibérico (Ibérico pig). Hams are also distinguished by the way pigs are reared. Many pigs spend little or no time on the open range and are fed mostly on authorized meal. In contrast, the jamón ibérico de bellota comes from free-range animals, feeding on natural herbs and, most importantly, acorns.

Joselito's cerdos ibéricos de bellota roam over more than 100,000 ha (247,105 acres) of wooded scrublands called dehesas much of it the company's property and the rest rented, in the Extremadura and Andalusia regions, Salamanca province and Portugal. As part of a 30-year reforestation plan, every year the company plants 70 to 80 thousand trees, mostly holm oaks (Quercus ilex) and cork oaks (Quercus suber). The company's efforts were rewarded this year with a management certificate from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-governmental organization promoting responsible forest management worldwide. It is the first time a business of this type has been selected anywhere in the world.

A key aspect in producing quality hams is the animals' freedom to roam. Each pig forages for food and water over 2 to 4 ha (4.9 to 9.8 acres) of pasture. This keeps them in shape, which contributes to the particular texture of their flesh. During la montanera, the months between October and February, each pig eats about 15 kg (33 lb) of acorns a day.

When the two-year-old pigs weigh about 180 kg (396 lb), around 40,000 are transported to Guijuelo to be slaughtered. The hams are stored in sea salt for a week or so, then washed and hung in the secaderos, with immaculately maintained, carefully ventilated chambers. In summer heat, the hams sweat and the outer fat melts and penetrates the muscular fibers, a process vital in making the meat tender and aromatic.

For further maturing the hams are stored in dark bodegas at temperatures between 14 and 18ºC (57.2 and 64.4ºF) and humidity between 60 and 80%. More than 400,000 hams, from the years 2004 to 2011, hang in Joselito's installations. Hams from the paleta, or shoulder, are cured for a minimum of two years, and hind-leg hams, known as the Gran Reserva, for at least three years. A select number, vintage hams known as the Colección Premium, are matured for more than 82 months. 

The succulent meat in Joselito's hams is purple-red and marbled with veins of pinkish fat. It is, claims the firm, a healthy product, containing oleic acid, vitamins and natural antioxidants which help reduce cholesterol and the risk of arteriosclerosis. Joselito backs this up with the results of scientific surveys, and points out that 100 g (3.5 oz) of their ham contains fewer calories than a plateful of rice of the same weight. To improve quality, a staff of 15 in Joselito's research and development department analyzes everything, from the pig's diet to the final product. Joselito also markets pork loin and various varieties of pork sausage, chorizo, salchichón and longaniza (spiced with pepper, salt and garlic), all from free-range Iberico pigs and naturally cured.

Spain exports annually around 20,000 tons (40 million lb) of cured leg and shoulder hams, from all breeds, representing sales worth more than €170 million. 0nly 10% of Spanish cured ham comes from the Ibérico breed, but it is this product which sets the standard and reinforces the country's prestige in foreign markets.

In the words of Ferran Adrià : "Hams like those of Joselito are the standard bearer of a sector which the whole world can enjoy." So if you have the opportunity to get your hands on some don't let it go by!






Like 2        Published at 13:04   Comments (6)

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