Sunday, May 23, 2010

Adventures in Food Processing - the good kind.

OK, so the title should read "My First Adventure in Food Processing."  In a previous post, Quinoa for breakfast, I mentioned that I had gotten a food processor.  Today, I decided that it was time to give it a whirl.  One thing that strikes me as odd is that 'processed food' is one of the problems we have with our American diet, yet using a food processor can actually be beneficial.  There is a difference, however, in the way we 'process' foods at home and the way packaged foods are processed by the conglomerates for quick sale and long shelf life.  The term 'processing' includes every method of food preparation from churning butter (which can be done with a mason jar and a marble!) to creating high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.  The bottom line is that not all processing is bad.

So, what did I 'process' in my Cuisinart?  Today I made some almond butter - like peanut butter, but with almonds.  First, I had to properly prepare the raw almonds.  This involves first soaking the almonds for 24 hours in a solution of sea salt and filtered water.  Next, drying the almonds in either my oven or food dehydrator which can take up to two days.  I had actually done this last week when I first got the food processor.  Almond butter was one of the things that I really wanted to use the food processor for so I simply prepared more almonds than I would normally do for simple snacking.
Give whatever excuse you want to insert here, I only got around to taking my prepared almonds one step further to convert it to almond butter.  Whatever the cause of my delay, it is finally done.  Today I made some almond butter!  I can't believe how simple it was.  Take a look at the average jar of  peanut butter to see what ingredients are included and you might be hard-pressed to believe that you can make it at home (more on this later in this post - keep reading).
My almond butter consists of nothing more than soaked and dried almonds, some sea salt, a little olive oil, and flax seeds (I love to add flax seeds to almost everything that I make).  That's it!  I started by adding the almonds to the processor bowl and giving them a couple of quick pulses.  I then let the Cuisinart run steady for a couple of minutes.  The result was a fairly dry, granular paste.  After scraping down the bowl to get the particles that stuck out of the reach of the blades, I turned the processor back on.  This time I added a little bit of olive oil.  Again, I stopped the blades and scraped down the bowl.  The paste had taken on a much more creamy texture at this point.  Once more, I set the blades spinning and added the flax seeds.  I basically let the processor run this time just to incorporate the flax seeds uniformly.  Except for the clean-up, I was done (and the clean-up didn't even take that long).    I scooped the almond butter into a small mason jar and set to cleaning the equipment.  The almond butter should keep in the jar for up to 30 days on the shelf - longer in the refrigerator.  Given the quantity that I made, I will have no problem consuming my almond butter well within the 30 days.  Mind you, I don't eat a lot of nut butter.  Because I know where and how this was made and more importantly what all - ALL - of the four ingredients are, I will have no problem increasing my intake of nut butter.  In fact, for lunch today, I spread about two teaspoons of my newly made almond butter onto a couple of stalks of celery accompanied by a banana and handful of raisins.

Earlier, I mentioned the ingredients of peanut butter.  Well one example of a nameless brand of peanut butter that is sitting on my shelf includes:  Peanuts, Peanut Oil (so far, so good), Corn Syrup! (at least it isn't high fructose corn syrup), and Hydrogenated Rapeseed and Cottonseed Oils.  Notably, this particular brand does not include any preservatives, but the Use By date is 02/19/2011 - only slightly less than a year from now.  OK, so if there are no official preservatives, why is the shelf life so long?  In one word, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.  OK, you got me.  That is actually four words.  Both hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils are extremely detrimental to health but are widely used in our processed foods.  It is also notable that this particular brand of peanut butter also only has four ingredients.  The difference between this and my homemade almond butter - both made with four ingredients - is the quality of the ingredients.  The order of ingredients on the label indicates which ingredients are more prevalent.  The first ingredient is used in the largest quantity; the last is used in the smallest quantity.  The caveat is that we do not know in what ratio the ingredients are present.  Does the first ingredient make up 90% of the recipe or only 10%?  We simply cannot tell.
A comparison of my almond butter to the store-bought peanut butter looks like this:

  • Mine
    • Almonds
    • Flax seeds
    • Olive Oil
    • Sea salt (used to prepare the almonds - not added to the mix)
  • Theirs
    • Peanuts
    • Peanut oil
    • Corn syrup
    • Hydrogenated rapeseed and cottonseed oil (so, does this count as two ingredients?)
The first ingredient list on both is expected, the mainstay of the nut butter had better be the nuts.  I didn't measure the quantity of almonds that I used, but the resulting almond butter resulted in a little less than 8 ounces.  It almost, but didn't quite, fill a small mason jar. 
The second ingredient for mine is flax seeds; theirs is peanut oil.  Both peanuts and almonds have oil in them.  Adding oil to the recipe is not entirely necessary.  If added, it certainly does not need to be in a large quantity.  However, given the third and fourth ingredients of their product, I am grateful that peanut oil is listed second.  In my case, I added about 2 tablespoons of flax seeds.
Third comes the olive oil for mine and the corn syrup for theirs.  Corn syrup is sugar.  How much sugar is present in their peanut butter?  Well, a 2 tablespoon serving - according to the nutrition facts on the label - includes 7g of carbohydrates, 3g of which is listed as sugars.  How much sugar is in mine?  Well, I didn't do the math yet and I can't read the label - oh wait, there is no label to read!  I'll get back to you on the amount of sugar per serving but it is more important to recognize the source.  Mine has only naturally occurring sugars - no processed sugars.  Theirs has sugar derived from corn.  Sure, it may be natural, but it is not being used as intended by nature.
The fourth and final ingredient of mine is the sea salt; theirs is more oil - hydrogenated oil, no less.  The sea salt was used in the solution to soak the almonds.  While I didn't rinse the almonds after soaking, most of the salt would have been drained off before dehydrating.  It was about two teaspoons of sea salt added to 2 pints of water.  I truly believe that salt has been somewhat vilified.  It has been blamed for a lot of medical problems.  The fact is that our body needs salt to function and that salt works synergistic with potassium.  Rather than avoiding salt we should really be more concerned with a good balance of salt with potassium.  Excess of either is just as problematic as the absence of either.  We need both and we need them in equal portions.  They included a second (and/or third) oil to theirs.  On top of that, they made it worse through hydrogenation.  Hydrogenating oil produces trans fat.  While the quantity is low enough per serving that the FDA allows them to list the amount of trans fat a 0 (zero), it is still there.  Trans fat is one of the worst things that you could put into your body and it should be avoided entirely.

After watching (and posting) about Food, Inc. I was a friend suggested that I also watch Killer at Large.  Today, I took in a double-feature thanks to Netflix and my Wii of both Killer at Large and Super Size Me.  I had watched the latter several years ago, but I felt it was time for a refresher.  While both have a similar focus - obesity - they are somewhat different in scope.  I recommend watching both of them, though the latter is not quite as family friendly due to language and some commentary while the former certainly has some disturbing images.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Sounds good!

I spent the last couple evenings chopping up almonds and pecans to make bourbon balls. We won't go into the nutritional value of bourbon balls, but they ARE good!

I put three dozen in a silent auction today, and am offering another three dozen to the second place bidder tomorrow. Took ten in for my work group to sample - and have about a dozen left. A Cuisinart sure would have made chopping whole almonds and pecan halves a lot easier - and quicker!