Here are some interesting food facts I have observed, learned, or come across over my many years of cooking and baking. I believe these facts to be accurate. Check back often for new facts.
- Macadamia nuts are indigenous to Australia and the Aussies are currently the world’s largest producer of macadamia. Macadamia trees are large evergreen trees that take 7-10 years to mature and in the United States are commercially grown in Hawaii and California. The first commercial crop of macadamias was not planted in Hawaii until the 1920s.
Is the macadamia a nut or a seed? Botanically speaking, the macadamia is the kernel of a follicle type fruit, but for culinary purposes, we call it a nut.
- Conserve, Preserves, Jam, Jelly, Marmalade, Fruit Butter, Fruit Curd—what’s the difference? The primary difference between these fruit based spreads is the consistency of the fruit contained in the product.
Conserve uses whole or large pieces of fruit and often, but not always, contains added nuts and/or dried fruit, like raisins.
Preserves are made with large chunks of fruit suspended in syrup, while Jam utilizes crushed fruit or fruit pulp, so, in my opinion, is more spreadable than conserve or preserves.
Jelly is made with fruit juice and is more firm than the other products listed. Jelly holds its shape, but can shake when jiggled (Santa’s belly “shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly”).
Marmalade is like jelly, but has pieces of fruit and/or fruit peel suspended and therefore is softer than jelly. Marmalade is most often made with citrus, but other fruit can be incorporated.
Fruit Butter is made with fruit pulp or puree and is cooked to a smooth consistency. Despite the name, there is no butter in fruit butter.
The fruit based spreads discussed above include sugar and usually pectin and lemon juice. A variety of spices may also be incorporated into the spreads while cooking.
Fruit Curd is made with fruit juice (and zest, if citrus based) and sugar. Fruit curd is very smooth, as it also includes butter and utilizes eggs as the thickening agent.
- Butter is a key ingredient in many baked goods, but there are a few choices when it comes to butter. Here are a couple of butter choices and the differences.
- salted versus unsalted—The only difference between salted and unsalted butter is that salted butter has salt added. The shelf life of salted butter is approximately 3 months while the shelf life of unsalted butter is approximately 1 month. You can store salted or unsalted butter in the freezer to prolong the shelf life. As a baker, I prefer unsalted butter, so I am able to control the entire flavor profile of the products I make. Now, if you want to slather a great piece of warm bread with butter, you may want to reach for the salted butter.
- made with cream from grass-fed versus grain-fed cows—Butter made with cream from grass-fed cows is more yellow and has a slight earthy taste (to me) when compared to butter made with cream from grain-fed cows. I use butter that is made with cream from cows that are primarily grain-fed in my baked goods because I prefer the flavor
- While the United States ranks third in the world for production of Wheat, wheat is not indigenous to North America. Wheat was originally brought to North America by European farmer immigrants. Kansas is the largest producer of wheat in the U.S., followed by North Dakota and then Montana
- Yeast is a single-celled microorganism and is a member of the fungus kingdom. While bakers of long ago utilized wild yeast in their leavened bread, saccharomyces cerevisiae is the strain most commonly used in commercial yeast production today. Most bakers use cake (also known as fresh or compressed) yeast, active dry yeast or instant dry yeast. Active dry or instant dry yeast can be stored in the freezer to prolong its shelf life by several months. Cake yeast has a higher moisture content and therefore is more susceptible to the frozen environment. While cake yeast may survive for a few weeks in the freezer, it begins to die within a few days
- There seem to be many varieties of Salt appearing on store shelves claiming to be “sea salt”, but doesn’t all salt come from the sea? The answer is yes; all salt comes from a salted body of water, i.e. an ocean or salt-water lake. So, what is the difference between table salt and sea salt, other than items labeled as sea salt seem to have a higher price point? There are two primary differences between table salt and sea salt. 1) Table salt has been refined to remove trace elements found in salt deposits and in the case of iodized salt, iodine has been added to table salt as compared to sea salt where the minerals remain and 2) Table salt is refined using a man-made evaporation process whereby salt water is evaporated until salt crystals form, versus sea salt which is usually mined. Both sea salt and table salt contain the same amount of sodium chloride. When baking breads, I primarily use non-iodized table salt in the preparation of the bread dough and other products. I use sea salt for decoration and/or texture.