Food News: 3 New Labels for Packaged Foods

While there are multiple ways to purchase groceries, consumers still need time to make a list and then read and decipher food labels. With nearly 20,000 new products hitting the shelves annually, you almost need a PhD in nutrition to understand some of the information on those labels.

Today I want to talk about some new front-of-the-package symbols, which may make shopping life a little bit easier. These are non-government, third-party-authorized seals that quickly let people know if a product meets certain standards.

A few earlier labels of this type include Nuval and Facts up Front. Nuval started in 2008 and was a collaborative effort between Topco Associates, LLC, and Griffin Hospital of Derby, Connecticut. Griffin Hospital is a non-profit community hospital and houses the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. Nutrition professionals and medical experts, including Dr. David Katz, assisted in the development of Nuval. Its system assigns a nutrition score to foods to make it easier for consumers to quickly choose healthful options. With Nuval, the higher the score, the higher the nutritional value of the food.

Facts Up Front is another system that was developed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association. It is a voluntary program that shows the calories, grams of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium in a serving of food on the front of its package. Labels also may display additional information, including fiber and calcium content. Facts Up Front are based on nutrition science and are taken right from the Nutrition Facts label.

Logos like the American Heart Association’s Heart Check Mark on packaged foods and the Certified Humane Seal on eggs, meat, and dairy are meant to help consumers navigate the grocery store with ease and to encourage companies to develop products that meet the desired standards. Standards for the AHA heart check mark include foods with less than 6.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, 20 mg of cholesterol or less, and varying amounts of sodium allowed depending on the product.

Three new food label stamps that will help to improve the nutrition profile of food that makes it to the store and help shoppers make better choices are coming soon, so I’d like to take a closer look at each one so that you and your clients know what’s coming.

The first is the Good Housekeeping “Nutritionist Approved” emblem. Items that are granted this seal have been given the green light by Jacylyn London, the registered dietitian who developed the program. London, the nutrition director of the Good Housekeeping Institute, evaluates products that have applied for the seal to be sure they are aligned with the 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In addition, the product must comply with the companies’ core values of simplicity (makes is simpler for consumer to keep a healthful habit and/or has simple ingredients and fewer additives than their counterparts), transparency (contains accurate claims on products that are not misleading to consumers) and innovation (utilizes current technologies to make healthier habits simpler for consumers and/or boost sustainability).

To receive the stamp, a product does not need to be 100% healthful, but does need to be a wise choice in a particular category. You may see the seal on bagged salad or a low-fat frozen dinner as well as a mini dark chocolate candy. The program not only alerts consumers of healthier choices, it also incentivizes the company to produce and market improved products. Companies pay a licensing fee for the seal, which includes consulting fees. The Nutritionist Approved seal started in October 2016 with nine brands and is growing quickly. In the long-term, the hope is to expand it for use in airports, restaurants, and movie theaters.

Another stamp that will be hitting the shelves soon was developed by Carolyn Sluyter of Oldways. Sluyter is the manager of the Whole Grain Stamp Program. The new stamp is the 50% whole grain stamp, which was developed to complement two other stamps- the “100% Whole Grain” stamp and the general “Whole Grain” stamp. The former is self-explanatory, and the latter can be used on foods that are made with some whole grains, specifically 20 grams or more per serving. These new stamps make it easier for consumers to identify foods made with whole grains.

The third stamp, Certified Transitional, is a new stamp that may be used by farmers to reflect that they are in the process of becoming certified organic. Many farmers cannot afford the 3-year transition it requires to become certified organic. Developed by Kashi after they were unable to source organic almonds for their cereal, the program means to support farmers in the transition period, which would assist shoppers to directly affect US organic agriculture. Although Kashi is the only brand with this seal, it can be utilized by any company managed by Quality Assurance International, an independent third-party certifying agency. During the transitional period, farmers are paid a premium price for their organic products, in turn provides financial support. Nicole Nestojko, senior director of supply chain and sustainability at Kashi, believes that Certified Transitional is more than just a stamp, it is a movement to alter the food system.

By Lisa Andrews, MED, RD, LD

References:

Shopping with MyPlate: Activity Guide

MyPlate is more than a fantastic guide to healthy dining! Much of its advice can also be applied to healthy shopping. You may remember the post Shopping with MyPlate: A Handout. The leader guide that goes with that handout is too good not to share, so here it is! How will you use your copy?

Shopping with MyPlate: Activity Ideas

Make a List! (Kids) Explain that, in order to have meals like MyPlate, people have to fill their shopping carts like MyPlate too. Find out who has gone to the grocery store with their parents. What was the experience like? Have each child pretend that they are in charge of meals for the week and plan a grocery list. What do they need to do in order to get food for healthful meals? Feel free to use the shopping list handout included in this lesson. Come back together as a group and discuss the lists.

Grocery Tour: (Adults) Take a field trip to the grocery store. Discuss the layout of the store and how to find foods that match MyPlate’s advice. Spend some time on Nutrition Facts labels, demonstrating how to evaluate sodium content, added sugars, saturated fat ratios, etc. Offer participants a chance to get groceries, and discuss what they found. Why did they pick what they picked?

MyPlate Shopping Display:

A display can help flesh out this lesson. Consider some of the following ideas…

Interactive Display: Put up a large, blank MyPlate image inside a picture of a shopping cart. Have adults write down healthful foods that would fit in each group. Kids can also draw pictures of those foods.

Shopping Tips: Center a picture of MyPlate on your board, then surround it with word bubbles full of shopping tips that will make grocery trips easier and result in more healthful purchases.

Shopping List Samples: Write out a list of healthful foods, dividing them into MyPlate categories. This can serve as shopping inspiration.

This post is excerpted from the MyPlate Workbook. If you like what you see, don’t miss this free printable leader guide!

MyPlate Shopping Leader Guide

We’re here to help you look your very best right now, so here are some other amazing MyPlate resources from the Nutrition Education Store

Shopping with MyPlate: A Handout

Balance your cart for a balanced plate!

Shopping with My Plate:

The food you buy has a huge impact on your eating habits. Make sure that the choices you make are healthful and balanced, starting at the grocery store.

What does that mean?

Well, since MyPlate advises you to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal, roughly half your cart should be full of fruits and vegetables in the store. Make lean protein choices, and select dairy foods that are low in saturated fat and added sugars. When it comes to grain foods, make sure that at least half of all the grains you’re eating are whole grains. Skip those processed grains whenever you can.

More Shopping Tips!

My Plate advises people to “Compare sodium content for similar foods, using the Nutrition Facts label to select brands lower in sodium.” The next time you’re in the store, grab a couple of different options for an ingredient and compare the sodium content. Choose one of the options with lower numbers.

Watch out for portion size! When you’re in the store, look at the serving size and number of servings in the food that you’d like to buy. Is it realistic? Will a sugary soda bottle really be used for 2 or 3 separate servings, or, despite what it says on the label, is the drink really going to be consumed all at once? Remember, MyPlate wants to help people enjoy food but eat less of it, counseling, “Avoid oversized portions.”

Here’s a printable MyPlate handout that you can use however you see fit!

MyPlate Shopping Handout

And here are even more MyPlate educational materials, fresh from the Nutrition Education Store!

Art of Health MyPlate Poster

Health Hopscotch Floor Sticker and Game

Salt and Sodium Poster

A New Path to More Fruits and Vegetables

Star fruitHave you ever seen the book 1001 Foods to Die For (2007 Madison Press Books)? A friend gave me this book, which features a collection of unique foods, rare ingredients, and exquisite recipes. We’ve had a lot of fun looking at the pictures and counting how many of these foods we’ve eaten. I’m only on 276 of the 1,001, so I’d better get busy.

Fruits and vegetables make up most of the items in this book. Some are exotic and others are more common, but all are considered special by the authors. I consider myself a “foodie” and even I have barely heard of many of these!

This got me thinking about what fruits and vegetables we do eat regularly.

Like most Americans, my grocery cart usually has bananas, apples, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, and the occasional bundle of asparagus, avocados, or peppers. Over time, I’ve found myself in a bit of a shopping and cooking rut. No wonder people have trouble filling half their plates with fruits and vegetables at each meal! As much as I like these foods, eating them over and over again can get boring.

So how can we encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables?

How about with a new checklist or quiz? The book 1001 Foods to Die For has over 75 entries in the Fruits, Nuts and Vegetables chapter, and I’ve narrowed the list down to 30. How many of these foods have you tried? How many have your clients tried?

New Food Checklist

You can also use this list to inspire your clients. Have your students make their own lists of 12 foods they’d like to try this year. That could be just one new food each month!

The “I want to try list” doesn’t have to be from this list, feel free to let them add some of their own foods and leave space for “surprises” or yet-unknown foods.

Who knows, they might just add a new favorite to their you see something you haven’t tried before, buy it and try. Who knows, you might just add a new favorite to your fruits and vegetable repertoire of foods they like.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

We’re here to help you look your very best, right now. Here are some other fun resources to help your clients try new fruits and vegetables…

Fruit and vegetable posters

New products:

Fruit and Vegetable Challenge

Carrots!

Carrots!What should I do with 10 pounds of carrots?

Actually, the first question should be “Why do I have so many carrots?”

The short answer is because I’m frugal. Carrots were on my grocery list; I use carrots frequently and consider them a vegetable staple.  I can’t bear to spend $1 to $1.50 for a pound of carrots at the grocery store when I can get 10 pounds at our big box store for about $6. That’s just $.60 cents a pound — half the price, but a whole lot of carrots.

This large amount of carrots does cause a bit of a problem. Can I use them up while they’re still fresh?

Yes, I admit that there is a certain level of convenience in the bagged, ready-to-eat carrots. It’s no surprise that baby carrots are among the most popular items in the produce aisle, accounting for over 80% of all retail carrot sales.

RIMG4206One pound of carrots equals 3 to 3½ cups of peeled and sliced, chopped, or grated raw carrots. In case you’re counting, one 7-inch-long carrot has only 30 calories. A single cup of grated carrots has 45 calories. And boy, there are lots of nutrients packed into those calories! Few other vegetables or fruits contain as much carotene as carrots, which the body converts to vitamin A. Carrots are also a good source of potassium, fiber, and vitamin C.

But now, back to my 10 pounds of carrots.

Storage of this many carrots can pose a conundrum. It’s best to store carrots in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, unwashed and uncut, until you’re ready to use them. Most references say that carrots will keep for at least two weeks this way. However, I think we’re more inclined to eat our vegetables if they’re ready to use — that’s why baby carrots and pre-cut carrots are so popular (and $2 a pound!). So I left some carrots uncut and sliced some others for easy snacking on the go.

Carrot HummusTo use up my bounty, I turned to the Food and Health Communications recipe files. If you’re ever in the same boat as me, may I recommend the following recipes? They’re great for carrots!

Anyway, I’ve done this before, and after a while my husband finally said, enough is enough, he can’t eat any more carrots. Which is fine, but what do I do with the few that are lingering in the crisper drawer?

Carrots for the FreezerThe answer: I chop or grate them and throw them in the freezer in 1 cup portions. The National Center for Home Food Preservation says that carrots should be blanched before freezing for the best quality and texture. Since I plan to use the frozen carrots in cooked foods, I don’t worry too much about this, but I do try to use them up sooner rather than later. I actually like to have this extra stash in the freezer, ready to go for soups and casseroles when I don’t have fresh carrots available.

I’ve said this many times, a bargain isn’t a bargain if some of it goes to waste. But, in this case, I keep trying to convince myself that even losing a few last carrots would be cheaper than buying fewer at the $1.50 per pound price.  I think I’m still ahead financially, but I admit, I had to work at it!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Here are a few more cooking and shopping resources from the Nutrition Education Store. We’re here to help you look your very best, right now.

Lighten Up Your Shopping Cart Poster

The Cooking Demo Book

Shop Smart for Diabetes PowerPoint

And here’s a handout that offers a great introduction to carrots, including their nutrient profile, how to cook with them, and how to store them. Enjoy!

Carrots

Sharol Cripe, RDN, LDN, has also sent in a fantastic carrot resource. Visit the Englewood Farmers’ Market homepage to see recipes for roasted carrots and carrots with a Moroccan twist!

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

I just can’t take a vacation from food safety. We recently took a wonderful trip to Europe, and like all good foodies, I had to check out the markets and grocery stores to get a feel for what the locals were buying and eating. At a fabulous market in Spain, I took these photos of a gentleman cutting a watermelon for display and sale.

Spanish Market

What’s wrong with this picture?

Cut Melon

Or this one?

There are several potential food safety concerns in just these two photos: Did the man wash his hands before cutting the melon? Was the outside of the melon washed before it was cut? Was the knife clean? What about the cleanliness of the surface? Did he store it on ice after it was cut? From what I observed, none of these precautions were taken in this particular situation.

Washing melons or other fresh fruit before cutting reduces bacteria that may be present on the surface. These bacteria could be from the soil in which the product grew, or perhaps on the hands of the person who picked it. They could also be on the hands of the shipper, or in this case, the market owner. Some people think that since you don’t eat the rind of a melon, it’s not necessary to wash it, but if the rind is not washed before cutting, any bacteria that might be on the rind could be transferred to the moist center of the fruit — where it could easily grow and multiply. I had similar concerns about the cutting surface and the knife (how many unwashed melons were cut with the same knife that morning?) Also, cut fruit should be refrigerated; it should have been placed on ice. Needless to say, we didn’t buy this melon.

While this photo was taken in Spain, I’m sure that that wasn’t the only market where food wasn’t treated as safely as it should have been.

This is one of those situations when the consumer needs to be alert and use caution. If you’re shopping at farmers’ markets or grocery stores that sell sectioned or fresh-cut fruit, make sure you choose a place that keeps food safety in mind. When you’re tempted to taste a sample or purchase something, look around and made sure that the person offering the sample or selling the item is using good food safety practices. These practices include: washing the produce before cutting it, wearing clean gloves, using a clean knife and keeping items cold as necessary.

Don’t take risks with food safety.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

We’re here to help you look your very best, right now, so don’t miss these marvelous food safety resources from the Nutrition Education Store

Food Safety Poster

Food Safety PowerPoint and Handout Set

Healthy Kitchen Poster Set

And here’s the best part — a free food safety handout that you can share with your clients!

Market Safety

When in Greece

SantoriniMy husband and I recently went on a Mediterranean cruise. One of the stops was the beautiful volcanic island of Santorini. I’m sure you’d recognize the place if you saw the photos — it’s a beautiful location with stark white buildings and an occasional blue-roofed church dome overlooking the Aegean Sea. Like thousands of our fellow cruisers, we toured the island and took many photos.

I love visiting local grocery stores when I travel. I like it best if I can check out where the locals really shop — not a tourist attraction. I enjoy looking at the fresh fruits and vegetables, learning about what’s local and what’s in season. It’s also a treat to check out the refrigerated cases and packaged products. During this trip, I found Greek yogurt, pistachios, and olives alongside American foods like Oreos and Starbucks.
Greek store 2

Wanting to prolong our stay on the island and try a little local cuisine, we stopped at a restaurant that had all the pre-requisites — outdoor dining with a view of the ocean, local beer, and an appetizer menu. We ordered tzatziki dip accompanied by a basket of warm pita bread. When I asked the waiter about the ingredients, he said that it was only yogurt, garlic, and cucumbers. I think also tasted a little dill. The tzatziki was thick and rich, but also satisfying. I’m sure that the yogurt they used to make this was full-fat Greek strained yogurt.

Now that we’re home, I’ve recreated this appetizer.

Greek GroceryFirst, I did a lot of research. I found several brands of commercially-prepared tzatziki available in the dairy case. In checking the ingredient lists, I discovered that many contain a yogurt base and sour cream, along with cucumbers, vinegar, garlic, and dill. The nutrition facts vary by brand, but most contain around 40 calories, with 3 grams of fat for a 2 tablespoon serving.

Tzatziki is frequently used as the sauce on gyros, but it can also be a salad dressing, sauce for grilled meats or mild fish, or a dip. Instead of dill you can season tzatziki with mint or parsley.

After I learned about what was available, I asked Chef Judy, President and Founder of Food and Health Communications for an easy recipe for make-at-home tzatziki that is low in fat, but also high in flavor. Judy’s recipe uses low-fat or non-fat plain Greek yogurt and both dill and mint. You can experiment with how much seasoning you like. This recipe contains only 31 calories for ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) and one gram of fat per serving. Serve it by itself as a salad, or as a dip with whole-grain crackers, pita chips, or vegetable crudités.

Tzatziki DipTzatziki Cucumber Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 cucumber, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 tsp dried dill
  • 1 tsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

Directions:

  1. Toss ingredients together.
  2. Chill until ready to serve.

Thanks, Judy, for helping to recreate these great memories in a healthful way!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Would you like to share this with your clients? Here’s a free handout with the recipe and a few fun tzatziki facts!

Tzatziki Dip

And remember, there’s always more in the Nutrition Education Store!

Mediterranean Diet PowerPoint and Handout Set

Complete School Lunch Poster Set

Recipe Card: Watermelon “Cake”

We are here to help you look your very best, right now.

Food Safety: How Long Can I Keep That?

I think we all know the routine. When you go to the store, reach to the back of the cooler to get the coldest milk or the yogurt with the most recent date. This practice helps assure us that the refrigerated products we’re getting are the freshest possible and will last the longest once we get them home.

Best By DateI was watching a grocery store worker last week, and he was pulling all the dairy foods that were at or close to their sell-by dates. He was going to put the ones that were only close to the “sell by” date on sale.

Fresh refrigerated products like milk, meats, fish, and poultry are perishable and most have “sell by” dates. Stores must sell these products by the printed dates or discard them.

Packages frequently have words like “best by” or “use by” on them. Note that they don’t say “do not eat after this date. Those dates are provided by the food manufacturers as a way for you to judge the quality and freshness of the product. Putting these dates on packages is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer. After all, they would like you to eat their food when it is at its best. This is not necessarily a food safety date.

Sell By Date“Sell by” dates should be taken seriously, especially with fresh items. Make an effort to use the foods close to this date. However, these “sell by” dates do not mean that the food in your refrigerator needs to be destroyed after this date.

Depending on how the product has been stored, the food may have become unsafe before the “use by” date. How many times have you had a carton of milk that went bad before the expiration date? If someone left it sitting out on the counter or if the milk sat in a hot car trunk for longer than you planned on the way home from the store, then that milk may actually go bad sooner.

Alternatively, the product may stay in good condition for long after the date on the package. Milk (if properly stored) will keep for 4-7 days beyond the “sell by” date. Yogurt makers assert that their yogurts will keep for roughly a week to 10 days after the “sell by” date has passed.

Use or Freeze ByThe best thing to do is to use these dates as a guide to the age of a product.

Here are some key points to remember, especially with perishable refrigerated items…

  • For the freshest product, buy the “youngest” products available.
  • Keep these foods refrigerated. Store coolers in your car to keep the food as cold as possible before it gets home.
  • Refrigerate the food immediately once you get home.
  • Freeze perishable foods if you’re unable to eat them within a reasonable amount of time.

Obviously if the food has an off odor, flavor or appearance, pitch it.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Here’s a free handout with the highlights from this post. Get your copy today!

Sell By Handout

And here are some more great resources for healthful shopping!

Interactive MyPlate Shopping Presentation

Shop Smart Poster

Supermarket DVD Presentation

We want you to look your best, so please let us know if there’s anything you need.

The Lowdown on Vinegar

It’s time for another reader request!

A few weeks ago, Stephanie Correnti, RD, asked me about vinegars, writing…

Hi,

Hope all is well.  Have a request.  Do you have a sheet on the different types of vinegars (white, balsamic, red wine, etc) and what they are good on i.e. salads, marinades, etc.  I am especially interested in the difference between rice wine vinegar and rice vinegar (this ones has conflicting info).

How they are made, etc.

Thanks,
Stephanie Correnti, RD

How could I resist?

My team and I went to work immediately, and after hours of research and chasing down leads, we have come up with this comprehensive guide to common vinegars. Oh, and we just had to make a fun infographic as well. Here it is — enjoy!

How Vinegar Is Made:

Vinegar is made through a process called double fermentation. The first round of fermentation usually uses yeast to turn a sugary liquid like fruit juice or a starchy food like grain into alcohol. The second round of fermentation turns that alcohol into acetic acid, which is then diluted to make vinegar. Why dilute? Well, the acid is roughly 10% acidic, which is too harsh for cooking, so it is diluted to between 4% and 7% acidity before being sold.

Many vinegar manufacturers only do the second round of fermentation, buying wine stock or distilled alcohol from other sources and taking over the vinegar-making process from there.

DistilledDistilled White Vinegar:

Also known as plain old vinegar, distilled white vinegar is mildly acidic and super versatile. Its title is actually a bit misleading, since it isn’t the distilling process that creates white vinegar. Instead, this kind of vinegar is made by fermenting distilled alcohol. It is usually made from either malt or corn.

How does it taste?

This type of vinegar has roughly 5% acidity, which makes it a pretty mild vinegar. People typically use it in pickling and baking because its gentle flavor adds a quiet bite that doesn’t distract from the flavor of the food being prepared. Try it in our recipes for Anise Barbecue Sauce or Chocolate Beet Cake!

Oh, and fun fact: this kind of vinegar is very common for household cleaning as well.

Red WineRed Wine Vinegar:

When it comes to vinegars with additional flavor, red wine vinegar is one of the most popular. This high-selling type of vinegar has many different varieties, but all of them are made from red wine. The vinegar is often aged in wooden barrels, and can be “matured” for up to 2 years.

When it comes to quality, there is a wide range. Some versions can have really complex flavors, while others are bitterly sour one-note packages. A good rule of thumb is to look at how long the vinegar has been aged — the longer the better. Some fancy red wine vinegars only use one type of wine or even a single kind of grape. Try a few varieties and see which ones you like best!

How does it taste?

Red wine vinegar has a much more complex and layered flavor than distilled white vinegar. It is perfect for salad dressings or fruit desserts, and it is a very common element in marinades. Give it a whirl by making a Classic Marinade or Berry Brûlée!

White WineWhite Wine Vinegar:

Like red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar is made from wine that has been further aged in order to produce vinegar. It too is often matured in wooden containers. Less popular than red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar is still super versatile and its flavor profile can vary widely by brand. Look for well-aged varieties and have a taste test to find the flavors that work best for you.

How does it taste?

White wine vinegar’s flavor varies widely from brand to brand. Some options are malty and sour, while others are floral and light. In general, white wine vinegar is great for sauces and salad dressings (especially when the hue matters and you want a light dressing). It complements delicate flavors like the ones found in fish or fruit especially well. Try it in Salmon Macaroni Salad or Peach Salsa.

A note about wine vinegars: As mentioned above, some wine vinegars use a particular kind of wine or only one type of grape to produce their vinegar. If you’d like to further explore the realm of wine vinegars, try champagne vinegar, pinot gris vinegar, or sherry vinegar. There are lots of varieties out there, so feel free to explore!

BalsamicBalsamic Vinegar:

Oh balsamic vinegar. This syrupy, dark, sweet vinegar has been a darling of the food scene for quite some time, adding pep to healthful dishes and depth to indulgent treats. Balsamic vinegar is a versatile flavor powerhouse.

With popularity, however, comes variation and a wide range of quality. All balsamic vinegars must be made from a grape product (no, there’s no balsam in it), but that’s really where the similarities end. Traditional balsamic vinegar comes from the must of white Trebbiano grapes and is aged in wood casks for quite some time, with the aging process lasting anywhere between 12 and 100 years. You can spot this kind of vinegar by its “Protected Designation of Origin” marks — it must come from either the Reggiano Emiliano or Modena provinces of Italy and be aged for at least 12 years.

The more common, less expensive, and by-no-means-traditional form of balsamic vinegar is called “balsamic vinegar of Modena” or simply “balsamic vinegar.” Instead of using the must of white Trebbiano grapes and aging it for many years, this type of vinegar is made by mixing concentrated grape juice with strong vinegar. Artificial colors and flavors are also added — even caramel or sugar.

How does it taste?

The thick and almost syrupy texture of traditional balsamic vinegar masks a relatively high acidity level, creating a mild but layered flavor with undertones determined by the aging process and types of wood casks used. Commercial balsamic vinegar mimics these flavors, though at a shallower and less-developed level. Balsamic vinegar has a very notable taste, so use it when you want a dash of sweet and sour with deeper layers. It makes a great salad dressing and draws out the flavor of ripe fruits, especially berries. It’s also a popular flavoring agent in Italian food, adding zing to everything from bruschetta to panzanella to caprese salads. Once you have some balsamic vinegar of your very own, give it a test run with some Open-Faced Garden Pitas or a Pear and Almond Salad!

A note about white balsamic vinegar: Though it shares the word “balsamic” with traditional balsamic vinegar, that is practically where the similarity ends. White balsamic vinegar is made by cooking grapes under pressure, stopping any caramelization, before aging for one year in un-charred oak barrels. With a light and fruity flavor, this vinegar is a pale yellow color that makes it perfect for light sauces and salads.

Apple CiderApple Cider Vinegar:

This mild vinegar is made from either cider or apple must, fermenting the mixture until a delicate and sweet vinegar is ready for sale. This inexpensive vinegar is a toasty gold color and lends itself well to a variety of culinary uses. Many people buy unfiltered apple cider vinegar for its health benefits, though more research is needed to substantiate those health claims.

What does it taste like?

This mild and fruity vinegar has a distinct apple flavor that is balanced by a gently sour bite. It is a fantastic ingredient in marinades, especially for chicken or fish, but it also peps up chutneys and vinaigrettes. Some home cooks prefer it over distilled white vinegar for quick-pickling fresh produce in the refrigerator. At our test kitchen, we found that apple cider vinegar really perks up the flavor of root vegetables, especially in an Indigo Beet Salad or Sweet Potatoes with Raisin Sauce.

RiceRice Vinegar:

And here’s where the crux of Stephanie’s question lies — what is the difference between rice and rice wine vinegar? After much research, it appears as though rice wine vinegar is a type of rice vinegar, and the two can be used interchangeably in recipes. Rice vinegar can be made from fermented rice itself, rice concentrate, or from rice wine. Rice wine vinegar, as the name might imply, is made only from rice wine. Their flavors are very similar, and either can be used when rice vinegar is called for.

Rice vinegar’s flavor profile changes depending on the region it comes from, and variations like red rice vinegar and black rice vinegar are made from entirely different kinds of rice, with much stronger flavors. For the purposes of this writeup, we’re going to focus on the most common kind of rice vinegar, known as “rice vinegar” or “white rice vinegar.”

What does it taste like?

The rice vinegar that’s most easily available in the United States is a bit harsher than the varieties sold in China and Japan, but it is still notable for a mild and sweet flavor, especially when compared to most other vinegars. With the lowest acidity levels allowed to vinegars sold in the U.S., rice wine vinegar doesn’t have much bite, which makes it perfect for mild boosts of flavor. It’s great in dipping sauces and stir-fries. Try it in Stuffed Baked Potatoes or a Peanut Cabbage Stir-Fry Salad!

There are many varieties of rice vinegar, and lots of them are sweetened or seasoned in some way. This can pep up their flavor profile or get in the way of what you’re cooking, so be sure to choose the right vinegar for the job. Have a taste test and see which options are best for you!

MaltMalt Vinegar

Making malt vinegar is an interesting process. First barley must be “malted,” transforming the starch in the barley to maltose. From there, the mixture is fermented until it becomes ale, and then it’s aged until it reaches the proper acidity and consistency. Other grains can be malted to make this vinegar, but barley is the most common.

What does it taste like?

Full-bodied and toasty, malt vinegar is most commonly seen as an accompaniment to fish and chips or other British treats. Its deep brown color makes it easy to spot in a lineup of vinegars, and it also makes a great marinade or component of darker sauces. Use it when you want to add a toasty bite to whatever you’re cooking.

Let’s end this post with a free infographic that compares a lineup of the vinegars we’ve explored today! Here’s a PDF just for you.

Vinegar Infographic

 

Keep those requests coming!

Judy Doherty, PC II, Founder of Food and Health Communications, Inc.

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Salvaging: What Is It?

Salvaging. That’s what my friend called it when she invited me to go shopping with her. She had a long list of salvage stores in the area that she wanted to visit. Intrigued, I decided to give it a try.

Salvaging: What Is It?If you’ve never heard of such a thing, here’s the scoop.

Salvage stores sell scratch and dent items and stuff that the regular stores can’t sell. These items may be overstocks, returned merchandise, clearance, or just things that didn’t sell at the retail store. Salvage stores buy products by the pallet and truckload and then resell them at a drastically-reduced price. Each load is different, so salvage shoppers will never know what will be available at any store.

Most of the items were dry goods, canned goods, and nonperishable food. The salvage store also had paper goods, pet food, and some cleaning supplies.

Many of the products were past the dates on the labels. The “food safety hairs” on the back of my neck started to go up quickly. That said, by being cautious and paying attention, I was able to find some real bargains.

How?

Well, salvage shopping feels like a balancing act to me. Some foods are perfectly safe, while others needed to be skipped. Here’s the lowdown on what you need to know if you or your clients want to pursue salvage shopping.

SalvagingThe expiration date on food has nothing to do with food safety. There is nothing “illegal” about stores selling food that is beyond the expiration date. The one exception here is infant formula and some baby food.

Packages frequently have words like “best by” or “use by” on them. This does not mean that you can’t eat the food after this date. These dates are provided by the food manufacturers as a way for you to judge quality and freshness. Putting these dates on packages is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer. After all, they would like you to eat their food when it is at its best.

Many unopened shelf-stable products will be of good quality long past their sell-by dates. Foods like mustard, ketchup, pickles, crackers, and cereal may lose quality, color, and texture, but can remain perfectly safe to eat.

Here’s a little key to those dates:

  • The sell-by date tells the store how long to display the product for sale.
  • The use-by date is the last date recommended for use of the product while it’s at peak quality.
  • The best-if-used by dates is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or a safety date.

Walking the Aisles...Non-perishable shelf-stable foods such as sugar, dried beans, spices and canned goods do not spoil unless they are handled carelessly. They will lose quality and nutrition, however, if stored for a long time, even if kept under ideal conditions.

Some shelf-stable foods are called semi-perishable and have a shorter shelf life. These are foods like flour, grain, dried fruits and dry mixes. They can usually be kept unopened for 6-12 months without much noticeable quality loss.

Commercially-processed low-acid canned goods like meat, poultry, fish, soups, corn, carrots, potatoes will usually keep (unopened) in a pantry for 2-5 years. High acid foods like juices, pickles, sauerkraut and items in vinegar-based sauces will generally keep for 12-18 months.

When shopping, avoid dusty cans or torn labels, this may indicate very old stock.

Don’t purchase bulging, rusted, or leaking cans. These could contain dangerous bacteria.

Unsafe CanBe wary of deeply dented cans. Carefully check dented cans before buying them. Cans with dents may have exposed the contents to air, which results in the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.

Watch out for pantry pests (bugs) in salvaged foods. These pests can hitchhike into your house in foods like cereals, flours, herbs, spices, chocolate and dried fruit. Storing these items in air-tight plastic or glass containers can help prevent the infestation from transferring from one food to another in the pantry.

Consider the geographic area of where you live. Where have your salvage foods been stored? Food stored in warm and humid climates tends to have a shorter shelf life.

Don’t overbuy. Don’t get so excited about the deals you’re getting that you buy more than you can eat in a reasonable amount of time.

Once you get the items home, store them in a cool, dry place and rotate them, using the oldest first.

Remember the old saying “when in doubt, throw it out!”

I’ll add this… a deal isn’t a deal if you end up throwing the food out later. When you salvage, shop smart!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Want to share salvaging tips with your clients? Here’s a SalvageHandout, just for you. Get your copy now!

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There are a whole bunch of new nutrition posters, and I really think you’ll like what you see. Help your clients choose healthful beverages, make balanced meal decisions, track their progress, and review nutrition basics, all with colorful and engaging posters. Take a look today!