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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Plus, there are tons of new materials in the store. Check them out, or just review the featured category below…

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Smart Consumer: Everything You Need to Know About Eggs

I think we’ve all been there. Standing at the egg display in the local grocery store wondering which one to pick…

IMGP9498The options are many. Do you want large eggs or medium? Are some really more nutritious than others? Or what about the low-cholesterol egg substitutes? Choices, choices, choices.

I spoke with representatives from both the American Egg Board and the Ohio Poultry Association, and they helped me answer some of these questions. Together, we sorted through the misinformation, myths, and personal anecdotes about eggs.

Here’s what I learned…

Consumers have many choices when it comes to purchasing eggs. These options can be based on usage, nutrient needs, and personal values. When it comes time to choose what kinds of eggs you want to buy, keep these ideas in mind…

Due to changes in farming and feeding, today’s eggs contain more vitamin D and are lower in cholesterol than before. In 2011, the USDA re-evaluated the nutrients found in eggs. Now they show that one large egg contains 75 calories as well as 41 IU of vitamin D (64% more than in the 2002 data analysis) and 185 milligrams of dietary cholesterol (this is down from the earlier level of 220 milligrams.) Eggs are good sources (a little over 6 grams) of high-quality protein.

In an effort to reduce cholesterol, calories, and fat, some people are using just egg whites. This can be done by separating the whites from the yolks once you crack an egg open. You can also buy an egg substitute. Some egg products come in milk carton-style packages and are just egg whites. Others contain added ingredients that make them look and taste like whole eggs. But think about what you really want from these options. Yes, all of the fat and cholesterol in an egg can be found in the yolk, and of the 75 calories in a large egg, 54 of them come from the yolk. But remember that the yolk is a good source of vitamin D and two carotenoids — lutein and  zeaxanthin. These carotenoids help protect against macular degeneration as we age.

Eggs can come in different colors!Usually, an egg is packaged the day it is laid and is in the store within three days after that. The date the egg is packed is provided on the carton in the “Julian date”. This is a three-digit code for the day of the year. For example February 1 would be 032 and December 31 would be 365.* Sell-by dates or expiration dates are not federally required, but, if listed, they cannot be longer than 45 days after packing. If refrigerated, eggs will keep in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks after you buy them, which is right about 5 weeks. I go into more detail about this in the post How Old is that Egg?

The size of an egg is determined by the weight per dozen. All sizes of eggs work for scrambling, hard-cooked, or poaching. In fact, I like the medium eggs for these purposes, since they are slightly smaller but just as pretty. If you’re baking, it’s best to go for the large eggs. Most recipes are designed with this size egg in mind.

Now, what about those eggs that claim to be higher in certain nutrients or lower in cholesterol? If a product label indicates a nutrient difference from the standard, then these claims need to be documented through research. Yes, it is possible to slightly alter the nutrients in the eggs through the chicken’s feed. For example: if a chicken is fed food that is high in flax seed, then the resulting eggs can be higher in vitamin D. But, you’re going to pay for a higher price for these eggs due to the higher cost of the feed. Whether you buy eggs with more vitamin D is a personal choice.  The same goes for organic, free-range and cage-free eggs. The USDA nutrient analysis shows that these eggs are all nutritionally the same as traditionally farmed eggs, but the circumstances in which the chickens are kept may vary.

Even though it makes shopping more difficult, I think we’re lucky to have all of these choices. Which eggs will you pick?

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

*Except on a leap year, of course!

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Thank you for scrolling! Here’s a free egg handout — I hope you enjoy it!

Free Egg Handout

How Old Is That Egg?

If you open up almost any refrigerator, you’re likely to find some eggs. But how old are they?

If you’re like most people, eggs can hang out in your refrigerator for a while. At what point are they unsafe to eat?

Food safety specialists and the folks at the American Egg Board assert that eggs can keep in the refrigerator at below 40 degrees for 4-6 weeks after purchase.

Important DatesSo what does the code on the carton mean?

The code on the carton is a “Julian date” and it’s the date the egg was packed into the carton.

Let’s look at an example. I recently found a package of eggs in my refrigerator that had the code of 281. Checking the “Julian date” calculator on the web, I learned that that the egg was packed on the 281st day of the year — that’s October 8. The use-by date is November 21, which is 45 days after the “Julian date.” That’s right on target at 5 weeks.

Okay, so now that we’ve talked about when eggs are good, let’s review how to keep them in the best shape. I’m talking about storing them — should you put eggs in the door or the carton?

The general consensus these days is to keep eggs in their carton and put the carton in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Skip those little shelves on refrigerator doors. With the door opening and closing throughout the day, the eggs stored in the door are subjected to temperature changes, which can cause quality loss. Storing the eggs in the original carton also helps eggs keep their moisture.

Oddly-Shaped Older EggsBut what if you don’t have the carton? How well can you tell the age of your eggs?

For many years, I believed that the age of an egg could be estimated by the size of the air cell inside. The theory was that an egg evaporates as it ages. Since the shells are porous, moisture and carbon dioxide escape and air enters the shell. This makes the air cell larger, and with more air inside, the egg floats. That’s a good theory… but, it’s not always reliable.*

According to a representative of the American Egg Board, just because an egg floats does not necessarily mean that it’s old. Instead, it may just be that the chicken laid the egg with a large air cell in the first place.

Therefore, you can’t always tell the age of an egg by putting it in a bowl of water.

On the other hand, evaporation is the premise used in the recommendation for using a “slightly older” (7-10 days) egg for hard-cooking. An egg that’s a bit older allows for easier peeling. As the egg ages, it “looses” the egg membrane’s connection to the shell, which in turn makes it easier to peel.

So, to tell the age of an egg, we need to look at what else happens when an egg ages.

When cracked open, an older egg will appear flatter. It will spread out more and the yolk membrane will be weaker and easier to break. These eggs won’t look as good when served sunny-side up, but when the appearance isn’t important, they’ll still work fine.

Older EggAn “older egg” (I’m talking about eggs that are near that 45-day “use by” date) may also not look great for when it comes to hard-cooking eggs because that air cell is more prominent. See the photos here — those are oddly-shaped hard-cooked eggs.

According to the American Egg Board, a properly-handled egg rarely spoils or becomes unsafe if it’s stored properly, no matter how long it is kept.

That said, as an egg ages, it dries out and the quality diminishes. The American Egg Board recommends throwing out eggs after 4-6 weeks.

You’ll know right away if an egg has spoiled because it will have a very unpleasant sulfur stench. Once you open the shell, you will be able to smell it. This is pretty rare, but very memorable.

So there you have it. A guide to the age of eggs.

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

*Note: The Egghead Quiz has been changed to reflect this new information.

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Cool Beans

Yes, we all know that beans are the musical fruit. But did you also know that they’re magical?

I mean, not magic magical, but beans are an inexpensive, tasty, and nutritious powerhouse! Today I want to introduce you to the joys of beans. And we’ll even talk strategies for making them less musical too.

14% of the U.S. population is eating beans on any given day. Pinto beans are the most popular bean, closely followed by navy, black, Great Northern, and garbanzo beans. These versatile legumes even fit into two distinct MyPlate groups — vegetables and protein. Did you know that beans can be considered a healthful protein food or a fantastic vegetable option? Fit them on your plate wherever they can do the most good.

BEANSSo, why eat beans? In a word: nutrients. They’re full of them! Beans are great sources of…

  • Folate
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Plant protein
  • Polyphenols
  • Potassium
  • Resistant starch
  • Soluble fiber
  • Total fiber
  • Zinc

According to MyPlate, many Americans don’t get nearly enough folate or potassium in their diets. Beans are a great way to correct this issue. Plus, a recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has revealed that beans “are among the only plant foods that provide significant amounts of the indispensable amino acid lysine.”

What does this mean for your health? Well, a diet rich in beans can…

  • Reduce your LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • Decrease your risk of diabetes.
  • Help you manage your weight.
  • Improve the health of your colon.
  • Be rich in vital nutrients.

But wait, there’s more! Beans are wonderfully inexpensive and deliciously versatile. Did you know that canned beans cost only 4 cents per ounce, while dried beans average 11 cents per ounce? Just to compare, Angus Beef costs 31 cents per ounce!

Let’s take that bean and beef comparison one step further. What do you notice about the chart below?

Bean and Beef Comparison

A single serving of kidney beans has 20.5 fewer grams of fat, 6.5 more grams of fiber, and 48% fewer calories than lean ground beef! This means that beans are as great a bet for your health as they are for your wallet.

So, how can you make beans a part of your life?

Well, when it comes to canned beans, it’s as easy as draining and rinsing them, then tossing them into your next salad or batch of chili.

Dried beans require a little bit more effort. There are a few tried-and-true approaches, which I’ve outlined below…

  • Overnight: Cover your beans with several inches of water and let them soak in a large pot overnight. Then, when you want to cook them, drain and rinse the beans, cover with a few inches of fresh water and bring the whole shebang to a boil. Let everything boil for a few minutes, then reduce to a simmer and cook for a few hours, until beans are tender.
  • Quick: For a quicker method that skips the overnight soak, bring beans to a boil in a large pot. Boil for 2-3 minutes, then turn off the heat and let them soak for an hour. Bring everything to a boil once more and then simmer for a few hours, until beans are tender.

A good soaking ratio for dried beans is 5 to 1 — 5 parts water to 1 part dried beans. Let’s look at an example. If you have 2 cups of dried beans, soak them in 10 cups of water. The cooking ratio for soaked beans is 1 part broth or water to 1 part beans.

Now the exact cooking time for dried beans varies based on…

  • Age of the beans
  • Altitude
  • Bean variety
  • Water hardness

Chicken Tostada SaladPhew! That was a lot of information about beans. It’s time to get practical. Here are some great (and free!) recipes for canned and cooked beans alike.

Oh and yes, sometimes eating too many beans at once will give you gas. Start introducing beans to your diet gradually in order to reduce your risk of musical side effects. Drink plenty of water while you eat beans and be sure to rinse canned beans well. These steps will further reduce your risk of any digestive discomfort so that you can eat beans without fear.

So what are you waiting for? Get our there and enjoy beans!

Here’s a free handout with a great bean recipe to help you get started…

Bean Recipe Handout

For More Information:

  1. Dry Beans. http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/vegetables-pulses/dry-beans.aspx#.VDxOWudN3U4
  2. Nutritional and Health Benefits of Dried Beans. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24871476
  3. Beans and Peas are Unique Foods. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-beans-peas.html
  4. The World’s Healthiest Foods: Black Beans. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=2
  5. Cost of groceries. Peapod.com

Even More Bean Resources:

Protein Bulletin Board Kit

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A Prune by Any Other Name

Let’s talk about prunes.

Dried PlumsI know, I know! This is not a topic that most people would consider for dinner conversation. But I do have a few prune stories.

We’ll start with a trip I took. A couple years ago, my mom and my sisters and I went on a cruise. I took advantage of the room service and ordered a bowl of stewed prunes for breakfast every day. My middle sister (always the one who isn’t afraid to say anything) asked, “Why did you order prunes? Are you having problems?”

That seems to be the general consensus about prunes — they have a reputation related to bowel movement, laxatives, and/or as a remedy for other digestive “problems.”

No, I wasn’t having “problems.” I just like prunes and hadn’t thought about buying them at home.

So. That was story #1. Here’s story #2.

We were having dinner at a neighbor’s home and got into a discussion of new foods and favorite things to eat. She was excited to share a new product that she just loved to put in salads.

She showed me the package. They were “dried plum” pieces.

I had to laugh. Those are prunes! Rebranded, of course, but prunes! Once I told my friend what I knew, she thought for a few seconds and then laughed with me. What great marketing.

It seems that back in 2001, the plum growers got together and petitioned the FDA to change the name of their dried fruit. Their argument was that “dried plum” has a more positive connotation than “prune.” The goal was to modernize the product and remarket it as a healthful snack food, instead of something that grandma ate when she needed a laxative. I guess it worked, because my friend bought them!

Of course, I had to go looking for dried plums too. I was surprised to find that while some of the products were in fact called dried plums, most of the items I saw were still called prunes. There were even individually-wrapped dried plums that were marketed as easy-to-take-with you snacks.

Plums. A Prettier Alternative.It’s interesting to note that the images on the packages of prunes are almost always pictures of fresh plums. You can see why they might choose plums instead of prunes. Just look at the photo above! Along with a bad image, prunes just aren’t very photogenic.

Now I’m not saying that dried plums don’t deserve their reputation as a laxative, because they do. A 1-cup serving of prunes has 12 grams of both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. In other words, a 1-cup serving of prunes provides about 1/3 of the fiber that men need and almost half the amount that women need each day.

But then let’s not forget that prunes are dried fruit. That makes them a concentrated energy source. One cup of prunes or dried plums is loaded with 418 calories and 111 grams of total carbohydrates. They are also nutrient-dense, providing vitamins K and A, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6,  calcium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. Prunes are virtual powerhouses of nutrients.

Too much of a good thing can lead to that previously-discussed “digestive side effect.” In addition to the fiber, it’s interesting to note that prunes are a natural source of the sugar alcohol sorbitol, which also has a natural laxative effect.

If you’re like me and just like prunes, or if you are looking for a healthful snack/way to increase your dietary fiber consumption, then the California Dried Plum Board says that you can safely eat up to 10-12 prunes a day. That’s a little more than ½ cup of dried fruit. If you’re not used to eating a diet high in fiber, start small — with just four or five prunes — to avoid any undesirable digestive side effects.

So what are you waiting for? Grab some dried plums today!

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

Fiber is one of our favorite topics, so we’ve added a free handout to this post. Check out the guide to fiber and blood glucose and get your copy today! Originally, this page was only accessible to Communicating Food for Health subscribers, so if you like what you see, consider getting a membership.

Fiber and Blood Sugar

It may come as no surprise that there are tons of educational materials about fiber in the store! Check out a few of the most popular options…

Holiday Secrets

Holiday Secrets

Fiber Stars Poster

Fiber PowerPoint and Handout Set

Basic Nutrition Poster Set

New Activity Idea: What’s the Real Cost?

Interactive Activity Ideas Week continues! If you missed the first installment, check out the posts on the Food and Health blog. Today, we’re going to talk about the real cost of food…

Activity #2: What’s the Real Cost?

Grab a bag or two of apples and potatoes before your presentation. While you’re at the store, pick up a container of apple pop tarts and a big bag of potato chips.

Photocopy the Nutrition Facts labels from your purchases or copy the relevant information from each item onto a blackboard or chalkboard that everyone can see.

Once your participants arrive, divide them into groups and have them calculate the cost per ounce of all the foods you bought.

After everyone has calculated the cost per ounce of each item, have them all return to their seats and share their findings. Which foods were more expensive? Which were cheaper? Was this a surprise, or was it expected? What do the results mean when it comes to shopping healthfully on a budget?

Shopping Cart

Activity Debrief:

Many people don’t realize the cost per ounce of the foods they buy. Whole foods are nutrient powerhouses, full of fiber and other keys to a healthful diet. Proving that they aren’t necessarily going to break the bank can make them more appealing and accessible to your clients.

If you would like to take this activity even further, you can talk about the healthcare costs associated with things like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. How does the food they eat play a role? What is the cost of good nutrition?

The fun isn’t over yet! There are more interactive ideas on the way!

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3 Easy Ways to Save Money When Grocery Shopping

Shopping smart can help you save money on fuel and food!

Between rising gas prices and food costs, consumers these days are feeling a crunch. The Department of Agriculture predicts a 4% to 5% increase in food prices this year, and the largest increases are forecast for fats and oils, estimated to rise 8% to 9%, and cereals and bakery products, projected to jump 7.5% to 8.5%. Gas is already edging closer to $4 per gallon. Here are 3 tips to help you save money, yet still eat healthfully.

1. Shop less frequently.

One way to save time and lower food costs is to shop less frequently. Fewer trips means less money spent on impulse decisions, as well as less money spent on fuel (and other transportation costs) that you use  in order to get the store. Plus, shopping less frequently will save you time. Who doesn’t want to ease a busy schedule?

2. Stock up on low-cost frozen and pantry items, especially when they’re on sale.

Foods for the pantry and freezer have a much longer shelf life than refrigerated items. Frozen foods, canned goods, and bulk pantry items also tend to be bulky and take more time to gather, especially since you have to push the cart all over the store. It is more efficient to buy more of each product all at once, so that you don’t have to repeat the same dance week after week. By stocking up a lot on freezer and pantry items at a discount store (or when you see them on sale) you can save serious $$$. Once you have a good stockpile, weekly shopping becomes much easier. You can simply dash in to the local market for a few fresh produce and dairy items.

With food costs on the rise, it makes sense to stockpile foods. Buying now gets you today’s prices.

And if you stock up on MyPlate foods, you are more likely to prepare and eat healthful meals at home instead of eating at restaurants and drive-thrus all the time. Foods prepared at home are often healthier and lower in calories than restaurant foods, and you spend less on transportation if you stay home as well.

Try these great pantry and freezer items. Remember to steer clear of added sugar and sodium.

Pantry:

  • Canned beans
  • Canned tomatoes and veggies
  • Canned tuna
  • Fat-free dry milk powder
  • Jams
  • Lentils
  • Oatmeal
  • Pasta and whole grain pasta
  • Pasta sauce
  • Peanut butter
  • Rice and brown rice
  • Soups

Freezer:

  • Bread (whole grain)
  • Chicken
  • Egg whites or nonfat egg substitute in cartons
  • Fish and seafood (not breaded)
  • Fruits
  • Lean meat
  • Seafood
  • Turkey
  • Vegetables

3. Choose less processed foods.

By purchasing items that are less processed, you will spend less money and buy items that are often much healthier. For example, by choosing whole potatoes instead of potato chips or frozen French fries, you save a lot of money per ounce. You also reduce fat, sodium, and calories as well! Not convinced? Check out the price per ounce for each of the following potato products…

  • Baking Potatoes                      $0.06 per ounce
  • Frozen French Fries               $0.13  per ounce
  • Frozen Mashed Potatoes        $0.13 per ounce
  • Instant Mashed Potatoes        $0.21  per ounce
  • Potato Chips                           $0.32 per ounce

The processed items (in italics) are at least double the price of the plain potatoes.


Budget Shopping for a Healthful Lifestyle

It really is possible to save money while you shop, yet also purchase healthful foods that are good for you and your family. Here’s how…

Bread

  • HEALTH: Always buy 100% whole grain bread.
  • BANK: When bread goes on sale, stock up and freeze the rest for later.

Canned Goods

  • HEALTH: Try to choose items that nave little to no added salt, or at least reduced sodium.
  • BANK: Store brands, when they’re on sale, are the best value. Stock up when you see them.

Cereal

  • HEALTH: Oatmeal is one of the healthiest choices because it is a whole grain and has no added salt, fat, or sugar. The same is true for shredded wheat.
  • BANK: Stock up when items are on sale. You can generally get items more cheaply when you buy in bulk.

Pasta

  • HEALTH: Rice is a very inexpensive option that is also low in calorie density. Of course brown rice is best (being a whole grain and all) but white is not such a bad option, especially if that’s the only kind of rice your family will eat.
  • BANK: Look for sales on store brands and stock up when prices are good.

Produce

  • HEALTH: MyPlate calls for most people to eat about 4.5 cups of fruits and veggies each day.
  • BANK: Farmer’s markets and local stands often have the best prices on fresh, seasonal produce.
  • BANK: Watch local papers for grocery stores to offer sales on produce. When that happens, you can really get some great deals.
  • BANK: Choose fresh foods when they’re in season. This will offer the best value, and it’s fun to have a change of pace.
  • BANK: Don’t buy too much produce. It’s tough to use everything before it spoils. If you end up with more produce than you can eat, cook and freeze some soups to use up the extra.

Protein

  • HEALTH: Choose lean, cook lean and use portion control.
  • BANK: One word helps here – sale!
  • BANK: Use smaller quantities of meat.
  • BANK, HEALTH: Of course the cheapest protein item is also the healthiest and highest in fiber – beans.
  • BANK, HEALTH: If you don’t have a lot of time, cook lentils.
  • BANK, HEALTH: If you do have some time, consider cooking and freezing larger batches of dried beans.

Beware of these pitfalls

  • Expensive items include soda, chips, cereals, cookies, crackers, and convenience meals. These are also calorie dense.Try to limit these treats to just one per week – you don’t need to fill the cart with them.
  • Shopping without a list is dangerous because you might neglect some items that you need to prepare a healthful meal, while splurging on others that aren’t good for your budget or your health.
  • Shopping when hungry is also dangerous — it leads to way more impulse purchases, and they’re often not the healthful kind.