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Why Chinese Cooking Wine makes everything Better

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Everything you need to know about Chinese cooking wine.

I have always enjoyed using alcohol in my cooking. It has a way of bringing out the loveliest aromas and flavors.  Plus there is something so satisfying about pouring wine from a bottle. 

Some cooking wines are also nice to drink. And there is nothing wrong with a little fun in the kitchen.

French and Japanese cuisines are well known for their generous use of wine. Japanese sake and mirin are a central part of Japanese cooking. But it is not just the Japanese and the French who have a rich tradition of cooking with wine. 

Some of the most underrated cooking wines are Chinese. If you have never added Chinese cooking wines to your pantry, you have no idea what you are missing. After reading this you will be ordering some Chinese wine to enrich your cooking. 

An Introduction to Chinese Cooking Wine

The Chinese use rice, wheat, barley, or a mixture of sticky rice and millet to make wine. They ferment the grain using yeasts and molds as starters. 

Mijiu wine is light and clear. It looks and tastes close to Japanese sake. Xiang Xue jiu is a dark and sweet wine called fragrant snow wine. 

Chinese cooking wine is usually the liaojiu which is amber colored and nicknamed yellow wine. If you are looking at liaojiu from Shaoxing city, it is probably good. 

Shaoxing has carved huadiao wine, called carved flower. Huadiao tastes rich and a little nutty. It is good for braising or cooking stir-fries. You will not mind sipping it as you cook. 

The best cooking wine is labeled huadiao and it tastes best when it is unsalted. The unsalted wine is hard to find because most of the Shaoxing wine is added salt and spice to avoid the extra import fees and taxes that drinkable wines attract. 

Salted cooking wines won’t taste as good as unsalted ones. 

Why Chinese Cooking Wine is good for you

It feels wrong to waste good wine on a stew or braise. If it is the salty type, you probably won’t feel so bad about cooking with it instead of sipping it. 

But there are good reasons why you would want to cook with wine instead of drinking it. For one, all the good flavors of the wine will go into the food. 

Think about the sweetness, the astringency, the sourness, the opulent and nuanced aroma, and the notes of umami. Think of all that goodness in your food. The alcohol gives your dish a slightly sharp flavor.

Besides all that yummy flavor, alcohol is a good solvent that brings out all the aromatic elements inside the food. Some of the aromatic compounds won’t dissolve in oil or water, but they will dissolve in alcohol.

Food expert and author Harold McGee opines that a little alcohol makes a dish smells better because it lets out some aromatic compounds in the food and makes the final meal smell a lot better. 

Chinese cooking wine is also really good for making food less funky, gamy, or fishy. This makes it a favorite for lamb dishes, marinades, fermented foods, and overpowering fish. 

How to Shop for Chinese Cooking Wine

The best places to find Chinese cooking wine are Chinese markets and groceries where East Asian communities and South East Asian communities shop for their food. You are more likely to find the unsalted varieties here. 

Salted Chinese cooking wine is easy to find on the internet. If you can find unsalted Shaoxing wine branded huadiao, you are in luck. 

Pick the ones packaged in a ceramic jug and not glass bottles. 

What are the Best Substitutes for Chinese Cooking Wine?

Maybe you just can’t find any or you unintentionally drank it all. You can still work with alternatives. One of the drinks that can give you almost the same effect as Chinese cooking wine is dry sherry. You can also try white wine or Japanese sake which will still make your food better. This works best when the wine is not the main ingredient in the meal 

If you don’t use alcohol at all, you want to try something like a stock that is rich in umami which will enhance all the flavors in your meal. 

How to Use Chinese Cooking Wine

You only need to flip through a Chinese cookbook to see how ubiquitous cooking wine is in Chinese cuisine. 

Consider splashing the wine into your wok when you are preparing a stir-fry. The wine will help to control the temperature. You can also use the wine to marinate the pork or fish and give it a better flavor. Add the Chinese cooking wine to soup stock to make it last longer. 

If you find a nice bottler of Chinese cooking wine, you want to use it in any of the wine-rich Chinese dishes. Foods that require wine baths and that are served cold. Here are some of the best things you can use with the wine – hoping you don’t drink it all.

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Sweet Proteins: The Future of Sugar Alternatives

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In the quest for healthier food options, the spotlight has recently turned to an innovative category of sweeteners: sweet proteins. A groundbreaking study published in Food Research International delves into the potential of these proteins as a substitute for sugar, focusing on the impact of health-focused messaging in promoting their consumption.

The Sugar Dilemma

Europeans consume an average of 34 kg of sugar annually, more than triple the World Health Organization’s recommendation. This excessive intake is linked to rising obesity rates and other health issues. Despite efforts like taxing sugary foods and beverages, and stricter marketing regulations, sugar consumption remains high.

Enter Sweet Proteins

Sweet proteins, such as thaumatin, offer a promising solution. These proteins are derived from natural sources using precision fermentation, a process involving yeast to express and isolate proteins found in some fruits. Unlike artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame, sweet proteins don’t carry associated health risks and are digestible and non-allergenic.

The Study’s Approach

The study explored how perceptions of health and naturalness influence attitudes toward products containing sweet proteins. Researchers conducted experiments using messages that emphasized either the health benefits or the naturalness of sweet proteins. Participants, aged between 20 and 70, were responsible for household food purchases.

Key Findings

The study revealed that health-related messaging significantly influenced attitudes towards sweet proteins. Participants exposed to health-focused messages showed more favorability towards these proteins compared to those who received messages about their naturalness. This effect was particularly pronounced in individuals with higher body mass index (BMI) levels and those experiencing anticipatory guilt about sugar consumption.

Interestingly, the study also found that people who regularly consume alternative sweeteners responded more positively to the naturalness messaging, possibly due to the anticipatory pleasure of consuming sweeteners.

Implications for Public Health

These findings have significant implications for public health strategies aimed at reducing sugar intake. By effectively framing sweet proteins as a healthy and natural alternative to sugar, it’s possible to influence consumer attitudes and, potentially, their consumption habits.

The Road Ahead

While the study provides valuable insights, the authors acknowledge that changing attitudes may not always lead to altered consumption behaviors. Future research should focus on how these attitudes translate into actual dietary choices.

Conclusion

Sweet proteins emerge as a viable, health-conscious alternative to sugar, with the potential to revolutionize our approach to sweetening foods and beverages. As we continue to explore and understand the best ways to introduce these proteins into the market, they represent a significant step forward in the journey towards healthier eating habits.

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The Future of Flavors and Ingredients: A Glimpse into Tomorrow’s Kitchens

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In the dynamic realm of food and beverage, the IFT FIRST Food Expo stands as a beacon of innovation, unveiling trends that are reshaping our culinary experiences. Let’s delve into the top five trends that are setting the stage for a transformative future in our kitchens and dining tables.

1. Holistic Health and Wellness: A Culinary Revolution

The concept of health and wellness in food has evolved to encompass mental and emotional well-being, alongside physical health. A key trend at the expo was the focus on sugar reduction and personalization in food products. Cargill’s innovative EverSweet + ClearFlo combines a stevia sweetener with a natural flavor, enhancing flavor modification and solubility. Similarly, Sweegen introduced a new liquid stevia sweetener, aligning with consumer trends for easier manufacturing integration.

Personalized health and nutrition have become more holistic, with consumers seeking tailored food and beverage options. This trend is about understanding individual health and happiness needs, a challenge that food companies are increasingly eager to meet.

2. From Clean to Clear Labels: The Era of Transparency

The clean label movement has evolved into a demand for clear labels, with consumers expecting complete transparency about their food’s ingredients. This shift is exemplified by Prosur’s emphasis on clear labeling in its functional ingredients derived from natural vegetable and fruit extracts. Similarly, Blue California has developed an alternative to titanium dioxide, reflecting a growing concern for environmental impact and regulatory compliance.

3. Multifunctional Ingredients: The Functional Powerhouses

Food and beverage manufacturers are increasingly seeking ingredients that deliver multiple functional attributes. ADM’s research on consumer interest in probiotics led to the development of products like the tomato masala biotic snack bite, combining plant protein, prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. Additionally, Hilmar Cheese Company demonstrated how whey protein concentrate can replace whole eggs in certain formulations, highlighting the multifunctional nature of ingredients.

4. Sustainability: The Core of Future Innovations

Sustainability remains a key driver in food and beverage innovation. Ingredients upcycled from food waste, like Ocean Spray’s Cranberry Seeds, add natural color and nutrition to various foods. Lemnature Aquafarms introduced nutritional powders created using a sustainable process with the lemnaceae plant, underscoring the industry’s commitment to sustainability.

5. Plant-Based Power-Up: Meeting the Demands of a Diverse Demographic

The plant-based eating trend has expanded significantly. BENEO’s new faba bean ingredients cater to the growing flexitarian population, offering texture improvement and protein enrichment in vegetarian and meat alternatives. MYCO Technology’s FermentIQ Protein, made by fermenting pea protein with shiitake mushroom mycelium, is another innovative approach, enhancing flavor, aroma, and digestibility.

In conclusion, the trends showcased at the IFT FIRST Food Expo reflect a dynamic industry that is responsive to consumer demands for health, wellness, transparency, functionality, sustainability, and plant-based options. As these trends continue to evolve, they will undoubtedly shape the future of food and beverage, offering exciting possibilities for both consumers and manufacturers.

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Transforming a Tough Cut: The Art of Tenderizing Meat

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In the culinary world, the transformation of a tough cut of meat into a succulent dish is akin to alchemy. It’s a process that requires not just skill and patience, but also a deep understanding of the science behind meat tenderness. For home cooks and chefs alike, the quest for tenderness is a journey worth taking, as it can turn even the most economical cuts into a feast for the senses.

The Challenge of Toughness

Tough cuts of meat, such as chuck roast, brisket, hanger steak, and flank steak, are often overlooked in favor of their leaner, more tender counterparts. However, these cuts offer deep flavors that are unrivaled, provided they are prepared with care. The challenge lies in breaking down the proteins and connective tissues that contribute to their toughness.

The Tenderizing Toolbox

  1. Pounding: A Physical Approach
    • Pounding meat is one of the simplest methods to tenderize. By using a mallet or even everyday kitchen tools like a rolling pin, cooks can physically break down the fibers of the meat. This method is not only effective but also offers an immediate solution to the toughness dilemma.
  2. Salting: The Power of Osmosis
    • Salting is a technique that goes beyond seasoning. It involves coating the meat with a generous layer of salt to break down proteins, a process that can make even choice cuts more tender. The key is to salt the meat about an hour before cooking, then rinse and pat dry before it hits the pan.
  3. Acidic Marinades: Chemical Tenderization
    • Marinades with acidic components such as vinegar, citrus juice, or wine can tenderize the surface of the meat. This method is particularly suited for thinner cuts, where the acid can effectively soften the muscle fibers, infusing the meat with flavor and tenderness.
  4. Enzymatic Magic: Fruits as Tenderizers
    • Fruits like kiwi, papaya, and pineapple contain natural enzymes that can break down tough meat fibers. Kiwi, with its neutral taste, is an excellent choice for a marinade base. However, moderation is key, as over-marination can lead to a mushy texture.
  5. Scoring: Strategic Cuts
    • Scoring involves making shallow cuts against the grain of the meat. This technique can help in two ways: it allows marinades to penetrate more deeply and also interrupts the muscle fibers, resulting in a more tender bite.
  6. Slow Cooking: Time and Temperature
    • Slow cooking is perhaps the most transformative method for tough cuts. By cooking at low temperatures for extended periods, the collagen within the meat breaks down into gelatin, yielding tender, juicy meat that falls apart with the touch of a fork.

The Science of Softening

The science of tenderizing meat is rooted in understanding its composition. Muscle fibers and connective tissues, primarily collagen, are the main contributors to toughness. The methods mentioned above each tackle these components in different ways. Pounding and scoring are mechanical methods that physically alter the structure of the meat. Salting and acidic marinades use chemical reactions to break down protein structures. Enzymatic tenderizers and slow cooking utilize biological and thermal reactions to transform tough collagen into soft gelatin.

The Culinary Perspective

From a culinary standpoint, tenderizing meat is not just about making it easier to eat; it’s about enhancing flavor and texture. Each method of tenderization brings something unique to the table. For instance, a well-salted piece of meat not only becomes tender but also retains moisture better during cooking. Acidic marinades add a tangy dimension to the dish, while enzymatic tenderizers can introduce subtle fruity notes.

Recipes and Recommendations

For those eager to put these methods into practice, there are countless recipes that showcase the potential of well-tenderized meat. Slow-cooked brisket, marinated flank steak, and pounded chicken cutlets are just a few examples of how a tough cut can become the star of the dinner table.

Conclusion

The art of tenderizing meat is a testament to the creativity and resourcefulness of cooks throughout history. By understanding and applying these methods, anyone can turn a tough cut into a tender, flavorful dish. It’s a culinary transformation that not only saves money but also elevates the dining experience, proving that with the right techniques, even the most humble ingredients can be turned into a gourmet delight.

In the end, the journey from tough to tender is one of exploration and experimentation. It’s about discovering the potential in the overlooked and transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. It’s a journey well worth taking for any culinary enthusiast.

For those interested in delving deeper into the science and practice of tenderizing meat, reputable sources such as the American Meat Science Association provide a wealth of information. Additionally, culinary experts like Harold McGee offer insights into the chemistry of cooking, which can further enhance one’s understanding and skills in the kitchen.

In the realm of cooking, the ability to tenderize a tough cut of meat is a skill that reflects both the science of the craft and the artistry of the chef. It’s a skill that pays homage to the ingredients, respects the palate, and ultimately, transforms the dining experience.

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