Month: December 2015

Volkswagen announces plans to acquire Chipotle

volkswagen beetleIn a surprise announcement, Volkswagen Chairman Martin Winterkorn announced that Volkswagen plans to acquire the Chipotle restaurant chain.Volkswagen announces plans to acquire Chipotle

“We believe, this acquisition represents real synergy,” he said. “Each of our companies has problems the other can help solve. Currently, there are no good burritos available in Germany and this acquisition is unlikely to change that. However, we do plan to rename our popular Beetle as the Burrito. They’re about the same size and both taste equally good,” he explained.

Volkswagen is currently wrestling with a problem in controlling emissions in its diesel cars. “Here, we believe Chipotle can help us, because the emissions from Chipotle’s customers have never been considered a problem,” Winterkorn explained.

Meanwhile, Chipotle has been frantically trying to control the fallout from hundreds of customer food poisonings from E coli, norovirus and salmonella. Chipotle co-chairman Steve Ellis noted that adopting German cleanliness standards may be part of the solution. “Have you ever been in a Volkswagen factory?” he asked. “Even the mechanics are wearing white coats. This is a huge innovation over the torn T-shirts our kitchen workers wear, and might help us a great deal.”

Chipotle has been making a great deal of noise regarding their locally sourced produce supply, but admits this may have to change. “We’re up to our ears in manure already, and we have to take a step back (oops!) and work on reducing those nasty contaminants. We’re even considering having our produce shipped from Germany inside those big Volkswagen Burritos! I wonder if our suppliers ever considered using nitrogen fertilizers instead. I hear they have lot less bacteria in them!”

Volkswagen has a huge public relations problem to fix, since it became known that they had modified the emissions control software to pretend that many fewer pollutants were being emitted when the cars were actually being tested. “This is really like our pretending that our insistence on non-GMO foods actually made our products safer, when it turned out the opposite was true,” Ellis admitted.

While there are no plans for closer integration between the two companies, Volkswagen is planning to announce a new line of Taco Trucks.



All about salt: kosher, sea and Maldon

sea salt
Sea salt


Salt comes in a bewildering number of packages: table, kosher, Maldon, sea and even popcorn. What’s the difference and does it matter? And why use kosher salt?  In this article we’ll tell you how these salts are different and how you might use them.

Well, first of all, they are all basically sodium chloride (NaCl) and crystallized in various ways with various numbers of impurities. Salt naturally crystallizes in little cubes, but if you fool around as it is crystallizing you can get slightly differently shaped crystals.

Table salt products usually have anti-caking additives so they will flow smoothly. Morton’s and Diamond both add silicon dioxide (sand), tricalcium phosphate, sodium bicarbonate, dextrose (glucose) and for iodized salt, potassium iodide.

Kosher salt is a larger crystal salt, and while it usually is actually kosher, it is really a salt used in the koshering process, to draw blood from the surface of meat to make the meat kosher. Morton’s kosher salt adds ferrioprussate of soda (sodium ferrocyanide, Na4Fe(CN)6) as an anti-caking agent, but Diamond does not.

Maldon salt


Maldon salt is a specialty salt, crystallized to give light, pyramidal crystals that give a nice crunch on roasts and baked goods, but costs nearly ten times as much as conventional salts.

And sea salt is extracted from the sea, purified and crystallized into fair large cubic crystals. Ours came from the Blue Crab Bay Company.

hawaiian red
Hawaiian red Gold Sea Salt

Finally, Hawaiian  Red Gold Sea Salt is made much as any other sea salt, but a small amount red clay (Hawaiian red alaea) is mixed in to give the red color.

Himalayan sea salt is mined in Pakistan, where there is enough iron oxide in the minerals included in the salt to give it a pink color.

Oh, and popcorn salt is just finely ground table salt.

Why use kosher salt?

Some recipes specifically call for the addition of kosher salt. And John Barricelli’s excellent Sono Baking Company Cookbook frequently calls for ¼ tsp “coarse salt.”  Why is this? Actually, this is just a trick to get you to add a smaller amount of salt in a baking recipe. The authors assume that the larger kosher salt crystals don’t pack as tightly and that the density of kosher salt is less than that of the finer crystalled table salt. Thus, less salt.

We decided to measure this on some common salt products and came up with some surprising results that differed from previous measurements. We measured out a tablespoon of each kind of salt in a deep, rounded tablespoon measure that we could easily level off, and weighed them on a sensitive kitchen scale.

Table salt 12 g
Diamond kosher salt 9 g
Morton kosher salt 17 g
Maldon salt 9 g
Sea salt 20 g
Hawaii Gold Sea Salt 17 g

The big surprise here is that the fairly common Morton’s kosher salt is actually denser than table salt. The crystals are bigger but they pack together quite efficiently. It is nearly twice as dense as the Diamond kosher salt is. This is pretty obvious from the picture, which shows the crystal size differences. To be fair, we’ve had that box of Morton kosher salt for a couple of years, and the crystals may have gotten broken. However, if it happened to us, it would happen to you just as easily. So if you want “just a pinch” of salt, use the Diamond kosher, not the Morton’s kosher. In a lot of cases, this really won’t matter, but there is nothing worse than oversalted foods.

Left: Diamond kosh; Right: Morton’s kosher

Salt for garnishes

The sea salts are really intended for garnishes, and the Maldon salt has a really nice crunch, although it is kind of pricey (we really like it, though). The sea salt we measured was called Blue Crab Bay Company Sea Salt, and it had nice big crunchy crystals as well. The Hawaiian Red Gold is good on cooked casseroles and pastas, and the red color stands out on a lot of dishes. You could also use the Diamond kosher salt, but we would not recommend the dense Morton kosher salt. Use it in your ice cream maker!

Monsanto to be tried in kangaroo court in The Hague

edamameAccording to a press release last Friday from the Organic Consumer’s Association, global farming and environmental groups plan to put Monsanto on trial for “crimes against human health and the environment” in the International People’s Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The trouble with this press release is that no such court actual exists and this is essentially a publicity stunt calculated to smear Monsanto and its wildly successful seed technology. Of course, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont and Bayer are also in the business of breeding genetically altered seeds, but are not mentioned in this propaganda release.

According to the release by the Monsanto Tribunal, Monsanto is able to ignore the “human and environmental damage caused by its products…by resorting to lying and corruption, by financing fraudulent scientific studies, by pressuring independent scientists, by manipulating the press and media, etc.”

The “tribunal” is being organized by the usual anti-GMO suspects, including Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumer’s Association, philosopher and anti-biotech activist and bully Vandana Shiva, misidentified as a physicist, Anti-GMO fraud Giles-Eric Seralini, Marie-Monique Robin, author of the screed The World According to Monsanto. It is also supported by Seralini’s organization CRIIGEN and IFOAM, the European equivalent of the Organic Consumer’s Association and just as biased.

However, the tribunal offers not a single shred of evidence to back these wild claims and neglected to mention that there has not been a single documented case of GM crops affected human (or animal) health. Nor is there any evidence that biotech crops are worse for the environment. To the contrary a German  literature review  showed that “GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.” And an Italian group of scientists reviewed all GMO papers published in the past decade, and in 1783 papers they could not find a single instance of GM crops posing danger to humans or animals. Moreover, a Decade of EU funded GMO Research found that GM crops posed no harm to humans or the environment.

Based on these findings and many more, we would expect to hear some significant challenges to these findings by the tribunal, but instead they vaguely allege fraud and corruption but no specific harm, because none has ever been found.

This tribunal is a sham trial, based in no existing court, but rather a small group of activists who will rent some space in The Hague for their anti-biotechnology theater next October. It is not likely to advance knowledge in any significant way.


National  Geographic confuses science and religion

National  Geographic confuses science and religion

cover imageTo the dismay of many long time fans of National Geographic, its December issue featured a cover story called “Mary, the most powerful woman in the world.” This is distressing in that in a magazine devoted to science and geography, this article is neither. It is an article about a fictional woman important in many Christian sects who most likely never existed.  Scholars who have studied writings from 1-35 CE (there was no Year Zero) have found no mention at all of Jesus, let alone of Mary.

Jesus and Mary first appear in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) which were written about 70 CE by men who were not even alive when Jesus was supposed to have lived. The fact that Jesus and Mary are legends in no way reduces their power among the faithful, but the stories and the morals they draw from them are drawn from legends rather than historical facts.

But it really seems excessive to call a fictional person “the most powerful woman in the world,” especially since the author of this first person account, Maureen Orth, is clearly a Christian believer who is not able to distinguish between fact and legend, and who seems to take all of these early stories quite literally.

Given that Mary herself has but a few lines in the Bible itself, most of the stories that have grown up around her are centered around “sightings” of Mary by believers.

National Geographic’s map of sightings of Mary

In other words, the article is really about mass hallucinations, and it does not really question the reports of sightings at the various shrines the author visited. Sightings seem to be pretty much world wide as shown in a map created by the NGM staff based on data provided by Michael O’Neill, who calls himself a Miracle Hunter. He also has a brief video clip on the article page.

Now, an article about the pervasiveness of some religious myths would be interesting in some magazines, but surely not in National Geographic, who has mostly tended to deal with hard science. Could this be because of a change of ownership?

As you may have read, in order to save itself, National Geographic sold itself to Rupert Murdoch, of Fox fame in September. He took over in November and proceeded to lay off most of the magazine’s award winning staff.  Well, if it was that recently, surely Murdoch had little to do with this story which appeared in the December issue.  It might be possible, however, that this new ownership influenced the choice of this article for the cover of the magazine, but the article was clearly being written for some time, as the author (or some photographers) travelled to Mexico, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Poland, Rwanda, Haiti (which provides the obligatory NGM boob shot), Egypt, and Lourdes, where the author herself bathed in the legendary baths.

Has National Geographic ever written such a blatantly religious piece before? Well, sort of. In 2012, they produced a piece on The Apostles, but it had a much more scholarly tone. And this August, they published a more factual piece on the new Pope, and his interactions with the Vatican. Are they going to keep this up? Yes indeed. There is a TV program called The Cult of Mary scheduled for the National Geographic Channel, using much the same photographs. It seems a shame.