Category: Food science

How to save tomato seeds

How to save tomato seeds

At about this time of year (or sooner) you may be thinking about what you’ll be growing next year, especially if one or more varieties of tomatoes were particularly successful. You can, of course, just buy new seeds every year, but if you are growing an unusual variety, you may want to consider saving seeds from the most vigorous plants. In our case, we grew some really successful varieties bred at the University of Florida, and they specifically suggested that we save their seeds, since they’d rather not be in the commercial seed business.

You can save seeds from any variety, but you will have the best results from ones that are open pollinated, meaning that the seeds will produce the same variety of plant as the parent. This may not be true of hybrid varieties and saving them is a bit riskier: you can’t be sure their progeny will be the same as the parent plant.

Some writers suggest only saving “heirloom” seeds, but this is probably a bit extreme. Heirloom really means that most growers have gone on to something better than that variety. Heirlooms may have lower yields and be less disease resistant. There are still plenty of great tomatoes you can save seeds from, such as Better Boy, for example.

You want to pick a good example of the fruit to take seeds from, but it needn’t be perfect. The tomato could be cracked or have a recent slug or fruit borer hole, as long as it hasn’t rotted.

The difficulty in saving tomato seeds is that they are enclosed in slippery little gelatinous sacs, that are hard to work with.  And that gel sac also includes a growth inhibitor, so the seeds won’t sprout within the plant. You need to remove that as well. We’ll show here how to overcome that problem below.

(Seeds do sometimes sprout inside a tomato, which is a kind of a surprise, but is usually harmless. It’s called ovipary.)

Saving the seeds

Cut the tomato in half and scoop out some seeds and the accompanying sacs. We used a melon baller, but a spoon would also work. Put the seeds in a fine strainer and rinse them with running water. We used the sprayer setting on our kitchen faucet to try to blast open the little sacs. This works to some extent, but we found that alone this wasn’t  enough. Those seeds neve germinated.

The next step, recommended by a number of writers is to use Oxyclean stain remover. Put some tap water into a glass or pitcher and add a tablespoon of Oxyclean powder. Stir it in, and then add the seeds, including the gel and any bits of tomato that have seeds attached.

Let them soak in the mixture of half an hour. During this time, the seeds will probably float to the surface.  Then pour the seeds and some of the solution through the strainer again and rinse the seeds using running water. Pick out any bits of tomato that end up in the strainer.

Finally, prepare a paper plate with a napkin or coffee filter on it to catch the seeds, and dump the seeds onto that tissue. Incidentally, seeds may stick to a napkin, and parchment paper is better, but of course, it doesn’t absorb much water. Label the plate with the tomato variety and let the seeds dry on the plate for 1-2 weeks.

After that, put the seeds in envelopes and label the envelopes. Put the seeds in a zip lock bag and keep them in a cool, dry place. You can even store them in the refrigerator or freezer according to the Florida research group.

Testing the seeds

You might want to test the seeds to make sure they will germinate. To do this, put two or three seeds in a damp paper towel, and enclose it in a zip lock bag. The seeds will sprout in around 10 days.

Seeds sprouting

Then you know you are ready for the next season!

Easy gazpacho, two ways

Easy gazpacho, two ways

There isn’t much to making gazpacho: it’s a cold soup made from tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and anything else in your garden you might want to try.  Now that there are really flavorful tomatoes at peak ripeness, you can chop up some gazpacho in your blender just a few minutes. If you don’t have a garden bursting with tomatoes, try getting some from a farm stand or farmer’s market to get the best flavor. Supermarket tomatoes are bred for traveling ability, not flavor, so you probably want to avoid those.

The first tomatoes that come in most gardens are the cherry-sized ones, and those are usually the sweetest as well. Use those along with a few bigger tomatoes for the best result.

We call for about 2 lb of tomatoes, but depending on the number of guests, you can increase or decrease this. Just make sure you fill your blender with all the veggies. You can always make more, and combine them in a bowl to make sure the flavors are uniform.

Cherry tomatoes on the vine

  • 2 lb tomatoes, quartered. (Leave the cherry-sized whole)
  • 1-2 cucumbers, depending on size, peeled
  • ½ bell pepper (red, orange or green) cut up
  • 1 clove garlic, smushed to remove the skin
  • 2 Tb red wine vinegar or sherry wine vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, extra for garnish
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  1. Put all the above ingredients into a blender and blitz until uniform. This should give you a nice, chunky soup, which will still have bits of peel and seeds among the chunks.
  2. To make a smoother gazpacho, run the soup through a food mill to filter out the seeds and skins. The flavor will be the same, but the mouth feel will be less chunky.
Food mill

Chunky or smooth

Serving

Browning croutons

Chill the soup for an hour or so in the blender or in a couple of quart mason jars.

  • ½ loaf French or other country bread, cut into croutons
  • Basil, cut into strips (uses scissors or a knife)
  • More extra virgin olive oil
  1. Put a little regular olive oil into a cast iron pan and brown the croutons briefly.
  2. Pour the soup into serving bowls, and add a few toasted croutons to each bowl, and garnish with a few strips of basil and a splash of extra-virgin olive oil.

Serve at once.

Chicken with forty cloves of garlic

Chicken with forty cloves of garlic

Richard Olney was an American Painter who moved to France in 1951, and became enamored of French food while in Paris. He moved to a farmhouse in Provence, which he essential built and rebuilt by hand and wrote some of the seminal cookbooks on French country cooking. His French Menu Cookbook was his first big success, and he bought an expensive French stove with some of the proceeds.  His books stress using local ingredients and discuss pairing each recipe with wines.

In one of the most fascinating intersection of chefs as cookbook authors, Luke Barr’s book Provence, 1970 describes a year when Julia Child, Simone (Simca) Beck, MFK Fisher, James Beard, cookbook editor Judith Jones and Richard Olney all visited together in Provence, cooking, sharing ideas and changing the course of food in America.

This recipe for Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic is Olney’s and is a jumping off place for all sorts of variations. Writing in the New York Times, Dorie Greenspan describes this dish as a “no-matter-what recipe” that young cooks can count on to always work. She also proposes some interesting variations, noting that you can add wine, more kinds of vegetables among other things.

The essence of Olney’s recipe is chicken, herbs, and four heads of garlic cloves, all cooked together in a casserole until only a gentle hint of garlic flavor remains. We have described the details of how garlic flavor develops and noted that you get very little of that flavor if you don’t cut into each clove. While Olney and other chefs may not have known the botany of garlic, chefs in general knew the properties of garlic and how to obtain them, by mincing the clove or, as this recipe does, simply using them cloves whole.

The recipe calls for a whole chicken or four drumsticks and thighs. Comments on Greenspan’s article suggest you remove the chicken skin, since it doesn’t become crisp in this recipe and would just hang around looking floppy.

In the accompanying photos, we made only half a recipe, with two chicken legs and used only 2 heads of garlic.

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up, or 4 chicken legs cut into thighs and drumsticks, skin removed.
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 heads of garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled. Discard any loose hulls.
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 tsp mixed dry herbs (thyme, oregano, savory)
  • 1 large bouquet garni, large branch celery, parsley, bay leaf, leek grrens and lovage if available, tied with string.
  • Flour and water for dough
  1. Cut up the chicken, remove the skin and place the pieces in a casserole.
  2. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper, and the herbs, chopped if fresh, and mix it all together with your hands.
  3. Place the bouquet garni in the center of the chicken pieces, and push the garlic cloves all around between the chicken pieces.
  4. Put about 2-3 cups of flour in a bowl and add water and a few drops of olive oil to make a dough.
  5. Roll out the dough large enough to cover and seal the casserole.
  1. Moisten the rim of the casserole and press the dough all around the rim.
  2. Cover the casserole and bake it at 350˚ F for 1-3/4 hours.
  3. Remove the lid.
  4. Some suggest serving the sealed casserole and breaking through the dough seal at the table. Actually, you almost lift it off whole. It isn’t really to be eaten.
Finished dish with dough seal removed

Serve with crusty French bread, grilled or toasted if you prefer. Take a couple of garlic cloves with each serving and squeeze them with a fork to get the soft, cooked garlic out to spread on the bread. You will find it delicious, slightly sweet and not garlicky at all!

Garlic Fries: great even outside the ballpark

Garlic Fries: great even outside the ballpark

We haven’t made garlic fries in some years, so we looked at published recipes to see what people are doing. As far as we could tell, they all got it wrong!  All the recipes we found suggested mincing the garlic and the sauteing it to “reduce the garlic flavor.” Duh! Why no just use less garlic? Those recipes also suggest pouring the cooking oil over the fries along with the dis-flavored garlic, making a greasy mess.

The problem is that cooking the garlic can easily make it nearly tasteless. You could throw on some rice instead!  And further, since garlic has a lot of sugar in it, it is very easy to burn it!

As we noted in our previous article, garlic develops its flavor when you cut it up, and loses its flavor when heated.

So, we went back to our own recipe from years ago:

  • 5-6 cloves of garlic
  • 4-6 sprigs of Italian parsley
  • 2-3 Tb Diamond Kosher salt
  • French fries (frozen ones are OK)
  1. Mince the garlic to small pieces and then chop it with the parsley.
  2. Chop both into the pile of salt until well mixed.
  3. Toss over freshly made French fries and mix well. Let any excess fall off when you move them to a serving dish.

Serve at once.

Not much trouble here, and they go as well with hamburgers as they do with baseball. Note that we chose Diamond Kosher salt of Morton’s, because the salt crystals are smaller. And while we have a wooden counter top, we chose to chop this up on a cutting board, making cleanup easier.

To get the garlic smell off your hands, rub them with salt before washing them.

All about garlic

All about garlic

The garlic bulb is a really unusual plant. Each clove in the garlic head is actually a single swollen leaf, according to Harold McGee. Garlic’s strong taste and smell is actually a protection the plant evolved: when an animal bites into it, the strong taste is released, repelling the animal.

A whole garlic clove has only a mild taste and aroma, but when you cut into it, the enzyme alliinase is released from one part of the bulb and reacts with the compound alliin (a derivative a the amino acid cysteine) in another part of the bulb to form allicin, which has the characteristic garlic aroma and taste. Note that the plant evolved this defense to keep away animals, and garlic is actually quite toxic to dogs and cats: you should avoid letting any get into their food.

The alliinase enzyme is quite sensitive to temperature. Students of Professor John Milner at Penn State carried out a simple experiment where they placed garlic cloves in a microwave oven for one minute. While the garlic cloves appeared unchanged, analysis showed that the enzyme had completely disappeared after heating. They noted that other types of heating are sure to give the same results.

So this means that you need to chop the garlic before heating or cooking it, and that you should let the chopped garlic stand for a few minutes before adding it to the food you are preparing, to allow time for the enzyme to work to develop the flavor.

Garlic has much more sugar in it (fructose) than onions do, and is thus more prone to burning. Cook it at low temperatures when sautéing it, or add it directly to a liquid.

These two facts explain why dishes like Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic are so mild. The garlic cloves are never cut up: and the alliinase is destroyed by heating soon after the cloves are added to the pot.

Always buy fresh heads of garlic. Avoid the ones in little boxes, as they may be very old. You should also avoid bottled peeled garlic cloves in oil, as they are prone to develop botulism, according to McGee. And do not refrigerate garlic, which also will reduce the flavor.

Garlic peeler

When peeling garlic, you can use the simple rubber garlic peeler tube shown above, or you can use Jacques Pepin’s technique, and just cut a small slice from the root end of the clove. This will free the skin and it will just about come apart in your hand.  You can also just crush the garlic and pick out the peel from the rubble.

And how do you get that garlicky smell off your hands? Rub them with salt and then wash as usual.

See also

  1. The chemical weapons of onion and garlic
  2. Is garlic toxic to pets?
  3. Science News: Garlic benefits- it’s all in the preparation
  4. Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
  5. Harold McGee: On Food and Cooking
  6. Jacques Pepin: Essential Pepin

Why I gave up on Microsoft Edge

All the tech press (and here) has been gag about the new version of Microsoft’s Edge browser. It uses the same Chromium rendering engine that Google Chrome does and seems a little faster. It definitely uses less memory, although not orders of magnitude less, but maybe half as much. Here is a Task Manager screen shot showing Chrome and Edge with the same 9 tabs open. In both cases there are many more instances running than were open at that moment. Over time this number of instances tends to grow more in Chrome than in Edge, but it is seldom an actual performance issue.

Since it clearly is less of a memory hog, they conclude you should switch. Edge has more privacy settings, but Chrome is better hooked into the Google  “ecosystem,” of Google Docs, Maps and Gmail.

Default search engine

Edge uses Bing as its default search engine, which among other things means that getting to Gmail or Google docs won’t work directly.  Bing is OK but not as all-encompassing at Google’s engine. Changing Edge to use Google as its default search engine is a little involved. Open the menu button, select Settings, and Privacy, Search and Services. Then scroll down to Search Engine Used in Address Bar. You can select Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, and a couple of others.

You would think that’s all there is to it, but it isn’t. Every time you click on “+” to open a new tab, the Microsoft Bing page comes up. You can get Google instead if you have put a link to it in your menu bar. If you hold down Ctrl and click on Google it opens a new tab.  Slightly inconvenient.

And look at the difference between what comes up in Edge and in Google:

If Edge calls up the Bing engine, you get an empty address bar to type in. If it calls up Google, the URL to Google is displayed and you have to sweep the mouse to remove it before typing in a new URL.

There is no way to set Edge to open a Google search panel from the +-sign from the menu. The only way is to install a Google-provided plugin. But even then, clicking on that plus sign does not provide you with an empty address bar.  This is simply dumb, (or intentional) on Microsoft’s part.

Importing data from Google

Edge will import all your Chrome address bar tabs and Chrome’s file of passwords. Almost. I found that it did not correctly import my password to my credit card provider, Citibank. Instead, it imported several old passwords, but not the current one, although this is hard to track since it masks the passwords as “*******” so you can’t find the right one.

Edge also doesn’t seem to import anything from your browser history, which provides valuable type-ahead data for entering sites you don’t bookmark but want to get to by just typing 2 or 3 characters. You have to do it over again for all those sites.

Cookies

If I tried to access my bank account, the bank system sees a new browser without any cookies to tell it that I am the same customer, and it wants to send me an Email or SMS message with a numeric key to tell it I am the same user.

That would be OK, except the Edge never learns that fact, and the bank continue wants to validate me. I asked the bank about this and got no reply. I would assume that means they have no solution. That and the inelegant address bar were really my deal breakers. I’d have to switch back and forth to check if payments had cleared and so forth.

Switching Back

You would think that just going to Chrome and setting it as the default browser would undo all this, but it might not. The first time I switched back, I found that got Bing some of the time anyway. I had to go to the Windows search bar and type Default Apps to bring up the app where I could switch all searched back to Google. This went away after a recent Windows update, and now Chrome brings up that Default Apps program window directly.

However, once you again make Chrome your default browser, that Google plugin in Edge that makes the +-sign open a Google search page no longer works, and you have to reinstall it or revert to the Ctrl/click method to open a new tab as a Google window.  Bah!

The Misen Nonstick pan

The Misen Nonstick pan

Our last nonstick pan wore out years ago, and we didn’t bother replacing it because they are hard to care for: the coating flakes off and isn’t edible, of course.

But we decided that we really wanted to make better fried eggs, and a nonstick pan really makes a difference. The Misen Nonstick Pan, which has been heavily advertised on the Internet and FB seemed a possible candidate. It looked better made than those cheap pans that come from the As Seen on TV conglomerate and we thought we’d give it a try.

both pans

The 10” Misen pan compares favorably with our Allclad 10” pan. It’s heavy and well-made, weighing 42 oz. The Allclad weights 37 oz, probably because it lacks the same sort of handle. The coating is PFOA free and is described as a three layer DuPont platinm coating.

 

 

To illustrate the problem we wanted to solve, we fried a couple of strips of bacon in the Allclad and 5 more in the Misen pan and compare the residue. The Allclad pan had streaks where the sugar in the bacon caramelized on the pan, while the Misen had some floating debris that did not stick to the pan or to the eggs.

 

 

We were easily able to fry 4 eggs at once in the Misen pan, and they didn’t stick at all while cooking. It was pretty easy to baste the eggs with a little bacon fat while they cooked, although they did move easily so we couldn’t tip the pan too much while spooning.

frying eggs

With any nonstick pan, you are supposed to use a non-metal spatula. We have one that see Melmac on it. Others might be wood, silicone or nylon, and in any case, you can slip the eggs onto the plate two at a time without breaking the yolks.

2 eggs fried

In terms of egg cooking, we are completely sold: the Misen is a great pan.  We were disappointed to learn that the instruction sheet says that we shouldn’t have put it in the dishwasher, but since it washes so easily, that isn’t a huge problem.

The Misen instructions say cook only at medium heat, and never above 450˚ F. You shouldn’t scrub with pan with metal or abrasive sponges, but thus looks like it would be unnecessary. And you shouldn’t shock the hot pan by pouring cold water in it. You also shouldn’t stack other pans on top of it (without padding). We paid $45 for our pan plus $5 for shipping and it arrived in about 4 days. It’s a really nice pan and we hope it lasts a long time.

American Seasons: very disappointing

American Seasons: very disappointing

American Seasons has been helmed by chef/owner Neil Ferguson since 2015 and they had been doing quite well. But last night was simply an embarrassment. Maybe Ferguson was away and maybe the B team was in the kitchen, but we came away really disappointed and downright annoyed.

menu

The diminutive menu was delivered on one side of a single 8 ½ x 11” sheet, somewhat rumpled and stained. It has only 7 entrees and 7 appetizers, and last night it was hard to pick one we really wanted to have: none of them sounded very good. And they weren’t.

To be fair, the hot dinner rolls they served with butter were very good and one of the appetizers was quite good, but it went downhill from there.

parfait

That really good appetizer was the Chicken Liver Foie Gras Parfait with House Made Vegetable Pickles, and Toasted Brioche ($19). In Paté speak, a parfait is a smoothly ground mixture of meats. And it succeeded: it was silky smooth and delicious. We probably could have used more brioche to finish it off, but we held back to save room for our entrée. Bad decision.

beet salad

The other appetizer was a fairly ordinary beet salad ($18). Nothing special about it.

fluke

But my entrée, the Pan Roasted Local Fluke Brown Butter Vinaigrette, Capers, and Island Grown Salad ($45) was a horror. It was smothered in capers, the vinaigrette was very sour, and the fluke was tough and dry. We left it unfinished.

chicken

And the other entrée, Crisp Skinned Giannone Chicken ($39) with Fondant Potato, Carrot Purée, Honey Roast Carrot, and Sherry Vinegar Jus, was tough and dry. All of the chicken was chicken breast and it was just overcooked. Now the Giannone chicken procedure involves brining the chicken overnight and then air drying it to produce tender meat and crisp skin. Neither was in evidence.

We’ve written about American Seasons here, here, and here, and in all cases the result was better than this disappointing evening. It doesn’t seem that the kitchen was trying very hard especially considering the prices. Our bill with 3 glasses of wine, including tax was $186.18.

 

The best way to cook corn on the cob!

The best way to cook corn on the cob!

Boiling, microwave, Instant Pot. Which is best?

There isn’t much to cooking corn on the cob: you just shuck each ear, maybe cut off some of the stem, peel off the corn silks and drop them into boiling, salted water, and cook for 5 minutes. That’s it. The water should be salted enough that it smells like the ocean, and it is easiest to use kosher salt to achieve this. Serve with butter and salt on the side.

boiling

What’s wrong with this? Nothing except you might need a big pot for a large crowd. And, of course, you are steaming up your kitchen.

But some people rave about using the microwave or the Instant Pot for cooking corn, so we compared all three methods.

Microwaved corn

Some people claim that the microwave does the best job and you don’t have to heat up the kitchen with a pot of boiling water, so we tried this.

We cut the base off an ear of corn, but left the husk on, and using our best Internet research, microwaved the corn for 4 minutes. Taking a hot ear of corn out of the microwave requires hot pads and some care, and removing the hot, steaming husks is a challenge. And, all the silks come off smoothly, unlike the other methods.

The disadvantage again, is one of scale: you can only microwave a few ears at a time and removing the steaming hot husks from a bunch of them is best done with gloves or oven mitts. And, frankly, the corn tastes awful! (more below)

In the Instant Pot

2 in IP

Lots of people are enthusiastic about corn on the cob cooked in an Instant Pot. You have to shuck the corn as usual and pull of most of the silks by hand, but you can probably get 4-6 or more ears in an Instant Pot at once. We recommend putting the ears on the little trivet so they don’t stick to the pot. Add a cup of water and cook the ears for 3 minutes. Of course, by the time the water in the pot comes to a boil, this actually takes at least as long as boiling the water on the stove would, but you can cook a lot of ears quickly, and you don’t have to deal with scalding yourself on the husks.

How do they compare?

group

  • Cooking the ears in a pot of water tastes the best.
  • Ears cooked for 4 minutes in an 1100 watt microwave are hot and hard to handle, because the cobs are very hot, too. Further the corn takes on a bitter, cobby taste from the cob being heated. Actually they are really terrible.
  • We repeated the experiment, cooking the corn for only 3 minutes and this removed some (but not all) of the bitter aftertaste.
  • Our best corn came from cooking for 4 minutes at 50% power, where the bitterness is least apparent.

Surprisingly the corn cooked in the Instant Pot was little better.

  • Pressure cooking the corn for 3 minutes also cooks the cob, and some of that bitter aftertaste was present in the Instant Pot corn.
  • So, we repeated the corn cooking at low pressure instead of high pressure, which removed nearly all of that bitterness. But 3 minutes was  not nearly enough. Six minutes at low pressure seems better. Quick Release either way.

Best results

  • 5 minutes in boiling, salted water
  • 4 minutes at 50% power in an 1100 watt microwave
  • 6 minutes at low pressure in an Instant Pot

Some recipes suggest adding sugar and butter to the water in the Instant Pot. This probably doesn’t do much, because the water doesn’t touch the corn, and sugar is not volatile.

We found that spreading solid butter on the hot corn gives the bets flavor. Butter is an emulsion and melted butter usually leaves out the aqueous part.

stalks

 

‘GMOs Decoded’ –Krimsky’s latest screed

‘GMOs Decoded’ –Krimsky’s latest screed

GMOs Decoded is Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky’s latest skeptical discussion on the virtues of plant biotechnology. Unlike his previous book, The GMO Deception, Krimsky here appears at first to take a more nuanced approach, by taking about eight of his fourteen chapters to explain the details of various biotechnology issues.

The book opens with a Foreword by nutritionist Marion Nestle, which you can read here in her column. Nestle has never been a fan of biotechnology so her comments are fairly anodyne.

Then, in the Introduction, gives away the game by noting that “there is a strong scientific consensus among elites over GMOs.” He goes on to say that “Although some scientists have declared the debate…over,” referencing Jon Entine’s Forbes article which references von Eenennaam and Young’s trillion animal feed study, This major study in the Journal of Animal Science studies feed records for over 100 billion animals fed either GE or non-GE foods, and found no unfavorable effects on the animals.

Then Krimsky notes that “other scientists declare with equal confidence that there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.” His reference is to a paper in the trivial non-journal Environmental Sciences Europe, by prominent GMO disinformationists: Nicholas DeFarge, Michael Antoniou from Seralini’s group, and Indian pseudo-science mystic Vandana Shiva, among others. The paper presents no research but merely a report on a petition signed by “300 scientists worldwide.” (I have that list and most of the signatories are not scientists.)

The Seralini problem

Critiques of biotechnology, or colloquially “GMOs,” really was heightened by Giles-Eric Seralini’s 2012 paper in Food and Chemical Toxicology featuring tumor-laden Sprague-Dawley rats: Long-term toxicity of Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically-modified maize.” Even the title made the objective confusing.  Wayne Parrott’s criticism describes the paper’s problems clearly.

The paper had so many problems from animal husbandry to poor experimental design that protests and a re-review caused the journal to withdraw the paper. It was eventually reprinted (without review) in Environmental Sciences Europe where you can find it now.

Seralini’s group has continued to publish papers critical of biotechnology, all of questionable validity, and many very difficult to follow. His co-workers and colleagues have been publishing these papers ever since, and Brazeau has dubbed them the “Seralini pseudo-science syndicate.” And none of his lab’s papers have been replicated be others.

The footnotes

You can learn a great deal about a book’s approach by scanning the footnotes, which occupy pages 156-181 in Krimsky’s book. It doesn’t take long to discover that the footnotes are larded with 15 references to Seralini’s disinformation machine.

Charles Benbrook who was for a few years at Washington State University, but whose salary was paid by the Organic Center and has close ties anti-GMO activists, appears in 5 footnotes, and his paper (published in a predatory pay-to-play journal) claiming negative impacts of GM crops has been roundly debunked by Brookes, Carpenter and McHughen.

Jonathan Latham, publisher and author of the anti-biotech Independent Science News appears twice arguing that transgenic plants can sometimes mutate dangerously. He has been severely criticized by Katiree.

There are, however, many footnotes to well-regarded sources such as Brown and Federoff’s Mendel in the Kitchen and papers by legitimate scientists like Wayne Parrott and Alessandro Nicolia, for example.

The chapters

The book starts out soberly as an outline of various genetic breeding techniques: traditional, molecular and their differences. Chapter 4 details difficulty in producing the Flavr-Savr tomato and FrostBan  bacteria. Chapter 5 covers herbicide resistant  crops and brings up no-till farming, which can improve soil health. However, it suggests that herbicide resistant weeds may require tilling. However, this has obvious solutions in crop rotation. The chapter also brings up Benbrook’s discredited paper claiming increases in herbicide use that are significantly overstated. This chapter also brings up the IARCs discredited claim that glyphosate can cause cancer.

Chapter 6 fairly and accurately covers disease resistant crops, but in Chapter 7 covering insect resistant crops, Krimsky goes afield in his summary of Starlink Corn, spending  several pages scaring us, only to finally report that there was no evidence that Starlink corn caused any illnesses. Krimsky then cites Antoniou and Robinson from Seralini’s stable to claim GM-fed rats suffered liver and kidney damage in a 3-generation study that you can safely ignore.

Chapter 8 on GMO Risk Assessment makes claims that “scientists differ,” but suffers from a dearth of supporting footnotes on who and what these differences are. There is a lot of “some groups” but “other groups” but little supporting explanation.

Chapter 9 on Contested Viewpoints argues that trans-genes may be placed differently and could result in plants having different properties, including varying toxicity, but cites Latham twice and actual scientists in Kuiper et. al. You have to actually check the papers to see that there is little to be concerned about here. He also raises the question of whether pre-market testing is actually done, as if this is not a requirement for approval. Krimsky also gets “substantial equivalence” wrong, but Kuiper explains it clearly.

  • Substantial Equivalence is a starting point for a safety assessment
  • Make a comparison between the GM organism and its closes traditional counterpart.
  • Identify intended or unintended difference on which further safety assessment should be focused.

By contrast, Krimsky says that a transgenic crop and its conventional counterpart about which toxicology information is known are compared. “When extensively analyzed, if the transgenic crop exhibits no changes …compared to its parent strain it can be treated as substantially equivalent to that strain. After that determination is made, further safety or nutritional concerns are expected to be insignificant.”

This is just not the same idea at all!

The chapter also mentions a 13-week pilot study on the effect of Roundup on the gut microbiome of rats in a study performed by the Ramazzini institute in Italy. While they did claim to find some changes in the microbiome, the Ramazzini institute seems to have a spotty reputation, having been criticized for poor reliability in another recent study on aspartame, and in the glyphosate case, Brazeau criticizes them for finding “results that match their priors but not anyone else’s research.” (They also did a questionable report on cell phone radiation.)

Much of the rest of the chapter deals with worries that have never been found to be an actual problem.

Chapter 10 rehashes all the arguments for labeling GMOs and some of the issues various states have encountered, closing with the fact that Congress passed a “labeling law” that amounts to a QR code you can scan with your phone, and is thus pretty harmless.

Chapter 11 deals with the 2016 National Academies Study on Genetically Engineered Crops. Krimsky admits that the evidence of the report reinforces the fact that GM crops are safe to eat and do not pose any risks. However he carefully picks advantageous quotes to suggest that biotechnology does not improve yields. One would wonder why famers are then willing to pay more for them. If you read through the report or its summary you will find a number of carefully written conclusions suggesting that it is mostly difficult to measure the effects of yield because it is difficult to find identical cropland to compare GM and non-GM crops, and whether the GM and non-GM varieties were true isolines to be comparable. The report also discusses the strategy for preventing evolution of herbicide reisistant weeds and Bt resistant insects.

In fact, the report suggests that in the U.S. and in China, insect-pest populations “are reduced regionally and that this benefits both adopters and nonadopters of Bt crops.” And it is important to note that Bt brinjal (eggplant, or aubergine) has significantly improved farmers’ lives in both Bangladesh and India.

Krimsky also spends 3 pages defending Seralini’s disgraced paper, claiming that was “not a carcinogenicity study” to defend the small number of rats used. In fact, critics have said that Seralini’s paper had no particular objective in advance and he let the S-D rats grow until they naturally developed tumors and published their pictures.

Finally, Krimsky attacks the integrity of the NASEM panel itself, pointing to a reference that claims 6 out of 20 members had conflicting financial interests. Of course that paper is by Krimksy himself.

Chapter 12 discusses the development of Golden Rice, which the author calls a “promise unfulfilled.” It has now been approved by the US FDA, however.

Chapter 13 discusses conflict among scientists regarding GMOs as if it actually existed. The overwhelming worldwide consensus, including every major national scientific association, is that GM crops pose no harm. He mentions “uncertain risks,” and the “GMO divide” which he himself has tried to manufacture. He recycles the canard that “farmers do no own their own seeds” as if hybrid seeds had never before existed, and of course mentions international crackpot Vandana Shiva who questions  patenting living organisms. Oh, and don’t forget “corporate hegemonic control.”

Chapter 14 presents Krimsky’s completely expected, but erroneous summation. He attacks the values of science and “trans-scientific concepts,” (whatever they are!). He suggests that “it’s an evolving story in India,” despite the overwhelming success of Bt brinjal, and questions whether yields actually improve. Of course he trots out Robin Mesnage, one of Seralini’s henchmen to argue that corn (maize) sprayed with Roundup produces different metabolites, and claims farmers have untold economic losses because of unexpected GM contamination.

Conclusion

Krimsky starts out soberly enough trying to explain the various techniques that have been developed and some of their successes. But he can’t help himself, and by Chapter 5 he is back beating the same poor old horse, and gradually slipping more misinformation into each succeeding chapter. Nothing really new here, unfortunately.