Monday, September 2, 2013

Pine Mouth

I have become quite addicted to cheap ice coffee, you know the ones in 250mm bottles with names like "Dare" and "Ice Break" It quite enjoy the balance in flavor that seems to be difficult to achieve in a cafe.

So, anyway, the other day I bought two of these ice coffees and took them home, one went into the fridge for my wife and the other I opened and immediately drank about a quarter of the bottle. Everything seemed quite fine and dandy until about 10 seconds after I swallowed the rather large mouthful when an overwhelming taste of metallic bitterness flooded my mouth and throat (not synaesthesia, you do actually have taste receptors in certain other places in your gastrointestinal tract also - I will get to that later though), It was disgusting and I was horrified that I had just drank a huge mouthful of what was obviously poison (Thinking about it now, not once did I think to vomit???) the drink didn't smell, it didn't look off and in all senses seemed to be a regular ice coffee, so I did the only thing that I could think of in these trying circumstances...... I asked my loving (and very patient) wife to taste it for me, which she did (Amazing hey!!) and reported that there was nothing out of the ordinary? WTF? So, once again, I proved myself to be a gallant gentleman and requisitioned her drink and tasted that, the result.... Nothing.... For about 10 seconds and my mouth was once again flooded with that horrid bitterness....Ok?!..

My wife asked if I thought it could be pinenuts, to which I apparently responded with a look that very clearly indicated what I thought of her current mental health at this particular moment (I am not always the nicest person to be around) and asked (very eloquently), huh? She went on to explain that I had told her about these pinenuts that originated somewhere in China that had the bizarre effect of making everything that the victim eats taste bitter for about THREE MONTHS AFTER, fuck that! No way, I thought. Then I started to remember about the weird pinenut that we had gotten in at work, I had noticed them because they were a lot paler in color than usual and were also smaller, rounder and had a darker "root" on the pinenut. I hadn't eaten them until two days previously as I had been working on a different section and I tend to only pick at my own Mis-en-Place while working. I don't remember there being any different taste than usual, which makes me feel comfortable enough to say that they must have tasted normal (one of the reasons I taste my prep is that it is the only reliable way to make sure all product is good, I taste everything I will send to people).

So I began to do a little research..

It turns out that this is a very new development in the world of food, with the first cases being diagnosed in 2001 by the Belgian Poisons Center and having peaks and troughs in reported instances since. The general consensus seems to be that it is under-reported mostly due to the delay of 1-2 days before the symptoms kick in and the fact that not all people are affected (it seems that people have varying tolerances for it). There was a rather large spike in reported incidences around early 2009 which is attributed to a bad harvest in late 2008 creating a spike in prices.

Pine nuts are a gourmet item, gaining a high price (as high as $43,000 per metric ton in 2009 - $43 per kg) and is a crop that is very susceptible to poor harvests. Pine trees only bear crops roughly every two years (with variation depending on species) and pine trees take over 10 years before they bear seed, all of this means that the majority of pine trees are "wild" and are harvested from existing stands, and between this and the wholesalers tendency to mix species of pine nuts it means that it is an assortment of nuts that end up on your table and not the nuts of any species in particular.

There seems to be two different "types" of pine nut; those from European pines (Stone Pine, Pineas pinea etc) and Those from Asian Pines (like P.koraiensis, P.siberica and P.armandii) The European pine nuts seem to be more expensive (and are slower to produce) while the Asian pine nuts are cheaper and smaller in size. In total there are 129 recognised species of pine nut producing trees 20 of which are considered edible by the World Health Organisation.

Through the collection and analysis of many samples over 12 years, epidemiologists believe that they have isolated the species of pine responsible for causing "pine mouth" to the species P.armandii and in particular one of five types called Armand pine (aka Chinese White Pine and Huashan Pine) which is a thick shelled pine originating in the Shaanxi and Shanxi regions in China.

Photo's by Roz

This particular pine does not have a history as a food plant but is instead grown for its value as timber for building construction, and it is only due to poor harvests combined with increasing demand that it has entered into the food chain at at.

Every piece of information that I can find indicated that eating these pine nuts does no permanent damage and most people report recovery from the symptoms after 1-2 weeks (longer times are attributed to continued eating of the nuts), but I can tell you that it isn't very pleasant, in addition to the bitter aftertaste from food, there is a continual metallic feeling along the sides of my tongue, I have digestive reflux, and my stomach is very unsettled.

Btw, when I tried roasting Pandanus (interestingly it is another variety of pine tree) fruit I actually got quite a few of these sypmtoms, which is something that I probably need to keep in mind next time that I am foraging for native/wild foods.

I really can't wait for this to pass.

Thanks for reading.

Additional information can be found here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back again.

Well, after a long hiatus, I am back.
I have made the decision that instead of infrequent updates that try too hard to be too important ( well it felt that way to me) I am now just going to update as I am thinking about something.

There have been a lot of things occupying my mind in regards to food at the moment and I hope to post on some of them at least.

Posts on spices will continue (well, at least extend beyond the one I already have), I am starting to become curious about entomophagy (eating insects), I will start writing about the native produce in my local area, I am rethinking my beliefs on table salt not being useful beyond its NaCl content and I might even add my (probably not so large) voice to the debate on GM foods. I would also like to talk about the socio-economic responsibilities (as I see them) of Chefs and other producers of food.

There have also been some (not so directly) food related things that I would like to bring up,  like how we deal with disability (or even just the different) in the professional kitchen environment and the reaction to the "plaigiarism" of menu items.

Anyway, that is enough for now.
Thanks for reading, I will try to keep the rambling tangents to a minimum (no promises).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Home-made Nigari-ish

Well, since I last posted I turned 32. In our group of friends everyone gets together (virtually since we live in multiple states and countries) and pools some money so that people can get something nice for their birthday, a tradition that I inhereted inadvertantly through my wife. Well, I'm a difficult person to get things for, I get obsessive about certain things and activities which can change without warning. So for my birthday I got a moderately large chunk of money which I spent on Spices for my wonderful spice rack, a book on making Miso by Aoyagi/Shurtleff, a tofu press, a book on foraging for native australian foods, and Andrea Nguyen's book Asian Tofu.

You might notice a theme and guess that my current obsession is the soy bean, I love soy, I love pretty much every thing about it, It is one of the most versatile of ingredients that you can cook with, from use as a thickening agent in custards to tofu and miso it really is an amazing food.

While waiting for Andrea Nguyen's book to arrive I decided to get my hand back in at tofu making something I had done previously with varying degrees of success (I remember a much earlier time where I deliberately discarded my freshly made soymilk down the drain in the mistaken idea that the soybean solids (or okara) was what gave the tofu its firm texture.

I have used both Nigari, and epsom salts before as coagulants and found the nigari to be much better at the job, giving the tofu both a sweeter taste and smoother (less crumbly) texture.

Now when I lived in sydney, I stumbled upon a small bottle of nigari in an independant grocer which though I didn't know it at the time was an incredibly lucky find as I can not find it for supply in retail quantities online in australia at all.

So, not being a very patient man, I decided to make my own.......

Using a 15 liter water bottle we went to a semi-isolated beach in hervey bay where I didn't see any boat traffic (not wanting to ingest diesel) and filled my bottle with slightly yellow seawater with lots of sediment.

I was just going to boil down the seawater as is but VeganChickie was a little worried about the color and sediment so she (thankfully) convinced me to filter the water through an old "Brita" filter first which got rid of all the sediment and yellow color.

I then put all the water into a large pot and cooked out the water (in stages) until i could hear the steam erupting from the last of the water (by the way it is very cool to watch salt form crystals from the saline as it oversaturates) at which point I pulled the pot off the heat and put the slightly damp "natural sea salt" on a piece of muslin cloth hung over a bowl.

Now, natural sea salt is made up of quite a lot of chemicals and not just the sodium-chloride (table salt part) and according to Aoyagi/Shurtleff in their Book of Tofu is made up of;
- 77.8% Sodium Chloride
- 9.5% Magnesium Chloride
- 6.6% Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts)
- 3.4% Calcium Sulfate (Gypsum)
- 2.1% Potassium Chloride
- 0.2% Magnesium Bromide

When you hang the natural sea salt over a container in a very humid environment what happens is the moisture from the air condenses on the salt crystals and drips (very slowly) through the salt to the bowl below resulting in both refined salt and nigari (you can use this salt plus any wasted okara in making your own shoyu by the way).

The final chemical makeup of natural nigari is (Aoyagi/Shurtleff);
- 31% Magnesium Chloride
- 2% Magnesium Sulfate
- 2% Potassium Chloride
- 1% Sodium Chloride

Well....... I think I mentioned before, I am an impatient man..... I got to thinking that perhaps it wasn't humid enough and that the process wouldn't happen (note; the process of refining the nigari out of sea salt takes weeks-months),
so I just used the natural sea salt to make my tofu.

The result, the curds was smooth like nigari tofu, but the flavor was quite a lot saltier (for obvoius reasons), however I think I could have gotten away with half the amount of natural salt as I used.

You could make a version of nigari from mixing your own salts and there are people who have done so, although I'm not sure about using non food-grade chemicals, but if you don't have access to fresh/clean seawater then this would definately be a good option, although if this was the case you could go the chinese tofu method and just use Calcium Sulfate and I really want to stress you should probably only use food grade chemicals in cooking (and not just do a trip to whatever chemical companies that come to mind).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Brinjal Pickle

I love pickles. Sour, salty and full of umami goodness they just fill out a meal.
I got a surprise present of eggplants from a work collegue so I decided to make an eggplant pickle.
For those who don't know me I'm a little bit obsessive, not about anything consistantly, but I go through these phases where all I think about are certain things.

My current thing is fermentation, In the near future I will be investigating home-made miso, shoyu and a whole variety of tsukemono (Japanese pickles), so if the obsession lasts long enough you can look forward to some interesting posts.

Anyway, while not actually a fermentation, this pickle (actually an oil pickle) has a nice and salty, tangy umami-ness to it that makes it a great accompaniament to rice dishes.

Sour-eggplant pickle

- oil
- cumin seeds
- fenugreek
- eggplant (cut into 1 cm slices)
- cashmere chilli
- mustard powder
- tumeric
- asafoetida
- white vinegar
- lime juice


1) heat (moderate heat) enough oil in pot to cover eggplant, and cook off cumin ang fenugreek until seeds pop.
2)  add eggplant and cook until it starts to break apart.
3) add chilli, mustard, and tumeric and cook until fragrant (and the eggplant has broken down more.
4) add acids and asafoetida and cook for a further 5 minutes.
5) season to taste, and store in the fridge.

The finished pickle.
This recipe would work well with brown sugar also.

if you want a video example of this recipe look at ;

Be warned, the presenters are speaking hindi it is more of a visual aid.

Friday, August 12, 2011


I'm performing tomorrow.
Cooking for the local seafood festival on a stage.
I get to introduce people to the wonders of agar-agar.
I wonder how everyone would feel if they knew i was veganish?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fine Dining for Vegans

I spend a lot of my time reading and thinking about food. Like every long-term chef I also have a pretty good idea about what I do and do not like on a plate.
Since eliminating animal products from my diet I have been researching vegan fine dining pretty much constantly, and i've come to a few conclusions.
#1) There is no reason that vegan dishes should be of less quality than equivalent omni dishes.
#2) Unless you are a health resort or a specifically healthy eating establishment we need toThe  ditch the flavorless low salt, low GI, not fat crap.(Gluten free i'm all for however,  allergies should be taken seriously)
#3) We need to stop veganising omnivorous dishes, the vegan versions are poor imitations, and don't really convince anyone. Vegetables have their own beautiful language and should be allowed to speak for themselves.
#4) There are a whole bunch of new ingredients and techniques that are only just now being explored, things like sous-vide, vacuum evaporation and various vegetable gums are opening a whole new range of textures and flavors not previously attainable. These areas have some massive possibilities for vegan food.
#5) The tide is turning, plant based cuising is becoming more and more acceptable.

The #1 restaurant in the world for the last 2 years is a restaurant called Noma in Copenhagen and, while being a far cry from even vegetarian, is very plant centered. They choose to showcase their local plant life and animal parts tend to only play a secondary roll. ( )

I can seriously foresee a time in our gustatory future when some of the top restaurants in the world are vegan.

Honestly, I can't wait.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Back to Aus

Well........ A lot has gone on since last post.
- Our first baby was born in a beautiful homebirth.
- I got usurped as head chef of the steakhouse (my bosses belated response to a payrise request)
- We moved back to Australia (to be closer to family)
- I spent quite awhile looking for work, or at least it felt like it, looking for work in our country town and now the Head Chef of an as yet to be opened Modern Australian restaurant with a strong SEAFOOD focus.
I mean really, it feel like I just keep stepping away from vegetables. I can work some into the menu, but their place is always going to be limited.

As an aside however, I am going to be the long term caretaker for Modernist Cuisine, a spectacular compendium of everything to do with food and cooking techniques.