Food Snob Chronicles: The ‘killer’ sticky sweet stuff?

Welcome to the first edition of my very first non-’Confession.’

I’m a story-teller at heart. But this new weekly feature goes to my blood — reporting. I’ve written about more legal trials, car crashes and city council meetings than one person should be allowed to do in one lifetime. As a career reporter, I’ve also had the pleasure of doing a few things that few people have the opportunity to do — windsurfing lessons, one-on-one sit-downs with governors, presidents and rock stars (some of whom played for me), endless roller coaster rides on the world’s newest scariest contraptions (in closed amusement parks) and … relaxed conversations with cooking icons.

The ‘Food Snob Chronicles’ will run the food and cooking gamut with researched articles (like the one I’m featuring this week), how-to and interview videos, photo essays and an occasional offbeat-style feature.

I will also include recipes and tips for on-the-go cooking, unlike the more time-consuming ‘weekend’ recipes and techniques in my ‘Confessions.’

If you enjoy or learn something from what you read in the ‘Food Snob Chronicles,’ I’d consider it an honor to have you as a follower. I’d also love to hang out with you every day on Facebook. Just click the ‘like’ button.


It’s been billed as one of the most evil substances in the history of mankind, having killed more people than the atomic bomb. It sucks us in … and keeps us wanting more. Unlike something you’d have to buy in a back alley, though, this stuff is legal. And you don’t even have to seek it out.

Chances are, you ingest high fructose corn syrup every day … without even knowing it.

What is HFCS?
With apologies to my chemistry teacher, high fructose corn syrup (glucose) is essentially an ultra-sweet version of the syrupy stuff in your pantry. It’s also far sweeter than table sugar (sucrose). HFCS is made by treating regular corn syrup with enzymes. It’s sole purpose is as a cheap sweetener.

Is HFCS bad?
It depends on who you ask. According the Corn Refiners Assocation, HFCS has the same basic chemical properties as sugar, in that both contain about 50 percent each of fructose and glucose. The CRA, by the way, represents the companies that manufacture high fructose corn syrup. The American Sugar Alliance, which represents U.S. sugar growers, hasn’t really taken a public stance on the health effects of their less expensive competition.

Ask any number of doctors, researchers or special interest groups about HFCS and you’ll get an earful about how our bodies react differently to fructose versus sucrose or glucose. There are multiple published studies out there from reputable research teams (at UCLA and UC-Davis, to name a couple) showing evidence that HFCS has contributed greatly to increased incidents of certain cancers, as well as diabetes.

What about the alternatives?
I remember the days when sodas and candy bars were sweetened with sugar (HFCS didn’t enter the scene until the 1980s — it was touted as a healthful sweet alternative). Though diabetes and cancer weren’t part of the battle cry back then, doctors, dentists — and parents — warned us about weight gain and rotting teeth.

Then came saccharin, the zero-calorie sweetener in the little pink packet. Aside from its bitter taste (I always seemed to inhale it when someone adjacent to me used it in tea or coffee), Sweet & Low was the magic potion that would make us skinnier. Then came the warnings about it causing bladder cancer.

Fortunately, for those worried about the warnings, the little blue packets of aspartame came to the rescue. For slightly less bitterness, we would apparently pay dearly for using Equal. It wasn’t on the market very long before we were urged to avoid it like the plague — unless we wanted brain tumors.

You might recall that both aforementioned artificial sweeteners once carried warnings on the package. The National Cancer Institute, however, has since found no correlation between the use of either and the caveats.

Sucralose (Splenda) is one of the more recent subjects of demonization and quite a few urban legends, including one that it breaks down into chlorine — the same stuff you add to your swimming pool — once it enters the body. In fact, more than 100 independent studies found nothing of the sort. Sucralose is referred to as ‘natural’ because it is made from sucrose. In the interest of full disclosure, the FDA has no set definition for ‘natural.’

And finally, there is Stevia. Up until 2008, if you wanted to sweeten your tea with the Stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana), you had to buy it as a dietary supplement — or grow your own (as I did). Before the FDA ever deemed it safe, there were animal studies (in the 1980s) that implicated Stevia in genetic mutations. While bad rumors about Stevia sweeteners are few and far between these days, someone will eventually point to a study that again rakes this substance over the coals.

The bottom line
There are many considerations here, but there’s one common denominator: moderation.


Did you know? Corn syrup was invented more than 100 years ago, but high fructose syrup was formulated in the mid-1960s by Japanese scientists.


Most of us have jobs, baseball, majorettes, Scouts and so on. Truth is, aged beef and truffles just aren’t on the weeknight menu, unless you make reservations at a really expensive restaurant. And who wants to take a Cub Scout den to Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris? With the ‘Food Snob Chronicles’ each week, I’ll be featuring tips on how to have good weeknight meals at home — with the family. And I promise not to break your budget or send you on a wild goose chase to find obscure ingredients (i.e. ‘Chopped’). Have a suggestion or question? Shoot me a line.  Now on to the food…

Slow-Cooked Chicken

About 15 minutes of prep and the slow-cooker does the rest. Serve with your favorite sides, or use the fall-off-the bone meat to make chicken salad, ‘pulled’ chicken sandwiches or whatever calls for cooked chicken.

This is more of a technique than a recipe. But it requires:

1 — Whole Chicken
Spices and seasonings of your choice

Apply spices and seasonings on between the skin and meat of the chicken on the thigh side — the side of the bird on which it is more difficult to separate the skin from the meat. Check out the photo for an example of what I did. You can also use apple slices and sage, oranges, fresh basil … you name it. Use your creativity.

Place prepared chicken in slow cooker breast side down (see the photo). Add about 1 cup of water. Set slow cooker on ‘low.’ Go to work. Pick up kids from baseball practice. Drop them off at dance lessons. Pick them up from dance lessons. Go home to a house that smells like you’ve been cooking all day. Prepare yourself for fall-off-the-bone moist tender chicken (even the white meat). Serve with sides of your choice. (Strain, skim and freeze the liquid for some outstanding chicken stock.)

Feeds a family of five.

Comments

  1. Wow chicken looks great and too easy! Definitely going to try this one.

  2. The Mom Chef says:

    My gosh, you can write. I run the gamut of green with envy to absolute admiration of your talent. I think if anyone else I follow had written about sweeteners, I’d have scrolled through to the recipe. Not so with you; I read every word. I think I’ll stick to cooking from scratch. That way I know we’re getting sugar and only sugar (in moderation, of course).

    I’m loving your on-a-budget, non-obscure series too, considering that we are on a budget and can’t find or afford the obscure items. The chicken looks fantastic, very juicy. I even want to grab a slice of that lemon (definitely the Brussels sprouts).

    • Thank you, Christiane. Those are very kind words and I believe I’ll make a wall-sized mural of what you said so that my head always swells. :-) I’m with you on cooking from scratch. Well, I will honestly tell you that there are plenty of processed foods in my pantry. But I do read labels. Again, I really appreciate your compliments. The chicken was delicious. I have a quart of stock ready to use in something else, and there is enough left over chicken for someone to be eating chicken salad for lunch tomorrow. (I finished off the Brussels sprouts!)

  3. This looks yummy…I did ignore the photo of the raw chicken though. :) And I will be trying this recipe.

    • Thanks, Amber. It’s a how-to. …Going back to my ASF (alternative story format) days in newspaper. I’d tell the whole story/technique with photos, but that’s a pain. Glad you stopped by.

  4. Great article and one I couldn’t agree with more! Moderation= a word, nay lifestyle, lacking in so many lives. Great technique on the chicken too Adam! I love my slow cooker but sometimes forget to use it for simple recipes like this one. Thanks so much!

  5. Interesting stuff about the sweeteners. I love low temp long time recipes.
    Any idea what temperature your slow cooker reaches?

    • Thanks, Stefan. I’ve never taken the temperature, but based on similar cooking times as my smoker, I would venture a guess between 180-190F (low setting).

      • I would be very surprised if at that temperature the chicken came out as nice as you wrote (it sounded delicious), because above 160F or so the meat starts to dry out even if you submerge it in liquid.

        • I’ll have to take the temp. Interesting point.

          • StefanGourmet says:

            I’m curious, since I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why meat comes out juicy and tender one time and dry or tough the other and I still haven’t found the full answer (despite extensive experimentation and research).

          • Stefan – I have not really experienced that, once I have my method down. Obviously, all meats are not created equally. But the ‘low’ heat setting on a slow cooker or any other cooking device is relatively constant.

          • StefanGourmet says:

            The difference between different cuts and breeds of meat is the most important variable indeed, and you have it easier with beef in the US as it is generally better marbled and thus easier to keep juicy.

            Like you I get consistent results when I have my method down — it’s when I use recipes from others that I sometimes run into problems. Probable causes are not using the exact type and source of meat, or imprecise instructions such as “simmer over low heat”.

            I know that chicken will be great if I keep the temp at 150F, but I have also had good chicken that was certainly cooked above that. And that’s why I like to obtain all the input I can get :-)

          • Good point and an excellent reason to try and include more precise info. Let’s start a movement

  6. Great post, Adam. Very informative. Looking forward to more.

    I’ve seasoned chicken under the skin on the breast (and turkeys) but never did the thighs. Learned me somethin’ new. Thanks.

    I’m with you on the slow cooker, more during the summers so the house doesn’t heat up.

  7. I’m a label-reader. Years ago I had some very severe health problems, and literally thought I was dying. My husband was a wreck. I had about every heart test you could imagine, with the doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Long story short – I had aspertame poisoning. I avoid any and all artificial sweet stuff now…like my life depends on it.

  8. Adam, I came over from the Cooking Forum as a direct result of your baked potato soup picture. My Irish/Native American background just doesn’t let me ignore things like that. Then I got sucked into the crockpot chicken since I have 50 of the darned things that’ll be freezer fodder in a couple of weeks.

    Anyway, thanks!

  9. juanitascocina says:

    We do our chickens the same way…so easy and delicious! Makes the chicken breasts (which I find so drrrrryyyyyyy) so juicy!

    I can’t wait to see what comes next! Love the new feature!

  10. As expected, you delivered again and again and again…I’m still trying to figure out why the ‘M’ word is so hard for folks to understand and apply in their life, but I suppose everyone isn’t quite as perfect as me (or you!)…lol! Good news, when you’re an empty-nesterer like Ben and me, that aged beef, those truffles, and trips to The Palm come any whimsical time we want! See, whatcha got to look forward to…now just to stash away some cash for those golden day meals! Keep entertaining me…I’m a huge fan! xo Ally

    • You are very kind, Ally. I will confess though that the ‘M’ word doesn’t work very often for me — because I choose to behave otherwise. (Notice I didn’t blame a ‘gland problem’ or ‘stress’ or … ‘addiction.’) I’m just a lazy ass.

  11. OK, breast side down, trying it this week!

  12. Adam – thanks for this – sounds so good we’re going to try it tomorrow – looking forward to trying more of your recipes too!
    Emma.

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