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Pasta salad - more nutritious than ever

The ever popular pasta salad is sturdy and economical, but is it nutritious?

It sure can be, and research from UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences professor Jorge Dubcovsky is helping to make that so. Dubcovsky’s team discovered a gene in domesticated wheat that had been damaged, a gene that controls the distribution of nutrients to the grains in healthy grain plants. What’s more, they discovered a copy of that damaged gene in wild wheat, enabling them (and others) to breed new varieties with substantially increased levels of protein, iron and zinc.

Wheat provides about 20 percent of all the calories people consume worldwide. In other words, we eat a lot of it – it’s second only to rice as a human source of calories. Sometime during its domestication (some 10,000 years ago) wheat underwent a change that lowered the protein, zinc and iron content in its grain.

In 2006, after years of mapping, Dubcovsky and his team discovered the culprit - a mutation in a gene called NAM-B1. In healthy grain plants, NAM-B1 controls the remobilizing and distribution of nutrients to the grains when the leaves die off. Without a working copy of the gene, cultivated wheat is not a good processor of its nutrients, so large amounts of protein, iron and zinc are left in its straw.

Dubcovsky’s team then examined the ancestors of commercial wheat and found, amazingly enough, a fully functional NAM-B1 gene within the genome of wild emmer wheat. Emmer wheat can be freely crossed with domestic wheat using conventional means, so no controversial genetic engineering methods were needed to restore the lost gene.

The University of California has already released one variety – Lassik - with the increased nutritional punch. Lassik also is genetically improved for stronger gluten and resistance to both stripe-rust and leaf-rust disease. And because the new strains were bred from widely used commercial varieties, the new variety retains its farmer-friendly characteristics such as high yield and consumer-friendly trait like excellent taste.

The new plants are in the public domain, distributed to breeders across the globe. Some 2 billion people around the world lack adequate micronutrients, so more nutritious wheat could make a big difference in fighting world hunger.

So when friends ask, “What’s the secret to your fantastic pasta salad?” you know what to say:

“Protein, iron and zinc.”

For more on what the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences is doing to make our salads more tasty, nutritious, safe and affordable, see The Spring 2010 Leaflet

Wild wheat, Triticum turgidum ssp. dicoccoides
Wild wheat, Triticum turgidum ssp. dicoccoides

Posted on Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 9:04 AM

Campuses expanding sustainable foodservice

The University of California’s campus-run dining halls and restaurants are offering a healthier and more environmentally friendly menu to diners.

For years, many campuses have offered organic food choices or engaged in practices such as using locally sourced products and composting that cut waste and conserve resources. Trayless dining halls, which also reduce waste and water use, are emerging as a trend at universities across the country and are highlighted in a UC Newsroom story about UC’s systemwide foodservice sustainability policy.

The food guidelines, enacted in September, will encourage green dining efforts on all campuses and codify what was already happening. Students inspired UC’s green foodservice efforts, sending 10,000 postcards to the Board of Regents asking for more sustainable options.

Scott Berlin, UC Santa Cruz’s dining director, summed it up nicely when he said that UC’s sustainability efforts fulfill the university’s mission of public service and education and can serve as model for best practices when it comes to foodservice. It’s a win-win for everyone.

-Harry Mok

Posted on Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 7:47 AM
  • Author: Alec Rosenberg
Tags: sustainable (11)

Rocking to food safety music

Carl Winter has been called the “Elvis of E. coli” and the “Sinatra of Salmonella,” but you won’t find him headlining a lounge act in Las Vegas. Instead, the UC Davis food toxicologist crosses California – and the United States – to sing about a subject near and dear to him: food safety.

Combining science-based information with a synthesizer, Winter performs food safety music parodies such as “You Better Wash Your Hands” (from the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand”) and “Don’t Be a Gambler” (from Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”). He also has created animated food safety music videos such as “Stomachache Tonight,” a parody of the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight” that, ironically, recounts a time he got sick in Georgia while on tour performing about food safety.

Although a lot of food safety information exists already, food safety music is a great way to supplement the message, said Winter, who has produced parodies for nearly 15 years and distributed more than 20,000 copies of his CDs with songs about food safety, nutrition and pesticides. “We found people retain information better through music,” Winter said.

Food safety is a timely topic. The Food and Drug Administration just held meetings April 26 and 27 in Monterey County to discuss plans to develop a nationwide produce standard for growing, harvesting and packing fruits and vegetables. Foodborne diseases cause about 76 million illnesses in the United States each year, according to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We need to understand the science better,” said Winter, who directs UC Davis’ FoodSafe program. “We need to communicate better.”

Winter is doing his part to spread the word about food safety. He is in the middle of putting together a new CD for kids, with songs such as “Who Left the Food Out?” – a parody of the Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out?” – as well as some original music.

The lyrics may change, but the message remains the same: Wash your hands, avoid cross contamination, cook meat to proper temperatures and refrigerate leftovers promptly. It’s important to eat a balanced diet and take as much control over your foods as you can, Winter said. Eat fruits and vegetables – just wash them first. And enjoy Winter’s songs. For more information, visit Winter’s home page at http://foodsafe.ucdavis.edu and his YouTube page at www.youtube.com/foodsafetymusic.
Posted on Monday, May 3, 2010 at 8:47 AM
  • Author: Alec Rosenberg
Tags: Carl Winter (3), food safety (41)

Reducing water use in food processing

Home cooks know the secret to peeling tomatoes is a quick dip in hot water to loosen the skins. It takes a lot of water (and heating energy) to peel three million pounds of processing tomatoes in California each year. New UC Davis research is fine-tuning a novel way of peeling all those tomatoes with almost no water — using infrared heat.

Two methods are used to remove skins in processed tomatoes — a hot water/lye dip, or steam. The dip method uses a lot of water, a lot of energy, and creates a lot of salts . . . which presents its own disposal problem. Steam treatment heats too much of the tomato, resulting in reduced yield and quality.

“The tomato processing industry has long been interested in finding a better way of peeling tomatoes,” says Dr. Zhongli Pan, a USDA researcher, and an adjunct professor at UC Davis. He found that peeling tomatoes with infrared heat eliminates lye use, greatly reduces water use, and results in better quality tomatoes.

Infrared heat is similar to heat from the sun and fireplaces. It allows for efficient heat transfer from the source to the product. Infrared heat has promising potential not only for dry-peeling tomatoes, peaches, and other produce, but also for blanching many fruits and vegetables before freezing, such as apples and “baby” carrots.

Pan and his colleagues are building a pilot-scale infrared tomato heating device. The goal is to develop commercial-scale guidelines for peeling tomatoes and other products with infrared heat. As California's water resources dwindle, new technologies such as this should reduce our reliance on water.

Higher-quality pizza and tomato sauces, and many other food products may appear on our tables if infrared heat can be adopted by the food-processing industry. The secondary impact on water conservation will benefit us all.

(This article was condensed from UC Davis’ “CA&ES Outlook” magazine, fall/winter 2009, page 10.)

Posted on Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 2:05 PM
Tags: food processing (2), heat (1), tomatoes (6), water (7), Zhongli Pan (1)

Hold the salt? Not so fast, say nutrition experts

Last week (April 21, 2010) the Institute of Medicine issued an official report claiming that Americans consume too much salt and urging that new government standards be established for "acceptable sodium content" in foods. Two UC Davis nutrition experts disagree.

In November, Judith Stern, a professor of nutrition and internal medicine, and David McCarron, an adjunct nutrition professor, both at UC Davis, published a study in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology that questioned the scientific logic and feasibility of broadly limiting salt intake in humans. (See journal article online.)

After examining data from sodium intake studies worldwide and a critical body of neuroscience research on sodium appetite (innate behaviors that drive us to consume salt), Stern and McCarron found compelling evidence indicating that humans naturally regulate their salt intake within a narrowly defined physiologic range. They found that Americans' average salt intake falls well within this range.

They suggest that government-led attempts to nationally control salt intake are simplistic, misguided, and not based in science and, instead, advise that individuals who are at special risk for high blood pressure and related diseases consult their physicians for nutritional advice, including appropriate levels of salt consumption.

(To view a flash video and UC Davis press release from October 2009, click here.)

Posted on Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 1:59 PM
Tags: David McCarron (1), Judith Stern (2), salt (1), sodium (1)

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