Why is Junk Food so Addictive?

Junk food is addictive, but not always for the reasons you think. Here are 8 of your favorite junk foods explained:

How Cheetos is like magic food

 Photo: Mike Mozart, License

Photo: Mike Mozart, License

Ever notice how Cheetos puffs have the amazing ability to melt in your mouth? Says food scientist, Steven Witherly to the NY Times, “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.” It's called "vanishing caloric density".  Food manufacturers think it is fabulous. 

Why Lays can say “bet you can’t eat just one”

 Photo Credit:  Mike Mozart , License

Photo Credit: Mike Mozart, License

We already know that salt and fat are a dangerously delicious combination (butter is beautiful for a reason, people!). But what makes potato chips addictive is the sugar that exists in the starch of the potato itself. This causes the glucose levels in the blood to spike, which can result in a craving for more. 

Why you can guzzle down Coke: 

 Photo Credit: Allen, License

Photo Credit: Allen, License

Here's another interesting term -- "sensory-specific satiety".  This means that big, distinct flavors (like sweetness or spice) overwhelm the brain, which forces you to have only small portions of that food or drink. For example, try drinking a gallon of homemade banana smoothie. You would probably start gagging by your second or third glass. Coke, however, ensures this doesn't happen with its drinks. The company has had 122 years to perfect it's formula. The drink piques the taste buds but doesn’t have a single, distinct, overriding flavor that tells the brain to stop drinking. And that's how Coca-cola is the world's biggest brand.  

Why Doritos make you drool 

 Photo from wikipedia. Author:  Scott Ehardt

Photo from wikipedia. Author: Scott Ehardt

Another NY Times article identified 10 characteristics of Doritos nacho chips that make it one of the most popular snacks in the U.S.

1. The expensive Romano cheese gives a brothy flavor to the snack.

2. The garlic flavor is umami, which creates memories of how a food tastes.

3. The high salt content makes us crave more.

4. The combination of salt and MSG powers up all other flavors.

5. The precise formula of the chip ensures that there is no single overriding flavor (remember "sensory-specific satiety").

6. Lactic acid and citric acid get the saliva flowing.

7. The fat content leaves a pleasant sensation in the mouth.

8. The bright orange color is attractive.

9. Like Cheetos, Doritos has considerable vanishing caloric density too. 

10. And lastly, everyone knows that the cheesy gold dust left on your fingers is just bonus. 

Why we put fruity yogurt cups in our grocery cart 

 Photo Credit:  Mike Mozart , License

Photo Credit: Mike Mozart, License

Because we think of yogurt as healthy. In reality though, a serving of sweet yogurt can have twice as much sugar as a serving of Lucky Charms. Yoplait even started yogurt tubes for kids called Go-Gurts, which their parents buy with the best of intentions. 

Why you pick up popsicles and gummy bears

 Photo Credit:  David O'Hare , License

Photo Credit: David O'Hare, License

Food companies add color to their products to make them more appealing. Dr. Linda M. Katz, Chief Medical Officer for the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, says that color additives are incorporated into foods to enhance colors that exist in nature and to add color to fun or colorless food

Why a candy bar tastes so darn good 

 Photo Credit:  Dat Nguyen , License

Photo Credit: Dat Nguyen, License

Again, you can blame sugar, salt, and fat. In an article on Prevention.com, Ashley Gearhardt, professor of psychology at UMich says that human bodies have not evolved to handle this combination. In our hunter-gatherer days, sugar was only found in fruit and honey, and salt was only used as a garnish. For fat, you had to either hunt animals for it or forage for nuts. Modern day processed foods often contain all three, but lack the protein, fiber, and water that help your body handle them.

And lastly, why we can eat a generous helping of pasta (hint: it's in the sauce!)

  Photo Credit:   David Pursehouse  , License

Photo Credit: David Pursehouse, License

By now, you know how carbs and starch work to make your brain crave more. But did you know that pasta sauce plays an important role too?

You may have heard a bit about this in Malcolm Gladwell’s TED talk back in 2004. After doing country-wide market research for months, Prego found out that 1/3 of Americans wanted extra-chunky pasta sauce. And nobody was servicing this need. Clearly, good research was key to Prego's success in the chunky sauce business. 

However, the key reason why processed pasta sauce tastes so good is sugar. Prego sauces — whether cheesy, chunky or light — have one thing in common: The largest ingredient, after tomatoes, is sugar. One serving also delivers a third of the sodium recommended for an entire day. The combination is what gets consumers to reach their "bliss point". 

And that, folks, is how the big food manufacturers have us hooked and add pounds to our waistlines. A much healthier alternative? Home-style food made fresh daily from Kitchen Stadium

Visit NY Times to read a long but fascinating account on how the junk food industry formulates its products.





So you Want to Run your own Restaurant?

So you want to run your own restaurant? This week’s blog post will give you a glimpse of what to expect.

This is the fourth and final post in the series: Careers in Food. And today, we focus on the front-end jobs: Restaurant owners, chefs and bakers.

Restaurant Owners: According to Jim Laube, founder of RestaurantOwner.com, a restaurant must focus on three things to succeed:

  • Operations: This includes all functions required to prepare and serve food to customers. 
  • Financial: These functions deal with accounting, cash management and cost control. 
  • Marketing: This involves public relations, advertising and image management of the restaurant. 

Most restaurant owners, however, gets caught up in all the details of each of these things, and this is when they fail. The key is to delegate to the best possible employees one can hire.

Here are some cool numbers for 2014 from the National Restaurant Association

  • 990,000: Restaurant locations in the United States.
  • 10%: Restaurant workforce as part of the overall U.S. workforce.

  • $683.4 billionRestaurant industry sales

  • 47%: Restaurant industry share of the food dollar 

  • Seven in 10: Restaurants that are single-unit operations 

  • Eight in 10: Restaurant owners who started their industry careers in entry-level positions (don't let that deter you!).

Average salary:  $79,222 per year, although this varies largely based on location, size and type of restaurant.  

 Photo Credit: Tony Hisgett, License

Photo Credit: Tony Hisgett, License


Executive Chef: The Executive Chef is accountable for all things related to the kitchen. This includes creating a menu, directing kitchen staff, ordering and purchasing inventory. It also includes deciding on the presentation of the dishes. 

Average Salary: $50,000 or more a year. Salary can increase to over $85,000 (based on experience and location).

Sous Chef:  The Sous-Chef is the second-in-command and direct assistant of the Executive Chef. This person is accountable for the kitchen's inventory, cleanliness, organization, and the continuous training of its entire staff. Sous chefs carry out the head chef's orders, perform line checks, and oversee the prompt delivery of dishes. They also perform the Executive Chef's duties when the latter is absent. 

Average Salary: $35,000 to just under $40,000. 

Line Cook: A line cook is in charge of a particular area of production. In most kitchens the line cook is the only worker in a particular department. This can mean chopping vegetables, butchering meat, or preparing sauces. 

Average Salary: $35,000 annually

Pastry Chef: Pastry chefs are in charge of making pastries, desserts, breads and other baked goods, and are employed in large hotels, restaurants, bakeries and some cafes. While pastry chefs have duties similar to that of bakers, at larger establishments, they are also in charge of the dessert menu, which may include traditional desserts, dessert wines, dessert beverages, and gourmet cheese platters.

Average Salary: $30,000 to $50,000. 

 Photo Credit: Missy, License

Photo Credit: Missy, License

Bakers:  Bakers mix ingredients according to recipes to make breads, pastries, and other baked goods. 

Commercial bakers work in manufacturing facilities that produce breads and pastries at high speeds. 

Retail bakers work primarily in grocery stores and specialty shops, including bakeries.  

According to the Center for Economic Vitality, the commercial side of the baking industry is highly concentrated, with the 50 largest companies generating 75% of revenue.The retail side of baking is fragmented — 50 largest companies generating around 15% of revenue. 

Most bakers learn their skills through long-term on-the-job training. Although no formal education is required, some learn through an apprenticeship program or by attending a technical or culinary school.

Average Salary: Approximately $23,140 per year 

 Photo Credit:  Nicola , License

Photo Credit: Nicola, License

Other front-end people include wait staff, maitre d', bartenders, sushi chefs etc

Who helps get your food to your fork?

A couple of you wrote in to say that you enjoyed the “behind-the-scenes” jobs that we had described in our last post such as cheese making, wine making, beekeeping etc, so this week we continue with that theme.

Cattle herders/ranchers: Cattle herders raise cattle for meat. Their duties involve taking care of calves, raising them and helping the ranch owner auction a portion of the livestock once a certain weight is reached. Some animals are kept for breeding purposes and others are prepared for beef production.

The 1 million+ beef producers in the United States are responsible for more than 89.3 million head of beef cattle. About 90% of the beef produced in the US is sold in America while 10% is exported. The top beef producing states in 2013 were Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, California and Oklahoma, in that order. 

Since herders spend most of their time outdoors in all types of weather, working conditions are often rough. 

Average salary: As of 2010, the average salary of a cattle herder was $21,970. Income varies based on the size of the farm and the breed of cows raised. Ranch managers make an average of $39,000. If the herder is also the owner of the ranch, income can be much higher. 

 Photo Credit:  Robert Cutts ,  License

Photo Credit: Robert Cutts, License

Fish farmers --  Fish farming or aquaculture involves raising fish commercially, usually for food. The most popular fish species farmed are carp, salmon, tilapia and catfish.

There are a few different methods of fish farming:

1.     Off-shore cultivation or cage system where fish are placed in water bodies such as lakes, river, oceans and ponds to contain and protect them until harvesting.

2.     Irrigation ditch or pond systems where fish are raised in ponds and irrigations ditches.

3.     Composite fish culture system where a combination of 5 or 6 top feeders, column feeders and bottom feeders are placed in a single pond. This system makes good use of pond space and reduces competition among the fish for food.

4.     Integrated recycling systems where local water is recycled using hydroponic beds. This prevents wastage of fresh water.

5.     Classic Fry farming where trout and other sport fish are raised from eggs to fry (young fish) and then released in streams.

Average Salary: $63,000 as of 2014. 

  Off-shore Cultivation.  Photo Credit:  I A Walsh ,  License

Off-shore Cultivation. Photo Credit: I A Walsh, License

Poultry farmers – Poultry farmers raise domesticated birds such as chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. Chicken farming is the most popular type of poultry farming. Some chickens are raised for eggs and some for their meat.

Egg-laying chickens can be are raised in cages or can be "free-range", which means that they spend a portion of their day outdoors. Organic eggs are derived from chickens that have more living space and less in-feed medication/food additives than cage-raised chicken.

Meat chickens can be raised in indoor climate controlled housing called growout houses. Alternatively, they can be raised free-range or through organic means. 

Raising other birds like ostriches and emus can provide farmers with additional income. A single ostrich egg can be sold for $30-$50. 

Average SalarySalaries vary widely based on size of farm and type of production. Average salary as of May 2010 was $60,750. 

 Photo Credit:  USDA ,  License

Photo Credit: USDA, License

Graders and Sorters – These workers grade, sort and classify unprocessed food such as fruits and vegetables, as well as other agricultural products such as grain, nuts, butter, cheese and eggs by size, weight, color or condition.

For example, the AA or A or B grades you see on your egg carton were given by graders based on the whites, yolks, inner air sacs and shell condition of the eggs.

Average Salary: A Grader or sorter can earn an average wage of around $16,000 - $24,000 based on tenure and industry expertise.The state of Kansas provides the highest compensation with an average of $32,840.

 Photo Credit:  Woodleywonderworks ,  License

Meat cutters/ Sausage makers – The title pretty much describes the job. Meat cutters break down raw bulk meat into smaller pieces for sale to butchers and food stores. They handle meat such as beef, pork, lamb, fish and poultry.

Sausage makers grind meat and blend them with spices. They then pack them in casings.  

Average Salary: $26,000 as of April, 2014. Meat cutters and sausage makers do not require high school diplomas or GEDs.

 Photo Credit:  László Szalai  from Wikimedia commons.

Photo Credit: László Szalai from Wikimedia commons.

These are all the back-end jobs we have for now! Next week we will focus on the front-end guys — the chefs, bakers and restaurant owners. Stay tuned! 


Careers Outside the Kitchen: Growing & Cultivating Food

In our last post on careers in food, we talked food photographers, food stylists, tasters and food writers.

This week we focus on people in the food industry who are involved in growing and cultivating food.

Agriculturalists – It’s only fair to start this post with farmers. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the U.S. has around 2.2 million farms, with one in three farms being planted solely for export. About 97 percent of U.S. farms are operated by families – individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. These farmers grow crop and raise livestock. 

Average Salary: The median annual wage for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers was $69,300 in May 2012. As you can imagine, profits vary widely based on location, size of land, crops grown etc. 

 Photo Credit:  Justin Sewell  ,  License

Photo Credit: Justin Sewell , License

Beekeepers Beekeepers or apiarists are people who raise honeybees for honey, beeswax, pollen and royal jelly. Some beekeepers provide pollination services to farmers. Beekeepers assess the health of the hive, check for mite infestations, treat the hive when health problems arise, and maintain detailed records of health and honey production.

Here's a fun fact: Bees tend to attack dark moving objects because their natural predators in the wild are bears and skunks. So beekeepers wear light-colored protective clothing to avoid stings. 

Average Salary: $52,000 as of 2011. 

Mushroom Growers  Mushroom growers produce mushrooms for the food market. In order to maintain a sterile environment, the cultivating process begins in the laboratory. Mushroom spores are so tiny that lab technicians inoculate sterile cereal grains with the spores. These grains become 'spawn' which can then be sown like seed in organic compost at a farm. Temperature and humidity are carefully controlled for the growing period. Mushrooms mature at varying times, so picking by hand is continuous for six to ten weeks. Mushrooms are difficult commodities to grow and intensive labor is required to produce a consistent, high-quality crop.

Average Salary: $43,230

 Photo Credit:  Rae Allen ,  License

Photo Credit: Rae Allen, License

Cheesemakers – Yes, it may be a smelly job, but if you love cheese, it could be the career for you. The art of making cheese is an ancient one, with archeological evidence dating back to the Ancient Egyptians.

Cheesemakers convert milk into cheese. Individual cheesemakers operate on a small scale and sell handmade products. In this case, the taste and texture of a particular cheese may vary with each batch. Cheesemaking factories, however, use scientific means and the end product tends to be more predictable (though perhaps less interesting).

Average Salary: It's clear that most cheesemakers work in the profession for the love of the craft, rather than the monetary compensation. As of November 2010, the average salary of a cheesemaker in the U.S. ranged between $28,896 and $45,440. 

 Photo Credit:  Tama Leaver ,   License

Photo Credit: Tama Leaver,  License

Winemakers Winemakers hire and direct the staff in a wine cellar, develop blends, and evaluate the grape supply needs of the winery. Winemakers often travel and promote the winery. They often have degrees or experience in business or viticulture.

Winemakers are also responsible for deciding what type of grapes from the vineyards should be bought by the winery for the process of fermentation. (For red wine, the pulp and skins of red or black grapes are fermented, whereas for white wine, skins are removed and grapes are crushed to extract a juice that is fermented.) Red wine is often transferred to oak barrels to mature for a period of weeks or months to release oak aromas to the wine. The winemaker then oversees the clarification, filtration and bottling of the wine.

Average Salary: As of 2011, Wine Business Monthly reports that senior winemakers earned average annual salaries ranging from $115,000 to $130,000, depending on the size of the winery.

 Photo Credit:  Don Hankins  ,  License

Photo Credit: Don Hankins , License