Flavor Inventor

Wherein I try to get Ben & Jerry's to create two of my ice cream flavor ideas

I told Older Sister not long ago that I come up with great inventions all the time.

“Like what?” she said. “Name some.”

“Well,” I said, “there’s Fake Cakes. My idea is to have a ‘bakery’ that had a couple of replica or model tiered cakes made entirely out of non-perishable stuff. But the top tier can always be real cake for show, like when the bride and groom cut a wedding cake. The concept is that you don’t make a specialty cake for any one person’s event, but that you have maybe a dozen or so of these fake cakes that you rent out. There’s no rent or overhead costs for keeping a bakery because you don’t actually need any physical space except a place to store your fake cakes. There’s no food costs, unless you are the one supplying the top tier real cake, though you certainly wouldn’t have to. You’d bill a rental fee plus a deposit in case your displays were damaged. And you could easily ship them via an overnight carrier, so you wouldn’t even have to deliver the model personally.”

“What else?” she said.

“Well,” I said, “I think the Christian market could be exploited phenomenally more than it is now. My idea is to sell framed, wall-hanging sized photographs of young women in scenes made to recreate various moments in the life of the Virgin Mary’s, maybe a young mother in the manger kind of thing. Maybe I could call it 'The Mary Series.' The trick would be to basically make the photos modern in style and even modern in composition. They would have to be actual real pieces of art, but if you mass produced them and sold them to a Christian market, you’d make a killing.”

I have some food-related inventions, too. One of them is called Saturday morning milk, and I mentioned it in a blog a few months ago.

Another idea that I had was actually made. The good people at Gelateria Naia had some friends over at Takara Sake who were willing to give them a hand in making my gelato idea: sake flavored gelato, as an homage to San Francisco's Asian cultural (see under July).

I’ve had two other really great ideas for ice cream flavors, both of which I’ve submitted to Ben & Jerry’s. One is called New York Coffee Cake Break and the other is Hunk-a Banana Chunk-a Burnin' Love. The names even sound like flavors Ben & Jerry’s would produce. So here are my ideas:

New York Coffee Cake Break
is coffee ice cream with a chocolate fudge swirl, espresso bits, and hunks of frozen coffee cake, with particular emphasis on the crumble topping. There are two doses of caffeine, plus three meals (dessert, breakfast, and coffee break) rolled into one, to keep you going at the pace of a New York minute.

Hunk-a Banana Chunk-a Burnin’ Love is an Elvis-inspired ice cream flavor, based on The King’s famed banana and peanut butter sandwich (hold the bacon, please). It’s a chunky banana-flavored base (Chunky Monkey-style), with honeycomb bits, a peanut butter swirl, and white chocolate chunks. (The white chocolate is meant to remind us of Elvis’ white suits, which he still wore even when he got “chunky.”)

Note: I actually have submitted both of these ideas to Ben & Jerry's. Don't be cruel. Make my flavors!

Bakery Aesthetics

The main reason I adore bakeries is for their aesthetics. When I travel, I window-shop at bakeries and confection shops, sometimes snapping photos, gazing over the rows of elegant pieces of edible art.

To other lovers of food, the fact that I hold something in such high regard based on looks rather than taste may seem like a betrayal of principles.

However, like other art forms that I have an extreme appreciation for (editing, design, and architecture come to mind first), pastry arts relies on a tripod balance between visual aesthetics, taste, and practicality.

First, there’s a heightened awareness of beauty, mostly in form and color. Second, the object must be edible, and how it tastes counts. But third, the object still has to look appetizing. The aesthetics have to entice the consumer to not only buy the piece, but eat it as well; it would be at cross-purposes to make pastries or confections so artistic that they lose their food-ness.

If food is too pretty to the point of not resembling food in the slightest, would you still want to eat it?

There are a few little tricks that I’ve noticed some pastry chefs and confectioners use to keep their food looking like food. A simple one is to visually alert the viewer what’s inside the piece, so halved strawberries are placed atop a strawberry layer cake not only for decoration, but to tell the eater that something strawberry -- but not necessarily fresh whole strawberries themselves -- is hidden within.

Another example is marzipan confections, which are traditionally shaped like little fruits, although they are not necessarily flavored to taste like the object they represent. Still, they are shaped like fruits, not like domesticated animals or stemware or soccer balls.

Using flowers to decorate pastry works, in my mind, because they are often edible, and at the very least, they are a nod toward the same vegetative bounty from which food comes.

Those are pretty basic examples, but I’ve seen it done in more advanced ways as well. Mad hatter cakes or Seussical cakes, in my mind, seem more elegant and deft when they incorporate colors like deep brown and cream to give a nod to chocolate, vanilla, and dairy. It’s just as easy for fondant to resemble chocolate as Play-doh.

Of the two images shown above, I find the brown and white one much more appealing, even though the green one is as expertly made and with an equal level of sophistication.

Some cakes that are coming out of highly whimsical bakeries go so far with being whimsical that, I for one, really would not want to eat. A shoe cake may have the shiny black color of licorice, or the dark earthy brown of chocolate, but the overall visual association is more likely to scream “patent leather” and “dirt.”

Animals may seem the exception (aren’t they also a nod toward nature?), but consider the mixed messages you’re sending your brain when you cut into a cute little pink pig but then take a bit of extra sweet vanilla icing and buttery yellow cake. It might be fun and unusual, but ultimately, it’s not very appetizing. It’s much more appealing to eat a chocolate truffle shaped like a cookie than one shaped like a human foot.

The Dirty Dozen

I don’t follow trends in organic foods too much, but people who do likely heard the phrase “the dirty dozen” earlier this year.

The dirty dozen are twelve foods, mostly fruits, that are considered by scientists and nutritionists to be worth buying organic because their non-organic versions contain significantly more pesticides that people are likely to ingest. A few examples are peaches, pears, and bell peppers.

On the other hand, there is also a list of clean foods, ones that scientists and nutritionists don’t necessarily recommend shoppers buy from the organic section. Some of these include bananas, avocados, and mangoes.

By and large -- but not exclusively -- the difference between the two lists comes down to what type of outer layer the food has. We’re not likely to eat a the husk of the corn, which is on the clean list, or the shell of a scooped-out avocado, but we almost always consume the skin of pears, peaches, apples, and bell peppers (capsicums). Fruits with no outer skin, like strawberries, celery, and spinach are on the dirty list, whereas peas, which grow in a pod that is not typically consumed, and pineapple, with its pine cone-esque protective layer are on “doesn’t make a difference if you buy organic” list.

I searched for these lists online recently after attending a talk in San Francisco by Christopher Gardner, a nutritional scientist and associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, who was speaking at a lecture series known as Science Café.

One of the most alarming points Gardner made the night of his talk, which was held back in June in a San Francisco coffee shop in the Mission district, was about why and how researchers choose their research.

Researchers need to craft research studies that will get funded. Funding is most likely to go to studies that look at “acute deficiencies diseases,” Gardner said, meaning diseases that lend themselves well to being studied in isolation, and studies that look at isolated causes and effects of acute deficiencies diseases. Scientifically speaking, that type of pinpointed research is the most reliable. However, it completely eradicates a holistic approach to health and wellness. Gardner says the NHS is running out of money to give, and the more it runs low on grant money, the less likely it is to fund research that falls outside the “acute deficiency” criterion.

From a cultural perspective, Gardner said, we scientists should study eating patterns as a whole, not the effects of one nutrient. The diseases and problems most affecting our generation nutritionally are chronic, like heart diseases and adult onset diabetes, which often are the result of long-term and complex habits, not single factors in isolation as is the case for, say, anemia. “We are not going to find out nutritionally how to prevent chronic disease,” Gardner said.

Gardner talked about the dirty dozen list only briefly. He also mentioned that organics, as a market, has been doubling each year.

But even on this supposedly reliably list of foods consumers should buy in organic form, I found a discrepancy between two major sources (MSNBC and Organic.org). One includes raspberries while the other swaps it for lettuce. It seems to me that well-funded research is even less reliable than Gardner implied it was.

Two 'Dirty Dozen' Lists (must-buy organic foods because they are most contaminated)
1. apples
2. cherries
3. grapes, imported (Chili)
4. nectarines
5. peaches
6. pears
7. raspberries
8. strawberries
9. bell peppers
10. celery
11. potatoes
12. spinach

1. peaches
2. apples
3. sweet bell peppers
4. celery
5. nectarines
6. strawberries
7. cherries
8. pears
9. grapes (imported)
10. spinach
11. lettuce
12. potatoes

12 Least Contaminated Foods
1. onions
2. avocados
3. sweet corn (frozen)
4. pineapples
5. mangoes
6. asparagus
7. sweet peas (frozen)
8. kiwi fruits
9. bananas
10. cabbage
11. broccoli
12. papayas

Update: The "dirty dozen" list might have originated with a Consumer Reports article from 2006, which lists: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries.