True or False? 5 More Common Food Questions Explained

Since I work around food, I occasionally encounter some strange bit of information that's new to me, or realize that there are common misconceptions about certain food related things. That being the case, I thought it might be interesting to do another round up of "True or False" ideas about food.

5. Fresh salmon smells like watermelon. This was a new one to me, but I've heard a handful of customers claim that really fresh salmon should smell like watermelon. Frankly, that sounded nuts to me, since, fish being fish, I'd expect it to smell kind of...fishy. So what's the answer, does fresh salmon smell like a sweet melon? Myth or fact? My research leads me to believe:

Fact!

I was gobsmacked when my store ordered some fresh sockeye salmon one week, and when I gave the delivery a quick sniff for freshness, I was amazed to find it smelled just like a fresh cut watermelon. At first, I thought some elaborate and weird joke was being played on me, and then I remembered a few customers over the years insisting that salmon should smell like watermelon. It's crazy, but true in some cases. Now, most of the time I have found that good salmon just doesn't have a strong odor at all, at least not a fishy one, but according to many people and confirmed by that one personal experience, it CAN smell like a watermelon. Pretty cool.

4. Farm raised salmon has pink or red meat naturally. That's one thing almost everyone knows about salmon. It's the big fish that has vivid pink or red meat. I certainly have never seen a side of salmon that wasn't at least a light pink color, and some get a deep hue that's nearly red. I have not noticed that intensity of meat color is particularly different in farm raised or wild caught salmon. So this is just an inherent color trait with all salmon right?

Wrong.

Wild salmon gets its pink color from the creatures it eats (primarily shrimp and krill), but the farm raised ones don't have that diet. They get their appealing coloration from the chemicals canthaxanthin and astaxanthin, which both occur in nature and aren't harmful, but without which farmed salmon would have grey meat, something not appealing to most consumers. Frankly, since the colorization of farm raised salmon is artificially induced, I'd love to see the scientists behind that get creative and create purple or blue salmon. But seriously, I'll just spend a few extra bucks and buy the wild caught stuff. 

3. Fresh vegetables are more nutritious than frozen ones. Hey, fresh fruit and vegetables are great, there's no denying. But not all of us have access to farmer's markets, or have a garden, and in some cases it's more convenient to pull out that bag of frozen veggies way in the back of the freezer. But something is lost during that freezing process is it not? Nutrients or vitamins? Myth or fact?

It's usually a myth.

If vegetables were flash-frozen immediately after harvesting then the loss of vitamins and nutrients through the freezing process will be minimal, and frozen veggies might actually retain more of their nutritional value than their fresh counterparts if the fresh stuff has been sitting around for any time at all. The thing about that freezing process is that it essentially stops further loss of nutrients unless something is wrong with the process, and fresh vegetables continue to lose them as they age. That bag of frozen carrots might very well be a marginally healthier choice than the fresh ones that have sat around a couple of days at the grocery store.

2. Gelatin is made from cow hooves. That's what I always heard anyway. Pretty gross to think about, but maybe they've come up with a different way of creating Jello over the years? Perhaps some sort of synthetic hoof solution? Magic? So is gelatin still made from hooves? Myth or fact?

Myth! It's made from cow and pig skins. At least Jell-O brand gelatin is.

So, I'm not sure that's more appetizing than the hoof story, but I guess anyone who eats meat shouldn't have a problem with this one. Sadly, I know quite a few vegetarians who had to cut out lots of unforeseen treats from their diets because of the "animal skin in gelatin" issue.

1. Pesticides can be used on organic foods. There are a lot of people interested in eating organic food these days, but my experiences working at a health food store have led me to believe that most people don't know all that much about how organic foods are grown. Most people seem to believe that "organically grown" means that a food item is more healthy, but when it comes down to it, a lot of them don't know why. How do organic farmers keep insects from devouring their crops? Certainly they can't use pesticides can they?

Yes. Yes they can. And do.

Granted, the list of pesticidal agents that can be used on organic crops is much shorter than the long and sinister sounding list of chemicals that are used to control pests in conventional farming, but pesticides are still used. Some are pheromones that disrupt bugs mating instincts, others are "more natural" chemicals like copper sulphate, but are they healthier to use?

That depends on one's idea of what constitutes "healthier." It's true that traces of those pesticides are found in smaller amounts on organic foods, but some studies have shown that they pose a greater environmental impact since the natural solutions have to be used in larger doses than conventional modern pesticides.

Food myths and the truth about the things we eat are so numerous that a person could write a book about them and never document every one. At least it's something to remember when you reach for the organic apple in your local health food store or consider a gelatin based dessert for a vegan friend's birthday party.


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