The Digest

Kale Through The Ages & Other News

28th October 2017

Words: James Hansen

In this week’s global food writing round-up: the perils of high-altitude food, a tomato scam, and very, very expensive coffee

Mari Uyehara writes on the American origin story of kale salad’s decade in the sun for Taste Cooking. As origin story rationale dictates, it begins in a foreign clime: Italy, where kale lacinato has been braised, stewed and souped into ribollita for longer than its adoptive nation has existed. The watershed moment comes via Melissa Clark at The New York Times in 2007 after her experience with a raw salad at Franny’s – a Brooklyn restaurant then run by Joshua McFadden; that said, Lupa chef Mark Ladner had been doing something similar since 2001. As the leafy green’s tendrils creep into every avenue of food culture – from farm-to-table to McDonald’s – Uyehara anoints kale as a waymark for the “direction of the new American palate.”

James Hoffmann looks at the sometimes bewildering world of expensive coffee at Jimseven. His concern is with scaling – price often lags behind quality, until the more esoteric, most un-coffee like coffees come into play and dollar signs flare. With Eleven Madison Park serving a $24 cup of wush wush (a varietal that produces juicy fruit flavours and a delicacy more often associated in tea) and coffee buyer NinetyPlus auctioning kilos that hit $5,000 a pop, speciality coffee can be mightily expensive, but more often in service of oddity and the unexpected, rather than “the straight-up exceptional”. When price and quality are misaligned, confusion reigns – as a certain chain have already adroitly exploited.

Taylor Holliday seeks out Sichuan pepper for Slate in collaboration with Roads & Kingdoms. At the heart of the journey to Hanyuan, in China’s Sichuan province, is red tape – the numbing spice has been “maligned, and even banned in the United States for the past 50 years”. The pepper – which is in fact a member of the citrus family – was originally banned for fear of it infecting American oranges with canker; the ruling was relaxed in 2005 to allow for peppercorns that were effectively pasteurised. “But that decree only added injury to insult. No other spice has to undergo this heat treatment, which darkens the peppercorn and, it is widely believed, diminishes the oil content, potency, aroma, and flavor.” This too was relaxed in 2017, but producers remain unaware; inferior peppers cross the border, while in the UK we can enjoy – or even grow – the berries right here.

Natasha Frost considers the gastronomic history of Zeppelins for Atlas Obscura: “It might not have been the best food on Earth, but it had a legitimate claim to being the finest fare in the sky.” As might be expected, it was “very, very German food”. Zeppelins flew much lower than a passenger plane does today, so the dulling of tastebuds experienced at 30,000ft would not have taken effect, and fattened ducklings and caviar tasted of themselves. Lightweight furnishings allowed for full table service while a bar slung out flips, sours and fizzes galore; even baking continued uninhibited, to a point: “bread rolls were baked fresh in the all-electric, all-aluminum kitchen, which had been designed both to limit weight and minimize the risk of a catastrophic kitchen fire. It was, after all, basically inside a building full of flammable hydrogen.”

Isabel Hunter and Lorenzo Di Pietro investigate the dark side of the canned tomato supply chain for The Guardian. Hunter and Di Pietro’s research into a criminal prosecution by Paola Guglielmi paint a grim picture of the industry that supplies UK shelves with the cupboard staple: “Labour abuses listed in the court documents include working for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, without breaks, with minimal pay and no access to medical staff.” With farms often structured under the caporalato (gangmaster) system, wherein both legal and illegal migrants are hired informally, there is little accountability and a complete lack of legislature – as well as a seeming lack of empathy from the brands involved: “We know in the south of Italy there are some situations that are not in line but we can’t do the work – it’s not our responsibility to verify what happens in the region but we do ask our suppliers to respect human rights,” he said. “We don’t pay less than the normal price.”

Posted 28th October 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

More from The Digest

Changing Restaurant Culture & Other News – This week's digest looks at changing restaurant culture, building a better table and telling difficult stories

In Parts Unknown & Other News – Remembering Anthony Bourdain, the comfort of processed food and the security of lobster rolls in this week's food media round-up

Fine Dining Goes Junk & Other News – In this week's round-up of the best online food media: fine dining meets junk food, Helen Rosner on The David Chang Show, and a quick scoop of gelato

How To Close A Restaurant & Other News – Also in this week's food media round-up: the rise of Laotian cuisine, breeding a new apple from scratch, and a new food temple gets a hiding