Archive for March, 2010

6 Great Technical Resources On Yacón

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

YaconThe yacón root is pretty amazing. We’ve already touched on its use as a natural sweetener. With an unbelievably low glycemic index, it has great potential for those dieting, and those with diabetes. Besides its use as a sweetener, there are many other claims of potential health benefits. These benefits include the lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol, weight loss, reduced occurrences of constipation, and healthier bones. The scientific studies underlying these claims are excellently summarized on the Healthy Fellow blog. Today, I’d like to touch on the production, processing and application of yacón.

Native to South America, The yacón plant has been introduced to Japan and is also being grown in the Philippine Cordillera. You can educate yourself on the basics of yacón by checking out the yacón article on wikipedia. For something a little more in depth, here are six technical papers on various aspects of yacón and yacón processing courtesy of the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru:

Yacon Fact Sheet. A two page overview of the yacon plant, including a summary of health benefits and market opportunities.

Yacon by Alfredo Grau and Julio Rea. Consider this one a primer that goes beyond the fact sheet above in providing a general background on the yacon plant.

Yacon Syrup: Principles and Processing by Iván Manrique, Adelmo Párraga and Michael Hermann. The health benefits, broad application and consumer acceptance of yacon syrup suggests a large potential market. This manual outlines in detail the method for producing yacon syrup using simple technologies.

Innovations In Peeling Technology For Yacon by Graham Butler and Denys Rivera. One of the most labour intensive and costly components in the production of yacon syrup is the peeling of the yacon tubers. This paper presents cost effective peeling methods for yacon.

Effects of post-harvest treatments on the carbohydrate composition of yacon roots by S. Graefea, M. Hermannb, I. Manriqueb, S. Golombeka, and A. Buerkerta. This paper discusses the effect of the post harvest handling of yacon on fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) concentrations. FOS’s are the indigestible carbohydrates in yacon that provide the sweet taste and at the same time support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon without any significant impact on blood sugar or insulin levels.

Making Yacon Candy by Caitlin Boon. This research paper outlines the feasibility of making candy from yacon syrup.


Saturday, March 27th, 2010

On my way to Tokyo earlier this month, I was leafing through the Japan Airlines in-flight magazine. There was a great article on Japan’s satoyama. While it’s not exactly clear to me what satoyama specifically means, in general terms it refers to the landscape of the countryside. According to the article, Japan is a:

“…small mountainous island nation, with limited natural resources and few extensive level plains suitable for large-scale farming. Yet this same land has managed to sustain a dense population and rich civilization for nearly two millenia. And the reason it has been able to do so owes much to the management of its satoyama.”

Source: Skyward, JAL Group

satoyamaThe identifiably unique landscape in Japan is a mosaic of irrigated and terraced rice paddies, vegetable plots and orchards. It also includes oak coppices used for growing wood fuel and gathering compost, conifer forests for building materials, grass fields for thatch and bamboo groves used for tools. A self sustaining and balanced system where the landscape is meticulously managed to provide for so many even though it be a limited resource.

As the younger generation has been drawn to the jobs and lifestyle of the city, and fossil fuels/electricity have become available, there has be no good economic reason to put in the effort required to sustain the satoyama. The same effect has been witnessed in the Banaue Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. These massive man-made structures are over 2000 years old and are often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. With access to modern media and education, the younger generation have mostly opted to go to Manila for work instead of farming and maintaining the landscape. Deforestation and climate change also threaten the terraces.

banauePerhaps the satoyama provides a good metaphor for a lifestyle based on balance and respect for the awesome, but ultimately limited resources of the human body and mind. One can imagine a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and a balance between hard honest work, and fair play. Perhaps such a lifestyle is extended to one’s immediate environment where we consume and contribute in equal proportions. Does abundance perhaps tempt us away from such a lifestyle in the same way as the modern world lures the youth from the satoyama?

Photo Credits: Naomi Ibuki and Stephan Munder

Adding Value By Changing Perceptions

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

I was watching a TED talk given by Rory Sutherland last night. In case you don’t know, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and is known for it’s conferences where speakers share “ideas worth spreading”. The lectures given at these conferences are freely available on the internet and I highly recommend watching them.

Rory Sutherland is the vice chairman of the Ogilvy Group. I’ve embedded the talk below. He speaks about how advertising provides value by changing our perception of a product rather than the product itself. His main point is that a change in perceived value can be just as important as a change in real value. I think this is manifest in the food industry where a change in perception often drives up (or lowers as the case may be) the demand for a given product. Think of the change of perception around fast food lately perhaps due to movies like Super Size Me having an impact on how we perceive it – the food itself has not changed.

I also like how Rory makes his point using a couple of food related cases: the adoption of the potato by the Prussians under Fredrick the Great, and Shreddies.

Portion Control

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Japan Airlines DinnerSomewhere over the East China Sea, it occurred to me how perfectly a typical economy class airline meal enforces portion control. Although the quality of the food can be lacking at times, constraints on physical size and cost result in a portion size that could serve as inspiration for meals made at home. It reminds me of the Japanese bento: a simple, balanced, and some would say beautiful meal. Not too little, not too much: the bento is also a model for portion control and efficiency in a meal with a pleasing presentation. The bento (and perhaps the less noble airline meal) is an embodiment of the Japanese concept of hari hachi bu: eat until 80% full.

JAL AdoboFor the record, the meal on Japan Airlines that inspired these observations was actually quite good. It was a curry and rice dish which I thought was fitting to pair with Japanese beer. On the return flight they served an equally good adobo dish with vegetables, apple salad, fresh and dried fruit.

Product Photoshoot

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

We had a rather fun session at Ingredient Hotline a while back. We were getting some photos done of our products. One of our goals was to show clearly what our products actually looked like. While lighting an object brings out details and potentially provides some nice highlights, we wanted a method for uniformly lighting small quantities of our products. So we surrounded the product samples in a white box. It was interesting to see how effective a “white box” (or light box) was for white-background photography. Here’s a collage made from some of the photos:

Ingredient Hotline

Easier Access To Our Blog

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

We’ve made a little change with our blog. Instead of having the blog hosted at a completely separate site,, we’ve integrated access to the blog right into our main “corporate” site,  To access our blog, you can click on the Blog link in our main site’s main menu:

Blog Menu

We’re hoping this makes it a lot easier for everyone to get around our site and enjoy some of the less formal content in our blog.  By the way, any existing links to the original blog url, as well as links to blog posts and anything else on the blog for that matter will still work! We’re also hoping you’ll weigh in on the topics we cover in the blog with your comments. So please enjoy the posts and let us know what you think!

Can Food Education Be Commercial?

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef, gives a passionate talk on the food we eat, and why it’s killing America (and the world). The rise in obesity and diet related diseases is alarming. As a parent, I’m alarmed that my kids may not be getting any real education in food and eating habits outside the home. As a citizen, I’m alarmed at the huge economic cost of obesity related health problems, no doubt in the billions of dollars. As a human, I’m alarmed at the emotional cost of poor eating habits, affecting many if not most of the people we know and love.

Well, Jamie says it doesn’t have to be this way. He argues that food education can be commercial. Check out the inspiring video of his recent talk at TED: