Elevation? Does It Matter?

While residents of most midwestern states usually don’t think about their elevation, elevation affects all aspects of food preparation–cooking, baking, canning, jams and jellies, and candy making. As elevation rises, air pressure falls and water boils at lower temperatures making recipe adjustments necessary.

Pan of boiling water on stovetop
Boiling water at 1014 Ft of elevation

Elevation and Everyday Cooking and Baking

When it comes to everyday cooking and baking, there are few noticeable effects of elevation until one reaches 3,000 feet. Higher elevations present several challenges when preparing some foods. At higher elevations, leavened products using yeast, baking powder/soda, egg whites, or steam rise more rapidly, may collapse, and may not be fully cooked. Because water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations, foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, and it will take longer. High elevation areas are also prone to low humidity, which can cause the moisture in foods to evaporate more quickly during cooking. At elevations above 3,000 feet, preparation of food may require changes in time, temperature or recipe.  For those that find themselves at higher elevations, Colorado State University and New Mexico State University have excellent tips and guidelines for successful baking and cooking.

Elevation and Canning Safety

Because water boils at 212°F at sea level and decreases about 1°F for each 500-ft increase in elevation, adjustments must be made when canning foods at home to ensure home-canned foods are processed safely. The amount of time that jars are held at a certain temperature during canning is important to producing a safe product. Processing times for most recipes are based on elevations of 0-1,000 feet unless stated otherwise. When elevations are above 1,000 feet, extra time is added for food processed in a water-bath canner. For food processed in a pressure canner, extra pressure is added. Both adjustments are needed to get to their respective safe processing temperatures for high acid and low acid foods. 

USDA and National Center For Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) recipes include a table for proper processing based on elevation to insure sufficient time and temperature have been reached for a safe, shelf-stable product. In the table for Crushed Tomatoes from the USDA Compete Guide to Home Canning, 2015 edition, note that time is increased in 5 minute increments as elevation increases for boiling water canning and pounds of pressure is increased for pressure canning. (Crushed tomatoes are one example of a food that can be processed by either boiling-water bath or pressure.)

While time is adjusted for water-bath canning, pressure regulation differs by the type of pressure canning equipment used—dial- or weighted-gauge canner.

Elevation and Sugar Concentrations

Elevation is also a factor in candy making and the gelling of jams and jellies when pectin is not used. At higher altitudes, atmospheric pressure is less so water boils at lower temperatures and evaporates more quickly. Syrups become concentrated and reach the gel point at a lower temperature. The concentration of sugar required to form a gel is in the range of 60 to 65 percent which occurs at 217 and 220 degrees F, respectively, at sea level. As elevation increases, the gelling point decreases by 2 degrees per 1,000 feet. When elevation is not taken into consideration, overcooked jam is the result as too much water has boiled away leaving a sugar concentration that is too high, leaving a jam that is gummy, dark in color or tough. The same is true for candy making. For each 1,000 feet above sea level, reduce the temperature in the recipe by 2 degrees F to prevent overcooking. Colorado State University provides a High Elevation Candy Making (Sugar Solution) Adjustment chart for various kinds of candy mixtures.

Find and Know Your Elevation

Elevation matters in all aspects of food preparation. It is especially important for the safety of home canned products beginning at elevations above 1,000 feet. Before beginning the canning process or making sugar concentrations, find your elevation using one of these sources to insure proper processing of canned products and prevent overcooking of jams and candies:

  1. Visit a web page about your town or city.
  2. Use an online tool such as What is my elevation?
  3. Use a smartphone app such as My Elevation.
  4. Refer to an elevation map for your state showing approximate elevations such as this one by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach from the Preserve the Taste of Summer series.

To learn more about elevation, watch this YouTube video by UNL Extension Food & Fitness.

To learn more about safe water-bath or pressure canning practices, watch these videos produced by South Dakota State University:

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Making Granola Bars a Healthy Treat

Crunchy, chewy, chocolatey, fruity granola bars are an American favorite breakfast staple and snack. In fact, granola bars are so popular they even have their own annual day of celebration in January. Often considered a healthy food (and they can be), the nutrition label may tell otherwise; most are little more than candy bars in disguise loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats, and short on fiber and protein. The satiety value is low—in a short time, hunger sets in again.granola bar

How can you enjoy your favorite snack without leaving you hungry or wanting more? Here are a couple of ideas to up the granola bar game:

  1. Look for a better bar. Check the ingredients and nutrition label. The ingredients are listed by weight, so the foods at the beginning of the list are the most prevalent in the recipe. Specifically, look for bars that include whole grains (oats) rather than enriched refined grains. Also, look for bars high in fiber (3-5 grams) and protein (5 grams), sweetened with fruit, honey, or natural syrups, and including nut butters, nuts, grains, seeds, and fruits to ensure the best nutrition possible. Granola bars are intended to be a snack, not a dessert, so pay specific attention to the amount and kind of added sugars. Lastly, avoid granola bars with hydrogenated oils and those where most of the total fat is saturated fat.
  2. Make or concoct your own. Homemade variations offer the option to choose healthier ingredients, use more whole grains and less sugar, and control the type of fats and add-ins. The cost is usually less than the store-bought versions. There are an abundance of recipes to choose from. Groovy Granola Bars from Oregon State University is an easy recipe to get you started. It is packed with fiber and protein and provides half of your daily value of Omega-3’s. Change it up with other dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and even a few dark chocolate chips.

Granola bars can be a healthy food. Check the ingredient list and nutrition information on the label to ensure they are a good source of fiber and protein, OR find a recipe that provides nutrition rather than just a sweet treat. Making your own granola gives you complete control over the ingredients to create something healthy and personally enjoyable!

Learn more about Buying and Making Healthy Granola Bars from PennState Pro Wellness.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Ingredients Affect How the Cookie Crumbles

Cookies are a favorite treat and especially so during the holidays.  Holiday cookie baking is a tradition for many families and a fun way to honor family heritage.  Whether making sugar cookies for Christmas, rugelach for Hanukkah, or benne/sesame cookies for Kwanzaa, the ingredients play a role in how “the cookie crumbles.”

Plate of cookies

Cookie baking is more chemistry than art and the ingredients used play an important role in the appearance, taste, texture, color, and flatness of the cookie. Here’s a look at the five traditional ingredients—sugar, fat, flour, leavening agents, and binding agents—used in cookie baking and the role they play.

SUGAR
Besides sweetening and tenderizing cookies, the type and amount of sugar plays a role in the flavor, texture, color, and spread of the cookie. Sugars give color to cookies as the sugar granules melt together caramelizing the bottom and edges and gradually spreading over the cookie. Sugar is hygroscopic meaning it attracts and absorbs the liquid in the dough, which slows down the development of gluten, a protein in flour that provides strength and elasticity to dough. 

Granulated white sugar contributes to the thinness, crispiness, and lighter color of a cookie. Being neutral in flavor and color, it allows the flavors or colors of other ingredients to come forward. With a neutral pH, interference with gluten development is less, allowing the dough to spread more before it sets during baking. When creamed with a solid fat, white sugar easily aerates the dough for puffier cookies.

Brown sugar contributes more tenderness, flavor, color, and rise to a cookie along with a denser and moister texture. The flavor, color, and moisture of brown sugar comes from the addition of molasses. Due to the molasses, it is slightly acidic. In the presence of baking soda or baking powder, the acid reacts with the sodium bicarbonate (alkaline) to produce carbon dioxide. Being more hygroscopic and acidic than white sugar, brown sugar is able to absorb more moisture and slow gluten development faster so the dough sets more quickly during baking.

Substituting one sugar for the other will not affect the sweetness, but will change the appearance and texture of the cookie.

FATS
Fat contributes flavor, tenderness, chewiness or crunchiness, and browning to cookies. Fat options include butter, margarine, shortening, or oil. When sugar is creamed into a solid fat, air pockets are created in the dough resulting in puffier cookies. Further, fats can inhibit or enhance gluten development. When solid fat coats gluten strands, gluten is inhibited and yields tenderness. Chewy cookies are the result of water in melted fat binding with gluten to strengthen structure.

Butter, in solid form, traps air during creaming which expands with heat producing a fluffier cookie. For best results, butter should be at room temperature for baking. Some recipes may specify the use of melted butter or browned butter; melted butter incorporates no air, leading to denser, flatter, and chewier cookies. When butter is browned, the water in butter evaporates resulting in a very dense, but flavor-rich cookie. (Butter is at least 80 percent fat and 16-18 percent water.)

Unsalted butter is the standard in baking unless otherwise specified. However, the amount of salt in salted butter is so small that it can be substituted for unsalted butter in most cookie recipes.

Margarine, made from vegetable oils, may contain more water and less fat than butter. It functions similarly to butter and produces a similar texture. However, cookies made with margarine may be thinner and spread more during baking. Depending upon the fat/water ratio, margarine may not be a direct substitute for butter; for best results, recipes specifically tested with margarine should be used.

Vegetable shortening is 100 percent hydrogenated vegetable oil, contains no water, and has a higher melting point than butter. Cookies made with shortening tend to rise higher, hold their shape during baking, and have a soft, fluffy texture. Cookies made with shortening may stay soft longer after baking because shortening returns to a semi-solid after baking.

Vegetable oil is 100 percent liquid fat. Cookies made with vegetable oils are denser and flatter as very little air can be incorporated. A neutral flavored vegetable oil should be used to retain the intended flavor of the cookies. 

FLOUR
Wheat flour contains gluten and provides structure by forming a web of gluten strands to catch air bubbles from creaming liquids and leavening agents. Sugar and fats, as mentioned earlier, help restrict gluten formation for a softer, more tender cookie. Generally, all-purpose flour is the flour of choice for cookie baking.

LEAVENTING (RISING) AGENTS
A leavening agent helps cookies rise while baking; the type used affects the texture and structure of cookies. The leavening agents most commonly used in cookies are either baking soda or baking powder.  While they both create rise during baking, they function very differently.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) requires an acidic ingredient such as vinegar, sour cream/milk, brown sugar, lemon juice, or chocolate to release carbon dioxide and leaven the dough. When baking soda and the acidic ingredient combine, there is a single reaction resulting in a denser cookie. Due to the single reaction, baked goods made with baking soda as the only leavening agent should be mixed quickly and baked immediately to get the most rise.

Baking powder is a chemical agent containing sodium bicarbonate and acids giving cookies more rise and a cakier texture. Baking powder is double acting, meaning it provides leavening first when it gets wet and second when it is heated. Because most of the reaction takes place in the second stage, the dough remains stable and does not have to be baked immediately.

It is quite common for both leavening agents to be used in a recipe, but it is a misconception that the two can be used interchangeably.

BINDING AGENT
Binding agents are the liquids in the recipe that hold the cookie dough together, such as eggs and milk which also add flavor, color, structure, moisture, and nutrition. The proteins in eggs, and to a lesser extent in milk, set with heat contributing to the final shape and texture of the cookie. The emulsified fat of the egg yolks contributes to tenderness while egg white contributes to cookie rise.

TIP
While not an ingredient, chilling the dough for 24 hours is one of the easiest ways to improve flavor and outcome. As the dough rests, the large molecules of flour and sugar breakdown and the fat hardens. As a result, cookies expand more slowly, hold their shape, have a richer butterscotch-like flavor, and brown more evenly. 

Each ingredient plays a key role in the recipe. Understanding their role and the contributions each make to a cookie is important to baking the best cookies ever or adjusting the ingredients to achieve the desired cookie. How Can I Get the Cookie Texture I Want? has suggestions for adjusting key ingredients to change the texture of any cookie recipe. To get a visual idea of how the various ingredients can affect the taste, texture, and appearance of your cookies, visit: The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies.

While ingredients are key players, they do not hold all the magical powers; the mixing process and baking temperature also affect the end result—topics for another time.

__________________________________

Sources:
6 Ingredients that Affect Your Cookies, Home Made Simple.com
How Ingredients Behave in a Cookie Recipe, Instructables. com
The Science of Cookies, Redpath.com
Cookie Ingredients:  The Way the Cookie Crumbles, Land O’Lakes Test Kitchen, LandOLakes.com
Here’s What Room Temperature Butter Really Means, Sally’s Baking Addiction.com
Cookie Science:  The Real Differences Between Brown and White Sugars, Serious Eats. com
How Can I Get the Cookie Texture I Want?, Dartmouth.edu
The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies, Handle the Heat.com
Image Source: Canva.com


 [mg1]

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Welcome Jennie Savits to AnswerLine!

AnswerLine is pleased to welcome Jennie Savits as our newest team member. Jennie joined AnswerLine on June 1 and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team. Further, she is no stranger to Iowa State University or Extension and Outreach.  

Jennie holds BS/MS degrees in Food Science from Iowa State University and completed 11 years with the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University. While with the Institute, Jennie held various roles in the lab and in the field. She worked on extension and outreach activities and research projects to support the local grape and wine industry in Iowa and throughout the Midwest. Jennie also has experience with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University as a lecturer, where she taught food science laboratory courses and oversaw laboratory renovations.

Jennie’s interest in food science stemmed from participation in the 4H and FFA organizations. Growing up in rural Boone County, she was a member of the Harrison Happy Hustlers 4-H club and the Boone A&M FFA Chapter. Jennie enjoyed completing 4H projects in the areas of food and nutrition, horticulture, and livestock. Food science became a key area of interest after she competed on a team that won the inaugural Iowa FFA Food Science Career Development Event (CDE). Their team went on to place 2nd nationally and directed Jennie’s career path toward food science.

Jennie says that she really enjoys the opportunity to help people find answers and solve problems, especially on topics related to food safety and food preservation. Jennie has developed strong relationships within the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach organization and looks forward to helping disseminate research based information to those we serve.

Jennie lives with her husband, Paul, and their 5 children on a farm near Ogden. She enjoys spending time with family, helping out around the farm, and gardening.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Parents Adjust

My husband and I will be welcoming our second child this August. As excited as we are about our newest addition, we also recognize this will shift our family dynamics and be an adjustment for ourselves and our son, Thomas, who will be 21 months when his brother or sister arrives.

Thomas with his Sweeney grandparents.
Thomas with his Sweeney grandparents.

In this blog, I am focusing on things my husband and I plan to do prior to baby arriving to help make the adjustment easier (for strategies on how were preparing Thomas for the adjustment, see my previous blog, Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Older Children Adjust).

We are excited that our family is growing, but also recognize our hands will be quite full with two children under two years old. As we close in on the third trimester, I am embracing Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Now, I realize not every detail will be attended to (and there are going to be things I overlook) but having a general game plan and preparing accordingly will help reduce my stress heading into this transition.

Strategies to Help Parents Adjust:

Thomas with Grandma Wall
Thomas with Grandma Wall.
  • Create a plan for who will watch the other child(ren): while we are at hospital Thomas will be staying with my in-laws. We plan for Thomas to do a test run at Grandma and Grandpa’s house overnight before the baby arrives, so he is familiar with sleeping overnight in a new place. Also consider what your child needs with them and make sure to pack those items. For Thomas, this will include his sound machine and sleep sack.
  • Create a plan for meals ahead of time: caring for a newborn and toddler doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy to prepare meals. There are several different approaches you can take when thinking about advance meal planning. Some may want to organize a Meal Train, where friends, family and neighbors select a date and meal they will be delivering to your home, others may order frozen meals to be delivered. I am planning to set aside a day to prepare several main dish recipes and store them in my freezer for easy meals when the baby arrives.
  • Preparing nursery and other baby-specific areas: this will look different for everyone depending on the set-up of their home. For me, this will include getting the nursery set-up, washing baby clothes and blankets, creating several diaper changing areas throughout the house, and preparing supplies for nursing. I also plan to set up a subscription for diaper delivery as this will be one less thing to worry about once the baby is here.
  • Pack hospital bag: this is always nice to have done as we don’t always know when babies will make their appearance. Along with the hospital bag, I’ll also be washing the material in our infant car seat, reassembling, and setting it next to my hospital bag so it is not forgotten! 
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed: babies bring so much joy to our lives, but they are also a lot of work. Make sure to accept help from your partner, relatives, and friends. After Thomas was born my mom stayed with us for several days when we returned from the hospital. It was so nice to have an extra set of hands and we’re planning to have her stay again once this baby arrives!
  • Make time to care for yourself: After having Thomas, I decided to swim twice a week as preparation for a half-Ironman relay. I really appreciated this time alone to recharge and found I was more patient with both Thomas and my husband after swimming.
  • Remember to make time for each other: children of couples who have a strong and loving relationship are more likely to adjust well to the new baby. After Thomas was a few months old and we felt comfortable leaving him for a stretch of several hours, we have tried to do a date night (or afternoon) once a month, just the two of us. It isn’t always fancy (sometimes it involves running errands), but it is nice to have that time to reconnect.

Welcoming a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) baby into the family is a big transition for parents but planning and preparing ahead of time can make the transition easier for all involved. With a little preparation beforehand, we are eager to bond as a family.

Sources:

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

More Posts

It’s Morel Mushroom Time! -‘Shrooming in the Woods or Supermarket

common morel fungus growing in the forest

As spring creeps in, mushroom enthusiasts are just itching to get out into the woods and search for the highly prized morel mushroom. This elusive mushroom is prized for its tastiness and can only be wild-crafted as no one has yet figured out how to grow and farm them.

Besides being prized for their taste, morels are loaded with various nutrients. Because they tend to grow in rich soils, they come packed with vitamins and minerals such as iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin D, folate, niacin, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, calcium selenium, thiamin, vitamin E, and vitamin B6. However, their nutrient value varies with the soil where the moral grows. Morals are also loaded with antioxidants, help to balance blood sugar and provide protein and fiber. Morals should be eaten within four days of harvest and best within 1-2 days. Due to their sponge-like texture, morels tend to trap dirt, grit, and insects in their gills, so cleaning requires a bit more attention than merely brushing. Illinois Extension says that mushrooms should be soaked in lukewarm salted water for 30 minutes, changing the water a few times. Avoid oversoaking, as it can dilute their flavor. Rinse the mushrooms well and pat dry. Morals can be used in any way that farmed mushrooms would be used. For tips on preparing morals, check out How to Cook Morel Mushrooms–If You’re Lucky Enough to Find Some.

While the wild morel mushroom is highly prized, its’ farmed mushroom cousins—white, shitake, cremini, oyster, maitake–are equally as nutritious and offer delicious and unique flavors. They are also readily available at the supermarket. Even though there are more than 2,000 varieties of edible mushrooms worldwide, most people cook with only one or two. Here is a summary of those most commonly found on produce shelves:

white button

White Button
Most common mushroom.
Mild flavor, very versatile. Protein-rich.

Cremini/Portobello

Cremini/Portobello
Baby bella = Cremini; larger, mature form = Portobello.
Makes dark sauces and is great for grilling.

shitake mushroom

Shitake
Deep woodsy flavor, especially if dried and rehydrated.
Calcium-rich.

Oyster

Oyster
Delicate, mild flavor.
Stays firm when cooked; excellent for stir-fry.
Iron and antioxidant-rich.

Maitake

Maitake
Also known as hen-of-the-woods.
Earthy flavor.
Excellent for stirfry. Antioxidant-rich.

The enemy of any mushroom is moisture in its packaging. Fresh morels will keep about a week in the refrigerator, provided they were harvested in good condition. Place them in paper bags and store them in the refrigerator with plenty of air circulating around them. Drying is an excellent storage option, too. A paper bag is also a good way to store purchased mushrooms; this allows them to breathe. Moisture build-up inside the packaging is the fastest way mushrooms break down.

Mushrooms need to be cleaned before use. The best way to clean most fresh mushrooms is to wipe them with a clean, barely damp cloth or paper towel. Washing mushrooms is usually not necessary. If you must rinse them, do it lightly and dry them immediately, gently, with paper towels. Never soak fresh mushrooms in water, which will cause them to become soggy. 

Cleaned mushrooms can be wrapped loosely in damp paper towels or a damp clean cotton cloth, placed in a container, and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days; the mushrooms may darken if stored this way.

Mushroom nutrition can be enhanced by placing them in the sun for 30 minutes before use. Since most mushrooms are grown in the dark, they need sunlight to increase their vitamin D content. Exposure to sunlight significantly improves vitamin D. Vitamin D is maximized if the mushrooms are chopped before exposure. Some packaged mushrooms are marketed as vitamin D enhanced.

Dried mushrooms may be an option for those who do not care for fresh mushrooms. Dried or powdered mushrooms pack the same nutritional punch as fresh mushrooms. To add nutrition, the mushroom powder can be included in sauces, homemade bread, casseroles, soups, etc. Several mushroom powder “enhanced” products and foods are now on supermarket shelves.

So whether it is the wild morel mushroom or farmed, store-bought mushrooms, mushrooms are an excellent food for both flavor and nutrition. Take good care of them to maximize both their flavor and nutrition.

Sources: 

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Artichokes

It’s artichoke season! Spring artichokes are now available and at their prime! Upon first glance, an artichoke looks intimidating. Artichokes are an ancient food from the plant known as Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus which is a kind of thistle. The part that we see in our stores and eat is actually the flower bud of the plant, also called the head, which has become a highly regarded vegetable. It’s quite intriguing to wonder how ancient man figured out how to eat and enjoy such a thorny-looking thing.

artichokes
Artichokes at the market. Photo Source: M Geiger

Artichokes are best enjoyed at two different times of the year, spring and fall. The spring season runs from March to May, and the fall season is September and October. 99 percent of our artichokes are grown in California, with Monterey County being the lead producer and the town of Castroville being the “Artichoke Center of the World!” Artichokes are also grown commercially in Oregon and Washington. They thrive best in Zones 7-11; however, they can be grown in colder regions, like Iowa, as an annual vegetable.

Artichokes are fiber-rich, low in calories, and come packed with nutrition. Per the Nutrition Value website, one medium-sized artichoke cooked without salt (120g) provides 64 calories, 3.5g of protein, 14.4g of carbohydrates, and 0.4g of fat. In addition, artichokes are an excellent source of vitamin C and K, potassium, and antioxidants. (For additional nutrition information, see profile at Nutrition Value.) Artichokes contain the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable (polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, among others) and are loaded with an army of beneficial nutrients that can protect the body from cancer per the National Foundation for Cancer Research. While a fresh artichoke provides the best nutrition, artichokes are available in other convenient preparations—frozen, canned, and marinated heart.

While nearly all parts of the artichoke are edible, they are prized for their ‘heart,’ which is found at the base of the stem. The parts of the artichoke which are usually inedible include the choke, outer petals, and thorns. The choke, located right above the heart, is stringy and indigestible. The lower part of the petals, which contain part of the heart, are edible by drawing the lower petal through the teeth with the rest of the petal discarded. The thorns are usually snipped off. 

When purchasing artichokes, choose those that have a tight leaf formation, a deep green color, and are heavy for their size. In general, the smaller the artichoke, the more tender it will be, and the rounder it is, the larger its heart. Artichokes are best used on the day of purchase but can be stored unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Wash just before cooking.

Artichokes can be prepared by steaming, stuffing, baking, braising, or grilling. Steaming is the most common means of preparation. They are done when the bottom of the stem can be pierced with a knife. Whatever method is used, stainless steel, glass, or enamelware should be used to prevent discoloration and off-flavors. Lemon juice should be used on cut edges to prevent discoloration. 

Dani Spies of Clean and Delicious® has an excellent video, Artichoke 101, where she shares how to buy, store, prepare, cook, and eat artichokes. Check this video out, and artichoke intimidation will be over!


Co-author, Marcia Steed, AnswerLine Specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.


Sources (Accessed 3 March 2023)

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

What About Date Sugar as a Sweetener?

With concerns of the high consumption of sugars or need to eliminate sugar from their diet, consumers are seeking alternatives to sugars, high-fructose syrups, processed and artificial sweeteners.  While there are a variety of alternatives, perhaps it is time to rediscover an ancient fruit, the mighty DATE, as a sweetener.  Besides being a highly sweet fruit, dates provide numerous health benefits, are readily available, available in many forms, versatile, and easily incorporated into recipes as an alternative for granulated sugar or enjoyed on their own or added to food.

Date clusters atop a date palm. Photo source: Canva.com

Dates are an ancient stone fruit with beginnings in the Middle East dating back to BC days.  Dates grow on trees known as date palms (Phoenix Dactylifera) in clusters like bunches of grapes.  The big difference is that the date clusters are some 50-85 feet above the ground and require considerable labor to produce and harvest.  An article by Food and Nutrition gives a brief description of date production and harvest.  While dates continue to be a major crop in the Middle East, they are grown in other regions around the world where conditions are right for them.  In the US, dates are grown in California, Arizona, and Florida with the largest production in California’s Coachella Valley, northeast of San Diego.  Here, 95 percent of US dates are grown due to ideal conditions:  high temperatures, low humidity, and an abundant supply of underground water for their love of wet feet.

There are hundreds of date varieties grown around the world.  Twelve varieties are found in the US with the two most common being the Medjool and Deglet Noor varieties.  Dates are classified as soft, semidry, or dry. Dates have a sweet, caramel-honey like flavor.  Fresh picked, they are sweet and succulent becoming sweeter and chewier as they dry.  Each variety has its own flavor profile.

Dates are packed with minerals, vitamins and dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble).  One date (8g) provides 23 calories, 0.2g of protein, 6g of carbohydrates, and 0g of fat. Dates are a rich source of potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, B Vitamins, Vitamin K and zinc. In addition, dates provide a high amount of antioxidants in the form of polyphenols, flavonoids, and carotenoids. Despite their sweetness, dates are considered a low glycemic food and do not spike blood sugar levels.  All of this ‘goodness’ makes them effective at relieving constipation, lowering the risk of chronic disease, lowering LDL cholesterol, improving brain function, boosting bone health, and improving our immune system along with other benefits still being studied. 

Dates are an excellent sugar substitute.   In addition to naturally sweetening food, one gets the added benefits of natural fiber and dense nutrients.  Beyond the whole fruit itself, dates come in other forms or products:  date molasses, syrup, vinegar, sugar (crystals and powder) and paste.  University of Wyoming Extension suggests using these products in the following ways: “Date molasses or syrup tastes like molasses but with a less bitter edge. Use it as a liquid sweetener. Date vinegar, fermented from dates, is dark and fruity and an excellent substitute for balsamic vinegar. Date sugar, date powder, and date crystals are dehydrated ground dates. Use them in baking to replace white or brown sugar. Date paste is a smooth puree of pitted dates. It can replace butter, sugar, or eggs, depending on how it is used.”

Despite its name, date sugar is not really sugar. Date sugar is simply ground dried dates containing all the fruit’s nutrients — vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber—resulting in a product that is granular but somewhat fibrous.  However, the intensely sweet granules do look a lot like brown sugar made from sugar cane or beet.  It can be used to replace white or brown sugar 1:1 in many recipes for baked good but some experimentation may be necessary to adjust for sweetness or flavor.  Date sugar granules can also be used to sprinkle on cereal, fruit, yogurt, etc., but may not be desirable for liquid beverages as it does not dissolve well; date sugar powder is a better choice for these uses.

Since date sugar is different from sugars made from sugar cane or beet, it is no surprise that it creates a product slightly different than something made with sugar in baking and cooking. There are numerous websites that share tips and recipes for using date sugar in cooking and baking including how to make your own date sugar and paste. It may be necessary to increase liquid or decrease dry ingredients as date sugar is hydroscopic and absorbs moisture.  Date sugar burns easily so lower temperatures may also be needed.  For more specific tips and recipes, visit the PurDate website. Date sugar should not be used for canning. Presently, there are no tested, safe recipes for using date sugar in canning fruit or jams/jellies.  

Date sugar should be stored in an airtight container.  Being naturally hygroscopic, date sugar readily absorbs moisture and tends to clump together and may even form a solid brick. For this reason, some manufacturers mix other ingredients with the ground dates to prevent clumping.  Bob’s Red Mill uses a small amount of oat flour.  If date sugar does harden, Bob’s Red Mill suggests placing the date sugar in the microwave for a few seconds until it begins to soften.  Because date sugar is dried fruit, watch it for spoilage as it does not have an indefinite shelf life like sugar.

In summary, date sugar is a nutrient-dense sweetener containing beneficial fiber, minerals and antioxidants making it one of the healthiest sweeteners or sugar substitutes on the market.  It is not a highly processed, empty calorie food so it may be perfect for those who are diabetic or are trying to reduce refined sugar intake, add healthy nutrients to their recipes, or eat more natural foods. However, date sugar packs a significant punch of simple carbohydrates and calories, so use it with caution as you would with sugar or other sweeteners.

_________________________________________________
Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer. 

Sources:

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Time for Spring-Dug Parsnips

As the days get warmer and the ground thaws, it is time to dig spring-dug parsnips. Characterized by some as ‘the cream of the crop’, spring parsnips come from seeds sown in the spring of the previous year, grown during the summer, allowed to die back in the fall and freeze in the ground over the winter.

Parsnips.

Parsnips can also be dug in the fall after a frost or two, but those left over the winter are sweeter and more flavorful. The extreme cold converts the starches into sugar and allows the flavor to mellow.  The timing is critical for spring-dug parsnips; they need to be dug as soon as you can get into the ground with a shovel or fork and just as their tops start to show new growth.  If they are left in the ground too long in the spring and the tops start to grow out, they become woody. 

Never had parsnips?  Some mistakenly refer to them as white carrots, but while they may be related to carrots distantly, they are actually part of the parsley family.  They are a cream-colored, gnarled, carrot-shaped root vegetable.  They can be eaten raw but are best prepared by roasting, frying, grilling or steaming to bring out their distinct succulent flavor and nutty sweetness.  They have a tan peel that is typically removed before use; peeling also removes their gnarly surface.  The flesh is cream-white.  They are a very versatile vegetable with recipes ranging from roasted side dishes, soups and stews, mashed, turned into fries, and even made into wine.  They pair well with other root vegetables, too.  Like potatoes or an apple, parsnips oxidize when exposed to air after their peelings are removed. If not prepared right away, cut parsnips should be placed in water to reduce the effect.

Being white in color, one would tend to believe that they offer little nutrition.  Quite the opposite is true.  According to the USDA, a half-cup serving of parsnips are high in heart-healthy fiber providing 3 grams of fiber and only 55 calories. They are a low-fat food yet a good source of numerous vitamins (especially C and K), minerals (especially folate and manganese), and antioxidants.  (Note that the level of vitamin C is somewhat reduced with the cooking.)

Besides the home garden, parsnips are available at the supermarket and likely can also be found at the late fall and spring farmer’s markets. Spring is the best time to give them a try if you are new to parsnips.  If you are lucky enough to find this once-a-year spring treasure, choose fleshy, fresh, firm, medium-sized and even surfaced roots.  Avoid woody, over-matured, long, thin, and tail-like roots as they are off-flavored and have tough fiber.  Also avoid soft, pitted, shriveled, knobby, or damaged roots. 

Fresh parsnips should be stored in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator where they should last three to four weeks. Use cooked, refrigerated parsnips within three days.  Parsnips can also be frozen for later use by cutting into 1/2-inch cubes, water blanching for 2 minutes, cooling promptly in cold water, draining, and packing and sealing into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Fully cooked parsnip puree may also be frozen for up to 10 months for best quality.  Drying is another method for preserving parsnips as well.

For more information on parsnips, check out Growing Carrots and Parsnips in Home Gardens by the University of Minnesota Extension.

Sources:

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Let’s Go Maple Syruping!

When you think of Iowa, maple syrup probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, maple syrup is one of the state’s oldest agricultural crops dating back to pioneer times.  Native Americans were the first to tap Iowa’s maple trees followed by early pioneers who also tapped maple trees for their annual supply of sweetener. 

Today, Iowa has a small number of commercial producers mostly located in the northeastern part of the state and several small commercial or home-use only producers scattered across the state. According to the USDA 2017 Agricultural Census, Iowa reported 53 farms with 13,808 taps. Producers use a variety of methods to collect and boil sap into syrup.  However, the methods are much the same today as used by our ancestors.  Small holes are drilled into the tree trunks (taps), sap drips into buckets or tubes below, and evaporators boil the clear sap into delicious maple syrup.  The color of maple syrup varies depending upon when it was tapped.  Late winter tapings yield a light brown syrup with color deepening as spring advances.  Color is not an indicator of quality; maple syrup is graded by color with color affecting flavor.  Grade A syrup is a light amber color, while Grade B is darker and thicker. Grade A is mild in flavor with Grade B syrups having a deeper, more robust maple flavor. 

On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  A tree will produce 10-20 gallons of sap per tap on the average.  A tree may have more than one tap depending upon its size/circumference.

While maple syrup is a sweetener, the nutritional benefits of maple syrup are numerous.  One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories along with the following vitamins and minerals:

  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 2 milligrams of phosphorous
  • 0.2 milligrams of iron
  • 2 milligrams of sodium
  • 5 milligrams of potassium

Maple syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio. When used in baking, decrease the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution.  If no liquid is called for in the recipe, add about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup.

Iowa’s maple syrup season generally begins in late February or early March and runs 4 to 6 as six weeks. Warm daytime temperatures and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow; the season ends when the trees begin to bud. If you are looking for some early-spring family fun, a number of groups have planned events and demonstrations across the state to allow nature lovers of all ages to take part in this unique agricultural activity. Below is a listing of a few.  Registration and fees may be required and pancakes and maple syrup might be included with some events.

Botna Bend Park, Hancock, TBA

Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, TBA

Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, TBA

Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 23-24, 2024

Events are also planned in Minnesota.  For a complete listing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Resources:

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

AnswerLine

Connect with us!

AnswerLine's Facebook page AnswerLine's Pinterest page
Email: answer@iastate.edu
Phone: (Monday-Friday, 9 am-noon; 1-4 pm)
1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)

Archives

Categories