Monk Fruit Sweeteners – Q&A

Monk fruit sweetener is currently trending as a popular consumer choice as an alternative to sugar.  Accordingly to market analysis by Data Bridge, the monk fruit sweetener market is expected to witness market growth at a rate of 5.40% in the forecast period of 2021 to 2028 and is expected to reach USD of 0.30 billion by 2028. The market is driven largely by health conscious consumers’ demand for a naturally derived sweetener, diabetic patients, and the awareness of negative health effects of sugar: obesity and diabetes. The added functional properties—anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic—are also driving the growing popularity of monk fruit sweeteners [1].

Monk fruit- whole, halved, and extracted powder. Source: Canva.com

What is Monk Fruit Sweetener?

Monk fruit sweetener is derived from monk fruit, a small, green melon, actually a gourd, known as luo hang gu; it is native to southern China. Growing as a vine, monk fruit is an ancient fruit thought to have been cultivated by monks as early as the 13th century in the misty mountains of Guilin and used as a medicinal herb in traditional Chinese medicine. The fruit itself is unpleasant to eat. Instead, it is dried and used to make extract, granulated sweetener, powdered sweetener, and syrup [2].  Monk fruit is marketed under a variety of labels ranging from pure sweetener to added ingredients such as erythritol which may cause digestive issues for sensitive individuals.

The sweetness of monk fruit does not come from glucose or fructose; rather it is from mogrosides, an antioxidant extract of the fruit. Containing zero calories, zero carbs, and paleo-safe, monk fruit sweeteners are approximately 100-250 times sweeter than traditional table sugar. Monk fruit sweetener is less sweet than stevia which is approximately 300 times sweeter than table sugar [3].  When added to foods and beverages, a little goes a long ways.

Are Monk Fruit Sweeteners Safe?

Monk fruit was “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA in 2010 for use in food and beverages.  While no human studies have been done, monk fruit is said to be safe for diabetics, children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women [4]. Monk fruit sweeteners have not been studied for weight-loss.

What are the Benefits or Drawbacks of Monk Fruit Sweetener?

In addition to the aforementioned benefits, monk fruit is said to be more palatable as it does not have the aftertaste that many users detect in other sweeteners.  Further, it does not raise blood glucose levels or have side effects like gas or bloating that are often associated with some sweeteners.

Monk fruit sweetener is pricey due to the expense of processing and importing from China.  The price, however, may be offset by the fact that only a small amount is used.  For example, only a pinch of pure monk fruit sweetener may be needed for sweetening beverages and smoothies and if used for baking, 1-2 teaspoons may be equivalent to 1 cup of sugar.  While it is not readily available at many supermarkets, it can be ordered from various websites. Some consumers have noted that it does not dissolve easily and they do detect a slight aftertaste.  The sweetener tends to become sticky when exposed to air so storing in an airtight container avoids this problem.

How is Monk Fruit Sweetener Used in Cooking, Baking, and Preserving?

Monk fruit sweeteners should not be substituted 1:1 for sugar unless the manufacturer indicates so. Some monk fruit sweeteners are made with a mix of sugar alternatives and/or fillers, so be sure to read the label.  Recipes and tips for cooking and baking can be found on the website of some of the monk fruit sweetener labels.  Available as a granular, powder, and syrup, each type works best in different applications.  Stable at high temperatures, the sweetener does not burn or give a sour taste when used for baking and cooking.

Baked products made with a sugar substitute may have different characteristics than those made with sugar.  Using a sugar substitute may affect the texture, color, volume, structure, flavor, and keeping qualities. Sugar, like every ingredient, serves a purpose in baked goods beyond adding sweetness and flavor. Sugar contributes to moistness by binding water, provides structure and leavening, aids in browning and crispness via the maillard reaction, and acts as a preservative by slowing bacterial growth.  While some functions and characteristics can be replaced by sugar substitutes, others are unique to sugar. 

When used for baking, pure monk fruit sweetener may be less desirable as it does not have the bulk that sugar provides to a recipe. When mixed with erythritol, baking is more successful as erythritol adds bulk to the recipe resulting in a product that looks and tastes more like a product made with sugar.

Monk fruit sweetener should not be used for canning.  To date, there has been no testing with monk fruit sweeteners to determine their effects on pH in home canned foods [5]. Utah State Extension [6] offers this explanation:  “The sweetness of monk fruit does not come from the traditional fructose sugar molecule in the fruit. The monk fruit sweetener chemicals are extracted from the monk fruit and then blended with something to bulk it up. Each product might be different regarding pH and what is called the pH buffering capacity.” For this reason, canning with monk fruit sweeteners is currently not recommended.

Freezer jams and jellies can be successfully made with monk fruit sweeteners along with a freezer pectin.  Monk fruit can also be added to fruits prior to freezing.

Monk fruit sweetener is a safe alternative to sugar and one way to reduce consumption of added sugars and/or manage caloric intake.  It is important to do your research and know what you are buying for your intend use.  Be sure to read the label and use the product correctly.

Sources:

1Global Monk Fruit Sweetener-Industry Trends and Forecast to 2028. (March 2021).  Data Bridge Market Research. https://www.databridgemarketresearch.com/reports/global-monk-fruit-sweetener-market

2Smith. Kat. What is Monk Fruit, And How To Cook With It.  Live Kindly. https://www.livekindly.com/what-is-monk-fruit-how-to-cook-with-it/

3Anderson, Elisabeth. (21 October 2021). Sweeteners – Stevia and Monk Fruit.  Michigan State University. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/sweetener-stevia-monk-fruit-sweeteners

4Food Insight. (27 October 2021). Everything You Need to Know About Monk Fruit Sweeteners. https://foodinsight.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-monk-fruit-sweeteners/

5UCCE Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County. (June 2022) Monk Fruit Sweetener. https://ucanr.edu/sites/mfp_of_cs/files/368658.pdf

6Utah State University Extension. (24 August 2021).  Facebook.  Monk fruit pH for canning. https://www.facebook.com/page/62906617837/search/?q=monk%20fruit

Food Insight. (20 April 2021).  Everything You Need to Know About Stevia Sweetener. https://foodinsight.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-stevia-sweeteners/

Monk Fruit. Specialty Produce. https://specialtyproduce.com/produce/Monk_fruit_8824.php

Science of Cooking. What is the Mallard Reaction? https://www.scienceofcooking.com/maillard_reaction.htm

Solid. Ken. (30 January 2019). What is Erythritol? Food Insight. https://foodinsight.org/what-is-erythritol/

US Food and Drug Administration.  Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in the United Stateshttps://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/additional-information-about-high-intensity-sweeteners-permitted-use-food-united-states

US Food and Drug Administration. Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). https://www.fda.gov/food/food-ingredients-packaging/generally-recognized-safe-gras

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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. 

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.

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Royal Icing Made Safe

Cookie decorating is one of the most beloved holiday traditions.  Royal Icing is the traditional icing used for glazing cookies, piping decorations, or assembling the walls of gingerbread houses. It dries and hardens quickly and is easy for nearly anyone to achieve decorating success! Made traditionally from egg whites and powdered (confectioners’) sugar, it is an easy icing to prepare. However, if raw egg whites are used, the icing may be a health risk.

It is a well-known fact that eggs may contain the bacteria, Salmonella Enteritidis (SE), that can cause foodborne illness. Researchers say that if present, the SE is usually found in the yolk, but the possibility of SE in egg whites cannot be ruled out. To eliminate risk and be certain of a safe frosting, raw egg whites should be replaced with lightly cooked egg whites, meringue powder or dried egg whites, or pasteurized egg whites when making Royal Icing.

Lightly Cooked Egg Whites. Use the following method provided by South Dakota State University which can be used for Royal Icing and other frosting recipes calling for raw egg whites. In a heavy saucepan, the top of a double boiler, or a metal bowl placed over water in a saucepan, stir together the egg whites and sugar from the recipe (at least 2 tablespoons sugar per white), water (1 teaspoon per white) and cream of tartar (1/8 teaspoon per each 2 whites). Cook over low heat or simmering water, beating constantly with a portable mixer at low speed, until the whites reach 160° F. Pour into a large bowl. Beat on high speed until the whites stand in soft peaks. Proceed with the recipe. Note that you must use sugar to keep the whites from coagulating too rapidly. Test with a thermometer as there is no visual clue to doneness. If you use an unlined aluminum saucepan, eliminate the cream of tartar or the two will react and create an unattractive gray meringue.

Meringue Powder or Dried Egg Whites. Meringue powder is available in specialty stores wherever cake decorating supplies are sold. Meringue powder is composed of cornstarch, dried egg whites, sugar, citric acid and some stabilizers. It’s perfect for making royal icing. Follow the instructions on the package to rehydrate and use. Dried egg whites are just that, 100 percent powdered egg white; they require no refrigeration. Dried whites are pasteurized by heating to the required safe temperature. Like meringue poweder, the egg white powder can be reconstituted by mixing with water. The reconstituted powder whips like fresh egg white and, because it is pasteurized, can be used safely without cooking or baking.

Pasteurized Egg Whites. Pasteurized egg whites are of two types—pasteurized in-shell eggs or liquid pasteurized egg whites. Pasteurized in-shell eggs are available at some grocery stores. Shells of such eggs are stamped with a red or blue “P” in a circle. Whites of pasteurized shell eggs may appear slightly cloudy compared to fresh eggs. Liquid pasteurized egg whites are found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store in a milk-like carton usually near the regular eggs. According to the FDA, both of these products are safe to consume raw. Use these two products like raw whites in the recipe.

Keep unused icing covered at all times with a damp cloth or tightly wrapped to prevent drying and caking. For longer keeping time, store in the refrigerator for up to three days or freezer for up to three months. In addition to preventing food borne illnesses, refrigeration seems to help with separating. (If separation occurs–yellowish liquid on the bottom—just remix.).

Make sure that your holiday cookies or gingerbread houses bring nothing but joy! Avoid raw egg whites when making your decorating frosting.

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.

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Homemade Eggnog Made Safe

Eggnog and holidays seem to go hand in hand.  While prepared eggnog is readily available at the supermarket, there is nothing like homemade eggnog.  Since eggs are a main ingredient of homemade eggnog, homemade eggnog has the potential to spoil holiday fun and cause Salmonella poisoning from the use of raw or undercooked eggs.  Salmonella bacteria is a potential risk even when refrigerated eggs with clean, uncracked shells are used.

How to convert a special family eggnog recipe into a safe recipe

Use a cooked egg base.  FoodSafety.gov  recommends a cooked egg base for eggnog. This is especially important if you are serving people at high risk for foodborne infections: young children and pregnant women (non-alcoholic eggnog), older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.  Eggs must be cooked to 160 °F to kill bacteria that may be present such as Salmonella.   A cooked egg base or custard is made by heating half of the the milk and/or cream to almost boiling and ever so slowly adding the beaten egg yolks (or sometimes the whole egg) and sugar (or any sugar substitute).  Continue to cook and stir the mixture gently until an internal temperature of 160 °F is reached.  At this temperature, the mixture will firmly coat a metal spoon and remain separated when a finger is drawn through it. Do not let the mixture go beyond 160 °F as above that temperature, the eggs are likely to curdle.  (If curdling occurs, put the mixture in a blend and blend until smooth.)   Place the mixture in a bowl of  ice water to stop the cooking action and prevent curdling or further curdling and then refrigerate.

Use pasteurized eggs yolks. Eggnog may be safely by using whole, liquid or pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes in place of raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are found next to regular eggs at the store.  Commercial pasteurization of eggs is a heat process at low temperatures that destroys any Salmonella that might be present without having a noticeable effect on flavor or nutritional content. Even if you are using pasteurized eggs for your eggnog, both the FDA and the USDA recommend starting with a cooked egg base for optimal safety.  When egg substitute products are used, some experimentation might be needed to figure out the right amount to add for the best flavor.

Use alcohol to inhibit bacterial growth.  While alcohol will inhibit bacterial growth, adding alcohol (in amounts recommended by most recipes) will not be sufficient to kill bacteria.  However, if one wants to use alcohol, Cooks Illustrated suggests that 1 1/2 ounces of 80 proof liquor per egg and three weeks of aging in the refrigerator is sufficient to kill bacteria when dairy is omitted until ready to serve. Such was conclusively proven by microbiologists at Rockefeller University where salmonella bacteria was purposely added  to eggnog and analyzed over a three-week period. By the three-week mark, the alcohol had rendered the eggnog completely sterile.

Substitute egg whites.  If a recipe calls for adding beaten egg whites to the hot egg/milk custard, use pasteurized egg whites.  While pasteurized egg whites do not whip to the same volume as raw egg, they are safe.  It has not been proven that raw egg whites are free of Salmonella bacteria; NOR has it been shown that when adding them to the hot milk/egg custard, the custard remains hot enough to kill any bacteria.  Another good substitute is whipping cream whipped to soft peaks added at the time of serving.

Here’s to a safe and worry-free holiday!  Follow these suggestions for your favorite eggnog recipe to ensure everyone can enjoy delicious, creamy homemade eggnog without worry of a foodborne illness.

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.

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Storing Pumpkin and Pecan Pie – Refrigerate or Not?

Whether it’s homemade or store-bought pumpkin or pecan pie, learn if you need to store these pies in the fridge.

The USDA advises that all “egg rich pies” refrigerated after baking and cooling unless it will be served it within two hours of baking.* Pumpkin and pecan pies fall in this category along with custard and meringue pies.  So the short answer is YES—with one exception. 

ALL homemade and bakery pumpkin and pecan pies made with fresh ingredients should be refrigerated.  The reason is that bacteria will grow rapidly when the homemade pie is kept at temperatures between 40° F and 140° F. To prevent foodborne illness, these pies should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

The exception is store-bought pies displayed and sold unrefrigerated; these commercially produced pies have shelf-stable ingredients and anti-microbial preservatives added to make them shelf-stable and typically do not need to be refrigerated until cut. Pies of this type have a sell-by date which indicates how long the pie will remain safe to eat stored at room temperature. In general, store-bought pies are safe 2-4 days after the sell-by date if they are refrigerated; it is never wrong to store these pies in the refrigerator once they are brought home. Leftover pieces of these pies should be stored in the refrigerator and used within 2-4 days of the sell-by date. 

If you are unsure of proper storage for a purchased pie, be sure to ask or check the label for storage instructions to make sure it is safe.

Storing Egg-Rich Pies – Cool, Chill, Wrap

Homemade egg-rich pies should be completely cooled after baking before covering and refrigerating to prevent condensation occurring under the wrapping.  Condensation will lead to a soggy crust and perfect conditions for bacteria to breed. A good way to prevent either is to cool the pie completely, place in the refrigerator uncovered until chilled, and then loosely wrap in plastic or place in a pie cover. (Pies that are not completely cooled in two hours may be placed unwrapped in the refrigerator to continue cooling before wrapping.) The same procedure is true for bakery pies made with fresh ingredients; they may be stored in the box or container used by the bakery.

An unrefrigerated store-bought pie, can be stored on the counter per the sell-by date or placed in the refrigerator as soon as you bring it home. You can keep it in the box or container that it was purchased in.

If the pie won’t be served within the safe period (2-4 days), you can easily freeze pumpkin and pecan pie so that it lasts longer. Pie can be frozen whole, half, or in slices.  Properly stored, the pie will maintain at best quality for about 1 to 2 months, but will remain safe beyond that time if kept constantly frozen at 0°F.

The best way to tell if a pie is bad or spoiled is to inspect it visually and by smell.  Discard if there is an off smell or appearance such as mold.

Serving Egg-Rich Pies

According to the FDA, homemade or bakery pumpkin and pecan pie can be left at room temperature for two hours, after which it is in danger of growing harmful bacteria.  This is plenty of time for serving either plated on from a buffet.  If the pie needs to be held longer than two hours, place it on ice to keep it chilled.

While refrigerating pecan and pumpkin pie is important for food safety, it has an added benefit of getting a perfect slice. Remove the pie from the refrigerator a few minutes before serving to let the filling soften a bit; then slice with a sharp serrated knife (drawing for pumpkin, sawing for pecan) for that perfect slice.

Plan your holiday baking or shoping carefully. Keeping egg-rich pies at room temperature could leave it at risk for foodborne illness or spoiling too soon.

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*Does Pecan Pie Have to Be Refrigerated?  StillTasty.com. https://www.stilltasty.com/questions/index/163
*Does Pumpkin Pie Have to Be Refrigerated?  StillTasty.com.  https://www.stilltasty.com/questions/index/164

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.

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Stuffing or Dressing? To Stuff or Not? Which is IT?

Whether you choose to stuff or fill the bird or prepare stuffing outside of the turkey, each preparation is a personal preference or family tradition made with a combination of bread, vegetables, herbs, spices and perhaps a protein, dried fruits, and nuts. The difference between stuffing and dressing depends on how it’s prepared and regional or family traditions. Stuffing refers to filling the cavity, while dressing is a name for stuffing that is cooked separately from poultry, meat, or vegetables and served alongside it, rather than inside it. Which is it in your house?

With Thanksgiving Day just around the corner, November 21 is appropriately designated National Stuffing Day since we are already thinking about the stuffing, filling, or dressing to accompany the Thanksgiving turkey.  However, National Stuffing Day could also be in recognition of stuffing used in pockets of other cuts of meat, fish or vegetables that make excellent vessels for stuffing.

To stuff or not to stuff is the most often asked Thanksgiving turkey question?  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking the stuffing outside (external) of the bird for optimal safety; therefore, making it a dressing served on the side.  The safety concerns have to do with salmonella and other bacteria, which can come from eggs in the stuffing or from the interior surface of the turkey’s cavity. If the bird is removed from the oven before the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, some bacteria could remain alive and make diners sick. 

There are pros and cons to both cooking styles.

In-Bird Stuffing. The primary advantages to an in-bird stuffing are that it is moist, sticky, and has all the flavors of the bird.  To be safe, it must reach an internal temperature of 165ºF, which means the bird is likely to cook longer or to an even higher temperature resulting in a potentially dry bird.  Stuffing cannot be prepared ahead; it must be prepared just before spooning the hot stuffing mixture into the cavity and placed in the oven.  The amount of stuffing in a cavity is limited to 1/2 to 1 cup of prepared stuffing per pound of raw poultry. Aromatics such as celery, onions, apples, oranges, etc must be placed on or around the bird.

Outside the Bird (Dressing).  When the stuffing is cooked outside the turkey, it may be prepared ahead (refrigerated or frozen).  The temperature of the dressing and the turkey can be measured more reliably. The cavity can be filled loosely with aromatics which steam and infuse heighten flavor and some moisture into the turkey. The turkey will also cook faster.  Dressing is the only option for turkeys that are prepared by frying, smoking, grilling or spatchcocking.  Dressing is often criticized as being dry or not-as-moist as stuffing.  This can be remedied with turkey or chicken broth/stock drizzled over the dressing before baking. Dressing can also be prepared in a slow cooker which frees up the oven for the turkey or other foods and tends to be moister and more stuffing like. (NOTE: Never place frozen stuffing or other frozen food in a slow cooker.)  Another benefit of cooking the dressing separately is that larger quantities of it can be made.  And it is also an option to let the dressing become a bit crispy as it is an excellent complement to the savory and juicy turkey and creamy mashed potatoes.

For complete how-to for safely preparing and cooking stuffing or dressing, check out the USDA website, Stuffing and Food Safety.  For all questions related to turkey preparations, check out Let’s Talk Turkey.

Because stuffing is an excellent medium for bacterial growth, it’s important to handle it safely and cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165ºF as measured with a food thermometer whether prepared inside or outside of the cavity. As you plan for your Thanksgiving dinner, make your decision on whether to stuff or not based on safe handling and preparation.

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.

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STOP! Don’t Wash the Turkey!

Wash your hands, but not the turkey! 

Many consumers think that washing their turkey will remove bacteria and make it safer.  However, it’s virtually impossible to wash bacteria off the bird. Instead, juices that splash during washing can transfer bacteria onto the surfaces of your kitchen, the sink, and other foods and utensils. This is called cross-contamination, which can make you and others very sick.  Washing your hands before and after handling the turkey and its packaging is crucial to avoid spreading harmful bacteria.

Hands should be washed with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.  This simple, but important step can help keep everyone safe from foodborne illness.  If your raw turkey or its juices come in contact with kitchen surfaces, wash the counter tops and sinks with hot, soapy water.  For extra protection, surfaces may be sanitized with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.  Make sure to let those areas dry thoroughly.

The only way to destroy bacteria on turkey or any poultry product is to cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.  Some chefs prefer to cook to a higher temperature for flavor and texture. Check the turkey’s temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast to be sure it has reached a safe temperature will be free of illness-causing bacteria.

Source: Karlsons, Donna. (2017, February 21). To Wash or Not to Wash Your Turkey . . . . United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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.

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Countertop Dishwashers

Three years ago, I was newly married and was touring the farmhouse we were going to be renting. As I entered the kitchen for the first time my heart sank as I realized there was no dishwasher. “I’ll be fine,” I told myself, “How many dishes can we actually make?”

Countertop dishwasher loaded with dishes

I had grown up in a household without a dishwasher (or should I say machine dishwasher; my mom shouldered the brunt of the dishwashing growing up) and had lived without one until purchasing my townhouse. Over my six years in this townhouse, I had grown very accustomed to a dishwasher. But I figured we could make the best of our current situation. As time marched on, I got used to doing dishes and it only seemed to be a nuisance during times we had done lots of cooking. However, November of last year, our son Thomas came along. Enter bottles, pump parts, and most recently, additional dishes. Our kitchen countertop was a disaster zone most of the time.

About a month ago a box showed up on our front step. Much to my surprise, the box contained a countertop dishwasher! I had been fantasizing about one but couldn’t justify the expense. My husband had decided the amount of time and sanity this unit would save us would pay off in the long run. Beyond time and sanity savings, dishwashers also use less water compared to handwashing. Countertop dishwashers only use around 2 gallons of water and portable and built-in units can use as little as 3 gallons of water per load. Handwashing can use up to 27 gallons of water.

There are several options for portable dishwasher models. Freestanding, portable units are available that hook into your sink, but these are large, so you will need to think about where this will be stored when not in use. You can add a butcherblock type surface to the top so it can serve as an island that is used for food prep. We don’t have a great space to store a larger unit like this, which is why we went with a countertop model.

Considerations

  • Size: Think about how much countertop space you are willing to give up as well as the weight if you plan on moving the dishwasher around. You will also want to consider the distance between your countertop and the bottom of your cupboards and make sure the height of the model doesn’t exceed this distance.
  • Capacity: How many place settings do you want the unit to be able to hold? Most countertop units claim to hold up to six place settings and accommodate dinner plates ranging in size from 10-12 inches. Make sure the unit can hold the plates you use most often.
Countertop dishwasher with lid closed
  • Sound: Consider how loud you want the unit to be. Remember that a full-size dishwasher has noise dampening due to the cabinets and walls around it; portable units do not. The lower the decibel rating (dBA), the better. Typical dishwashers have a noise level of 63 to 66 dBA. Quieter portable units have a decibel rating of around 55 dBA, which is about as loud as a microwave.
  • Settings: Think about which controls and cycles will be most useful given your situation. Sleek electronic controls generally cost more than push buttons but are easier to clean.
  • Water source: Your portable unit is going to need a water source. Some portable units have a hose that attaches temporarily to the faucet of your kitchen sink. This only works in your sink faucet has a threaded faucet spout. The other option would be models that include a water reservoir that holds the water needed to run the unit. We went with this option so our kitchen faucet could always remain usable.
  • Energy efficiency: All countertop dishwashers carry yellow Energy Guide labels, so you’ll be able to compare approximately how much they will cost you per year to run. Some models are Energy Star certified, meaning that they are the most energy efficient models.

Cleaning and Sanitation

You may be wondering about the cleaning and sanitizing ability of these portable units. The National Sanitation Foundation has set sanitation standards for residential dishwashers, referred to as NSF/ANSI 184. This standard helps confirm that a residential dishwasher can achieve a minimum 99.999 percent or 5-log reduction of bacteria when operated on the sanitizing cycle. Other requirements of this standard include the dishwasher reaching a final rinse temperature of at least 150°F and sanitation performance being verified only when the unit is operated on the sanitizing cycle. A sanitize cycle will typically increase the heat during the main wash and finish with an even hotter final rinse.

A list of residential dishwashers certified to NSF/ANSI 184 can be found here. I checked on our unit, which does not appear to be certified to NSF/ANSI 184, however the user manual does indicate two of the programs achieve a final rinse temperature of at least 150°F:  

  • Normal: final rinse 158°F, total cycle time of 130 minutes
  • Baby Care: final rinse 162°F, total cycle time of 120 minutes

All countertop dishwashers have filters that require cleaning, and some recommend a regular vinegar rinse to remove deposits and mineral build up. Our model doesn’t require that we pre-rinse our dishes, but we do scrape off any excess food before loading it into the dishwasher. When thinking about detergent, the packets, tablets, powders, and gels are all fine to use. However, most brands caution against using the packets or tablets for short cycles as they may not fully dissolve.

We are looking forward to this device continuing to free up some of our time and counter space, as well as reduce the amount of water we use. Regardless of what unit you end up with, make sure you do your research to ensure the product meets your needs!

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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. 

Resources:

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/appliances/dishwasher-reviews/g33438785/best-countertop-mini-dishwashers/

https://www.cnet.com/home/kitchen-and-household/how-to-buy-a-portable-dishwasher/

https://www.energystar.gov/products/dishwashers

https://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/articles/dishwasher-certification

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.

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Tips for Success with DIY Caramel Apples

There is no substitute for the thrill and challenge of eating a caramel apple—biting through the sweet, sticky caramel into a tart crisp apple while sweet, sticky juice runs down your chin.  Oh, the memories!

While the memories are sweet, the potential for a foodborne illness from caramel apples is real.  Caramel apples should either be eaten freshly made or refrigerated.  Once punctured with a stick, caramel apples can become a breeding ground for Listeria monocytogenes, a harmful bacteria, if left at room temperature for prolonged time. When the stick is inserted into the apple, a bit of apple juice tends to leak out and that moisture, trapped under the caramel layer, creates an environment that aids the growth of Listeria which is naturally present on the apple’s surface.   If caramel apples are purchased at the store, farmer’s market, carnivals, or even presented at a party, make sure that they have been refrigerated.

The best way to safely enjoy caramel apples is to make them fresh.   While DIY caramel apples may be intimidating, it really is quite easy and a fun family or party activity.  Recently I made caramel apples with my grandkids using freshly picked apples.  It was a successful, fun time using tips I gathered beforehand from various resources.

Tips to craft your very own caramel apples

Choose Apples.  Any apple variety will work as long as it is crisp.  Smaller apples give a better ratio of caramel to apple.  Apples should have a flat bottom so that they sit upright.

Do All Prep Work in Advance. Have apples and all needed equipment ready and at hand.  If you are going to decorate the apple with candy, nuts, sprinkles or anything else, make sure all is ready to go before you dip.

Remove Wax.  Wax must be removed from the surface of the apple skin to allow the caramel to adhere to the apple.  This can be done by dipping in boiling water for 3-5 seconds and wiping with a paper towel or scrubbing the apple with vinegar (white or apple cider) or lemon juice and baking soda. In addition to removing wax, vinegar also help remove pesticides and bacteria.  Another option is to wash the apple and lightly sand with fine sandpaper.  Whichever method is used, be sure not to puncture the skin.

Thoroughly Dry and Chill the Apples.  Any moisture on the skin will cause the caramel to bubble and stick poorly to the apple.  Chilling the apples for about 30 minutes will help the caramel set quicker and keep it from running off.

Insert Sticks. Use candy or popsicle sticks and insert them directly through the center (stem end) of the apple straight down about half to two-thirds way into the apple. Be sure to dab away any juice that may seep out when inserting the sticks. The presence of moisture will keep the caramel from adhering to the apple.

Use a Good Recipe.  Recipes can be as simple as two or three ingredients added to a bag of purchased wrapped caramels or a recipe made with all pantry ingredients from a trusted source.  Regardless, follow the recipe carefully.  If making from scratch, be sure to use a deep and thick saucepan with straight sides and a good candy thermometer.  For additional tips on making caramel, visit Success with Caramel.

Carefully Prepare Caramel. The temperature of the caramel is really important.  Whether making caramel from a recipe or melting caramels, you will want to cool the caramel to about 190 degrees before dipping. If you dip the apples as soon as the caramel is made, it will slide off or form a thin layer instead of a nice, thick caramel layer.  The caramel will be the right temperature to set up properly on the apple if you maintain your caramel temperature in the 180°-190° range, stirring sparingly to minimize air bubbles.  Some like to put the melted caramel mixture in a slow cooker on the low setting to maintain this temperature.  Caramel that gets too hot will lose the proper consistency, becoming too firm and crunchy to dip. 

Dip – Scoop, Twist, Drip, Flip. Set your apple in the caramel, scoop the caramel up onto the apple twisting the apple slowly with the stick while continuing to scoop the caramel onto the apple.  Raise the apple and let the excess drip off.  Scrape the bottom, flip the apple over and count to 20.  Set the apple on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and let cool.  If you get a caramel foot, fold it under the apple or cut it off.  Sliding the apples into the refrigerator after dipping will help set the caramel and prevent the caramel from sliding off. 

Decorate (if desired).  Roll, sprinkle or drizzle the caramel apples with any desired decorations once the caramel has cooled but is still tacky.  If the decorations will not stick, the caramel may have set up too quickly. By carefully holding the coated apple over a saucepan of boiling water, the steam will soften the caramel enough so the toppings will stick.  After decorating, return the apple to the parchment paper to continue cooling. Dipping the caramel coated apples in chocolate is another option.  Be creative.  Taste of Home has some fun ideas if you want to go beyond chopped peanuts and sprinkles.  Be careful not to overload the apples with too many toppings as the caramel may become too heavy and slide off. For gift giving, wrap the apples in a cellophane or plastic bag.

Enjoy and/or Store Safely.  To enjoy immediately, let the caramel set about 45 minutes. If the treats are not consumed right away, they should be refrigerated.  This will prolong freshness, slow oxidation, and slow the growth of bacteria.  If the apples are refrigerated, remove them from the fridge about 45 minutes before eating to allow the caramel to soften. The coated apples will keep 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

After creating our very own caramel apple personalized with assorted decorations or not, we could hardly wait for the caramel to set.  Needless to say, there was no need to refrigerate! 

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References: 

Allen, Lauren. (2020, October 10). How to Make Perfect Caramel Apples.  Taste Better from Scratch. https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/caramel-apples/

Anita. (2014, October 10). 10 Tips for Perfect Caramel Apples.  Eat, Think, & Be Merry. http://eatthinkbemerry.com/2014/10/10-steps-perfect-caramel-apples/

Brazier, Yvette. (2015, October 17). Dangers of Listeria in Caramel Apples. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/301091

Geiger, M.R. (2021, October 26). Success with Caramel.  AnswerLine Blog. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2021/10/26/success-with-caramel/

Glass, Kathleen A., Golden, Max C., Wanless, Brandon J., Bedale, Wendy, and Czuprynski, Charles. (2015, October 13). Growth of Listeria monocytogenes within a Caramel-Coated Apple Microenvironment.  ASM Journals, Vol. 6, No. 5.  https://journals.asm.org/doi/full/10.1128/mBio.01232-15 

Habermehl, Lauren. (2022, August 20). How to Make Traditional Caramel Apples.  Taste of Home.  https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/how-to-make-caramel-apples/

McKenny, Sally. (2019, October 1). Homemade Caramel Apples.  Sally’s Baking Addiction.  https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/homemade-caramel-apples/

Rachel. (2022, September 27). Tips for Perfect Homemade Caramel Apples.  Adventures of a DIY Mom.  https://www.adventuresofadiymom.com/2012/10/caramel-apples.html

Steed, Marcia.  (2016, September 29). Storing Caramel Apples.  AnswerLine Blog. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2016/09/29/storing-caramel-apples/

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.

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September is National Honey Month

‘Tis the month to celebrate all things HONEY!  The National Honey Board declared September as National Honey Month in 1989 to promote the beekeeping industry and honey as a natural and beneficial sweetener.  Honey is a great sweetener for many reasons.  However, it is important to note that honey is more than a sweetener and has a long history so let the celebrations begin!

Honey History

Honey dates back centuries.  In 2012, archaeologists discovered what is believed to be the world’s oldest honey in a ceramic jar in Georgia (Eastern European country) which is estimated by scientists to be about 5,500 years old.  However, honey was used long before this and may have a life of millions of years.  Beekeeping apiculture dates to at least 700 BC.  Documentation has been found showing that ancient Egyptians sacrificed honey to their river gods, Roman’s slathered honey on wounds, Alexander the Great was embalmed with honey, and honey was used as a form of currency in Europe.  There are also numerous ancient references to mead, or honey wine, which is the world’s oldest known fermented beverage.

Honey Uses

Honey, as a sweetener, has many health benefits.  Besides being loaded with minerals, vitamins and important enzymes, honey is a natural, healthy energy booster. It is an immune system builder and has both antioxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-tumor properties. Honey has a healthy glycemic index which means that can be absorbed into the bloodstream gradually resulting in better digestion.  For more detailed information on the nutritional value of honey over table sugar, see Benefits of Honey by Michigan State University.  Honey is denser than sugar. One tablespoon of honey has 69 calories compared to 48 calories in one tablespoon of processed white sugar.  When using honey as a sweetener begin substitutions by replacing the amount of sugar called for in the recipe with half the amount of honey.  Honey can be substituted in equal measure for other liquid sweeteners such as sorghum, molasses, or maple syrup.  Learn more about cooking with honey from All About Honey.

Bee pollen is another important substance found in honey. Bee pollen may provide some relief for those who suffer with seasonal allergies since it contains trace amounts of pollen. Daily trace amounts of pollen may help reduce the symptoms of pollen-related allergies by inoculating the individual.  When used as an inoculant, it is very important that the honey be purchased locally since that is where the allergens are located.

While some of the health benefits of honey have been discussed, the many uses of honey is extensive.  For more honey uses, take a look at some suggestions for honey outside of the kitchen by Sioux Honey™.

Honey Safety and Storage

The primary food safety issue related to honey is infant botulism. Because infants have an immature geostatistical tract, the spores of the Clostridium bacteria (the causal pathogen of botulism) are provided
the amount of time needed and the environment to produce toxins. Babies under the age of 1 should not eat honey.

In general, honey is safe for adults and children older than the age of 1.  Those allergic to honey should avoid it.

Honey has a very low water content and high acidity, which usually inhibits the growth of bacteria.  However, honey is hydroscopic, which means it draws in moisture. Moisture in honey can create favorable conditions for mold and yeast growth.  To prevent such, honey should be stored in a clean, airtight container and preferably away from light.  When stored properly, honey will remain safe indefinitely. Honey may crystallize or granulate as it gets older, is refrigerated, or is frozen. This is a natural process and does not harm honey in any way. To convert crystallized honey to a liquid form, place the opened honey jar in a heat-safe container of approximately 1-2 inches of hot (not boiling) water. Crystals will begin to disappear; stir as needed. Be careful not to overheat honey; excessive heat can cause honey to change color and flavor.

According to National Honey Board trivia, a single worker honeybee produces approximately 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. That means around 22,700 bees are needed to fill a single jar of honey!   So celebrate the benefits of honey, the bees that make it, those who work in the honey and bee industry, and enjoy the seet nectar of their labor!

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.

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Score a Safe Tailgate with Wings

Wings are ubiquitous with tailgates!  They are easy to prepare (or pick up), budget friendly, an easy-to-eat finger food, incredibly fun to try with different sauces, and when cooked properly, tasty and satisfying.  Sadly, many tailgates have been spoiled by food poisoning due to improper cooking or care of the meat.  Unlike other types of meat, chicken meat can host harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli (E. coli).  By using safe food handling practices and proper cooking techniques, there is no need to worry.

What are wings?

Wings are the forearm of the chicken and are part of the breast muscle which runs along both sides of the breastbone. Chicken wings are considered white meat, even though they’re juicier than white meat and have a more concentrated poultry flavor, like dark meat.  The wing of the chicken consists of three sections, the wing tip, the wingette (or flat wing having two small bones in it), and the drumettes (the part that looks like a mini-drumstick).  At the supermarket, wings are usually sold as the whole wing, wingettes, drumettes, or the wingette and drumette attached (no wing tip). 

The drumette is the part of the wing that is attached to the breastbone and usually considered the most desirable because it is meatier.   Many people think of Buffalo wings when they think of this part of the chicken.  (Buffalo wings, originated in Buffalo, New York, around1964, and became famous for the tangy, hot sauce-coated, deep-fried drumettes served with blue cheese dip and celery sticks.)

Be a Tailgate Wing MVP and Score a Winning Tailgate

The best offense is a good defense.  Have your food safety plan in place before the tailgate starts and know your opponent—harmful microbes—and deal with it using these tips for a worry-free tailgate:

Clean.  When preparing any food, start with clean hands, work surfaces and utensils.  DO NOT WASH the wings.  Rinsing meat or poultry under running water, results in splashing of water droplets onto other surfaces, kitchen utensils or food, causing contamination with harmful microorganisms.  Skip the wash, but instead pat-dry the chicken with paper towels, like many professional chefs do.  Dispose of the towels safely. Season as desired.

Separate.  If it is necessary to cut the whole wing or wingette and drumette apart, use a separate cutting board from any that would be used for fruits and vegetables.   Cross-contamination of utensils, cookware, cutting boards, countertops and anything else that has been exposed to raw chicken can put one at risk for salmonella. Thoroughly wash hands and any items that may have come into contact with the raw chicken with hot, soapy water before using for any other purpose.

Cook.   It doesn’t matter what cooking method* is used to prepare wings; it is essential to make sure that the chicken wings are thoroughly cooked to a final temperature of 165°F (74ºC). If not, you might have to deal with a bout of food poisoning. Salmonella and other bacteria are killed when subjected to a temperature of 165° F (74ºC). Use an instant-read digital thermometer to check the temperature by inserting the probe part of the thermometer into the thickest part of the wing, avoiding the bone.  Check several wings in the batch.  Use a clean thermometer for each and every temperature check.  Visual color is never a reliable indicator of safety or doneness.  Precooked frozen chicken wings, must be reheated to 165°F (74ºC) as well.

Place cooked wings into an insulated container or slow cooker for transporting or keeping hot during the tailgate if electrical outlets are available. Or use disposable foil pans and reheat on the grill. If prepared at the tailgate, bring wings chilled ready to cook on the grill and eat them as soon as they can be handled easily.

Chill.  Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left in the “Danger Zone” (40°F-140°F, 4⁰C-60⁰C).  Get wings and other perishable foods into coolers within 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F (32⁰C), chill within 1 hour. Sauces may be kept chilled by placing them above a cold source like a bowl of ice.  If foods have not been exposed to Danger Zone temperatures for more than 2 hours and chilled properly, they may be reheated for halftime or after the game treats. Before reheating, use a thermometer to check the temperature of the food.  If food is at 40°F or lower it may be reheated. Be sure to reheat wings and other originally hot foods to 165°F (74⁰C) and check the temperature with a food thermometer. Do not reheat in a slow cooker; rather use a grill, or if at home, an oven or microwave.  Any food left in the Danger Zone for more than 2 hours should be discarded.

Other tips include having a serving utensil for each item and plenty of paper plates so everyone can use a clean plate when getting more food.

Be a Tailgate Wing MVP! Go for the win! Follow basic food safety principles, properly handle raw chicken meat, cook wings to an internal temperature of 165°F (74ºC), and chill as needed to keep you and your guests safe.

*Wing Cooking Methods

With any chicken wing recipe, it’s important to follow the instructions carefully to ensure that you have cooked them properly.  Cooking times are approximate; always use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature.  Wings may be prepared by oven baking, air frying, grilling, or deep fat frying following these general directions or your favorite wing recipe.

Oven – Place wings in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake at 400⁰F (204⁰C) for approximately 40 minutes.  It is a good idea halfway through the cooking time to turn the wings over to allow both sides of the wings to get crispy. 

Air Fryer – Spray the air fryer basket with cooking spray. Pat the chicken wings dry. Place the wings in the fryer basket so they are not touching. Set the air fryer to 360⁰F (182ºC) and cook for 12 minutes, then flip the wings with tongs and cook for 12 minutes more. Flip the wings again, increase the heat to 390⁰F (199ºC) and cook until the outsides are extra-crispy, about 6 minutes more.

Grill – Turn the wings every 4-6 minutes to ensure that they are cooked evenly throughout the grilling process.  Cooking time should be about 25-30 minutes.

Deep Fat Fryer – Heat oil to 375°F (191⁰C). Fry wings in batches until skin is crisp and meat is tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

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.

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