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Archive for the ‘Food Science and Human Nutrition’ Category

Fresh and fruity goodness from WSU’s Tukey Orchard

A couple of days into fall—even though it feels like summer here in Pullman—and I’m craving some fruit. So I jump at the chance to head out past the bears and the golf course to Tukey Orchard and grab some fresh apples.

Apple samples at WSU's Tukey Orchard

Apple samples at WSU's Tukey Orchard

About ten varieties await me when I arrive at the warehouse on the edge of the orchard. I’m not an apple connoisseur, so I chop off samples and do a taste test. Some are sweet and crispy, others frankly a little soft for me. I end up with a bag of Berry and a bag of Tydeman’s, two toothsome varieties I’d probably never find in the grocery store, especially at 85 cents a pound.

Of course, Tukey is not all about my enjoyment of sweet fresh apples. Tree fruit research and education has long been part of Washington State University. Those efforts will be advanced even further by the largest gift in the University’s history. Apple and pear growers throughout the state agreed to make a historic investment of $27 million over the next eight years to support tree fruit research and extension.

While not all tasty Tukey produce is organic, they have several organic acres as part of WSU’s organic farm. That makes it even more appropriate to indulge, because last week was Washington Organic Week. The Tilth Producers of Washington organized the celebration with events ranging from organic chocolate tastings in Seattle to “Forks Up For Farmers” meals supporting local farms.

Apples on sale at Tukey Orchard

Apples on sale at Tukey Orchard

According to the state Department of Agriculture, Washington is second only to California in the U.S. for production of organic food and leads the country in producing organic apples, pears, cherries, sweet corn, green peas, snap beans, and onions.

More fruit sales are on the way at Tukey this fall. Next up for me: pears. The orchard has 83 varieties of apples, 11 varieties of pears, cherries and more, so I’ll be trying them out for a while. And Tukey will continue to help develop our state’s signature fruits.

As Vancouver newspaper The Columbian pointed out in an editorial praising the new tree fruit grant, “If you enjoy eating apples and pears—and as a Washingtonian, you’re obligated to—then you can rest assured about the future of those crops in the state.”

WSU's Tukey Orchard, late September 2011.

WSU's Tukey Orchard, late September 2011.

Seven ways to puncture a wine windbag

Wine windbag need deflating? Try science. (Photo by Brian Maki, Center for Distance and Professional Education)

Wine windbag need deflating? Try science. (Photo by Brian Maki, Center for Distance and Professional Education)

Uncle Patrick gargles his wine. “I taste blackberries and cherry and oak,” he says, “and a lot of tannins.”

The only thing you know about wine is that it comes in different colors. But, with holiday meals approaching, here’s how to puncture wine windbags, thanks to Washington State University Professor Kathleen Williams:

Precipitate saliva. When Patrick says he tastes tannins, you say: “Tannins don’t have a taste. They create a sensation as they precipitate the proteins out of your saliva.” Tip: Stroke your chin sagely as you pronounce “precipitate.”

Throw in a German word. Patrick swirls the glass. “Good legs,” he observes. You say, “The French call them tears. The Germans call them kirchenfenster or church windows, because they form an arch.” Want more? Try this: “Water has more surface tension than alcohol. The evaporating alcohol pulls the water up with it. When the alcohol breaks through, the water runs down.”

Hit him with brix. Patrick looks at the label. “Oh my,” he says, “14.9 percent alcohol.” You’re ready for him. “Did you know that wines from hot areas tend to have more alcohol? That’s because the grapes have more sugar. As a rule of thumb, every 2 percent of sugar will produce about 1 percent alcohol. So this wine was originally almost a third sugar. Of course, wine makers don’t call them sugars. They call them brix.” Tip: Refill his glass. Keep refilling his glass. This becomes important later.

Diamonds are your best friend. He holds the glass up to the light. Tiny crystals stick to the sides. “It’s going bad,” he says. “Not really,” you say. “Those are potassium tartrate crystals, same thing as cream of tartar. They’re a naturally occurring acid in grapes.” Smile tolerantly, and add, “In Canada, they call them wine diamonds.”

Herbal harmony. Patrick says, “A red wine would overwhelm the turkey.” You say, “It’s not really about the turkey. It’s about the herbs with the turkey, such as onion, celery and sage. What works well is to contrast the herbs with a fruity wine, such as a Beaujolais Nouveau or a Gewürztraminer.”

Make something up. By now, Uncle Patrick should be a bit toasted, so hit him with something ludicrous, but difficult to disprove: “Gewürztraminer has an umlaut,” you say. “The word umlaut is derived from the word omelet and Gewürztraminer pairs well with omelets. As a matter of fact, most umlaut wines go well with egg-based dishes, such as quiche. It’s called a bio-linguistic reaction.”

Fancy footwork. As he sputters to object, quickly change the subject: “Do you know what the best pairing is? Scientists in England proved that it is milk and chocolate chip cookies. Speaking of dessert, how about some pie?”

WSU’s viticulture and enology program offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and certificates. For more information go to

Seeking a safe food supply

Carrots from Stanwood, Washington. Courtesy USDA/ARS

Carrots from Stanwood, Washington. Courtesy USDA/ARS

When we think about food safety, we usually think about protecting ourselves from food-borne illnesses like salmonella and E.coli. But another type of food safety has caught the concern of community leaders in Seattle and around the Puget Sound – that of ensuring a safe and consistent food supply for a growing population.

This weekend (Dec. 4 and 5, 2010) a number of Northwest scientists and policy makers are meeting in Seattle to talk about how to grow and distribute enough food to sustain our population. The premise of the conference, titled “Cultivating Regional Food Security: Recent Research in Urban-Rural Food Systems,” is that our region’s food supply could be endangered by any number of factors including population growth and sprawl, climate change, damage to our transportation networks, and rising energy costs.

According to the agenda, “The urgency is to plan now for increased food production in our area, strengthened markets for producers, and conservation efforts to ensure safe food and a healthy environment.”

And the event, co-sponsored by Washington State University Extension and the University of Washington’s Botanic Gardens is riddled with WSU experts who have been thinking and working on just this subject. WSU’s Small Farms Program director Marcia Ostrom plans to talk about where our food is currently coming from. Chad Kruger, interim director of WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, will examine climate-friendly food and whether locally-produced food is better than food from other regions in the United States and outside the country.

Realizing that the food available now is not an adequate supply for our region, the group will discuss changing land use policy so that high-yielding farmland isn’t converted into housing and industry, how others could follow Seattle’s efforts to adapt city codes and programs to promote food production in urban neighborhoods, and how to help local farmers bring their produce to local customers.

For more information about the conference, visit the website:

WSU 19 – The secret to Cougar Gold

We could tell you what’s in WSU 19, but then we’d have to shoot you.

Cougar Gold cheese. Photo Robert Hubner

Cougar Gold cheese. Photo by Robert Hubner.

WSU 19 is the adjunct culture added to Cougar Gold cheese that gives it its more-than-cheddar taste. It was developed by N.S. Golding (hence Cougar Gold) at WSU in the early 1940s and has been used ever since.

“WSU 19 is our secret ingredient,” says Russ Salvadalena, manager of the WSU Creamery. “We are willing to share all of our other experiences and ingredients, but we don’t share WSU 19.”

On a recent Tuesday morning he took me through two chlorine foot baths, past the ice cream flavor vats and into the culture room where WSU 19 is stored and incubated.

“We keep this pretty much under lock and key when no one is around,” he says, removing a small plastic bottle from inside a “refrigerator” set to an internal temperature of 100 degrees.

Every day or two, for the past nearly 70 years a WSU student has transferred a portion of WSU 19 to a new nutrient bath in preparation for a new batch of cheese. The process is similar to how bakers will sometimes use the same sourdough starter for generations, Salvadalena said.

The subject of WSU 19 surfaced recently because Salvadalena got a call from a couple, Al and Susie Howell, who had a can of unopened Cougar Gold dated Oct. 1987. Their daughter, Teresa Howell Hoffman  ’80, had given it to them and they’d never gotten around to opening it. When they finally opened it earlier this month at the creamery, it tasted great.

And for that, we can thank WSU 19.

Cougar Gold is created with two cultures, a lactic starter and WSU 19. Some cheddars leave a bitter aftertaste, but not Cougar Gold, not even after two decades or more in a tin can.

Making cheese at the WSU Creamery. Photo by Robert Hubner.

Making cheese at the WSU Creamery. Photo by Robert Hubner.

Golding, a professor of dairy husbandry, began working on the problem of how to can cheese in the 1930s. At that time, the problem was a buildup of carbon dioxide over time, causing the cans to explode. When WWII started, the government got interested in food packaging as well, and, along with the American Can Company, gave Golding a grant to further his research.

Golding asked cheese-making colleagues from around the world to send him their bacteria cultures, Salvadalena said, and ended up making a “bacteria cocktail” that did indeed limit the production of carbon dioxide in the can. He named it WSU 19.

John Haugen, assistant creamery manager, says WSU 19 is no longer necessary to prevent explosions. The lactic starter WSU uses now will create a cheese that can ripen in a can. But, without WSU 19, it would be just another cheddar.

And for that, we can thank Dr. Golding.


Alumnus has stash of aged Cougar Gold (WSU Today, Sept. 13, 2007)

How Cougar Gold Made the World a Better Place (Washington State Magazine, Winter 2004)

Oldest Cougar Gold cracked opened, still tasty (WSU Today, Aug. 14, 2010)

WSU Creamery

Gallery :: The Cheesemaking Process at WSU (Washington State Magazine)