The price of pineapples

A long story in the Guardian describes how pineapple growing is turning sour in Costa Rica. There’s an introduction about how Del Monte’s more tasty and nutritious “Gold” variety, bred by Hawaii’s Pineapple Research Institute in the 1970s, replaced Smooth Cayenne in the 1990s, but the real point of the article is to expose the dreadful conditions endured by workers on a Costa Rican plantation servicing a number of major British importers, mainly supermarkets. There are also serious environmental concerns over the recent expansion of the crop in the country.

Whazup with wasabi?

A visit to Suva’s only Japanese restaurant prompted some googling. First, there was the name of the place: Daikoku. Daiwhat? Turns out this is the name of the Japanese Buddhist god of wealth, farmers, agriculture, rice and the kitchen. Which would have been cool enough. But then I asked myself, what is this wasabi anyway? Sure, the Japanese version of horseradish. But the same as “normal” horseradish, or what? I’m ashamed to have to report that I simply didn’t know.

So, to summarize. The horseradish is Armoracia rusticana, in the Brassicaceae. It probably originated in western Asia. Cultivation for its pungent root goes back to antiquity. But the “Horseradish Capital of the World” is apparently Collinsville, Illinois, from a small region around which comes over one third of the United States’ production and/or 60% of the world’s supply depending on who you read. Which actually brings me to the serious point that I wasn’t able to get hold of global production statistics, and not for want of trying. FAOSTAT doesn’t have anything on horseradish, for example. Anyway, you can go to an International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville every May to find out more. Wasabi, on the other hand, is Wasabia japonica (there’s a couple of other species as well, though). Also in the Brassicaceae, but again I wasn’t able to find out if Wasabia and Armoracia are much related, though I doubt it. The pungent flavour in both cases — as generally in crucifers — is due to glucosinolates. Wasabia is native to Japan, where it has been cultivated for its rhizome since the 10th century. Traditionally, it is prepared using a sharkskin grater. The plant requires flowing water and a small number of districts in Japan specialize in its cultivation (e.g. the Izu peninsula), although it is also grown in other parts of the world. But there is imitation wasabi on the market which is apparently made of Western (let’s call it) horseradish, mustard and green colouring. Pass the sushi. And make mine the shark-grated stuff.

Moringanews in the news

Accra’s Daily Mail has a long and detailed article reporting that a large international meeting on Moringa is about to take place in that city, on 16-18 November. The Moringaceae have a home page here. The main useful species is Moringa oleifera, a tree which is native to India but now widely grown in the tropics. It has a network all to itself, Moringanews, which is organizing the meeting, but other species may also have potential. The main focus of the get-together seems to be the use of the leaves as a green vegetable, and how setting standards can aid in marketing this product, but really the adjective “multi-purpose” could have been invented for this plant. CTA, CDE and the GFU are providing support.

Your health

Concidentally, two articles appeared today highlighting how modern diets are impacting the health of people in both the industrialized and the developing world, and what can be done about it. From the BBC, a report on a diabetes conference, where delegates are suggesting that this disease threatens the survival of indigenous peoples the world over. Then, from FoodNavigator, an article on how a nutrition group is planning a campaign to promote the Mediterranean diet in the US.

You say potato

A paper in the latest GRACE looks at coloured potatoes as sources of natural colourants (anthocyanins). I suppose it is good to find other uses for these under-utilized varieties, but surely there are lots of people out there who’d really like to taste a purple potato. I know I would. And what about levels of micro-nutrients?