Sugar – Part 2: The Different Avatars of Sugar


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Image source: nourition.com

Image source: nourition.com

Sugar is the universal name for a variety of carbohydrates or saccharides that have a sweet taste.

The word ‘sugar’ immediately brings to our mind the white crystals we add to tea and coffee to make it sweet.

However, scientifically, the term ‘sugar’ refers to various types of substances derived from different sources: simple sugars known as monosaccharides, and compound sugars: disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.

Any word that ends with “-ose” would most probably denote a sugar.

The range of sweetness we experience when eating foods is determined by the different proportions of sugars found in them.

Many chemically-different substances that are non-carbohydrates may also have a sweet taste, but are not classified as sugars. Some of these are used as low-calorie food substitutes for sugar and are categorized as artificial sweeteners.

Saccharides

Saccharides (Greek sacchar: sugar)  are one of the most important biomolecules. They are also known as carbohydrates and control the energy in cells, provide structural integrity, and provide a role in the immune system, development and fertilization in all living things.

Natural saccharides are generally simple carbohydrates called monosaccharides having the general formula (CH2O)n  where n is three or more.

Plants use carbohydrates to store energy and to provide supporting structures. Animals and humans consume plants to get their share of carbohydrates as a source of carbon atoms for synthesis of other compounds.

Carbohydrates supply energy for working muscles. They provide the fuel for the central nervous system, enable fat metabolism, and prevent protein from being used as energy.

Monosaccharides

Monosaccharides (Greek monos: single, sacchar: sugar) or simple sugars are the most basic units of carbohydrates with the general formula C6H12O. Examples of Monosaccharides include Glucose (dextrose), fructose (levulose) and galactose. They have one sugar unit with six carbon atoms and five hydroxyl groups (−OH).  They are the building blocks of disaccharides and polysaccharides (such as cellulose and starch). 

Monosaccharides normally found in food (Source: socialphy.com)

Source: socialphy.com

Each carbon atom that supports a hydroxyl group (except for the first and last) is chiral (a molecule that has a non-superposable mirror image), giving rise to a number of isomeric dextro- and laevo-rotatory forms all with the same chemical formula. For instance, galactose and glucose are both aldohexoses, but have different physical structures and chemical properties.

Monosaccharides form an aqueous solution when dissolved in water.

Glucose also known as D-glucose, dextrose, corn sugar, grape sugar and blood sugar is a simple dietary monosaccharide found in plants. It is one of the three dietary monosaccharides, along with fructose and galactose, that are absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion.

Glucose

The name “glucose” is derived from the Greek word γλευχος, meaning “sweet wine, must”. The suffix “-ose” denotes a sugar.

In a biological sense, glucose is found everywhere. It occurs naturally in fruits and plant juices. It is the primary product of photosynthesis. Most ingested carbohydrates are converted into glucose during digestion and it is the form of sugar that is transported around the bodies of animals in the bloodstream. It is used as an energy source by most organisms, from bacteria to humans.

Use of glucose may be by either aerobic respiration, anaerobic respiration, or fermentation. Glucose is the human body’s key source of energy, through aerobic respiration, providing about 3.75 kilo calories (16 kilojoules) of food energy per gram. Aerobic respiration requires oxygen.

Simplified reaction:

C6H12O6 (s) + 6 O2 (g) → 6 CO2 (g) + 6 H2O (l) + heat
ΔG = −2880 kJ per mol of C6H12O6

The negative ΔG indicates that the reaction can occur spontaneously.

Glucose can be manufactured from starch by the addition of enzymes or in the presence of acids. Glucose syrup is a liquid form of glucose that is widely used in the manufacture of foodstuffs.

Fructose or fruit sugar, is a simple dietary monosaccharide found in honey, fruits that grow on trees and vines, flowers, berries, and most root vegetables. It is the sweetest of the sugars.

Fructose

Fructose, a 6-carbon polyhydroxyketone is an isomer of glucose – both have the same molecular formula (C6H12O6but they differ structurally. It is often bonded to glucose to form the disaccharide sucrose.

Along with glucose and galactose, fructose is absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion.

Commercially, fructose is processed from sugarcane, sugar beets, and maize.

Galactose (Greek galakt: milk), a monosaccharide sugar, is a constituent of the disaccharide lactose along with the glucose. It does not occur in the free state. It is less sweet than glucose.

Galactose

Glactose, is a component of the antigens found on the surface of red blood cells that determine blood groups.

Disaccharides

Sucrose, maltose, and lactose are compound sugars or disaccharides, with the general formula  C12H22O11. They are formed by the combination of two monosaccharide molecules with the exclusion of a molecule of water.

Sucrose is the granulated sugar that we customarily use as additive in our food. It is a disaccharide with one molecule of glucose covalently linked to one molecule of fructose.

Sucrose

Animated sucrose molecule model

Model of a sucrose molecule (Author: RedAndr)

Sucrose is found in the stems of sugar cane and roots of sugar beet. It also occurs naturally alongside fructose and glucose in other plants, in particular fruits and some roots such as carrots.

After eating, during digestion, a number of enzymes known as sucrase split sucrose into its constituent parts, glucose and fructose.

Maltose also known as maltobiose or malt sugar, is a disaccharide formed during the germination of certain grains, the most notable one being barley, which is converted into malt, the source of the sugar’s name. It is less sweet than sucrose, glucose, or fructose.

Maltose

A molecule of maltose is formed by the combination of two molecules of glucose.

Maltose is formed in the body during the digestion of starch by the enzyme amylase and is itself broken down during digestion by the enzyme maltase

Lactose is the naturally occurring disaccharide derived from galactose and glucose found in milk. A molecule of lactose.is formed by the combination of a molecule of galactose with a molecule of glucose.

Lactose

A molecule of galactose is formed by the combination of a molecule of glucose with a molecule of lactose.

After consuming milk, during digestion, lactose is broken down into its constituent parts by the enzyme lactase. Children have this enzyme in them. In some adults the enzyme lactase does not form as they grow up and are unable to digest lactose.

Oligosaccharides

Oligosaccharides (Greek oligos: a few, sacchar: sugar) are polymeric carbohydrate molecules containing a small number, typically three to nine, monosaccharide units. They are commonly found on the plasma membrane of animal cells where they play a role in cell–cell recognition.

Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), also sometimes called oligofructose or oligofructan, are oligosaccharide fructans. They consist of short chains of fructose molecules.

FOS occur naturally and are found in many vegetables.

FOS exhibit sweetness levels between 30 and 50 percent of sugar in commercially prepared syrups and are used as an alternative sweetener. Due to consumer demand for healthier and calorie-reduced foods, FOS emerged commercially in the 1980s.

The range of sweetness we experience when eating foods is determined by the different proportions of sugars found in them.

Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) occur naturally, and consist of short chains of galactose molecules. These compounds can be only partially digested by humans.

Mannan oligosaccharides (MOS) are widely used in animal feed to improve gastrointestinal health, energy levels and performance. They are normally obtained from the yeast cell walls of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

Polysaccharides

Polysaccharides are polymeric carbohydrate molecules composed of long chains of monosaccharide units bound together by glycosidic bonds. Typically, polysaccharides contain more than ten monosaccharide units.

Cellulose, starch, glycogen, xanthan gum in plants, etc., are polysaccharides.

3D structure of cellulose, a beta-glucan polysaccharide. (Autho - Ben Mills)

3D structure of cellulose, a beta-glucan polysaccharide. (Autho – Ben Mills)

Polysaccharides, have a general formula of Cx(H2O)y where x is usually a large number between 200 and 2500. Considering that the repeating units in the polymer backbone are often six-carbon monosaccharides, and the general formula can also be represented as (C6H10O5)n where 40≤n≤3000.

Definitions of how large a carbohydrate must be to fall into the categories polysaccharides or oligosaccharides vary according to personal opinions of scientists.

Polysaccharides are an important class of biological polymers. Their function in living organisms is usually either structure or storage-related. Starch (a polymer of glucose) is used as a storage polysaccharide in plants, being found in the form of both amylose and the branched amylopectin. In animals, the structurally similar glucose polymer is the more densely branched glycogen, sometimes called ‘animal starch’. Glycogen’s properties allow it to be metabolized more quickly, which suits the active lives of moving animals.

The range of sweetness we experience when eating foods is determined by the different proportions of sugars found in them.

 

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Sugar – Part 1: History of Canesugar


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Sugar is the universal name for a variety of sweet-tasting carbohydrates, derived from various sources. Sugar is used in food, sweet meats, confectioneries, chocolates, alcoholic liqueurs, sweet beverages, etc.

The English word ‘sugar’ is derived from the Arabic word سكر sukkar, which came from the Persian شکر shekar, itself derived from Sanskrit शर्करा śarkarā, which originated from Tamil சர்க்கரை Sarkkarai. Thus, the etymology of the English word ‘sugar’, in a way, reflects the spread of the commodity from India to the western world.

Rich Cohen in his article “Sugar Love” (A not so sweet story) published in the National Geographic says:

“In 1700 the average Englishman consumed 4 pounds a year. In 1800 the common man ate 18 pounds of sugar. In 1870 that same sweet-toothed bloke was eating 47 pounds annually. Was he satisfied? Of course not! By 1900 he was up to 100 pounds a year. In that span of 30 years, world production of cane and beet sugar exploded from 2.8 million tons a year to 13 million plus. Today the average American consumes 77 pounds of added sugar annually, or more than 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day.”

Sugarcane

Most plants have sugar, but only sugarcane and sugar beet are endowed with sufficient concentrations for efficient extraction. Around 80% of the world’s sugar is derived from sugarcane.

Sugarcane crop

Sugarcane crop

Sugarcane is any of several species of tall perennial true grass of the genus Saccharum, tribe Andropogoneae, native to the warm temperate to tropical regions of South Asia, and used for sugar production. They have stout jointed fibrous stalks that are rich in sugar. They grow six to 19 feet (two to six meters) tall. All sugarcane species interbreed and the major commercial cultivars are complex hybrids.

The crop has been cultivated in tropical climates in the Far East since ancient times.

The island of New Guinea.

The island of New Guinea.

Eight thousand years ago, sugar featured prominently in the food of the inhabitants of the island of New Guinea, the world’s second largest island, after Greenland. During sacred religious ceremonies their priests sipped water sweetened with sugar from coconut shells.

The use of sugarcane spread gradually from island to island, and around 1000 BC reached the Asian mainland.

By 500 BC, the Indians were processing crystalline sugar from sugarcane. In India sugar was used as a medicine for headaches, stomach flutters, impotence, etc. The art of sugar refinement passed from master to apprentice and remained a secret science.

Sugar found its way to Persia around 600 AD and as a luxury rulers entertained their guests with a variety of sweets. From there Arabs carried the knowledge and love for sugar. The Arabs perfected sugar refinement made it into an industry. “Wherever they went, the Arabs brought with them sugar, the product and the technology of its production,” wrote Sidney Mintz in Sweetness and Power. “Sugar, we are told, followed the Koran.”

From there sugar traveled with migrants and monks to China, Persia, northern Africa and eventually to Europe in the 11th century.

The first Europeans to know about sugar were the British and French crusaders that went east to wrest the Holy Land from the Arabs. Having their taste buds excited by sugar they returned with stories and memories of sweets. Unfortunately, they found the temperate climates in Europe unsuitable for cultivation of sugarcane, which needed tropical, rain-drenched fields to grow.

The sugar that reached the West through a trickle of Arab traders was rare and was classified as a spice. Due to its high cost only by the nobility consumed it.

With the spread of the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s, trade with the East became more difficult for the Europeans. To the Western elite who had fallen under the spell of sweets were propelled to develop new sources of sugar.

So, it was the age of exploration for the Europeans – the search for new territories around the world.

Infante Henry, Duke of Viseu  aka Henry the Navigator (March 4, 1394 – November 13, 1460). (Source: From the Polytriptych of St. Vincent in the National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon).

Infante Henry, Duke of Viseu aka Henry the Navigator (March 4, 1394 – November 13, 1460). (Source: From the Polytriptych of St. Vincent in the National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon).

Infante Henry, Duke of Viseu (March 4, 1394 – November 13, 1460), the third child of King John I of Portugal, better known as Henry the Navigator, was an important figure in the early days of the Portuguese Empire and the Age of Discoveries in total. He was responsible for the early growth of European exploration and maritime trade with other continents.  In 1419, Portuguese sailors in the service of Infante D. Henrique claimed Madeira, an archipelago about 250 miles (400 km) north of Tenerife, Canary Islands, in the north Atlantic Ocean. In 1425, Infante Henry sent sugarcane with an early group of colonists who settled in Madeira.

Sugarcane found its way to other newly discovered Atlantic islands such as the Cape Verde Islands, and the Canaries.

Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

In 1493, when Christopher Columbus set off on his second voyage to the New World, he too carried cane. He planted the New World’s first sugarcane in Hispaniola.

From then on dawned the era of mass sugar production in the slave plantations in the Caribbean islands.

Within decades the Portuguese and the Spanish expanded sugarcane plantation to Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Cuba and Brazil. They cleared the rainforests for sugarcane plantations. The Portuguese turned Brazil into an early boom colony, with more than 100,000 slaves producing tons of sugar.

The harvested crop of sugarcane was crushed and ground and then pressed to extract the cane juice, which was thickened into a syrup by boiling. This produced sugar crystals, which were dried before storage. The raw sugar was piled in the holds of ships and carried to Europe for refining.

Until the 15th and 16th centuries, sugar was classed with nutmeg and cardamom as a luxury spice enjoyed only by the wealthy upper classes.

The original British sugar island was Barbados found by a British captain on May 14, 1625. Tobacco and cotton were grown in the early years, but sugarcane overtook these two on the island as it did wherever it was planted in the Caribbean. Sadly, however, the fields got depleted, the water table drained within a century, and the ambitious planters had left Barbados in search of other island to exploit.

In the 17th century the British established large-scale sugar plantations in the West Indies. The price of sugar fell. Sugar changed from a luxury to a staple item. Since the fall in price made it affordable to the middle class and the poor, the demand for sugar increased.

But the sugar trade was tarnished by its colonial heritage of inhumanity and exploitation. Profits from the sugar trade helped build the British Empire. When the enslaved native population dwindled due to disease or war the planters replaced them with more slaves brought from the west coast of Africa with the expansion of the Atlantic slave trade.

By 1720 Jamaica became number one in the sugar market.

Until the slave trade was banned in Britain in 1807, more than half of the 11 million Africans shipped to the New World ended up on sugar plantations.

The slaves from Africa found the life hard. In the Caribbean millions died in the fields, pressing houses, or while trying to escape. Gradually the people in Europe came to know and understand the hardship of the slaves. While reformers preached abolition, housewives boycotted cane sugar produced by the slaves.

François-Marie Arouet ( 1694 – 1778), known by his nom de plume Voltaire. French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher.

François-Marie Arouet ( 1694 – 1778), known by his nom de plume Voltaire. French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher.

In 1759, a slave in Voltaire’s Candide, ou l’Optimisme, missing both a hand and a leg, explains his mutilation:

“When we work in the sugar mills and we catch our finger in the millstone, they cut off our hand; when we try to run away, they cut off a leg; both things have happened to me. It is at this price that you eat sugar in Europe.”

William Johnson Fox (1786-1864) - an English religious and political orator .

William Johnson Fox (1786-1864) – an English religious and political orator .

William Johnson Fox (March 1, 1786 – June 3, 1864), an English religious and political orator in An Address to the people of Great Britain on the propriety of abstaining from West Indian sugar and rum. [London], 1791 wrote:

“So necessarily connected are our consumption of the commodity, and the misery resulting from it, that in every pound of sugar used, (the produce of slaves imported from Africa) we may be considered as consuming two ounces of human fleshA French writer observes, ‘That he cannot look on a piece of sugar without conceiving it stained with spots of human blood.’”

Fox’s pamphlet was widely circulated, and helped promote the idea that sugar was contaminated with the blood and flesh of the suffering slaves who produced it. Nonetheless, production of sugar never stopped.

Current Production of Sugar

The use of sugar beet as a new source of production was developed in Germany in the early 19th century. By the end of the century, production of beet sugar had spread across Europe and beet had overtaken cane as the primary source of sugar there.

Sugarcane is indigenous to tropical South and Southeast Asia. Different species likely originated in different locations. Saccharum Barberi originated in India and Saccharum edule and Saccharum officinarum from New Guinea. Almost 70% of the sugar produced globally comes from Saccharum officinarum and hybrids of this species.

At present, Brazil and India are the world’s two largest sugar producers. For the past 40 years, these two countries have accounted for over half the world’s production of canesugar. The European Union is the third-largest sugar producer and accounts for around half the world’s production of beet sugar.

World sugar production (1,000 tonnes)

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Largest producers of raw sugar as percentage of world production, 2007-12

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Largest exporters of raw sugar as percentage of total exports by volume, 2007-12

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Fast facts: the sugar lowdown (Source: fairtrade.org.uk)

  • Sugar is one of the most valuable agricultural commodities. In 2011 its global export trade was worth $47bn, up from $10bn in 2000.
  • Of the total $47bn, $33.5bn of sugar exports are from developing countries and $12.2bn from developed countries.
  • The sugar industry supports the livelihoods of millions of people – not only smallholders and estate workers but also those working within the wider industry and family dependents. 
  • Around 160 million tonnes of sugar are produced every year. The largest producers are Brazil (22%), India (15%) and the European Union (10%).
  • More than 123 countries produce sugar worldwide, with 70% of the world’s sugar consumed in producer countries and only 30% traded on the international market.
  • About 80% of global production comes from sugarcane (which is grown in the tropics) and 20% comes from sugar beet (grown in temperate climates, including Europe).
  • The juice from both sugarcane and sugar beet is extracted and processed into raw sugar.
  • World consumption of sugar has grown at an average annual rate of 2.7% over the past 50 years. It is driven by rising incomes and populations in developing countries. 
  • The top five consumers of sugar use 51% of the world’s sugar. They include India, the EU-27, China, Brazil and the US.
  • Brazil plays an important role in the global sugar market, as the world’s largest sugar producer, the world’s major exporter and one of the highest per capita consumers, at around 55 kg a year. 

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Next → Sugar – Part 2: The Different Avatars of Sugar

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“For I was hungry and you gave me food … ” (Matthew 25:35)


Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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The dirty old beggar was shivering, seated there on snow. A middle-aged woman walked up to him and said: “Good morning!”

The beggar leisurely looked up at the smiling woman who looked as if she had never missed a meal in her life. Her coat was new signifying that she was accustomed to the finer things in life. His first thought was that she too wanted to make fun of him, like so many others had done before.

“Are you hungry?” she asked gently.

“No,” the beggar answered sneeringly. “I just came after dining with the President … Now go away.”

The woman did not budge an inch. She continued standing there. Her smile became even broader as she bent towards him and placed her right hand gently under his arm.

“What are you doing, lady?” the man asked angrily. “I told you to leave me alone.”

Just then a police officer appeared from nowhere.

“Madam, that’s old Jack. Is there any problem?” the police officer inquired.

“No. No problem here, officer,” the woman answered. “I am just trying to get this gentleman on to his feet.”

“Will you help me?” she asked.

The officer hesitated. “What do you want with him?” he asked.

She pointed at the hotel a few yards away and said: “I want to take him there and get him out of the cold for a while and then get something for him to eat.”

“Are you out of your mind, lady?” Jack, the beggar asked as he felt the strong hands of the police officer grab his other arm and lift him up. “I will not go in there!” he yelled.

“Let me go, officer. I did not do anything,” Jack pleaded.

Eventually, the woman and the police officer got Jack into the cafeteria, and seated him at a table in a remote corner.

The hotel manager saw the trio and strode across the cafeteria and stood beside their table.

“Is this beggar here to create trouble?” the manager asked asked the police officer.

“Sir, this lady brought this man in here,” the officer answered.

“No. No. No. Not in here!” the manager shouted angrily. “Admitting a beggar in a prestigious establishment like this is bad for our business.”

Toothless old Jack grinned at the woman sarcastically. “See, lady. Did not I tell you that I did not want to come here in the first place? Now can I get out of here? “

The woman turned to the restaurant manager and smiled.

“Sir, are you familiar with Eddy and Associates, the banking firm down the street?” she asked.

“Of course I am,” the manager answered irritatingly. “Their weekly meetings are held in one of our conference rooms.”

“And you make enough of money at these weekly meetings by renting the conference room and catering food?”

“What business is that of yours?” the manager snorted.

“I, Sir, am the president and CEO of that company. My name is Penelope Eddy.”

“Oh,” the manager gasped.

Penelope Eddy smiled again. “I thought that might make a difference.”

She glanced at the police officer stifling a giggle and said, “Would you like to join us and have something to eat, officer?”

“No thanks,” the officer replied. “I’m on duty.”

“Then, perhaps, a cup of coffee?” Penelope asked.

“Yes. That would be very nice,” replied the officer.

The manager turned on his heel. “I will get your coffee for you right away, officer.”

As they watched the manager hurrying away, the police officer said: “You certainly put him in his place.”

“That was not my intent,” she smiled. “Believe it or not, I have a reason for all this.”

Penelope stared intently at the bemused Jack and asked him: “Sir, do you remember me?”

Old Jack searched her face with his old, rheumy eyes. “I think so .. I mean … You do look familiar.”

“I am a little older perhaps,” she said. “Maybe I have even filled out more than in my younger days when you worked here, and I came through that very door, cold and hungry.”

The police officer could not believe that such a magnificently turned out woman could ever have been hungry.

“I was just out of college,” the woman began. “I had come to the city looking for a job, but I could not find anything. Finally, I was down to my last few cents and had been kicked out of my apartment. I walked the streets for hours. It was February and I was cold and nearly starving. I saw this place and walked in on the off chance that I could get something to eat.”

Jack lit up with a smile.

“Now I remember,” he said. “I was behind the serving counter. You came up and asked me if you could work for something to eat. I said that it was against company policy.”

“Then you made me the biggest roast beef sandwich that I had ever seen, gave me a cup of coffee, and told me to go over to a corner table and enjoy it. I was afraid that you would get into trouble. Then, when I looked over, I saw you put the cash for my food in the cash register. I knew then that everything would be alright.”

“So you started your own business?” Old Jack said.

“I got a job that very afternoon. I worked my way up. Eventually, I started my own business. With the help of God, I prospered.”

She opened her purse and pulled out a business card and gave it to Jack.

“When you are finished here, I want you to pay a visit to a Mr. Lyons. He is the personnel director of my company. I’ will talk to him now and I am certain he will find something for you to do around the office.” She smiled. “I think he might even find the funds to give you a little advance so that you can buy some clothes and get a place to live until you get on your feet. If you ever need anything, my door is always opened to you.”

Tears welled in the old man’s eyes. “How can I ever thank you?” he asked.

“Don’t thank me,” the Penelope answered. “To God goes the glory. He led me to you.”

Outside the cafeteria, the officer and the Penelope Eddy paused at the entrance before going their separate ways. “Thank you for all your help, officer,” she said.

“On the contrary, Ms. Eddy,” he answered. “Thank you. I saw a miracle today madam, something that I will never forget. And … And thank you for the coffee.”

MATTHEW 25:34-40

Then the king will say to those on his right,

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him and say,

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

And the king will say to them in reply,

‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

P.S.: There are many versions of this story circulating on the Internet. This is my version adapted from some of them. The 2008 book “Reminisces of Happy Times” by Robert Wiley, is a collection of humorous and inspirational pieces, many of which are known to be fictional, compiled by the author from other sources. This story appeared under the title “The Lifestyle of a Street Man.” So, that book it is not the original source of this tale. To be frank, I do not know where this story originated and whether Ms. Penelope Eddy, and her banking firm Eddy and Associates really existed.

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What’s in a Name? KFC Still Means Real Chicken


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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In early 1970′s I watched an art-thriller directed by Giulio Questi with a completely ridiculous title “Death Laid an egg ” released in 1968. In this movie, maiming of the chicken is done by “The Machine”, a new device that dispenses feed and whose secret purpose is for creating wingless, headless and largely boneless chickens.

A scene from "Death Laid an Egg".

A scene from “Death Laid an Egg”.

In one scene in this movie, there is a cage filled with mutated poultry. The headless, wingless freak chickens fail to take gory revenge on the heartless world that made them during their two minutes of screen time.

A few days ago I came across the following on Facebook:

Horrible Fact about KFC:

KFC has been a part of American traditions for many years. Many people,
day in and day out, eat at KFC religiously. Do they really know what they
are eating? During a recent study of KFC done at the University of New
Hampshire, they found some very upsetting facts. First of all, has anybody
noticed that just recently, the company has changed their name?

Kentucky Fried Chicken has become KFC. Does anybody know why? We thought
the real reason was because of the “FRIED” food issue.

IT’S NOT!!

The reason why they call it KFC is because they can not use the word
chicken anymore. Why? KFC does not use real chickens. They actually use
genetically manipulated organisms. These so called “chickens” are kept
alive by tubes inserted into their bodies to pump blood and nutrients
throughout their structure. They have no beaks, no feathers, and no feet.
Their bone structure is dramatically shrunk to get more meat out of them.
This is great for KFC.

Because they do not have to pay so much for their production costs. There
is no more plucking of the feathers or the removal of the beaks and feet.
The government has told them to change all of their menus so they do not
say chicken anywhere. If you look closely you will notice this. Listen to
their commercials, I guarantee you will not see or hear the word chicken.
I find this matter to be very disturbing.

I hope people will start to realize this and let other people know ..

Versions of this legend have circulated for several years now as shown by the following e-mail that circulated in 1991 about Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “recent” name change, an event that occurred in 1991.

KFC has been a part of our American traditions for many years. Many people, day in and day out, eat at KFC religiously. Do they really know what they are eating? During a recent study of KFC done at the University of New Hampshire, they found some very upsetting facts.

First of all, has anybody noticed that just recently, the company has changed their name? Kentucky Fried Chicken has become KFC. Does anybody know why? We thought the real reason was because of the “FRIED” food issue. It’s not. The reason why they call it KFC is because they can not use the word chicken anymore. Why? KFC does not use real chickens. They actually use genetically manipulated organisms. These so called “chickens” are kept alive by tubes inserted into their bodies to pump blood and nutrients throughout their structure. They have no beaks, no feathers, and no feet. Their bone structure is dramatically shrunk to get more meat out of them. This is great for KFC because they do not have to pay so much for their production costs. There is no more plucking of the feathers or the removal of the beaks and feet. The government has told them to change all of their menus so they do not say chicken anywhere. If you look closely you will notice this. Listen to their commercials, I guarantee you will not see or hear the word chicken. I find this matter to be very disturbing. I hope people will start to realize this and let other people know. Please forward this message to as many people as you can. Together we make KFC start using real chicken again.

The article: Tastes Like Chicken in snopes.com debunks the above as hoax.

The fast-food chain known today as “KFC” was founded by Harland Sanders. He was not born in Kentucky but was born in September 9, 1980 in Henryville, Indiana.

In the 1930s Sanders began serving chicken to the patrons of his service station in Corbin, Kentucky. Not having a restaurant then Sanders served people on his own dining table in the living quarters of his service station. Eventually, his fame grew and he moved his fried chicken operation across the street to a motel and restaurant. In 1935, recognizing his contributions to the state’s cuisine Governor Ruby Laffoon made him a Kentucky Colonel.

In 1952, Pete Harman with a store in Salt Lake City became the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee. PepsiCo, Inc., acquired the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain in 1986.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky, apparently mired in debt, trademarked their name in 1990 and anyone using the word “Kentucky” for business reasons have to pay licensing fees to the state. As a matter of principle, Kentucky Fried Chicken refused to pay royalties on a name it had used since 1953. In 1991, after a year of futile negotiations with he Commonwealth of Kentucky, the company to save money opted to change its name to KFC to avoid paying the license fees. So, changing the name and logo to KFC has nothing to do with the myth of the chicken not being real chicken.

On July 5, 2013, Eric Kuns published  a post titled: Mutant chickens raised from stolen KFC “chicken factory” eggs?!” with the following picture:

Mutant chickens raised by Yang Pei in Shaanxi, China, after she stole a few eggs from the chicken farm where she worked, and which supplied chickens to  KFC. She transferred the eggs to hens at her family’s own chicken farm and these birds hatched. (Photo: Eric Kuns)

Mutant chickens raised by Yang Pei in Shaanxi, China, after she stole a few eggs from the chicken farm where she worked, and which supplied chickens to KFC. She transferred the eggs to hens at her family’s own chicken farm and these birds hatched. (Photo: Eric Kuns)

After telling his story, Eric added the following postscript:

I threw this together myself when I was teaching English in China as part of a lesson revolving around the most popular restaurant in the city = KFC. I wanted the students to be more wary of hoaxes, and after presenting the photo along with the original KFC mutant chicken hoax to the students, l helped them figure out ways to identify hoaxes. PS by yours truly, of course. I’ve altered the content to make it more convincing to a different audience. So, this variant on the story is mine, as is the pic.

Earlier versions of the tale featured six-legged chickens. So, Is this story from China a hoax, a conspiracy, or a strange but true story?

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Your cutlery can influence taste of food


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Cutlery

Ever wondered why cheese tastes saltier when eaten from a knife? Our perception of how food tastes is influenced by the size, shape and colour of the cutlery we use, a new research suggests.

Food tastes saltier when eaten from a knife, and denser and more expensive from a light plastic spoon. Taste was also affected by the colour of the cutlery, researchers said.

The crockery we use has been shown to alter our perception of food and drink. Beverages in cold coloured glasses were rated more refreshing and the weight and colour of a plate can alter how dense, salty or sweet food tastes, they said.

Researchers from the University of Oxford demo-nstrated that cutlery can also have an impact on how we experience food.

They found that when the weight of the cutlery confirms expectations, yogurt seemed denser and more expensive.

Colour contrast is also an important factor. White yoghurt when eaten from a white spoon was rated sweeter, more liked, and more expensive than pink-coloured yoghurt.

These effects were reversed for yoghurt tasted from a black spoon, which suggests that colour contrast mediates the effects of cutlery on flavour perception. Similarly, when offer-ed cheese on a knife, spoon, fork or toothpick, the cheese from a knife tasted saltiest.

“How we experience food is a multi-sensory experience involving taste, feel of the food in our mouths, aroma, and the feasting of our eyes. Even before we put food into our mouths our brains have made a judgment about it, which affects our overall experience,” researchers Vanessa Harrar and Charles Spence said.

This may be used to help control eating patterns. Also, people may be able to make better food choices if their ingrained colour associations are disrupted by less constant advertising and packaging, they said.

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Re-posted from DECCAN Chroncile

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Do Dark Chocolates Produce a Happy-high?


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Dark Chocolates

To many of us, the word chocolate means a sugar-loaded coating of a candy bar. Currently, many manufacturers produce chocolate with less sugar and more real cocoa, quite different from the bitter, deeply complex flavors of unadulterated chocolate products.

If not for my delicate teeth, I would rather be a Willie Wonka or a Charlie of the chocolate factory feasting on the scrumptious chocolate delicacies out there worldwide. I realize that more than 500 flavors of dark chocolate exist. Small wonder why I prefer dark chocolates that blend with my skin!

Due to variation in sugar content dark chocolates get classified as bittersweet, semi-sweet, or unsweetened. Dark chocolate has a rich brown color without added milk solids. It provides a more distinct chocolate taste compared to milk chocolates. However, the reduced milk solids give a dry, chalky textured chocolate with a pronounced bitter aftertaste.

The basic ingredients in Dark Chocolate are cacao beans, sugar, an emulsifier such as soy lecithin to keep the texture, and flavorings such as vanilla. The soul of all the ingredients in dark chocolate lies in cacao beans. Without cacao (or cocoa), there would be no chocolate.

Extra Dark Chocolate - 63% Cacao

Extra Dark Chocolate – 63% Cacao

Often the wrappers of the chocolate products show percentage by weight of the ingredients in the chocolate. The cocoa content of commercial dark chocolate bars can range from 30% (sweet dark) to 75%, or even above 80% for extremely dark bars. These percentages signify the cocoa content in the chocolate, which in turn attributes to the bitterness in the taste of the chocolate.

phenylethylamine

In 1983, psychiatrist Michael R. Liebowitz wrote the popular book “The Chemistry of Love” published by Little, Brown, & Co. Boston. An article appeared in The New York Times based on his saying to reporters: “chocolate is loaded with phenethylamine (PEA)”. Subsequently, the wire services and freelance writers evolved this statement into the tag “chocolate theory of love”.

Phenethylamine (β-phenethylamine, or phenylethylamine) is an organic compound and a natural monoamine alkaloid, a trace amine. It is also the name of a class of chemicals with many members well-known for psychoactive drug and stimulant effects such as amphetamines that raise blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Scientists believe the brain releases b-endorphin, an opioid peptide, the driving force behind the pleasurable effects that let us feel more alert and produces a sense of well-being and contentment. This is why phenylethylamine is known as the “love drug” and the reason some consider chocolate an aphrodisiac.

The half-life of phenylethylamine is between five to ten minutes, and it is rapidly metabolized by aldehyde dehydrogenase, dopamine-beta-hydroxylase and by monoamine oxidase A, also known as MAO-A, and by monoamine oxidase B, also known as MAO-B. The last two mentioned are enzymes in humans encoded by the MAOA gene and by the MAOB gene. This metabolization prevents significant concentrations from reaching the brain, thus not contributing to perceptible psychoactive effect without the use of an MAO inhibitor (MAOI).

Scientific studies have established that PEA levels in chocolate range from ~ 0-7 ppm, despite the wrong assertions that “chocolate is a love drug – an aphrodisiac” by so-called pundits writing for the mass market, and repeatedly recycled misinterpretations on the Internet of data from the primary literature.

Note the following too:

    • In 1992, G. Ziegleder, E. Stojacic and B. Stumpf stated in their “Vorkommen von β-phenethylamin und seinen derivaten in kakao und kakaoerzeugnissen” that similar concentrations of PEA, up to ~ 6 ppm have been found in variously processed cocoa beans.
    • In 1981, W. J. Hurst and P. B. Toomey in their paper “High-performance liquid chromatographic determination of four biogenic amines in chocolate” in Analyst 106 394-402 found that chocolate liquors from different producing areas around the world contain up to ~ 8 ppm PEA.
    • In 1987, G.B. Baker, J. T. F. Wong, R. T. Coutts and F. M. Passuto stated in “Simultaneous extraction and quantitation of several bioactive amines in cheese and chocolate” that the highest concentration of PEA recorded, 22 μg/g (or 22 ppm, or 0.0022%), was found in Fry’s cocoa powder, presumably in a sample obtained on the Canadian market in or before 1987. It is possible that this figure is a misinterpreted (or that of 0.22 μg/g PEA found in a chocolate bar by the same investigators) is the origin of the level of 2.2% for PEA in chocolate that is widely quoted on the Internet since then.

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Good Old Terra Cotta Pots Still Make the Best RO System


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Pramila Krishnan

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By Pramila Krishnan

 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

(Excerpt from “Alarm bell rings for ground water” – Deccan Chronicle)

Botany Prof S. Saravana Babu of Chicka Naicker College, in Erode, and his team have been propagating a traditional three-pot, water purifying system among many villages in Erode district.

Even now many families prefer using this native purifier, which is much cheaper and just as good, if not better, compared to the modern UV/reverse osmosis purifiers.

“This pot purifier is nothing new. When I studied the quality of water from the Cauvery river in Mettur-Erode for a research project, I learnt that its fluoride content was very high and the water had traces of pesticides,” said Prof Babu.

With his teammates, he observed that some families there purified water using clean sand as a filtration agent. The team then got down to working on a model that could address the problem of water pollution.

The three-pot water purifier

The three-pot water purifier.

“After several rounds of discussions, we came up with the three-pot purifier model. The first two pots will have three small holes through which water would pass through the filtration agents and reach the third pot. The first pot will have ‘activated carbon’, which could be prepared easily by burning coconut shell.

The second pot will have pebbles. The third one will have a tap. If you fill water in the first pot at night, the water would pass through the two filters and you will get clean, purified water from the tap in the morning,” explained Prof Babu.

His pots steeply cut down on fluoride and pesticide contamination to make available pure water for consumption “even by the aged and kids”. He said the pebbles and coconut shell carbon pieces should be changed once a fortnight.

The entire ‘device’ could cost about Rs 100 and there are plans to arrange for mass production, which could reduce the cost further.

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The Egg – Nature’s Highest Quality Source of Protein


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Eggs

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Eggs are one of nature’s highest quality sources of protein and contain many of the key ingredients for life. An egg provides 13 essential vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein, antioxidants. It proves to be an excellent source of choline necessary for memory and brain development. All these for just 70 calories, and at an affordable price.

Eggs play a key role in disease prevention and contribute to well-being in later life, particularly in relation to eyesight, avoiding macular degeneration.

The International Egg Commission (IEC) gives a dozen reasons to celebrate the World Egg Day.

1) Eggs are one of the most versatile foods on the market. What other ingredient can cause a souffle to rise and a custard to thicken? What else can be scrambled, fried, poached, and baked – with equally delicious results? Eggs are just as handy when separated. Egg whites make delicate meringues and elegant angel food cakes, while egg yolks enrich sauces, cakes, and pie fillings.

2) Eggs have a high nutrient density because, in proportion to their calorie count, they provide 12% of the Daily Value for protein and a wide variety of other nutrients such as vitamin A, B6, B12, folate, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. And, for as little as 75 calories – lots of nutrition for relatively few calories!

3) Speaking of protein, egg protein quality is so high that scientists often use eggs as the standard by which the protein quality of other foods is measured. All the important amino acids, the building blocks of body protein, are found in an egg in the right proportions for your body’s needs.

4) Did you say “lean”? As for the fat found in eggs, two-thirds of it is the healthy unsaturated kind. And, now that we are hearing more about health risks from trans-fatty acids, it’s reassuring to know that there are no trans-fats in eggs. The fat that the egg does supply helps nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and K to be used by the body.

5) Eggs have always been a bargain, nutritionally and economically. Studies have found that eggs are one of the best protein buys.

6) Any time of the day is right for the eggs. You could start your morning with scrambled eggs stuffed into a pita pocket for a grab-and-run breakfast. A hard-cooked egg, sprinkled with your favorite herb or spice, makes a nutritious mid-morning snack. Lunch at home can be omelets – ready in minutes and easy to personalize. If you’re brown-bagging it, don’t forget egg salad. The addition of cooked pasta or rice makes it especially satisfying. It’s easy to have dinner with eggs. Quiches, make-ahead stratas and top-of-the-range frittatas can all turn last night’s leftovers into a gourmet delight.

7) Egg yolk is an excellent source of choline, a nutrient now considered essential for human health. Research has shown choline to be required for normal formation of brain tissue and memory and to play a role in preventing heart disease.

8) Lutein and zeaxanthin are two newly-recognized nutrients that have put eggs in the “functional foods” category. A functional food is one that provides health benefits beyond its basic nutrient content. Recent studies have shown that consuming lutein and zeaxanthin can significantly lower risk of age-related macular degeneration
(AMD), a leading cause of blindness affecting people over the age of 65. In addition, there is a less likelihood of cataracts, the clouding of the eye covering which often accompanies aging.

9) On weekends, when time is not an issue, eggs can be elegant. A puffy omelet (in which beaten egg whites are folded into the yolks) makes a luxurious brunch or dessert. Hot or cold, sweet or savory, souffles are the ultimate pampering fare. And don’t forget crepes. They can be stored in the freezer then thawed and filled for a quick, tasty treat. Cheesecake is a classic egg-enriched dessert with as many variations as there are cooks. Or include an informal Sunday supper with fresh fruit layered in a parfait glass and topped with a stirred custard sauce.

10) For those interested in weight loss, research indicates that increased protein and reduced carbohydrate intake stabilize blood sugar been meals, which can lead to reduced between-meal snacking.

11) Children like eggs, too. Growing bodies need nutrients, and eggs make a wise food choice. Egg protein is a great source of nutrition for growing children to build muscle. Deviled eggs are fun and easy for children to make… and eat. Or, scramble an egg in the microwave and place it in a hot dog bun – you’ve got an egg dog ready to be topped with “whatever”. For an egg burger, top a hamburger patty with a fried egg and serve on a bun.

12) Convinced yet? Why not set aside the month of October to try out new egg ideas with your family? Crack open your imagination! You may be pleasantly surprised.

So, let’s start cracking!

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Video: Is Vitamin Water a Deception?


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Vitamin Water

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Is Vitamin Water a Deception?

This video presents the latest episode of the popular “Food Investigations” series created by the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center and narrated by Mike Adams. It  exposes the truth behind this beverage and what Vitamin Water really contains.

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See more at FoodInvestigations.com

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“Growing Food in the Desert” by Jonathan Margolis


Philipp Saumweber is creating a miracle in the barren Australian outback, growing tonnes of fresh food. So why has he fallen out with the pioneering environmentalist who invented the revolutionary system?

By 

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Philipp Saumweber CEO of Sundrop “perfect” produce
Desert blooms: Philipp Saumweber, the founder and CEO of Sundrop, with a tray of his “perfect” produce. Photograph: Jonathan Margolis for the Observer

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The scrubby desert outside Port Augusta, three hours from Adelaide, is not the kind of countryside you see in Australian tourist brochures. The backdrop to an area of coal-fired power stations, lead smelting and mining, the coastal landscape is spiked with saltbush that can live on a trickle of brackish seawater seeping up through the arid soil. Poisonous king brown snakes, redback spiders, the odd kangaroo and emu are seen occasionally, flies constantly. When the local landowners who graze a few sheep here get a chance to sell some of this crummy real estate they jump at it, even for bottom dollar, because the only real natural resource in these parts is sunshine.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that a group of young brains from Europe, Asia and north America, led by a 33-year-old German former Goldman Sachs banker but inspired by a London theatre lighting engineer of 62, have bought a sizeable lump of this unpromising outback territory and built on it an experimental greenhouse which holds the seemingly realistic promise of solving the world’s food problems.

Indeed, the work that Sundrop Farms, as they call themselves, are doing in South Australia, and just starting up in Qatar, is beyond the experimental stage. They appear to have pulled off the ultimate something-from-nothing agricultural feat – using the sun to desalinate seawater for irrigation and to heat and cool greenhouses as required, and thence cheaply grow high-quality, pesticide-free vegetables year-round in commercial quantities.

So far, the company has grown tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers by the tonne, but the same, proven technology is now almost ready to be extended to magic out, as if from thin air, unlimited quantities of many more crops – and even protein foods such as fish and chicken – but still using no fresh water and close to zero fossil fuels. Salty seawater, it hardly needs explaining, is free in every way and abundant – rather too abundant these days, as our ice caps melt away.

So well has Sundrop’s 18-month project worked that investors and supermarket chains have lately been scurrying down to Port Augusta, making it hard to get a room in its few motels, or a table at the curry restaurant in the local pub. Academic agriculturalists, mainstream politicians and green activists are falling over each other to champion Sundrop. And the company’s scientists, entrepreneurs and investors are about to start building an £8m, 20-acre greenhouse – 40 times bigger than the current one – which will produce 2.8m kg of tomatoes and 1.2m kg of peppers a year for supermarkets now clamouring for an exclusive contract.

It’s an inspiring project, more important, it could be argued, than anything else going on in the world. Agriculture uses 60-80% of the planet’s scarce fresh water, so food production that uses none at all is nothing short of miraculous.

Food from the desert: parabolic mirror

Blue-sky thinking: the 75m motorised parabolic mirror follows the sun all day, using its heat to generate energy for the Sundrop greenhouses. Photograph: Hat Margolis

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Blue-sky thinking: the 75m motorised parabolic mirror follows the sun all day, using its heat to generate energy for the Sundrop greenhouses. Photograph: Hat Margolis
Growing food in a desert, especially in a period of sustained drought, is a pretty counterintuitive idea and Sundrop’s horticultural breakthrough also ignores the principle that the best ideas are the simplest. Sundrop’s computerised growing system is easy to describe, but was complex to devise and trickier still to make economically viable.

A 75m line of motorised parabolic mirrors that follow the sun all day focuses its heat on a pipe containing a sealed-in supply of oil. The hot oil in turn heats nearby tanks of seawater pumped up from a few metres below ground – the shore is only 100m away. The oil brings the seawater up to 160C and steam from this drives turbines providing electricity. Some of the hot water from the process heats the greenhouse through the cold desert nights, while the rest is fed into a desalination plant that produces the 10,000 litres of fresh water a day needed to keep the plants happy. The water the grower gets is pure and ready for the perfect mix of nutrients to be added. The air in the greenhouse is kept humid and cool by trickling water over a wall of honeycombed cardboard evaporative pads through which air is driven by wind and fans. The system is hi-tech all the way; the greenhouse is in a remote spot, but the grower, a hyper-enthusiastic 27-year-old Canadian, Dave Pratt, can rather delightfully control all the growing conditions for his tonnes of crops from an iPhone app if he’s out on the town – or even home in Ontario.

It’s the kind of thing an enlightened futurologist might have imagined for the 21st century, and to enter Sundrop’s greenhouse from the desert outside, passing the array of sun-tracking solar parabolic mirrors that looks like something from a film set, is to feel you’ve arrived at a template for tomorrow-world. The warm, humid air laden with the scent of ripening tomatoes is in such contrast to the harsh landscape outside, where it tops a parched 40C for much of the year, that it feels as if the more brutal sides of both nature and economics are being benignly cheated. You can supply billions with healthy, cheap food, help save the planet and make a fortune? There has to be a catch.

Food from the desert: Charlie Paton

Green shoots: Charlie Paton in his East London home. It was his discovery that led to the use of seawater in agriculture. Photograph: Hat Margolis

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There seems, however, to be only one significant person in the world who feels there is indeed a catch, and, a little bizarrely, that is the inventor of the technology, one Charlie Paton, the British lighting man mentioned earlier, who is currently to be found in his own experimental greenhouse, atop a three- storey former bakery at the London Fields end of Hackney, east London, feeling proud-ish, but not a little sour, about the way things have worked out 10,000 miles away in the desert between the Flinders mountains and the Spencer Gulf.

If you are of an ecological bent, Paton’s name may ring a bell. He is the multi-honoured founder of a veritable icon of the green world, a 21-year established family company called Seawater Greenhouse, originators of the idea of growing crops using only sunlight and seawater. Earlier this month, Paton was given the prestigious title Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts, and a few months earlier, Seawater Greenhouse won first prize in the best product category of the UK’s biggest climate-change awards scheme, Climate Week. If Sundrop Farms takes off worldwide, the charming and idealistic Charlie Paton could well be in line for a knighthood, even a Nobel Prize; the potential of his brainchild – the ability to grow infinite quantities of cheap, wholesome food in deserts – is that great.

There’s just one problem in all this. Although he and his family built the South Australia greenhouse with their own hands, Sundrop has abandoned pretty much every scrap of the ultra-simple Paton technology regarding it as “too Heath Robinson” and commercially hopeless. Some of the Patons’ home-made solar panels in wooden frames are still connected up and powering fans, but are falling apart. Nearly all the rest of their installation has been replaced with hi-tech kit which its spiritual father views with contempt. He dismisses Sundrop’s gleaming new £160,000 tracking mirrors from Germany and the thrumming Swiss desalination plant and heat-exchanging tanks as “bells and whistles” put in to impress investors. Sundrop and Seawater have parted company and Paton accuses them of abandoning sustainability in the interests of commercial greed. He is particularly distressed by the installation of a backup gas boiler to keep the crops safe if it’s cloudy for a few days.

But we will return to Charlie Paton later; sadly, perhaps, developments in the South Australian desert are now overshadowing the doubts and travails of their original inspiration. And they are quite some developments. “These guys have been bold and adventurous in having the audacity to think that they could do it,” says the head of Australia’s government-funded desalination research institute, Neil Palmer. “They are making food without risk, eliminating the problems caused not just by floods, frost, hail but by lack of water, too, which now becomes a non-issue. Plus, it stacks up economically and it’s infinitely scalable – there’s no shortage of sunshine or seawater here. It’s all very impressive.”

Food from the desert: tomatoes

On the vine … the blemish-free crop is effectively organic, but it can’t be marketed as such in Australia as it is not grown on soil. Photograph: Hat Margolis

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“The sky really is now the limit,” confirms Dutch water engineer Reinier Wolterbeek, Sundrop’s project manager. “For one thing, we are all young and very ambitious. That’s how we select new team members. And having shown to tough-minded horticulturalists, economists and supermarket buyers that what we can do works and makes commercial sense, there’s now the possibility of growing protein, too, in these closed, controlled greenhouse environments. And that means feeding the world, no less.”

An unexpected bonus of the Sundrop system is that the vegetables produced, while cropping year-round and satisfying the supermarkets’ demand for blemish-free aesthetic perfection, can also be effectively organic. It can’t be called organic (in Australia at least) because it’s grown “hydroponically” – not in soil – but it is wholly pesticide-free, a selling point the Australian supermarkets are seizing on, and apparently fed only benign nutrients. Sundrop is already being sold in local greengrocers in Port Augusta as an ethically and environmentally friendly high-end brand.

Because there’s no shortage of desert in which to site it, a Sundrop greenhouse can be built in isolation from others and be less prone to roving pests. Those that sneak in can be eliminated naturally. In this closeted micro-world, Dave Pratt with his trusty iPhone app is free to play God. Not only does Dave have a flight of in-house bees to do their stuff in the greenhouse (who also live a charmed life as they enjoy a perfect, Dave- controlled climate with no predators) but he also has at his command a platoon of “beneficial insects” called Orius, or pirate bugs. These kill crop-destroying pests called thrips, and do so – weirdly in nature – not for food but for, well, fun. So unless you feel for thrips, or believe food should only be grown in God’s own soil and subject to God’s own pestilences, Sundrop produce seems to be pure and ethical enough to satisfy all but the most eco-fussy.

Sundrop’s founder and CEO, on the other hand, is not at first glance an ecowarrior poster child. True, there are plenty of posh boys dabbling in ethical and organic farming, but on paper, Philipp Saumweber could be a comedy all-purpose hate figure. He is a wealthy, Gordonstoun-educated German with a Harvard MBA, immaculate manners, an American accent, Teutonic efficiency and a career that’s taken him from hedge-fund management to Goldman Sachs to joining his family’s Munich-based agricultural investment business. But, in the typical way stereotypes can let you down, apart from being a thoroughly nice, softly spoken and clearly visionary man, Saumweber has also made a brilliant but ailing idea work, turning a charmingly British, Amstrad-like technology into the horticultural equivalent of Apple.

Soon after becoming immersed in agriculture as a business, he says, he realised that it essentially involved “turning diesel into food and adding water”. Whether you were a tree-hugger or a number cruncher, Saumweber reasoned, this was not good. “So I began to get interested in the idea of saline agriculture. Fresh water is so scarce, yet we’re almost drowning in seawater. I spent a lot of time in libraries researching it, Charlie Paton’s name kept coming up, and that’s what started things. He’d been working on the technology since 1991, was smart and although his approach was obviously home-grown and none of his pilot projects had really worked – in fact they’d all been scrapped – he had something too promising to ignore.”

Despite having given Paton a large, undisclosed ex- gratia settlement when Sundrop and Seawater divorced in February – a sum Paton still says he was very happy with – Saumweber continues to be gracious about his former business partner, and says he wishes he was still on board, as he is a better propagandist and salesman for this ultimate sustainable technology than anyone else he’s met.

“What we liked about Charlie’s idea, as did the engineers we got in to assess Seawater Greenhouse, is that it addressed the water issue doubly by proposing a greenhouse which made water in an elegant way and linked this to a system to use seawater to cool the greenhouse,” Saumweber recounts.

“What we didn’t realise at the start, and I don’t think Charlie ever adjusted to fully, was that even in arid regions, you get cold days and a greenhouse will need heating – hence the gas boiler, which cuts in to produce heat and electricity when it gets cold or cloudy, but which upset Charlie so much because it meant we weren’t 100% zero-energy any longer. What Charlie overlooked is that you can grow anything without heat and cooling, but it will be blemished and misshapen and will be rejected by the supermarkets. If you don’t match their standards, you’re not paid. It would be ideal if that weren’t the case, but we can’t take on the challenge of changing human behaviour.

“So in the end, we had very different views on where the business should go. He’d found the perfect platform to keep tinkering and experimenting, while we just wanted to get into production. He’s a very nice man and I share a lot of his eco views, but it wasn’t possible to stay together.”

When you visit the agreeable Paton family in Hackney it becomes clear the gas-boiler incident out in the desert was far from the whole reason for the fallout with Sundrop. There was also a serious clash of styles. Saumweber is a banker by training and lives in prosperous west London, while the Patons are artistic and live part of the time in a forest clearing in Sussex in a wooden house without electricity. Charlie, an amateur and a tinkerer at heart, a highly knowledgeable polymath rather than a scientist, is also a proud man, whose intense blue eyes burn when he discusses how his invention has, in his view, been debased by the ambitious young men and women who moved it on to the next level.

The difference was essentially political, an idealist/ pragmatist schism not unlike an old Labour/New Labour split. The Patons – Charlie, his wife, jeweller and art school teacher Marlene McKibbin, son Adam, 25, a design engineer and daughter Alice, 26, a fine art graduate – are a tight, highly principled bunch who gather almost every day for a family lunch, like a wholemeal and Palestinian organic olive oil version of the Ewings of Southfork Ranch.

The Seawater Greenhouse method, which they are still promoting actively, involves no desalination plant, no gleaming solar mirrors and little by way of anything electronic. Everything in the Seawater Greenhouse vision is low-tech, cheap to start up and reliant on the subtle, gentle interaction of evaporation and condensation of seawater with wind, both natural and artificial, blown by fans powered by solar panels. If things go wrong and production is disrupted by a glitch in this model, you just persuade people to eat perfectly good but odd-looking produce – or harvest less and stand firm by your sustainable principles.

Although the concept is attractive and the philosophy will chime with many a green consumer, the Seawater Greenhouse installation is less elegant. Dave Pratt, fresh to the team from growing tomatoes in Canada, almost went straight back when he saw the kit Adam and Alice Paton had painstakingly put together. “It was like a construction by the Beverly Hillbillies,” Pratt says. “They had these 15,000 hand-made plastic pipes meant to work as heat exchangers, but they just dripped seawater on the plants, which was disastrous.”

Paton’s perspective on things is, naturally, a little different. “I did have a falling-out with Philipp,” he says. “It was a joint venture, but we disagreed on a number of things. Being a cautious investor, he called in consultants and horticulturalists, and one said if you don’t put in a gas boiler you’re going to lose money and get poor produce. I was persuaded about the need for some heating, but it could have been supplied by solar panels. It wasn’t such a big deal, perhaps, but it was a syndrome that ran through everything we did. Philipp is the king of the spreadsheet, and trying to make the numbers go black meant he just rushed everything. I’m all for the thing being profitable, but there are levels of greed I found a bit, well, not quite right. I wish him well, though, and if it’s fabulously successful, then fine.”

What next for the Patons, then? “Well, the settlement we got was enough to carry on fiddling about for some time. We’re excited about getting a new project going in Cape Verde [the island republic in the mid-Atlantic], where they produce no food at all and they seem interested. And we have talked about a project in Somaliland [the unofficial breakaway part of Somalia], but that would be difficult as there’s not even a hotel to stay in.”

Charlie Paton, although the acknowledged founder of the idea of growing unlimited food in impossible conditions, seems almost destined to join a British tradition of hobbyist geniuses who change the world working from garden sheds and workshops, but, because they aren’t commercial, and perhaps rather eschew professionalism, miss out on the final mile and the big payday.

“We will absolutely keep on at this in our own way,” he says, “but I don’t really feel that proprietary about it. The heart of the technology is actually a bit of soggy cardboard. You can’t patent or protect the idea of evaporative cooling. The idea of using seawater to do that absolutely was a major breakthrough, but again, you can’t patent it. The main thing is that it’s us that’s still picking up the plaudits, and I think that makes Philipp really angry.”
sundropfarms.comseawatergreenhouse.com

Reproduced from The Observer, Saturday 24 November 2012

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