Why You Never See Fresh Olives at the Grocery Store

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iStock

If given a choice, most grocery shoppers prefer fresh produce over something that's been pumped full of preservatives. Yet shoppers are almost never given that choice when it comes to olives. The small, meaty fruits can be found floating in brines, packed in cans, and stuffed with pimentos, but they're hardly ever shipped to the store straight off the tree. As the video series Reactions explains, there's a good reason for that.

In their natural state, because they contain high concentrations of a bitter-tasting compound called oleuropein, fresh olives are practically inedible. To make the food palatable, olive producers have to get rid of these nasty-tasting chemicals, either by soaking them in water, fermenting them in salt brine, or treating them with sodium hydroxide.

Because of its speed, food manufacturers prefer the sodium hydroxide method. Commonly known as lye, sodium hydroxide accelerates the chemical breakdown of oleuropein into compounds that have a less aggressive taste. While other processes can take several weeks to work, sodium hydroxide only takes one week.

Afterward, the olives are washed to remove the caustic lye, then packed with water and salt to extend their shelf life, giving them their distinct briny flavor.

For more on the chemistry of olives, check out the full video from Reactions below.

[h/t Reactions]

There's an Easier Way to Use a Cheese Grater

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iStock.com/brazzo

Most kitchen gadgets don't come with manuals, but maybe they should. Time and time again, humans have demonstrated a knack for taking something simple—say, a can opener—and finding a way to use it in the most difficult and least-efficient way possible. (Hint: The rotating handle should be placed on top of the can, not off to the side.)

Well, the internet has once again stepped in to save us from ourselves. There's apparently an easier way to use a standard four-sided cheese grater (a.k.a. a box grater), according to a short video that was originally uploaded to Instagram by Menu World. Instead of holding it vertically in one hand, you lay it down horizontally on a table or counter and start grating your cheese from side to side instead of up and down. This prevents the grater from moving around while you hold it, and it's a little easier on your arms. (In a similar vein, you can also apply a coat of cooking spray to the outside of the grater to make it less of an upper body workout, and this is especially recommended if you're grating sticky cheese.)

The cheese grater hack has been going viral on social media, so don't feel bad if you never thought of doing it this way—lots of other people haven't, either.

This method is also helpful because the cheese collects inside the grater, providing a handy visual guide for figuring out how much cheese to shred. When it's grated directly into a large bowl with other ingredients, it can be a little harder to judge.

Here's one final tip for your next cheese-infused dinner: Try using an old toothbrush to clean out all of the grater's little holes. It will save you some time (and perhaps prevent minor grater-related injuries). For more tips like these, Mental Floss has a couple of guides for awesome cleaning hacks.

Want to Save the Environment? Eat Less Meat

iStock.com/ac_bnphotos
iStock.com/ac_bnphotos

It may be time to order a veggie burger instead of a rack of ribs. For years, climate scientists have suggested eating less meat to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, but the researchers behind a new study say dietary changes are essential to prevent global catastrophe.

The study—published in the journal Nature—is the most comprehensive analysis of how the global food system affects the environment, The Guardian reports. In addition to greenhouse gases being released by livestock, deforestation and water shortages are a couple of other ways that current food production methods hurt the planet. Researchers say there is no easy fix to slow climate change, but reducing our intake of meat is one way that everyone can help out.

“There is no magic bullet,” Marco Springmann, who led the study, tells The Guardian. “But dietary and technological change [on farms] are the two essential things, and hopefully they can be complemented by reduction in food loss and waste."

That doesn’t mean you have to become a vegetarian or vegan, though. Researchers recommend a “flexitarian” diet, which involves occasionally eating meat. For this to make a positive impact, the average global citizen would have to eat 90 percent less pork, 75 percent less beef, and half the number of eggs they normally consume. If you simply can't give up steak, the Climate, Land, Ambition & Rights Alliance (CLARA) recommends consuming just two 5-ounce servings of meat per week. Researchers in the Nature study say beans, nuts, and seeds are all recommended sources of protein.

By their estimates, a global shift towards a flexitarian diet would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 56 percent, and would reduce other environmental impacts by 6 to 22 percent. They say the global food system emitted around 5.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide in greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, in addition to using vast amounts of cropland, fresh water, and fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus (which pollute waterways as agricultural runoff).

“If socioeconomic changes towards Western consumption patterns continue, the environmental pressures of the food system are likely to intensify, and humanity might soon approach the planetary boundaries for global freshwater use, change in land use, and ocean acidification,” researchers write in their paper. In other words, the current food system might not be able to sustain the projected population of 10 billion people in 2060.

The study follows the recent release of a UN report in which scientists warned that we have only 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Failing to do so would result in more extreme weather events, including drought, floods, and severe heat. If you're looking for other ways to reduce your carbon footprint, try flying less, biking more, and turning down your thermostat. Every bit helps.

[h/t The Guardian]

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