11 (Mostly) Inedible Ingredients Photographers Use to Get Food Ready for Its Close-Up

John Ueland
John Ueland

Looking at the cover of your favorite cookbook or food magazine, it's hard for your mouth not to water. Unless, of course, you know what sort of decidedly non-tasty "ingredients" go into making your favorite foods camera-ready. Here are 11 of them.

1. GLUE

Milk makes cereal soggy, but those corn flakes will stay crunchy when bathed in white glue. Yogurt or shampoo will also do the trick.

2. COTTON BALLS

A piping hot dish looks tasty when steam is billowing, but it’s hard to maintain. As a fix, photographers will soak a cotton ball or tampon in water, microwave it, and then hide it in the frame to create that smoky effect.

3. SHOE POLISH

A tin of shoe polish
iStock

Most meat products aren’t cooked because they shrivel. Instead, steaks and burgers are seared with a blowtorch. Grill marks are added with a branding iron, and shoe polish or varnish creates a succulent sheen.

4. AND 5. CARDBOARD AND TOOTHPICKS

Prop burgers are supported with layers of cardboard, while toothpicks or pins keep the garnishes in place.

6. GLYCERIN

If a product looks cold or icy, it’s likely covered in glycerin. A sugar alcohol, glycerin subs in for condensation on shoots, making the sweat on beer bottles and the moisture on salads.

7. DISH SOAP

A sink full of dish soap and bubbles
iStock

Soda needs lots of bubbles. A little antacid tablet typically gets the stuff churning, while dish soap creates larger surface bubbles.

8. HAIRSPRAY

That delicious bunch of grapes has a matte look because it’s coated in hairspray.

9. MOTOR OIL

Pancakes absorb syrup like a sponge. To prevent this, food stylists will coat a stack of flapjacks with aerosol fabric protector. And since maple syrup isn’t as appetizing under bright lights, some photographers prefer motor oil.

10. PAPER TOWELS

Several rolls of paper towels
iStock

Ice cream syrup tends to droop, so photographers cut out pieces of paper towel, lay them onto the ice cream, and then cover the patches with syrup, which stays in place.

11. MASHED POTATOES

Speaking of ice cream, which melts under hot lights: mashed potatoes are dyed different colors and then shaped into scoops to look like they came from a creamery. Taters are also injected to plump up roasts and baked into pies to prevent slices from falling apart.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

Americans Waste Tons of Perfectly Good Food Because They Don't Understand Expiration Dates

iStock.com/FangXiaNuo
iStock.com/FangXiaNuo

Everyone approaches safe food handling a little differently. Some people rely on the smell test; others are fastidious about washing their hands.

But according to a new survey, consumers waste food—a lot of food—because they don't understand the meaning of the expiration dates on the food labels.

The online survey, led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and published in the journal Waste Management, polled 1029 respondents about their knowledge of food labels that use terms like “best if used by,” “sell by,” or “use by.” Roughly 84 percent said they opted to discard food on or near the so-called expiration dates at least occasionally, while 37 percent said they did it on a regular basis. Just over a third of those polled believed such food labels—often found on packaged dry food as well as bread and canned goods—were federally regulated, which they aren’t.

The survey indicates some confusion over food labeling. Typically, “best by” and “sell by” labels are meant to indicate when a food might begin to experience diminished freshness or quality, not an expiration date by which it could spoil or become a potential source of food-borne illness. By discarding these foods prematurely, researchers say, consumers are contributing to a food waste problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that up to 31 percent of consumable food is wasted at both the retail and consumer levels.

Shoppers aren’t necessarily to blame. The labels often have no explicit explanation on packaging, leaving phrases like “best if used by” open to interpretation. Even individual states have different standards for items like milk, with some using a “sell by” date (with the milk typically good for five days after) and others sticking to a “use by” date.

Other pantry foods may have expiration dates but could conceivably last for years, like sugar, salt, and honey.

Newer food industry standards may clear up some of this confusion, with “use by” designated strictly for items where safety is a concern and other terms (including "best if used by") meant to denote quality. Taking the "use by" suggestion is especially important with deli meats and cheeses that can grow bacteria like Listeria in refrigerated environments. Until there’s a universally recognized standard, however, consumers are likely to remain uncertain about what these terms mean.

So what’s the best approach to interpreting food labels? For dry or non-perishable goods, dates are often a marker of quality, and you’re not likely to do yourself any harm by keeping the food around longer. Perishable goods should be discarded when their “use by” dates have arrived. But no matter what the package says, if doesn’t smell or look quite right, label it trash and go shopping.

[h/t ScienceDaily]

An Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Is Coming to New Jersey

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Now, Food & Wine reports that Bourdain's home state will honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail would draw from the New Jersey episode from season five of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, but it's not clear when it will be officially established. Until then, you can take your own Bourdain-inspired tour by visiting one of the planned trail stops below.

1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
2. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
3. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
4. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
5. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
6. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
7. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
8. Donkey's Place // Camden
9. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

[h/t Food & Wine]

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