Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hawaiian chocolate--hoo da good! And how you process it makes a difference.

Immature cacao fruit.

A lot of Hawaii residents are growing chocolate—either for a hobby or commercially.

And if you’re growing Theobroma cacao, the cacao tree, from which chocolate is made, chances are you’ve experimented with making some.

It turns out there’s a lot of disagreement about how best to process this magical fruit. 

Traditionally, the fruit is harvested and the cocoa-producing seeds removed along with their white fleshy pulp. All of that is then fermented, normally with the bacteria and yeasts that show up naturally.

Later, the fermented beans are cleaned, dried, roasted, processed to remove the seed coat, and then the resulting nibs are ground into chocolate liquor. After that you can make chocolate milk, add the stuff to cake, or even make chocolate bars.

It’s a whole lot of work. There are dozens of Hawai`i companies marketing Hawaiian-grown chocolate. I’ll list a few, and apologize to those left out. 

Manoa Chocolate on O`ahu has a quick video on production.
The Moloa`a Bay Coffee folks on Kaua`i do excellent chocolate. I've tried it.
The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Farm does tours in Kona 
There’s Waialua Estate on O`ahu. 
And Steelgrass Farm on Kaua`i.
You can take the Maui Chocolate Tour

It goes on and on. Do your own search to find more.

And it turns out, there are different theories about which processing method for chocolate is best.

For example, the fermenting is supposed to bring out a better flavor, but it can also remove some of the valued anti-oxidants. 

“Substantial decreases (>80%) in catechin and epicatechin levels were observed in fermented versus unfermented beans,” says this paper in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Catechin and epicatechin are anti-oxidant flavonoids. They’re also found in green tea. 

Of course, we really don’t eat chocolate because of its health benefits, do we?

Fermenting can also increase the likelihood that rot will set in during the fermentation. (I lost a whole season that way once.)

There is a small movement marketing non-fermented cacao. I tried doing that. Just drying the beans without fermenting and then roasting them. Still tastes like chocolate to me, but I haven’t done proper testing to see whether it’s inferior to fermented beans.

There are studies that argue that the specific type of yeast used in fermenting makes all the difference. 

“Our findings demonstrate that yeast growth and activity were essential for cocoa bean fermentation and the development of chocolate characteristics.,” wrote the authors of this paper

But wait, the Mars candy company has announced a patent for a fermentation-free chocolate. No yeast at all. It uses an ethanol soak for a couple of days instead of the fermentation. And it insists that it’s the ethanol, not the microbes, that causes the great chocolate flavor. 

You’d assume the Mars people know something about chocolate. Here is the link to Oliver Neiburg’s article in Confectionery News on the subject of the new Mars technique.

There’s more on the Hawaiian chocolate industry at the website of the industry organization, Hawaii Chocolate and Cacao Association..

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Wai'ale`ale still wettest spot on Earth? If you count ALL the rainfall, yes.

NOAA image of the weather station at Wai`ale`ale. 

Everybody is claiming to be wetter than Wai`ale`ale—the longtime champion as Wettest Spot on Earth.

There are wetter places in India, in New Zealand, in Cameroon, they say. 

Let me stand and defend Wai`ale`ale.

I’ve been there. It’s wet. So wet that trees can’t grow. The sedges there push themselves up from the surface in clumps, to keep from drowning. 

Much of the time, being there is like sitting in a constant cold shower.

It is a gorgeous, unworldly landscape. It sits at the edge of plunging green cliffs. When you peer between the clouds, you can see the ocean nearly a mile below.

To suggest that some dank jungle is wetter than this sacred place, well, that’s just sacrilege.

We on Kaua`i always knew Wai`ale`ale deserved the crown, but then a bunch of decades ago, folks in India began claiming the title for Cherrapunji. And others suggested that Mount Kukui on Maui might actually be wetter.  

I’ve just come across an article  that dumps Wai`ale`ale into 8th place and Kukui to 9th. It moves Big Bog on Maui up to 7th. Here’s MSN’s version of that. 

The place listed on these sites as wettest is Mawsynram, Meghalaya State, India, with a pretty amazing total of just short of 40 feet—467 inches. It’s a short distance from Cherrapunji, which also in Meghalaya State.

I will concede that Wai`ale`ale may not be the wettest every year. I will even concede that with climate change, it may be less wet than it was. Less wet. You can’t really say drier when you’re talking rainfall in dozens of feet.

But turning away from Wai`ale`ale as long-term champion? Let’s just take a breath.

Back in the 20s, the Kaua`i spot measured nearly 57 feet of rain. That’s 683 inches. But it's averages we're talking about here.

The problem with documenting Wai`ale`ale is that it’s so wet that the measurements don’t represent all the actual rainfall. 

For years, the massive copper drum that held rainfall at Wai`ale`ale was checked by teams that rode mules part of the way, and then hiked the rest. Sometimes they huddled in a cave to get out of the incessant rain. Often they couldn’t get to the summit for weeks or months. (Last time I saw that copper drum, it was stored at Kaua`i Museum.)

Often, by the time they got there, the drum had long since overflowed. They could only measure what was in the drum. There was no way to guess what had flowed over.

Plus, the middle of a wet Hawaiian winter is a tough time to get to the site. You couldn't show up like clockwork on December 31 to measure the rainfall and dump the water for the new year. Thus, not only are annual figures are often underestimates, but it's estimated which of the rainfall fell in October to December, and which in January to March.

The result is that until the advent of electronic devices that measured rain without storing water, many of the Wai`ale`ale annual rainfall counts have a long history, but almost all are necessarily less than the amount that actually fell. Maybe inches less, maybe feet less.

Even conceding all that lost water, the Wai`ale`ale numbers are high. Winters Takamura, of the Weather Service, reported in 1935 “The annual average from 12 years of record in the interval between 1911 and 1933 is 456 inches.” 

He listed Cherrapunji at 458. And now folks are giving Mawsynram 467.

But these places are very different. Mawsynram is a town. One can assume that every millimeter of rainfall is measured and none is allowed to spill over the rain gauge rim. Also, the rainfall record at Mawsynram is just a few years long. Indian media agree that the Mawsynram data is all quite recent, although Cherrapunji’s numbers go way back to the 1800s.

Guiness World Records has bought the hype, and lists Mawsynram first and Cherrapunji second.  

But the title stays with Wai`ale`ale  if you count only a few lost inches of rainfall, water that overflowed the green-stained copper drum and ran down its sides into the sedges of the Eastern Alaka`i.

Long term? No question. Wai`ale`ale has the pedigree. And if the data were perfect, there's a strong argument that it would drench the competition.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Finess yields longer life, lower inflammation, healthier kids, better memory. Get out there!

Need reasons to get out and get fit? Here are a bunch of new ones.

As the nation’s healthiest state for five years running, Hawai`i folks don’t seem to need much of an excuse.  

But maybe you need a little boost to get you out the door. Here you are.

If you’re older, being more fit means you probably also get a better memory as a bonus.

“Cardiorespiratory fitness is one individual difference factor that may attenuate brain aging, and thereby contribute to enhanced source memory in older adults,” says this study led by researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine. 

They say that being fit “may contribute to neuroplasticity among older adults, reducing age-related differences in some brain regions, consistent with the brain maintenance hypothesis, but accentuating age-differences in other regions, consistent with the brain compensation hypothesis.”

And you may be reading a lot about anti-inflammatory diets and the issues with inflammation in the body. Well, these researchers from the University of California at San Diego said that 20 minutes of exercise can reduce inflammation. 

You don’t need to go all out, but you shouldn’t dawdle, either, they write. A fast walk is sufficient, they say..

“Decreased inflammatory responses during acute exercise may protect against chronic conditions with low-grade inflammation,” the authors wrote.

So, this isn’t news to most of us. Here’s here is one more study that says that if you exercise moderately to vigorously, you’re less likely to die early.

It’s a pretty good-sized study. More than 5,000 people. The health effect of exercise applies to both men and women. And the positive impacts of exercise on mortality are impressive, as long as you do moderate to vigorous physical activity. Dawdling, once again, does not have quite the same positive impact. 

Okay, and here’s one that makes perfect sense. 

If you want your kids to be fit and healthy, you need to set the example. This study suggests that parents who stay fit will have kids who will exercise at a higher level. 

The researchers actually attached equipment to family members to measure their physical activity. They found, as you might expect, that couch potato parents tended to have kids who lazed around more. And active parents had more active kids.

“Considering how to reduce parental sedentary behavior and increase (physical activity) behaviors could be a powerful point of intervention,” wrote the authors, led by Shari Barkin of the Department of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Are you really dumb and think you're not? There's a name for that.

Have you come across people who think they know a lot about something, but really, really don’t?

It turns out there’s a diagnosis for this condition—knowing so little that you don’t know what you don’t know. Being so stupid that you don’t know how stupid you actually are.

It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

David Dunning said this about it: “If you're incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent [T]he skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

It plays out in so many ways. 

A teenager who asserts, “I’m a really good driver,” while tailgating, running red lights, making lane changes without a turn signal and texting in traffic.

Someone who’s heard a false meme, and buys into it without checking. Often this happens because the meme fits into a preconceived worldview. You hate the former Democratic presidential candidate so much that you think it’s even plausible that she’d be running a child sex ring out of a pizza joint.

We used to get new members of our canoe club, who believed that since they’d paddled an ultralight canoe solo on a flat lake, they knew everything about powering a 400-pound outrigger canoe with a crew of six through rough ocean water. And didn’t mind lecturing us dumb locals about something we’d been doing for a lifetime.
David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell published their report in 1999 on the effect, in an article entitled, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”

A lot of folks are now calling President-Elect Donald Trump the Dunning-Kruger President

Dunning himself, during the past election campaign, suggested that maybe it was Trump supporters more than Trump himself that suffered from Dunning-Kruger. 

Said Dunning: “The problem isn’t that voters are too uninformed. It is that they don’t know just how uninformed they are.”

But there’s a caution. You might want to look in the mirror, particularly if you’re one of those folks who were sure he wouldn’t win the election. If you couldn’t see the Trump train coming, then you should at least consider that you’re the one with the cognitive bias.

(If Dunning-Kruger is the overestimation of your own abilities, a corollary to Dunning-Kruger is the overestimation of the abilities of others. “I understand this math problem, so why can’t you?”)
© Jan TenBruggencate 2017