(Roughly) Daily

The benefits of aging…

Readers will recall recent reassurance that food past its expiration date is probably still good.  Turns out that there’s more to the story:  some canned food actually improves with aging.  Harold McGee of Lucky Peach reports, via Slate

European connoisseurship in canned goods goes back about a hundred years. It was well established by 1924, when James H. Collins compiled The Story of Canned Foods. Collins noted that while the American industry—which started in the 1820s and took off during the Civil War—focused on mechanization and making locally and seasonally abundant seafood and vegetables more widely available, the European industry continued to rely on handwork and produced luxury goods for the well-off, who would age their canned sardines for several years like wine. Today, Rödel and Connetable, both more than 150 years old, are among the sardine makers that mark select cans with the fishing year and note that the contents “are already very good, but like grand cru wines, improve with age” for up to 10 years.

But the appreciation of can-aged foods wasn’t unknown in the United States. Collins recounts an informal taste test conducted by a New York grocer who rounded up old cans from a number of warehouses, put on a luncheon in which he served their contents side by side with those from new cans, and asked his guests to choose which version they preferred. Among the test foods were fourteen-year-old pea soup and beef stew, and twelve-year-old corned beef and pigs’ feet. The guests preferred the old cans “by an overwhelming majority”…

The trouble with aging canned goods is that it takes years to get results. However, we can take a hint from manufacturers, who often accelerate shelf-life tests by storing foods at high temperatures. A general rule of thumb is that the rate of chemical reactions approximately doubles with each 20-degree rise in temperature. Store foods at 40 degrees above normal—around 100 degrees—and you can get an idea of a year’s change in just three months.

But it’s possible to go further. At 120 degrees, you get a year’s worth of change in six weeks; at 140 degrees, three weeks; at 180 degrees, five days.

Of course temperatures that high are cooking temperatures, and their heat energy drives reactions that would never occur in normal storage. But if we’re interested in the evolution of canned foods, which have already been extremely cooked, then why not treat them to a little additional simmering and see what happens? (It’s safest to stay a little below the boil, to avoid building up steam pressure in the can.)

I’ve found that braising cans change the flavors and textures within, but unpredictably so. It doesn’t seem to do much for sardines, but tuna in water loses its beefiness and becomes more pleasantly fishy and also a little bitter, while tuna in oil somehow gets more meaty and less fishy. Like its aged version, can-braised Spam takes on a softness that’s especially nice when you fry the surface to a crunchy crust.

I don’t recommend cooking foods in the can as a routine thing. Cans have various linings that may gradually release unwanted chemicals into foods, and this process will also accelerate at high temperatures. But it’s a way to explore how canned foods are capable of developing…


As we turn up the heat, we might send soft and fluffy birthday greetings to “Poppin’ Fresh,” the Pillsbury Doughboy; he premiered on this date in 1965.  Created a couple of years earlier by Leo Burnett copywriter Rudy Perz, PF was first rendered by Martin Nodell.  Inspired by the opening credits for The Dinah Shore Show, they created him not as a traditionally-animated mascot, but as a stop-motion character. The three-dimensional Doughboy clay doll cost $16,000 to create. He had 15 different heads (each with different mouth positions to allow the animation of speech) and 5 bodies to give him different looks and positions.  The stop motion method required 24 still shots to create a single second of animation.

But it was worth the effort: within 3 years, 87% of Americans recognized him by name.

Poppin’ Fresh was voiced by Paul Frees (the voice of Boris in Rocky and Bullwinkle) until Frees’ death in 1986, when Jeff Bergmen  took over (Bergman also stepped in to replace Mel Blanc in Warner Bros. cartoons); he’s currently voiced– in what is now a computer-generated version– by JoBe Cerney.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 18, 2013 at 1:01 am

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