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Blog archive: October 2007

Grilled tomatoes – sweet!

Zeth and Colette

Such a simple idea, but one I’d not encountered before… Last night, Colette pierced a dozen or so baby plum tomatoes onto a wooden skewer, adorned them with thyme, then slow-roasted them over a barbeque until they sweltered in oozing sweetness. The gently charred skins added a smokiness to the green baby leaf salad that they were thrown into, the caramelized flesh infusing the vinaigrette with extra sweetness. So pleasing to bump into these babies in the midst of all that greenery, they pop with a gentler softness than their raw counterparts. Try it. You’ll smile as brightly as Colette and savor the flavor just like Zeth.

Talking of sweetness, it’s now established that different species experience this basic taste radically differently. Old World primates – such as humans – and New World primates – such as spider monkeys and marmosets – perceive sweet compounds differently. For example, give humans a food containing aspartame, and they will find it sweet. Feed aspartame to a passing spider monkey, and they’ll sense only a dull chemical taste.

The human taste response to aspartame has stimulated widespread production of this industrial food ingredient under the brand names NutraSweet, Splenda, Canderel and Equal. However, whether you’re a human or a spider monkey, eating food and drink containing aspartame is strongly suspected of causing extreme negative health responses, including brain tumors, lymphoma and leukemia.

This is because aspartame is broken down by the human digestive system into methanol and formaldehyde, universally recognized poisons. Aspartame also contains phenylalanine, a protein that adversely effects neurotransmitter function in adults as well as unborn fetuses.

A number of rigorous scientific studies have looked into these claims of toxicity, and although the findings are contested by the aspartame manufacturing industry and their friends, it seems wise to avoid foods that contain aspartame unless new data proves it safe after all.

The cautionary principle is so wise when it comes to protecting your family’s health from all under-tested and novel ingredients developed for cheapness and convenience rather than taste, nutrition or improved culinary function.

Of course, one of the many reasons to choose organic foods is because aspartame is prohibited from them, along with a long, long list of other potentially risky chemical additives. You can reach for any certified organic food without the need to scan the ingredients list. Aspartame isn’t on it. Simple.

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