Best Food Facts took California by storm during our inaugural TASTE: Unearthing the Art and Science of Food Blogger Tour – a three-day extravaganza that explored the technology and science used in food production. TASTE gave seven foodie bloggers the opportunity to connect with experts, farmers and nutritionists, and have conversations aplenty about biotechnology, organic and conventional foods, wine production and more. Our company was truly delightful with Adriana, Annalise, Christina, Courtney, Heather, Melanie and Sheila along for the journey!
Our trip started with a venture to K&J Orchards where we experienced taste-testing privileges as well as a tour given by orchard manager and daughter of the orchard founders, Aomboon Deasy. Here’s what we learned:
- There are benefits to both organic and conventional methods of growing food and this orchard uses both.
- Pesticides are used in both organic and conventional methods. Organic production can use only pesticides that are naturally-occurring, whereas conventional can use pesticides that are synthetic.
- There aren’t nutritional differences between organic and conventional foods, so both are great options.
- The health benefits of consuming all fruits and vegetables – no matter how they are grown/produced – far outweigh any risks of pesticide exposure.
Dinner with Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung
We closed the first night of our California adventure with amazing eats and discussion with Denneal Jamison-McClung, PhD, Associate Director of the Biotechnology Program and faculty member at UC Davis. Here’s what we learned:
- There is extensive research in the area of biotechnology and genetic modification (GM) under way at University of California-Davis and other universities around the world – and has been for decades!
- GM foods are safe. The FDA works with companies developing biotech crops through a consultation process that begins in the early stages of crop improvement and proceeds through final approval (10-15 years).
- GM technology can prevent unintended consequences that can occur with other types of plant breeding.
- There are only eight GM crops: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya*, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets (these crops also have non-GM varieties, except for Hawaiian papaya)
Day two kicked off with a trip to Napa, CA to learn about wine making at Black Stallion Winery. Here’s what we learned:
- Yeast is a tool (also a fungus!) that vintners use to transform grapes into wine. Yeast starts the fermentation process – breaking down sugars in the grapes into ethanol and carbon dioxide.
- The white matter you see on grapes growing in orchards is actually a naturally occurring yeast.
- Yeast can impact flavor and it’s easily manipulated, so vintners use it to create exactly the type of wine they want to make.
- No wine is sulfite-free. Sulfites are naturally-occuring in grapes and are an antibacterial and antioxidant.
Lunch with Mitch Harkenrider
We had lunch with Mitch Harkenrider, senior doctoral student and researcher in the Plant Biology Graduate Group at UC Davis. Here’s what we learned:
- Harkenrider loves gardening and has a passion for efficiency in crop production, which led him to focus his career on plant biotechnology.
- He studies under world-renowned Dr. Pamela Ronald. Dr. Pamela and her husband Raoul are a dynamic duo, with Dr. Pamela focusing her research on GM plants and her husband focusing on organic production. They co-authored Tomorrow’s Table and live in harmony, realizing we need every tool in the toolbox to meet the food needs of our diverse and growing world.
Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Sciences
Located on the UC Davis campus, the Robert Mondavi Institute houses the departments of Viticulture and Enology, and Food Science and Technology. In addition to touring the Institute’s LEED Platinum-certified building, we learned about the food science behind olive oil and honey processing, brewing and winemaking. We met:
- Amina Harris, Executive Director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science at UC Davis
- Sue Langstaff, owner of Applied Sensory, LLC and member of the UC Davis Olive Oil Taste Panel and the UC Cooperative Extension Sonoma County Olive Oil Taste Panel
- Roger Boulton, PhD, professor and Stephen Sinclair Scott Endowed Chair in Enology in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis.
Here's what we learned:
- There is a science to the sensory experience associated with the tastes of both honey and olive oil.
- There is no organic honey produced in the continental United States.
- The fridge test for olive oil is not a reliable test for purity or quality.
- The Robert Mondavi Institute facilities are water- and energy-positive.
- The Institute has a private collection of wine with some bottles being worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Dinner with Drs. Elizabeth A. Maga and James D. Murray
We joined Elizabeth A. Maga, PhD, adjunct professor in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, and James D. Murray, PhD, professor of Animal Science and Department of Population Health and Reproduction at UC Davis, to talk about their recent research on goat’s milk. Here’s what we learned:
- Maga and Murray bred transgenic (GM) goats to produce milk that can protect children in developing countries from diarrhea – a common cause of death.
- The milk contains enzymes that strengthen the stomach and fight off harmful bacteria, therefore, making or keeping children healthy.
The Amazing Tomato Trek
Our last adventure included following a tomato on its journey from the farm to your table. The trek started with a tour of the Rominger Brothers Farm followed by a tour of a Campbell Soup Company processing facility. Along the way, we met Rick Rominger, a fifth-generation farmer and owner of Rominger Brothers Farms; Daniel Sonke, PhD, manager of sustainable agriculture programs at Campbell Soup Company; David Kiehn, Campbell Soup Company processing facility manager; and more.
Here’s what we learned:
- The kinds of tomatoes grown for tomato paste and sauce are very different than the ones you buy fresh at the market. These tomatoes have a much harder skin and far lower water content and are sweeter.
- California is the number one area in the world for tomato production – 95 percent of all tomatoes in the United States and 30 percent of all the tomatoes in the world are grown in California.
- Tomatoes are picked and processed within hours to preserve nutrients and reduce the potential for spoilage.
- Because of its focus on sustainability, Campbells has rigorous goals to reduce their environmental impact, yet still produce the same amount of food – they aim to reduce water use in fields by 20 percent and by 50 percent in their facilities over the next 10 years.
Our power-packed TASTE Tour showed us that technology and science improves many aspects of our lives including the way our food is produced. And technology, as it relates to food, can mean greater accessibility, enriched nutrition, better flavor, improved safety and more. Stay tuned for more posts about the tour.