May 17, 2016

"I like rice. Rice is great if you're hungry and you want 2000 of something."

Just a joke I ran across as I was searching for information about foods that are popular even though they are virtually flavorless. That happened because I was reading this Megan McArdle column, "Dining Out on Empty Virtue," about farm-to-table food, and I saw this (boldface added):
[E]ating locally sharply limits the variety of foods you can consume at one time. Things pop up in their growing season, then they are gone from our tables, if not our hearts and memories. This is how my mother grew up eating in the farm country of western New York, where summer was a glorious succession of excesses: three weeks of strawberry shortcake every evening, then farewell to strawberries for the rest of the year; that loss was, of course, somewhat consoled by the onset of purple raspberry pie. But eventually winter came, and it was back to root vegetables, home-canned beans and frozen peas, occasionally varied by the tasteless yet indestructible iceberg lettuce that could be shipped from the ever-fertile fields of inland California.
You see my point of view? I have almost no sense of taste. The fact that a particular food is popular in spite of a lack of flavor is very useful to me. I've seen iceberg lettuce disparaged for decades, but I'm thinking in a new way now. It might be that it's everywhere because it keeps well and can be shipped and stored relatively easily, but part of it must be that people like the texture and the inside-the-head sound. People with a normal sense of taste may prioritize flavor and even look down on those who are flavor dumb, without thinking much about those of us who are flavor blind.


Original Mike said...

Iceberg lettuce is crunchy and holds up well to salad dressing.

traditionalguy said...

Romaine rules. And rice is worth a dollar to get it fried up.

Actually many fish are flavorless. But cooking them in spices and serving them with sauces solves that.

Ann Althouse said...

But it might be that people PREFER the lack of taste, just like people prefer an odorless room to room that reeks of sweat, cigarette smoke, and perfume.

Foodies push the idea that more flavor is better, that a lettuce with more flavor is inherently better than the nearly flavorless iceberg lettuce. Assume that the other lettuces could have the crunchiness of iceberg lettuce, would people want those other lettuces on their sandwich or would they prefer the low-flavor iceburg lettuce.

When it comes to vegetables, for a lot of people, less is more.

In that view, you could say I have an advantage, because I'm free to eat the high-flavor vegetables that many people shun.

But for me it's all about the texture. What are the best-texture vegetables? It's just a clue that the flavorless ones that are popular are the best textured ones. That might not be true. It might be that people actually like low-flavor.

Ann Althouse said...

"Actually many fish are flavorless. But cooking them in spices and serving them with sauces solves that."

Not for me!

This spices might add a burning feeling, but no interesting flavor.

So the question is whether fish is good without flavor. Is the texture great? No! Batter fry it and you've got something -- perhaps the most enjoyable entree for me.

John said...

The idea that foods aren't always available is a lost thought - you can get almost anything you want, almost any time of the year. We just had sweet corn we bought for just $.09 an ear this weekend. It was flavorless.

Original Mike said...

"Is the texture great? No!"

Glad you feel that way. More sushi for me!

Writ Small said...

The wide use of rice and lettuce has everything to do with flavor in this sense. The purpose of rice and iceburg lettuce to act as a flavor moderator. With rice especially, you can easily regulate the ratio of the rice to the other flavorful items to hit something not too strong and not too weak. Kids experience flavors more intensely than adults and adults tastes vary. Rice, bread, potatoes, and lettuce give people the tools to individually manage flavor.

damikesc said...

The idea that foods aren't always available is a lost thought - you can get almost anything you want, almost any time of the year. We just had sweet corn we bought for just $.09 an ear this weekend. It was flavorless.

Imagine what bland-as-hell corn tastes like.

damikesc said...

You do want some flavorless things. Milk, for example. It works for cereal because it is fairly tasteless but it's not water.

Wilbur said...

My experience: Romaine is more expensive, but it seems to keep longer than iceberg. I've read that Romaine is more nutritious as well. Both do very well at adding texture and a balancing flavor to a sandwich or other foods as well.

Rice: I've only eaten brown rice for the last 30-35 years. I much prefer its flavor to white rice, which is not especially nutritious.

Your mileage may vary.

Richard Dolan said...

"But it might be that people PREFER the lack of taste ..."

That's an idea that only makes sense for people who have a sense of taste, since you can't prefer something if you can't sense its opposite (or absence). Can't say I've ever met anyone who expressed a preference for blandness but no doubt there are such people (I suspect the English countryside still harbors a few).

Carter Wood said...

Eaten at a Chinese restaurant in NYC: Coagulated duck's feet. Tastleless, but oh, the texture!

buwaya said...

Rice isn't flavorless. It's not even uniform, it comes in many varieties, each with its appropriate use, and the taste changes a lot according to the preparation.
It makes different combinations with other foods on the plate to achieve unique effects, in taste and of course texture.
Rice in a soup is a different matter from rice porridge, glutinous rice ball under an egg isn't the same as loose rice by spicy stuffed vegetables.
Of course, this can be mainly a matter of experience. Where I come from, and in my mind, rice IS food, meals (breakfast lunch, merienda and dinner) are rice.

buwaya said...

And brown rice is barbaric.

iowan2 said...

Iceberg lettuce has a yuuuge carbon foot print. Divide the environmental destruction, by food value received, and its hard to think of anything that is as bad for the planet

Wince said...

"You can never have too much TarTar sauce!"

Bob Ellison said...


Ignorance is Bliss said...

Maybe that's why you like Trump. He's entirely tasteless.

You wouldn't even have to hold your nose while voting for him!

Henry said...

You should try jicama.

etienne said...

One thing to know, is that all rice grown in Texas is mob owned. They have a direct tap into the treasury. When the shuttle blew up over Texas, all the rice farmers got 100% crop insurance, because aluminum and body parts might have contaminated the fields. All of Texas, not just the area under the debris path.

When I buy rice, it is Basmati Rice, grown in California. Very low Arsenic levels.

I cook it different because I like the crunch, so I only use 1 cup of water per cup of rice. Throw in 2 chicken broth-cubes from the freezer et voilĂ ...

rhhardin said...

I buy brown rice in 50 pound bags.

Combine with frozen peas and steam.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Hmm. Few fishes are really flavorless. (Tilapia, maybe? Plus it has terrible texture.) I'm always arguing with my wife about herbs and spices for cooking fish - I want to be able to taste the FISH, not just the sauce. A little ginger, or tarragon, or slivered spring onions [by the way, if you plant the white root ends of spring onions, you never have to buy them again.] Or just a bit of salt...
[Reminds me--once on a dive boat near Honduras, another diver got annoyed at being repeatedly stared at by a barracuda while we hung on the deco bar at the end of dives. He tossed a hand-line over the side, caught it, and we had it for dinner. It was smallish, so we guessed the ciguatera risk was low. Fascinating muscle structure, not like anything else I've seen. Flavor was like ling cod, IIRC.]
The problem with iceberg lettuce is that growing it consumes a lot of resources for very little nutritive return. (I tried to fit "garner" in there but failed...). (There is recently an argument in CA about the boom in almond orchards. Some argue that almond trees consume a lot of water, while others argue that the yield in protein-per-gallon is actually excellent. In CA everything is about water or politics or both.)
Agree with Buwaya Puti about rice: there are many interesting flavors and textures available. Find a chinese / japanese / indian grocery and sample some. He's wrong, though, about brown rices being barbaric. It just has to be cooked differently.

Anonymous said...

I miss Mitch!

Henry said...

You really need to link through to the original article. We're not just talking farm-to-table. We're talking hipster farm-to-table in restaurants in like this:

The Mill in St. Petersburg features a “farmhouse industrial chic” look, according to the designer, one wall an installation of rust-freckled gears, cogs, wheels and pipes.

But I find this article kind of cheery.

Everywhere you look, you see the claims: “sustainable,” “naturally raised,” “organic,” “non-GMO,” “fair trade,” “responsibly grown." writes Laura Reiley. But these claims are either lies or equivocations:

And that F**k Monsanto Salad? [Chef Gary] Moran said he buys his produce at wholesaler Sanwa on Hillsborough Avenue. According to Sanwa produce buyer Beatrice Reyes, while produce is labeled by country of origin, it would not be labeled as “local” or “non-GMO.” Unless you’re buying from Sanwa’s small organic section, there’s no way to assure you’re getting non-GMO. Even some certified organic foods have been found to contain GMOs.

Could some of the ingredients in the salad be grown from Monsanto seed?

“It’s really hard to find non-GMO produce,” Moran said.

That last line makes me very happy. We all live by fictions, but I'm happy that at the root level reality can't be avoided.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Amazon: Kokuho Rose Sushi Rice

You're welcome. Oh, it's grown in CA, so you're buying local (if you happen to live out there). Get yourself a Zojirushi fuzzy logic cooker (this is my model but there are newer ones) and you're all set. Want to save money? Your local Asian food store (or farmer's market) has 20lb bags of high quality rice for such a good price! Plus it'll keep for a long time and with the rice cookers you can program it to wake up you with a congee (rice-porridge) breakfast OR come home to a fragrant, freshly-cooked pot of delicious sticky rice ready to eat.

ndspinelli said...

I also miss Mitch.

Dad said...

There are two Dads, and I miss Mitch, too.

I useta do drugs.

Dad said...

And sustainability is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Rusty said...

ndspinelli said...
I also miss Mitch.

I miss the DeFranes.

Freeman Hunt said...

There are salads in which iceberg is best. Say you're going to have a bleu cheese and bacon salad with a sweet balsamic dressing. The lettuce should be iceberg. You only want the texture, not another flavor.

DavidD said...

Pecans taste like Christmas, because that's the only time we had nuts--or oranges.

I think my preference for Romaine today is because iceberg is all there was growing up.

Ryan said...

Ann, you should try Japanese foods. Their culture values foods for texture, even when there is little or no taste. Examples (some of which have taste too):

--Daikon radish
--Soft or hard tofu
--Bamboo shoots
--Cabbages (regular, nappa)
--Wood ear fungus
--My favorites, the slimy foods: okra, natto (fermented soybean), grated mountain yam (nagaimo)
--Lotus root
--Rice (of course)
--Roasted soybean
--Chicken cartilage and bone

Birches said...

Iceberg lettuce is good for its texture, not its flavor. Plus, it's good roughage. A lot of roughage in one's diet is probably good for most Americans.

My name goes here. said...

Iceberg has flavor, it is subtle, almost more aromatic flavor than anything else, like celery without the acrid kick on the back half. It is also wet so it pairs nicely with dry(er) foods like turkey and chicken, abating the need for some of the mayonnaise that many people use. It also has good mouthfeel.

tim in vermont said...

You have no problem getting an iceberg wedge salad at the best restaurants full of food snobs. I order one every time I can. Of course there will be some fine blue cheese and maybe some bacon involved.

Rocketeer said...

And brown rice is barbaric.

I'monna give the brother and "AMEN" on that!

Rocketeer said...

The only thing I remember fondly from the 70s was a wedge of iceberg lettuce with crispy bacon bits and my mom's Green Godess salad dressing.

traditionalguy said...

I defy anyone to taste Grouper cooked without added flavors and like it.

Rockport Conservative said...

My mother liked her wedge of iceberg with a little sprinkling of sugar, just as she did salt on watermelon. I like it with thousand island dressing.

Known Unknown said...

I miss the DeFranes.

Have you been looking for them??!?!?!??

furious_a said...

Foodies push the idea that more flavor is better.

Vegetables, yes. Fish and chicken that means it's spoiling.

kjbe said...

There are salads in which iceberg is best. Say you're going to have a bleu cheese and bacon salad with a sweet balsamic dressing. The lettuce should be iceberg. You only want the texture, not another flavor.

That's where I was going - it's only good for the crunch.

jr565 said...

Mitch had a few nice one liners like:

I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.

Man, remember that movie The Outsiders and one of the guys name was “Soda Pop”, and at the time it was cool?… It’s not cool right now. Your nickname was “Soda Pop”… you would be dead.

haven’t slept for 10 days… because that would be too long.

He's very Stephen Wrightish, actually.

jr565 said...

"I miss the DeFranes"
I wonder what happened to them. The Bush's were sent out to locate them but they never came back eitehr. They must both be really hungry.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

One of my favorite things to eat at a restaurant is--now hang with me here; this is totally middlebrow but I make no apologies--the wedge salad at Johnny Carino's. A big hunk of dense, crunchy, flavorless iceberg draped with an overly flavored but delicious garlic ranch dressing, little matchsticks of green apple, diced tomatoes, candied pecans, blue cheese crumbles, and large luscious hunks of bacon. sooooooo gooooood.

Beach Brutus said...

Iceberg lettuce is the canvas on which a salad is painted.

David said...

Iceberg lettuce doesn't get floppy and limp like many of the trendier greens. It's crunchy when you bite. It has to be chewed. You can tear it in chunks and use as part of a more complex salad but it's best on its own. It can take any kind of dressing some of which are very cheesy and unhealthy and therefore delicious. It has an excellent shelf life in your fridge.

Most of all, iceberg was right in the wheelhouse of my mom's culinary abilities. Iceberg with bottled roquefort dressing. Bottled ranch. Vinegar and oil (her idea of home made.) Mayo mixed with Heinz Red Seafood Sauce. (We lived in Pittsburgh so anything in a can or bottle had to be Heinz.) (Except mayo. Mayo = Hellman's)

Among her other prizes were rib roast, which was just about the only dish she never overcooked. Chicken a la King (canned with a supplement of actual chicken if we had a large group.) Delicious meat loaf except when when she forgot about time and kiln dried it. PB&J (seriously--she had a knack). Deviled eggs. Baked potato baked almost to a crisp.( Pull out the pulp and fill the crispy skip with butter salt and pepper and eat with fingers. Yum.) Chicken sandwiches with hot cocoa. (The cocoa was in a cup not poured on the sandwich.) Lamb chops (always seriously overcooked by today's standard but she would leave the fatty tail on and it was fatty and crunchy and worth ruining the rest of the chop.) Ice Box Pudding (holidays only. Big holidays like Christmas.) To her credit she did nothing with jello for main courses but Jello Instant Pudding for desert (chocolate, butterscotch, banana were all acceptable). We liked the chocolate best because my father would pour milk over the top of it and then sugar it and since he could do that so could we.)

The very worst was liver which my father would not eat but was forced on us kids for nutritional reasons. My dad would be tucking into a couple of lamb chops and we had to eat the (varying) requisite bites of liver before we could leave the table. That ended when I threw up on the dinner table one night. I was accused of doing it deliberately and punished accordingly but she never served it again. It wasn't deliberate but I did aim at the table when I felt it coming. If I had known how effective it would be I would have done it way before that.

My mom was way too anxious a person to be a great cook but nevertheless she fed us well. We still eat iceberg lettuce wedges in honor of her struggle and success.

tim in vermont said...

The more flavor is better people have created beer monstrosities like Heady Topper. I might get my license revoked for that comment though.

tim in vermont said...

Switchback, OTOH, is the real deal.

Birches said...

My dad would be tucking into a couple of lamb chops and we had to eat the (varying) requisite bites of liver before we could leave the table. That ended when I threw up on the dinner table one night. I was accused of doing it deliberately and punished accordingly but she never served it again.

Wow. I'm so glad my mom didn't find liver nutritious. By the time I came around, most of the weird stuff had left our family dinners.

wholelottasplainin' said...

I cook a lot of Indian and Thai food.

Many people complain they can't properly cook rice from scratch, that they wind up either burning it or undercooking it.

Here's what I do for Basmati rice:

Use a pot with a bottom that spreads heat.

The magic ratio: 1.5 cups water per 1 cup rice. (if you can't figure out how much water to use for lesser/greater amounts of rice, you must have FLUNKED high school math).

Add the water and bring it to a boil.

Add the rice, stir it and wait a minute to return to a boil.

Reduce the heat to as low as you can get away with w/o the flame dying.

Cover it with the tight lid. If the lid's not tight, place a small piece of aluminum foil between it and the pot, and press down.

Set a LOUD timer for 23 minutes. (for lesser amounts of rice make it 22 minutes. For greater amounts, add a minute.)

When the timer goes off (usually giving you a minute or so to react) turn off the heat.

STIR the rice and let the steam evaporate. (makes it fluffier).

As Escoffier would have exclaimed, VOYLA!!!!

wildswan said...

Liver is good if you soak it in salt water and roll it in cornmeal with salt and pepper. It cooks in just a few minutes - get rid of all the red but don't keep going into leather.

Balfegor said...

Re: rice -- rice actually has a pleasant, subtle flavour. Sort of like bread, you can have bland tasteless bread or heavily flavoured bread, but there is also a "bread" flavour that is nice.

Koshihikari is good, and there is some grown in the US (you can find it on Amazon). I have become fond of Yumepirika, but I think this is harder to find out here.

None of this helps Prof. Althouse, though, since it's a question of flavour. Though Koshihikari is also favoured for texture and appearance.

Balfegor said...

No! Batter fry it and you've got something -- perhaps the most enjoyable entree for me.

Tenpura. Whole fish tenpura, you should try. Take a smallish fish, have it tenpura fried with light batter (not the thick breading you sometimes get), and you can eat the whole thing, bones and all. A great mix of textures.

mikee said...

I once amazed my daughter - back when she was very young, by explaining infinity to her using the consumption of rice as an example.

I asked her if she could eat a single grain of rice. She said yes, of course.
I asked her if she could then eat another grain. She said yes, of course.
I asked if she could imagine eating one grain of rice after another, without stopping.

She thought about it, and said yes, she could, probably forever.

I asked her how many grains of rice that would be, eating rice forever, and she said, "INFINITY!"

She is now a Mechanical Engineer and still loves rice.