Had your daily dose of tartrazine yet?

“Pardon, of what?” – “Tartrazine! And if you had a non-homemade pickle, ate macaroni and cheese from a package, had any pudding or custard, cake or cookie not made from scratch, any sweets, or drank a greenish-yellowish soft drink, you most likely did!

Do we still know what we eat?

Countless foods and drinks contain a dye called tartrazine, sometimes listed as food colour FD&C yellow #5, or in Europe as E 102.

Finding tartrazine in our food was not difficult. When I prepare my husband’s lunch sandwiches, I usually add a sliced pickle to the cold cuts on homemade bread. I just happened to look at the ingredients, which I never thought of checking because, eh, what can be in the pickle jar other than the cucumber, water, vinegar, salt, sugar – if they are sweet – and some spices? Well, tartrazine!

Mostly the internet is a great source, though not all information is totally reliable, but this time I couldn’t really find what I was looking for. I am not a chemist (my chemistry marks in high-school where actually rather poor), so the chemical name doesn’t really tell my anything. What I could find out is, that a few years ago some European countries tried to ban the use of E 102, but their ban was overturned by the EU. Still, there seems to be some kind of agreement in the EU to phase out the use of certain food colours, including tartrazine. Several articles on the net link tartrazine to hyperactivity in children, migraines, depression, asthma, blurred vision, throat cancer, and more. Quite an eye-opener, isn’t it?

Why is tartrazine used, if it doesn’t seem to be totally safe?

The food industry uses tartrazine to give our food an appealing colour. You gotta ask yourself what is wrong with the product in the first place, that it needs enhancement. Tartrazine has the same colouring effect as beta-carotene or turmeric (shown on the right), but is cheaper. The arguments in studies and reports I could find about the effect of tartrazine are basically about the lack of proof that it is harmful for most people. The food industry, in my opinion, is too powerful, and our governments follow their interests, although they claim to act in the best interest of the consumers. When I told my husband about my findings, he got angry, not at me(!), but that governments fail to protect their citizens. Now, what a joke that, on the one hand, the Canadian government doesn’t allow the selling of raw milk, because it is not pasteurized and might contain bacteria that makes you sick. They think they have to protect us because we are too stupid to pasteurize it ourselves, if we deem it appropriate. (By the way, in my pre-Canadian life I consumed litres of raw milk, and so did my kids, and we never got sick!) On the other hand, they allow companies to add “things” to our food, that has the capability to poison us. I guess as long as the above mentioned symptoms don’t befall the majority of us and it can be proven that food colours are harmful, nothing will change. Seems it is all about the money! Should I say “as always”?

What can you do? 

So, again, it is up to us, the consumers, to take responsibility and choose more wisely what we put into our mouths. We can not automatically assume that as long as government standards are followed, we are safe, because we are NOT. I will not buy this particular brand of pickles anymore. In fact, I found a brand, almost hidden behind all the other popular brands, that does not use tartrazine, but turmeric.

Interesting, interesting,..

When I was checking for tartrazine on the labels of some more products I have at home I looked at Dr. Oetker vanilla pudding powder from Germany and didn’t find any E 102, whereas the Canadian Dr. Oetker vanilla pudding I checked at the store clearly stated: “contains tartrazine”. This finding would be congruent with the phasing-out I mentioned above.

Make your food from scratch, but beware of “colour” on labels!

Of course the best way to be safe(r), is to make year meals from scratch. The first step is not using any packages with ingredients that we might have trouble pronouncing, less know what it actually is. But beware of the industries way of labelling. Cheese that has colour listed as an ingredient most likely has some yellow added to it. Also the phrase “may contain colour” like butter might have, is, in my opinion, a sneaky way for companies to adhering to regulations or government standards without telling us the truth!

Oh, and here are the pickles we have now! 


The Revival of the Handkerchief

They had been abandoned for over 5 years. It happened when we bought a new bed and moved the old one, together with the bedside tables, into the guest room. Neatly stacked in one of the drawers, I had almost forgotten about them. If you think hard and look in all your drawers, I am sure you will find some of your own. If not, then you might be too young to have ever used a handkerchief. Go to your parents or grandparents – they will have them. Yes, there was a time when people sneezed or blew their noses into real cloth and not into layers of thin paper. In the 70s it became convenient to have disposable tissues, and so modern and hip! The producing companies promoted their softness, durability and their hygiene factor. Interestingly enough, the brand name became a synonym for tissues; everybody knows what you want when asking for a “Kleenex”. The same goes for a “Tempo” in Germany. Sure, we knew that paper is made from trees, but in their place new trees are grown, aren’t they?

Handkerchief vs tissue

What nobody really told us was that this great, innovative product did more damage to the environment than the product it had made dispensable. I just found a website were studies of Cambridge University and Duke University are cited and according to those, the environmental advantage of handkerchiefs versus tissues is immense. True, the production of a cotton handkerchief takes more energy and water than of a single tissue, and you have to wash and dry the hanky. The studies’ numbers are based on an expected lifespan of 520 uses for a hanky versus a single use tissue and already include the laundry aspect of the hankies. You can look up more info and numbers by clicking on this link http://www.gmagazine.com.au/features/1046/tissues-vs-handkerchiefs


For me, it is more than about the numbers of trees, the litres of water, or the kW/h saved. It is the knowledge that, with a small change, I can do a lot. In my case, I don’t even have to buy new hankies. The energy to produce them was already spent years and decades ago. So why not use them? And they are really durable. I still have hankies from my childhood that are, although a little faded, still in good shape. Some have my initial on them, are printed with fairy tale themes, or are embroidered. When I started using hankies again a few weeks ago, I became a little nostalgic at the look of them. Not that I had any particular memories, but just a general feeling of regaining something I hadn’t even known I had been missing.

Now, there is one hanky in my pile that is still brand new. (I never even removed the little sticker.) It is my favourite and I always thought it is too good and too beautiful to use. It is embroidered with a chalet in the mountains and alp flowers, including edelweiss and gentian. I am pretty sure it once was a gift, a souvenir my parents had brought from a trip. All the more reason for me to treasure it!

Getting inspired

All it took for me to switch back to handkerchiefs, was a reminder to look more closely at my habits. A few weeks ago, I attended, together with my daughter, a conference at her university called “How to be an environmentalist”. One of the speakers was Chris Benjamin, a Halifax-based author. I bought his book “Eco-Innovators”, and the stories about people in Atlantic Canada that are making a difference in protecting the environment totally captured and inspired me. (He doesn’t explicitly promote using hankies ;).)

Our Kids and the Environment

To a greater or lesser degree, I have always been trying to do my share of protecting the environment. Our kids probably still have nightmares about me preaching not to dispose of their garbage just anywhere. Our slogan was and still is: “What you can bring or carry to a place, you can take home!” When they were small, I lectured our kids, if they tried to drop gum or candy paper on the street. “You’ve got pockets in your pants!” I would remind them. The funny thing was, that for many years I emptied the pockets of their pants before washing them and sometimes got annoyed, because they were always so stuffed, and it held me up, especially when I was in a hurry, until it finally dawned on me: “Hey, they are doing exactly what I told them to do.” And don’t they say, children learn by example? I don’t believe our kids have ever seen my husband or myself disposing of anything in an inappropriate manner. (And that’s not because we do it secretly!)

Not too long ago, our 7-year-old granddaughter was staying with us and I told her, that she was to use hankies when wiping her nose, and that I am not buying tissues anymore. I asked her whether she knows what tissues are made of. Quick as a shot came: “Of trees! And when trees are cut down it destroys the habitat of wildlife, like birds and insects and all kinds of animals.”

Well, I couldn’t have said it any better or more enthusiastic! So get your handkerchiefs out and go green(er)!!

You might want to read “Ditch the tissue: We’re bringing back the handkerchief” at http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/green-manners-handkerchief-return.htm

Links to Chris Benjamin’s book and website, the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax and the Community Sustainability Network in Bridgewater and Area





No-kneading bread? It works!

Wow! I am surprised how tasty this bread is!  

Remember, last week I told you that I like to make our bread instead of buying it in the store. I also mentioned that I use a pretty strong kitchen appliance for kneading the heavy dough. After I posted my article, I was asked whether I ever tried Jim Lahey’s no-kneading recipe. A bread dough you don’t knead? Now that was news to me! So, the curious person I am, I searched Jim Lahey’s recipe on the internet and found it.

A sticky recipe

Basically you stir flour, water, salt and a bit of dry yeast together in a bowl and let it rot do its magic, sitting on your kitchen counter for 12 – 18 hours. I started the process in the late afternoon and the next morning I poured, or rather scraped it out and onto the dough tray and let it rest for another 15 min.

Then I had to form a ball, but the dough would spread out to be a flat oval as soon as I took my hands off. They dough rested for 2 hours on a kitchen towel, which I had generously dusted with flour. But, as it would turn out, not generously enough. I covered it with another kitchen towel and a half hour before the resting time was up, I preheated the oven to 250 degrees Celsius. I put my oval roasting pan with the lid on into the oven and heated it up. The recipe asks for a pot with a lid, cast iron, or glass, or ceramic, but I don’t have any of those, at least none that has a lid. Then came the sticky part! (In every imaginable sense of the word!)

After the oven and pot was heated up I was supposed to drop the dough into the pot. But how, when it sticks to the cloth like gum to one’s shoe? Well, in the end I scraped it off and somehow got it into the pot. By that time the pot probably wasn’t even hot enough anymore. Nevertheless, I baked the bread for half an hour, removed the lid and baked it for another 15 min. And voilà, a wonderful smelling bread with a nice crust and a fairly bread-like shape.

That was yesterday, and as I knew in the evening hubby would bring home some cold cuts from our German butcher, and we would have a real German Vesper (cold supper), I was happy and proud, to have freshly baked bread for my men and it kept my mood up all day. My youngest son, I knew, would like it simply because it was WHITE. (He’s been suffering quite a bit because of my obsession for wholesome bread.) And yes, ONLY for my men, you read correctly. Remember, I don’t eat carbohydrates at night! So I had protein bread instead, which I had baked the previous day for the very first time. (I guess that would be another post some time!) This morning though, I had a slice of white bread for breakfast – in addition to my homemade granola. Of course homemade! You should know me well enough by now.

Room for improvement

Anyhow, there is a flaw! The bread tasted so good and therefore was gone far too fast. I can’t and don’t want to bake bread every day. (Hard to imagine, but I do have a life outside the kitchen!) That’s why I like to make 3 or 4 loaves at a time. Now, my roasting pan is fairly large and I think I probably could make a bread almost twice as big in it. If I had another pot with a lid, I could bake two pots in the oven at the same time. So if I quadrupled the ingredients, ….

Also, I think a mixture of darker flours and adding some seeds would produce a really nice wholesome bread. Now, don’t start feeling sorry for my youngest. He already knows he has a mean mother, whose only purpose in life is to torture him with healthy foods!