Nutrition-wise blog

Food facts

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. January 5, 2016

Longer winter evenings lend themselves to a bit more time at the dinner table. I have fond memories of family dinners when we went around the table with everyone sharing jokes and trivia — and even an occasional confessionary tale.

Here are a few food-related trivia questions that have come up over the years at my family's table:

  • What's the difference between shrimp and prawn? Prawns are larger in size and have larger legs with claws on three pairs. Shrimp are smaller and have shorter legs with claws only on two pairs. However, the terms are often used interchangeably, with regional variations. For example, the term "shrimp" is used mostly in the U.S., whereas the term "prawn" is more common in Europe. In the U.S., the term "prawn" may carry the meaning that the shrimp is actually larger in size.
  • Is it safer to eat raw oysters in months that contain the letter "r"? No. At any time of year, raw oysters may contain the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus — which can be life-threatening, even fatal when eaten by people with liver disease or diabetes, pregnant women or individuals with weakened immune systems. While V. vulnificus are found in higher numbers in oysters during warm months, 40 percent of cases of food poisoning from this bacteria occur during colder months (September through April).
  • What makes chili peppers hot? The compound responsible for the heat in chili peppers is capsaicin. It's found mainly in the seeds and inner ribs of the pepper, so take care when cutting up peppers. Capsaicin binds to pain receptors in the mouth and skin. Contrary to common belief, water won't put out the burn. Capsaicin is not water-soluble. Instead, reach for oil or detergent to scrub your hands — the oil or detergent will dissolve and wash away the capsaicin. To cool your mouth, drink a glass of milk. The casein proteins in milk act in a similar way and will ease the pain.
  • Can you cook without heat? Yes. Tender protein foods such as fish or shellfish may be cooked by soaking in acidic juice or vinegar. This method of chemically cooking the fish tenderizes the protein like heat does. It's thought that this method of cooking originated in ancient Peru, where the fish dish called ceviche is a classic. Be aware, however, that this method does not ensure that harmful bacteria and parasites that can cause food poisoning are destroyed.

Share a few of your food musings. I'm always on the lookout for new ones.


Jan. 05, 2016