Over this past year, I have learned an extraordinary amount of facts about the food we consume that, despite an inherent pessimism over the value of super-processed foods, GMOs, etc., I would never have guessed that some experiences with food that I had considered “natural” to the eating process, simply put… ARE NOT. With that, I shall digress…
Today’s topic deals with… pasta with tomato sauce! Oh how I love pasta with tomato sauce! Oh how I have always loved pasta with tomato sauce! This combination may very well be THE most impressive invention in the history of our species! Indeed, it is the essence of what separates us from the other animals! What creativity, what inventiveness... led from the corn of a grass plant ground to a powder, mixed with an egg from one of those annoying clucking chickens to be cut into all kinds of shapes, then dipped into boiling water to form what we call… PASTA! And then… and then… add smashed, delicious vine fruits, known as tomatoes and you have… PASTA WITH TOMATO SAUCE! Delicious! And our… European, most specifically Italian, ancestors have enjoyed this combination for centuries. Who am I not to follow suit? In fact, I have a bowl of pasta and tomato sauce heating in the oven as I write this!
One should not overlook the genius behind such a creation. That delectable culinary combination is, and I am certain it has for… hundreds of years, been simply inspirational! To be sure, to our current mind’s eye, it is taken for granted. It is an assumed treat, if you will. But I am certain, that in the past, truly creative and inventive minds sat before a delicious plate of pasta and tomato sauce and experienced the horizon’s explosion as the result of the very first bite. Well, at least for me it is not hard to imagine. I mean, come on! Spaghetti and meatballs! Lasagna! Who would not be inspired…? Okay, okay, I shall move on.
I will pause here to remind the reader that this is, in fact, a “Tale of Idyllia”, which translates into, ultimately a tale of woe in some form or fashion. Yes, even pasta with tomato sauce does not travel through human history unsullied. Not only are we humans genius enough to invent pasta with tomato sauce… we are also genius enough to destroy it. But I will get back to that… First, let me check the bowl in the oven…
Ah, pasta and tomato sauce. The pasta was made with “unbleached” flour and eggs that came from R&R Farm’s pasture raised chickens and cut and cooked as fettuccini noodles. The tomato sauce originated as San Marzano paste tomatoes, THE BEST paste tomato I have ever tasted, then baked to tighten the flavor and mixed into sauce with salt and pepper… and of course, German White garlic. Magnifico! Mm-mm fantastic!
And then there are the meatballs… starting with organic grass fed ground beef, rolled together with more egg and homemade bread crumbs… Outstanding! The aroma alone is almost unbearable… almost, because the realization that that delectable combination will soon be residing in my belly… my well satisfied belly is simply satiation pro res!
Now, I write post-prandial delight. The homemade pasta and tomato sauce has been savored and devoured accordingly. And here is where the title to this entry makes its appearance. Completely satiated, a napkin was grasped and my lips were wiped. Every time that sequence occurs after having such a homemade pasta and tomato sauce meal, the napkin is pulled away from my lips… and despite the multitude of times this has occurred, I am still amazed that the napkin is free from what I have deemed tomato sauce lipstick!
Admittedly, this seems like quite a trifling issue. Nonetheless, it has only been recently, that is, since I have made the concentrated effort to only eat the natural organic produce that I grow. (The issue of why it has taken me so long to accomplish this will take too long to describe here…) All of my memories of eating pasta with tomato sauce, whether at home, or at a restaurant, etc., end with wiping tomato sauce lipstick off with a napkin. That has not been experienced in almost a year! And this is where the pause comes, that pause, that deliberation on why that is the case… Could it be… that there is yet more unnatural, and unlabled, ingredients in the tomato sauce in which I had so recently indulged?
But before I jump to a conclusion before the facts, let’s check out one particular sauce’s ingredients. The company will go unnamed, but the same ingredients will be found on other brand’s ingredient lists as well. This tomato sauce is, of course, “All Natural”, a claim that means absolutely nothing in today’s supermarket aisles. The “All Natural” ingredients are… tomato puree, diced tomatoes, corn syrup, vegetable oil and spices. Wow. That does not sound all that different from the homemade tomato sauce I just ate.
Here I am going to take an abrupt turn. As I have researched what is actually used in the processing of these ingredients, I have not gotten far. The problem is that companies are not required to name certain gelling agents for example used in the processing. Until this is required by law, discovering what the hidden ingredients are is like searching for that proverbial needle in a hay stack, only when you eat those hidden ingredients, that needle is going to stick you with every bite.
So I will go back to the list of ingredients to see if there is an ingredient there that could be causing the tomato sauce lipstick. The ingredients in my homemade tomato sauce are… fresh, local, organic, …ripe!, heirloom tomatoes pureed, maybe some fresh, local, organic onion, fresh, local, organic garlic, (unless that falls under spices), a little organic olive oil and organic spices ((oregano, etc.( fresh and local was dropped because it does not fit for salt)). And here there is a noticeable ingredient difference, which actually reflects the inferior nature of factory processed food, such as tomato sauce. And I am not referring to organic at this point.
The main ingredient difference is the corn syrup in the store bought tomato sauce. Corn syrup, yes, that could be the culprit behind the tomato sauce lipstick. Nonetheless, why corn syrup? Why to sweeten that dull tomato flavor up, of course! Precisely here is where the greatest difference between fresh, local, organic and factory processed. Tomatoes present a great example.
I first encountered this over a decade ago, when I was still woefully naïve of factory farming. I grew some heirloom tomatoes and instantly fell in love with the flavor. Somewhere through the years, I came upon a very old Italian cook book, wherein the recipes called for seemingly everything to be made from scratch. With great anticipation, I embarked to duplicate a tomato sauce recipe. In the old Italian book’s recipe, it called for sugar…
Why on earth would you want to add sugar to a sauce made with delicious heirloom tomatoes? I discovered that answer over the years. It seems the very old Italian cookbook did not predate the factory “canning” of tomatoes, which was developed sometime in the late 1800s. Until that time, heirloom tomatoes were much more popular, in fact grew in many people’s yards from the country to the city.
The factory “canning” of tomatoes changed all of this. Now, heaps and heaps of tomatoes were needed to be processed in a fast industrialize-sized fashion. Fresh heirloom tomatoes would not do. By the time those delectable, and extremely delicate, tomatoes would make it to the processing plant, they would be bruised and rotten. And this is what changed tomatoes from being vine-ripened and delicious to the hard, flavorless, meaty tomatoes found on supermarket shelves. Tomatoes were now grown for completely new qualities; uniformity, shipability, which means stackability, and for a one time harvest, instead of a lesser quantity producing for a longer time. One of the main qualities lost during this process was… taste! Even by the time the very old Italian cook book had been printed, canned tomatoes had long been the norm. The result? That bland sauce needed to be livened up! And what better ingredient to add than sugar?
So, back to the corn syrup. Why corn syrup? Something needs to be added to those bland tomatoes. In regards to my own homemade tomato sauce, I would never imagine destroying the natural flavor of those delicious heirloom tomatoes with… sugar. It would simply kill the flavor! And that is the difference between factory processed tomato sauce and homemade fresh, local, organic, ripe! , heirloom tomato sauce. That is, without knowing exactly what is in the factory processed tomato sauce…