August Food for Thought: Quality Drives Prices

For the best flavor read labels and look for pure ingredients.

In tough times – when food prices are through the roof, and labor and healthcare costs are at an all-time high – many restaurants and food service establishments look to cut cost. But the best operators know that “quality drives profit” and the simplest way to keep costs low is by trying to buy locally and making sure that every product you purchase is wholesome and meets the high standards of what that ingredient should be.

For example, on a box of salt (sodium chloride), the ingredient list should say only “salt.” Adding salt that contains iodine to soup instantly turns the soup cloudy; never use iodized salt in a consommé. Maine has some of the best sea salt and table salt around, made from seawater from the Gulf of Maine, pure and produced naturally from evaporation. You don’t have to look far.

When using granulated sugar, try to use only pure cane sugar. Beet sugar tends to foam up when cooking and can cause the sugar to crystallize when cooking caramel.

I prefer only pure cane sugar and pure cane brown sugar; try it and you’ll taste the difference.

The ingredient list on a jar of peanut butter should only say peanuts and salt. Classic peanut butter doesn’t have sugar added or canola oil. Peanut oil is valued as an excellent oil for sautéing so in many cases, the peanut oil is taken out and replaced with canola oil. That’s not the peanut butter taste I’m looking for – how about you?
In some parts of the country, it’s hard to find heavy cream that hasn’t been ultra-pasteurized or without sugar. The reason we started adding sugar and vanilla to whipped cream was to cover up the taste of the poor-quality cream. When whipping, you can add a small amount of granulated sugar, but never powdered sugar. Powdered sugar contains cornstarch to keep it from hardening unless you use organic powdered sugar. Also, don’t over-whip heavy cream, that makes it taste more like butter instead of cream.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as all-purpose flour – it’s lower-gluten bread flour that’s used to make lower-quality cookies, cakes and pie doughs.

Know what you’re looking for and try to buy locally. Quality always drives profit, even in tough times.

Steve James
Certified Master Baker
Managing Partner
Popovers on the Square