Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Corn Muffins - Sweet and Savory

I started off the Food Talk series talking about different types of seeds, organic and conventional produce, organic fish and crop diversity. These are topics that we should all know about and be aware of. But for most us, the most tangible experience with food is at our local grocery stores. Even if we do have access to CSAs(community supported agriculture), food co-ops and farmer's markets but a great many of our foods is sourced from our local supermarkets which tend be chain grocery stores. The better informed we are the more easier it will be to navigate the aisles in the grocery store.

Like everything else food shopping is also influenced to a large extent by our perceptions and prejudices. What does that mean? Well for starters most of us who would differentiate and pick up the organic choice if it is available at the regular super markets would not think twice about picking up vegetables at the Indian grocery store. They come from the growers, growing the conventional way, packaged and shipped over long distance. Perception here is the culprit that anything associated with home is better. Unfortunately it is true. Till recently that was my attitude as well.

Even if you judge people by how they look, doing the same with fruits and vegetables is apparently not a good idea just as making an opinion about a person based on how they look. Most fruits and vegetables are bred more for their looks and packable qualities rather than taste and texture. Using eyes minimally and trusting more the hands and nose to pick out the best quality produce might be the way to go.

In response to RC's question, If you are concerned about GM fruits and vegetables most vegetables are not, from what I have read, most vegetables are hybrid with the exception of heirloom. Here is a list of Engineered Foods Allowed on the Market.

Thanks Mamatha for this information, All Price-LookUp codes (PLUs) that begin with 8 are GMO (those that begin with 9 are Organic, 4 conventional).

Read through the comments too, lot of information there.

Here is Sandeepa's comprehensive analysis of Local vs Organic. She captures beautifully the problems and difficulties in deciding what is right. I am sure each of us has had these debates in our heads and then settle on what works best.

corn batter in the muffin pan

Processed Foods
Most processed foods available today has some form of corn, soy or canola and most of these grains are GMO as well included in the mix. Don't get me wrong whole grain corn and soy are quite nutritious and by themselves probably good for you, unless of course you start thinking if they are GM or not. In case you are worried majority of the time it probably is. Most processed food products you have touched almost always have a corn by product. Click here to see the list and be totally freaked out. The list is compiled for people with corn allergy but also shows how ubiquitous corn is in our daily lives. The other highly subsidized crop the soy bean I bet has a list just as long or if not longer.

Michael Pollan in his book In Defense of Food says "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Living by that mantra will keep us more than healthy. Pollan's advice to stick to the peripheries of the grocery store (usually where real food is as opposed to food products) is another invaluable one.

the spicy one

Nutrients vs Ingredients
But in this world of super processed food all around us it is very difficult to live by that credence. So the next best thing is to follow a few rules when we buy those. The rule of thumb to follow while buying processed foods is to look at the ingredients list and not buy anything that has more than 5 ingredients in their list. If the list has ingredients that sounds like it belongs in a laboratory than in food product run as far away from it as possible. Easier said than done. This will eliminate 90% of processed foods including many of the sugary breakfast cereals which lot of people think is health food. Let us not forget the controversy involving the Danish government which banned Kellog's fortified cereals. The long list of vitamins and minerals in a cereal scares me stiff. Instead of getting those from whole foods, they are injected into processed foods! Isn't that scary? Steroids in professional sports is bad but injecting these supposedly good vitamins into food in the name of nutrition is good? Why don't food companies follow Haagen Daaz's lead as in their five ingredient ice creams.

Like Pollan says, reliance on nutrients rather than food has lead to a food industry that has perfected its art in making spurious health claims even making us think that low fat chicken nuggets is a healthy snack. With a gullible public ready to believe that there is nutritious benefits in a diet coke there is no dearth of food companies ready to fool us.

How important is labeling important in making your food decision?
Cynthia of Tastes Like Home had a 2 part series titled Anatomy of a Food Label does a great job of revealing what a food label is all about.

Do you use a food label as a crutch when making food choices? I mostly use the label to decipher the ingredients that go into the product. I don't so much care about the low fatness or fat freeness of the product. The fat free products makes up for itself in calories laden with sugar than its full fat counterpart to make up for the lack of fat. So you are not making that much of a better deal. The only fat free product I buy without skepticism is fat free milk.

A couple of years ago we were suddenly inundated with all this natural stuff in the food aisles. This especially hit me when I saw the dairy aisle. It is another marketing gimmick devised by the food industry to cheat its customers. Read It's Natural Vs. Organic and Organic is Losing. Many of you who thought Agave is a natural sweetener you will be disappointed to learn it is highly processed, unnatural substance. Sad eh?

Perception and food choices
Do you believe when a product made in China has an organic labeling is really organic? I don't. It has a lot do with my perception of China and its business practices. I am not willing to shell out a few bucks extra to buy a product labeled organic that is made in China. Is my perception correct? may be or may be not and the truth might be lot different. Europe takes a much stricter approach to food and food products, hence I buy products made in Europe without batting an eyelid and would not think of shelling a few extra bucks.

For a lot of us perception is the reality and we make bad food choices all the time. Anything home made is good, even if it laden with sugar and made with highly processed bleached flour and butter. If this done every other day I am not really sure if it is a good thing. Substitute the bleached flour with whole wheat flour and your perception of the baked good changes and it becomes a healthy choice. Again does that make it good enough to be eaten daily?

Can an active lifestyle be replaced with nutrition?
I am sure most of us believe in varying degrees that eating healthy and nutritious foods. I am not fond of both the words when they are used in conjunction with food and imply they can somehow replace being active. Our perception that a sedentary lifestyles can be excused with eating right then we have a long way to go. With the mass marketing of health foods and quick popping vitamin tablets to shore up our vitamin deficiency we have locked up our common sense and thrown the key.

Most of our ancestors wasted little time in deciding which food had the highest nutritious content. They ate fresh in season foods and lead a very active life style. Globalization has turned our food habits topsy turvy.

ready to eat

Well there is so much more to talk about. If you want to know and be enlightened about the food industry reading a book like In Defense of Food would be a great start. On the next Food Talk we will name books and DVDs that are a great read and dispel some of the myths about "good" food. Please share any books that you think has helped you.

So now to the recipe which is based on, you guessed it corn! Just like whole wheat flour is better than highly processed all purpose flour whole grain corn is better than the innumerable additives it lends itself to. A friend of mine brings corn bread whenever she visits and it is a big time kid favorite. Slathered with some butter it is a perfect meal by itself. Used the recipe on the package of the stone ground corn meal. The kids voted for the sweet kind and then they dug into our savory ones. Who can resist cheese?

a wedge of the spicy kind

Serving: 12 muffins and a 6" diameter pie shaped bread
Corn Muffins - Savory and Sweet
1. 1 1/2 cups of stone ground corn meal (preferably organic)
2. 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
3. 1/2 cup sugar ( i used turbinado sugar)
4. 4 tsp baking powder
5. 2 tsp salt
6. 1/2 cup oil
7 1 Cup milk
8. 3/4 cup yogurt
9. 2 eggs

For the savory muffin
1. 2 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, seeds removed and chopped
2. a handful of crumbled pepper jack cheese
finely chopped jalapenos or bell pepper, coriander leaves can all be used


Preheat oven to 425F

1. Line the muffin tins with the muffin paper cups and grease the pie pan.
2. Mix all the dry ingredients together 1-5.
3. Beat the egg till fluffy, mix the oil and milk inside.
4. Whisk the yogurt and add it to the dry ingredients along with the whisked eggs.
5. Mix in a few strokes to incorporate.
6. Pour into the muffin tins.

For Savory
7. Mix in the chipotle peppers and cheese.
8. Pour into the muffin cups and the rest into the pie pan.
9. Bake for 20 minutes, a tooth pick inserted should come out clean.
10. Let cool and serve with some butter on top.

We had them for breakfast on a snowy Saturday morning. It was enjoyed by one and all. I am not sure why I had not tried this before.


  1. Jalapeno corn bread is very southern food served on the side of chili. I love the savory one than sweet one. Both are great for breakfast.

    I am just glad I can get my hands on some Tendli, Bitter gourds, curry leaves etc at the Indian grocery store. I have heard that most of are grown in Florida farms, some in NJ green houses. They probably add fertilizers too, who knows.

    Well..on top of snow, sleet and ice, we have freezing rain today, so more hibernation for us here. No school since Friday afternoon.

  2. I am glad you raised this topic again of food awareness. Few months ago we brought some wheat tortillas from Kroger supermarket after recommendation from our friends that it strongly tasted like our Indian rotis. We brought a packet home and then when we saw the list of ingredients, we were shocked. There were atleast 40 items listed there for simple wheat tortialls. Even whole grain sandwich bread have 30+ items.

    We have now reduced eating processed foods. It is very hard to find products that have 5 ingredients or less.

    We did think about the fresh produce available in the Indian stores. Some of the items there like Methi leaves, Dill leaves, green specially are seasonal, so atleast our thinking is that they are not mass produced, hence not much usage of GM? What do you think? not sure about Okra, brinjal, bitter gourd as they are available year around.

    I used to be such great fan of American corn, corn muffin. But not anymore:-(, thanks to the knowledge of GM food. We have now stopped buying Canola oil, we use vegetable oil instead ( I know I know, there is Soy in it, but what option so we have? )

  3. Corn muffins is indeed very very tasty. Asha, snow expected for us this afternoon. The weekend storm did not close schools.

    RC, same here stopped buying tortillas, bread, most cookies etc. Most vegetables and fruits are not BT YET, but most of the beautiful looking vegetables and fruits are definitely hybrid. Okra, bitter gourd and brinjal are most probably hybrids but not BT yet.
    Here is the list of GM products in the market today link

    I like your attitude it is best to keep away from those foods that bother us. I look for organic corn it might be the best. But it is scary, there is hardly any processed foods that don't have soy or corn additives in them. Yes Canola shocked me too. How about peanut oil?

  4. Great post Indo. I'm looking forward to more posts in this series.

    Some movie suggestions:
    1. Food, Inc. (I've already mentioned this in an earlier comment)
    2. King Corn
    3. The Corporation (it's not about food per se, but there's a section on the milk industry - a great movie IMHO)

    1. Food Politics by Marion Nestle (I've only briefly gone through it, haven't read it fully)
    2. Real Food by Nina Planck


  5. @Indo and RC: All Price-LookUp codes (PLUs) that begin with 8 are GMO (those that begin with 9 are Organic, 4 conventional).


  6. lot of things to think about indo...
    i love corn muffins esp. the spicy one must be yum.

  7. This Food thing really freaks me out. There are lot of things I give in to just because they make my life easier because frankly I do not have the time/energy to bake every cookie or make my own granola bar.

    It would be best if we could do as you said ""Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

    Corn Muffins look so good. Have never made them. Love the savory corn breads at Au Bon Pain here

  8. Oh and Indo, when you say oil, what to use here ? And where did you buy stone ground corn meal ?

  9. Sandeepa, I have used canola for a long time. Now that I know more I don't want to go near canola (organic will make me poor in no time). Thinking of peanut oil/vegetable oil/sesame oil.

  10. The stone ground corn meal I found in Giant our local chain grocery store. I know for sure Whole Foods and our Amish market has it.

  11. Nice post ISG. I got another Q for you (Q's come easier than the A's)..
    U know we(like in India) used to do the organic farming with waste products of cows, goats and dried leaves etc., Suddenly we started the chemical fertilizers and seeds coz that is what west does. But how are we ever going to reverse the effects absorbed by the soil? Did you read that tamilnadu has banned a variety of kutti kathirikkai due to the pesticides?

    Now that when west is going towards organic farming, are we going say this is good coz it is done abroad or are we gonna say, Hey this is what they did in my grand pa's time and it is our idea?

    Last but not the least : Muffins look yum, did you take a bite of out that top one?

  12. Very informative post Indo ! I had given up canola oil quite a while back, but only recently found out about agave nectar. What a disappointment that was... after all the build up about it being great and not causing sugar spikes, I found out it was not much different from corn syrup because of so over processing ! Both corn muffins look yum, I loved the savory version better too :-)

  13. Corn muffin sounds perfect to begin the day with...

  14. great informative post, Indo! here is my list:

    movies: Food Inc (Michael Pollan) -- a must must watch for anyone who ever wonders whatevere happens behind their dinner.. food industrialization, veggies laws, gene patenting.. a lot of food for thought (I think I mentioned this earlier too probably)

    all Michael Pollan's: Botany of desire, omnivores dilemma, in defense of food.

    Marion Nestle -- what to eat is a very good one.

    Mark Bittman -- food matters (this is more a lifestyle book though).

    Fast food nation is a good one, I have heard, haven't read it.

    Oh, and corn muffins look very yummy and delicious!

  15. Lot of great info!I love the sweet one...LOL Big sweet tooth!!I am prbly the only one around here to like sweet corn bread:D

  16. Wow very interesting post.I am happy when i find curry leaves and tendli in the local indian grocers.I am sure they add fertilizers.....god knows.Coming to the muffins,anytime i prefer the savory one:)great stuff!

  17. I always looked on the label before buying but never gave so much thought into these issues. Definitely an eye opener for me Indo.

  18. I have never had savoury muffins, now i am really curious to taste one. i am sure they taste delish.

  19. ruchika questions are good :) Hopefully people have realized that what is good for the West is not always good for the East, everything from culture, food, clothes to farming practices. But we never learn our lessons do we?

  20. Indo, the pix are good - striking, because I've never seen such yellow batter against the grey of the muffin pan earlier (or in a long while).

    I haven't gotten around to reading Cynthia's posts yet, but I always read labels to see whether something contains preservatives and to check the expiry/best before date. Sometimes there is no preservative but stuff like stabiliser is mentioned - compared to 10 years ago, I depend much less on convenience foods - make my own masalas, ginger-garlic paste etc - but the foodie in me has to get something if it's unusual. I've heard so much about it in the blogs, which is why I went and bought two bottles of agave nectar in the US, one from Trader Joe's and the other from Whole Foods - sigh, I guess I should go check them against the article you cited. Thanks for the post and all the links.

  21. I am using a lot of Olive Oil again (not the EVOO for regular cooking).. I have never used sesame oil or peanut oil but I think they are worth a try for me.

    Hardly get snacks for kids, except the Goldfish which they cannot do without. recently Costco had a fantastic kids powerbar (all organic... ) I was so glad to see those and they are not expensive and seriously good even for adults. first time actually that i liked a powerbar. the choice and list is unending i suppose.

    I considered CSA.. but reading about it i realized that the weekly amount would be too much for our family to consume.

    LOVE corn breads. Esp. the Jalapeno. recently i had a teeny tiny loaf in On the Borders which was Jalapeno and a little tinge of sweet. I was lovely. I am going to try to make these.

  22. Oh Indo this write up again has shaken me but am glad that there is so much to know about what we eat. never thought baking powder also has corn...My God. I used to lead a life where my motto was to be as thin as possible but after my son's birth I plan to be fit and active. at our household we are not very fond of processes food and hardly bring anything other than biscuits but this idea of 5 ingredients or less is very good.better to eat mostly plants...that should be the mantra. but still am scared as where our civilization is taking us? till now we are better but what awaits in future for our kids?
    the corn muffins look terrific. would love to make some if I get some good whole grain corn meal.

  23. Nice post again, like always!!

    Indo, EV coconut oil, EV olive oil, are all good for baking. Even homemade ghee and good butter if you can find it. Vegetable oil is still canola + soybean oil. :( And most peanut oil is GMO. :(

    I haven't baked with sesame oil yet... so, no idea how it tastes. Have you tried it?

  24. India is yet to be haunted with much processed food. After reading all the comments I wish all NRIs come back home and live a healthy life rather than a wealthy life abroad :( The corn muffins look wonderful. I love the spicy one Indo!

  25. very very well-written post! it deserves to be published on paper!!!
    ... oh that giant boxs of cereal... yik! I never buy them. I go for your organic muffin for breakfast!!!

  26. I have tried making corn bread once ... was ok. These muffins sound and look perfect Indo ... I'll pick the savory ones anyday. :-)

  27. Kay, no I have not used sesame oil in baking, it might too strong don't you think?

    Nirmala, if only it were that easy. The thing is here in the US we know for the most part or we can find out if we are eating junk or GMO or whatever, in India the problem is there is no labeling so you don't know what you are getting into. The awareness factor is so low that lot of people even educated ones think that pepsi/coke is juice and hence good for you. Processed foods is available in abundance I bet judging by what I see on food blogs from India and also what i experienced when visiting home.

    Moreover even multinational companies which market their products scrimp on quality evidenced by the tastes of the above mentioned drinks and also stuff like chips etc. So not so fast. Awareness is key, a short window before the same unthinkable becomes reality there.

  28. yep, too strong I'd think. That's why I've stayed away from using it in baking.. Except for this one time when I used it to marinate salmon for roasting it - :( not good at all.

  29. Love this southern dish...esp the spicy one :-)
    Thanks for visiting collaborative curry :-)

  30. looks tasty well written and informative post yep I think colombo was influenced by Sri Lankan traders
    thanks for visiting my blog


  31. Thank you for that very informative post! the corn muffins look seriously interesting too!


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