Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A few cool food stories, you've probably never heard...

Split, insert cheese, broil - patent pending
     I'm a big fan of marketing, especially when something gets rebranded and is a bigger success when simply marketed as something else.  In my early days of parenting, a regular staple for me to make for the kids was a broiled hot dog, split down the middle, with a piece of American cheese wedged in there.  The kids weren't fans until I started calling them "Dad's Famous Grilled Cheese Hot Dogs"  and then their popularity soared.  I knew I  had gone too far when I'd return from traveling and my wife would want to know what I did differently to them, as the kids would claim hers didn't taste the same, and let's face it, it's cheese, wedged in a split hot dog and broiled, it's kinda tough to screw up the recipe.  The stories below are even more interesting, and I'll bet you've had some of these and didn't even know it....

     Consider the lowly Patagonian Toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), a 15-22 lb fish that swims in the waters of the Southern Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans,  living in depths of 45 feet to 12,000 feet.  Prior to 1977, you couldn't give this ugly, bulging eyed, sharp toothed fish away.  The natives who fished it found it bland and oily, so few people fished it and there was an abundance of it.  Then
came Lee Lantz, a fish wholesaler, who rebranded the product and sold it to American and Canadian chefs as a mild fish that didn't dry out when used for catering.  After Lee's rebranding was accepted by the FDA in 1994 the demand for this fish grew exponentially and it spawned a whole illegal fishing craze for Patagonian Toothfish, and almost fished them to extinction. Fisherman of the time referred to it as "white gold" and it reached it's height of popularity in 2001, when Bon Apetit named it their "Dish of the Year"   Groups were then formed to protect the fish and some restaurants banded together and removed it from their menus.  Countries started to crack down on the pirate fishing of this fish, and while it remains on the watch list still, it's no longer thought to being fished to extinction.  This is quite the rags to riches story, and at this point I'm sure a lot of you are shaking
Chilean Sea Bass
your heads saying that you've never had Patagonian Toothfish, but how about Chilean Sea Bass?  That's right, it's neither truly all Chilean or even a bass, it's a type of cod, but this simple name change, vaulted this fish into a popularity unseen previously in that industry, all thanks to rebranding it.  

     Next we will discuss Crimini mushrooms.  In the 1980's, some chefs used Crimini's but the average person didn't.  They are brown mushrooms and they are earthy tasting, and the tastes at the time ran milder and people liked their mushrooms to be white.  This created issues for mushroom growers who couldn't sell the Crimini's if they got too large, and in fact had to frequently throw them away, until they rebranded them.  They started selling them to places like Whole Foods as a "meaty" mushroom that could be
Grilled Portabellos
used in a variety of ways, they sold it to a few key chefs who started playing around with grilling them and the demand for this product that was zero in 1993 now exceeds 30 million pounds  annually.  This is pretty amazing, especially since no one truly knows the origination of the new name and there are at least 4 accepted spellings of it. I give you the Portobello, I mean the Portabello, oops the Portobella, or finally the Portabella Mushroom.  Pick whichever one you'd like, but there's no denying the popularity of this food, and even the smaller ones now sell more as Baby Bellas than they do as Criminis.  How odd, but that is the power of rebranding. 

    I'll finish with a quick note on rapeseed oil.  You see one of the issues right away, who wants to have a product that contains the word "rape" in it to begin with?  That was not the only issue, however, since the original rapeseed plant from which the oil was derived was naturally high in
Rapeseed field
erucic acid, which is toxic to humans and banned from human consumption by the FDA in 1956.  When Canadians developed a rapeseed that was low in erucic acid in the 1970's they quickly realized that a product name change may behoove them, so their Canadian Oil Low Acid, was shortened to Canola.   This was wildly successful and what started as a Canadian Trademark, eventually transitioned to a generic term for oil made with rapeseed.  It's now also the highest producing oil seed crop in the U.S.  So, what's in a name?  I'll leave that to Shakespeare's Juliet to answer but I think with this blog, I've given you an idea of how important it can be. 

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