'Tis the season to be foody

In celebration of the Festive Season, we've published a series of food facts across our website and social media platforms. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and share these facts with your colleagues. 

On the ... day of Christmas, my true love sent to me


12 Drummers Drumming

One way to industrially dehydrate foods such as milk, baby food, fruit, vegetables and breakfast cereal, is to use a drum dryer. This comprises two large steel cylinders that are heated internally with steam and rotate towards each other. The food material is applied to the drum, as a liquid, paste or slurry, in a thin sheet which then dries and is scraped from the drum with a steel blade, producing dried flakes. Drum-dried ingredients are economical in price and reconstitute rapidly, retaining much of their original flavour, colour and nutritional value. A seasonal example of a food processed in this way is cranberries which contain polyphenols, vitamins and minerals, and have antioxidant qualities.


11 Pipers Piping

Buttercream icing is made from butter, at room temperature, which is cut into large pieces, then blended to a smooth consistency with double the quantity of icing sugar and a small amount of milk, vanilla extract and food colouring. It can be piped onto cupcakes by spooning it into a piping bag, which is then twisted at the end to seal before piping into swirls, through a star shaped nozzle. Fondant icing contains glucose syrup for a glossy finish. Christmas cakes are often covered with Royal icing, made from icing sugar and egg whites, for a hard finish. Glacé icing is simply water mixed with icing sugar. Icing sugar is prepared by grinding white sugar into a very fine powder which is usually blended with cornflour that serves as an anticaking agent, to avoid lumps forming.

10 Lords a Leaping 

Carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, cereals, pasta and rice are sources of energy, with wholegrain varieties being preferable due to their fibre content. As well as helping maintain a healthy weight, physical activity improves sleep and helps manage stress. The energy content of a food is labelled on pack expressed in kcal (kilocalories, referred to as dietary ‘calories’) and kJ (kilojoules). The kcal figure multiplied by 4.2 gives the energy value in kJ. Surprisingly, an average adult burns about 400 calories during a night’s sleep. Each of the following typically contain 200 - 250 kcal: a pint of beer, a glass of wine, two slices of roast turkey, a portion of nut roast, a small slice of Christmas cake and a mince pie, which would take 25 minutes of swimming, or 30 minutes of dancing, to burn off.


9 Ladies Dancing 

Salsa, the popular dance that combines Caribbean, Hispanic and African moves, was actually named after the soulful, spicy sauce. The Aztecs combined tomatoes and chillies to create salsa, the Spanish word for sauce, thousands of years ago. A 16th Century Spanish missionary described the sale of tomatoes with chilli sauce (smoked, hot, yellow and mild red) in Mexico. In the 1990s, US sales of salsa exceeded those of ketchup. Nowadays the blend of raw tomatoes, onions, an acid, chillies and other spices has become a popular ‘dip’ consumed at parties, and range from mild to hot. 

Maids a Milking

Cow’s milk is differentiated by its fat content: whole (3.5%), semi skimmed (1.5%) and skimmed (0.5%). Cream is the fat film that forms naturally on the surface, removed by skimming off or extracted by centrifuging, and classified as: single cream (18% fat), whipping (36%), double (48%) and clotted (55%). Cream with a fat content of over 30% can be whipped, for serving with mince pies, steamed pudding and other desserts, as the liquid transforms into a solid. At first, the whisk incorporates tiny air bubbles making the cream frothy. Then with further rapid agitation, the protective outer membranes of the fat globules are removed, causing the fat to clump together (coalesce) forming a stable emulsion. The air becomes suspended in the liquid and stabilised by the fat. Dairy free alternatives include coconut cream and the use of aquafaba (the liquid from cooked chick peas) to thicken milk replacers made from soya, oat, almond or rice.


Swans a Swimming

Apart from needing water for swimming as a form of recreation and exercise, it is obviously critical for human life itself. When babies are born, their bodies are said to be made up of nearly 80% water, however that reduces to less than 60% in the average adult. Water is necessary for farming: for irrigation and drinking water for livestock. Lettuces contain as much as 96% water, celery 95%, water melon 92% and strawberries 91%. Food manufacturers utilise water for cleaning and sanitation, as an ingredient, and for processing operations such as soaking, heating, cooling, refrigeration and steam generation. Meat loses about 30% of its weight during cooking as the proteins denature, hence soaking turkey in brine (a weak salt solution), before roasting, can enhance the juiciness.

Geese a Laying

Goose fat is used to baste roast poultry and to roast vegetables, such as potatoes, and has a distinctive taste. For cooking at high temperatures, oils with a high ‘smoke point’ are used since when oil smokes it breaks down and produces off-flavours. Fats are a source of energy, providing the body with fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) essential for growth, and contain essential fatty acids important in maintaining normal health and body functions. Plant-based alternatives include rapeseed (often called ‘vegetable oil’ in UK), peanut, soya, olive and sunflower oils. Margarine was invented at the end of the 19th Century when Emperor Napoleon III was looking for a butter substitute for his troops, and during the Second World War it was legally required to contain vitamins in UK, which most still do.



5 Golden Rings 

Golden syrup is a sweet syrup made by breaking down sucrose, into glucose and fructose, by heating which produces caramels that give the characteristic flavour and amber colour. The process is known as ‘inversion’, hence it is referred to as partially inverted sugar syrup. The syrup is combined with butter, to make a sauce for steamed puddings, mixed with breadcrumbs for treacle tart, or oats for flapjacks, and serves as a topping for pancakes. E175 is a natural metal food additive approved by the European Union (EU). It is used as a colouring agent in food and drink products such as a coating on chocolate and sugared flour confectionary. The common name for E175 is gold, as in the inactive chemical element.

Calling Birds

… or ‘Colly’ birds, meaning ‘black as soot’. Squid ink gives black pasta its distinctive colour. Preserved (100-year old) eggs are a delicacy in China, made by curing chicken or duck eggs for up to a month in a mixture of ash, salt and lime, causing the albumen to become black in colour. They are stored coated with clay and rice husks. Liquorice (meaning ‘sweet root’) derives its distinctive flavour from glycyrrhizin which is fifty-times sweeter than table sugar. The blackish mass, obtained from processing the yellow roots, contains glycyrrhizinic acid and anethole (the essential oil, also present in anise) with its distinctive flavour, and is the key ingredient in traditional confectionery items.


French Hens

French monks used mustard seeds for medicinal purposes, such as treating wounds. In ancient Egypt, the seeds were thrown into the tomb at Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s funeral to bring good fortune in the next life. Nowadays, mustard serves as an emulsifier in vinaigrettes, for dressing salads. A paste of ground mustard seeds, water, vinegar and flour, is used as a cooking ingredient or to produce condiments such as English, French and American mustards with varying flavour strength, including wholegrain versions (made with unground seeds), which are popular accompaniments for meat and cheese.

Turtle Doves

White doves are symbols of peace. A piece of white chocolate is a popular treat and, worldwide, Brazil consumes the most. Cocoa pods are grown on cocoa trees (Latin name means ‘Food of the Gods’). The beans are roasted and ground to create cocoa liquor (used to make milk and dark chocolate) and further processed into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. In Europe, white chocolate contains cocoa butter (minimum 20%), milk (minimum 14% dry milk solids), sugars and flavourings, such as vanilla, but not the cocoa liquor.  


1 Partridge in a Pear Tree

Pears, sacred to some Greek and Roman goddesses, are a symbol of immortality in China. They are unrelated to prickly pears which are cactus fruit covered in sharp glochid (bristles) and used to make juice and jam. Perry is a type of cider made from specific varieties of hard, fibrous pears that typically contain high levels of tannins, which impart a degree of astringency and bitterness to the product, and naturally occurring citric acid, giving sharp, acidic flavours. Some types of perry are legally protected by the EU food name scheme which highlights regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed. Peeled pears can be slow poached in perry, red wine, Earl Grey tea or port, with sugar, spices (such as cinnamon, cloves), and vanilla or lemon zest, for a warming dessert.