Much is made of the moral and health benefits of organic food. Time Out asks whether it tastes better as well
I am a classic organic enthusiast. As an amateur cook, I’ve long felt that the difference between organic and non-organic fare is extremely obvious, not just in how the food tastes, but in how it looks, smells and feels. I’ve often given long-winded lectures on the superior flavour of organic meat and produce, and been rewarded with eye rolls and smirks. Recently, I decided to finally wipe clean the sceptical sneers from my subjects’ faces. I figured what better way to set folks straight then with a blind taste test.
Hugh Gardiner, the executive chef at Okku, kindly volunteered to host our tasting panel (which, in the interests of impartiality, I agreed not to participate in). Our testers were James Wilkinson, Time Out’s music and nightlife editor, Celia Topping, our photo editor, and Ele Cooper, the assistant editor of Time Out Kids. Gardiner made two different versions of a five-course meal for our taste testers. The results were surprising.
1st course Miso soup The panel was presented with two soups, one amber coloured, and another with a lighter, creamier hue.
James: ‘I prefer the lighter soup. It’s richer. I’d guess the lighter soup was the organic version.’
Ele: ‘I think I prefer the darker soup. To me, it has more flavour. It’s slightly sharper. It’s thinner, but I still prefer it. If I had to guess, I’d say the darker one was organic.’
Celia: ‘I prefer the lighter one. The dark one is too watery, and doesn’t have as much flavour. I’m guessing the lighter one is organic.’
Chef Gardiner: ‘I find cooking with organic miso kind of scary. It’s just a totally different texture. This has to do with the koji, one of the processing agents used in making miso.’
2nd course Seaweed salad topped with beetroot Gardiner wasn’t able to locate organic seaweed, so that part of the salad remained unchanged. One version, however, employed organic beetroot, while another used non-organic beetroot from Holland. One version was noticeably moister and richer in colour.
James: ‘The darker beetroot is quite succulent. It’s sweeter and richer. In this version, it feels like the beetroot is part of the dish. The beetroot in the second version is dry and spindly; it feels like it’s just garnish. The darker version is definitely organic.’
Ele: ‘Can I just copy what he said?’
Celia: ‘I feel you can tell which is organic just from looking at the two samples. This darker one looks fresher and moister, and it’s much more intense when you taste it. The other version is bland and watery. The darker one is most definitely organic.’
Chef Gardiner: ‘I was really surprised by the results myself. I would have assumed that the darker beetroot was organic, because it’s just so much better tasting and better looking. But that wasn’t the case.’
3rd course Eggplant with miso The first dish presented was chunky and dense-looking. The second dish was thinner, and the eggplant interior looked much softer.
James: ‘The second sample is much smokier-tasting, and much sweeter. In fact, I can taste the marinade, but I can’t really taste the eggplant. In the first sample, I can taste it more. I’m guessing the first is organic.’
Ele: ‘I prefer the second version. It’s lighter and not as dense, which I like. I think version two is organic.’
Celia: No way. The first is much meatier and has a lot more flavour. I like that it’s not as sweet. The second one is just too overwhelming; it’s more like a dessert. I’d assume the chunkier version is organic.’
Chef Gardiner: ‘I definitely noticed a difference cooking with these two versions. The organic eggplant is denser. Which do I prefer to cook with? Honestly, it really depends on cost – organic food is often just too expensive.’
4th course Cucumber sushi roll The two sushi rolls looked almost identical. Looking at them, it was impossible to distinguish which had organic cucumber and which didn’t.
James: ‘I think I can tell a difference, but I’m not sure. I think the second sample is slightly sweeter, and probably organic.’
Ele: ‘I disagree. I think the first sample is sweeter, and organic.’
Celia: ‘Honestly, I have no idea which is which. They taste the same to me.’
Chef Gardiner: ‘The organic cucumber is actually grown here in the UAE. I think it’s a great product. It reminds me of the cucumbers that would grow on the farms in Japan when I was a kid.’
5th course Zuki lamb The two versions of the lamb chops looked very different. One plate was full of plumper and fattier lamb chops, while the meat on the second plate was thinner and leaner.
James: ‘Mmmm. Mmm, mmmph. Sorry about that. Yes, this first lamb is much better. It’s juicy and tender. Here you can really taste the difference. I’m guessing the first lamb chop is organic.’
Ele: ‘Yes, the first lamb is definitely better. It’s so much softer and it just tastes amazing. The first one has to be organic.’
Celia: ‘Agreed. The first batch is much more succulent. It’s like night and day. The second batch is just OK. I’m going to go with the others and say the first is the organic version.’
Chef Gardiner: ‘I was surprised by the extent of the difference here. The organic was much fattier than the non-organic. As a result, it had a lot more flavour.’
Accoutrement Soy sauce The tasting panel was presented with two soy sauces: one dark and inky, the second lighter and more watery.
James: ‘I prefer the lighter sauce. The dark is more glutinous, and it’s much saltier. It smothers the food. The lighter soy sauce is much less abrasive. I can’t actually tell which is organic though.’
Ele: ‘The first soy sauce is really gloopy. I much prefer the second sauce. I’m guessing the lighter version is organic.’
Celia: ‘The lighter soy is much less offensive. The dark is too salty. The lighter version compliments the food, instead of overpowering it. I think the lighter might be organic, though I can’t really tell.’
Chef Gardiner: ‘The non-organic is actually our house blend. I would use the organic, but it’s just so salty; you can’t really taste the food through it.’ Our thanks go to Okku, The Monarch Dubai (04 501 8888), for hosting the event
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Tony Sep 10, 2009 01:44 pm
Organic produce contains pesticides, and I mean pesticides that are worse for you than those in non-organic.
E.g. Copper Sulphate, which a third of the 2008 organic potatoe crop produces under the British Organic Soil Association, had been sprayed with.
The EU, and others, wish to ban this chemical as a pesticide, due scientific studies into the risks associated with it.
The pesticides used on non-organic food have been scientifically tested and approved.
The Organic PR wagon is (and has regularly been proved) misleading.
Organic (on average) does not taste better, is not more nutritious, and is not healthier for you. It is on average 60% more expensive. If the world changed to organic farming tomorrow, expect serious food shortages with unsustainable lost % of crops.
The pesticides to date, have shown greater benefit that cost, over the last 50 years, in improving food supply, reducing shortages, and life expectancy has increased as a result.
The area I wish to see improved (and not under the organic PR wagon) is animal wellfare, I hate to see the cruel treatment of animals across all areas (not just food production, grown to eat).
C. Lock Sep 01, 2009 08:54 am
This article is superficial and vaccuous. There are quite a few very intelligent & skilled people who could write about many subject, here in the UAE, but articles are never seen by them in the press. Interesting.
This article is uneducated, blatantly misleading to people who are not educated about organic food, and supports ignorant and wrong attitudes towards what truly organic food is about. It gives no clue to the value of following organic principles when growing, buying and eating food. It is a misleading piece of writing by an uninformed person.
Why is such 'plastic' journalism given any space when there are truly educated people here who know something about this topic?
To embrace organic food & eating is not just about epicurean standards, or getting rid of chemicals, or having to spend a lot of money we can't afford. Judging the value of foods by their taste alone - good or bad - is obviously also NOT what organic eating is about.
What is it about? Simply, a commitment to knowing about the food we eat - and to buying & eating food that is not mass produced with the aid of chemical fertilisers & pesticides, which means eating foods that are in season, produced perhaps by smaller growers. For better health - and a healthier world in so many ways.
Good organic food needs to be grown in good, chemical free, organically well nourished soil. It needs to be grown & eaten in season, in order to be 1) nutritious 2) taste good. Just being 'organic' by isn't enough to guarantee quality or nutrition.
Badly grown, ill-nourished organic food, or food grown out of season, will of course taste & look inferior to chemically assisted foods, that may also have been more nourised but also subjected to very poisonous pesticides that can accumulate in our bodies & environment.
But it is not just absence of use of pesticides that makes food more nutritious or taste good. Simply replacing non-organic mass production methods with 'organic' mass production methods doesn't guarantee a better result, or a quality one. Organic by nature means NOT mass production, NOT chemical fertilizers, NOT pesticides. If you live in a country where tiy do not know the local growers you buy from & must trust wholesalers & retailers, we need to ask for proof of the organic accreditation of the foods we buy. Or just trust someone who want to sell us stuff for money.
There are many different standards of organic accreditation. Do you know those that apply to the organic foods you are eating? Did you ask to see the accreditation, did you read the lables?
Anyone who really cares about these issues and is educated in what the different types of certification mean, knows that producing good food involves a lot more than no pesticides/chemical fertilizers, a lot more than simply trusting some unscrupulous businessman who says his goods are 'organic'.
People who want to make money selling food can use 'organic' as a marketing descriptor - often they are expoiting people's ignorance, because 'organic' - without certification - can just mean produce that comes from a living source - anything once living is 'organic'. Technically, in this sense ALL FOOD IS ORGANIC.
So unless the food is CERTIFIED organic by an accreditated, legal body, in the country from which the food is sourced - according to organic standards which you can access on the internet & then decide if they are good enough for you - then it is not even necessarily pesticide free or grown in organic soils with out chemical fertilizers - let alone a superior product in any way. Good accreditation standards SHOULD also say something about superior nutritional content, quality etc of food. Just being pesticide free alone will not guarantee quality or nutritional content.
If food doesn't look or taste good then it probably isn't. Inferior 'organic' food could have been grown with improper soil nourishment, or have been grown out of season, even if chemical free. Ask to see the standard of accreditation of the food in the country from which the food is sourced. It should be displayed next to the food you buy in the shop. If it's not available - don't trust the seller. Unless you personally know the farmer of the food you are buying & his methods, insist on legal, organic accreditation, and know the geographic source of the food - what season is it in that place? - is the food likely to be in season there? There are a number of accreditation bodies in Australia, the UK, Europe and the USA. You can look their standards up on the internet.
Use your common sense, there is no substitute for it. Get yourself educated, it's not so hard, start slowly, little by little - in other words don't just trust people who want to sell you food, without questioning their sources. Did you know that cows milk products are full of hormones & antibiotics? Did you know that mass produced foods are assisted with chemicals & pesticides that reside in our bodies causing disease, & environment, since the 2nd world war when mass production of just about everything became the norm ?
Look. The retailer/wholesaler's brief is to get money, not your good health. Your brief should be good health etc. Insist the retailer gets good food you want. Don't buy it if it's not. Speak up. Yes it's more effort - but face it - it's your life, not the retailer's. Isn't it worth a bit of effort to improve our lives & world? Isn't it something we can all do as caring humans, regardless of our nationality, job or gender?
You don't have to become a vegan, the food police, a communist, a hippy, a liberal, a lesbian etc, an activist, or spend a fortune, to eat good, chemical-free food more often.
You just have to use your brain to think a little about the food you buy, cook & eat and refuse to compromise your standards. It isn't so hard once you get organised. There ARE simple, nutritious ways of eating more organically, more often, that are not boring - make the effort to seek them out.
It is not only 'organicness' which is the deciding factor in quality of food, good or otherwise, but many other factors. And if you decide to eat nothing but chemically assisted foods that have been exposed to unknown pesticides because they taste better or simply are what's easily available - it is understandable, but you are also missing the whole point of what organic is about.
What is organic about? It's about better nutrition, fewer insecticides and chemical fertilizers in the soil & environment, fewer diseases and problems with pollution in the world for us and more importantly our children. No more, no less. No it is not a form of puritanism or fascism.
But unless people take responsibility, get educated and take a stand & care about being selective about what they buy, retailers etc will continue to call the shots & sell us whatever we continue to tolerate. And that includes rubbish. Which we seem to get a lot of in shops.
We are what we eat. If that is rubbish & chemicals - well, you work out the result... It's simple - if not easy. But then the truth often isn't.
Dr.K Aug 31, 2009 01:37 pm
At the end of the day, even if the taste of organic is exactly the same as conventional (industrial) food and that someone may ultimately show that the nutritious value is the same, ORGANIC DOESNT HAVE CHEMICALS, PESTICIDES, RADIATION AND OTHER CANCEROUS AND POISONOUS SUBSTANCES that kill you softly but surely before your expected life span average. That is the part and point most people are missing. Taste, texture, cost, nutritious value, who cares? How about extending your life in good health? Ahow about making sure your children don't get cancer before they turn 40? Is no one aware of the WHO report that says that the generation who are today between 40 and 50 yrs old are the sickest in terms of cancer stats? That is roughly when food became an industrial product and chemicals were poured in everything. A coincidence? I think not. Did we honnestly think we could beat or fool nature?
Let the skeptics grin; save your kids from poisons. We'll see who's grinning a couple of years from now.