Thursday, May 3, 2007

Eating nostalgically

From time to time, memories of dishes from my adolescence spring into my mind, and I try to recreate them. When I was working with IBM in Sydney, I often used to have lunch on my own in a Chinese restaurant at the corner of Castlereagh Street and Martin Place. In those days, I was unfamiliar with Chinese cooking, and I always ordered the same dish: curried prawns, served with celery. The other day, seeing a huge pile of prawns in the local supermarket, I decided to prepare this dish.

The result was quite tasty, although it's unlikely that my Indian curry paste (produced in the UK) is the same kind of product they used back in the Chinese restaurant in Sydney.

The next morning, in the sunshine, I was intrigued to discover orange stains on my fingernails, even though I had taken a shower. Worse, there were even small patches of orange on the towel that I had used, the previous day, to dry my hands after shelling the prawns. I phoned my daughter to ask her whether she thought it feasible that prawns might be colored artificially. And Manya suggested that I should look up this question on the Internet.

The Wikipedia results enlightened me, but they'll no doubt discourage me from getting back to curried prawns for a while. A chemical product named astaxanthin is responsible for the red color of flamingos, certain fish and cooked prawns. Synthetic astaxanthin is a food coloring, indicated as E161 in the European Union's numbering system. Unfortunately, I wasn't sufficiently well-trained in organic chemistry to conclude, as a result of this reading, whether the cause of my orange fingernails was natural and harmless, or whether there might be cause for alarm. In any case, I learn that my fingernails are nothing compared to the pinkish down of seagulls in the vicinity of salmon farms.

When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike out to my friend Keith Weatherstone's place at Eatonsville, to spend the weekend on their farm. Keith's mother told me that their hens used to eat a peppery weed growing on their property, and the effect of this was that boiled eggs we ate for breakfast were automatically peppered. I saw that as a fabulous concept, capable of revolutionizing the food industry. If only we could find the right weeds to feed to our hens, they might get around to laying us eggs for cooking cheese or bacon-flavored omelettes. If I understand correctly through my rapid reading about astaxanthin (which belongs to the large family of organic pigments called carotenoids), the food industry is probably already capable of providing interested customers with eggs to make salmon-flavored mayonnaise. How about prawn-flavored candy? Ideally, it should be able to glow in the dark. That will soon be happening to us humans, I reckon.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting journey here. As far as I can tell, you probably have nothing to worry about.

    Astaxanthin has been used for years as a natural (or sometimes synthetic) food-colorant. It actually occurs naturally and is produced by a certain algae. This algae is then consumed by salmon, shrimp and even flamingos, giving them all their pink hue.

    Recently, astaxanthin has shown much more promise as a health supplement for humans.

    Lots more details on astaxanthin here: