Honey...

Sheba Piano Bar

Aperitif Al-kee-hawlz (“pre-dinner cocktail”). Ethiopian tej.

Tapas. Injera with kitfo (steak tartare), tibs wat (sauteed prime beef), beg alecha (braised lamb), kik alicha (yellow split pea), gomen (sauteed collard greens). All with authentic Ethiopian spices.


Before going to any Ethiopian restaurant, check this site. Ethnic restaurants should have some sort of high incentive to not only place their latest menu offerings, but offer a description of the main ingredients, herbs, and spices that contribute to the “authentic” flavor. This isn’t the same thing as “divulging recipe secrets,” as recipe secrets are ingredients that normally aren’t revealed (and even if they are, the ratios of certain secret spice mixes, for example, are hard to attain without some sort of guidance). Sometimes the secret to certain recipes aren’t secret, they’re simply unobtainable in the current environment. You can have the exact same ingredients; all it takes is a different chef and a slightly different timescale to create a completely different dish. This isn’t even taking the environment into account. In some instances, I feel that the “authenticity” of a dish comes from the environment itself- “it’s in the water,” they say…or “air?”(hopefully not in the upchucked air from a sneeze or cough), or that wok that’s been used over and over for the past 15 years.” Either way, I know next to nothing about authentic Ethiopian food, so I’ll try not to make any elaborate comments on it. The pdf was simply a pedantic start to culinary discoveries in the land of deliciously spiced meat, vegetables, and injera.

Another side note before I get to the food. I instigated the “no pictures in shitty lighting” rule here at Sheba. Part of the essence of a meal is enjoying the environment that is purposefully set up for the consumer. When one traditionally thinks restaurant, the mind automatically jumps to “food.” What I have found, repeatedly, is that ambiance affects the food. We like to think not, but we’re human and it’s impossible to separate our conscious and unconscious desires. Thus, pulling out your swiss army phone, lighting up the damn place to take washed out photos is certainly not a good idea. You get crappy pictures and pissed off dining neighbors. Luckily the latter didn’t happen. The former may have; you’ll have to be the judge of that. The “florescent” lighting on these pictures is a result of participating friends who shined a flashlight on the food, which allowed me to take less blurry pictures (shutters stay open longer in low light situations to allow more light in, causing blurriness. End less-than-amateur photo knowledge). That being said, it’s the last time I take pictures in a sexy, cozy atmosphere.

In light of the last post, I’m going to dedicate this Ethiopian experience on Tej, the honey/raw honeycomb infused wine that served as our pre-dinner aperitif.

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Ants around a benzene (Chem joke).

I know what wine tastes like. I know what honey tastes like. But when adding the two together, it’s an interesting buzzy mix (no pun intended). The booziness of the drink was cleverly hidden by the strong caramelized taste of the honey, which makes tej deceptive to drink.

So what contributes to the variety of honey-ish flavors? Honey is most definitely a carbohydrate. Normal honey in normal supermarkets, however, is questionable in terms of authenticity. Some of them are merely flavored bottles of corn syrup. The real stuff is quite expensive, and totes a myriad of health benefits. (Don’t get carried away though). Depending on the nectar source and processing techniques, several factors contribute to the ultimate flavor or honey.

  1. Caramelization
  2. Smoke
  3. Fermentation
  4. Chemical-processing
  5. Odors

Honey is a carbohydrate combination of a bunch of “oses” (glucose rings n’ stuff). I was always under the impression that the fructose content of honey was higher than the glucose content, but this doesn’t affect the actual taste of the honey itself. It may affect the sweetness, as fructose registers as a bit more sweet (at least for diabetics). Either way, the modest difference has no clinical implications (that’s what the high-fructose corn industry wants you to think, but let’s not go there). The chemical composition and health benefits of honey are apparently numerous, especially if you stick “Manuka” in as an adjective. There’s numerous resources for honey out there, so feel free to peruse and drown yourself in said resources.

Having a new culinary experience obviously is not a clinical application, so that study above is most likely a waste of space (unless you’re interested in nutritional biochemistry) but I’m tempted to say that there has to be a scientific procedure or method that we could use to make better tej. I went through the normal channels, asking qualified professionals- Dr. Google (Ph.D), Dr. Google (M.D), experts (Wikipedia).

I stumbled upon “ultrasonicated honey.” Ultrasonication is usually used to break down chemical structures in ways that normal mixing/beating/heating does not achieve. In my old science lab, we used ultrasonication to break down particulate matter that wouldn’t dissolve in a solvent, even after vigorous mixing with heat. Ultrasonicated honey in this case, serves as a better alternative in avoiding honey crystallization (the honey solidifies in the bottle and unlike the ketchup bottle, looking down the bottle opening doesn’t make it come tumbling out on your eyeballs). Ultrasonication of honey destroys seeding crystals and undesirable yeasts, leading to honey that doesn’t crystallize, and thus, remains in a state where you can actually enjoy it…out of the goddamn bottle. Heating honey is another way to go, but according to Hielscher Ultrasonics, heating increases hydroxymethylfurfural (undesirable compound) and the reduction of honey’s natural enzymes (grabs electrons, therefore modifying the efficiency of its functions). There may also be a caramelization effect when heated, which may also be undesirable to some. I’m fairly certain its difficult or nearly impossible to find ultrasonicated honey anywhere on normal shelves, and asking supermarket officials will most likely get you arrested. But now you know. Would this create a smoother, more even tasting tej? Based on simple diffusion principles, I would think so. More uniform honey leads to dissolving ease and uniform textures. Will you have the potential to overdose due to the hidden alcohol content? Probably.

Cheers.

References:

  1. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/12/7/481.full.pdf.

  2. http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/webprojects2001/loveridge/index-page3.html

  3. http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/webprojects2001/loveridge/index-page3.html