By Homaro Cantu, Special to CNN
Editor's Note: Chef Homaro Cantu is a molecular gastronomist and owner of Chicago restaurants Moto and iNG. CNN featured Cantu in the November 27 episode of "The Next List."
For generations, we have become accustomed to guilty pleasures that please our palates. From birth we are taught to consume sweet flavors beginning with mother’s milk. Children learn quickly that candy, chocolate and Christmas cookies are things of pleasure. Why not make the paradigm shift from these unhealthy guilty pleasures to truly guilt-free goodies?
How is this possible? Take the good-old-fashioned burger. Rather than reproducing the ubiquitous veggie burger, or flavorless cardboard, why not approach it with real innovation? On my television show Future Food (on Discovery Network’s Planet Green) we actually attempted to shorten the food chain by creating a burger out of the ingredients that are found in livestock feed. Genius!
The three ingredients we used were corn, beets and barley. For that savory, char-grilled flavor, we charred the corn until it was sweet and blackened, and mixed it with cooked barley, which when blended, has an almost identical texture to a cooked burger protein. Oven-dried beet pulp provided the right texture. Beet juice added color to the veggie patties as well as an eggless mayonnaise to mimic the fat and blood in a burger. Corn oil was used for sautéing and cornstarch was used for binding. It actually looked and tasted like the real thing. No cows were harmed and we created the world’s first vegan burger made from what cows eat -- instead of eating the cows themselves. It’s a start. That was 3 years ago at Moto Restaurant.
These days at our sister restaurant, iNG (Imagining New Gastronomy) we have decided to take on the 800-pound gorilla … sugar. With help from the Miracle Berry -- a berry that makes bitter and sour foods taste sweet, we are able to recreate every sweet guilty pleasure imaginable. It’s not a trick and it’s not a chemical. The berry contains a glycoprotein that prevents the sour receptors on your tongue from tasting sour flavors. When you eat sour foods, they taste intensely sweet. Lemons taste like lemonade. Limes taste like ... well, the best limes you have ever tasted. Love soda? Make your own with a lemon and some soda water. No sugar. No calories. No chemicals. Our diners swear by it. In time, hopefully the soda industry will too. Instead of consuming sweet foods that are harmful to the body, we might just be able to eat what we love without the junk. Think of the possibilities with Type 2 Diabetes and obesity. Healthy junk food. Hopefully it’s our future and the next frontier in fast food.
Or at least mine.