New food items and cooking techniques are keeping things exciting in the kitchen

Food trends

Flip through food catalogues or peruse Pinterest and, along with the traditional kitchen gadgets, there are a few items and foods that are becoming prevalent. Some are even hard to pronounce.

Whether chicken coops, salt blocks and tea-making kits become staples in our homes or they’re just passing fads, they add to the list of more things for foodies and food hobbyists to enjoy.

Chicken coops

For the freshest eggs possible, some Louisiana city dwellers have resorted to raising chickens in their backyards. LSU AgCenter poultry specialist Dr. Theresia Lavergne said chickens are easy to keep.

“They’ll do a lot for themselves, but are dependent on you to provide food and water, especially in the summertime,” she said.

The Baton Rouge and New Orleans chicken ordinances — yes, they exist — state that homeowners are allowed to keep up to three chickens (no roosters) within a recognized residential subdivision lot of one acre or more, as long as coops are located a minimum of 10 feet from the nearest property line and a minimum of 50 feet from any residence other than that of the owner.

“Homeowners also need to check with the deed restrictions of their Homeowners Association. Just because the city says it’s OK, your neighborhood may say no,” Lavergne said.

Chickens need to be kept in coops, preferably off the ground, with lots of shade and water, particularly in the hotter months. If a homeowner wants to keep the chickens cooped up all the time, the chickens need at least 2 square feet per animal for optimal health.

Vaccines and vet visits are minimal for chickens. There is a recommended fowl pox vaccine that prevents a disease, which causes scabs and a decrease in egg production. For the most part, Lavergne said, chickens are relatively healthy.

Cooling the chicken coop with fans isn’t necessary, she said. In fact they may upset the chickens, although a light breeze may be OK.

“When chickens are upset, they tend to pick at each other,” she said.

Chickens can be loose in the yard during the day, but caution must be taken to protect them from natural predators, such as dogs, cats, raccoons, snakes and foxes that roam our urban areas.

Most healthy hens can produce an egg a day, which needs to be collected daily.

Lavergne said she has definitely noticed an upsurge of homeowners who raise chickens.

“I think it is great for families. People like to see their own food produced right now and the enjoyment of watching the chickens. Children learn where their food comes from and they learn to respect animals,” she said.

Chickens can be purchased from local feed stores. The Louisiana Market Bulletin and the LSU Ag 4-H office are other good sources for finding healthy chickens.

And to house those chickens, Williams-Sonoma offers several coop designs in its online catalog.

Himalayan salt block

Cut in varying slab slices, the salt plates, tiles, or blocks are from the natural salt deposits found in the Himalayas and are the latest low-tech tool for high-tech cooks.

The blocks are pinkish in color and can be heated on the grill to sear seafood, meat or vegetables or can be chilled for serving a selection of fruits and cheeses with a hint of salt. Locally, Ruffino’s Restaurant serves a seared yellowfin tuna appetizer on a Himalayan salt block.

The blocks are marketed as being antimicrobial and easy to clean. Blocks can be used as cutting boards as well and can be used repeatedly until they gradually wear or diminish.

In his book, “Salt Block Cooking,” Mark Bitterman features 70 recipes that use the Himalayan salt block for hot or cold dishes. Bitterman refers to the salt block as “the boldest new idea in cooking since the matchstick.”

A salt plate can be purchased locally at the Shopperschoice showroom for $34.95 or from the online catalogues of Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma.

Kombucha

Kombucha is an effervescent fermentation of sweetened tea. The fermented drink is made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast.

The special culture of bacteria and yeast, called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), is a rubbery cellulose that grows as you feed it. It’s sometimes referred to as “mushroom tea” since the colony of bacteria and yeast resemble a large mushroom in a brewing jar. Adding the colony to sugar and tea, and allowing the mix to ferment, makes the tea.

The resulting liquid contains vinegar, B vitamins and a number of other chemical compounds.

Fans of kombucha say health benefits attributed to kombucha tea include stimulating the immune system, preventing cancer, and improving digestion and liver function; however, there is no scientific evidence to support these health claims.

Ready-made bottled and flavored kombucha is available locally at Whole Foods for about $3 a bottle. A home-brewing kombucha kit is available in the Williams-Sonoma catalog for $70, or online at Cultures for Health, culturesforhealth.com, for $21.99.

Sriracha: (Shree-rah-cha or Sir-rah-cha)

Although this hot sauce also has a red bottle with a green top, the rooster on the front lets you know it’s a different type of hot sauce from our familiar Louisiana cayenne pepper hot sauce.

Sriracha chili hot sauce, or “rooster sauce,” has been slowly making its way into the mainstream; so mainstream, in fact, you can find it on the shelves of Walmart.

The sauce is hot, tangy and delicious, but the story of the sauce is another “made in America” dream story. Randy Clemens, author of “The Sriracha Cookbook,” provides a detailed history of the maker David Tran, credited with making Tuong Ot Sriracha, or “rooster sauce,” similar to traditional Thai pepper sauce.

Tran, born in Vietnam and of Chinese ancestry, began making chili sauces after he realized he wasn’t reaping enough income selling raw peppers alone.

After Tran left Vietnam for the United States (California, to be exact), Huy Fong Foods was born.

He began marketing the Vietnamese-style pepper sauce to local Asian restaurants and markets. The rooster logo represents the year of Tran’s birth on the Chinese zodiac.

Sales now exceed 14 million bottles a year, and you see Sriracha right alongside ketchup, mustard and picante sauce in the American condiment lineup.

“The Sriracha Cookbook” offers 50 “rooster sauce” recipes that pack a punch. The book is published by Ten Speed Press and sells for $16.99.

Kefir

Pronounced “keh-FEER,” this is a sour, tangy, fermented milk drink similar to yogurt, but is fermented with more and different types of bacteria in addition to yeast so it contains more probiotics, or more beneficial organisms.

The beverage is made with kefir grains or a powdered kefir starter culture. The term “grains” describes the look of the culture — no actual grains are used. There are two types of grains: milk kefir grains and water kefir grains. Milk kefir grains can be used with cow, goat or coconut milk. Water kefir grains can be used with sugar water, juice or coconut water.

Proponents say it offers many health benefits, including decreasing inflammation and increasing immune function, although scientific studies supporting these claims are few.

Bottled milk kefir is available at local grocery stores in the dairy section. But if you want to make your own, Cultures for Health, culturesforhealth.com, offers starter kits on its website for $ 26.99.

Quinoa (KEEN-wah)

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations designated 2013 to be recognized as the International Year of the Quinoa due to its high nutrition value.

Quinoa is actually a seed that is used as a grain when cooking, and is gluten free. Quinoa is related to leafy green vegetables that include spinach, Swiss chard and beets.

Most quinoa consumed in the U.S. is from South America, namely Peru and Bolivia.

Compared to white rice, it has almost double the protein content and is high in magnesium and lysine, an amino acid important for tissue growth and repair. It’s also a good source of manganese, phosphorus and copper, and has a high iron content.


There are three different types of quinoa. White is the most popular variety, with a mild flavor that can be easily substituted for rice or couscous.

Red quinoa has a stronger flavor, takes longer to cook, and can be crunchy. Black quinoa is the strongest in flavor and is very crunchy.

Quinoa, similar to rice, cooks quickly in 10 to 15 minutes in boiling water.

Most packaged quinoa has been rinsed of the natural coating which may taste bitter, but a pre-rinse before cooking is advisable. When quinoa is ready, the seeds will display a little white thread that curls around them.

Locally, quinoa has made its way into restaurants as a side item. Zoe’s Kitchen, in late September, announced the debut of quinoa onto its regular menu with its quinoa salad.

Katie Mingo, marketing team leader for Whole Foods Market Baton Rouge, said, “We usually have at least two items daily that are in our prepared food section made with quinoa. We also carry all three types of quinoa in our bulk food section, which offers some of the best values in our store.”

Chia seeds

Remember those goofy terra cotta planters sold on television whose shapes magically grew green hair or fur after a few weeks of watering the planted seeds? Those same magical seeds are now a popular health food.

Yes, people are now buying them to eat.

The tiny black and white seeds have a mild, nutty flavor when added to food or beverages. They are sprinkled in cereal, sauces, vegetables and rice dishes and mixed in yogurts, drinks or baked goods.

Chia seeds are a concentrated food and contain healthy Omega 3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber and antioxidants. When mixed with liquid, the seeds expand in the stomach, helping one feel full. This has led to weight-loss claims, albeit scientifically unsubstantiated so far.

Heidi Morgan, Whole Foods Market associate store team leader, said the chia seeds are very popular with customers who purchase them in bulk or in individual shot packets. There are yogurts and drinks that already contain the seeds that are also popular, she said.

Chia seeds are from a desert plant grown in Mexico dating back to Mayan and Aztec cultures.

The word chia means strength and folklore is that the seeds provide an energy boost. Nutritional claims aside, it seems these seeds have been trendsetting for quite some time.