Category Archives: Learn

Chip In! Our small way of trying to give back….

The infographic doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story of hunger in the US.  It’s so sad – we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, yet, according to a 2013 report by GlobalPost (an international news service), Chile, Mexico and Turkey are the only developed nations that have a higher level of income inequality.

It is not a lack of food creating the hunger problem in the US and poverty only tells part of the story.  Lack of employment, lower wages, lack of any household assets and certain area demographics all work to contribute to a large food insecurity problem in the US.

Please see the infographic below and help us to do our tiny part to help.  Through June 30, 2015, we are offering 20% off all product purchases from our website.  For every single item sold, we will give $1 to the Vermont Foodbank.  So, head over to, put some stuff in your cart, enjoy our 20% discount, then sit back and enjoy Gringo Jack’s knowing you’ve chipped in!  Thank you.

Gringo Jack's Feed People promo
Gringo Jack’s Feed People promo
Countries struggling to afford food.
Countries struggling to afford food.

Water and Energy (and toilets?)…time to renew!

In March of 2010, Gal Luft – Executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security – in his blog post, “Water Crisis, Energy Crisis, Vicious Cycle”, wrote:

“It is widely accepted that water shortage can — and most probably will — lead to military conflict, mass migration, food shortages and a host of other security challenges. What is less appreciated is the connection between water and energy and how intertwined are the energy challenge and the water challenge we are facing today globally.”

Energy alternatives have suffered a lot of bad press and have not been taken seriously. The hoax perpetrated by the conservative right (supported by the oil & gas industries) has seemed to convince many people that climate change is not real.   Fear has replaced thought once again.  The fear instilled in people that we will not get enough energy or the fear that hundreds of thousands of people will lose their jobs once they are no longer needed to subject themselves to the life threatening jobs that require them to go deep underground to extract filthy coal.

So, forget climate change and focus on the water crisis.  While we can’t see underground to watch the aquifers being drilled deeper and deeper, the statistics of the water crisis can be seen and felt.  The droughts are at an all time high and there are numerous pictures in this country alone that can attest to the crisis.  The bathtub ring on Lake Mead is enough to curl your hair!

Lake Mead immediately upriver from Hoover Dam Photo courtesy of  J. N. Stuart
Lake Mead immediately upriver from Hoover Dam
Photo courtesy of J. N. Stuart

So, why not look at energy alternatives as a way to alleviate the water crisis?  The infographic below shows just how much solar energy saves in water over the other popular forms of energy:

Developed by One Block Off The Grid
Developed by One Block Off The Grid

The above infographic is not quite accurate if not looking at CPV.   Solar technologies do use a modest amount of water.  All kinds of thermal power plants use heat to boil water into steam, which runs a steam turbine to generate electricity.  The exhaust steam from the generator must be cooled prior to being heated again and turned back into steam.  This cooling can be done using either a wet, dry or hybrid method.  Solar thermal plants use more water than the solar photovoltaic panels.

However, a new solar thermal plant recently opened in the Mojave Desert that it utilizing dry cooling to reduce water usage to next to nothing.

Check out the water use for the various power plants below.

courtesy of Institute for Local Self Reliance
courtesy of Institute for Local Self Reliance

Finally, getting away from energy and water, below is a linkto an article that is fun at the same time amazing!  The future could bring many more ways to conserve while also contributing.  Read and enjoy “Solving the Water and Energy Crisis…in One Swell Poop”, by Gar Smith.

courtesy of
courtesy of

WATER – What are we doing?

In an effort to alleviate the droughts, we are pumping water out of the ground that can’t be replaced.  Aquifer water supplies half of our fresh water needs, but as we continue to pump it out of the ground, a looming crisis is just around the corner.

1936 South Dakota Dust Bowl
1936 South Dakota Dust Bowl – wikipedia


With the developing water crisis, what can we do or what are we doing to alleviate future devastation?  What can we do to prevent water from becoming a precious, private commodity available to the rich and scarce to the poor?

We’ve already mentioned desalination.  However, desalination has several problems:  it is very expensive; very energy use intensive; pumps pull in sea life and kill it, potentially killing entire species or ecosystems; finally, creates about half fresh water from salt water with the other half (brine) sometimes too salinated to put back and sometimes still containing chemicals.

In fact, the brine created from the desalination can contain such chemicals as chlorine, which when mixed with other chemicals can create carcinogens.  Acids are another result which can breakdown and destroy tissues in living organisms.

There are alternatives for the present way we utilize desalination, including by way of renewable energy,  better pumps and better filters.  But are there other ways to manage the water we have prior to having to use desalination?

Watershed Management

A watershed is an area in which water from different sources collects into one single place – from both above and below ground.  Usually, management of the different sources of this water is fragmented and done by different agencies or departments – some without even the scientific knowledge needed for proper management.  Watershed management is when the entire water source is managed in one place.  Plans, programs, conservation, etc are all implemented for better water use.  Water rights, conservation, quality, drainage, supply, etc are managed by teams of real scientists from disciplines such as storm water experts, environmental experts, as well surveyors and planners.

The Vermont Watershed Management Division encompasses the following:

  • Monitoring, Assessment & Planning
  • Ecosystem Restoration Program
  • Lakes & Ponds
  • Rivers
  • Wastewater
  • Stormwater
  • Wetlands

Some links to learn more about watershed management:


Infrastructure – the decidedly unsexy fix

According to, 850 water main breaks occur EVERY DAY in North America.  Since 2000, we have seen over 4 million water main breaks and today alone, at 11:50 am, 423 water main breaks already occurred!

In 2014, California experienced a water main break that spewed 20 million gallons of water into the LA area.  Water main breaks are the cause of over 2.5 TRILLION gallons of fresh drinking water a year.

WTH!?  These are staggering statistics, so for god’s sake, lets fix the damn pipes!  Yes, it is an expensive and difficult fix.  Corrosion of pipes is responsible for the major number of main breaks (we’re not even going to get into what that corrosion does to our health, but you can see what one of the corroded pipes looks like and pretty much draw your own conclusions!)

"Would you drink water from this pipe"  “Would you drink water from this pipe?”

Whether we use PVC pipe or steel lined with concrete, we have got to fix the crumbling infrastructure.  Investment is doing just that is beyond most regional governments and must be the project of the federal government.  Such an investment would also create jobs and put money into individual economies.


Americans use more water than any other country on earth.   According to the United Nations Development Program – Human Development Report 2006 (updated May, 2014), Americans use over 550 litres of water per person, per day.  Australians use over 500 litres a day, and comparatively, Chinese a little over 75 litres a day and, Germany about 175 litres.

What are Americans doing with all this water?!  Basically, we are squandering it – like we do with so many other resources in this country.  Our greed and love of instant gratification leads us to use water with little regard for conservation.

Below are water calculators you can use to see where you can help.  The second link will take you to a conservation challenge, as well:

Wind & Solar – uh oh, those ugly words again!

While the debates rage on over wind and solar, in this blogger’s mind, the debate is over when we look at the sheer volume of water it takes to produce electricity.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists,

“Take the average amount of water flowing over Niagara Falls in a minute. Now triple it. That’s almost how much water power plants in the United States take in for cooling each minute, on average.”

So, next week, we look at water and energy and other things we can and are doing to help alleviate the water crisis.




WATER – 1 ton of produce needs 1,000 tons of water!

Many of us blithely go about our day thinking water scarcity is the problem of countries like Africa.  Even droughts in the US – well, as long as we alternate days using water sprinklers, we’ll be fine.

But we aren’t fine.  The dwindling fresh water supply is becoming somewhat alarming.  We need fresh water for our food supply and with an increasing population, food shortages will eventually become the norm.   California provides 50% of all US grown produce and is facing the worst drought in history.  Just as an example, California continues to plant almond farms – producing about 2 billlion lbs of almonds this year alone, roughly 3 times the amount of just 14 years ago.  Each almond takes 1.1 gallon of water to produce.  Yes, I did say EACH almond, so image 2 billion lbs of almonds!

Just to get us started, here are some remarkable statistics:

  • While 70% of the Earth is covered by water, only 3% of that water is fresh water.  And, about three quarters of all fresh water is taken up with glaciers and ice caps.   

courtesy creative commons 

  • 100 years ago, Americans used about 7 gallons of water per day.  Today, Americans use about 145 gallons of water per day.
  • 1 ton of produce requires approx 1,000 tons of water
  • Agriculture accounts for about 70% of US water pollution.
  • California’s draining aquifers have caused  parts of the San Joaquin Valley to sink by 11 inches a year.
  • The Colorado River no longer runs all the way to the ocean.  Nestle is taking anywhere from 250-500 million gallons of water a year from the Colorado River Basin so it can bottle and sell its water.  In 2012, while Nestle made over $4B in water sales, the Colorado River Basin has lost over 53 million acre feet of water since 2003.  (NASA and the University of California at Irvine)
  • Desalination, while creating fresh water from salt water, only transforms about half of what is put into desalination.  The other half?  It becomes twice as salinated and can only be put back into the oceans at a safe salination level.  If it can not be returned to the ocean, it is lost.
  • A US government report states that global demand for water could actually exceed supply by an amazing 40% by only 2030.
  • “Hello Ball” (Norton in the Honeymooners) –  US golf courses use about 750 billion gallons of water per year

That is just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended) of horrifying statistics.  Below is a map showing groundwater withdrawal in the last three years:

Images by J.T. Reager, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, from “The Global Groundwater Crisis,” Nature Climate Change, November 2014, by James S. Famiglietti

And that is not even as horrible as the Ogalalla aquifer being used to grow corn in the high plains.  The withdrawal of this groundwater has far exceeded its ability to replenish itself.   Since 1950, the Ogalalla aquifer has lost about 9% of its acre feet.

Next week, we can look at some of the things we are starting to do to arrest this situation that could eventually be our downfall.







Spice it up for health! Capsaicin – more than just an adrenalin rush!

Ok, so have you ever eaten some REALLY spicy food and then felt that rush of euphoria?  Well, that’s because you’ve just ingested capsaicin, the chemical in hot chiles that release adrenaline and endorphins.

Our chile rubbed chips
Our chile rubbed chips

As a matter of fact, research is showing that capsaicin is good for a host of problems including pain, arthritic pain, inflammation and itching.  Capsaicin can help cardiovasular health, clear congestion and even boost immunity.  Even more encouraging is recent research showing that capsaicin may actually help kill off prostate cancer cells – not cure the cancer, but maybe prevent the cancer.

So just what is this miracle substance and how does it work?  Capsaicin is the substance in chiles that gives the chiles their pungent flavor and aroma.  It produces mild to intense heat in spicy chiles – depending on the ‘Scoville’ scale heat units (heat level) for the chile. To put that in perspective, let’s look at Gringo Jack’s for a start.

Our guajillo chile sauce is our hard working sauce.  Made with guajillo chiles, we say that it is the milder of our red chile sauces.  Guajillo chiles sit around 2,000-5,000 on the Scovile scale.    Our chipotle sauce is our spicier sauce made with chipotle chiles (dried jalapenos).  The chipotle chile sits on the Scoville scale at around 5,000-8,000.

Ok – so now, lets look at the cayenne pepper – 30,000-50,000 on the Scoville scale!  Imagine the difference in heat between the cayenne pepper and a chipotle chile.  But is gets better folks.   The hot chocolate habanero?  400,000 on the Scoville scale.  Really.  400,000.    And if you want to get ridiculous, there is always the Chocolate Bhutlah which ranks at over 1.5 MILLION on the Scoville scale.  Even that chile can’t beat the Carolina Reaper sometimes hitting the 2 million mark.  Ghost peppers?  Often referred to as the hottest pepper in the world and the butt of joke and funny videos – just over 1 million Scovilles.

hot chile

There are thousands of cultivars of chiles.  The hotter the chile, the more capsaicin.  That could explain the ever increasing obsession by some to grow the next hottest chile.

So what is the point?  Besides the funny videos of people eating chiles that make them cry, there are terrific reasons to get to know some of the spicy chiles.  I don’t think we all need to go out and learn to cook with the Carolina Reaper.  But, the higher the capsaicin level, the more the health benefits.  Pure capsaicin measures 16,000,000 on the Scoville scale, so that isn’t happening!

So, how does capsaicin help and what are the health benefits?  First of all, the bad rap that chiles get involves ulcers.  Not only do chiles NOT cause or aggravate stomach ulcers, they can actually help by killing bacteria and also buffering the stomach lining.  Now, what else can it do?

Relieves Pain & Inflammation

When it is topically applied, capsaicin lowers the amount of something called Substance P, the chemical that helps send pain signals to the brain – also associated with the inflammation process.  From osteoarthritis to diabetic neuropathy, capsaicin is the natural way to alleviate pain.  Applied topically, capsaicin can also alleviate itching from psoriasis.


Chiles are high in antioxidants which helps kill the free radicals in your body – free radicals being a precursor to atherosclerosis.

Studies are showing that capsaicin can also reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body’s ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance integral to the formation of blood clots.

Congestion Relief and Immunity Booster

The heat from the capsaicin also stimulates secretions that help clear nose and lung congestion.  And those beta-carotene vitamin As?  Well, chiles are loaded with them and Vitamin A is the first defense against infectious pathogens.

Reduce or regulate blood sugar?

In the July 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Australian researchers studied the effect of capsaicin on insulin and blood sugar.  It appears that a meal consumed with chiles reduces the body’s insulin requirements.  If chiles are regularly consumed, the amount of insulin needed goes even lower.

“Plus, chili’s beneficial effects on insulin needs get even better as body mass index (BMI, a measure of obesity) increases.  In overweight people, not only do chili-containing meals significantly lower the amount of insulin required to lower blood sugar levels after a meal, but chili-containing meals also result in a lower ratio of C-peptide/ insulin, an indication that the rate at which the liver is clearing insulin has increased.

The amount of C-peptide in the blood also shows how much insulin is being produced by the pancreas. The pancreas produces proinsulin, which splits into insulin and C-peptide when secreted into the bloodstream.  Each molecule of proinsulin breaks into one molecule of C-peptide and one molecule of insulin, so less C-peptide means less insulin has been secreted into the bloodstream.”   – WHFoods

How cool is this?  Capsaicin may help the spread of prostate cancer!

While this is still being studied, it looks as if capsaicin may actually help kill off prostate cancer cells.  In the March 15, 2006 issue of Cancer Research, study shows that capsaicin triggers suicide in both primary types of prostate cancer cell lines, those whose growth is stimulated by male hormones and those not affected by them. In addition, capsaicin lessens the expression of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), inhibits the ability of the most potent form of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, to activate PSA, and directly inhibits PSA transcription, causing PSA levels to plummet.

Our own garden grown chiles!  Dig-It Gardenworks - you're the best!

Our own garden grown chiles! Dig-It Gardenworks – you’re the best!

So, by now you are probably ready to dive into the amazing world of chiles!  In our next blog posts, Gringo Jack’s will be offering some wonderful and easy recipes all using these amazing wonders.



The Versatility of Squash – from savory to sweet!

Today is the quintessential fall day in Vermont (of course, after the leaves have fallen).  Gaining an hour this morning was a beautiful thing, but the second we stepped outside, we knew this fall day was heralding winter’s call.  My weather app said 42 degrees and underneath, it showed “feels like 22”.  Seriously?!

Rec trail

If it wasn’t for squash, some of us might be a bit depressed at the start of “stick season”.  But, lucky for us, there is squash!  And I don’t mean squash – that stuff you eat as the side vegetable on your dinner plate.  I mean SQUASH – one of the most versatile of earth’s bounty!  From sweet to savory and everything in between, plentiful fall squash offers a plethora of opportunity for a healthy, fun and “foodie” experience.

Gringo Jack's gourds

Squash is from the plant family called Cucurbitaceae, or sometimes called the gourd family.  There are over a hundred varieties of cucurbitaceae, squash being a part of the cucurbita along with pumpkin and zucchini.  Squash is the fruit of various parts of the cucurbita and falls into two categories:  winter and summer squash.

Winter squash is so named for the times when survival completely depended on foods that could last from fall through december and later.  However, squash is not just for survival anymore.  You can make squash a part of any meal and any dish from salads to desserts.   You can pan sear it or grill it, bake it or even smoke it!

Chef Paul from Crave
Chef Paul from Crave – squash risotto

So, squash risotto to squash soup

Chef Paul from Crave - Squash Soup
Chef Paul from Crave – Squash Soup

How about squash brulee for dessert!

Food Network Squash brulee
Food Network Squash Brulee
Kelsey Nixon's Curried Butternut Squash Ice Cream
Kelsey Nixon’s Curried Butternut Squash Ice Cream

So, below is a list of the various kinds of winter squash and then how to choose and cook your squash:

  • Acorn – no real sweetness, so best combined with other ingredients (like raisins); should not be cured as it reduces storage life; also keep at under 55 degrees
  • Butternut – oh, such sweet flesh!  Definitely cure
  • Spaghetti – looks like pasta, so why not use like pasta; holds up to robust sauces; cure
  • Carnival – sweet & dense
  • Kabocha – sweet; Japanese pumpkin; delicious
  • Hubbard – use the smaller ones for less moisture content; cure
  • Pumpkin – go for the smaller “sugar” pumpkins
  • Buttercup – like butternut sweetness, but denser; cure

What does it mean to “cure” the squash?  Curing removes the excess moisture in the squash.  Hence, the sweetness is more concentrated.  It also allows for less rot and longer storage.  To cure, simply store in a warmer location allowing a lot of air to circulate – usually for about 10-14 days.

Remember the days all houses would have a “root cellar”?  Food could be stored there to last longer.  Gone are the days of the root cellar, but no worries – some squash will stay good for months in a cool room – others up to a few weeks or longer.  You know – that room that never seems to get any heat?   Store them there and you can have meals all winter into spring!

Choose squash that doesn’t have any soft spots.  If a part of the vine is still attached, it will stay fresh longer.

Here are some awesome tips for preparing and cooking squash.

  • Keep squash dry
  • Using a longer kitchen knife, slice a side of the peel of the squash down the side (or on the bottom depending on the squash) so that you can lie it flat on a cutting board.  It is easier to work with now.
  • Peel the squash with a chef’s knife or a great peeler.  It will be a lot easier if you find a carbon steel blade vegetable peeler (anywhere on Amazon or eBay).  I bet Kerry at Vermont Kitchen Supply has these!  Peel a thin layer.
  • When cutting the squash in half, which can be harder than it sounds, try using a mallet with the knife – softly!
  • When scooping the seeds out, why not keep them, spray with olive oil, sprinkle a little sea salt and roast them!
  • Try not to cook squash in water – it will dilute the flavor.  Instead, cook squash on high heat in order to “caramelize” the squash and bring out the sweetness and flavors.


To get you started, below is a recipe from Whole Foods for simple, caramelized on the outside and soft on the inside, butternut squash bites.

  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F. Halve the squash lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out and discard seeds.

Peel with a vegetable peeler
Cut into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Nutritional Info:
Per Serving:150 calories (30 from fat),  3.5g total fat,  0g saturated fat,  0mg cholesterol, 300mg sodium,  27g carbohydrate (3g dietary fiber, 5g sugar),  3g protein


Whole Foods roasted  butternut  squash
Whole Foods roasted butternut squash

Now, go grab a squash and make something fun!  






The attempt to concisely discuss GMOs and food safety is daunting.  There is so much conflicting information, studies and opinions that it seems impossible to be able to definitively say whether GMOs are safe or not.    To quote Greggor Ilagan, one of the nine member County Council in Hawaii,

“it takes so much time to find out what’s true.”

When the GMO bill came up in Hawaii, Ilagan was in a quandary.  He promised his constituency he would always vote and take a stand on any issue, but he truly did not know what to do.  Every time he tried to research the topic, new questions arose obfuscating the issue further.

There are many studies the non-GMO community pointed to that would indicate GMOs were a health risk:  a French researcher that found tumors in rats;  a Russian study that showed hamsters lost the ability to reproduce; a study linking GMOs with childhood allergies; disappearing butterflies; sterile seeds – the list goes on.

hamster in a cage

However, most of the studies that have been cited have also been shown to be wildly flawed and already debunked and, therefore,  not worthy of inclusion in the discussion of GMOs.

So, the question remains – is there any evidence of the safety or harm caused by GMOs?  It is true  that we have been eating foods with genetically modified ingredients for years.  Approximately 60-70% of processed foods you buy in the grocery store contain genetically engineered ingredients.  The most common GMOs include maize, soybeans, cotton and grapeseed oil.

The US (also the largest producer of GMOs) government’s position remains steadfast – GMOs are perfectly safe and are the “substantial equivalent” of non-GMOs.   The EU, however feels differently – they want to avoid GMOs and stick with organic food they feel doesn’t pose a health risk.  Their position doesn’t seem to rely on studies but rather avoidance of the possibilities of risks.  If non-GMO food is eaten, there are no worries as to whether or not risks exist.

Here is what has become the main crux for me just on the food safety issue: most of the crops presently being modified are one-gene modifications.  That means that one gene is being introduced to the crop to bring about a desired result.  So far, there is no credible evidence that any of the currently modified crops are unsafe.  That is not to say that they are safe.  The argument that we’ve been eating these crops for years with no negative results is a false assertion.  Because of a lack of any credible studies that study cause and effect, we have no real idea of their safety.

As to allergens, genes that are used are already tested and known to be allergens or not.  Usually when a gene is found to be an allergen, it is discarded.  However, as happened with Kraft Foods, sometimes it gets by and into the food stream.  Case in point, the genetically modified corn that was approved for animal feed.  Cry9C is a protein that was injected into the corn (Starlink corn) and was only supposed to be used for feed.  However, it was found in the food supply by way of taco shells at Taco Bell – shells that were also sold in the grocery store under the Taco Bell name.  There was a wide recall and lawsuits to follow.

So, of course, accidents can happen.  So far, all accidents have been benign.  But who’s to say the next one will not be?  IMHO, with a lack of corporate regulatory oversight and corporate responsibility, the likelihood that something bad will hit the food supply is just an eventuality.  After all, it has been shown again and again that corporate profits trump public safety.

The World Health Organization, the Center for Decease Control, the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as other organizations all seem to agree that there are, as yet, no known safety risks with GMOs.

However, there is a letter put together by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility which reads, in part:

“(We) strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is ‘over’.”

One thing I believe that most agree on, we have to take each instance at a time.  Every time we change the make up of a food stuff, there needs to be testing and understanding of that gene or protein and the effect of adding it to whatever crop they are changing.

Next week, GMOs and food sustainability…

Just What Are GMOs and the Controversary? part 1

Part One

Vermont is gearing up for a fight.  Yes, our small state that barely warrants a mention on the weather channel app or in the news is now in the news regularly.  For such a small state, we certainly have a way of being trendsetters as well as being on the forefront of civil rights and progressive legislation.  I’m so proud of our state!

But I digress.  Vermont has just passed new legislation requiring labeling of any food products containing genetically modified ingredients.  While there is a coalition of food associations (Grocery Manufacturers Association, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers) suing the state of Vermont, there is currently a motion in the US District Court to dismiss.    If the lawsuit proceeds, Vermont has already put aside $1.5M to defend the legislation.

What is this all about?  What is a gmo?  It is very difficult to research this online as most of the sites have a viewpoint and only push that viewpoint.

Before getting into what a GMO is, I would like to clarify the legislation.  The legislation DOES NOT disallow GMOs in food.  It simply states that customers should be able to KNOW what they are buying.  While one side screams that such labeling will scare people who don’t know what a GMO is, it doesn’t matter – we have a right to know what we are buying and feeding ourselves and our families.  I mean, my goodness, Canada won’t allow “all natural” on a label if the product uses enriched flour.  Why?  Because the vitamins in the flour are additives and therefore, the flour is not considered natural.   Talk about commitment to its people!

OK, now that I got that off my chest –   Wikipedia defines gmo as:

“an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food.”

Thanks to the Genetic Literacy Project for this photo.
Thanks to the Genetic Literacy Project for this photo.

The precursor to genetic engineering has been going on for several thousand years.  Humans would selectively breed crops with desirable traits (or genes) and not breed crops with undesirable traits.  Applied to humans, you can see where selective breeding relates to the new debate over designer babies ( a whole new debate).

Genetic engineering started in the 1970s when genes were able to be removed, added and manipulated to produce a desired result.   Commercially available gmos became available in 1976.  It is important to note that GMO does not always refer to food.  GMOs are used in medical and biological research as well as agricultural research.  Genetic engineering remains an important (if not one of the most important) methods scientists have in learning how to combat diseases and create pharmaceuticals.

Of course, in our discussion, we are talking about GMOs in relation to food.  Crops are able to be genetically modified to resist pests, pesticides and rot.  Crops can be modified to include certain nutrients or modified to sustainably grow in areas where such a crop would normally not grow.  They can be modified to grow bigger, thereby needing less room.  It was in the 1990s that GMOs were nicknamed, ‘Frankenfoods’.

corn cartoon

There are only a few crops that are genetically modifed but, according to the National Grocers Association, about 75% of all foods contain a gmo. If you look at some of the crops that are modified, you can see why:  corn, soy, canola, sugar beets.

BTW, so you don’t have to wait for next week, organic crops do not contain any gmos.

Next week…. so why all the controversy?




Gringo Jack’s How is Tequila Made? Part 2

So, how is tequila made?

The Blue Agave plant must grow 8 – 10 years before it can be used to make tequila!  Imagine all that can go wrong in that amount of time – climate & pests have to be controlled so that the plant can be protected before it can be used.

A jimador is harvesting blue Weber agave fields in Tequila, Jalisco

The agave honey is extracted from the pina with grinding blades after cooking the agave to turn the starches into sugars.  Once the juices or “honey water” has been extracted, it is then fermented.  Fermentation is when the tequila begins to form its personality.

This is also when tequila either becomes 100% agave or only 51% agave (by definition and regulation, in order to be tequila it must be at least 51% agave).  If it is to be less than 100%,  sugarcane or molasses are added to the aqua miel (honey water).

As the alcohol is formed, yeast is then introduced to the show and the tanks are lightly heated.  Carbon dioxide forms (as in wine) and tequila alcohol is fully formed to 5%.

Finally, the tequila is distilled.  Regulations require that tequila be distilled twice or else the alcohol would be devastating!  The distillation heats the juice to the point of vaporization and then it is cooled and condensed.  The first distillation removes what is called the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ which contain all the bad alcohol and impurities.

The second distillation (and sometimes third and fourth for some of the high end tequilas) determines the percent of alcohol.  The higher end tequilas are about 40% alcohol (80 proof) and counter intuitively, the lower end tequilas are usually about 55% alcohol.

OK, so we’re almost there!  We now have Blanco (silver, plata) tequila.  Many prefer what they think of as tequila in its purest form.  However, like wine, tequila can also be aged.  Aging 2-6 months produces a reposado tequila and aging over 1 year to 3 years produces anejo tequila.  Of course, as with most wines, the more aging, the more color, character and tannins are produced.

Reposado tequila is usually aged in oak barrels, but anejo tequila is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels – imagine the amazing characters of a good, well-aged anejo tequila!

Well, that’s all folks!  You’ve got the basics, so now, on to the tasting – oh, right – you’re on your own!  Of course, you can always come to Gringo Jack’s and try a tequila flight (hint hint!).

Tim sips tequila



Gringo Jack’s History of Tequila – Part 1

Tequila, that daring elixir from Mexico, has been around for over a thousand years prior to the 1950s when it became the hip thing in California.  The myths, history and romance that surround this ancient drink are many and today, create a cult following.  But just where did tequila come from?

By the time the Conquistadors arrived from Spain, pulque was already an ancient liquor made from the maguey agave plant.  The Spaniards brought the knowledge of distilling to the Old World and soon they were roasting the cores of agave plants to produce a sweeter concoction.


Blue Weber Agave plant
Blue Weber Agave plant


Tequila was born when Jose Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo made his ‘honey water’ in the town of Tequila in 1795.  Cuervo was granted the very first license to create tequila and sell commercially.

Don Cenobio Sauza was the first to export tequila to the states.   However, it was Don Sauza’s grandson that is responsible for the name ‘tequila’ only allowed for that which is produced in the Jalisco region where the Weber blue agave is mostly grown.

So now you know the two biggest names in tequila were the two families that started the sensation.

Of course, today there are over 100 distilleries and tequila has become like wine or a fine scotch – described as such and tasted with reverence and appreciation.

Next… how is tequila made?