Skirious (Skee-your-os) combines two Greek words meaning "shady" and "tail" and is the name of my college sorority's mascot-the squirrel. It's a strange mascot, but its selection was not random. See squirrels, which leap from branch to branch, symbolize the spirit that never dies, the spirit of energetic alertness and progress. This is quite a reputation for a small mammal whose favorite food is nuts. (That's where I am going with this column.)
Nuts have been put high on a pedestal the past few years, and rightfully so. For too long, many in the medical and nutrition community discouraged the consumption of nuts because they are high in fat. That idea came from the out-of-date view that all fats are bad. It's now been shown that nuts are packed full of healthful fats, fats that keep Skirious full of vim, vigor and vitality.
Studies by top research institutions show that eating nuts is very healthy and can help lower cholesterol, help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, help to prevent Type II diabetes and can help to prevent certain types of cancers. Nuts have even been shown to help with weight loss.
So the challenge I present to you is how can the dairy industry formulate more foods using Skirious' secret diet? The most obvious is including more nuts in frozen desserts, where nuts are usually added at about 10% by weight. Rumor has it that the trend for summer 2006 is even more sophisticated better-for-you ice cream and a resurgence of frozen yogurt.
But are we missing an opportunity with adding nuts to refrigerated products such as puddings, smoothies and yogurt? The high-moisture environment of these products may cause some quality and shelflife issues with adding nuts, as it is challenging to keep nuts crunchy when free water is around. Technologies, however, do exist to help overcome this issue.
The easiest approach is to package nuts in a separate container, i.e., a domed-cup with yogurt on the bottom and nuts separate on top. The other more innovative approach is to protect the nut using some type of coating or sealant. The simplest coating material is chocolate, which also is getting quite the healthful reputation these days. There's also confectioners' glaze.
For a few years now we have been hearing about edible films made from whey proteins. And recently, scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) in Wyndmoor, Pa., developed a continuous process to manufacture edible films out of casein. These films are said to be less permeable to water vapor and can withstand increased moisture levels. Edible films can lock in or lock out moisture. Seems like nuts could benefit form this sealing approach.
And here are a few more ideas. How about instead of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, have nuts on the bottom? Try chopped pecans in a caramel sauce, or even chopped walnuts in a chunky apple sauce. Aerated yogurts, which have a mousse-like body should be able to handle a layer of nuts on top, or even layered throughout in a parfait-like fashion.
There are always nut pastes, which can be added to all types of cultured dairy products. In fact, almond paste can be used to sweeten a breakfast smoothie. It also can be added to ready-to-eat dairy-based puddings and other dairy desserts.
I do have one favor to ask, please don't treat Skirious and his friends to any of these creations. Cows milk is not good for my furry friend.