Guide to Natural and Organic Gourmet Food

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Gourmet food comes under so many different names that it is confusing. Also for us here at SNACQ.

Biodynamic, organic, natural, whole, inorganic, non-organic, conventional, processed, natural , whole, pasture-raised, grass-fed. But what does it mean? What are the differences? Is the one food (or beverage) healthier than the other? Are the more expensive than other food? Or is it only marketing lingo? And it seems to differ per country or region? Also, is theree something as ‘organic gourmet food’?

And what about fine food? The same here: what is the difference with specialty food, gourmet food, luxury food? Do they refer to different types of food? Can they also be biodynamic, organic, etc. ? Are they all also healthy foods?

And what about beverages? Organic, biodynamic or natural wine? And are they all healthy beverages?

In this article we want to try to bring some clarity in all of the above. If only for ourselves. And we will explore more in detail in the blog articles which fine food or gourmet food actually is also healthy food. And whether they are per definition biodynamic or organic or natural.

We will also try to take a neutral position where possible. And look at pros and cons related to assumed health benefits as well. And please leave your comments below if you have more information on this.

Health Food

We start with a description of health food. Health food refers to food that has health benefits beyond a normal healthy diet required for human nutrition.

Hop Shoots

Foods marketed as healthy food may be part of one or more categories, such as organic foods, natural foods, whole foods, vegetarian foods or dietary supplements.

Because there is no precise definition for ‘health food’, governments and administrations like the United States Food and Drug Administration monitor and warn food manufacturers against labeling foods as having specific health effects. Especially when there is no evidence exists to support such claims.

Source: Wikipedia

Organic Food

Organic food refers to the way farmers produce, so grow, handle, and process food. It refers to both the food itself and the food production process used to produce the finished food product. The idea is that organic food is healthy food. Anyway, more healthy than non-organic or processed food.

To be classified as organic, foods must meet national standards which differ per country or region (like the EU). For example, for the USA it is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In the United States, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 in combination with Title 7, Part 205 of the Code of Federal Regulations list the specific site requirements. It also lists the required standards for producers to sell foods as organic.

As part of these standards, organic crops must be produced without:

  • conventional pesticides,
  • synthetic fertilizers,
  • antibiotics,
  • sewage sludge,
  • bioengineering
  • ionizing radiation.

The process for producing organic fruits and vegetables includes:

  • using natural fertilizers such as manure or compost,
  • controlling weeds naturally through methods such as crop rotation,
  • hand weeding,
  • mulching and tilling,
  • controlling pests using natural methods and naturally-derived pesticides.

Organic farming

The principle of organic farming is to preserve the environment and work in harmony with the nature. It helps to maintain the natural habitat for plants, animals and wildlife.

Organic farming must not use genetically modified crops, otherwise known as ‘GMOs’ . In the USA and other countries or regions to pass as an organic farmer you must receive an annual on-site inspection to approve organic practices are being met.

Herd of Blondes d'Aquitaine
Blonde d’Aquitaine herd

Organic certification programs require foods to meet strict standards. Producers use different labels to claim a food is organic.

Firstly, “100% organic” claims the food is entirely from organic ingredients.

Secondly, “organic” claims the food is at least 95% organic material.

Thirdly, “made with organic ingredients” claims at least 70% organic ingredients and can display three organic ingredients on the food label.

Is organic always healthy food?

Organic food advocates believe that these farming practices produce better fruits and veggies. Benefits of going organic are:

  1. Better nutrition. Studies have shown small to moderate increases in some nutrients in organic produce, including higher levels of vitamin C, certain minerals, and antioxidants.
  2. Safety. Compared with conventionally grown produce, organically grown produce has lower detectable levels of synthetic (human-made) pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer residue. One study found that organically grown crops had about one-third as many pesticide residues as conventionally grown versions. Farmers may use natural pesticides as long as they are approved for organic food production. They forbid then us of GMOs, antibiotics or growth hormone, irradiation or ionizing radiation (a way to preserve food with radiation energy).
"Organic food has more of the antioxidant compounds linked to better health than regular food, and lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides, according to the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date."

Guardian, 2014

In addition to potential health benefits there are other advantages.

  1. Better taste. Organic food often tastes better and fresher. The reason is that often (but not always) it comes from nearby smaller, local farms and it does not contain preservatives to make it last longer.
  2. Better for the environment. Organic farming leads to reduction of pollution, better water conservation. It is also helps reduce soil erosion, increases soil fertility, and requires less energy. Farmers that use synthetic pesticides commonly in the food production process actually harm local wildlife.
  3. Less waste and energy. Organic farms produce less waste. They also use less energy.

Is their only Positive News about Organic Food and is it Always Healthy Food?

No. Firstly, it is expensive. Organic foods cost more than their non-organic counterparts. The USDA found that organic fruits and vegetables can cost more than 20 percent higher than conventional foods. Higher prices are due, in part, to more expensive farming practices and increased production costs associated with producing organic foods.

“Organic food may contain more antioxidants and nutrients than regular food, although the evidence is mixed. Consuming organic food may also reduce your exposure to artificial chemicals, hormones and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, it often costs more and may spoil faster.” Healthline, 2016

Furthermore:

  • The amount of man-made pesticide residues found in non-organic foods is still well below the level that for instance the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed unsafe.
  • The most important argument against the consumption of organic foods concerns food safety. Many individuals believe consuming organic foods is safer than consuming non-organic foods. However, a lack of scientific evidence exists supporting this hypothesis. Manure fertilizers used in organic farming raise safety concerns because they may increase the risk of contamination by dangerous organisms, like E. coli.
  • Another concern is that organic plants may produce more natural toxins, which is harmful to humans.
  • Some scientists have concluded that the limited amount of pesticides found in non-organic foods does not cause or contribute to any health related issues. Additionally, organic food is typically more expensive than non-organic food items.

Organic versus Natural Gourmet Food

Both are health foods. Amongst other things producers grow organic foods without artificial pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides. they obtain organic meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that are fed natural feed and not given hormones or antibiotics.

Vanilla, world's second most expensive spice
Vanilla

Natural foods like vanilla or other spices and herbs do not contain synthetic or artificial ingredients or additives. Natural foods or ‘all-natural foods’ are widely used terms in food labeling and marketing with a variety of definitions.

Most of which are unfortunately vague. The term often implies that foods that are not processed and whose ingredients are all natural products (in the chemist’s sense of that term).

So they convey an appeal to nature. But the lack of standards in most countries means that the term assures close to nothing. In some countries, the governments have defined and enforced the term “natural” . In others, such as the United States, this is not the case.

Source: Wikipedia

Organic Food versus Whole Foods

Whole foods are plant foods that are processed and refined as little as possible, or not at all. And therefore being healthy foods. Examples of whole foods include whole grains, tubers (potatoes, like La Bonnotte),  legumes, fruits, vegetables.

The term ‘whole foods diet’ is now widely synonymous with whole foods plant-based diet. Animal products, oil and salt no longer constitute whole foods.

Source: Wikipedia

Organic versus Biodynamic Food And Beverages

Organic and biodynamic are very similar. So no chemicals and GMOs. However, biodynamic goes one step further. It is a holistic practice where people believe all things are interrelated systems – animals, plants and the solar system (!). Biodynamic practices should create healthier plants. They help the earth heal by replenishing the soil and adding vitality to the plant, soil and/or livestock. So proponents of biodynamic food say it is the ultimate healthy food.

The main difference between organic and biodynamic is that biodynamic farming uses different principles that assumedly should add vitality to the plant, soil and/or livestock. Whereas traditional farming typically deteriorates the soil. Biodynamic agriculture is very similar to homeopathy in its use of preparations made from minerals and herbs . 

Organic versus Biodynamic Wine versus Natural Wine

The distinction between organic, biodynamic and natural is often related to wine. What does it all mean? Here an excerpt from winemag.com which gives a good overview.

What is organic wine?

In the U.S., organic wine falls into two categories: wine that is organic, and wine made with organically grown grapes.

Organic wine
Organic wine

Organic wines certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have stricter regulations. Winemakers grow the grapes without the use of synthetic fertilizers. And all ingredients going into these wines, which includes yeast, must be certified organic. They add no sulfites to these wines. Except for some that occur naturally. Only these wines may display the USDA organic seal.

‘Made with organically grown grapes’ means the wine comes entirely from certified organic grapes. Additional ingredients used in the winemaking process need not be organic. But producers cannot produce them with the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

Wines must be produced and bottled in an organic facility, and sulfites are limited to 100 parts per million or less. Although these wines can state on their labels to have been made with organic grapes, they cannot use the USDA’s organic seal.

In 2012, the European Union began to allow winemakers to use “organic wine” on their labels. Prior to that, the labels of wines contained the wording “made from organic grapes.”

The Difference Between Organic American And European Wines

The most notable difference between organic American and organic European wines is the amount of sulfites authorities permit in the final product. While USDA-certified organic wines can contain virtually no sulfites at all, their EU counterparts can contain up to 100 parts per million of sulfites like non-USDA-certified organic wines in the U.S.

Canada’s top organic standard is closer to the USDA. In Canada, a wine labeled “100% organic” must be using certified organic grapes and contain no added sulfites.

Canadian winemakers also have the option to designate their wines as “organic”. But only if they use a minimum of 95% certified organic grapes and the wine contains very low levels of sulfites. Wines in Canada can have labels with “made with organic grapes,” which is an unofficial distinction for bottlings with a minimum of 70% organic grapes and added sulfites.

What is biodynamic wine?

Biodynamic winemaking is a governing practice that goes back nearly a century. Unlike organic winemaking, the distinction of biodynamic does not change between countries.

Started in the 1920s by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics represent a method of farming based around a specific astronomic calendar. Each day coincides with one of the elements: earth, fire, air and water. Days are organized by fruit days (preferable for grape harvesting), root days (pruning), leaf days (watering) and flower days, where the vineyard should be untouched.

Biodynamic practices don’t go solely by this calendar, however. Steiner also instructed followers to use fertilization preparations. One technique winemakers use in biodynamic farming involves cow horns which the fill with compost and then bury in the vineyards, and dug up later.

Biodynamic wines employ organic practices, as they avoid pesticides and depend on compost, rather than chemical fertilizer. The majority of these wines are, therefore, also organic in practice.

Certified biodynamic wines, however, may contain up to 100 parts per million of sulfites. Far more than the USDA or top Canadian standard for certified organic wines. In short, a wine that’s organic is not necessarily biodynamic, even if a wine that is biodynamic is often organic.

In 1985, Demeter USA was founded. Demeter is a nonprofit organization focusing on biodynamic practices in wine. Demeter International represents 45 countries.

What is natural wine?

Natural or ‘low-intervention’ wine is a wine that has fermented spontaneously with native yeast. These wines are largely unmanipulated and contain only trace amounts of added sulfites. The wines go through the bare minimum in terms of chemical or winemaker intervention.

Such wines are neither filtered nor fined. Which means they may contain particulates or appear cloudy, since there may be dissolved solids that remain in suspension. To filter and fine the wine, winemakers require additional products like collagen and egg whites. These are not commonly accepted for use in natural wines.

French countryside
French countryside

These wines often do not aged in oak. With their lack of sulfites and other non-interventionist factors, these wines may have limited stability and are typically produced in smaller quantities.

Can a natural wine be certified organic? If the grape growing adheres to organic standards, then yes. Can they also be biodynamic? So long as the winemaker employs the biodynamic requirements like the calendar and composting, they can be that, too. Because it’s more rigorous to have a wine labeled organic than natural, many winemakers prefer to skip this regulatory distinction altogether.

Source: winemag.com

Organic Gourmet Food versus Non-organic foods

“Non-organic” means less than 70% of the ingredients are organic. Synthetic chemicals are used on the crop or product to boost its growth. Foods classed as non-organic include pre-cooked/ready to cook meals, processed foods, commercial food, junk food, baked goods, and frozen foods.

Is Non-organic the Same as Inorganic?

Is non-organic the same as ‘inorganic’. No. The difference between non-organic and inorganic food has to do with chemistry.

Inorganic foods use synthetics to produce the finished food products. On the other hand, as we saw above, organic foods are food items produced using processes without synthetics like chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The difference between inorganic and non-organic is that inorganic is a word in chemistry relating to a compound that does not contain carbon while non-organic is usually related to food that is not organic.

Inorganic foods use synthetics during the production process. These synthetics commonly include chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, food producers can also modify inorganic food items. This happens at a molecular or genetic level. Producers use it to cross-breed crops. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates this. Their regulations determine the acceptable levels of synthetics that food products may contain.

The synthetic materials used in the production of inorganic food items can help to control contamination with potentially dangerous mold toxins and bacteria.

Is Inorganic Food per Definition the Opposite of Healthy Food?

Well, no, not always. Some people argue that – although inorganic foods may contain synthetic pesticides – these substances do not harm consumers more than the natural toxins found in organic foods.

Moreover, inorganic foods are cheaper than organic foods. They also argue they potentially help to feed the poor around the world more cost-effectively.

Further, there is a huge difference in nutrition levels in organic foods. For inorganic foods this remains at a quite standard level.

However, many of the synthetic substances found in inorganic food items do not have long term studies available confirming the safety of these substances over time. Therefore, the long-term effects of many synthetic substances are not known.

Also, inorganic foods contain fewer nutrients than organic food items. So should not considered to be healthy foods.

Further, some evidence exists that the synthetic substances used to produce inorganic food items may cause long-term damage to the land, ultimately making the land less fertile or non-fertile.

And Then the Ultimate Question: Can Water be Organic?

There have been ans still are some marketeers trying to benefit from the trends related to organic. And are trying to sell their waters as ‘organic’. However, carbon is the universal element of organic compounds. There must be at least one carbon atom in the molecule of an organic substance.  Water (H2O) does not contain such a carbon atom in its molecule. So water is only an inorganic compound.

Specialty Food

specialty food is a “unique and high-value and often costly food item made in small quantities from high-quality ingredients”. Consumers pay more for specialty foods. They perceive them to have various benefits compared to non-specialty foods.

Iberico ham
Iberico ham

Specialty foods are artisanal foods like cheese, caviar, specialty coffee, high-quality chocolate, foie gras, iberico, mushrooms, truffles, oils and vinegars, beef, pork, edible nests, etc. Many of them are natural foods or prepared in organic ways. So should be healthy foods.

Specialty foods may have higher prices due to more expensive ingredients and labor if you compare them with normal food products. Some food stores specialize in or predominantly offer specialty foods.  Several organizations exist that promote specialty foods and its producers.

Source: Wikipedia

Gourmet or Fine Food

Gourmet food is a kind of special specialty food. It is a cultural ideal associated with the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine. Gourmet food often is refined, requiring elaborate preparation.

Historically, the ingredients used in the meal tended to be rare for the region. This could also be impacted by the local state and religious customs. Gourmet food tends to be served in smaller, more expensive, portions (snacks, tapas).

Gourmet often makes use of ‘fusion’ techniques, introducing new ingredients, materials, and practices from different countries. They do not necessarily have to be healthy foods.

Source: Wikipedia

Conclusion: Natural and Organic, Specialty and Healthy Food

Well, coming to a conclusion is not so easy. There seems to be a difference between organic and natural food. Both are considered to be healthy food.

We also see there is a difference between specialty and gourmet or fine food. In this blog and our boutique we will concentrate mostly on organic gourmet food that is served in smaller, more expensive, portions. So as luxury snacks. Specialty food and gourmet or fine food that is either organic or natural. So healthy food. We will also do that for beverages, wine and spirits.

When relevant we will write about this special kind organic food (or beverage, like wine) called ‘biodynamic’.

One thing is for sure. All of them belong to the most expensive foods and drinks in the world.

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