Saturday, 27 March 2010

Food for Fort: On ethical tea, fresh yeast and Medjool dates

Will a cuppa taste better if it's Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance? Plus can yeast be frozen, and where can I buy jumbo Medjools?

Matthew Fort
The Guardian, Saturday 27 March 2010
I'm confused by the labelling on tea and coffee. Is it better to buy Fairtrade, where workers get a fair price, or Rainforest Alliance, which I assume means rainforests aren't cut down to grow the product? Does RA mean workers get fair pay, too?Shopping is a nightmare for the ethically minded these days, and it's virtually impossible to square the virtuous circle. For example, so much organic food for sale in the UK is sourced elsewhere; how do we reconcile that with the environmental damage caused by bringing it here? But then, if we don't buy foods from developing countries, are we depriving those farmers of much-needed income? And if we do buy from them, what effect will that have on farmers in the UK? For what it's worth, Fairtrade, says its website, "is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world". The Rainforest Alliance, on the other hand, "works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behaviour". Incidentally, both PG and Tetley have signed up to the Rainforest Alliance, but not to Fairtrade. Basically, you pays your money and takes your choice. Personally, I'll save a human first and a rainforest second. But we should be in a position to do both at once.
Is it possible to buy a fridge-freezer that is 25% fridge and 75% freezer?After days spent peering at websites and brochures, I haven't been able to track down anything close to that split. The only solution I can suggest is to get a small fridge, such as a Whirlpool ARG 581/2, and a larger freezer, such as a Hotpoint FZ150G, and perch one on top of the other. The proportions you want will make it quite a high stack, though.
What's the best way to store live yeast? I've been advised to freeze it, but have had mixed results from using it both frozen and defrosted.That splendid by-product of the brewer's art will last only about two weeks in the fridge, but it will stay active for at least six months in the freezer. It needs to be defrosted before use, then used straight away. If you do freeze it, put it in a plastic container to keep it from being crushed, and don't store it in the freezer too long, or it will turn to a kind of paste, rather than the agreeably crumbly texture it should be.
Can you help in a search for jumbo Medjool dates? I'm obsessive about them, and need a reliable source.There are soft dates, of which Medjool is one; there are semi-dried ones, including Deglet Noir, of which I am fond; and dried ones such as Thoory. Medjool are preferred by those who like their dates sweet and plump, and it's small wonder they're favoured by California growers. Believe it or not, there are US websites devoted just to the Medjool date ( and We don't seem to be quite so well organised over here; Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose all stock them, but not all the time, so you'll have to keep you eyes peeled.
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