I love a good creamy dessert. Custard. Mousse. Trifle [What is a Trifle?]. Creme Brulee. Plain old whipped cream dolloped on warm cake.
But every now and again while we’re in Montana I’ll greedily load my plate with creamy dessert at a potluck or work lunch and after the first bite realize that the “cream” in a dessert is too thick, too greasy and too white to actually be cream.
Americans love whipped topping. And they love to share recipes using whipped topping like this chocolate and marshmallow pie which involves opening a package, a tub, a box, and mixing stuff together.
Made from a hydrogenated blend of vegetable oil and sugar or corn syrup, whipped topping was invented by New York dairy farmer Robert Rich, in 1945, when world war two rationing affected the availability of dairy foods.
But it was actually the automobile maker Henry Ford whose company was the first to begin experimenting with making cream and milk substitutes from soybeans. Ford was apparently a soybean enthusiast and shared what he knew with Rich, who based his recipe on soybean oil.
Although neither Ford nor Rich were associated with the Seventh Day Adventists, who believe in eating a high fiber, vegetarian diet [John Harvey Kellog, of cornflakes fame, was a member of the church], the religion seems to be at least partly responsible for the early success of Rich’s soybean products.
One of the religions founders, Ellen White, wrote in 1873: “We have always used a little milk and some sugar. This we have never denounced, either in our writings or in our preaching. We believe cattle will become so much diseased that these things will yet be discarded, but the time has not yet come.”
White was onto something – milk and cream, in a time before refrigeration and sanitation, were a bit like Russian roulette. A bad batch could cause serious illness, or death. A person could even contract bovine tuberculosis through contaminated milk.
But not so much sweet whipped vegetable oil: I left this container of whipped topping on my counter overnight and it looked pretty similar in the morning [this is, of course, thanks to preservatives as well as a lack of bacterial contamination from not being an animal product].
But why has fake cream stayed in the market in the US, while other countries, like the UK and Australia, also suffered food rationing during the war and returned to dairy cream?
The answer partly lies in the US’s historically low wages and the insane cost of private health insurance, which leaves low to middle income households with not much of a budget for food [several friends I’ve talked to pay around $10,000 a year for family of four, and that is considered “good” insurance, where the employer also contributes $10,000-20, 000 annually. I think I’d rather pay a little more in taxes and have universal health care].
As well as being cheaper than cream, whipped topping is convenient because it can be frozen and holds its shape for much longer than whipped cream [it’s often why the slices of cream pie in the revolving pie stands you see in diners here stand up so well, even after hours of display.]
Along with his whipped topping, Rich created a non dairy coffee creamer in 1945 and sensitively called it “coffee whitener” to avoid lawsuits by the dairy industry.
Coffee has been the hot drink of choice in the US since tea was thrown into the sea in Boston in 1773 – a pivotal moment in the American revolution and separation from Britain.
Here in the north west, people still drink lots of drip coffee [much weaker than your average Aussie coffee], and if they’re not drinking it black, they top it off with cream.
But an American is talking about putting cream in coffee, it’s usually a product called Half and Half that they’re talking about, which is half whole/full cream milk and half cream.
But even in the time I’ve been living the states, pre sweetened and flavored non dairy creamer has become a more common addition to coffee.
The picture below shows the scope of brand and flavor of creamer at our tiny IGA supermarket in our town of 900 – french vanilla, hazelnut, caramel, peppermint mocha …
Some creamers do contain milk, and some are entirely dairy based but sweetened. Some, like Rich’s original, are based entirely on vegetable oils.
The comparison of dairy foods versus hydrogenated vegetable oil foods is not clear cut, except to my taste buds. Many fake dairy products are vegan, and could arguably be a better choice for the environment and animal welfare.
While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I was lucky to grow up on fresh goats milk.
Our goats – cared for then by Pauline and Jenny, were fussed over.
I remember them being given spoonfuls of molasses on whole organic oats, sweet chaff, seaweed meal and, when a goat showed any signs of illness, garlic and bunches of parsley and other herbs were added to their food tubs.
Their milk was delicious [and not garlicky at all!] and my love of dairy foods remains pure because of my early experience of respectful animal husbandry.
I hope that the move towards smaller, more animal friendly dairy’s can continue, and spread even to low income areas like our home in Montana.
Just before we left Australia last time, in late 2015, the coffee shops around my home in the Bega Valley [Red cafe and Evolve cafe were two I noticed] started using rich Jersey milk from Tilba Real Dairy to make their lattes and cappuccino’s.
Using fresh, non – homogenized milk makes a delicious difference to a latte, creating thick foam, which is pretty hard to do with 2% milk fat, as is commonly used in coffee shops here.
When we were in Missoula a few weeks ago, I noticed a jug of Kalispell Kreamery milk in the fridge where we were staying.
Pasteurized but not homogenized, the milk had the same sweet taste and thick cream on top as Tilba milk [and the dairy says on it’s website that if a cow has mastitis, they dry her up to allow recovery instead of using antibiotics].
Kalispell is two hours drive from us, and Missoula three hours – a bit far to go for milk, but I hope local suppliers will want to stock this excellent local product soon.
In the meantime, if you are searching for the fluffy and creamy texture that whipped topping offers, please try my chocolate mousse recipe: it only requires opening a few packages [a carton of cream, some eggs, and chocolate] and the flavor and texture are off the scale.
4 eggs, separated
10-12 oz/ 300 grams of bittersweet or 60% chocolate chips [or a mixture]
1 small carton whipping cream [half pint, or about 235 ml – I think small cartons of cream are the same size in Aus and US]
Melt chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whip cream and mix in yolks.
Add melted chocolate to cream and yolks mixture and mix well.
In a separate bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.
Then – carefully fold the egg whites into chocolate mixture. You want to incorporate the whites, but not deflate them – they are what gives your mousse its ethereal texture.
Spoon mousse into pretty little cups, glasses or ramekins and chill at least 4 hours. The texture continues to improve if left overnight, but do eat it within 24 hours.
I recently tried sandwiching thin layers of chocolate cake with the mousse and chilling the whole four layer cake for 8 hours and it turned out beautifully.
I found information about Robert Rich, Henry Ford, Seventh Day Adventists, Ellen White and milk contaminants at these sites.
Ministry, international journal of pastors: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1989/02/milk-has-the-time-come
Soy Info Center: http://www.soyinfocenter.com/books/170
Obit of Robert Rich: http://articles.latimes.com/2006/feb/17/local/me-passing17
Bovine Tuberculosis factsheet: http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/Factsheets/pdfs/bovine_tuberculosis.pdf
Thanks for reading!