15 Foods You Didn't Know Could Come in Cans

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iStock

Time to re-stock your pantry? Think outside the usual can aisle and consider sampling something more adventurous than chicken soup or creamed corn. For inspiration, here are 15 of the world's most unconventional canned foods.

1. HAGGIS

Canned haggis on a store shelf
Matt Ryall, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is made of sheep's "pluck"—the heart, liver, and lungs—minced with onion, oatmeal, spices, and suet (hard beef or mutton fat). Authentic versions of the savory pudding are illegal in the U.S., thanks to food safety regulations. But in other countries, haggis-hungry shoppers can purchase canned recipes if they don't feel like preparing and cooking it themselves.

2. REINDEER MEAT

A bowl of meatballs
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Reindeer meat is a frequent component of traditional Scandinavian dishes and stews, so it’s no surprise that canned reindeer meatballs are available for purchase in countries like Norway and Finland.

3. CAMEL MEAT

Grilled camel meat
Lucas Richarz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Camels are highly valued in the Middle East, and not just for transport. The meat is considered a culinary delicacy, with the fatty hump being the most popular cut. "In Syria and Cairo there are specialist camel butchers, while in the Gulf, camel meat is eaten at parties and wedding receptions," food writer and chef Anissa Helou told The Guardian. Those without a butcher at their disposal can buy canned camel meat and make dishes like camel chili con carne, meatballs, and stews.

4. POTATO SALAD

Potato salad on a plate
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Potato salad is typically associated with deli counters, but American food processor Seneca Foods Corporation also sells a canned version of German potato salad under their READ® Salads line.

5. CANNED WHOLE CHICKENS

A Sweet Sue whole chicken being cooked on the stove
Tracy O'Connor, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bumble Bee Foods is perhaps best known for producing items like canned tuna, but their products aren't limited to chicken of the sea: Their Sweet Sue line of canned and processed meats includes a canned whole chicken, fully cooked and sans giblets.

6. CHEESEBURGERS

Cheeseburger in a can
Arnold Gatilao, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Trek'n Eat, a German company that sells ready-meals for outdoor enthusiasts and athletes, manufactures their own version of fast food: a shelf-stabilized cheeseburger in a can. To cook it, heat the can in water over a fire before opening it and chowing down.

7. HOT DOGS

Raw dogs sitting on a table
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Both Tulip Food, a subsidiary of Danish food processing company Danish Crown, and UK brand Ye Olde Oak sell canned hot dogs to customers who like their meat brined instead of grilled. Ye Olde Oak even sells Fiery Chili and BBQ-flavored options.

8. KANGAROO CHILI

A can of chili
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Kangaroos are so plentiful in Australia that ecologists and landholders have urged Aussies to curb exploding marsupial populations by hunting them for their meat. As for non-hunters in America, they can sample the unusual game by ordering canned kangaroo chili from Dale's Wild West, a prepared-meat manufacturing company in Brighton, Colorado.

9. SQUID IN INK SAUCE

Squid ink spaghetti with seafood
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Squid in ink sauce is used in Italian dishes like spaghetti al nero di seppia, but those without access to fresh seafood can order canned versions of the undersea delicacy from Italian-American manufacturers like Vigo Foods.

10. DUCK CONFIT

Duck confit  on a plate
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Duck confit, a French dish made with a whole duck, can easily be made with reheated canned canard. These tinned fowls can be purchased online or from French or gourmet food stores.

11. ALLIGATOR MEAT

Prepared reptile meat
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Alligator meat is consumed, cooked, and processed in southern states like Louisiana, but home chefs outside the Bayou can order canned alligator meat online.

12. TAMALES

Tamales on a plate with salsa
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Traditional tamales can be time-consuming to prepare, so manufacturers like Hormel Foods Corporation offer canned versions in chili sauce for lovers of Latin food who don't have six or so hours to assemble their dinner.

13. TARANTULA

Fried tarantula on a plate
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Adventurous foodies who like their meals on the wild side can order canned tarantula online from sellers like Thailand Unique. The fearsome spiders are considered a delicacy in countries like Cambodia, where they're eaten freshly fried from the wok.

14. SILKWORM PUPAE

Canned silkworm pupae
Will Luo, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Canned silkworm pupae is available in Asian specialty food stores, and is a popular snack in countries like Korea. Prepare it by first boiling and washing it, and then frying it with seasoning.

15. QUAIL EGGS

Quail eggs
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Quail eggs taste similar to chicken eggs, but are smaller, speckled, and have a larger yolk. They can be found at specialty or Asian grocery stores or ordered online, and can be boiled for bite-sized snacks or added as a garnish or topping to any food you typically prefer with a touch of egg.

The Science Behind Brining Your Thanksgiving Turkey

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iStock.com/LazingBee

At many Thanksgiving tables, the annual roast turkey is just a vehicle for buttery mash and creamy gravy. But for those who prefer their bird be a main course that can stand on its own without accoutrements, brining is an essential prep step—despite the fact that it requires finding enough room in the fridges to immerse a 20-pound animal in gallons of salt water for days on end. To legions of brining believers, the resulting moist bird is worth the trouble.

How, exactly, does a salty soak yield juicy meat? And what about all the claims from a contingency of dry brine enthusiasts: Will merely rubbing your bird with salt give better results than a wet plunge? For a look at the science behind each process, we tracked down a couple of experts.

First, it's helpful to know why a cooked turkey might turn out dry to begin with. As David Yanisko, a culinary arts professor at the State University of New York at Cobleskill, tells Mental Floss, "Meat is basically made of bundles of muscle fibers wrapped in more muscle fibers. As they cook, they squeeze together and force moisture out," as if you were wringing a wet sock. Hence the incredibly simple equation: less moisture means more dryness. And since the converse is also true, this is where brining comes in.

Your basic brine consists of salt dissolved in water. How much salt doesn't much matter for the moistening process; its quantity only makes your meat and drippings more or less salty. When you immerse your turkey in brine—Ryan Cox, an animal science professor at the University of Minnesota, quaintly calls it a "pickling cover"—you start a process called diffusion. In diffusion, salt moves from the place of its highest concentration to the place where it's less concentrated: from the brine into the turkey.

Salt is an ionic compound—its sodium molecules have a positive charge and its chloride molecules have a negative charge, but they stick together anyway. As the brine penetrates the bird, those salt molecules meet both positively and negatively charged protein molecules in the meat, causing the meat proteins to scatter. Their rearrangement "makes more space between the muscle fibers," Cox tells Mental Floss. "That gives us a broader, more open sponge for water to move into."

The salt also dissolves some of the proteins, which, according to the book Cook's Science by the editors of Cook's Illustrated, creates "a gel that can hold onto even more water." Juiciness, here we come!

There's a catch, though. Brined turkey may be moist, but it can also taste bland—infusing it with salt water is still introducing, well, water, which is a serious flavor diluter. This is where we cue the dry briners. They claim that using salt without water both adds moisture and enhances flavor: win-win.

Turkey being prepared to cook.
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In dry brining, you rub the surface of the turkey with salt and let it sit in a cold place for a few days. Some salt penetrates the meat as it sits—with both dry and wet brining, Cox says this happens at a rate of about 1 inch per week. But in this process, the salt is effective mostly because of osmosis, and that magic occurs in the oven.

"As the turkey cooks, the [contracting] proteins force the liquid out—what would normally be your pan drippings," Yanisko says. The liquid mixes with the salt, both get absorbed or reabsorbed into the turkey and, just as with wet brining, the salt disperses the proteins to make more room for the liquid. Only this time the liquid is meat juices instead of water. Moistness and flavor ensue.

Still, Yanisko admits that he personally sticks with wet brining—"It’s tradition!" His recommended ratio of 1-1/2 cups of kosher salt (which has no added iodine to gunk up the taste) to 1 gallon of water gives off pan drippings too salty for gravy, though, so he makes that separately. Cox also prefers wet brining, but he supplements it with the advanced, expert's addition of injecting some of the solution right into the turkey for what he calls "good dispersal." He likes to use 1-1/2 percent of salt per weight of the bird (the ratio of salt to water doesn't matter), which he says won't overpower the delicate turkey flavor.

Both pros also say tossing some sugar into your brine can help balance flavors—but don't bother with other spices. "Salt and sugar are water soluble," Cox says. "Things like pepper are fat soluble so they won't dissolve in water," meaning their taste will be lost.

But no matter which bird or what method you choose, make sure you don't roast past an internal temperature of 165˚F. Because no brine can save an overcooked turkey.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

5 Holiday Foods That Are Dangerous to Pets

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iStock/svetikd

One of the best parts of the holiday season is the menu of indulgent food and drinks that comes along with it. But while you enjoy that cup of spiked hot cocoa, you’ve got to be careful your dog or cat doesn’t nab a lick. Here are five holiday treats that are dangerous for your pets, according to Vetstreet.

1. COFFEE

Any coffee lover will agree that there’s nothing quite like an after-dinner cup of joe on a cold night. But pups, kitties, and other pets will have to sit this tradition out. Caffeine can prompt seizures and abnormal heart rhythms in pets, and can sometimes be fatal. Other caffeinated drinks, such as soda or tea, should also be kept away from your four-legged family members.

2. BREAD DOUGH

We know the threat that bread dough poses to the appearance of our thighs, but it’s much more dangerous to our furry little friends. Holiday bakers have to be careful of unbaked bread dough as it can expand in animal stomachs if ingested. In some dogs, the stomach can twist and cut off the blood supply, in which case the pup would need emergency surgery.

3. CHOCOLATE

Cat and dog in Santa hats chowing down on plates of food
iStock/TatyanaGl

A little chocolate never hurt anybody, right? Wrong. The sweet treat can cause seizures and even be fatal to our pets. Darker chocolate, such as the baker’s chocolate we love to put in our holiday cookies, is more toxic to our pets than milk or white chocolate. The toxic ingredients include caffeine and theobromine, a chemical found in the cacao plant.

4. MACADAMIA NUTS

Macadamia nuts, which are a common ingredient in holiday cookies and often put out to munch on as an appetizer, can be toxic to dogs. While poisoning might not always be easy to detect in a pet, clinical warning signs include depression, weakness, vomiting, tremors, joint stiffness, and lack of coordination.

5. ALCOHOL

Think back to when you first started drinking and how much less alcohol it took to get you tipsy, because you likely weighed less than you do now. Well, your pet probably weighs a lot less than you did, even back then, meaning it takes much less alcohol to make them dangerously sick. Keep those wine glasses far out of reach of your pets in order to avoid any issues. Well, maybe not any issue: We can’t promise that this will stop you from getting embarrassingly drunk at a holiday party this year.

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