11 (Mostly) Inedible Ingredients Photographers Use to Get Food Ready for Its Close-Up

John Ueland
John Ueland

Looking at the cover of your favorite cookbook or food magazine, it's hard for your mouth not to water. Unless, of course, you know what sort of decidedly non-tasty "ingredients" go into making your favorite foods camera-ready. Here are 11 of them.

1. GLUE

Milk makes cereal soggy, but those corn flakes will stay crunchy when bathed in white glue. Yogurt or shampoo will also do the trick.

2. COTTON BALLS

A piping hot dish looks tasty when steam is billowing, but it’s hard to maintain. As a fix, photographers will soak a cotton ball or tampon in water, microwave it, and then hide it in the frame to create that smoky effect.

3. SHOE POLISH

A tin of shoe polish
iStock

Most meat products aren’t cooked because they shrivel. Instead, steaks and burgers are seared with a blowtorch. Grill marks are added with a branding iron, and shoe polish or varnish creates a succulent sheen.

4. AND 5. CARDBOARD AND TOOTHPICKS

Prop burgers are supported with layers of cardboard, while toothpicks or pins keep the garnishes in place.

6. GLYCERIN

If a product looks cold or icy, it’s likely covered in glycerin. A sugar alcohol, glycerin subs in for condensation on shoots, making the sweat on beer bottles and the moisture on salads.

7. DISH SOAP

A sink full of dish soap and bubbles
iStock

Soda needs lots of bubbles. A little antacid tablet typically gets the stuff churning, while dish soap creates larger surface bubbles.

8. HAIRSPRAY

That delicious bunch of grapes has a matte look because it’s coated in hairspray.

9. MOTOR OIL

Pancakes absorb syrup like a sponge. To prevent this, food stylists will coat a stack of flapjacks with aerosol fabric protector. And since maple syrup isn’t as appetizing under bright lights, some photographers prefer motor oil.

10. PAPER TOWELS

Several rolls of paper towels
iStock

Ice cream syrup tends to droop, so photographers cut out pieces of paper towel, lay them onto the ice cream, and then cover the patches with syrup, which stays in place.

11. MASHED POTATOES

Speaking of ice cream, which melts under hot lights: mashed potatoes are dyed different colors and then shaped into scoops to look like they came from a creamery. Taters are also injected to plump up roasts and baked into pies to prevent slices from falling apart.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

Up Your Turkey Game With This Simple Buttermilk Brine

iStock.com/4kodiak
iStock.com/4kodiak

Whoever chose turkey to be the starring dish of Thanksgiving dinner has a sick sense of humor. Not only does the bird take hours to thaw and cook before it's safe to eat, but its size makes it very difficult to cook evenly—meaning there are many opportunities for the millions of amateur cooks who prepare it each year to screw it up. But there's no reason to settle for dry, flavorless turkey this Thanksgiving. With this buttermilk brine recipe from Skillet, the breast will come out just as juicy as the thighs with little effort on your part.

A brine is a salty solution you soak your uncooked meat in to help it retain its moisture and flavor when it goes into the oven. A brine can be as simple as salt and water, but in this recipe, the turkey marinates in a mixture of buttermilk, water, sugar, salt, garlic, citrus, bay leaf, and peppercorns for 24 hours before it's ready to roast.

Rather than a whole bird, this recipe calls for a bone-in turkey breast. White meat contains less fat than dark meat, which is why turkey breast often turns out dryer and less flavorful than legs and thighs when all the parts are left to cook for the same amount of time. The buttermilk brine imparts a tangy creaminess to the turkey breast that it otherwise lacks, and by cooking the breast separately, you can pull it out of the oven at peak juiciness rather than waiting for the meatier parts to cook through fully.

After the turkey breast has had sufficient time to soak, remove it from the refrigerator and drain it on paper towels. Blot any excess buttermilk and pop the meat into a roasting pan and into a 375°F oven. In addition to lending flavor, buttermilk promotes browning, which is essential to a tasty Thanksgiving turkey.

When the internal temperature reads 150°F (which should take 90 minutes to 2 hours), pull out the bird, let it rest for 15 minutes, and commence carving the most succulent turkey breast ever to hit your Thanksgiving table.

[h/t Skillet]

6 Tasty Facts About Scrapple

Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Love it or hate it, scrapple is a way of life—especially if you grew up in Pennsylvania or another Mid-Atlantic state like New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia. And this (typically) pork-filled pudding isn’t going anywhere. While its popularity in America dates back more than 150 years, the dish itself is believed to have originated in pre-Roman times. In celebration of National Scrapple Day, here’s everything you ever—or never—wanted to know about the dish.

1. IT’S TYPICALLY MADE OF PIG PARTS. LOTS AND LOTS OF PIG PARTS.

Though every scrapple manufacturer has its own particular recipe, it all boils down to the same basic process—literally: boiling up a bunch of pig scraps (yes, the parts you don’t want to know are in there) to create a stock which is then mixed with cornmeal, flour, and a handful of spices to create a slurry. Once the consistency is right, chopped pig parts are added in and the mixture is turned into a loaf and baked. As the dish has gained popularity, chefs have put their own unique spins on it, adding in different meats and spices to play with the flavor. In 2014, New York City’s Ivan Ramen cooked it up waffle-style.

2. PEOPLE WERE EATING IT LONG BEFORE IT MADE ITS WAY TO AMERICA.

People often think that the word scrapple derives from scraps, and it’s easy to understand why. But it’s actually an Americanized derivation of panhaskröppel, a German word meaning "slice of rabbit." Much like its modern-day counterpart, skröppel—which dates back to pre-Roman times—was a dish that was designed to make use of every part of its protein (in this case, a rabbit). It was brought to America in the 17th and 18th centuries by German colonists who settled in the Philadelphia area.

In 1863, the first mass-produced version of scrapple arrived via Habbersett, which is still making the product today. They haven’t tweaked the recipe much in the past 155 years, though they do offer a beef version as well.

3. IF IT’S GRAY, YOU’RE A-OK.

A dull gray isn’t normally the most appetizing color you’d want in a meat product, but that’s the color a proper piece of scrapple should be. (It is typically pork bits, after all.)

4. IT CAN BE TOPPED WITH ALL MANNER OF GOODIES.

Though there’s no rule that says you can’t enjoy a delicious piece of scrapple at any time of day, it’s considered a breakfast meat. As such, it’s often served with (or over) eggs but can be topped with all sorts of condiments; while some people stick with ketchup or jelly, others go wild with applesauce, mustard, maple syrup, and honey to make the most of the sweet-and-salty flavor combo. There’s also nothing wrong with being a scrapple purist and eating it as is.

5. DOGFISH HEAD MADE A LIQUID VERSION.

The master brewers at Delaware’s Dogfish Head have never been afraid to get experimental with their flavors. In 2014, they created a Beer for Breakfast Stout that was brewed with Rapa pork scrapple. A representative for the scrapple brand called the collaboration a "unique proposition." Indeed.

6. THERE’S AN ANNUAL SCRAPPLE FESTIVAL IN OCTOBER.

Speaking of Delaware: It’s also home to the country’s oldest—and largest—annual scrapple festival. Originating in 1992, the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, Delaware is a yearly celebration of all things pig parts, which includes events like a ladies skillet toss and a scrapple chunkin’ contest. More than 25,000 attendees make the trek annually.

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