15 Products You Can (Usually) Only Buy in Canada

iStock
iStock

Canada is widely known for its hockey, maple syrup, and brutally cold winters. But you can bet your back bacon that Canadians also enjoy some special products only available in the Great White North, many of which are completely unknown to its neighbors to the south, at least outside of specialist importers. Here’s a salute to some of the items that are usually only available on Canadian soil.

1. CANADIAN MILK CHOCOLATE

Crispy Crunch, Smarties (the Canadian kind), Aero, Wunderbar, Caramilk—while the names and textures of these candy bars may differ, they all contain the same unique “Canadian” chocolate taste. Apparently, there is a Canadian preference for a sweeter, creamier milk chocolate, as opposed to the gritty, bitter taste of American chocolate. In 2013, The Hershey Company changed its formula to develop a milkier, creamier chocolate “that is unique to Canadian chocolate.” Even Canadian versions of popular American chocolate bars, such as Kit Kat and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, taste completely different, as documented in a 2009 Food Network survey.

2. KRAFT DINNER (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH KRAFT MACARONI AND CHEESE)


Kraft Dinner, or “KD” as it’s affectionately (and now formally) known in Canada, is the country’s unofficial official food. It been reported that Canadians consume 1.7 million boxes of the neon-colored pasta tubes a week, out of the 7 million sold globally. Yes, you can get similar pasta-and-powdered cheese concoctions in the United States, but you can’t find the “KD” packaging anywhere in the U.S., and there tend to be more varieties of the pasta in Canada as well.

3. BUTTER TARTS

These yummy desserts—pastry tart shells filled with maple or corn syrup, sugar, butter, and raisins—are a distinctly Canadian treat. Some articles have traced their origins to pioneer cookbooks published in the early 1900s. However, a 2007 Toronto Star article suggests they date back to the mid-1600s and the arrival of the filles de marier, or imported brides, from France. Regardless, these desserts are a seasonal staple at the Canadian Christmas snack table. And while some small American bakeries might offer butter tarts, in Canada processed, pre-packaged versions are found at most convenience stores around the country.

4. MILK BY THE BAG


Kevin Qiu, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Yes, that’s really a thing. You may think milk in a bag defies the laws of physics come pouring time, but the bags are smartly placed in a pitcher container and the corner is snipped off at an angle for easy pouring. Bags of milk are still popular in Ontario, Quebec, and Eastern Canada, but have been phased out in other parts of the country. Some American states have flirted with the idea of bringing bagged milk to the masses, but the practice doesn’t look like it’s catching on.

5. MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT CO-OP


m01229, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Similar to the U.S.-based REI, Mountain Equipment Co-op was founded in 1971 by four mountaineering friends who wanted to offer Canadians a low-cost way to purchase outdoor equipment without having to go to the States. Today, MEC still runs as a co-op, offering memberships for $5 (you need one to purchase anything at the store). It’s found in 18 cities across the country and boasts 4.5 million members from Canada and around the world.

6. HICKORY STICKS

Picture julienned, thick-cut potato chips with a tangy, smoky flavoring and you have Hickory Sticks. They're also one of the few remaining products under the Hostess name in Canada, as Hostess was bought out by Lays in the 1990s (the Canadian potato chip brand is completely unrelated to the Twinkie hawker). These products have survived the test of time … as has the decidedly unglamorous brown packaging.

7. SWISS CHALET

Mention the words “Quarter Chicken Dinner” to any Canuck and the words “Swiss Chalet” will immediately come to mind. The restaurant is known for chicken, ribs, and one-of-a-kind dipping sauce. Bonus point for anyone who remembers the cheesy Swiss Chalet TV commercials of the 1980s with iconic images of those juicy succulent chickens rotating on skewers.

8. CAESARS

Americans may have their Bloody Marys, but the Canadian hangover cure (and cause) has always been found in a Caesar. Similar to a Bloody Mary, the recipe typically calls for 1-2 ounces of vodka, two dashes of hot sauce (Tabasco is commonly used), four dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and 4 to 6 ounces of Clamato juice. Don’t forget the celery salt and pepper on the rim! The crowning glory are the stalks of celery, olives, limes, and other greenery that may accompany it. Serve over ice and enjoy.

9. RED RIVER CEREAL

Who would have thought that a blend of wheat, rye, and flaxseed mixed with boiling water would be such a hit? Named after the iconic Red River that flows north into Winnipeg from the U.S., the hot cereal has been a staple in many homes since 1924. Red River Cereal was once imported into the U.S. by Smuckers foods of Canada, but it appears to have been discontinued.

10. MCCAIN DEEP N’ DELICIOUS CAKE

McCain Deep n’ Delicious cakes are a fixture in Canadian freezers around the country. The moist cake is available in vanilla, marble, chocolate, and other flavors, topped with a sweet icing. The treat comes in a metallic aluminum foil tray with a resealable plastic dome lid that is often superfluous, as the cake is usually eaten entirely in one sitting. Pass the fork, please!

11. PRESIDENT’S CHOICE PRODUCTS 


What started out as a desire to make top-quality generic-brand products in the 1980s has since grown into a best-selling national empire. The President’s Choice line was spearheaded by the late Dave Nichol for the Loblaw chain of stores in 1984 as way to bring a “higher end” generic brand of products to consumers. Some of the first items included PC Beer and The Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie, which hit the shelves in 1988 and is still one of its top-selling products today. While the company did expand to selling some of its products in select grocery stores around the U.S., the PC brand has largely been phased out of the United States, save for a few stores in the Chicago area.

12. LAURA SECORD CHOCOLATES

Take the name of a Canadian war hero and mix in some cocoa, sugar, and butter, and you have a recipe for national chocolate-making success. Laura Secord was an American-born pioneer woman in what was then Upper Canada (the forerunner of Ontario), who successfully warned the Canadian and British forces of an impending Yankee attack during the War of 1812. To the delight of many sweet-toothed Canadians, her legacy did not stop there. In 1913, Frank P. O’Connor opened the first Laura Secord candy shop on Toronto’s Yonge Street. Today, over 100 stores are found across Canada—boasting more than 400 products, including the marshmallow Santa Claus, a seasonal favorite stocking-stuffer. The chain does deliver to the U.S., but there are no locations south of the border.

13. DUNK-A-ROOS 

The Betty Crocker kangaroo-shaped cinnamon-flavored graham cookies dunked in sweet, sweet icing are still sold in grocery stories in Canada despite being discontinued in the United States. Americans will either need to cross the border to pick them up, pay at least five times the retail price for the product on sites like Amazon, or come up with their own homemade remedy for their sugar craving.

14. HAWKINS CHEEZIES

The original Canadian Cheezie was actually created in Chicago after the Second World War by James Marker and W.T. Hawkins. According to the product’s website, the duo perfected their recipe by extracting cornmeal into finger-like shapes, frying them in shortening, and then dusting them with aged cheddar cheese. The plant moved to Ontario, Canada, in the 1950s and the product has remained north of the 49th parallel ever since. Some have said the snack is similar to a Cheetos Crunchy, but others claim there is only one Cheezies.

15. LE CHÂTEAU

Long before U.S. chains such as H&M and Forever 21 graced the storefronts of Canadian malls, Le Château was the go-to store for affordable, Euro-chic clothing and accessories. The Canadian clothier first got its start in 1959 as a family-run store in downtown Montréal. Today there are more than 200 retail locations across Canada. In the late ‘80s, Le Château opened more than 20 stores in the U.S., but closed them about a decade later after reporting significant losses in those markets. The company boasts a small international presence in countries such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia, but the name recognition of Le Château in Canada is as Canadian as poutine. (Le Château founder Herschel Segal is also co-founder of another Canadian business, David’s Tea, but that one is now widely found in certain parts of the U.S.)

This article originally ran in 2016.

The Science Behind Brining Your Thanksgiving Turkey

iStock.com/LazingBee
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.
iStock

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

iStock/svetikd
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.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER