Monday 28 April 2008

The miracle berry - a new chance for a missed opportunity?

The miracle berry
By Adam Fowler

The berry makes sour things taste sweet
Imagine an extract from a berry that would make sour things taste sweet and help you lose weight. Then imagine not being allowed to take it.
The world is getting fatter. One billion people are overweight, and 300 million of those are clinically obese.
The search is always on for replacements for those things that, eaten in excess, make us obese - fatty and sugary foods. There is no miracle pill that can replace either. Nearly four decades ago one man came close to providing a tablet that could reduce our love of sugar. In the 1960s, Robert Harvey, a biomedical postgraduate student, encountered the miracle berry, an African fruit which turns sour tastes to sweet.

"You can eat a berry and then bite into a lemon," says Harvey. "It becomes not only sweeter, but it will be the best lemon you've tasted in your life."
More importantly, this "miracle" can be used to manufacture sweet tasting foods without sugar or sweeteners, which have always been plagued by an after-taste.
Spotting the potential health benefits, and the healthy profits, that the miracle berry promised, Harvey founded the Miralin Company to grow the berry in Jamaica and Puerto Rico, extract its active ingredient in laboratories in Hudson, Massachusetts, and market it across America. At first, Harvey aimed his products at diabetics.
"In market testing, diabetics thought our product, as the name implies, was a miracle."
But Harvey's sweet dream of making the world healthier came to an abrupt end. On the eve of the launch in 1974, the US Food and Drugs Administration unexpectedly turned against the product.

Legal advice and contact with the FDA had led Harvey to believe that the extract from the berry would be allowed under the classification "generally recognised as safe". Having been eaten for centuries in Africa, without anecdotal reports of problems, it could be assumed not to be harmful.
But the FDA decided it would be considered as an additive which required several years more testing. In the poor economic climate of 1974, this could not be funded and the company folded.
"I was in shock" says Harvey. "We were on very good terms with the FDA and enjoyed their full support. There was no sign of any problem. Without any opportunity to know what the concern was and who raised it, and to respond to it - they just banned the product. "
Harvey remembers a number of strange events leading up to the FDA's decision, beginning immediately after one particular market research test.
His investors, including Reynolds Metals, Barclays and Prudential, had put up big money. They were looking for big returns.
"From the beginning my interest was in the diabetic market but my backers wanted to put double zeros after the numbers we were projecting."

So, in the summer of 1974, miracle berry ice lollies, in four different flavours, were compared to similar, sugar-sweetened versions by schoolchildren in Boston. The berry won every time.
Don Emery, then vice president of the Miralin company, recalls the excitement.
"If we had got beyond the diabetic market we could have been a multi-billion dollar company. We'd have displaced maybe millions of tons of sugar and lots of artificial sweeteners as well."
A few weeks later, things turned sour. A car was spotted driving back and forwards past Miralin's offices, slowing down as someone took photographs of the building. Then, late one night, Harvey was followed as he drove home.
"I sped up, then he sped up. I pulled into this dirt access road and turned off my lights and the other car went past the end of the road at a very high speed. Clearly I was being monitored."
Sugar denial
Finally, at the end of that summer, Harvey and Emery arrived back at the office after dinner to find they were being burgled. The burglars escaped and were never found, but the main FDA file was left lying open on the floor.
A few weeks later the FDA, which had previously been very supportive, wrote to Miralin, effectively banning its product. No co-incidence, according to Don Emery.

Obesity is a massive problem in the West
"I honestly believe that we were done in by some industrial interest that did not want to see us survive because we were a threat. Somebody influenced somebody in the FDA to cause the regulatory action that was taken against us."
The Sugar Association, the trade body representing "Big Sugar" in the US declined to be interviewed on the subject but flatly denied that the industry had exerted any influence over the FDA. The Calorie Control Council, which represents artificial sweetener manufacturers in the US, has failed to respond to questions on the issue. The Food and Drugs Administration also refused to be interviewed and has indicated that a Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation request to look at the relevant FDA files will not be considered for a year.
Faced with this silence, it's virtually impossible to assess what actually happened to prevent the miracle berry's progress to a sugar-free market.

But all hope is not lost for the berry's champions.
Today a firm called BioResources International is trying to produce freeze-dried miracle berry at a plant in New Jersey. Dieters will watch the outcome closely.
[From BBC News website]

Saturday 26 April 2008

Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger to you and me)

This year, not for the 1st time the location of the Olympic games has become a cause for political protest - the flame, as it travels the globe, being more a hot potato than a beacon for a new China. Intute, a free online service trawling the net for quality and informative sites has just published "Internet resources for Olympic studies" which brings together a wealth of well research and reliable links to the Games past and present and Event Management in general. And for event management the Olympics are as big as it gets. Amongst other online booklets produced by Intute and of particular interest to students in tourism and hospitality is their "Internet resources for business and tourism" guide, also available to download

Thursday 24 April 2008

Dublin City to charge tourist tax?

A tourist tax is among a number of measures being considered to raise revenue for Dublin City Council.
A meeting of the council's finance committee heard today that a charge of €1 per bed night would raise €24m a year.
Other measures to be considered include raising the amount developers pay for large scale planning applications.
Labour councillor Dermot Lacey claimed that Dublin is owed over €200m a year by central Government.
He says this figure includes the shortfall in funding paid in lieu of rates, the rates exemption for Government buildings in the city and the failure to reimburse the council for the cost of benchmarking.
'Dublin is massively discriminated against in terms of Government funding. Leitrim gets three times as much per capita subvention,' he added.
The proposals for council taxes will be sent to the Commission on Taxation which is due to report after next year's Local Elections.
[From RTE breaking news, 24/4/08]

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Hungary again

On 15th april i put up a post about the dire food i didn't eat in Hungary. In an article about Budapest in Saturdays ITimes travel supplement it talks about how "good food abounds" and "Hungarians love their food." I beg to disagree and as further evidence i would cite the dirth of specialised food shops in that city's centre, the lack of street food and the absense of beautiful food smells eminating from private houses and residences which are always one of the highlights of trips to almost any city in Spain, Italy or France.

Saturday 19 April 2008

Irish spa and wellness retreats categorised for the first time

SPA AND WELLNESS retreats in Ireland have been categorised for the first time under a system launched this week by Fáilte Ireland.
In all, 72 properties have been categorised in a bid to give customers a better understanding of what they are being offered when they go to a spa.
The categorisation is in response to the explosion in the number of health-and-wellness facilities in recent years. Ireland is the first country in Europe to launch such a complete categorisation.
Under the new system, health-and-wellness retreats can be defined under one of four categories: hotel spas, destination spas, resort spas and specialised retreats.
According to Fáilte Ireland, spa-goers will in future be able to make more informed choices about wellness break and find the products that best suit their needs.
Each spa has been assigned to one of the categories based on its facilities and the types of products it offers.
• Destination spas. These are purpose-built spas offering accommodation. Their sole purpose is to offer a comprehensive, full-service wellness-spa experience for overnight or day guests. Three properties have made this category: Monart, in Co Wexford; the Park Hotel, in Kenmare, Co Kerry; and Temple Country Retreat, in Co Westmeath.
• Resort spas. These offer a wide range of on-site leisure activities, as well as a dedicated full-service spa facility. Ten properties are in this category, including Brooklodge, in Co Wicklow; the K Club, in Straffan, Co Kildare; and Sheraton Fota Island Hotel, in Co Cork.
• Hotel spas. This category is broken down into comprehensive hotel spas, extensive hotel spas, selective hotel spas and leisure-club hotel spas. The majority of spas are in the hotel-spa category.
• Specialised retreats. These are dedicated to creating a wellbeing experience. They include health farms, thalassotherapy resorts and seaweed baths.
• For the full list of spa retreats and categorisations, see .
• Meanwhile, a Government-funded training initiative has been launched by the Spa and Wellness Skillnet, in partnership with Fáilte Ireland, to develop qualifications for spa managers, owners and staff. It aims to help develop a higher standard of service.
[From piece by Miriam Donohoe, Irish Times, Saturday 19th April 2008]

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Going Hungary

Just back from a business week in Hungary - Budapest and Debrecen. (ehhh where?) Sound people, interesting buildings, wacky language, but the food.... I eat most things and even look forward to airplane meals but in the last week i had 2 of the vilest eating experiences ever. In the "executive" staff dining room of a certain university we were served up a soup of extraordinary awfullness. It was white luke warm and anemic, with large circles of red (i presume paprika based) fat floating on top. Like the surface of Saturn. At the bottom of the bowl various white beans/veg/maggots, i dont know which, tasting of mush. - 2 spoonfuls were enough before moving on to the main course. Innocent looking and harmless i thought - potatoes and meat. But the potatoes- cut up small were cold hard and tasted of detergent. Nestling on top, the meat. Supposed to be veal, it was grey and blubbery, drizzled with a white sauce which i last saw as a special efect in 'Alien v Predator'. I made the mistake of turning it over to find it attached to a piece of carpet tile.
The conference dinner the previous evening was held in a grand hall with the lights turned low - the reason was soon obvious. The main course consisted of a portion of stodgy unadorned white rice, a scoop of potato straight from the workhouse and various 'types' of stringy meat and rubbery veg in a highly toxic luminous Paxo type orange crumb. I've never known my appetite to disapear so quickly. The slab of Victoria sponge that followed could have been used to build a bridge across the Danube.
The Eastern Bloc stereotype of a large fiercesome woman in rather grubby kitchen overalls dishing out dollops of watery slops in a bleak functionalist white tiled canteen has not gone away.

Friday 11 April 2008

Traditional United Europe Food

People interested in the future of traditional food, (or at least those who don't mind a dose of Eurojargon!) may want to know more about TRUEFOOD, a EU project which, according to its website aims to "...introduce suitable innovations into the traditional food industry to maintain and increase the competitiveness of the industry in an increasingly global European market place. This will be achieved through close integration of R&D activities, demonstration and training and dissemination activities."
One of the main challenges in traditional food production is to improve competitiveness by identifying innovations which comply with EU safety policies and regulations and guarantee the safety of traditional food products (TFPs), while at the same time meet general consumer demands and specific consumers expectations and attitudes to innovation in TFPs. This is not an easy task. Consumer expectations are sometimes contradictory. For instance, traditional food consumers demand products, which are completely safe with respect to microbiological hazards but are also minimally processed, free or low in preservative content and of high nutritional and sensory value. This is a particularly challenging task for SMEs, which constitute the majority of European traditional food producers and processors. Research into safety innovations has mainly focused on the needs of large-scale production and processing systems, and SMEs often lack the facilities or capital to establish facilities for microbiological or toxicological safety assurance systems. In addition, recent studies have indicated that many sectors of the traditional food industries have done little to identify and introduce innovations in primary production or processing that can increase nutritionally desirable compounds (e.g. antioxidants, vitamins) and reduce nutritionally undesirable compounds (e.g. salt, sugar, pesticides, saturated fatty acids), while maintaining or improving their sensory qualities. A central goal of the EU policy is therefore to increase the competitiveness of the traditional food sector via improvements in food safety and quality characteristics that can be translated into consumer demand. The TRUEFOOD project focuses on supporting this European strategy.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Debauchery tourism sets holiday trend

It is a far cry from the civilised city break, relaxing package holiday by the beach, or wholesome trekking trip in the mountains. Inspired by tales of the hedonistic getaways enjoyed by celebrities, the latest fashion for twenty- and thirtysomething holidaymakers is "debauchery tourism" - or debaucherism - according to a global travel trends report released today.
Hard drinking, gambling and strip clubs are all on the bill as 25- to 34-year-olds embrace the adult version of the American "spring break" (where college students take to the beaches to party for a week) with a "work hard, play harder" ethic.
Las Vegas reigns supreme as the US capital of debaucherism, the report for this week's World Travel Market in London said. More hotels are offering pool parties and hiring out individual cabanas with lounge chairs and tables for $1,000 (£478) to $5,000 a day. Long-haul destinations expected to cash in include Buenos Aires and Cape Town. Some cruise companies are offering 24-hour entertainment to younger customers. Market intelligence firm Euromonitor International, which produced the report, said the trend would not be confined to younger travellers.
"Even as travellers age they will continue to embrace travel as an opportunity to revisit their hedonistic youth and to spend lavishly, enjoying their leisure time to the full," global travel and tourism research manager Clement Wong said.
Another trend predicted to grow substantially was "diaspora tourism" - immigrants returning to their home countries, often to trace their family roots. The report also said there was untapped potential for "halal tourism" in the Middle East and suggested an airline could be set up offering halal food, calls for prayer, Qur'ans and separate sections for male and female passengers.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Puddings and Pornography

A new cocktail bar, Tart, which has a porn and puddings theme, has turned classic desserts into alcoholic tipples.
Puddings and Pornography
Cake and alcohol a perfect combination
Leisure is all about experience, with many new ventures looking for different themes to entice clients into their venue rather than buying and consuming cheap drinks at home. Tart, in Smithfield, London, is a new cocktail bar which takes its inspiration from both pornography and puddings. Thankfully the pornography is on the walls and the puddings have been mixed into cocktails. Examples include:
The Lemon Meringue Pie – vodka and lemon cured topped with a disc of meringue The Tiramisu – rum, coffee liqueur and mascarponeThe Rhubarb Crumble Custard – rum, frangelico, rhubarb puree and custard.

Could this help to stem a downward trend in desserts?
Both the traditional eating timetable and the traditional three-course meal seem to be dying out, with over a third of consumers tending to just order a main course when they eat out. So what better way to start a new trend in desserts than to add them to alcohol. Alternatively operators could make a savoury version in an attempt to reinvent “the liquid lunch”.
— March 28, 2008

not April 1st any more. Lost in space with time on your hands

Surprised or what. Bertie Ahern has resigned as First Minister (sorry Taoiseach). Often when they go politicians say it's to spend more time with their families.
Or he could always turn to the latest exclusive travel pursuit - space tourism - "the final frontier", "it's a holiday jim but not as we know it..." etc etc. But with the arrival of various players in the market, space flight as a recreational sport is now a viable if expensive option. It's not Budget Travel but how about Virgin Galacti yeah that Virgin, or Rocketplane or Space Adventures . Holiday in Mars, Baggage in Heathrow terminal 5. And when can we expect to see DIT Faculty of Tourism and Food add to it's stable of courses which includes Leisure management, Event management, Tourism Marketing, Culinary Arts with a BA in Space Tourism.


There is an interesting item in the vintners' magazine Licensing world, which links elderly suicides to pub closures. The journal states that "Leading medical experts are now linking the increasing rate of suicide among elderly irish people, especially those living in country communities, with the demise of the rural pub and the resulting social isolation currently taking hold of rural ireland." The article goes on to say that the damage done by the sense of social isolation is made worse by unregulated solo alcohol consumption at home.

Mind you, some observers of rural life would probably tell you that there was no shortage of depression in past decades when pubs were aplenty, but it must be conceded that the rise in suicides is worrying. Many of Dublin's outer suburban areas are also outside walking distance from pubs, so such patterns may become visible in the commuter belt as well.

In any case, the article is on pp12-13 of the March 2008 issue of Licensing world, in Cathal Brugha St Library.