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What Is Junk Food, A Question For National Junk Food Day

July 21st is National Junk Food Day. Is this permission to chow down on our favorite junk foods? And what is junk food, anyway? When we drilled down, we were surprised.

We’d always thought of junk food as empty calorie food: candy, chips and other salty snacks, cookies, fast food, foods baked or cooked with bad fats, highly processed foods.

But our favorite desserts? Cake? Ice Cream? Pie? How could these delights be junk? [Sob!] They are! (And 100 years ago, they were known as “cheat food.”)

A professional explanation is that “junk food is unhealthy food that is high in calories from sugar or fat, with little dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, or other important forms of nutritional value. It is also known as HFSS food (high in fat, salt and sugar) [source].

Wow. That just about wipes out the entire dessert category—high in calories and low in nutritional value—except fruit.

Then we got to thinking: So many popular lunch and dinner foods count on that empty-calorie demon, white flour.

Vis-à-vis the explanation of junk food, above, all of these foods are at least half “junk.” Are nutritional components the definition of junk versus non junk? Because you can get just as much salt, sugar and fat along with a little nutrition.

  • Bottled Salad Dressings. Read the label and you’ll go back to plain oil and vinegar, or make your own dressing from plain yogurt and seasonings.
  • Breakfast Cereals. Many are simply refined grains and sugar.
  • Burgers. Are fast-food burgers junk food, even though there is protein (albeit typically fat-heavy protein) in-between that empty-calorie roll? What about the burger you make at home?
  • Butter. It has small amounts of vitamins (A, B12, E, K) but it’s about 80% fat, 12g of fat per tablespoon. Is it junk food?
  • Coffee. Coffee has cognitive benefits, but what about the two or more sugars per cup, and a two or more ounces of cream?
  • Fruit Juice. Even 100% quality fruit juice isn’t good for you: “It’s like drinking liquid sugar,” said one source. When a fruit is juiced, all the fiber is removed and what’s mostly left is water and sugar. Check the label and compare it to the sugar in a soft drink.
  • Grilled Cheese. The high amounts of sodium and fat in American cheese keep it from landing on a list of healthy foods. Most cheeses contain more saturated fat than is good for you. Then, the sandwich gets fried in butter.
  • Pancakes, Waffles, French Toast. White flour batter or bread, fried in fat with a sugary syrup topping.
  • Pasta. White flour, tomato sauce (often with added sugar, or a white sauce with cream).
  • Pizza. Start with an empty-calorie white bread crust. Commercial tomato sauce typically has sugar of HFCS. An ounce of mozzarella has 6 grams of fat. Not to mention the fat and salt in pepperoni
  • Processed Meats. Bacon, cured meats, ham, hot dogs, jerky, salami, sausage, smoked meats: They have protein, but also lots of saturated fat and salt. With jerky, make that added sugar, too.
  • Sandwiches. Consider the white bread, whether slices, a roll, wrap, etc. Add fatty meats, cheese, and spreads like mayo.
  • Sugar Alternatives. Agave nectar, brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses: Some have a lower glycemic index, but it’s still sugar.
  • Toast and Bagels. White bread with fatty (butter, cream cheese) or sugary (jam) toppings.
  • And on and on.
    As we continued to think about it, we got depressed.

    No one will deny that Americans eat too much junk food, leading to obesity and other negative health conditions.

    The rest of our daily food intake could use a nutrition makeover, too.

    We’ve all read it over and over: switch the salty snacks for raw vegetables, the sweet snacks for fresh fruit. Trade the refined carbs for whole grains. Move from fatty meats like beef and pork to lean meats and fish. Ditch the prepared salad dressings for oil and vinegar. Have fruit salad or unsweetened yogurt with fresh fruit for dessert. Avoid sugary drinks, including sweet cocktails…

    It’s exhausting. We know right from wrong. But we’re guilty, over and over again. Maybe it’s time to think about the straight-and-narrow during the week and cheat days on the weekends.


    Any nutritionist can give you the answer. He or she can get input on your favorite foods and outline a plan where you can have your favorites—just not every day, and not in the quantity you’ve been eating them.

    You can switch chips for popcorn, for example. Just make it plain popcorn—no caramel corn or chocolate drizzle.

    So when does a food cross the line from O.K. to junk? When you eat too much of it.

    In Andrew F. Smith’s Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food, published in 2006, junk food is defined as “those commercial products, including candy, bakery goods, ice cream, salty snacks and soft drinks, which have little or no nutritional value but do have plenty of calories, salt, and fats.”

    We’re stuck on the word “commercial.” For example: is a Dunkin’ donut or Peperidge Farm cookie junk food, but homemade versions not junk food? A Big Mac and fries junk food, but a homemade cheeseburger and fries not junk?

    No matter where they come from, they’re equally unhealthy.

    There’s a line between low- or no-nutrition “junk” food and food that may have some more nutrition, but is equally laden with fat, salt and/or sugar.

    We’ll continue to contemplate.

    And to resist as best we can: We hereby boycott junk food on National Junk Food Day.

    As for the rest of the year, well: It’s a battle.


    Since mankind evolved to develop “cuisine,” as opposed to sustenance eating to survive, there has been junk food—especially for those with the means to put them on the table.

    There were white-flour foods, refined grains, heavy sauces, fried foods, and sugar-based desserts.

    But the naming of certain foods as “junk” foods seems to date to a 1948 article from the Ogden, Utah, Standard-Examiner, originally titled, “Dr. Brady’s Health Column: More Junk Than Food.”

    The author of the article, William Brady, M.D., comments on a complaint from Mrs. R. D. H. that her daughter “eats more junk than food” [source].

    Dr. Brady writes, “What Mrs. H calls ‘junk’ I call cheat food. That is anything made principally of (1) white flour and or (2) refined white sugar or syrup. For example, white bread, crackers, cake, candy, ice cream soda, chocolate malted, sundaes, sweetened carbonated beverages.”

    The term “cheat food” can be traced back in newspaper mentions to at least 1916 [source].

    But is Mrs. R.D.H. responsible for the term “junk food?”

    While there are “junk food” citations starting from at least 1952, it became a popular term in the 1970s, to describe all the fast food and sweets in the American diet [source].

    With a look at the rising obesity levels, we must conclude: National Junk Food Day is every day.


    [1] We never thought of our favorite food, ice cream, as junk food; just high-calorie food. But we were in denial: With all that fat and sugar and little nutrition, it is certainly J.F. (photo © Ben And Jerry’s).

    [2] Why is a Big Mac junk food, but this deluxe cheeseburger not J.F. (photo © Smokey Bones)?

    [3] Pancakes were simply “breakfast food.” But check out the white flour batter, fried in saturated fat and topped with sugar syrup. IOHO, it”s J.F. (photo © Laurie Patterson | iStock Photo).

    [4] Fettuccine Alfredo: white-flour pasta and a heavy cream sauce? Where’s the nutrition (photo © Cooking Classy).

    [5] Potato chips? There’s no way to spin this one (photo © Hannah Kaminsky | Bittersweet Blog).

    [6] Bagels: white bread. Cream cheese: fat. Smoked salmon: salt. One of our guilty pleasures (photo © Good Eggs).

    Crisp Bacon Slice
    [7] Fat and salt plus nitrates and nitrites: Oops (photo © iGourmet).




    Wagyu Hot Dogs, The Best Hot Dogs, From Snake River Farms

    [1] Kimchi hot dogs, topping Wagyu dogs with Korean-style kimchi coleslaw (all photos © Snake River Farms).

    [2] Wagyu dogs with kimchi ingredients.

    [3] Wagyu hot dogs are more expensive than regular beef dogs, but worth it. Treat yourself!

    [4] Wagyu dogs enjoy any topping, from plain mustard or ketchup to grilled onions and beyond. See our collection of 30 hot dog recipes.


    Per the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, July is always National Hot Dog Month. National Hot Dog Day falls on —the third Wednesday of July. This year, it’s July 21st.

    In addition to the Asian fusion recipe below, we have 30 more hot dog recipes for you to enjoy, plus the history of hot dogs.

    This recipe uses Wagyu hot dogs from Snake River Farms, the highest-quality hot dog you can buy (photo #3).

    Wagyu is the American version of the famed Japanese Kobe beef. Here’s the difference between Wagyu and Kobe.

    Order them directly from Snake River Farms, a pioneer in American Wagyu and purveyor of the most delicious Wagyu beef and Kurobuta pork.

    Ready to take a bite?

    Kimchi, a staple in Korean cuisine, is a traditional spicy side dish of salted and fermented vegetables, such as napa cabbage and Korean radish. You can think of it as sauerkraut with Korean spices.

    Here’s more about kimchi, and one of our favorite brands available in stores.

    There are as many recipes as there are cooks, incorporating seasonings such as gochugaru, spring onions, garlic, ginger and jeotgal. While the recipe takes time to develop, here’s a simplified recipe.

    In this recipe (photos #1 and #2), Chef Lee Anne Wong adds a Korean spin to coleslaw to create a creamy-spicy-crunchy topping for Snake River Farms’ American Wagyu dogs.
    Ingredients For The Kimchi Slaw

  • 1/3 cup Japanese mayonnaise, e.g. Kewpie brand (substitute regular mayonnaise)
  • 1 tablespoon kochujang red pepper paste
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced ginger
  • 1-1/2 cups napa cabbage, julienned
  • 1 cup store-bought kimchi, drained, julienned
  • Garnish: 5 tablespoons packaged French fried onions or fried shallots
  • Garnish: 1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin across

  • 1 pound package Snake River Farms American Wagyu Hot Dogs
  • Quality hot dog rolls

    1. MAKE the dressing, up to three days in advance. In a small mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise, kochujang, rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. Mix well.

    2. PLACE the napa cabbage and kimchi in a bowl and toss with the dressing until thoroughly mixed. Refrigerate until needed.

    3. PREPARE the hot dogs and rolls as desired. To assemble, place hot dogs in rolls and top with the kimchi slaw. Garnish with the scallions and fried onions/shallots.


    What spices are in hot dogs?

    The most common spices include red, white and black pepper; garlic; coriander; cinnamon; cumin; nutmeg; paprika and allspice.

    Sugar and/or corn syrup add flavor and promote browning. Water (or sometimes ice) is mixed in with the ground meat and spices to help blending.

    Here’s more on the ingredients in hot dogs.



    Mac & Cheese Hot Dog & More Hot Dog Recipes For National Hot Dog Day

    National Macaroni and Cheese Day is July 14th, National Hot dog Day is July 21st. So how about some fusion: Have a mac and cheese hot dog (photo #1). Combining two comfort food favorites, it’s easy to make.

    The recipe follows, and there are more hot dog recipes below.

    But first, for your Hot Dog I.Q.:

    > The history of hot dogs.
    > The difference between rolls and buns.
    > Hot dog vs. weiner vs. frank.
    > Hot dog vs. sausage: the difference.
    > How hot dogs are made.
    > Nitrates and nitrites.
    > Why there are 10 dogs in a package but only 8 rolls.
    > Organic hot dogs vs. conventional hot dogs.
    > A & H Glatt Kosher Hot Dogs, one of our favorite brands.
    > Field Roast Great Vegan Hot Dogs.

  • Dog. You can use any type of hot dog and roll you like, but the recipe tastes better when the hot dogs are grilled and the rolls are toasted.
  • Mac. You can prepare the mac and cheese from scratch, or use a boxed variety.
  • Combos. You can be as basic or as gourmet as you like. How about a Wagyu beef hot dog on a brioche hot dog roll, topped with truffled mac and cheese (using truffle cheese and a bit of truffle oil)?
  • Creativity. How about grilled/sautéed apple slices and honey mustard on your dog?

  • Hot dogs
  • Hot dog rolls
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Optional garnishes: barbecue sauce, chopped crisp bacon, chopped herbs (basil, chives, parsley, rosemary, tarragon), fried leeks, frizzled onions, green pickle relish or related relish (chow-chow, chutney, mostarda), honey mustard, shredded cheese

    1. PREPARE the mac and cheese. This can be done up to 5 days in advance, and heated as the hot dogs cook.

    2. GRILL or otherwise cook the hot dogs. While they cook, toast the buns.

    3. ASSEMBLE: Place a hot dog in each bun, cover with mac and cheese and garnish. If you want to use mustard or relish, place it on top of the hot dog before adding the mac and cheese.

    4. GARNISH as desired.

    If you need more room in the roll, check out these tricks.


    Beef dogs, chicken dogs, pork blend, turkey dogs, vegan dogs: These recipes work with any type of dog (leaving off the bacon and cheese for the vegan dogs, of course).

  • Bacon Cheese Dogs
  • Bacon Hot Dogs
  • Baked Beans & Franks
  • Beer & Pretzel Hot Dog Rolls Recipe
  • Creative Toppings For Burgers, Brats & Franks
  • Cubano Dog
  • Firecracker Hot Dogs
  • Grilled Potato Salad & Hot Dogs
  • Hot Dog & Tater Tot Skewers
  • Hot Dog Lollipops
  • Hot Dog Party Bar
  • Hot Dog Sculpture
  • Hot Dog Turducken: A Sausage Stuffed With A Hot Dog
  • Italian Hot Dogs
  • Jambalaya Hot Dogs
  • Kobe Beef/Wagyu Hot Dogs
  • Mini Corn Dogs
  • Six Regional Hot Dog Recipes
  • Specialty Hot Dog Toppings #1
  • Specialty Hot Dog Toppings #2
  • Top 10 Hot Dog Toppings
  • “Worm” Sandwiches
  • Wrapped Hot Dogs

  • Homemade Hot Dog Rolls
  • How To Pack More Toppings Into The Roll
  • Pretzel & Beer Hot Dog Rolls
  • Uses For Leftover Hot Dog Rolls
  • Sourdough Hot Dog Rolls
  • 20 Other Uses For Hot Dog Rolls

    [1] Who needs sauerkraut? Top your dog with mac and cheese. The recipe is below (photo © Potato Rolls).

    Sourdough Hot Dog Buns
    [2] Different toppings and sourdough rolls. Here’s the recipe (photo © King Arthur Flour).

    [3] A Chicago-style hot dog: an all-beef dog on a steamed poppy seed bun, with toppings added in this order: yellow mustard, sweet green pickle relish, onion, tomato wedges, pickle spear, sport peppers* and celery salt. Check the recipes at left for the signature dogs from other cities (photo © Kindred Restaurant | Davidson, North Carolina

    [4] Cheese and hot dogs? Sure, from pimento cheese (in photo) to shredded cheddar or pepperjack to melted mozzarella (photo © Birdie’s Pimento Cheese | Facebook).

    [5] Cheddar chili turkey dogs (photo © Jennie-O).


    *Sport peppers are a Chicago thing: essentially pickled peppers. Small green peppers, 1.5 inches or shorter, are pickled in vinegar. You can buy them on Amazon and elsewhere. Substitutes include pickled jalapeños, pickled serranos or the milder peperoncinis [source]. Here’s how to pickle peppers.



    Lowfat PB2 Cashew Powder & The History Of Cashews

    [1] High-calorie, high-fat cashews are de-fatted into less than one-third of the calories (photos © Murray’s).

    [2] A jar of PB2 Cashew Powder (photos #2 and #3 © PB2 Foods).

    [3] Just add water and the powder becomes a spread.

    [4] Cut the calories by using nut powder instead of nut butter in sauces and other dishes (photo © Charles Deluvio | Unsplash).

    [5] A cashew tree. The nuts grow out of the red and yellow “apples” (photo © Nakupenda Garden).


    Way back in 2008, we wrote about the introduction of PB2, an aromatic and tasty peanut powder made from ground roasted peanuts that have been almost 85% defatted. People who love peanut butter but not the fat had a new friend in PB2. It could be reconstituted with water to a homemade PB-like consistency; but has equal uses as powdered garnish/flavoring and a cooking/baking ingredient.

    Our favorite uses are mixing with vanilla or plain yogurt, tossing into chocolate and vanilla milkshakes, adding to pancake batter, and mixing into softened vanilla ice cream to make peanut butter ice cream.

    Reconstituted with water as a peanut butter substitute, you won’t mistake PB2 for the real thing, any more than fat-free milk can be mistaken for whole milk.

    But it’s a nice peanut butter paste. And as a reconstituted spread, it was far superior in taste than other peanut butter substitutes we’d tried.

    At 54 calories per 2 tablespoons and just 2.8g total fat, it saved calories and fat for those who can’t have one or both.

    And, it’s a replacement for protein powder in a smoothie, due to the similarity in the powder consistency.

    Now there’s an equivalent nut powder for cashew lovers: PB2’s powdered cashew butter. Like PB2 peanut butter, it’s a single-ingredient product: 100% all-natural cashews. Roasted cashews are pressed to remove most of the oil, and then blended into a fine powder.

    The first powdered cashew product of its kind, it’s 60 calories per two tablespoons, compared to 198 calories for regular cashew butter.

    With fewer calories and some 80% less fat, it’s protein packed, with 4 grams of plant-based protein per 13-gram serving, and only 2.5 grams of fat.

    For a nut butter spread, just blend 2 tablespoons of PB2 Cashew Powder with 1 tablespoon of water and stir until smooth.

    Next, bake with it, or mix it into foods and drinks.

    All PB2 products are:

  • Without added sugar, added salt or added preservatives.
  • Certified gluten free.
  • Certified kosher by OU.
  • Non-GMO project verified.
  • Vegan.
    Check out these recipes.

    PB2 Cashew Powder is available on Amazon and other e-tailers, and at these retailers near you.


    Portuguese travelers came across cashew nuts in northeastern Brazil in 1558.

    The nuts are the fruit of the cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale, photo #4) a tropical evergreen. But there was a catch.

    The seed (the edible nut portion) is surrounded by a shell and skin that contain an allergenic oil that’s a potent skin irritant, similar to poison ivy.

    Because of the irritation, the Portuguese thought the nuts were inedible.

    But the indigenous Tupi people showed them that it was the shell and skin, and not the seeds, that were irritating. They shared how to roast the cashews to remove the irritants.

    The word cashew comes from the Tupi word acaju, their generic word for nut.

    The Tupi themselves learned to eat cashews from capuchin monkeys. The primates use primitive tools to break the shells and pick out the nuts [source].

    That’s why cashews are are the only nut sold solely unshelled!

    From Brazil, Portuguese merchants brought cashews to Goa on the southwestern coast of India, about 1560. It then spread through India.

    In the second half of the 16th century, cashews spread to Southeast Asia and Africa. Much later it reached the U.S., around 1905.

    Cashews reached the U.S. around 1905. The nuts didn’t become popular in the the western world until the mid-1920s, when the General Foods Corporation began shipping them in quantity to the U.S. and Europe.

    In 2019, four million tonnes* of cashew nuts were produced globally, with Ivory Coast and India as the leading producers. Brazil, Vietnam and regions of West Africa are also major producers.


    *Both ton and tonne are units of weight, but are not the same. A ton is a British and American measure, while a tonne is a metric measure.

  • A tonne is equal to 1,000 kg. In the U.S. it may be referred to as a “metric ton”.

  • The North American ton—only used in the U.S. and Canada—is equal to 2,000 pounds, or 907.1847 kg [source].


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    Beautiful Cheese: Port Wine Derby Cheese From England

    There are a few cheeses that can turn a cheese plate into edible art.

    One of these is Port Wine Derby, a smooth, creamy Derby cheese marbled with an infusion of Port wine to create an exquisite deep purple pattern.

    The color and sweet blackcurrant undertones come from the Port wine, which is added to the vat to naturally blend with the maturing cheese (known as “vat made”).

    It’s made by Belton Farm in Whitchurch, a market town in the north of Shropshire, England in the Midlands region of Central England and two miles east of the Welsh border.

    The Beckett family has been making award-winning cheeses at Belton Farm since 1922. Port Wine Derby was a winner in the International Cheese Awards in 2019, the last pre-Pandemic year the show was held (the next one is in October 2021).

  • Serve it as the cheese course with a glass of Port, Zinfandel or other red wine*.
  • Enjoy as a snack with fruit and wine.
  • Serve cubes of it along with fruit (apples, grapes, pears e.g.) in a green salad.
  • Belton grates it into a cheese sauce for pasta.
  • The producer recommends a wheat beer pairing; or try a blonde/golden ale.
  • Pick a light-bodied white wine pairing, such as Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc or Soave.

    Derby cheese is a mild, semi-firm cow’s milk cheese made in the rural county of Derbyshire, England since at least the 17th century.

    A traditional English-style cheese, it has a smooth texture with a mellow, buttery flavor.

    Derby is similar to its cousin cheeses Cheddar and Cheshire in taste and texture, but with a softer body and slightly higher moisture content.

    Like most of the traditional British hard cheeses, it was produced exclusively on farms and was typically sold at a younger age than its more famous cousins Cheddar and Cheshire. (Port Wine Darby is aged for four months before release; merchants can continue to age it.)

    When young, Derby is springy and mild. As it matures, subtle sweet flavors develop and the texture becomes firmer.


  • Alp Blossom Cheese
  • Cahill’s Farm Cheddar



    *Zinfandel substitutes include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Shiraz/Syrah.


    [1] Port Wine Derby, beautiful to look at, beautiful to eat (photos #1 and #4 © iGourmet).

    [2] One of the most beautiful wedges in the cheese world (photos #2 and #3 © Belton Farm).

    [3] Belton Farm also makes Sage Derby (photo © Belton Farm).

    [ ] Pair cheese with beautiful crackers, like these toasts in four flavors (shown, Apricot & Pistachio). Get them at iGourmet (photo © iGourmet).




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