ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Monday, June 17, 2013

The miracle that didn't happen

I'm not exactly an investigative journalist, am I?

Too lazy. Too languid. Probably too self-absorbed (or at least, too absorbed in the stuff I like and a reality with which I'm comfortable).

But since I've been doing the 5:2 diet I've heard a fair few whispers about these 'ere new-fangled 'Miracle noodles', and so a little investigating really had to be done.

Just a teensy bit, mind. Basically just trying the product and then writing about how amazingly great / shittingly bad / soul-numbingly indifferent it is. (It's the middle one.)

After all, I'll try pretty much anything once. I've eaten alligator... ants... silica gel... a meal in Spaghetti House...

No loaves and fishes, these

So, what is this miracley noodley bollocks all about?

It's a miracle if you can stomach eating this rubbish!
The answer, as you'd expect, is that it's a brand new, trendy, state of the art thing from Japan, except that people in Japan have had it for decades. And, importantly for the purposes of my investigation, you can buy them from Holland and Barrett and tons of other places now. While the fad lasts.

Also known as 'Zero noodles' or, to be technically and ethnically correct 'Shirataki', these ultra low-calorie (about ten cals in a huge plateful by my calculations) sounded too good to be true.

I had visions of creating delicious vegetable stir-fries on fast days. Mushrooms, onions, peppers, broccoli, a bit of garlic, ginger and soy sauce... all soaked up with a big mess of noddles that add substance but add virtually no calories...

That was, until I tried them, obviously.

They look odd before you even extract the bastards from their squishy packet. They don't need refrigerating, but they're not really like dried pasta or anything I've seen before in the world of real food. And they come in a grey liquid which the instructions suggest you rinse off using warm water. As though anybody would seriously not want to.

They didn't feel like food in my hand while I was rinsing them, they didn't smell like food (more a vague chemical aroma that wasn't at all appetising), and I soon found out that they don't taste like food either.

They're not fucking food, damnit! They're just not food!

How not to soup up your soup

My initial experiment involved simply boiling them up then adding them to our fast-day staple Tomato and Basil soup. We thought that would make a nice little Napolitana-lite.

The claim is that they taste of 'nothing', but, perversely, absolute nothingness does taste of something, because you can taste the absence of anything, if that makes sense. (It's like how silence can be used effectively in music because you can actually hear it.)

Soup with weird rubbery gunk snakes floating in it
Trying to chew and swallow just felt wrong. Very wrong. Like that time I ate the silica gel.

The tomato soup we used is fairly strongly flavoured, so you wouldn't think that something purporting to be flavourless would affect it, but simply mixing in the noodles completely changed the character - to the point that I didn't even want to eat the inexplicably oily soup that remained after I'd pulled out all traces of rubber stringiness.

How the fuck is something that purports to be 96% water so rubbery? Did I not boil them up for long enough? Was I supposed to sharpen my teeth first?

My fellow bass players might well be familar with the silicon rubber strings of the Ashbory bass, which is the closest thing to which I can compare them.

That and the little dishes of agar jelly that served some purpose or other in school science lessons. And silica gel, obviously.

The 4% that isn't water is glucomannan, apparently, which is a kind of soluble fibre. 

At Holland & Barrett they cost about £1.99 for an eight calorie bag, which must surely make them the most expensive-per-calorie foodstuff ever marketed.

I shall never buy them again.

Fool me twice

This isn't the first time I've been intrigued and duped in short order by 'foods' so obviously against God and Nature.

 I experienced a similar non-miracle a few years ago: Anybody else remember 'Miracle Berries'?!?

The natural fruit pill that was supposed to make everything taste supersweet and tasty?

Well, I sent away to somewhere in the Far East (where else?) and a few days later a little packet of bright crimson tablets arrived, with the promise of revolutionising my snacking habits.

You pop them in your mouth a minute or so before eating something and it makes it all kinds of wonderful. Apparently, with these babies I'd be happy eating nothing but celery and broccoli.

What were they like? Well, they tasted slightly odd. Possibly sour rather than sweet.

But then the real experience came when you ate something else afterwards with your tastebuds 'miracleised'.

God, it was awful. I can still remember the sickly taste years later. Yes it was sorta sweet, in a creepily unpleasant 'peardrops' sort of way. But it just made everything taste weird. Apples didn't taste like apples. Tomatoes didn't taste like tomatoes. Nothing tasted remotely as it should've and everything was just, well, nasty.

Maybe I should've tried taking a Miracle Berry pill before tucking into my Miracle Noodles... it would either have been astonishingly neutral or very bad!

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