Cancer in your Coke, peril in your Pepsi | WHIDBEY RECIPES

During all the years you’ve been sipping a Coke, or swallowing a cold Pepsi, did you ever think about cancer as you drank? Of course not; why would you? After all, these two icons of the soft drink industry have been around longer than most of our readers, and never has there been a suggestion that what’s in that can or bottle might be increasing our susceptibility to some forms of cancer.

It may be contributing to our obesity tidal wave, yes; creating sugar highs in kids, yes; higher risk for cavities, yes; but cancer? Who’d have thought?

Blame it all on caramel coloring, and California.

I’ll bet you didn’t know, think about, or care that the deep, dark color of both Pepsi and Coke is created by adding caramel coloring during the manufacturing process. During cooking, that caramel produces a substance called 4-methylimidazole (hereinafter referred to as 4-M because I don’t want to have to type that name again), which is found in trace amounts in many of our foods, but which was recently also linked to certain kinds of cancer.

What has California to do with all of that? Well, California (surprise, surprise) quickly passed a law, based on only one study that linked the above-named chemical to cancer in rodents, that requires any beverage containing a certain level of any recognized carcinogen to carry a cancer warning label.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d find it a bit problematic, as I tipped up my can to drink, to find myself reading a warning about possible cancer from what I was about to pour down my throat. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, California is the only state with such a law regarding beverages.

Both Coke and Pepsi, who account for nearly 90 percent of soda consumption in the world, decided it was much easier to change their manufacturing process than  to make two different kinds of beverage, one to be sold in California and all else to be sold in the rest of the world. They both asked their caramel suppliers to modify their manufacturing processes to reduce the levels of 4-M, which the suppliers have apparently been happy to do.

Meanwhile, a group called The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a petition with the FDA banning the use of the specific type of caramel that has been causing all of this turmoil. The petition is currently under review and has not yet been finalized as to their decision. Were you aware, by the way, that you had this watchdog entity looking out for your best interests, or wonder who funds them?

Coke and Pepsi both maintain that consumers will notice no difference in their beverage of choice, and that at no time has there been any reason for health concerns. A spokesperson for Coke referred to the California law demanding the cancer warning label as “the requirement of a scientifically unfounded warning.” An unbiased opinion, of course.

I wouldn’t want to leave you, however, with any uneasiness about your Coke or your Pepsi, should you be a dedicated consumer of either or both, so I’ll pass along one more bit of information from this “mountain out of a mole hill” nonsense.  According to the FDA, you’d have to drink more than 1,000 cans of soda a day to reach the same amount of 4-M that was given to the rats and mice in the study.

I can’t help wondering, did the poor rats and mice even at least get to drink some of the two most popular sodas in the world, or were they just injected with massive amounts of the 4-M, and if so, why? Perhaps California should also consider passing a law requiring Coke and Pepsi to carry a label stating “contains a possible animal abuse substance?”



Happy First Day of Spring, whatever you’re drinking! Wet, windy, chilly, it’s nevertheless finally spring, which means we’re on our way to summer. Whether you’re drinking Coke or Pepsi to celebrate the event, (and I hope it’s something better), here’s a refreshing, spring-like twist on our wintertime staple, chicken soup, good with either beverage, better with wine.



¾ cup orzo

1 ½ T. olive oil

1 med. white onion, thinly sliced

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 jalapeno chiles, thinly sliced (remove seeds if you want less heat)

¾ lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into matchstick-size strips

5 cups low sodium chicken broth

¼ cup fresh lime juice

1 large tomato, seeded, chopped

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Cook the orzo in a pot of boiling salted water until just tender; drain well.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over med. heat. Add onion, garlic and chiles; sauté until onion begins to brown (stir to avoid burning the garlic). Add chicken; sauté 1 min. Add broth, lime juice and tomato. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 3 min. Mix in orzo, then chopped cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into 4 bowls; garnish with cilantro sprigs. Serve with Cheddar Chipotle Biscuits (recipe follows). Serves 4.


Put some pep in your springtime menus with these light, tender, pepped up biscuits, well worth the time it takes to turn them out, and one of these would be very tasty with either Coke or Pepsi, by the way.



1 T. unsalted butter

¾ cup (packed) chopped green onions

1½ cups flour

½ cup yellow cornmeal

2 T. sugar

2 ½ t. baking powder

¾ t. kosher salt

½ t. baking soda

½ cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

1½ cups (packed) coarsely grated yellow extra-sharp cheddar cheese

1 large egg

¾ cup buttermilk (may need a bit more)

1 T. finely minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo (look in Hispanic food section)

1 egg, beaten with 1 T. whipping cream (for glaze)

Position oven rack in center of oven; preheat to 425 degrees. Melt 1 T. of butter in a nonstick skillet over med. heat. Add green onions and sauté 2 min. to soften slightly. Remove from heat.

In a food processor, blend flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add chilled butter and cut in using the pulse of the processor until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cheese, cut in using pulse. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl.

Whisk the egg in a glass measuring cup. Add enough buttermilk to egg to measure 1 cup. Stir in the green onion mixture and chipotles. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the buttermilk mixture into the well. Mix just until evenly moistened throughout.

Turn dough out onto a generously floured work surface. Knead gently just until dough holds together (about 10 turns). Pat out on floured surface to an inch-thick round. Use a 3-inch round cutter to cut out biscuits. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet; brush with the egg glaze. Bake biscuits until golden, or tester inserted into center comes out clean and the biscuits feel firm, about 16-18 min. Cool on a rack for 5 min.; then serve, with plenty of butter or softened cream cheese or spread of your choice. Makes 10 biscuits.


My rhubarb always knows when it’s spring, no matter what the weather, and before much longer, it’ll be ready to pluck the first stems. I’m already looking forward to the first crisp, probably this one. Don’t be afraid of the phyllo dough; this is as easy as it is delicious. You have time to sip your Coke/Pepsi while it cooks.



6 cups sliced rhubarb

1 Gala or Fuji apple, cored and diced (about 1 cup)

2/3 cup sugar

3 T. instant tapioca

2 T. orange juice

1½ t. pumpkin pie spice (yes, that sound strange, but the mix has all the spices you’d add otherwise)

6-8 sheets phyllo dough

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

6-8 t. sugar

3 T. sliced almonds

2 T. turbinado sugar (optional, but it gives it a lovely finish if you use it)

Combine rhubarb, apple, 2/3 cup of sugar, tapioca, orange juice and pie spice in a large bowl. Mix well and let stand for 15 min., stirring occasionally. Taste and add a bit more sugar if it’s too tart. Pour the fruit into a 9-inch pie plate.

Place a sheet of phyllo on a flat surface (cover the other sheets with a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out while you work. Lightly brush the phyllo sheet with melted butter and sprinkle with 1 t. sugar. Roll the phyllo sheet into a loose tube about 2 inches in diameter. Repeat this with the remaining pyllo sheets.

Starting at the outer edge of the pie plate, lightly place phyllo tubes end to end in a spiral or concentric pattern (it doesn’t have to be perfect, just round). Drizzle any remaining melted butter over the phyllo and sprinkle with almonds and turbinado sugar. Bake until the crisp is golden brown, about 1 hr. Let cool for 15 min. before serving. Serves 8.


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