With the increasing popularity of Asian cuisine, and Indian curries in particular, you’re going to start hearing more about a spice called turmeric.

Fresh turmeric root looks like an old russeted carrot. But when you break a piece open and smell it, you experience a wonderful aromatic and spicy essence. Turmeric also has a deep orange color and was once used as a dye – it can stain your hands, too. 
A cousin to fresh ginger, turmeric is native to tropical South Asia. Like ginger, turmeric is technically a rhizome, not a root, which is essentially an underground stem that looks like a root.
What’s so interesting about turmeric is that in addition to it being one of the secret ingredients in Indian curry, it also has many purported health benefits.
My sister, Jackie, shared an article with me last week about the health benefits of spices. A recent study was done on a “special blend” of spices, including: turmeric, garlic, oregano, paprika, rosemary, and ginger. Researchers found that increasing the amount of spices in your diet may lower the level of potentially harmful fat in your bloodstream.
I also found an interesting article listing 20 health benefits of turmeric.

But remember, just because you read it on the Internet does not mean it is 100% true. (Read my previous post on this.) That being said, turmeric must have some health benefits so I’ll definitely be adding it to my arsenal of spices.
If you’re looking for fresh turmeric in your produce department, you may not find it. It is pretty pricey and many retailers don’t even know the FRESH version is available!
So, if you can’t find it fresh, you will certainly be able to find it in the dried spice aisle of your grocery store. However, there really is no comparison in flavor between the two. And remember, dried spices do not last forever. If you buy DRIED turmeric, be sure to tightly seal the jar or bag and use it within a month.
Or, you could ask your produce manager to order some fresh turmeric for you!  
Add some spice to your life!
I get more than 250 emails a day. While they often overwhelm me, I eventually open them to see if they are relevant to me.
This is why subject lines are so important. When you send an email, make sure you label the subject line appropriately.
An email from the Jewish National Fund caught my attention: “Tomorrow is World Water Day – Change Begins with a Drop.”
Water is the one commodity that we all have in common. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Mark Twain said, ““Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”
Here in California, the water supply — or lack thereof — has a huge effect on the viability of the produce industry. As you probably know, California’s number one industry is agriculture, and the state is the top supplier of many foods to the world (almonds for example). Well, you can’t grow food without water.
What can you do personally to conserve water, whether you live in California or elsewhere?
First thing – figure out how much water you and your family use, then find a way to consciously conserve.
The World Water Day email I received contained a fascinating “calculator” which allowed me to figure out how many gallons of water my family and I consume in a week. Frankly, it was a bit humbling to find out that my household of three uses almost 2,400 gallons of water a week! This doesn’t include the water that is used outside our home to produce the food we eat, the clothes we wear, wash our cars, etc.
Calculate your own water usage here

For more ways you can personally conserve water, visit WaterUseItWisely.com. Their ideas are easy and user-friendly.
And for more information on what’s happening with California’s water supply, go to WaterEducation.org.

I have learned this lesson many times over, and it doesn’t apply only to the Internet.

I learned that even if it’s written in a newspaper, it is not always the truth.

I learned that just because it’s on an Excel spreadsheet, it does not mean the numbers are correct. (Always verify the data and check the formulas.)

I recently received a forwarded email from several friends, and the information did not seem accurate.

The subject was, “The key to preventing moldy berries…is to wash them in vinegar.” My friends wanted to know if it was true.

So, I went straight to the source. I contacted our good friend Chuck at Driscoll’s, one of the largest strawberry growers, and asked him if it’s a good practice to wash berries in vinegar to prevent them from molding.

Chuck told me that the best way to prevent fresh berries from molding is to keep them cold! He said no amount of vinegar would substitute the good practice of maintaining the “cold chain.”

In produce industry lingo, the “cold chain” is the practice of cooling produce after harvest and keeping it at a consistently cold temperature through all the steps in transit, from trucks to warehouse to your supermarket shelves, and then on to your refrigerator at home.

So, what happens if you buy berries at a farmers market or fruit stand with no refrigeration? Chuck recommends that you consume any farmers market produce within the day you purchase it. “Without proper and modern, post-harvest handling and cooling, fruits and vegetables just don’t hold up,” Chuck says.

I agree with Chuck on this one. If I buy berries at a farmers market, I know to use them within a day (two at the max).

Chuck explained that the same holds true when purchasing produce in a supermarket. He says he’s very picky about the berries he buys, and he never purchases non-refrigerated berries at the supermarket. I, too, am a picky berry buyer! I always buy my berries from a refrigerated display, plus I turn the clamshell over and inspect closely for mold and shrivel.

Chuck also recommends shopping at stores that sell a lot of produce, because you’re probably getting fruit closer to harvest, which means a longer shelf life for you.

When you get your berries home from the store, keep them in the original clamshell package and place them in your refrigerator. Don’t wash them until right before you plan to eat them, and only take out the amount you need at that time. Put the remaining berries back in the refrigerator right away. And although you should always store them in the fridge, Chuck and I both agree that strawberries taste best when served at room temperature.

And what about washing berries in a vinegar solution? I don’t think it’s a good idea because you should not wash your berries until you are ready to consume them. And it would probably make them taste funky. Neither Chuck nor I have ever heard about the “vinegar” idea. I think it must be an urban legend!

If you want to know more about fresh strawberries, I recommend you check out the California Strawberry Commission. (Did you know there was such a thing?) It was started in 1993 and you can read all about its history and purpose.

Now that spring is here (today!), you will begin to see plentiful supplies of all kinds of fresh berries — strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries — in all your markets.

They are the perfect dessert — all by themselves.



Like many people, I have discovered that I am allergic to wheat. When I eat anything with wheat in it (bread, pasta, etc), my stomach starts to hurt.
So for the last few months, I have been extremely diligent about making food choices that exclude wheat, and a whole new world has opened up for me. It seems as if everywhere I turn, there are gluten-free alternatives available.
I went to my local Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market™ that just opened up and they have an entire gluten-free section.
I also found out about a website called GlutenFree.com, where you can purchase all kinds of products!
But, what happens when you go out to lunch or dinner? Especially for Italian food?
Well, what I am about to tell you has me excited!
On Wednesday, I had a business lunch in downtown Los Angeles and we selected Maria’s Italian Kitchen for our meeting.
Madelyn Alfano is the founder and owner of Maria’s, which has nine Southern California locations. Madelyn named the restaurant after her Italian mother, Maria, and they are well-known for their fantastic Italian cuisine.
I first met Madelyn because she has a woman-owned business (just like Frieda’s) and we are both members of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO-Los Angeles). Madelyn is actually the current President of NAWBO-LA.
I always try to support other women business owners, so it was especially nice that Madelyn surprised me and showed up for my business lunch! (She and her general manager even wore purple shirts – our company color!)
So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened up the menu and found in big, bold letters, “Gluten-free items offered, including pizza and pasta!”
I have never seen a complete gluten-free option offered in an Italian restaurant. You can see the entire gluten-free menu here.
Although I opted for the Chopped Italian Salad with Chicken, I plan on trying their gluten-free pizza on my next visit. And I would highly recommend Maria’s Italian Kitchen if you are in Los Angeles and want “Real Italian food by Real Italian Women.”
One more connection to Madelyn – next Friday March 23, she will be presenting the NAWBO-LA Legacy Award to my mother, Frieda Caplan, in recognition of her pioneering efforts and accomplishments during 50 years of business, mentorship, and inspiration to women. If you want to send your own congratulatory note to my mom, click here.
If you have a favorite gluten-free product, I would love to hear about it! Please comment at the bottom of my online blog post and maybe I will try something new AND gluten-free this weekend.
Last Friday night, we held a small event at our company for 60 of the most influential women leaders in Southern California. The theme for the event was food, of course, so we invited a few local thought leaders to talk on a panel about the future of food and food trends: Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times food editor; Colleen Dunn Bates, journalist, restaurant critic and editor/publisher at EAT-LA; and Sue Klug, president of the Southern California division of the Albertson’s supermarket chain. 
I served as moderator and had several questions prepared to get the conversation going. Plus, the members of the audience were anxious to ask our panelists their opinions.
My first question was about food trucks. You know those decked-out mobile kitchens that congregate in public venues and sell food. We used to call them “roach coaches” when I grew up on the produce market. (Back then they were mostly selling breakfast foods, sandwiches, burgers and fries.)
Today’s food trucks feature the latest trendy food, whether it is Korean Beef or an awesome Mexican food truck, like the one I saw at an HEB market in Houston, last month, it seems to me that the food truck trend is going strong.
So, when I asked Colleen what she thought of food trucks, I was taken aback when she said, “Food trucks are so 2009!” She said that they were definitely over their peak.
She and Russ told us that, as a replacement for food trucks, they have observed “pop-up restaurants” becoming more present and popular. 
Russ commented that the biggest challenge for new restaurant owners is the $4 to $5 million they have to put up to build a conventional restaurant. With a pop-up restaurant, their investment is only about $30,000. Quite a difference!
My third panelist, Sue, shared that even Albertson’s had experimented with a pop-up grocery store in a local mall for Valentine’s Day! It was a low cost way for them to build their brand, sell some additional product, and do some test marketing.
As far as food trends in restaurants, Colleen and Russ agreed that the two top trends are “vegan” foods and “everything pork.” Naturally, I was excited to hear about the growing popularity of vegan food, as eating more fruits and vegetables makes perfect sense to me.
It was also interesting to hear what our panelists had to say about the MyPlate.gov program, sponsored by the USDA to encourage consumers to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables. Colleen and Russ both thought that although it is a noble goal for consumers to increase their produce consumption, it is unlikely that having the government tell them to do this will make a big difference.
I have to disagree a bit with them, because I know that the policies and programs created by the USDA have a far reach in influencing other decision makers. It affects the WIC program, the fruit and vegetable snacking program and all kinds of federal funding and guidelines.
Even though the launch of this program may not have a short term immediate effect on consumption, I believe that the credibility of the USDA, along with all the supporting messages from my fellow farmers and marketers in the produce industry, will help us educate consumers and shift consumption patterns.
We also discussed food safety, farmers markets and generational differences in cooking knowledge. It was a fun evening and even I learned something new.
Vegan is hot! Food trucks are not!

I’ve heard for a very long time that there is no such thing as a coincidence! Ever since we read the book The Celestine Prophecy many years ago, my sister Jackie and I repeat that saying quite often.

So yesterday, as I opened up my Internet browser, I noticed that Google’s home page had an interesting image:


Ah – March 8th was International Women’s Day! You can read about the history of the holiday here, but I found it interesting that the United Nations theme this year is “Empower Women – End Hunger and Poverty.”

As I continued through the hundreds of emails that I received yesterday, I also discovered that March 8th is National Agriculture Day – a day when farmers, companies, government agencies and others join together to recognize the vital role of agriculture in our society.

For me, the fact that both these celebrations fall on the same day is a wonderful coincidence.

Growing up, when I thought of agriculture and farming, I always pictured male farmers out in the field. I thought of fathers passing the businesses on to their sons. I don’t think I ever imagined women playing a significant role at the farm level.

Well, now, I know better.

Not only were many of the family farms co-managed by husband and wife teams, but many of the daughters and granddaughters were raised to take on important roles in their family businesses.

At our annual produce industry convention in October, I had the good fortune of having two produce families stop by our booth for a visit. What is so interesting about these families is that both fathers were super proud that their daughters were joining them in their family businesses. (Because Frieda’s is still one of the few women-owned businesses in the produce industry, we often get introduced to young women in our industry so we can mentor and support them.)

Marchini Family

Here is the Joe Marchini Family, large growers of Radicchio — that bitter red lettuce — in Northern California. They also grow some amazing Marchini Almonds!

Reiter Family

And here is the Miles Reiter Family. Ever heard of or seen Driscoll’s Strawberries in your market? Well, Miles and his family are the primary growers and owners of Driscoll’s! Miles was especially proud that his two daughters have chosen to join him in their business.

My daughter, Alex, stopped by my office yesterday to ask me if I knew that March was Women’s History Month. In honor of this month, I want to share with you the women who have inspired me. Well, it’s no surprise that I didn’t have to look far…

Caplan Family of Frieda’s Inc.

My mother Frieda, and my sister, Jackie are two women who continue to inspire and support me. I hope you are as lucky as I am to have women in your life that inspire you every day!

Happy Women’s Day and Agriculture Day!


In the highly perishable business of fresh produce, time is not always our friend. Sometimes fruits and vegetables just won’t stand up to a cross-country shipment, or the size or appearance isn’t quite right for a particular customer.
So, what do we do with these unsalable items?
All food companies have excess product and, instead of dumping it, many of us have established regular donations to our local food banks. My mother, Frieda, established this practice at our company long ago.
There is also a fantastic organization called Share Our Selves through which many well-known and community-minded chefs and restaurateurs donate THEIR leftover foods. 
So, last week, we received a visit from the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. When the two ladies arrived, they announced that they were giving us an award for being the second largest donor of fresh produce in 2011! (The number one donor, Orange County Produce, is a close family friend of ours.)
From Left: Jackie Caplan Wiggins, Tricia Espinoza of Second Harvest, Frieda Caplan, Alex Jackson, and Karen Caplan

The award from Second Harvest – very cute!

As we were talking and taking photos, Frieda started recounting stories of how her friend Mickey Weiss really started the whole produce and food bank connection many years ago. Robert Strube was another produce industry leader involved in this movement.

Then, my sister Jackie and I couldn’t resist. We had to ask the burning question:
“Isn’t it kind of strange to be giving out exotic fruits and vegetables to homeless or hungry people? Do they have any challenges with that?”
And that’s when we learned about the most amazing thing…
Second Harvest goes to our website to print out recipes and information on Frieda’s exotic produce – to share with the donations as they are picked up at their Mobile Pantry events!  The food bank realized that many of the pantry visitors didn’t know how to prepare some of our more exotic donations. So now they include the printed information in their displays, and people are trying new things!
The Second Harvest Mobile Pantry program is pretty innovative. Here’s how it works:
Mobile Pantry trucks arrive at the designated parking lot and set up a mini-farmers market to distribute the food to the needy. People line up to “shop” for the food they need. You can see a short video here.
These Mobile Pantries are such an innovative way to share donated food, and because they are set up like farmers markets, it preserves the personal dignity of those who are in need of food.
If you know of any food company, restaurant or grocery store with non-salable edible food, I hope you will encourage them to contact their local food bank (which will pick up the food themselves). Or, here is a connection to a national network.
If you want to donate your time, or host a Mobile Pantry at your place of business or church, they are always looking for support.
As our company, Frieda’s, celebrates 50 years of Changing the Way America Eats Fruits and Vegetables, it feels good to know that we are helping those who cannot afford to buy fresh produce.
Doing good, by doing the right thing, feels good to all of us.