Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cottonseed Biscuits.

There was much interest in the USA at the cusp of the twentieth century in the use of cottonseed as a food for humans. The concept seems to have been driven by a number of things including relative shortages of wheat and meat – especially as war moved from a possibility to a reality - and an entrepreneurial desire to convert waste to wealth.

The Mansfield Shield (Ohio) of April 16, 1915 had this to say:

“Not so many years back the cotton seed was considered of little or no value. It was left in great stacks in the fields and used as fertilizer …. It is now made into meal and hulls for livestock, oil for cooking, and flour for baking, as well as leaving something for fertilizer. The oil has numerous uses, even appearing in adulterations of ice cream.”

The idea of using cotton seed as food for humans seems to have started in Texas. A fifteen-page pamphlet originating in that state in 1910 noted that ‘cottonseed meal as a human food was proposed several years back.’ A apparently the idea gained early acceptance at the most important level. The Jeffersonian Gazette of March 9, 1910 told the story:

Cookies from Cotton Seed.
President Taft and Cabinet Sampled the Latest Offering in Line of Food Supply.
Washington, Mar. 12 – President Taft’s cabinet ate cookies made out of cottonseed flour. Secretary Dickinson provided the feast. It came to him from his nephew in Ennis, Texas. The nephew, Henry Lindsley, declared that J.W. Allen [sic], of Ennis, had been feeding his family on bread and cakes made from cottons eed flour for twenty years.
Mr. Lindsley saw in this new kind of food a chance to reduce the cost of living as well as provide another source of revenue for the South. He urged Mr Allison to make his secret public. Together they made a packing case full of bread, fruit cake, ginger bread, ginger snaps, cookies, pound cake and other pastries from the cotton seed flour and sent it to Washington.
The bread and cake tasted as good as the same articles made from wheat flour, and the cotton seed taste could not be detected. Mr Allison declares that the flour has more nutriment than wheat flour.

The value of cotton seed was in its high protein and fat content compared to wheat – so it was seen as more appropriate as a meat than a cereal substitute. It is mentioned in several publications as being used as food for German prisoners, and a commonly touted recipe was to include ¼ meal to ¾ meat in the making of sausages.

The limiting factor in the use of cotton seed as a food is that the seed contains tiny ‘glands’ filled with a yellow pigment called gossypol, which is poisonous to ‘monogastric’ animals such as pigs, rabbits, poultry – and humans. On the whole, however, the nutritional benefits of the high protein and high oil content of the seed was emphasised, and this small inconvenience of toxicity to consumers was avoided. One publication suggested that adults should have no more than three ounces of the flour in a day, which would hardly have assisted sales had it been on every packet of cotton seed flour.

The toxic pigment granules are no longer, apparently, a concern, as scientists have developed a ‘glandless’ seed. ‘Glandless’ cotton seed kernels can be boiled as a vegetable, roasted as a snack, and ‘texturized’ for use as a meat substitute. The oil is used in butter substitutes and salad oils, and the meal (flour) into bakery products, and no doubt with the ubiquity of corn syrup, in many, many other manufactured food products.

Recipe for the Day.

From a community cookery book published in Los Angeles in 1910, I give you a recipe for cottonseed flour biscuits.

Cottonseed Flour Biscuit.
One cup cottonseed flour, 1 cup wheat flour, 1 level teaspoon soda, 2 level teaspoons baking powder, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 tablespoons lard, ¾ cup buttermilk. Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in lard with a knife. Add milk slowly. Turn out on a floured board. Knead slightly. Roll out ½ inch thikc. Cut with a floured cutter.
Note. – If it is not convenient to use sour milk, sweet milk may be used by using 4 teaspoons baking powder instead of both soda and baking powder. Cottonseed flour is six times as nutritious as wheat flour and is good for all gastric troubles.
Magnolia Cook Book, 1910

Quotation for the Day.
The longer I work in nutrition, the more convinced I become that for the healthy person all foods should be delicious.
Adele Davis.


Les said...

This must be why some brands of sardines and smoked oysters are always packed in cottonseed oil. Bleech! I still eat them but it always reminds me of the big fuzzy mounds of cotton seeds left over after ginning.

The Old Foodie said...

I suspect cottonseed oil is a bit like corn syrup - it is in far more products than we realise.