Stillwater News Press


April 19, 2014

Seed to Table 04-20-14

Sometimes words can be confusing

Betanin (ba'tah-nin) and betaine (ba'tah-in) are two terms I encountered while working on a column about beets. However, a conversation I recently overheard, has prompted me to set that topic aside, and use this bit of information to lead into a consideration of “problematic word confusions.”

Betanin is the name of one of many pigments present in the beet, and is responsible for its red color. It is an interesting compound, and the subject of a whole industry.  Dried and beaten into a powder, or extracted chemically, it is marketed as a colorant for foods such as tomato paste and pizza toppings.

Betaine, on the other hand, is a common name for trimethylglycine, a form of the amino acid glycine, which occurs naturally in all cells – plant and animal. It is important in cellular metabolism, both to protect cells against changes in water/salt balance, and as a methyl donor in several metabolic pathways. It is actually prescribed as a treatment for several clinical conditions – including homocystinuria. It is no wonder then that a large food-supplement industry has grown up around it.

So those minor spelling differences in the terms betanin and betaine identify significantly different substances, which could be easily confused.

Back to that overheard conversation.

Recently, standing in a grocery store aisle, I overhear this exchange between a couple.  “What is MSG?” asked the man, reading from a package label. “Oh, that’s that genetic stuff” replied the woman very matter-of-factly. MSG and GMO: how easy it could be to confuse those two acronyms, yet they represent things even more different from each other than betanin from betaine.  

Setting aside for the moment the debate fueled by the fact that some people have a real sensitivity to this substance, MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a widely occurring natural form of the nonessential amino acid glutamic acid. The term nonessential does not mean that we don’t need it, it means that we don’t need to consume it in food because our body makes it.  In fact, it is critically essential to our body’s proper functioning – serving both as a structural component of proteins and as a neurotransmitter in the brain

On the other hand, the term GMO (genetically modified organism) refers to products made using crops (plant or animal) which have been genetically manipulated using one of a select few techniques for removing genes from one species and inserting them into another species. For example, inserting a gene isolated from bacteria, which confers resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup®), into corn – thereby conferring resistance to the herbicide to the corn plant.

My objective with this issue was not to define these four terms, nor to enter any debate concerning them, but to simply heighten awareness to the importance of reading labels (and other food related materials) very carefully, and then making sure we really understand what we’ve read. It is, perhaps, the most healthful things we can do in terms of nutrition.

Richard A. "Dick" Ortez earned a doctorate degree from Creighton University in microbiology. During the past 40 years, he has taught elements of food science at the university and medical school levels, operated a cafe, and run a truck farm and food processing business. He writes the Seed to Table column at his farm near Glencoe and welcomes questions, comments and suggestions sent to

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • In the Garden 07-27-14

    Quercus is the Latin name for oak. It is a quirky name; some believe its roots came from the Celtic word for “fine tree.” Anyone familiar with oaks knows they are indeed fine trees.

    July 26, 2014

  • Farmers Market

    The Stillwater Farmers Market is open every Monday at Stillwater Medical Center from 2-5:30 p.m. and every Wednesday and Saturday in Strickland Park at the corner of Hall of Fame Avenue and Main Street from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
    What’s at market this week?

    July 23, 2014

  • Grow! 07-20-14

    Roses are a beautiful addition to any garden and landscape. They come in a variety of colors that enhance your yard. However, like other plants, roses are susceptible to disease. One that seems to hit roses the hardest is rose rosette disease caused by the rose rosette virus.

    July 19, 2014

  • Seed to Table 07-20-14

    Weed control is an important part of food production. So, I recently undertook an effort to rid my pastures of a particularly noxious weed.

    July 19, 2014

  • In the Garden 07-20-14

    Mulch is full of purpose. What it lacks in mystery, it makes up in function. Mulch contributes to healthy gardens. No one ponders or debates it, yet many do not take the time to mulch.

    July 19, 2014

  • Farmers Market 07-17-14

    The Stillwater Farmers Market is open every Monday at Stillwater Medical Center from 2-5:30 p.m. and every Wednesday and Saturday in Strickland Park from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

    July 17, 2014

  • Grow! 07-13-14

    If you have no space outdoors for a garden, don’t despair because you can still grow something consumable. Bean sprouts are the easiest and fastest crop to grow.

    July 13, 2014

  • In the Garden 07-13-14

    “Where’s the relief?” That is what I’ve been thinking all week in the garden. I water, wondering if the mist is going to cool or cook the plants. I assumed the last thing anyone would consider this week is planting — anything!

    July 13, 2014

  • Farmers Market 07-10-14

    What’s at market this week?
    Fruits and veggies: Bell peppers, beets, blackberries, cabbage, carrots, collards, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, green beans, jalapenos, leeks, new potatoes, onions, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes and watermelon
    Baked goods: Biscotti, cakes, cinnamon rolls, cookies, muffins, pies, scones and turnovers

    July 10, 2014

  • Grow! 07-06-14

    Sometimes it can be hard to step out of your comfort zone. This is true for clothing selection, restaurant choices and even the types of plants and shrubs you put in your landscape.

    July 5, 2014

Buy & Share Photos
NewsPress e-Edition
NewsPress Specials
AP Video
Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast New Sanctions on Key Sectors of Russian Economy Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue
NDN Video
Weird 'Wakudoki' Dance Launches Promotional Competition Sadie Doesn't Want Her Brother to Grow Up Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts Broken Water Main Floods UCLA "Maxim" Hotness! See Jessica Alba's Sizzling Spread Two women barely avoid being hit by train Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber Reportedly Came To Blows In Ibiza Meet the Man Behind Dumb Starbucks Chris Pratt Adorably Surprises Kids at a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Screening NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH)
Must Read