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High in nutrition, low in calories? But wait, there’s more ...

April, 2010

You may have seen Almonde DeGout wandering through the underground city last week. And you may have seen me with him.

We were the two guys slowly walking through the food court under the Eatons Centre – the largest food court in North America – at lunch hour. It was busy and Almonde is the kind of guy you could easily miss: mid-40s, about six feet tall, slim and slightly bent over as he walks. His grey hair is thick but looked like a hat had been sitting on his head too long. He was wearing steel-rim glasses and had on a long unbuttoned black coat. The only thing that made him stand out was that he held a large black box, about the size of a briefcase, in front of him.

The box had a white cloth, similar to thick layers of cheesecloth, on the front and if you were as close to it as I was, you could hear a small fan purring inside.

Almonde sniffed the air. “It’s a good day for harvesting,” he said.

The theory behind scent harvesting is simple. Almonde – and he isn’t the only one – believes that the molecules we smell also contain nutritional elements, particularly minerals and vitamins. It is these ethers that give broiled meat, steamed vegetables, baked apples and other cooked foods their characteristic smells.

“Each food has a different composition. That’s obvious,” he said. “But what isn’t obvious is that they smell differently because they are still different, even the molecules that are released in the cooking process are different.”

Almonde, who has a PhD from the University of Geneva and teaches nutritional cantonation, believes that while the nutritional elements are usually so small as to be insignificant, in certain conditions they can reach a profound density.

So here we were, slowly walking by Basha, Quinzos and other fast-food stands. The smells were heavy in the air as we sniffed kebabs from Kojax, stir fry from Thai Express, tomato and garlic from Panini Pizza Pasta. Almonde held his box and we walked for about an hour.

The fan was pulling in food vapours. I was salivating, but Almonde wouldn’t stop for a bite.

By 1:30, he said it was enough. We sat in a quiet corner near Aqua Lunch, where he thought the smells would be least provocative. He took a Thermos of mineral water from a coat pocket and a small, clear, deep plastic dish that was clipped to the inside of the box. He put on surgical gloves, removed the cheesecloth and put it in the dish. He poured the water through it, let it sit for 15 minutes and then squeezed it back into the Thermos. The water now had a slightly reddish hue.

“It’s high in vitamins,” he said. “If it was minerals, it would be grey. A high concentration of calcium, zinc and magnesium can even leave the water white. Protein, very hard to capture, is more umber.”

He put a small amount into a glass vial for later analysis and then, to my surprise, he drank the rest.

“I estimate that this will give me all of the vitamins I would need for a day. Except D, which comes from the sun. But this food court is laden with A,C, folic acid, and E. Also a little bit of K, from those leafy vegetables at the salad bars.”

Because of its many underground food courts and its diverse ethnic population, Montreal is one of the best places to capture nutrition from the air, Almonde said. “In the States, it is only fried food and tortillas. Here is something very special and you should preserve it.”

Almonde is not his real name. It’s the one he uses for blogging. His capturing device is still in beta testing. He would like to make it the size of a pack of cards.

“That way, everyone could get nutrition just by walking around. In another year or two, I think I can bring it to that and make it at least twice as sensitive. Imagine walking around for half an hour a day and getting most of the vitamins and minerals you need. I can tell you that certain pharmaceutical companies are not very happy with me.”

As healthy as it is (nutrition yes, calories no), the one thing Almonde’s briefcase won’t give me is something that I really want: flavour, especially when it comes to dessert. So, in the spirit of the month, an English classic: A Raspberry Fool

Take 400 grams of fresh or defrosted raspberries. Mash them through a strainer to remove the seeds. Put them in a bowl and mix in a tablespoon of sugar. Taste. If they are still very tart, add another spoonful of sugar and mix well.

Whip a cup of whipping cream with a teaspoon of vanilla and two more tablespoons of sugar. Whip until it forms peaks and then mix the fruit into it. It smells great.

If you are like Almonde, you might be content to just sniff in the vitamins. Me, I’ll go for the fool.

Happy April Fools!



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