by Brendan M. Lynch | February 01, 2005

Getting food right is one of the trickiest challenges of event planning. Complicating matters is an endless stream of conflicting dietary news, which makes staying up-to-date on the latest dos and don’ts a must. What follows are five not-so-little secrets or myths about food that every menu planner should know.

Not-so Chilean sea bass
The first misconception about the famed Chilean sea bass concerns its name: There is no such thing, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. In fact, the fish is not a bass and is not caught exclusively in Chilean waters. “Chilean sea bass” is a term coined by marketers for upscale menus, where the white-meat fish has become increasingly popular.
    A more accurate name for this aquatic denizen is toothfish, which can live 50 years and weigh 200 pounds, usually caught in dark, icy waters near Antarctica.
    Another myth is that the Chilean sea bass is on the endangered species list kept by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. It is not. However, the Audubon Guide to Seafood says that due to poor fishery management and high demand, commercial extinction of the toothfish might occur by the end of 2005.

Raw sprouts: A raw deal?
Many believe raw sprouts represent the epitome of healthy eating because they are low in fats and calories while high in vitamins. Those crunchy little greens,  found in sandwiches, stir-frys and salads, are simply the germinating form of seeds (like alfalfa, broccoli or sunflower) or beans (such as kidney, navy, pinto and soy).
   However, starting in 1995, a series of illness outbreaks blamed on alfalfa and  clover sprouts have marred the food’s reputation. Mostly, the illnesses have involved the pathogenic bacteria salmonella and E. coli. In July 1999, the FDA went so far as to caution the public, “those persons who wish to reduce the risk of food-borne illness from sprouts are advised not to eat raw sprouts.”
    Consumers should cook sprouts and request that raw sprouts be left off their food when dining out or buying salads and sandwiches, according to the government health experts. Meeting planners also might want to leave sprouts off the menu.

Scuffle over truffles
According to an ancient myth, truffles were created when lighting struck the ground close to trees.
    Today, many people indulge a new myth when enjoying a dish flavored with the subterranean fungus: that the rare and precious truffle was excavated by a muddy-booted truffle-hunter and his trusty pig or dog, somewhere in “Old Europe.” Certainly, in Italy and France, truffles have been dug up for a thousand years by lone trifolao and their truffle-rooting animals, and this romantic notion has at times helped push the price of European white truffles to more than $100 per ounce.
    But today’s “truffles” are just as likely to have come from China, Tasmania or even North Carolina as they are from Piedmont or Périgord.
    The Chinese truffle is plentiful and therefore cheap, but it can be passed off as the more rare, expensive European variety by unscrupulous vendors. “China makes a truffle that sells for $30 per pound,” notes Peter Urbani, vice president with Urbani Truffles USA Ltd., the country’s largest truffle importer. “The look is the same, but the aroma and flavor are hideous. Some chefs will shave them and throw some truffle butter on there and call them truffles, but they’re not.”
    Truth is, many truffled dishes, so popular around Valentine’s Day, contain no fresh truffles whatsoever. Rather, many restaurants use prefabricated truffle butters, artificially flavored truffle oil and truffle essences to achieve that musky, earthy taste. Better replacements for the real deal include dried truffles and canned, sliced truffles marketed under the name truffle carpaccio.