Shopping for Health: Undercover writers seek immunity-boosting fruits and vegetables
Originally printed in the March 2021 issue of Produce Business.
The COVID-19 pandemic has surely spawned two mega trends as it relates to produce: More people are cooking and eating at home, and more shoppers are seeking immunity-boosting fruits and vegetables that ward off diseases. This renewed public interest in health and wellness especially bodes well for our industry, as retailers now have great capacity to provide the raw ingredients in higher demand than ever.
But when shoppers are confronted with questions on what to do with newer items they have never cooked with, how do they find the answers?
In addition to the wealth of knowledge found on the Internet and in other media outlets, the one source of information often relied upon is at point of sale — speaking with produce associates in the stores.
With this in mind, we gave our “undercover shoppers” two recipes loaded with fruits and vegetables known to increase immunity, including turmeric, kale, spinach, berries, mushrooms and onions, to name a few. We sent them out to a variety of retailers across the country looking for answers as to what provides better health and what can a typical shopper do to find and consume healthy fruits and vegetables.
MYSTERY SHOPPER 1: UPSTATE NEW YORK
Nutritional Content of Wild Mushrooms
Arriving at this nearly 200-store chain, based in the Northeast, one gets an instant introduction to a vast produce section with sharp, state-of-the-art merchandising, close to 6,000 square feet in size and bracketed by open cold cases that hold both refrigerated and wet displays. What’s particularly interesting is the range of produce that the store holds under refrigeration, including citrus and fruit, such as apples, much of which overlaps with what’s offered in the abundant floor displays both in bulk and rack waterfall fixtures.
In an area known for their cultivation, this store offers a considerable array of varietal New York apples conspicuously displayed in the refrigerated cases on two-foot wide shelves curved at the end and designed in such a way as to spill toward the passing shoppers hand.
Across the department, on an interior wall were more cold cases offering juices and organic produce, overwhelmingly fruit, under signage that read We’re Making Health an Everyday Thing.
On arrival, two produce staffers worked the department. When asked about nutrition as regards mushrooms, one staffer asserted that wild mushrooms would be a better selection than cultivated and pointed out the larger display of product. The second staffer queried about nutrition and health was even more eager to help. When the conversation came to baby spinach, for example, he led the way to the multiple displays of baby spinach available and delineated between what the store offered in clamshells and the fresh bulk product, particularly organic.
He addressed the nutritional qualities of the two alternatives to someone who hoped to use diet and the introduction of more produce, including items not previously purchased, into a healthy eating regime.
“The organic is no-GMO or sprayed,” according to the staffer. “If you are looking for more nutrition, I’d say the organic would be considered the more nutritional of the two. But, being a green, no matter what, it’s considered nutritional.”
He also pointed out that the store-brand organic available was at a better price than the conventional alternative at the time of the store visit.
How Many Limes Does it Take to Make Lime Juice?
Right from the start, this store ensures shoppers know they mean business in produce with a roughly 5,500 square foot department. The store, which is one of several banners of this midsize New England chain, offers an upscale approach to fresh and prepared food.
Right at the entrance, shoppers on the day of visit encountered a table display of citrus backed by an eight-foot-wide cold case of branded and store-processed cut fruit and related items and, next to that, a large presentation of berries. Along the wall to the right, cold cases started out with 16 feet of packaged salads alongside eight feet of dressings.
Approached for assistance, the lone produce department staffer was immediately helpful, providing assistance on filling the ingredients for a recipe, for example, offering guidance on how many limes it would take to get eight ounces of juice (he guessed it would take eight limes), and he also suggested that the department carries bottles of lime juice as an alternative.
As was the case with each store, responding to queries about how items in the produce department might prevent disease, word was that turmeric wasn’t available. The staffer was helpful in pointing out ginger but didn’t offer much input in a discussion of what was and wasn’t supposed to be preventative of disease.
‘I’m Googling It!’
Located in an old strip mall, this store — part of a mid-size Northeast chain stretching down to Pennsylvania — stood its ground inside as it had been recently refurbished.
The location was only half or so as large as the other stores, with the produce department only about 1,500 square feet in size. On entrance, to the right, was a 12-foot cold case display of bouquets with four feet of juice blends, kombucha and four feet of cider. Then came four feet of branded fresh-cut fruit, an equally sized spread of store-cut fruit, four feet of berries, four feet of grapes. Citrus came in 12 feet with some pears, apples and stone fruit thrown in.
The next section of the cold case held loose apples with some bagged at the bottom, and 16 feet of vegetables including peppers, turnips, corn and squash came next. The upper part of the case was just lightly refrigerated, but the bottom contained misted goods.
Although no one was available immediately, customer service paged a staffer to help with some questions. When she arrived, the employee turned out not to be a full-time produce employee but was very helpful and clever in handling inquiries. For example, when asked about the availability of turmeric and unsure of what turmeric was, she immediately responded, “I’m Googling it.”
Although the store didn’t have it, she was quick, when asked, to use the Internet to find the answers to questions about the disease-prevention and nutritional qualities of produce items. On the relative nutritional value of sweet onions versus other onion varieties, she came up with an answer: “It says they’re rich in vitamin C, chromium, folate and fiber… nutrients a lot of people don’t get daily.”
The helpful employee also determined that red and yellow onions are richer in antioxidants, and was able to inform that the store only offered wild mushrooms in season, although it had them in dried packaged form. But she added, “One thing I do know… most produce, you can’t go wrong with.”
MYSTERY SHOPPER 2: MID-ATLANTIC REGION
Knowledgeable About Mushroom, Spinach and Sweet Onions
I walked into the main entrance of the supermarket — a popular high-end grocery chain for middle to upper middle class — and was instantly greeted by socially distanced staff members who were wiping down shopping carts and restocking the pasta display. Once I passed the second staff member, I was at the entrance of the produce section where there was a sanitizing station.
There were several masked employees helping customers, restocking fruits and vegetables, and two who were cleaning the floors. I walked down the center of the produce section and saw a young man heading to another side. I stopped him and explained that I had two new recipes I wanted to try out, but had a few questions.
He smiled, introduced himself as Anthony and proceeded to ask me about some of the ingredients I needed. I began with a spinach and mushroom quiche recipe that called for sliced fresh mixed mushrooms. I asked Anthony if there was a nutritional difference between wild and farm-raised and what types of vitamins are commonly found in them.
“I feel like that’s an easy choice, because I don’t even think we carry fresh mixed wild mushrooms. If you follow me, I can walk you over to our fresh mushroom section and go over a few options with you,” said Anthony.
I followed and saw a wide array of mushrooms, from portabella, oyster and shiitake. He assured me that he would find what I was looking for and grabbed a small mixed wild mushroom pack and said, “I noticed your recipe said you would need eight ounces, so I grabbed this one for you because it has all of the suggested mushrooms included.”
“There’s not really a difference between wild and farm-raised,” Anthony said. “They just put the organic or farm-raised mushrooms through more tests and screen them a little more.”
He noted that this process was the same for the fresh baby spinach I needed. He even pointed out that he wasn’t sure if this grocery chain was even allowed to buy “regular” baby spinach, as the product was only found in the organic section. Anthony said I couldn’t go wrong with organic spinach and that it had plenty of Vitamins C, K and B9. “If you’re also looking to add a healthy amount of iron to any future recipe, you should consider spinach,” Anthony added.
One of the most impressive things about this shopping experience was when I asked for help with fresh thyme. I mentioned that I wasn’t familiar with fresh and couldn’t tell what warning signs to look for, as to not purchase a bundle going bad. Anthony, who was getting questions from other customers, assured me that he would teach me the main things to look for.
We went to the opposite side of the produce section and he picked out four different bundles of thyme. He showed me the firmness of the first one and noted the vibrant hunter green shade it had. Then he showed me the second option, which had a few yellow and brown sections.
“You can see that this one is softer and has an off smell to it. These are signs that it will go bad within a few hours or days,” Anthony said. “I’m going to remove it from the shelve so that no one has the misfortune of picking it in a rush when it is not our best quality.”
By the third option, I was more confident in spotting the fresher thyme. Anthony then asked if I needed help finding fresh sweet onions, as they were also on my list. I agreed and he walked me over to the center of the department and showed me the variety of onions.
“When it comes to onions, you can take your pick of sweet or regular. It’s important to know that sweeter onions have more sugar in them and they caramelize very well,” he said. “Vidalia onions are our most popular sweet onions.”
He wasn’t sure where they came from this time of year when I asked him and said, “If I were to guess it would probably be farther south.”
Anthony asked if he could help me find the other items on my list and, when I declined, he thanked me for coming in and shopping with them before going to help another customer.
“Pesticides in All Fruit”
As I entered this store, which is part of a nationwide chain serving a variety of income levels, I realized that there were no carts available and that the staff was scattered about. I turned left and walked into the produce section. It took me approximately five minutes to find a produce employee who was willing to help me on my search for fresh options. I worked with a young man named Richard who was kind and apologized for the delay.
We began with finding items for a berry turmeric smoothie. I asked him about the variety of berries that I needed and asked if the fruit was safe to eat, given the pesticides used. He assured me that I would be fine eating any of the berries as long as I washed them properly.
“Honestly there are pesticides in all fruits, but berries need special attention before you eat them,” said Richard. “I always advise customers to soak the berries in warm water with a little vinegar and salt for about 20 to 30 minutes.”
I asked if the fruit would taste like vinegar, because that is a taste I’m not fond of. He replied by saying that his mother always washed berries this way and he does it too and hasn’t noticed an off taste.
We moved onto kale; I mentioned I needed fresh, and he was puzzled and asked why I didn’t just want to use a cheaper alternative of bagged spinach. I said this was on the list of ingredients and I wanted to follow the recipe. However I was curious and asked him why kale was so much more expensive and popular.
“Kale has really been on the rise in the past few years, and it is a meatier green when it comes to vegetables,” Richard said. “There is a slight difference in taste, but most people wouldn’t really notice the difference if you replaced it with spinach. Since you aren’t as familiar with it, you want to make sure you pick one with firm leaves. If it’s going bad, the leaves will be falling apart or off and it will be very soft to the touch.”
“When You Start With Fresh You Stay With Fresh”
My final stop was at a popular store that is part of a local chain found in most southern states servicing the middle class. I noticed that the parking lot was almost full and that the delivery pickup was bustling. There were plenty of shoppers at this store, many of whom brought their children. I grabbed a cart outside, and, when I entered, a masked associate handed me a sanitizing wipe to clean the handle before going further into the supermarket.
I thanked the associate and asked where the produce section was, as this store was recently remodeled. She pointed to the far right of the store and said it was in the front by the other entrance. I walked over and didn’t see any employees in the area. I walked over to the dairy section and asked one of the workers if there was anyone who could help me with fresh produce.
One older man said he would grab someone more knowledgeable and that I should wait in that section. A few moments went by and he appeared with an older woman who guided me back to the produce section. Her name was Hannah.
“I see you have a recipe there. How may I help?”
I told her I was excited to try this berry turmeric smoothie but didn’t have any experience with a few of the items, like fresh ginger and turmeric. She assured me that it’s common for most people to buy ground ginger and powdered turmeric. I asked her if the two were similar and if they had a strong taste when fresh.
“I know that both come from Asia and are commonly used in Asian dishes. I’m surprised you want to blend them into a smoothie,” Hannah said. “Ginger is on the tangy side and turmeric gives off a bright yellow color and is somewhat bitter.”
I asked if there were any methods to cut the bitterness of the turmeric. She said I could slice it thinly and add half of the recommended amount. When I commented on the shape of the fresh ginger, she laughed and said “this is why people usually don’t buy it fresh.”
“I know it looks a little odd, but it’s really not that bad to use. All you have to do is scrape off the skin with a spoon — yes a spoon — and it works, before you take a sharp knife and cut,” Hannah said.
She looked at my list and saw that I needed 1½ cups of frozen mixed berries. She instantly said that I should stick with fresh. When I asked her why, she simply said, “When you start with fresh, you stay with fresh.”
When I asked her about the dangers of pesticides and if it was safe to eat fresh or frozen berries she had an interesting response.
“I’ve been around for a while, and you can’t be protected from every little thing. Just be sure to wash off your fruit no matter if it’s fresh or not,” she said. “If you don’t and you end up feeling stomach pains, then that will serve as a lesson to wash it with more detail, but those chances are rare.”
She mentioned I should come back and let her know how the smoothie turned out, and we ended up talking about her experience with produce. She said her parents had a small farm and she knew how to grow several fruits and vegetables and, since she had retired from nursing, it was great to have the chance to educate customers about what they put into their bodies.
MYSTERY SHOPPER 3 – NORTHWEST FLORIDA
A shopper clueless about finding the right ingredients to make a healthy recipe would be welcomed inside the produce department at this major Southeastern grocery chain’s store. In the age of COVID, the department’s floors were clean. At the store entrance, a standalone container dispenses hand sanitizing wipes.
Four employees, all socially distanced and wearing masks, were working the department and were easy to find. After finishing talking with another customer, the writer talked with one of the associates, who provided a wealth of information on produce commodities needed for a healthy quiche recipe.
The produce associate gave solid tips and pointed to similar items on sale that would work as well, i.e., precut specialty mushrooms or a lower-priced stuffed mushroom recipe. Squeezed refrigerated ginger might be more convenient than shaving the root. Many customers inquire about the different types of mushrooms, but he said portabellas are the ones to eat because when dining on them, one almost forgets they’re eating mushrooms.
In the bagged lettuce area, the associate showed organic kale and said kale and baby spinach are displayed in two to three refrigerated displays, in bunched and bagged. He advised purchasing the packs on sale. Like a newborn cow, baby spinach is younger and more tender than older product, he said.
Moving to the onion display, the staffer explained how the flat-shaped Peruvian sweet onions work well in the recipe vs. other globe-shaped sweets. “They may be harder to slice, as they’re paper-thin flat, but the flatter they are, the sweeter they are,” he said. The associate said Vidalias would begin in late April.
“Willing To Help”
After securing shopping carts from this national chain store, shoppers instantly find themselves on the edge of the produce department.
The department featured large displays. Signs were all noticeably preprinted. One sign only stated the commodity’s price, but not the type of oranges. A good point was the store’s promotion of the state’s produce. Large banners promoted supporting local farmers’ produce. This was immediately apparent in a large display of the state’s vegetables.
Three associates were busy working the department and unloading carts of produce. To get questions answered, a shopper had to approach them. The floors could’ve been better swept, but included stickers recommending shoppers maintaining social distance. The department abuts the deli and bakery.
One of the workers was helpful but didn’t seem to possess a lot of knowledge about some of the store’s produce. On a question about whether organics are healthier to eat because of pesticides applied to conventional berries, he didn’t really know, but pointed to an area of organic greens in clamshells.
The associate showed the store’s locations of kale in the refrigerated and misting aisle. When asked about the health attributes of kale, the produce associate said he wasn’t sure why it is considered healthy or why it is so popular, but that the store sells a lot of it. The worker said he is constantly refilling the kale. He admitted he doesn’t eat kale but said it’s good with salads. A lot of people like it, he stated.
The produce associate appeared to not know much about fresh vs. ground ginger and turmeric. He couldn’t point to the fresh version, which may not have been available, and referred to the spice area. On how many limes would be required to squeeze a cup of fresh lime juice for the smoothie recipe, he wasn’t sure but recommended buying a bag of limes. He also pointed to containers of lime juice.
While not entirely knowledgeable about all the produce items, the produce clerk was friendly and open. He said he doesn’t receive a lot of customer inquiries about recipes. “I’m here to help,” he said.
Enthusiastic Produce Associate
The sole produce associate working the department of this regional midsize chain on this weekday afternoon was highly responsive and willing to help customers find the items they needed to prepare their recipes.
I inquired about making smoothies with root vegetables and berries. For ease of preparation, the produce worker recommended buying prepackaged smoothie mixes in the frozen aisle. She admitted she sometimes buys frozen berries when she doesn’t feel like making from scratch, which she prefers.
While the store was temporarily out of bagged kale, it was available in bunched form in the wet racks, one of the refrigerated aisles which formed the department’s border from the rest of the store.
Kale and baby spinach possess high health attributes, the associate stated. Her grandfather battled cancer by juicing rainbow kale, she added. While he found kale’s taste a bit bitter, it helped tremendously, she said.
While the associate pointed out the spice aisles that had containers of ground ginger and turmeric, she recommended purchasing squeezed refrigerated ginger in the produce section. This convenient produce item is displayed in a refrigerated corner adjacent to the herbs section.
The fresh-squeezed version would provide a fresher taste and make for more convenient preparation, she said. The store also sells ginger root, and the clerk explained how one would need to peel and cut it. While she admitted she doesn’t use a lot of ginger, the store sells a lot of it.
Interestingly, the store doesn’t offer fresh turmeric. The associate recommended buying the powdered form. Both roots are highly healthy, she stated.
On pesticide use on berries, the associate admitted she wasn’t an expert on the topic. While the store sells organic berries, more customers prefer conventional.
MYSTERY SHOPPER 4 – MIDWEST REGION
Helpful but Uninformed
I visited an upscale supermarket chain in a Chicago suburb that is a popular retailer in this region. It is well-known for an extensive produce selection, including organic fruits and vegetables as well as locally grown items. This chain also offers fresh-pressed juices that are made on site; customers can either go to the kiosk within the store to order a custom blend or choose from pre-made juices in the produce department.
As I walked in the door, abundant displays of fruits and vegetables greeted me straight away. The department was absolutely bustling due to it being a weekend afternoon. However, I was able to ask one employee, a young woman who was restocking the bagged salads, where I could find wild mushrooms. She asked, “What kind are you looking for?”
I explained, “Cremini or shiitake would do, unless there are others you’d recommend.” She simply pointed to the open case across the wall and replied, “All of our mushrooms are over there by the jarred garlic.” Then proceeded to continue stocking the shelf.
I saw another employee, an older woman, who seemed to be imparting her knowledge of the department on a younger male counterpart. “Excuse me, do you have fresh turmeric and ginger?” I asked her. She smiled, had a very gracious demeaner, and replied, “Absolutely, here I’ll show you where it is.” She then led me over to the open case, in the area by the mushrooms.
I then commented how I had never cooked with fresh turmeric or fresh ginger. “Do you know how to use these?” I asked her. She smiled and chuckled, “No, I really don’t. I typically buy it in the spice aisle.” I said, yes, that sounded easier, and I’d do that instead.
Then I asked, “By the way, where would I find the baby spinach?” And she again led me to the section, which was on the back wall in a closed refrigerated case. She was quite helpful but not very knowledgeable about ingredient use. I thanked her and resumed shopping.
I visited a big box store that is my go-to for not only groceries, but houseware items, toiletries, pet food and a wide range of other necessities due to the affordable price points and close proximity to my home. As it was a weekend afternoon, the store was chock full of customers filling their carts for the week.
The produce department here is very hit-and-miss. I’ve visited during a weekday and am routinely confronted with empty displays, overripe fruit and vegetables and missing items. For example, there have been times only organic bananas are available or all of the ones being offered are far from being ripe.
This being a weekend, the department was fully stocked with towering displays. However, it was not one of the cleaner days, as there were stems, skins and remnants of peppers, onions, lettuce and other vegetables scattered around the floor beneath the displays.
It did take me some time to locate a produce department employee, but I found a younger woman who seemed to be scanning items on her cart. “Excuse me, do you carry wild mushrooms?” I asked. She looked somewhat annoyed that I interrupted her, then looked around the department, before pointing to the open refrigerated display against the wall. “They’re over there,” she said, pointing in the direction of the mushrooms. “
And do you also have fresh turmeric here?” I asked again. She looked at me quizzically, and I thought she wasn’t clear on what I was looking for. She then shook her head slowly back and forth, “I don’t think so.”
I searched around for another produce department employee but could not find anyone else to assist me. Although this store definitely carried the basics, they did not have an extensive selection of organic products or more unique items like the fresh turmeric and ginger. It would be difficult to make this a one-stop-shop for recipes that had ingredients like these.
It also was not intuitively laid out, so it was necessary to make multiple rounds around the department to find what I was looking for. It didn’t help that the displays were tall, blocking my view of what was behind it.
How to Pronounce Turmeric
Late on a Sunday night about an hour before closing, I visited this more upscale national chain that I go to weekly. It is not convenient to my home but near my yoga class. I was in Zen mode as I made my way into the sparsely-populated building, which anchors a large outdoor shopping mall.
I didn’t see any employees right away, but I did notice the small produce department was not adequately stocked. It did have a prominent, yet picked over, display geared for St. Patrick’s Day, with potatoes, carrots and cabbage. Despite the lack of product, the display was enticing and pulled me in briefly in anticipation for the upcoming holiday.
After making the rounds seeking a few of my chosen ingredients, I noticed a younger man rearranging, but not restocking, the strawberries and blueberries. It looked like he was trying to keep busy without really accomplishing anything. I had to watch for a minute to confirm that he worked there, as he had on gloves but no apron or apparel that quickly identified him as a store employee.
“Excuse me, do you carry fresh turmeric and ginger?” I asked. He politely corrected my pronunciation, saying, “I’m not sure that we have fresh turmeric, but here…” he led me over to the open air cooler nearby, “is the last of the fresh ginger,” he said, holding up one last root.
I then asked him if the mushrooms that were by the ginger were wild, as I needed wild mushrooms for a quiche I was preparing. “Is there a certain type of wild mushroom the recipe calls for?” he asked. I said the recipe didn’t specify and asked if those on display would be considered wild. Then he said, “Let me go check with someone about the wild mushrooms. Just keep shopping, and I will find you.”
After he left to confer with a store manager, I assumed, I looked around the produce department a bit more. What was on display looked fresh, and the majority of the items were organic and on the pricier side. While the fruit was mostly in island displays dispersed throughout the small space, the vegetables were against the wall in the open air cooler, with the majority prepackaged.
It was probably three minutes later that the employee came back to apologize that customer service was closed on Sunday evenings, so he couldn’t answer my question, but if I came back the next day, they would be able to assist. “Just go right up to the customer service desk, and they can help answer any question you have,” he said.
This employee was very cordial and went out of his way to provide an answer, then also was adamant about me coming back to confer with customer service, as they would be of great assistance. He went above and beyond with his customer service.
MYSTERY SHOPPER 5 — PACIFIC NORTHWEST
Allergic to Mushrooms
I arrived at a national supermarket chain that is notorious for its selection of food, general merchandise and specialty departments such as a bakery, florist, deli, pharmacy and fuel center. The smell of Starbucks coffee wafted through the air as we entered through the sliding glass doors. The floor was relatively empty for a Sunday afternoon, the aisles occupied with one or two lone shoppers.
Compared to other grocery stores I have visited, I am most fond of this chain’s intuitive and spacious layout. All of the perishable food items were neatly lined against the walls of the store, while non-perishable foods and toiletries took up the center aisles. Large signs indicating the sections occupied the walls, making it seemingly impossible to get lost.
With wide aisles and spread out produce displays, I had no issues keeping my distance from other shoppers, something that remains top-of-mind amidst the pandemic.
As we admired the delectable selection of fresh greens, an employee approached us with a smile plastered across his face. “Do you folks need help finding anything?” the man said cheerfully, as he set down a bag of potatoes.
Yes! I was wondering what the difference is between shiitake mushrooms and other mushrooms?” The man chuckled. “I’m sorry, but I’m deathly allergic to mushrooms. I wish I could help, but I’ve never had one.”
I snickered at the employee’s candid response. “I can answer any other questions about fresh produce; I swear I’m not allergic to anything else,” the employee joked motioning to the display of fresh tomatoes. I let out another laugh, admiring the employee’s quirky, yet amiable disposition. “Is there a significant difference in flavor between sweet onions and yellow, white or red onions?” I asked.
“Sweet onions have a more neutral flavor profile than yellow or white onions. White onions have the sharpest flavor of the three, while yellow and red onions can be used more interchangeably,” he explained, noticeably excited to share his knowledge.
I was impressed by the employee’s eloquent and detailed response. His enthusiasm throughout our interaction and familiarity with the product provided me with everything I needed to feel confident in my purchasing decision. This store’s clear commitment to customer centricity earned them a loyal customer, while turning my shopping experience from good to great.
Turmeric’s Anti-Inflammatory Properties
I visited a grocery chain known for its unique selection of private label products. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by an associate manning the door who waved me in, providing me with a cart, disinfectant wipe and warm greeting as I entered through the red sliding doors.
Despite having capacity limits, the store was packed with shoppers completing their Sunday afternoon grocery haul. Immediately, my eyes were drawn to the bright, tropical walls lined with fresh produce.
After looking around for my ingredients in the expansive produce section, I decided to approach an employee who appeared to be around my age. The crowded environment clearly flustered the young store associate, as she attempted to check prices a selection of fresh juices while keeping an eye on the customers who weren’t maintaining social distances.
“Excuse me, do you know if turmeric is good to put in smoothies? Does it improve immune health?”
The employee placed the gallon of juice back on the shelf as she turned to engage me. “I love putting turmeric in my smoothies. It’s a great anti-inflammatory. I’m not sure if it helps with immunity, but it has a lot of health benefits.” Her friendly, calm demeanor put me at ease amidst the sea of carts.
“Could I use turmeric as an alternative to ginger and vice versa?” I asked, holding up a small clamshell of small turmeric roots for the employee to see. I could tell my question caught her off-guard, as she took a moment to gather her thoughts.
“I think it would be a good alternative in a smoothie. As far as making a sauce or seasoning, I’m not sure. They’re both bitter, but the flavor is slightly different.” she timidly responded. I proceeded to thank her for her time as I pushed my cart toward check out.