Beggar’s Night Favorites

Usually when we think about agriculture, we think about all of the healthy fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and grains that we eat. But nearly all food comes from agriculture – even our indulgences like candy!

According to, Iowa’s most favorite Halloween Candy is Reese’s Cups. Second and third place contenders are M&Ms and Butterfingers.



Let’s break these down and look at the agriculture that helped make these sweet treats.

Reese’s Cups
It is no surprise that the three most popular candies are chocolate. Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa powder, milk, cocoa butter, milk fat, soy lecithin, sugar, and maybe a little salt. We discussed chocolate and how it comes from the cacao bean before. Milk and milk fats come from dairy cows. Chocolate comes in a wide variety. Different types of chocolates have different amounts of these core ingredients. Dark chocolate will have a higher ratio of cocoa powder than milk chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t have any cocoa powder – only the cocoa butter. Milk chocolate is somewhere in the middle.

Soy lecithin you may not be familiar with. Lecithin are fatty compounds that can come from plant or animal sources (eggs, cotton seeds, etc.). Soy is abundantly produced in Iowa, throughout the Midwest, and throughout the world which is why soy lecithin is found in so many of our foods. It acts as a great emulsifier that helps oils and water stay mixed in our food products. Just a small amount goes a long way to helping improve the texture, appearance, and shelf life of food.

Peanuts are the second main ingredient in Reese’s Cups. Despite the name, they are not nuts at all. They don’t grow on trees like almonds, walnuts, or pistachios. They are grown underground! They are legumes and related to beans and peas. What we know as peanuts are produced as part of the root structure of the peanut plant. Legumes are important in agriculture because they host bacteria in the soil that help turn nitrogen into nitrates. Plants use nitrates in soil to stay healthy. Peanuts and other legumes are used in crop rotation to help keep soils healthy. Peanuts can be roasted, boiled, and also ground into peanut butter.

The term “sugar” can be used to either refer specifically to sucrose or it can be used generally to refer to all simple sugars (lactose, glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, etc.). chocolatiers may use any of these sugars to sweeten their chocolate. Most commonly, sugar comes from sugar beets grown in the upper Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana) or sugar cane grown in more tropical climates (like Florida).

Reese’s Cups also use another sweetener called dextrose. Dextrose is a simple sugar obtained most often from corn (field corn,  not sweet corn), but can be obtained from other sources as well, such as wheat, sorghum, and tapioca.


The primary ingredient is of course chocolate. It is a slightly different ratio of cocoa powder, milk, and sugar, etc. but it has all of the same component parts. What makes M&Ms fun and unique is their colorful candy shells. To get the right appearance and to not let the candy shell mix with chocolate center, the chocolate is sprinkled with a little bit of cornstarch. Cornstarch (from field corn) acts as a moisture barrier to keep the candy shell crunchy and not mix with the chocolate. The shells are then made from a little corn syrup, dextrin, food colorings, and gum acacia.


The flakey buttery center of Butterfinger candy is a mix of corn syrup, sugar, ground roasted peanuts, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, molasses, confectioner’s corn flakes, salt, soybean oil, and cornstarch. You can see a common theme in these candies (chocolate, sugar, etc.). The molasses, corn syrup, and peanut butter are all mixed together. Molasses comes from sugar beet or sugar cane juice that is boiled down until it yields a thick, dark syrup. It can also be made from sorghum, dates, or pomegranate.

The sticky rich mixture is poured over confectioner’s corn flakes. These are not like the breakfast cereal. They are small pieces of field corn that have been rolled flat and dried. The corn flakes provide the candy the crispity-crunchity texture. Finally chocolate is poured over the center filling. Check out the video on how Butterfingers are made.

As you can see, a lot of the ingredients used in these candies come from Iowa and Midwest agriculture. Corn syrup, corn starch, and corn flakes from field corn. Sugar and molasses from sugar beets. Soy lecithin and soy oil from soybeans. And milk! No wonder Iowans like these sweet treats.

Of course these candies probably can be considered a part of a healthy diet. So don’t overindulge. But we hope you enjoy Beggar’s Night and have a Happy Halloween!


What’s Cooking? Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops

October is National Pork Month, or “Porktober”! This is a great time to celebrate, because Iowa produces more pork than any other state in the U.S. About 1/3 of all pork in the U.S. comes from Iowa!

If you would like to celebrate, there are some good ways for you to do so. One, is to make this easy and delicious pork chop recipe. The star of the show is, of course, the thick, Iowa pork chops, but there are some also great co-stars, like Parmesan cheese, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Many of the ingredients are not widely produced in Iowa, like pepper, paprika, and garlic. To me, that just shows how fortunate we are to have established trade systems, so we can combine the things we do have close to home (like pork chops) with delicious things found abroad (like olive oil, paprika, and garlic).

To walk through the recipe and to learn more about each ingredient, watch this quick video:




  • 4 boneless pork chops
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2-3 tablespoons dried, Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • bundle of asparagus (optional)


  • Mix dry ingredients on a plate or shallow pan
  • Coat pork chops in mixture
  • Sear chops in olive oil on medium-high heat for five minutes on each side
  • Place pork chops and asparagus in glass baking dish
  • Coat asparagus with olive oil and Parmesan
  • Place in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the pork chops is 145 degrees

Hope you enjoy this yummy Iowa treat!


Celebrating Porktober; Getting to Know Pig Breeds

In case you haven’t heard, October is pork month! This is a great time to try a new pork recipe and get in touch with the pork industry. As with most industries, there are many things to learn about the pork industry. One fun thing to learn more about is breeds of pigs.

There are many breeds of pigs, with many different characteristics. Some breeds of pigs are known for their great meat quality. Others are known for superior mothering abilities. These breeds were domesticated in many different regions for many different purposes. Today, the Pork Checkoff recognizes about eight major swine breeds in the United States. Let’s walk through those, learn about their characteristics, and talk about why those traits are important.

As we talk about these breeds, there’s one cheat you can use to remember what they look like. If the name of the breed ends in “-shire” it will have pointy ears. All other breeds of pigs have ears that flop downwards.

yorkshireFirst, let’s talk about the Yorkshire breed. Yorkshire pigs are the most-recorded breed in North America. They are solid white, and have erect ears (did you catch the “-shire”?). Yorkshire pigs are known for being muscular, and for having lean meat.


The second most-recorded breed of swine in the U.S. is the Duroc breed. Durocs are solid red, and their ears droop forward. Duroc pigs have many good qualities, including the quality of their pork, fast growth, and longevity of females.

berkshireThird in the list of most-recorded breeds is the Berkshire breed. Berkshire pigs are black with white tips on their feet, nose, and tail. Berkshire pigs are known for high meat quality and flavor, as well as efficiency. The American Berkshire Association is the oldest swine registry in the world!


Hampshire pigs are the fourth-most recorded breed in the U.S. These pigs are black with a white belt across their shoulders and front legs. This breed boomed in popularity from the 1970s through the 1990s largely because of its lean meat. This is also the kind of pig I showed in the purebred classes when I was in 4-H!

landrace-1024x619Next, we have Landrace pigs in our 5th most-recorded breed spot. Landrace pigs are white and have droopy ears. They are known for being a great mothering breed. They are also fairly long in their body, and can contribute good carcass quality traits to a pig herd.


Chester White pigs are also white with droopy ears. Like Landrace pigs, they are also noted for their mothering abilities. These pigs originated in Chester County, Pennsylvania, hence the name!

poland_china-1024x619Poland China pigs ironically did not originate in either Poland or China. Instead, they hail from Ohio. This breed is notably long of body, and (like Berkshire pigs) is dark-colored with white points on the feet, face, and tail. A good way to tell the difference between Poland China pigs and Berkshire pigs is that Poland Chinas will have droopy ears.


Spotted pigs are easy to “spot”! As the name suggests, they have large black and white spots, and have ears that droop forward. These pigs are known to be feed efficient, as well as productive, docile, and durable.


That wraps up a quick summary of a few common breeds. But why do these breeds matter? For many producers, these distinct breeds will help them build a productive crossbreeding system for market pigs. When two animals of very different genetic backgrounds (in livestock, this means different breeds) breed, their offspring will perform better than either of its parents would suggest. This is a phenomenon called hybrid vigor, or heterosis. Producers want to use this to their advantage to produce the best animals possible.

Different breeds may also be more beneficial in different aspects of production. For example, we noted before that certain breeds of pigs are exceptional mothers, and other breeds are known more for meat quality. If a producer uses one breed of pigs to sire pigs, and another breed to mother pigs, the offspring can benefit from the meat quality of the sire and may perform better as a piglet because of the dam, plus gaining all of the benefits of heterosis.

When we talk about an animal performing better because of heterosis, what do we mean? Will they play better basketball, or be an accomplished dancer? Probably not. With pigs, when we talk about performance, we are largely talking about how well they grow. We want pigs to grow quickly, use their feed efficiently, and grow to a large size – at least in specific muscle groups. We also want our pigs to be physically sound. We want them to be healthy, and able to walk, move, and function without any difficulty.

Crossbreeding animals can have many benefits, from heterosis to genetic variety within a herd, but there are many ways to attain the same goal. Some farmers might use a terminal two-breed cross system with Duroc sires and Landrace dams. Some farmers might use a three-breed cross system, with 50% Berkshire, 50% Hampshire sires and Chester White dams. Other farmers might use a sustaining system, with all animals being the same percentage of the same breeds to maintain a consistent level of heterosis.

Like many things in agriculture, many decisions really come down to what works best for the producer. Some producers value certain characteristics or systems more than others because of their environment, management style, and even local markets.

For more facts about Iowa’s pork industry, check out this resource!

Happy Porktober!


Pig Feed and a Pork Month Snack

Who doesn’t love a good pork chop, bacon or ham? Pork is an nutritious part of a balanced diet. People eat pork to make sure they get adequate amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals along with a delicious meal. However, a lot of work has to happen before the pork hits your plate to ensure that the meat you eat will be high quality, safe and nutritious.

For pigs to produce good quality pork, they need to eat a balanced diet, just like humans do. In fact, pig and human digestive systems aren’t all that different. They’re both monogastrics, meaning they have one simple stomach that digests carbohydrates particularly well. That means that pigs require many of the same nutrients that humans do: carbohydrates, proteins, fat, and vitamins and minerals. Just like humans, the nutrient requirements of the pipigseatingg will differ during different parts of its lifecycle, making the job of a swine nutritionist an important one!

As humans, we consult doctors and nutritionists to understand what to eat to stay and live healthy. To best care for pigs, veterinarians and nutritionists can decide on the best diet for them. To help break down the job of a swine nutritionist and explain to students what hogs eat, IALF has a great lesson plan that allows students to go hands-on with STEM and explore the feed components by creating a representative feed mix. The Feed Sacks lesson breaks down the feed components like this:

Carbohydrates: Hogs get much of the energy from carbohydrates. Humans eat grains like pasta and rice, but hogs eat oats, corn, wheat, and milo. Carbohydrates provide most of the hog’s daily calories and therefore make up a large portion of the diet. Students will weigh out oat cereal and corn nuts as the base for their feed mix.

Protein: Proteins are made up of amino acids, and hogs have requirements for a variety of amino acids. Hogs get many of these amino acids from cereal grains, but are often lacking iIMG_3172n lysine, tryptophan, and threonine, which are essential amino acids. Often, hogs will be fed soybean meal to satisfy the needs for specific amino acids and protein. Students will weigh out soy nuts and discover that the protein-packed soybeans are much denser than the carbohydrate components.

Fat – Just like humans, hogs need a small amount of fat in their diet for energy. Hogs can get the fat they need from grains, but there can also be benefits of adding fat to the diets of hogs in some life cycle stages. Farmers have to be sure that fat additives like soybean and coconut oil provide an improvement in pig performance that will pay for itself at harvest. Adding fats can also make handling feedstuffs difficult and change the quality of the pork. In the Feed Sack lesson, students will count out white chocolate chips to see how little fat is required in a hog’s diet.

Vitamins & Minerals: Pigs don’t take multivitamins like humans do, so their needs for vitamins and minerals have to be met as a part of their feed ration. Vitamins A and D and riboflavin, among others, can be added to a pig’s diet. Minerals that are commonly added to hog feed rations include calcium, phosphorus, zinc, iron and sodium. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for healthy metabolic function and tissue growth, healthy bones and teeth, blood clotting and muscle contraction. Students are challenged to count out 10 Nerds candies that represent the vitamins and minerals that are so important for healthy hogs.IMG_3181

Science and math play big roles in mixing the correct rations for healthy hogs. Farmers and nutritionists have to work together to ensure that the needs of every hog are being met. Agriculture engineers play a role in creating technologically advanced equipment for hog barns like augers and conveyor systems that deliver high quality feed directly to the hogs. Clearly, science, technology, engineering and math play a big role in the feeding of hogs. IALF’s Feed Sacks Lesson is a great way to introduce the components of a hog (and human) diet and potential careers in agriculture, all while creating a great October Pork Month snack!