Why Canola Oil Has No Place in Your Cupboard

canola oil

Canola oil has long been touted as an all-purpose, health promoting oil. Low in saturated fats, high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and much needed omega-3 fats and neutral in taste, it’s been the go-to oil for chefs and the health conscious alike. Even Whole Foods, the ostensible leader in healthy eating, proudly advertises that it uses canola oil for all of their foods produced in-house. But is it really all that they say?? You’re probably guessing the correct answer, but let’s explore the reasons why.

First, a bit of history. Canola oil comes from a descendent of the rapeseed plant, a member of the Brassica genus, along with some our favorite vegetables like broccoli, turnips, and cabbage. Rapeseed oil was used widely in the 13th century in Europe for fuel for lamps then as the lubricant in steam engines until after World War II. Rapeseed oil was put on the market for human consumption in the 1950s but failed due to its strong flavor and off-putting color. Scientists at the time began to discover that erucic acid, one of the major fatty acid components of the oil (over 50%), was damaging to heart tissue. Meanwhile, the benefits of the olive oil-laden Mediterranean diet were being touted. There was an empty niche in the market waiting to be filled, the one for an inexpensive, neutral-tasting, all-purpose oil that could be marketed as being salubrious.

 
rapeseed field, "Champ de colza Côte-d'Or Bourgogne avril 2014" by Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

rapeseed field, "Champ de colza Côte-d'Or Bourgogne avril 2014" by Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

 

Rapeseed oil was given a makeover. Some selective breeding and careful marketing unveiled a new low-erucic acid, high-oleic acid (just like heart healthy olive oil), high-omega-3 fat, neutral tasting oil with a new name…canola oil. The name comes from Canada, where much of the plant is grown, and ola, for oil and was renamed for well, obvious reasons.

I’ve explained in a previous post how vegetable oils are processed. (Remember? petrochemical solvents, high heat refining, degumming, bleaching, deodorizing, etc…) Canola oil is no different. Remember that omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, which means they are extremely fragile. They are prone to oxidation and rancidity when exposed to heat and light, and boy is canola oil ever exposed to high heat in its processing! Ever wondered why flax seed oil must be kept in dark bottles in the refrigerated section of the supermarket but canola oil and its vegetable oil cousins can sit proudly in clear bottles out at room temperature?? Hmm…that doesn’t make much sense since both flax seed and canola oils are composed of over 90% fragile polyunsaturated fats. A significant portion of the beneficial fats in canola oil are already rancid before they even hit the shelf. Additionally, significant amounts of trans-fats, now widely recognized as being detrimental to cardiovascular health, are created in the process. Although the USDA requires canola oil to be less than 2% erucic acid, it can have a cumulative and harmful effect if consumed frequently. 

Some of you are thinking, “But I only buy expeller-pressed canola oil!” While marginally better since no petrochemical solvents are used in the processing of the oil, the seeds are still subject to heat before and during pressing as a result of the immense pressure and friction involved. Heat=rancid, oxidized oil

So what’s the big deal about oxidized fats? Remember that each of your cell membranes and over 60% of your brain is composed of fats. Incorporation of oxidized fats contributes to inflammation and the onset of many degenerative diseases of the modern age.

So what oils should you use?
Lard, ghee, and coconut oil: Read this previous post to learn more about the health benefits of these delicious fats.

But I know, you need an oil that’s not so hard at room temperature…
Extra virgin olive oil: Read a previous post to make sure you’re getting the real thing and not getting duped.
Cold-pressed avocado oil: for a milder taste, when you don’t necessarily want that olive-y flavor

 

Don't miss out on the Asian Summer Cooking Series, the last cooking classes I will offer in 2015 and starting this Sunday! 

In the first class of the series, Kimchi Explored, you will learn how to make this spicy, tangy, umami-rich condiment often cited as the key to health and longevity. You will also learn to make several recipes featuring this taste-bud tickling ingredient. Kimchi pancakes anyone?


 

Do you like mayonnaise and think you’re doing a good thing by buying organic olive oil mayonnaise? Spectrum Naturals, a quite reputable company, offers an Organic Mayonnaise with Olive Oil. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Here’s the ingredient list:

 
check out the #1 ingredient

check out the #1 ingredient

Organic expeller pressed soy and/or canola oil, organic whole eggs, organic egg yolks, organic extra virgin olive oil, filtered water, organic honey, organic distilled vinegar, sea salt, organic mustard (organic distilled vinegar, water, organic mustard seed, salt, organic spices), organic lemon juice concentrate.

 

You probably know that ingredients are listed in descending order according to their abundance in the product—look at the first ingredient! 

Luckily, it’s easy to make your own with just a few ingredients, and you can rest assured that you use the best ingredients: unrefined, cold-pressed oils and pastured eggs. Now that I’m buying real, high quality olive oil with high antioxidant polyphenol content and often peppery, pungent, and bitter notes, I’m finding that mayonnaise made with all extra virgin olive oil can be a bit strong in taste. So here’s a recipe that includes some milder tasting avocado oil. You’ll never buy it from the store again…enjoy!

 

GIVE IT A TRY!

"Mayonnaise (1)" by jules - rolls royce mayonnaise. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

"Mayonnaise (1)" by jules - rolls royce mayonnaise. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Easy Mayonnaise
2 egg yolks
1 cup avocado oil
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs lemon juice, or more to taste
1 ½ tsp salt, or more to taste

Add the egg yolks to a food processor and run to combine. With the motor still running, add the oils very slowly at first, then in a thin stream once the mayonnaise begins to thicken. If you have a tubular insert with a hole in the bottom at the top of your food processor, you may pour all the oil in there and just let the oil drizzle in while the motor runs. Blend in the lemon juice and salt. The whole process should only take a couple of minutes.



 

Conventional, Organic, or Pastured Chicken...Does it really matter??

Many of us know, without knowing the specifics or the gory details, that factory-farmed animals are treated poorly, injected with all sorts of nasty things, and we want to stay away from them. But when we’re at the store and see chicken, sometimes in a form that barely resembles the fluffy feathered animal that it came from, and we see the difference in price between conventional and organic and the even bigger difference with pastured chicken, we may wonder, “Does it really matter??” After all when it’s all said and done and the chicken is sitting in the butcher’s case, it all pretty much looks the same, so our shrewd selves take over. “If I save some money on chicken a few weeks in a row, I can buy that (fill in the blank) I’ve had my eyes on…” In May 2015 the average price of whole conventional chicken was $1.48/lb. Last week, I paid over $2/lb. for organic broccoli. Hmm…what’s going on here??

Conventional Chicken
Here are just a few of the gory details... In the United States, 8.5 billion chickens are raised for meat per year (that’s over 23 million everyday)--99% of them are factory farmed. The natural life span for a chicken is 6-10 years, but factory-farmed chickens are brought to slaughter weight in just 6 weeks. Excessive feeding, antibiotics, 24-hr light for sleep deprivation to ensure constant feeding makes this possible.

80% of antibiotic sales in the U.S. are used for livestock and poultry. 95% of these antibiotics are added to water and feed and used sub-therapeutically, meaning they are used mostly to make the animals grow faster or to prevent disease in substandard living conditions. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, between 2001 and 2010 the FDA reviewed 30 different antibiotics being used in this way and found that none would be approved for use now, but no action was taken to discontinue their use. Increased antibiotic resistance amongst bacteria and the creation of so-called superbugs pose a public health crisis as antibiotics for human use decrease in their effectiveness. According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, antibiotic-resistant infections kill more Americans than AIDS. In fact, Europe and Canada have bans on using human-use antibiotics on animals. A Consumer Reports study done in 2014 found that of over 300 raw chicken breasts sampled, including some organic, 97% harbored potentially pathogenic bacteria and almost half had antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

Ok, so maybe you already knew about the antibiotic use. But did you know that factory farmed chicken feed often includes caffeine (to keep them awake so they eat more), arsenic (to make their flesh pinker and combat infection), and the active ingredients in Benadryl, Tylenol, & Prozac (to counteract stress, which makes the meat tough)?? Farmers are often required to feed their chickens a proprietary blend, and they don’t know what’s in it. The industry estimates that 90% of broiler chickens processed in 2011 were fed arsenic. 

Some labels that are meaningless:
Hormone-free: all chickens are
Cage-free: No chickens that are raised for meat are kept in cages.
Natural: means absolutely nothing

Organic Chicken
Organic chickens cannot be given antibiotics. Their feed is organic, vegetarian, and GMO-and-synthetic-pesticide free. They must “have access to the outdoors,” but there are no specifications regarding maximum density, size of door leading to the outdoors, nor the amount of time is spent in the outdoors. Because there is no regulation, many organic chickens are raised under conditions not so dissimilar from their conventionally raised brethren.

Their feed is mostly composed of corn and soy, for no other real reason except that they’re cheap because they’re two of the most subsidized crops grown in this country. Remember corn and soy are sources of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, too much of which can lead to serious health issues. To learn more, I discuss this in a previous post. Vegetarian-fed chickens promote good feelings amongst consumers, but there’s a problem. Chickens aren’t vegetarian and can’t thrive on a vegetarian diet. Because these grains aren’t the chickens’ natural diet and lack certain nutrients critical for survival, synthetic methionine, an amino acid, is added to the feed. Because the methionine comes in multiple forms, one of which the chicken cannot metabolize, there is residual methionine in the chicken. According to the USDA, excess methionine has been shown to be significantly toxic in other animals, such as cats and rats. It elevates circulating homocysteine, commonly considered a significant risk factor in cardiovascular disease. In May, the Center for Food Safety unsuccessfully challenged the National Organic Program to ban this additive in favor of more regulated access to pasture and addition of natural sources of the amino acid

 
chickens
 

Pasture-Raised Chicken
The USDA does not currently regulate the term “pastured.” However, it generally means that the chickens are out on pasture, foraging on bugs and worms, as is a part of their natural diet, but also occasionally get supplemented with feed. Third party certification organizations, such as Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), are setting stringent husbandry standards around this practice, including limiting flock size, minimum space allotments for chickens, access to pasture, maximum rate of growth and other humane practices. For comparison, a factory-farmed chicken has less than .65 sq. ft. of space, while the minimum space requirement for AWA is 4 sq. ft. with room for the chickens to spread their wings and no physical manipulations. Here is a complete list of their guidelines.

 

 
animal welfare approved
 

In addition to being sooo much more delicious (don’t take my word for it), pastured chickens have a superior nutrient profile, including many times more omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamins A and E. You might notice that the fat on pastured chickens is much more yellow, almost orange at times. This is a result of the relatively increased amounts of chlorophyll consumed through green vegetables, often culled from the farm.

So it seems that inexpensive food comes at a cost…no big revelation. But remember this when you’re standing in front of various types of chicken, in their faceless and featherless anonymized forms. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. Chicken is no exception.

 

GIVE IT A TRY!

Larb Gai Chicken Lettuce Cups

Larb Gai (Laotian Chicken Salad with Herbs)

3 Tbs toasted rice powder, or ¼ cup rice
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken, cut into small pieces almost ground
¼ cup shallots, very thinly sliced
1 Thai red chili, seeded and minced
¼ cup lime juice
3 Tbs fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
½ cup combination rau ram, mint, and/or cilantro, torn into pieces
1 head butter lettuce, leaves separated

If you don’t have rice powder, toast the rice in a pan over medium heat until browned. Cool and grind in a food processor, mortar and pestle, or coffee grinder. In a saucepan, bring 2 ½ cups water to a simmer and add the chicken just until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove chicken from the water and save the stock for another use.

In a bowl, mix the chicken with the rice powder, shallots, chili, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Gently combine with most of the herbs, saving some for garnish.

To serve, scoop the chicken into individual butter lettuce leaves and garnish with more herbs.


 
 

 


Spring!

Spring…a time for new beginnings (and peas, asparagus, and strawberries)! I’m departing very briefly from my usual format to bring you an exciting announcement. I’ve just recently become a member of the faculty at Bauman College in Berkeley, which provides education in holistic nutrition and the culinary arts. I’m teaching in the hands-on Natural Chef program, an intensive culinary program that trains individuals to become nutrition-based, therapeutic chefs. The College’s mission is to create a culture of wellness in individuals and in the community through the promotion of eating sustainable, locally- and responsibly-sourced (and delicious) whole foods according to the needs of the individual. Interested? Check it out!

What does all of this mean to you?? Don’t worry! I will continue to offer cooking classes, and as always, you may still contact me for private cooking classes and nutrition consultations. My new position will only serve to enhance my offerings to you.

On another note, have you been to the farmers’ market lately?? Wow, what a beautiful abundance of spring veggies! Baby lettuces, snap peas, fava beans, green garlic…it’s also that time of year that berries and stone fruits begin to innocently usurp the territory so steadfastly occupied by oranges and apples all winter.

Below, I've included a recipe for a scrumptious spring salad that features some of the season's best flavors. Enjoy!

 

 

Are you wondering what to do with all of that beautiful spring produce?

There’s still room in the Hearty Spring Salads class coming up Saturday, April 18 5-8 pm at Berkeley Kitchens. We will discuss the elements of a successful salad, discuss how to properly choose and prepare seasonal ingredients, then make some scrumptious hearty spring salads that we will enjoy together at the conclusion of class. Hope to see you there!

 

 

GIVE IT A TRY!

 
springsalad.jpg
 

Avocado, Quinoa, & Spring Vegetable Salad with Meyer Lemon, Cumin & Green Garlic

2 T Meyer lemon juice
zest from 1 Meyer lemon
1 T ground cumin
1 T green garlic, very thinly sliced or minced
pinch of red chili flakes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 c quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 lb snap peas, sliced thinly on the bias
1 ripe avocado, thiny sliced
1 bunch radishes, sliced thinly
1 cup microgreens
salt and pepper to taste

Make the vinaigrette: In a small pan, toast the cumin until fragrant. Whisk together the Meyer lemon juice and zest, cumin, green garlic, red chili flakes, salt, and olive oil. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Blanch the snap peas until they turn bright green, about 30 seconds. Remove to a bowl of ice water or immediately spread out on a sheet pan to stop cooking. Strain the snap peas from the water once cool if using an ice bath and leave to dry.

Carefully toss the quinoa, snap peas, avocado, radish, and half the microgreens with the vinaigrette along with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with the remaining microgreens.

inspired by Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi

 

 
 
 
 

 

Why Your Olive Oil Isn’t What You Think It Is

olive oil

Embraced almost universally, olive oil has become the darling of oils. Lauded for it’s health-promoting qualities, versatility, and taste, it’s often the go-to oil for the health conscious and foodies alike. But are you sure that the extra virgin olive oil you’re buying is really what you think it is??

“Extra virgin” olive oil is considered the highest grade of olive oil according to standards established by the International Olive Council (IOC) and the USDA—olives are pressed mechanically and the oil is to have superior taste, some fruitiness, no defects, and no more than 0.8% free acidity, which results from the degradation of the oil.

But a year-long study done at U.C. Davis in 2010 determined that 69% of imported olive oil sold in California is either not olive oil at all, or it’s olive oil that has been adulterated with cheaper vegetable oils like soybean oil. The top five selling brands of imported extra virgin oil (Colavita, Star, Bertolli, Filippo Berio, Pompeian) repeatedly failed sensory as well as chemical tests by the IOC.

Much of the olive oil boasting Italian origins actually comes from other countries like Spain, Morocco, and Tunisia, where production is cheaper. This in and of itself isn’t a problem, but the freshness of the oil produced in different countries then shipped to another for packaging is almost always compromised. Olive oil is pressed from olives weeks and sometimes months after harvesting, then is shipped to Italy. Cheap refined vegetable oils, like soybean oil, also labeled as olive oil, are smuggled into the same Italian ports. Some producers mix olive oil with these cheaper oils, while others just take vegetable oil and mix it with beta carotene and chlorophyll to make counterfeit olive oil. These oils are then labeled as extra virgin olive oil and shipped to the United States and other countries with labels saying “imported from Italy” or “packed in Italy.”

In fact, fraud is so rampant that there’s a branch of the Italian national police that’s dedicated to investigating and raiding refineries, but bribery, corruption, and powerful mob connections usually mean the producers are rarely prosecuted. This means that despite awareness, the problem continues to be widespread. In 2008, over 60 people were arrested, 85 farms were confiscated, and 7 oil production plants were impounded in connection with large-scale schemes involving the relabeling of olive oil to hide countries of origin or adding chlorophyll to sunflower or soybean oil and selling it as extra virgin olive oil.

 
olives
 

Ok, so many of us have been buying fake or adulterated olive oil, and most of us aren’t trained like the sensitive testers at the IOC. Now what? Are we doomed to just taking our chances at the grocery store (our odds aren’t very good…)?? No! Luckily, armed with a little knowledge you can make sure you’re buying the good stuff!

1 .  Know where your olive oil is coming from and who made it. As with all food that you buy, the closer production is to you the better. Those of us living in California are fortunate because we live in a Mediterranean climate (for now) and have many high-quality olive oil producers right here in our home state. 

2.  If possible, smell and taste first. It’s ideal to be able to use multiple senses to measure the quality of the oil. The oil should taste fresh, grassy, fruity, bright and flavorful, not necessarily sweet and mellow. There should be a nice balance between sweet, bitter, and pepper. Don’t be put off by sharp bitter and pungent flavors, which are an indication of freshness and high antioxidant content. Amphora Nueva is a great little olive oil shop in Berkeley in which you can taste some delicious olive oils.

But let’s be realistic here, not all of us have the luxury of doing a proper smell and taste test before we buy our olive oils. There are still things you can look for…

3.  Look for a harvest date on the label. Olive oil is oil pressed from the olive, which is a fruit. This makes olive oil very perishable—it begins degrading the moment it is made. It is composed of over 85% unsaturated fats, which are unstable and prone to oxidation, especially in the presence of light, oxygen, and heat. If there’s no harvest date, look at the “best by” date, which is usually set 2 years from harvest, so the closer to 2 years before the “best by” date the better.

 
Harvest date and COOC seal of approval

Harvest date and COOC seal of approval

 

4.    Look for “extra virgin” on the label. Although this is no protection from fraud, oils with labels like “pure,” “light,” or “olive oil” mostly have been chemically extracted or mixed with cheaper vegetable oils.

5.    Buy your olive oil in dark bottles in quantities that you can use up quickly, usually within 6 months. 

6.    Read the fine print. The main label may advertise that it’s an Italian or Californian olive oil, but it may just be packed in these places, which may obscure the fact that it’s actually produced in other countries. You’ll notice that these are the oils that often won’t have a harvest or “best by” date because they can’t guarantee freshness since the oil has multiple origins.

 
We thought this was from California! Hmm...no harvest or "best by" date either

We thought this was from California! Hmm...no harvest or "best by" date either

 

The California Olive Oil Council upholds high standards for California extra virgin oil through its seal certification. Olive oil production is a growing industry in California—as of January 2014, 35,000 acres were growing over 75 varieties of olives dedicated for olive oil and it’s estimated that 3,500 more acres will be added each year.

How to store your olive oil:

  • In the dark. Light promotes oxidation of the oil.
  • At low temperatures but not in the fridge. Many people choose to store their olive oil above or very close to the stove for convenience, but remember all that heat just accelerates the oil’s degradation.
  • In small bottles. A large, half-empty bottle means lots of the oil’s surface area is exposed to another enemy, oxygen, which…yup you guessed it, promotes oxidation and rancidity.

For more information on olive oil:

California Olive Oil Council
Olive Research and Education Center at U.C. Davis
Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller
Tom Mueller’s website 

 

 

This month's recipe depends on a high-quality olive oil to make it shine. Labneh is a part of the Middle Eastern meze, a smattering of small dishes that begin the meal. Yogurt is strained through muslin overnight to make it thick, creamy, and rich. It's often mixed with za'taar, a spice mix, sprinkled with sumac, and topped with generous pools of delicious extra virgin olive oil to be scooped up with flatbread, but just as good with some veggies.

 
Straining yogurt. Keep the whey!

Straining yogurt. Keep the whey!

 

Ok, ok...you're on to me! I just so happen to be straining a lot of yogurt right now in preparation for this Saturday's class that includes fermented whey sodas, which leaves me with a lot of thickened yogurt, so what better way to eat it? If you strain your own yogurt, don't throw out that whey! It's full of probiotics, which can be used to make salubrious fermented whey sodas. How, you say?? Glad you asked!

 

 

Learn how to make naturally fermented beverages and how to prepare properly prepare grains so they're not harmful!

Sign up for Soaking, Sprouting, Sourdough, and Fermented Beverages this Saturday, March 14, 5-8 pm at Berkeley Kitchens, in which you’ll learn, among many other things, how to make your very own sourdough starter as well as your favorite naturally bubbly fermented beverages, such as kombucha and kefir sodas. 

 

GIVE IT A TRY!

 
 
labneh
 

Labneh

1 quart whole milk yogurt
a big pinch of salt
za’taar (or fresh herbs of your choice)
sumac
extra virgin olive oil

Into a muslin cloth-lined strainer set over a deep bowl, pour all of the yogurt. Cover with the cloth and leave to drain overnight in the refrigerator.

Put the thickened, strained yogurt into a bowl and stir in salt and za’taar or herbs. (Save the whey for your fermentation projects or to soak your grains!) Put into a shallow serving bowl, make some deep swirls into the top, sprinkle with sumac, and add a few generous glugs of olive oil.

 


 

Traditionally Fermented Foods that Aren't Anymore

 
making kimchi, the traditional way

making kimchi, the traditional way

 

Pickles, sauerkraut, miso, olives, soy sauce, kimchi, and soda…what do these have in common? Once traditionally fermented over extended periods of time, these time-honored foods have all fallen victim to the industrialization process. Increased demand for globally-inspired condiments have incentivized corporations to commodify foods once carefully prepared and slowly fermented.

Let’s take a look at a few:

Soy sauce

Then: Wheat and soybeans were inoculated with the molds, Aspergillus oryzae or Aspergillus soyae. Further fermentation for 1 to 2 years with Lactobacillus and yeast strains breaks the proteins down into a number of amino acids, which contribute to the umami and complexity of flavor of the soy sauce.

Now: Soybeans are boiled in hydrochloric acid for 15-20 hours to break down the proteins into amino acids. Many secondary reactions release compounds such as furfural, dimethyl sulfide, hydrogen sulfide, levulinic acid, and formic acid, that contribute off odors to the soy sauce. The resulting liquid is neutralized with sodium bicarbonate and purified. Artificial colors, corn syrup, and preservatives can be added to adjust flavors. Total production time? 3 days.

 
it's the real thing

it's the real thing

 

Pickles

Then: Freshly harvested cucumbers were placed in a brine of salt and spices and allowed to ferment for weeks to over a month.

Now: Ever wondered why pickles seem to stay unspoiled on supermarket shelves for so long unrefrigerated? To increase shelf-life, the cucumbers are pasteurized—they are heated to a high temperature for extended periods of time to kill all ambient bacteria. These sterilized cucumbers are then placed in a concoction of vinegar, salt, sugar, “natural flavors,” preservatives like sodium benzoate and polysorbate 80, and food coloring.

Olives

Then: Olives, picked from the tree, contain oleuropein, a very bitter compound, and were thus soaked in a salt-water brine and inoculated with active bacterial and yeast cultures to ferment for 3 to 9 months. 

Now: Olives are soaked in a very alkaline lye solution for 24 hours to draw out the oleuropein. This process removes the bitterness and many nutrients with it, and also changes the olives’ color and texture. Fun fact: those ubiquitous canned black olives that come on pizzas were green off the tree but turn black in the lye bath, then ferrous gluconate is added to them to make sure they stay black. Almost all nutrition is removed during the processing.

 
how miso was made

how miso was made

 

Miso

Then: Soaked and rinsed grains are inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae and allowed to proliferate in the grain for several days to form koji, which is then mixed with mashed beans and salt and allowed to ferment for a month to several years in wooden casks at ambient environment temperatures.

Now: Typically GMO soybeans are mixed with koji in large plastic or stainless steel vats at high temperatures to accelerate the fermentation process, which happens for a small fraction of the time. The miso is then pasteurized, and artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and MSG can be added.

Sourdough Bread

Then: Wild yeasts found on grains were cultivated to form a sourdough starter, an active culture which was then added to the dough and allowed to ferment for 8 hours to more than a day.

Now: Regular commercially yeasted bread has acetic acid, malic acid, or fumaric acid added to it to simulate the sourness that is a natural byproduct of fermenting with a real sourdough starter.

Root Beer

Then: Sassafras root, vanilla, wintergreen, cherry tree bark, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, dandelion root, nutmeg, acacia, anise, molasses, and/or cinnamon were fermented for about one week to make a delicious, naturally bubbly drink with medicinal properties.

Now: A syrup made from high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and preservatives is added to chlorinated and carbonated water.

Ok, you get the idea. 

Naturally fermented foods are delicious, flavor-rich foods that are the result of bacteria and yeast cultures given the time to break down larger molecules into a plethora of smaller molecules that tickle the taste buds. So many new flavor compounds are produced in the fermentation process. (Just think of the depth of flavor in some of your favorite fermented foods: cheese, wine, chocolate…) These fermented foods are not only delicious but almost universally more nutritious, more easily digested, and teeming with beneficial microbes that are vital for good health.

Consumer demand for these flavorful foods at low prices has all but eradicated the time-honored traditions that created them. Once fermented foods given the time and opportunity to develop flavor are now subject to profit-maximizing, industrial and chemical processing, resulting in an insipid product that requires further chemical augmentation to mimic the color and flavor of its authentic counterpart. Even if fermentation is a part of the process, the product is often pasteurized to make it shelf stable, making it devoid of any salubrious probiotic microorganisms.

Fortunately, many of our local food producers are bringing these traditions back, and you may find them at some local grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Or…try doing it yourself!

 

 

Learn more about the whys and how-tos of traditional fermentation in two upcoming fermentation classes!

Sign up for Fermentation is Easy! on Saturday, March 7, 5-8 pm at Berkeley Kitchens. You’ll learn about vegetable and dairy fermentation: how to make your own sauerkraut, kimchi, preserved lemons, yogurt, kefir, cultured butter…that’s just the beginning!

Sign up for Soaking, Sprouting, Sourdough, and Fermented Beverages on Saturday, March 14, 5-8 pm at Berkeley Kitchens, in which you’ll learn how to make your very own sourdough starter as well as your favorite naturally bubbly fermented beverages, such as kombucha and kefir sodas. 

A discount is offered for signing up for both fermentation classes. See you there!

 

 

GIVE IT A TRY!

 
cabbage and apple sauerkraut
 

Cabbage and Apple Sauerkraut

1 head cabbage
1 apple, cored and sliced
salt

Peel any bruised or discolored outer leaves on the cabbage and discard. Cut the cabbage into quarters through the core. Cut the core out of each quarter, and slice the cabbage thinly. Place the shredded cabbage in a large bowl, add some salt (about 1 ½-2 tsp per pound), and massage the cabbage, squeezing to soften the cabbage and coax the water out. Mix the apples in.

Pack the cabbage and apples very tightly into a jar (a medium head of cabbage fits pretty neatly into a quart mason jar) or a container, pushing the vegetables down and making sure the liquid comes above the level of the vegetables.

Leave covered with a cloth, at room temperature for at least one week and up to a month, tasting all the while. The final product should be pleasantly tart and crunchy. Refrigerate and enjoy!

 


 

Bone Broth: the New Kale

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo in the media about bone broth lately. A quick internet search turned up a handful articles about bone broth published in just the last two months in such major publications as The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, UK’s The Guardian, and Business Insider. Brodo, which just opened in November in the East Village in New York, is offering a variety of bone broths by the trendy-looking coffee cup through its walk-up window. Bone broth has even become one of the most important components of the prescribed diet for the L.A. Lakers!

So what’s the big deal anyway? Is it the next food that will sit proudly next to açaí berries, coconut water, and chia seeds on the list of “must-have” nutritional superfoods?

I hesitate to recommend “superfoods” because I encourage a balanced approach to eating, taking nutrients from a diversity of seasonal whole foods to ensure the incorporation of a full spectrum of nutrients. We all know there isn’t one silver bullet to great health and longevity. But…bone broth is something that I would recommend to almost anyone without hesitation as one of the most beneficial additions to any diet.

As the bones are slowly simmered for hours, the collagen in the bones and other connective tissue melts into gelatin, which is very effective in the promotion of gut health. Since it’s rich in the amino acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin that make up collagen, it also promotes healthy skin and joints. It also contains a large proportion of the amino acid, glycine, which acts as inhibitory neurotransmitter to aid in sleep and relaxation.

 
 

Bones are the main storehouse for the minerals in the body, and the long cooking time for bone broth allows these important minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, to leach into the broth.

People have been consuming bone broth since they started cooking and eating animals. In the vane of “nose to tail” eating, no parts of the animal went to waste, and broth was made from the “scraps” that were not eaten. These scraps included bones.Just some examples of bone broth in traditional cooking:

Vietnamese Pho: The foundation of this delicious beef noodle soup is a broth made from simmering oxtail, beef shanks, and necks with onions, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, clove, and cardamom for many hours.

 
 

Bouillabaisse: the heads, tails, and other trimmings from the fish are simmered to make the broth for this traditional Provençal fish stew.

Chinese Hot Pot: As most of the other components of the hot pot are raw or minimally prepared, the broth, made from chicken, beef, or pork parts is stewed for many hours to develop the rich flavors of this dish.

 
 

Matzo Ball Soup: Also known as “Jewish Penicillin,” chicken broth made from simmering chicken parts with onions, carrots, celery, and parsley is the supportive foil for the matzo balls.

 
Photo by Harris Ueng. Used with permission.

Photo by Harris Ueng. Used with permission.

 

Lauya: Pork knuckle bones and pig’s feet are simmered with vegetables for this country-style Filipino soup.

Chicken Foot Stew: A Jamaican stew in which chicken feet are simmered with garlic, herbs, and habañero peppers.

Tonkotsu Ramen: Pig trotters and bones are boiled for sometimes days to achieve the rich, flavorful broth for this Japanese noodle soup.

Gam Ja Tang: A Korean soup made from stewing the pork spine or ribs with vegetables, scallions, hot peppers, and sesame seeds.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

Used for their restorative properties, bone broths have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to boost immunity and treat imbalances that underlie illness.

Aside from the numerous salubrious benefits of bone broth, it’s also a boon to the culinary world. As you can see, a well-developed stock is of utmost importance to producing innumerable soups and stews as well as sauces. The gelatin in the stock contributes to the rich mouth-feel of a well-made sauce or gravy.

 

 

Want to learn more about bone broths, how to make them gelatinous, and how to incorporate them into delicious soups?

Sign up for the Soups, Stocks, & Bone Broths Cooking Class coming up on Saturday, January 31, 5-8 pm at Berkeley Kitchens. Hope to see you there!

 

 
 

Give it a try!

 

Bone Broth

2-3 lbs beef, chicken, or pork bones or combination
1 large onion, cut into 1” pieces
2 carrots, cut into 1” pieces
2 celery stalks, cut into 1” pieces
1 bay leaf
any other vegetable scraps (e.g. parsley stems, leek greens, carrot tops)
2 T neutral-flavored vinegar (white, apple cider) or lemon juice

 

Add bones and vinegar to a stockpot, cover with cold water with 2 inches of headroom. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and immediately reduce to a low simmer. Uncover and skim any foamy, grey scum that has surfaced. Add vegetables.

Let simmer for 6 to 24 hours, making sure there is enough water in the pot and adding more if necessary.

Pour the stock through a metal strainer into another pot or large bowl. For faster cooling, immediately divide into quart, pint, and/or half pint jars. Label and refrigerate or freeze for later use.

 


 

Milk: Does It Do a Body Good? Part Two

 

 

This month's post is the second of a two-part series on milk in which we explore the processing of milk, pasteurization and homogenization.

Read Milk: Does It Do a Body Good? Part One.

 

 

Pasteurization

From the time dairy cows were first brought to New England by the earliest settlers in the first half of the 1600’s until the American Revolution, dairy products were consumed, by in large, on the farms on which they were produced. 

 
Collectie Willem van de Poll, via Nationaal Archief

Collectie Willem van de Poll, via Nationaal Archief

 

In the late 1700’s, establishment of major urban centers such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia opened up markets for large-scale milk production and distribution. Initially when the cities were small, pasture was set aside in town so that families could keep a family cow--Boston Common was one such place. But as the cities grew, these urban oases for the dairy cows got squeezed out while demand for milk increased.

Meanwhile, the whiskey industry was growing. George Washington himself owned the largest distillery in the nation at the time, and in 1810 there were more than 3600 distilleries in the state of Virginia alone. As a result, enormous amounts of swill, or distilled grains, the byproduct of whiskey and other alcohol distillery, were produced. Distilleries opened dairy farms adjacent to them in order to capitalize on the waste, which was fed to the cows. Unfortunately, these grains are depleted of many important nutrients: starch content is dramatically reduced, fat composition is compromised, and protein quality is diminished, while other nutrients, such as phosphorous and sulfur are increased to a point that is detrimental to the cow. But this swill actually increased milk production, which was what mattered. What ensued was growing industrialization of milk production wrought with sick cows producing milk of such poor quality that butter, cheese, and cream could not be made from it. This came to be known as the swill milk system—sickly cows were confined to small pens surrounded by their own manure with high rates of mortality. In 1852, 75% of milk sold in New York was swill milk. The milk was so thin and bluish in color that it was often augmented with starch, flour, and/or chalk. But it didn’t matter because it was cheap.

Until it did. What resulted was a public health crisis and the spread of milk-borne illnesses, such as typhoid fever, diphtheria, and tuberculosis which caused a spike in infant mortality. Substandard dairy production practices along with lack of refrigeration created milk that teemed with deadly pathogens--people were dying by the thousands. 

 
"Bundesarchiv Bild 183-72023-0003, Krippehna, Blick in Melkstand" by Schaar, Helmut

"Bundesarchiv Bild 183-72023-0003, Krippehna, Blick in Melkstand" by Schaar, Helmut

 


Enter: Louis Pasteur. In 1862, this renowned French chemist and microbiologist who is credited with dramatically decreasing mortality from milk-borne illnesses, developed the process of pasteurization, originally developed to preserve beer. Milk is heated to a high enough temperature to kill bacteria, including those that are potentially pathogenic. This made it so that the milk, while still unfit for human consumption, no longer spread infectious diseases. 

Pasteur’s discoveries of microorganisms being responsible for widespread infectious disease understandably created a microbe-phobic milieu that persists today.

 
R. Muir, Bacteriological Atlas, 1927 by Wellcome Images

R. Muir, Bacteriological Atlas, 1927 by Wellcome Images

 

Fast forward to 2014. Over 99% of milk produced in the United States is pasteurized with more or less the same process that was developed by Pasteur over 150 years ago, and while swill milk production is gone, intensive industrialized milk production and the resulting low-quality product remains very much a reality and continues to hide behind the glory of the mostly eradicated infectious disease epidemic at the beginning of the 20th century. As consumers, we can do better than to choose milk that’s merely not going to kill us. 

Interestingly, as of 2012, 40% of corn production in the United States is used to make ethanol for fuel, and there has been renewed interest in recent years in using the abundant corn byproduct as a supplement to feed dairy cows (sound familiar?). There are a number of studies investigating the effects of using these so-called distillers grains on animal health only in regards to quantity of milk production but none on the resulting quality of milk from a consumer standpoint. The studies have one thing in common, however, which is to warn against the potential nutritional pitfalls of a dairy cow’s diet significantly based on distillers grains.

"Feldhaecksler-Mais" by Roman Gridin/Claas. Licensed under Creative Commons

"Feldhaecksler-Mais" by Roman Gridin/Claas. Licensed under Creative Commons

Pasteurization of milk is regulated on state, county, and municipal levels. In 1924, the United States Public Health Service issued the Standard Milk Ordinance, now the Grade "A" Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, for voluntary adoption by local governances. Current regulations on milk pasteurization vary from state to state and are constantly in flux. In California, only licensed retail sale of raw milk and raw milk products is legal. But as of spring of this year the Home Dairy Farm Raw Milk Safety Act was introduced in the California General Assembly. The bill would allow unlicensed on-farm sales direct to the consumer only on very small farms. 

Often government regulated standards for the sale of raw milk is much more stringent than that of other milk, which is one way to distinguish milk producers of a higher quality. Usually retail raw milk producers raise their cattle on pasture in much less intensive settings compared to their factory-farmed counterparts since they can’t rely on the pasteurization process to conceal substandard husbandry practices. Healthy cows make for healthy milk.

While choosing pasteurized or unpasteurized milk is quite a personal decision, the following is some information on the process of pasteurization:

 
Screenshot 2015-01-18 23.57.30.png
 
  • Pasteurization is effective in killing potentially pathogenic bacteria, but heat is not selective. Despite the FDA’s claims to the contrary, numerous studies (here is one and another) have shown raw milk to contain beneficial probiotic bacterial species, such as those in Lactobacillus, and these are eliminated in the process as well.
  • High heat denatures (unravels and renders useless) potentially beneficial proteins and enzymes. To name a few:

          Lysozyme, an antimicrobial enzyme
          Lactoperoxidase, another antimicrobial enzyme
          Lipases, involved in fat digestion
          Proteases, involved in protein digestion

  • As you can see, raw milk potentially has antimicrobial properties and can be easier to digest, as is indicated by much anecdotal evidence by people who are milk-sensitive being able to tolerate raw milk.
  • Levels of vitamins B1, B2, B12, C, E, and folate are decreased in pasteurized milk 
  • Heat oxidizes and damages unsaturated fats. About 35% of milk fat is unsaturated (30% monounsaturated and 5% polyunsaturated). This may partially explain changes in flavor in pasteurized and especially ultra-pasteurized milk.
  • Very high heat, as in ultra-pasteurization can also damage heat sensitive amino acids, further decreasing nutritional value.
  • Although not well studied, there is much anecdotal evidence that those who are lactose intolerant can consume raw milk. So much, in fact, that there is a study underway at Stanford Medical Center elucidating the matter.
  • The allergy-mitigating effects of raw milk are well documented. Studies have shown that the incidence of allergies is dramatically lower in children who consume raw milk on farms compared to those who drink pasteurized milk on farms.

Active enzyme activity also means that raw milk is a much more dynamic product, making it sour more easily. But that’s ok! Soured raw milk turns into clabbered milk, which is a salubrious, gut-healing, traditional food similar to yogurt. By comparison, soured pasteurized milk becomes rancid and inedible and needs to be discarded. The difference is that beneficial lactic acid bacteria take over in the raw milk while potentially harmful bacteria take over in pasteurized milk.

A number of traditional European cheeses that we all know and love are made with unpasteurized milk. Many cheese producers believe that depth and complexity of flavor cannot be achieved using pasteurized milk because so many of the flavor compounds in cheese (and all fermented foods) are metabolic byproducts of the ambient bacteria. Recent reviews by the FDA are putting their availability in the United States in question

A very abbreviated list of raw milk cheeses:

  • Asiago
  • Brie (many types)
  • Camembert (some)
  • Comte
  • Emmentaler
  • Feta (many types)
  • Grana Padano
  • Gouda (many types)
  • Cave-Aged Gruyère
  • Idiazabal
  • Manchego (some)
  • Parmigiano Reggiano (has been made in pretty much the same fashion since the 13th-14th centuries)
  • sPecorino Romano (some)
  • Raclette (some)
  • Roncal
  • Roquefort

Many of our own Northern California artisanal cheese producers are following suit using raw milk:

Homogenization

Milk is naturally an emulsion in which small fat droplets, 2 to 10 µm in diameter, are suspended in liquid amongst proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Over time, as fat does not mix well with water, the fat (or cream), being less dense than water, rises to the top. Casein proteins come in clumps called micelles and are held together by calcium phosphate. It is these casein micelles that make calcium in milk so bioavailable. The micelles act as a sort of escort service for the calcium.

source: University of Guelph Dairy Science

source: University of Guelph Dairy Science

Homogenization is the process by which milk is forced through very small holes with very high pressure, typically 2000-3000 psi, and sometimes upwards of 15,000 psi! The small fat droplets in the milk are torn apart by the shear force into minuscule fat droplets, now 0.2-2 µm. The casein micelles are also shredded and the calcium left without its escort. You guessed what that means—lower calcium bioavailability in homogenized milk. Parts of the casein, now somewhat homeless, start binding to milk sugars in a process called glycation, and form products implicated in increased inflammation and their associated diseases.

Casein gloms on to the increased surface area of the fat, which weighs down the fat to keep it suspended so that it doesn’t rise to the top. The increased surface area of the fat droplets means more exposure to degrading enzymes that will make the milk spoil. Pasteurization disables enzymes, so is therefore usually done prior to homogenization. The new aggregates that are made can be hard on the GI tract, another contributing factor to dairy intolerance.

This article shows microscope pictures of changes in the microscopic structures of the milk in raw, pasteurized, and homogenized milk. 

Homogenized milk looks whiter and feels creamier because the fat is dispersed throughout the milk.

Pasteurization and homogenization resulted from the commodification of milk, which disconnected and distanced people from their food source. These processes became necessary for public health when considering the bottom line. Many of us are lucky enough to live in a place where there is a trend towards reconnection with our food, fostering our health and the health of our environment.

Here's a guide to some of our local dairies:

 
 

Here is an illuminating video about the milk renaissance and its response to industrialized milk from the PBS program, Food Forward.

Crème fraîche is a fermented cream not too different from sour cream. Besides being delicious, it's teeming with probiotic bacteria. For savory preparations, you can add it to sauces and dressings, or to finish a soup, stew, or even mashed potatoes. Or for desserts, whip it and use it in place of whipped cream, or try it in ice cream or cheesecake. Real crème fraîche is made by allowing raw cream to sour at room temperature. If you can get your hands on some raw cream, try it--it's a treat! Otherwise, just take pasteurized heavy cream and introduce some buttermilk cultures. It's a great way to preserve leftover cream that you only used a small amount of for a recipe. Making your own is a cinch!

 

Give It a Try!

 

Crème Fraiche (2 ways)

raw heavy cream

Leave cream out at room temperature until thickened and reached desired taste and consistency, about 24 hours.   

OR

1 cup pasteurized heavy cream
2 T buttermilk

Stir buttermilk to cream, heat gently until just warm, about 85 degrees. Leave in a warm spot for about 8-24 hours, or until it has reached desired taste and consistency.

 


 

Milk: Does It Do a Body Good? Part One

Milk and dairy products potentially cause trouble for a growing number of people in the population, yet milk is touted as a necessary health food with the USDA recommending a daily intake of 3 cups of nonfat or lowfat milk for adults and children 9 and older. As consumers, we are presented with an ever increasing number of choices: conventional, hormone-free, grass-fed, organic, unpasteurized, pasteurized, vat pasteurized, ultra-pasteurized, homogenized, unhomogenized, Jersey cow milk, goat’s milk, nonfat, 1%, 2%, paper, plastic, glass…the choices are dizzying!

 
decisions, decisions...

decisions, decisions...

 

The posts for the next two months are dedicated to untangling the web of confusion surrounding milk and dairy products and health issues surrounding them. What’s the difference between lactose intolerance, milk allergy, and dairy intolerance? Should you drink milk, and if so, what kind?

We all know that milk can be nutritious, full of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals, but as you might have guessed, it’s a complicated story because not all milk is created equal.

For those of you who have been keeping up with me, you know that I like fat, well good fat, that is. Fat-soluble vitamins, A, D and K are completely lacking in skim milk as these vitamins have been removed with the fat. Those vitamins are necessary to properly metabolize and absorb the calcium found in milk. Additionally, A 2007 study done by the Harvard School of Public Health found a substance found in dairy fat that reduces the likelihood of Type 2 diabetes. Not only are you not getting those nutrients when you drink nonfat or lowfat milk, but these milks often have nonfat milk powder and dry milk solids added to compensate for the lack of fat. These dry milk products are a source of oxidized cholesterol, which is implicated in inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

Many who are intolerant of dairy may be unaware. Symptoms of dairy intolerance can be fairly obvious such as bloating, pain or cramping in the belly, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, or rashes, but they can also come in less obvious forms, such as flu-like symptoms, runny nose, congested sinuses, excess mucus formation, or asthma-like symptoms. Even more subtle symptoms include lethargy, joint pain, brain fog, and difficulty in concentration. Epidemiological studies have even implicated dairy in heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, autism and schizophrenia. 

Milk has a number of different components, so before we can understand the complexities behind various types of milk intolerance, we must look at what it’s made of. 

 
 

Milk solids contain lactose, a milk sugar, proteins, minerals, acids, vitamins, and enzymes. 

So which of these components can your body react to?

Lactose

Lactose is the main carbohydrate that is found in milk. Human milk is actually much higher in lactose than cow’s milk, but the production of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, starts to decrease at the age of 2 and sometimes even earlier. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 65% of the human population has decreased ability to digest lactose after infancy. This makes sense, in light of the fact that most animals begin to wean from mother’s milk after infancy.

Humans, smart as we are, have taken it upon ourselves to drink the milk of other animals. The ability to produce lactase into adulthood, known as lactase persistence, varies widely with genetics, mostly relating to the length of time various populations have had milk in their diets. For example, an estimated 90% of East Asians while just 5% of Northern Europeans are lactose intolerant.

Compromised gut health is another important factor that may contribute to lactose intolerance. Epithelial cells that line the intestines are producers of lactase, so when they are damaged as in the case of leaky gut, they are unable to perform their normal functions. Symbiotic bacterial gut flora, including the species Lactobacillus, is also a producer of lactase, so a person may experience lactose intolerance if he/she has dysbiosis, an imbalance in gut bacteria.

Casein

 
 

Allergies are immune responses to proteins, so milk allergies are to either casein or whey, the milk proteins. Most people with milk allergies are allergic to casein. Like other allergies, those to milk proteins elicit an acute response such as rash or hives, difficulty breathing, diarrhea or vomiting, or an elevated pulse. It’s likely that if you are allergic, you already know.

However, dairy intolerances can be more insidious because symptoms aren’t as obvious. Again, a leaky gut is a contributing factor—it allows proteins and other particles to enter the bloodstream where they’re not supposed to be and the immune system responds accordingly.

To complicate matters further, not all casein proteins are created equal…

There are actually a handful of casein proteins, the most predominant being beta-casein. Heirloom breeds of cows produce a certain variant of beta-casein and are known as A2. About 5,000 years ago a mutation in this particular gene occurred, and more modern-bred cows, such as the ubiquitous black-and-white spotted Holsteins that produce the mutated beta-casein, are known as A1 cows.

According to the EPA, the United States dairy herd is composed of over 90% Holsteins, about 7% Jerseys, and 2% Ayrshires, Guernseys, Brown Swiss, and Milking Shorthorns. The Holstein cow has become the most popular dairy cow in this country due to its high milk production and ability to grow quickly in intensive, grain-fed conditions without pasture.

Ok, so what does this all mean for us??

The mutation in A1 beta-casein causes it to be digested into beta-casomorphin 7 (BCM-7), an opioid. BCM-7 has been shown to increase systemic inflammation and has been implicated in a variety of neurological disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, as well as cardiovascular disease, Type 1 diabetes, and autoimmune diseases. BCM-7 also selectively binds to epithelial cells, increasing mucus secretion. Opioid receptors are found all over the central and peripheral nervous systems as well as in the gut, so as you can imagine, the effects of BCM-7 can be very diverse and widespread, especially in the presence of compromised gut health. This explains the wide variety of symptoms and the diversity of the severity of symptoms in those that don’t tolerate dairy well, as well as anecdotal evidence in which such symptoms are mitigated in the presence of a dairy-free diet.

A2 cows produce a form of beta-casein that does not get metabolized into BCM-7. Jersey, Guernsey, and Brown Swiss cows produce predominately A2 beta-casein but are not as popular because of their lower milk production and their necessity to be on pasture. Jersey cow milk is additionally prized due to its higher fat content and creaminess. Goat milk and human milk also contain A2 beta-casein, hence some people’s ability to tolerate goat, but not cow, dairy products.

European cows are predominantly A1, with the exception of those in France. Interestingly, the French, known for their high quality dairy products, have eschewed the modern A1 cows, for reasons of taste, so most of their dairy cows are A2. African and Indian cows are also predominately A2.

For more information on this topic, refer to A Devil in the Milk, by agribusiness and farm-management professor, Keith Woodford.

The great news is that the milk that is best for us is also best for the cows and for our environment (no surprise). The minority dairy producers who choose to raise heirloom cow breeds, such as Jersey and Guernsey, do so to obtain a higher quality product that supports sustainability and animal welfare. According to St. Benoit Creamery, a Northern California milk producer whose herd is composed of pasture-raised Jersey cows, Jersey cows produce 30% less milk compared to their Holstein brethren. In the words of the EPA, “[p]asture-based systems often strive to optimize rather than maximize milk production.” Another benefit to buying milk from these companies is getting your milk in reusable glass bottles, another indication of their commitment to sustainability.

For those of you who are local, here is a guide to some local dairies and their cow breeds:

 
 
 

 

Next month, we will tackle various milk-production processes and how they affect the milk before it reaches your lips.

Read Milk: Does it Do a Body Good? Part 2 now.

 

Give it a Try!

 

This month's recipe is a simple, delicious dessert utilizing our honored ingredient. Enjoy!

 
 

California Bay Laurel Custard

2 cups whole milk
1 California bay laurel leaf (or regular bay leaf if not available)
pinch of sea salt
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
3-4 Tbs maple syrup
nutmeg for garnish

Preheat oven to 300º. Put milk, bay leaf, and pinch of salt into a saucepan over medium heat until it just reaches a low simmer. Take off the heat and let the bay leaf steep for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.

Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks with the maple syrup. Slowly and gradually pour the milk into the egg mixture, whisking all the while until the milk is incorporated.

Divide the custard into 6 ramekins. Place the ramekins into a heat-proof pan (a casserole or roasting pan works well) and fill the pan with water until the level of the water comes half way up the sides of the ramekin. Place the pan with the ramekins and water into the oven and bake until the custard is just set, about 30 minutes. The custards will still be slightly jiggly. Remove the ramekins to a cooling rack, and let cool for at least 2 hours before serving. Dust with freshly grated nutmeg.

 


 

Saturated Fat: Friend or Foe?

Saturated fats, even more than their unsaturated counterparts, have been vilified in recent decades. Blamed for being the cause of cardiovascular disease, such traditionally used saturated fats as lard and schmaltz are almost universally being replaced by the highly processed vegetable oils described in last months post. Many of us have even grown up with a negative “eewww” connotation with the word “lard.”

This is demonstrated by the huge change in the types of fat consumed in the United States over the last century.

 

Fats & Oils in the Food Supply: 1890 vs. 1990 (in descending order of market share)

 
source: Enig, Mary. Know Your Fats

source: Enig, Mary. Know Your Fats

 

But it's time to re-examine the fa(c)ts.

Functions of saturated fats:

  • Compose over 50% of cell membranes and maintain cellular integrity 
  • Facilitate calcium incorporation into bones
  • Protect the liver from toxins
  • Enhance the immune system
  • Important for proper utilization of essential fatty acids
  • Maintain cardiovascular health—most fat around the heart is saturated
  • Short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have antimicrobial properties, protect against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract

As you can see, saturated fats are essential and should not be ignored, much less eschewed in a health-promoting diet. Let's take a look at some fine sources of saturated fats..

Butter: mmm…everything tastes better with butter! Not only that, but check out what it’s got:

Vitamins A, D, E, and K2, antioxidants, lecithin, and a number of other nutrients that benefit the immune system, important for cell membranes, as well as are healing for the digestive tract. And that’s just the beginning. Read more about the benefits of butter here.

But eating all that butter makes you fat, right?? 

On the contrary, butter contains many short- and medium-chain fats that are metabolized for energy rather than stored as fat. These fats are absorbed more efficiently in the digestive tract and get moved directly into the bloodstream for distribution to the body’s cells to be used for energy. Comparatively, their longer-chain counterparts, those found in vegetable oils, are absorbed into the lymph, the fluid that mainly circulates the cells of the immune system, and are more likely to be carried to fat tissue.

So it’s like eating sugar, right?? No, the difference is that sugar induces the release of insulin, a hormone which sequesters sugar and encourages fat storage. Short- and medium-chain fats do not induce an insulin response, which means no blood sugar fluctuations, which means more sustained energy.

Many articles have been published in major publications in the last year, which polish butter’s tarnished reputation: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine.

Coconut Oil: Where shall we begin with all of the benefits? Coconut oil promotes cardiovascular and immune health, supports metabolism, thyroid function, and skin health, and can also be used for weight loss.

 
 

Almost 50% of coconut oil is composed of lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that has significant anti-viral and anti-microbial properties. Lauric acid is converted into monolaurin in the body, and in that form it can combat a number of viruses and bacteria. Coconut oil also contains lots of medium-chain fats, which are metabolized for energy as described above.

Lard: Lard is fat that comes from pigs. It actually contains 60% oleic acid, the monounsaturated fat that makes olive oil so beneficial. The other 40% makes up the saturated fat, although the composition varies widely depending on the pig's diet. Lard has been shown to increase HDL to LDL ratios as well as support the immune system. An extra benefit is that it’s also great for extra deliciously flaky pastries and tender biscuits and cookies.

Just a reminder from last month’s post that saturated fats are completely “saturated” with hydrogen atoms and contain only single bonds, which makes their molecules very stable and not prone to oxidation or rancidity. So go ahead, leave that jar of lard or bacon fat on your countertop for months. No problem!

This makes saturated fats the best to cook with. Butter, ghee, lard, tallow, coconut oil, red palm oil, chicken fat, and duck fat can tolerate heat from cooking without their molecular structures changing.

Some of you may be scratching your heads at this point because you’ve seen other charts that have shown vegetable oils to have higher smoke points, or have seen vegetable oils labeled suitable for high-heat. The truth is that these vegetable oils do have higher smoke points, but the reason is that they are highly refined. The more refined (and processed) an oil is, the higher its smoke point is going to be. For those of you who missed last month’s post, I talk about why these oils are unhealthy to consume.

 
source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

 

It is often possible to obtain fat from your butcher at a fairly low price. Because people eschew this part of the animal, it is still considered a byproduct in many cases. To render the fat simply cut the fat into small 1” chunks and set in a heavy bottomed pot over low heat for hours until the fat has melted down. Pour off the fat into jars, and voìla! You’ve got fat to cook with for months! If you’re not going to use all of it right away store the extra jars in the freezer or fridge and keep the one you’re using on the countertop. You may also find already rendered fat at some butchers and farmers’ markets.

One big caveat to using animal fat is that it’s very important to obtain your fat from properly bred animals, pasture-raised or grass-fed. This is even more important for fat than muscle meat. Toxins accumulate in fat, and therefore all of the antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and other toxic residues found in conventionally raised animals are found in highest concentration in the fat. Furthermore, as discussed in last month’s post, the fatty acid profile for animals, even organic, that have been fed corn and soy all of their lives as is typical, is pro-inflammatory. Consuming fat regularly from these animals could lead to a whole host of health problems. Dark yellow butter from grass-fed cows is an indicator of its nutritive value—the color comes from a higher concentration of beta-carotene, but other nutrients, like vitamins A and E are also in greater amounts.

 
piggies.jpg
 

Butter, coconut oil, and red palm oil are readily available and can usually be found at the grocery store, so no extra work is required to obtain these. Just add them to your list next to the kale and avocados. 

Ghee is often available and has the added benefit of having a much higher smoking point than butter. Ghee is just butter with the milk solids removed and gently cooked until golden—what remains is just the butterfat. This makes ghee more suitable for high-temperature cooking, such as searing meat and roasting vegetables.

 

Give it a Try!

 

This month's recipe takes advantage of the fall's tender eggplants and hot peppers. Cooking the eggplants in lard with some piquant flavors makes for a melt-in-your mouth delight fit for even a staunch eggplant skeptic. If you don't have lard on hand, try it with coconut oil for a Southeast Asian interpretation.

 
 

Sichuan Spicy Fried Eggplant

5 Asian eggplants, cut lengthwise, then crosswise in 1” pieces on the bias
4 T or more lard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 green onions, white and green parts, sliced on the bias
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh red chili, thinly sliced on the bias
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 T soy sauce, or tamari
1 T rice vinegar
1 T honey
1 ½ T arrowroot (optional, to thicken the sauce)
1 T sesame oil
1 T toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
basil and fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

In a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat add about half the lard and tilt the pan to coat all sides. When the fat is hot, add a layer of eggplant, stir-fry until seared and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Season the eggplant with salt and pepper. Remove the eggplant to a plate and cook the remaining eggplant in same manner, adding more fat if needed for each batch.

In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, vinegar, honey, and arrowroot (if using) until the honey and arrowroot are dissolved. After all the eggplant is out of the pan, add the green onions, ginger, garlic, and chili; stir-fry for a minute until fragrant. Add the broth. Pour the soy sauce mixture into the wok, add the eggplant back in, and cover. Cook until the eggplant is completely tender, then uncover and cook until the sauce is absorbed. Drizzle with sesame oil, garnish with sesame seeds, basil, and cilantro and serve.

 


 

Which Unsaturated Fats to Keep Out of Your Diet

Many of us have grown up in an era in which fat has been vilified. We’re accustomed to images of thin, happy people with boundless energy with a cup of fat-free yogurt in hand. For health conscious individuals, it’s practically second nature to reach for low-fat or non-fat milk or choose skinless chicken breast over a well-marbled steak for dinner.

Oh, how times have changed! Whole milk went from 92% of milk consumption in the 1950s to 36% in 2000. As Americans, we’ve been on one wild ride when it’s come to fat recommendations.

Let’s take a look:

In 1910, Americans enjoy butter and lard. Annual per capita consumption is 18 pounds. Lard is the primary cooking fat, 70% of the market share.

 
 

In 1911, Proctor & Gamble introduces Crisco, a cheaper, more shelf-stable alternative to butter and lard, made from hydrogenated vegetable oils. Americans unwittingly consume large amounts of harmful trans-fats for the next century.

 
 

In 1943, during World War II, the USDA introduces a nutrition guide called the “Basic 7,” which outlines seven food groups necessary to maintain proper nutrition. One of those groups is butter (and margarine). 

 
Source: USDA, 1943

Source: USDA, 1943

 

In 1953, Dr. Ancel Keys, the father of saturated-fat-and-cholesterol-lead-to-heart-disease theory sets the stage for the USDA policy on fats for the next 60 (and counting…) years.

In 1956, the USDA introduces “The 4 Food Groups,” in which butter, margarine, cooking oils, and salad dressings are used to round out meals.

In 1992, the USDA introduces the Food Pyramid, in which fats and oils are relegated to the very top of the pyramid along with sweets and to be “used sparingly.”

 
Source: USDA, 1992

Source: USDA, 1992

 

In 2000, per capita consumption of butter in America is 4.6 pounds, while vegetable oil is 58.3 pounds. (Per capita sugar consumption is over 150 pounds, up from 6.3 pounds in 1822).

In 2005, the USDA introduces “My Pyramid,” in which oil takes a teeny sliver. (If you look closely, there’s a bottle of vegetable oil between the banana and some slices of American cheese).

 
Source: USDA, 2005

Source: USDA, 2005

 

2011 to the present…the USDA recommends “My Plate,” with no mention of fats or oils whatsoever. Current USDA policy recommends minimizing "solid fats," which include saturated and trans-fats, and replacing them with polyunsaturated vegetable oils.

 
Source: USDA, 2011

Source: USDA, 2011

 

It seems like it’s a good time to re-evaluate. Do we even need fat? If so, Why??  Just to name a few functions…

  • Every single one of our cell membranes is made up of fatty acids
  • Over 60% of the brain is composed of fat
  • Fat is a precursor to a number of hormones
  • Fat allows us to absorb and utilize vitamins that can’t dissolve in water
  • Fat is what gives a feeling of satiety after eating (the reason why low-fat diets don’t work)
  • Fat helps to stabilize blood sugar levels

Also, since almost all flavor compounds are fat-soluble, fat is what gives food flavor, allowing us to enjoy eating and get all the nutrients we need!

There are two basic types of fat, saturated and unsaturated. Without getting too deep into the boring details, here’s a breakdown:

Saturated fats are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms, which make their molecular structures very stable—all of the bonds are “used up,” so to speak. These molecules are very straight and as a result, they stack well together, making them solid at room temperature. Butter, coconut oil, and lard are high in saturated fats.

Unsaturated fats have double bonds, and these extra bonds have the potential to receive more hydrogen atoms. The extra bonds eagerly await other atoms to hold onto, making unsaturated fats reactive and unstable. Unsaturated fats are very sensitive to heat and light and become oxidized and rancid under such conditions. The double bonds also create kinks in the molecule, making the molecules difficult to stack together and the oils liquid at room temperature.

These are the fats that I'm choosing to focus on for this month. Stay tuned for more on saturated fats next month..

Monounsaturated fats have one double bond (e.g., olive oil, avocado oil)

Polyunsaturated fats have multiple double bonds—the more double bonds the more unstable and fluid the oil (e.g., corn, soy, safflower, flax seed, nut, and fish oils). The two essential fatty acids, the ones that must be obtained from the diet and that our bodies’ can’t produce on their own, are omega-3 (Ω-3) and omega-6 (Ω-6) fatty acids (named after the positions of the double bonds), both polyunsaturated fats.

The two essential fatty acids work antagonistically in the inflammatory pathway. Ω-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory and Ω-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. Acute inflammation is good and absolutely necessary for healing, but many of the most prevalent chronic diseases of modern times, such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and cancer are linked to chronic inflammation.

The following is a chart showing the composition of various fats and oils.

 
Source: USDA, 2010

Source: USDA, 2010

 

Most oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids typically come from seeds, and it’s quite a process to isolate these oils from the seeds. What’s the process, you ask? You ready for it?? Ok, here we go. 

 
 
 
 

Needless to say, this is quite a toxic process that results in a highly refined, and otherwise fragile oil that has been damaged and oxidized before it even hits the shelf. In fact, a significant portion (0.56% to 4.2%, according to one study) of the oil turns into trans-fats along the way. It is best to stay away from these oils altogether.

Side note: Most of us know now to stay away from trans-fats. Numerous studies point to health problems arising from ingesting even trace amounts of trans-fats. Once touted as a health food and seen as a boon to the processed food industry for making shelf-stable cookies as well as oh-so-flaky pie crusts, partially hydrogenated oils are being removed from the “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) for consumption list by the FDA.

Polyunsaturated oils are even sensitive to light, and when they’re stored in those ubiquitous clear plastic bottles, sitting on the shelf under bright supermarket lights all day and for days on end, they’re likely to oxidize even further. This is the reason that flax seed and high-quality, cold-pressed seed or nut oils are stored in dark bottles.

The fats that we consume directly correlate with those that compose our bodies’ tissues. (Remember, you are what you eat!) Consuming rancid polyunsaturated fats makes for fragile cell membranes that produce free radicals, which can promote tissue damage, aging, and disease.

But don’t get me wrong—we NEED unsaturated fats! 

However, the typical Western diet, with a Ω-6 to Ω-3 ratio of between 15:1 and 30:1, is far from the optimal 1:1 to 2:1. The high content of corn, soy, and other vegetable oils in processed foods is a major culprit. Also, because these oils are the least expensive, they are the ones used in restaurants. So even if you stay away from processed foods but you eat out with some frequency you are consuming a significant amount of these oils.

To add insult to injury, the fatty acid profile in meat that comes from industrially raised animals (yes, even organic), which are fed a diet of mostly corn and soy, is weighed heavily towards Ω-6 fatty acids. The Ω-6: Ω-3 for grain-fed beef is up to 14:1, compared to 3:1 to 1:1 for their grass-fed counterparts

Ok, so which unsaturated fats should we eat??

It’s fairly easy to get enough monounsaturated and Ω-6 fatty acids. Chances are you're meeting your requirements without even thinking about it. If you eat chicken, eggs, avocados, olives, olive oil, and nuts you’re likely getting enough. 

It is best to get your Ω-3 fatty acids from fish, pastured eggs and meat. Fish particularly high in these beneficial oils include anchovies, sardines, salmon, mackerel, smelt, and black cod. 

 
 

Flax, hemp, and chia seeds contain a form of Ω-3 that requires conversion in the body before it’s in a form that is usable, and the rate of conversion can be relatively low, depending on the individual. These sources, however, are satisfactory substitutes if you're allergic to seafood or otherwise staying away from fish.

A note on fish oil supplementation: Most of us have heard the benefits of Ω-3 fatty acids being extolled, and fish oil supplementation is more popular now than ever before. But as discussed earlier, as a polyunsaturated fat, it is very unstable and needs to be treated with the utmost care in processing, shipping, and storing. Many manufacturers of fish oils do not take this care, and the result is oil that is oxidized and rancid before it's even packaged. It is also possible to get too much Ω-3, which is easy to do with supplementation.

As you may have concluded by now, it's best not to subject unsaturated fats to high heat, which means they aren't ideal to cook with. Olive oil, which is slightly more stable due to its high monounsaturated fat content, may be gently heated but is best uncooked. Add it to salads or drizzle some over your food at the end of cooking. (Hint: next month will feature the fats that are better to cook with).

 

Give it a Try!

 

The following is a recipe full of healthy unsaturated fats while utilizing the summer bounty. Feel free to substitute the mackerel with sardines, or smelt, which are a bit less fishy. Enjoy!

 
 

Grilled Mackerel with Peach-Tomato Salsa

2 fresh, whole mackerel, cleaned, gutted, and divided into 4 filets
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp red chili flakes
ghee for brushing
a drizzle of olive oil

Peach-Tomato Salsa

1 ripe, but firm peach, cut into a small dice
2 Early Girl tomatoes or a handful of cherry/sungold tomatoes, cut into a small dice
zest from 1 lemon
juice from 1 lemon
½ small red onion, minced
¼ cup Kalamata olives
¼ fresh parsley, chopped
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp red chili flakes
salt to taste

Sprinkle the mackerel with salt and red chili flakes. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the salsa, 20-30 minutes.

Combine all of the salsa ingredients, and adjust seasonings, adding salt and more lemon juice as necessary. Salsa should be sweet from the peaches and tomatoes and acidic from the lemon juice. Let stand for at least 10 minutes prior to serving.

Heat the grill to high. Brush the grill with a folded paper towel dipped in a small amount of ghee. Place the mackerel skin side down on the grill until skin gets browned and crispy, about 2 minutes. Flip over and grill on the other side until flesh is just barely opaque, just 30 seconds to 1 minute. Immediately (but carefully) remove to a platter.

(If you don’t feel like firing up the grill, you may also place the mackerel in a broiler-proof pan and broil for a similar amount of time).

If desired, garnish plate with sliced lemons and spoon the salsa over the fish. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Serve immediately.

 


 

Should We Eat Grains?

A world in which we are bombarded with carbohydrates, and whole grains are touted as a health food while low-carb, no-carb, and Paleo diets are ever increasing in popularity makes for mixed messages and much confusion. What’s the deal with grains? Are they good for us or bad for us?? Well, the answer, as you may have suspected, is complicated.

 
Photo taken by Harris Ueng. Used with permission

Photo taken by Harris Ueng. Used with permission

 

Most of us know that processed white grains that have been removed from their fibrous and vitamin- and mineral-rich hulls are composed mainly of starch and depleted of nutrients. A diet rich in processed grains in the form of snacks and desserts, breads, tortillas, and even white grains can lead to blood sugar dysregulation, weight gain, and subsequent health problems.

But what about whole grains??

Let’s take a closer look at what these grains that we eat do for the plant itself. Grains are the seeds of plants and contain an embryo, or a baby plant, which requires nourishment to grow. Seeds are naturally full of nutrients because, much like the yolk of an egg, the carbohydrates and proteins are needed for the embryo to sprout, then grow into a full fledged adult plant. 

Unlike in flowering plants with which animals have a “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” evolutionary relationship (think delicious fruit for animal and seed dispersal for plant), grasses, which rely on wind to spread their seed don’t have to offer anything to an animal. On the contrary, the plant attempts to selfishly hold on to its nutrients so that they can be reserved for the young embryo. The less digested the seed passes through the animal’s digestive tract, the better for the plant. Unfortunately what this means for us, the animals who’ve decided to cultivate these plants’ seeds for our own benefit, is nutrients are difficult to extract from the grain.

Let's examine some of these nutrients and anti-nutrients.

Gliadin in wheat, secalin in rye, and hordein in barley are proteins that are particularly difficult to digest and remain partially undigested in even the healthiest of guts. We simply don’t have the digestive enzymes to completely break these proteins down. Inevitably, some food will always pass through our digestive tracts undigested, but undigested food in the gut increases the chance of allergies as our immune systems are exposed to more foreign particles.

In fact, gluten intolerance is on the rise. The incidence of Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that is directly triggered by gliadin, is increasing and is estimated to affect 1 in 133 people in the United States, and Celiac specialists estimate that the number is actually higher due to misdiagnoses. Additionally, some people who don’t have Celiac may still have an increased sensitivity to undigested gluten and experience corresponding adverse reactions. It is most important for those with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivities to eschew gluten-containing grains.

Gluten is a protein complex composed of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. It is found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and spelt. Gluten, which means “glue” in Latin, gives bread its lofty, chewy, elastic qualities. Its elastic molecular structure allows bread to maintain its form while it rises—just think of your favorite airy, crusty-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside baguette, mmm…

 
Photo taken by Harris Ueng. Used with permission

Photo taken by Harris Ueng. Used with permission

 

Because of the very desirable qualities that this protein provides, wheat, the primary grain used for bread-making, has been bred for high gluten content since the advent of leavened bread 2000 to 5000 years ago. In fact, 70-80% of wheat grown in the United States is the hard winter variety, with twice the gluten content of the soft spring variety, which is bred for more starch rather than protein to yield soft, tender cakes and flaky pie crusts.

Phytic acid, present in the hulls of all seeds, and therefore grains, binds phosphorus and minerals. It is merely a way for the seed to store these nutrients. Non-ruminant animals, such as ourselves, lack the enzyme phytase that can digest phytic acid to liberate the phosphorus and bound minerals for utilization. Phytic acid attaches to important minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium as well as certain B vitamins and prevents their proper absorption when we eat grains. Thus, a diet based on improperly prepared grains can lead to mineral deficiencies and corresponding illnesses.

Lectins, carbohydrate-binding proteins, are extremely irritating to the gut and are found in high concentration in grains.

Because seeds are dormant, just waiting for those perfect conditions to sprout, they also contain enzyme inhibitors, further decreasing digestibility.

With the encouragement of government farm subsidies and the USDA food pyramid, which showed grains being the foundation of a healthy diet, Americans have been eating more grains than ever before. According to the USDA, grain consumption was 45% higher in 2000 than the 1970s. The USDA estimates that the average American even exceeds the daily recommendation, eating more than 11 servings per day, mostly of refined carbohydrates.

 
1992 USDA Food Pyramid. Source: USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion

1992 USDA Food Pyramid. Source: USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion

 

Traditionally, grains were never consumed in the large quantities they are today, and when they were, they were prepared in ways with care that made the tightly bound and difficult-to-digest nutrients more available and absorbable. Grains were soaked, sprouted, or fermented—these preparations increase the nutrient availability, and we turn to ancient wisdom to properly prepare our grains today.

Soaking in acidulated water, such as with vinegar or lemon juice, causes a twofold release of minerals and phosphorus from phytic acid. Binding of minerals to phytic acid is pH-dependent and phytase, the naturally occurring enzyme that breaks it down, functions optimally under slightly acidic conditions. The acidic environment also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, further enhancing nutrient availability.

 
soaking grains

soaking grains

 

Sprouting grains causes the release of phosphorus and minerals from phytic acid as well as the activation of enzymes and the production of vitamins, as nutrients are liberated so that the seed can begin its germination process. What that translates to for us is again, increased availability of those nutrients. Lectins, thought to play a role in germination, decrease in concentration when seeds are sprouted. Young sprouts, however, in efforts to keep animals from eating them, produce irritating compounds that can be neutralized with cooking.

 
sprouting quinoa

sprouting quinoa

 

Fermentation is arguably the most nutrient dense preparation of grains--it increases nutrient accessibility because bacteria produce phytase, and gluten and other proteins that are difficult for us are a cinch for the bacteria and are thus predigested. In fact, some people with gluten sensitivities can tolerate sourdough breads that have been naturally leavened! The increased acidity created by the fermentation process doubly facilitates nutrient enhancement.

These traditional preparations transform the grain from a seed with difficult-to-access nutrients and even some toxic anti-nutrients to one rich in health-promoting, bioavailable nutrients. Modern processing of grains, including extrusion and with quick-rising yeasts, don’t follow methods of traditional wisdom. The resulting ubiquitous grains and grain-based foods, while often delicious, should be consumed sparingly.  As long as you don't have adverse reactions to grains, those that are properly prepared can be a part of a health promoting diet.

 

 

Give it a Try!

A sprouted grain recipe perfect for those summer BBQ's...enjoy!

 
 

Sprouted Rice and Quinoa with Orange and Pistachios

1 cup sprouted quinoa
1 ½ cup sprouted rice
1 onion, sliced
4 T butter
1/3 cup olive oil
zest and juice from 1 orange
2 tsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 scallions, thinly sliced
¾ cup dried apricots
2/3 cup crispy pistachios
2 cups arugula
salt and pepper to taste

Add rice to a saucepan with 2 ¼ cups water. Cook until water is absorbed and rice remains al dente, about 20-25 minutes. Add quinoa to a saucepan with 1 ½ cups water. Cook until water is absorbed and quinoa remains al dente, about 8-10 minutes. If desired, spread grains out on a sheet pan to cool.

Meanwhile, sauté onion in 4 T butter for 10-12 minutes, until golden. Let cool. In a large bowl, combine rice, quinoa, onion, olive oil, and remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Adapted from Ottolenghi, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi