Wednesday, June 20, 2012

5 Spices with Incredible Healing Power

SpicesPhoto: Daniel Catt
If getting fancy with spices is your kind of kitchen jazz, or if you’re into home remedies, we’ve got great news for you. Spices have some wicked healing powers, and scientists are still unlocking the slew of benefits our spice cabinet can have for our health. We’re going to cover just five of these superpowers of the plant world.
5. Cinnamon
Cinnamon SticksPhoto: Steven Depolo
Gnawing on tree bark turns out to be a good thing, and not just for beavers. According to research, eating a mere 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon a day significantly decreased the blood sugar in people who had type II diabetes. Not only that, this powerful bark decreases cholesterol, keeps your teeth and gums healthy, improves digestion and alleviates the congestion that comes from colds and allergies. It’s also anti-inflammatory and improves blood circulation. If you needed an excuse to eat apple pie, this could be it.
4. Turmeric
TurmericPhoto: Cherry Rhodes
Turmeric is perhaps a less well-known spice, unless you love Indian food and curry. This spice is bright orange and comes from the root of a plant in the ginger family. It is a powerful antioxidant (just as strong as vitamins C and E) and works as an anti-inflammatory agent. In fact, it can be drunk in the form of golden milk to reduce inflammation and joint pain, or put on a swollen area as a poultice. People with liver problems or hepatitis also drink turmeric or take turmeric capsules because this spice increases the production of bile in the liver and protects it from toxins.
3. Ginger
GingerPhoto: Heymrleej
One of the great things about ginger is that it improves your muscle tone – but not on your biceps; in your intestinal tract. Yep. Have problems with nausea, diarrhea, stomach aches and gas? Well, ginger is your man. It's so effective that it has been used to prevent nausea and vomiting after surgery and cancer treatments. Some preliminary studies also suggest that ginger may help prevent cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
2. Basil
BasilPhoto: Pawel Kabanski
This leafy herb is not only delicious on pizza or ground up in pesto, but also boosts the cardiovascular system. People who have colds or asthma drink basil tea to make breathing easier and to invigorate the lungs. Basil also has a calming effect on the nerves, relieves headaches, brings down fevers and promotes healing from insect bites and skin infections.
1. Oregano
OreganoPhoto: Tibbygirl
If you have bad breath, try swishing an infusion of oregano around in your mouth as a cure. This herb is great against swollen throats, coughing, insomnia and headaches. Not only that; this herb packs a powerful antioxidant punch. According to this source, oregano has “42 times more antioxidants than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges, and four times more than blueberries.”
SpicesPhoto: Nina_Haghighi
These are only a few of the many spices with powerful medicinal properties. Not only are they completely natural and cheap, they don’t have negative side-effects. Maybe next time you get sick, you’ll turn to the spice cabinet instead of the pepto bismol and cortisone shots.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

'Fermentation': When Food Goes Bad But Stays Good

Yogurt is produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk. "Bacteria in our gut enable us to live," says author Sandor Katz. "We could not survive without bacteria." Yogurt is produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk. "Bacteria in our gut enable us to live," says author Sandor Katz. "We could not survive without bacteria."
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June 13, 2012
The list of fermented food in our lives is staggering: bread, coffee, pickles, beer, cheese, yogurt and soy sauce are all transformed at some point during their production process by microscopic organisms that extend their usefulness and enhance their flavors.
The process of fermenting our food isn't a new one: Evidence indicates that early civilizations were making wine and beer between 7,000 and 8,000 years ago — and bread even before that.
But was exactly is fermentation? And how does it work? Those were the questions that fascinated Sandor Katz for years. Katz calls himself a "fermentation revivalist" and has spent the past decade teaching workshops around the country on the ancient practice of fermenting food.
Katz collects many of his recipes and techniques in a new book, The Art of Fermentation, in which he describes fermentation as "the flavorful space between fresh and rotten."
"If you walk into a gourmet food store and start thinking about the nature of the foods that we elevate on the gourmet pedestal, almost all of them are the products of fermentation," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "Fermentation creates strong flavors. But they're not always flavors that everybody can agree on."
The Art of Fermentation
The Art of Fermentation
An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World
Hardcover, 498 pages |
Take cheese, for instance. Cheese exists in a variety of flavors, including the extra-stinky varieties Katz says he fancies. "But once in a while I'll buy cheese and I've learned that some friends will smell the cheese and walk out of the room," he says. "They'll never think about putting that in their mouths. ... So around the world, you find these iconic foods created by fermentation that create strong, strong flavors that become strong markers of cultural identity and in many cases, people who have not been raised within the culture find these foods very challenging."
In addition to enhancing flavors, fermentation also allows food items to be preserved well past their shelf-life date, says Katz.
"It's not forever like canned foods that you can put into a pantry or storm cellar and forget about for 10 years and still eat it," he says. "These foods are alive, they're dynamic, but they're extremely effective strategies for preserving food through a few seasons, which is really the point."
Starting With Sauerkraut
For fermentation newbies, Katz recommends starting with sauerkraut because it's particularly easy to make. To begin, take a cabbage and any additional vegetables you want and chop it up. Put your chopped veggies in a large bowl and lightly salt them. (Katz notes that he never measures the salt because there's really no "magic number for how much salt to use.")
After salting the veggies, which helps get rid of excess water, Katz squeezes them for a few minutes to release their juices, so that they can be submerged under their own liquid. (Katz says he hardly ever adds water to his kraut, because the flavor is more concentrated if you use only the vegetable juice.) He then stuffs the veggies and the juices they've released into a jar.
Sandor Katz is the author of Wild Fermentation and lectures extensively on topics related to fermentation.
Enlarge Courtesy of the author Sandor Katz is the author of Wild Fermentation and lectures extensively on topics related to fermentation.
"You want to press really hard to force out any air bubbles," he notes. "And you want to make sure that the vegetables are pressed down under their juices. And then just seal the jar — but be aware that pressure will be produced, so you don't want to leave it for days and days."
Katz recommends checking the jar on a daily basis to release the pressure — and then after maybe 3-5 days, enjoying your new creation.
"The flavors transform very quickly," he says. "The bacteria proliferate, the texture changes, and what I recommend to people experimenting for the first time, is just to taste it at periodic intervals. And then you're getting a sense of whether you're liking it more and more as the flavor gets more acidic or whether it's acidic enough and you want to move it into your fermentation-slowing device, which is your refrigerator."
Once you've mastered the simple kraut, Katz says you can add spices and/or other items like apples or cranberries to your jar. "You can basically use any season you like," he says.