What do you know about cumin? Cumin seeds are pungent, potent little things with the ability to significantly change the trajectory of a dish. They are featured prominently in Mexican, Mediterranean, Indian, Middle Eastern, and certain Chinese cuisines. Back in the Middle Ages, cumin was one of the most popular – and most accessible – condiments for the spice-crazy Europeans, and stories tell of soldiers going off to war with loaves of cumin bread in their satchels for good luck. Cumin originated in the Mediterranean, and it was used extensively by the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Persians, and just about everyone in that region. It is not to be confused with caraway, which is actually called “cumin” in multiple European languages. They are somewhat similar in taste and appearance, but cumin is spicier and, in my opinion, tastier.
After last week’s article many of you asked about a natural alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners: stevia. It is widely used in the low carb community to satisfy sugar cravings or simply add a touch of sweetness to a hot beverage or dessert, but should it be? What is stevia? Is it safe? What is its effect on insulin, if any, and does it have a place in a Primal Blueprint eating strategy? Let’s investigate.
Stevia is an herbaceous family of plants, 240 species strong, that grows in sub-tropical and tropical America (mostly South and Central, but some North). Stevia the sweetener refers to stevia rebaudiana, the plant and its leaves, which you can grow and use as or with tea (it was traditionally paired with yerba mate in South America) or, dried and powdered, as a sugar substitute that you sprinkle on. It’s apparently quite easy to grow (according to the stevia seller who tries to get me to buy a plant or two whenever I’m at the Santa Monica farmers’ market), and the raw leaf is very sweet.
What can compare to the sweet, buttery mac nut’s tender embrace? As far as nuts, seeds, and pseudo-nuts go, its fatty acid profile is unparalleled. Throw a handful into a bowl of Greek yogurt, along with blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries (or any berry, really), and you’ve got yourself a rich, masterful dessert with minimal linoleic acid. And it’s got good amounts of magnesium, manganese, thiamine, copper, and iron. Pack a baggy full and you’ve got yourself the perfect trail food for day long hikes. Suffice it to say, they’re my go-to snack when I’m feeling a bit peckish throughout the day.
But that’s not why I’m here today – to extoll the virtues of the macadamia nut.
About 160,000 years ago the human diet expanded to include seafood. Early humans became coastal dwellers at least that long ago, and ever since then we’ve been inextricably linked to the sea. The sea contains our most reliable source (when we aren’t dining on the brains of ruminants) of the all-important, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. And then there’s the edible sea vegetation. I’ve written briefly about it before, but edible seaweed seems to be lacking from most folks’ diets, even those eating an otherwise complete Primal diet. For those in Western countries, the only seaweed they’ll happen across on a regular basis comes stuffed with rice and raw fish. It’s not a modern staple, unless you’re in Asia, and it simply isn’t on most people’s radars. It should be, though.
It may not share cinnamon’s universal applicability to consumables, but turmeric is another spice with some powerful culinary and medicinal qualities that deserves our attention. Turmeric, known officially as Curcuma longa and historically as Indian saffron, is a rhizome of the ginger family. Its horizontal root system is dug up, baked, and ground into a fine orange powder, which then goes into any number of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Southeast Asian dishes. Pretty much every curry you come across anywhere, for example, includes a generous portion of turmeric. Common yellow mustard also includes turmeric, mostly as a food colorant.
Turmeric imparts a unique flavor: slightly bitter and a bit spicy, with a mustard-like scent. Upon tasting a dab of turmeric powder by itself for the first time, one is reminded of curries and other Asian stews. It’s a bit of an “Aha!” moment, in fact; you’re finally direct witness to the identity of that secretive flavor lurking within the explosiveness of the common Asian curry after all those years of take out and home cooking with anonymous curry powder mixes. Turmeric itself is actually fairly mild and unassuming, so using it as a solitary spice won’t turn every dish into a curry bonanza – in case you were worried.
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