We mostly see them as flavorants, as the little jars of powder that line our cabinets and the bags of dried roots, barks, and leaves tucked away in drawers, designed to subtly or drastically alter the flavor profile of our “smart fuel” creations in the kitchen, but for most of human history, spices were also prized for their medicinal qualities. Turmeric for GI disorders and inflammation. Chili peppers for pain management. Ginger for diarrhea. These aren’t just exaggerated cases of “folk medicine” or “old wives’ tales,” either. Current research has confirmed that many common spices do indeed have medicinal properties. One of the most beneficial is also the most common: cinnamon.
Of the tropical oils, coconut gets the most attention, while palm oil gets mostly ignored. The virgin coconut oil has a fairly distinct flavor, but it’s one most people are familiar with, and it lends itself well to both sweet and savory dishes. Palm oil, especially the virgin red variety that gets all the attention for its positive health effects, also has a distinct flavor, but it’s one many people seem to dislike, probably because it’s so unfamiliar (in the US, at least; worldwide, palm oil is the most widely used cooking oil) to our palates. Scott Kustes had a guest post awhile back discussing the tropical oils, but I thought it would be good to give a short, comprehensive primer on the multiple varieties of palm oil.
We’ve written about the nutritional benefits of coconut, shared recipes that include coconut milk, and discussed the merits of coconut flour, but we’ve never actually fully covered one of the best coconut products out there: coconut oil.
Coconut oil consists of about 92 percent saturated fat and is therefore nearly solid at room temperature. It can be used in cooking, but is also a common ingredient in home remedies and skin care products.
Although it gets a bad rap in some circles for its high saturated fat content, we know that such fats can offer many health benefits. For example, coconut oil has been found to help normalize blood lipids and protect against damage to the liver by alcohol and other toxins, can play a role in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases, and is associated with improved blood sugar and insulin control and therefore the prevention and management of diabetes. In addition, coconut oil has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. On a more superficial level, meanwhile, coconut oil is thought to help strengthen mineral absorption, which is important for healthy teeth and bones, and can also help improve the condition and appearance of the scalp, hair and skin when ingested or topically applied.
Jicama is that white, crispy tuberous root that the fruit cart guys always douse in chile power and lime and serve on a stick. The naturally-occurring oligofructose inulin lends it a slightly sweet flavor. It’s tasty, refreshing, and seemingly innocuous – but is it loaded with carbs? It seems a little carby, and I’ve mostly avoided it (a difficult task in Southern California where fruit carts beckon from every other street corner) for that very reason, but a couple reader comments have prompted an investigation.
If my informed, Primal readership was supporting jicama consumption, surely there was more to it.
In that Mediterranean world which begat Western civilization, the olive enjoyed special prominence beyond its culinary properties. Roman aristocracy thought good health depended on two things: wine within, and (olive) oil without. The olive branch was the symbol of peace, and the fruit itself an emblem of wealth and prosperity. Today, the oil extracted from olives is the main draw for many – it figures crucially in Italian, Greek, and Northern African cooking, and it’s the basis for many marinades, dressings, and sauces. As Primal Blueprinters, olive oil is one of the best fats we can use, but let’s not forget about the source. Whether as snack, spread, or salad ingredient, we need to start recognizing the power and versatility of the olive itself.
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