Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
12 Mar

Is It Primal? – Pork Rinds, Cottage Cheese, Monk Fruit Sweetener, and Other Foods Scrutinized

Pork ChicharronIt’s time for another edition of “Is It Primal?” Before I begin, though, I want to reiterate that these are just my general recommendations. People ask for my opinion on various foods, and I provide them with an answer. It’s tough and nigh impossible to delineate Primal or not Primal in black and white terms, simply because the suitability of a food depends not only on the composition of that food, but also the context of the person who’s (considering) eating it. I’ll give you the basics, I’ll give you my opinion, and you have to determine the specifics. Sound good? And hey, don’t throw out your expensive electronics after reading this post.

Anyway, today we’re discussing pork rinds, cottage cheese, monk fruit sweetener, sago, and black elderberry syrup. Let’s get to it.

Pork Rinds

Pork rinds have a long and storied history in every pig-eating country. Walk any major Latin American city and you’ll probably come across someone hawking chicharrones. In Canada, they’re scrunchions. In the US, they’re cracklings (usually pronounced “cracklins”). In Britain, they’re pork scratchings. Most Asian countries also have their own form. Wherever you are, though, the pork rind is essentially the same save for whatever seasonings were applied: slices of the skin fried in its own fat as it renders out.

The resultant fatty styrofoam-esque puffs are ubiquitous at mini-marts, truck stops, and ethnic supermarkets. They’re a rich source of protein, but it’s “unusable” and “useless” gelatin that won’t get you “hooge” or “anabolic” due to a lack of essential amino acids (if you listen to most fitness forums). That’s a simplistic way of looking at protein, as I’ve said before. Gelatin is rich in glycine, improves sleep, helps with joint pain, and can actually be protein-sparing. Most of us aren’t eating enough of the whole animal anymore, so the occasional handful of pork rinds can be an easy way to get your gelatin (though I’d say real bone broth, gelatinous cuts of meat like shanks, and even plain gelatin are arguably superior sources).

If you’re worried about seed oils being used as the frying medium, just check the label. You want “pork skin” and “salt,” ideally. If oils were used, they’ll be listed in the ingredients. This is pretty rare, though, as frying a piece of fatty skin in exogenous fat, instead of using the fat inherent to the skin, only costs the producer more money. MSG is often added, too, so watch out for that if you’re sensitive and wish to avoid it.

Some people crush them up and use them as breading for fried meat dishes. You probably don’t want to make this a regular thing, but it’s a nice alternative to standard breading.

The one thing I’m still wondering after all this: why do I keep misspelling “pork” as “prok”?

Verdict: Primal, as long as they’re cooked in their own fat.

Cottage Cheese

Historically, cottage cheese was made from the skim milk left over after butter making. The resulting product was a salty, low-whey, high-casein source of dairy protein rich in branched chain amino acids.

Since it’s mostly casein, people who react poorly to casein will probably want to avoid cottage cheese, too. And then there’s the talk of A1 casein v A2 casein, with the latter being the safer, more “ancestral” type that’s prevalent in Jersey cows (and buffalo, goats, and sheep) and the former being the dangerous, more “novel” type that’s prevalent in Holsteins and other modern breeds. I’m not sure I buy into the essential importance of it for everyone, but it’s something to consider if you think you’re intolerant of dairy in general (because it might be the A1 casein, not the “dairy”). Unless you make it yourself, though, I doubt there’s much A2-only cottage cheese available on the market.

Some of the higher fat cottage cheeses I’ve seen add various thickeners, binders, and emulsifiers, but if that’s an issue for you, a splash of heavy cream in the cottage cheese is a nice way to get around it and add some fat if you like. Blueberries make it even better. Or you can do it like they did in the old days and just eat some butter along with your low fat cottage cheese.

Verdict: Primal, if you do dairy.

Monk Fruit Sweetener

Deep in the forests of Guangxi, shrouded by mountain mists and tended to by mystical centenarians, grows the monk fruit. Its persistent vines studded with heart-shaped leaves curl around whatever they touch, and legend has it that the monk fruit vine sustains its caretakers by enveloping them and transmitting pure life-force directly into their hearts. What about the rest of us? Those who aren’t lucky enough to have a symbiotic relationship with a magical vine? Can we get anything of use from the monk fruit vine?

Maybe. The monk fruit itself appears to have some interesting components, similar to stevia, including a group of triterpene glycosides (called mogrosides) that are sweet but non-caloric. Like stevia, monk fruit mogrosides have some health effects beyond just being sweet without being caloric:

I’d say it’s worth a shot if you’re looking for a non-caloric, natural sweetener, especially if you don’t like the taste of stevia. Seeing as how one study gave dogs up to 3 grams per kg body weight without affecting body weight, food consumption, hematology, blood chemistry, urinalysis, organ weight, or histopathology, the monk fruit extract appears to be fairly non-toxic. And if you have the climate to grow monk fruit, you might try setting up that whole symbiotic relationship/lifeforce exchange thing (perfect for people who telecommute).

Verdict: Primal, especially if you’re okay with stevia.


Sago is palm starch, derived from young palm trees. It’s that stuff you often see people on the nature channel pounding into oblivion in order to render it into a somewhat edible powder. For folks who can’t just waltz into a Whole Foods and buy fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables or whose traditional hunting and foraging grounds have been severely marginalized by corrupt government officials and the large corporations who line their pockets, sago provides a valuable source of carbohydrate calories. Palms can grow where other food crops often cannot, so it’s undoubtedly better than nothing.

The problem is that carbohydrate is basically all sago provides. There’s essentially no protein, even less fat, and almost no micro-nutrition (save for a few measly milligrams of calcium and a little over one milligram of iron). Unless you have no other options, if you’re looking for starch, just eat some tubers. If you have the chance to try a traditional dish that uses sago, like the Malaysian fish sausage known as kerepok lekor, go for it. Just don’t rely on sago unless you have to, especially when plenty of more nutrient-dense starch and carb sources abound.

Verdict: Primal, but probably not worth your time.

Black Elderberry Syrup

I’ve always liked the sound of black elderberry syrup, probably because it sounds like something Bilbo Baggins would pour over his seed cakes. Actual elderberries are slightly toxic, in fact. The seeds, leaves, and twigs of the plant contain glycosides that convert to cyanide in the body, while the fruit flesh itself has other toxic components that must be nullified with heat. That’s probably why elderberries aren’t sold in bins along with blueberries and blackberries, instead generally being found in heated, concentrated syrup form in the health food aisle.

Elderberries do have potential as health boons. Like any other colorful berry, they are extremely rich in polyphenols, for one, and these elderberry plant compounds have been shown to inhibit osteoporosis in a diabetic mouse model and reduce lipid oxidation and oxidative stress. But you can say the same about polyphenols from other colorful plants. Anything unique to the elderberry syrup itself?

I think so. Traditionally, elderberries and their syrups were used as immune assistants. And, as is often the case, modern research appears to confirm some of the older justifications for use of the substance. For instance, it’s been shown to improve resistance against the flu virus. In vitro research shows that elderberry extract is deadly against pathogenic upper-respiratory bacteria (cold) and influenza (flu), and that elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent swine flu infection. That said, a 2010 meta-analysis found that while the efficacy of elderberry extracts and syrups was “promising,” further research is needed.

As for the syrup part of “black elderberry syrup,” I wouldn’t worry too much. It’s sugary, but you’re not pouring this stuff over pancakes. It’s medicinal. You’re taking a teaspoon at a time, maybe a bit more or a bit less, depending on what the label recommends. At most, you’re getting five grams of sugar, which isn’t anything to worry about.

Verdict: Primal and perhaps quite useful in times of (minor) sickness. Just don’t pour it over pancakes (seed cakes from the Shire are acceptable, however).

That’s it for today, folks. If you’ve got questions about other foods, don’t hesitate to write in or leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. The Mexican market down the street (San Jose, CA) makes chicharrones both in curled up rinds and in full skin form. Way yummier than the truck stop variety.

    Rowan wrote on March 12th, 2013
  2. I use pork rinds as an accompaniment with Mexican meals instead of corn tortilla chips. They make pretty good salsa scoopers.

    Awestra wrote on March 12th, 2013
  3. Buying fresh made pork rinds from the butcher is so much better than the ones from the supermarket!

    Stefan wrote on March 12th, 2013
    • Grattons de Lyon à l’apéritif…with a drizzle of vinaigre/vinegar …si bons!

      Could the French “grattons” possibly be considered a permissible paleo pork rind substitution?..The duck “grattons” varietal is also very delicious.

      Donna wrote on March 12th, 2013
  4. Daisy cottage cheese has no bad stuff :) And no milk powders hiding in the skim milk which would lead to oxidized cholesterol. And it’s delicious!!!!!!!

    Meagan wrote on March 12th, 2013
    • Maybe not but it has casein in it as most dairy does which is hard for your body to digest. Along with sugar, fat and sodium.

      E5wife wrote on August 20th, 2013
  5. Elderberries are best mixed with brambles and made into wine.

    fifer wrote on March 12th, 2013
  6. Hey, I would be very careful, in the UK at least as every packet of pork rinds, scratchings, crunch or any kind of pork rind product has wheat flour and gluten. :(

    There are some that don’t and for some reason these seem to be the flavoured ones but if anyone comes across gluten free pork rinds in the UK I would love a link.

    Anyone know how to make them?


    Marcus wrote on March 12th, 2013
    • Just posted before reading your comment. Awfully Posh Snacks make some delicious gluten-free scratchings, you can get them in Waitrose (and presumably elsewhere):

      They’re proper scratchings, not puffy ones.

      Joe Wrigley wrote on March 13th, 2013
    • Try Awfully Posh Snacks, you can get them in Waitrose.

      Joe Wrigley wrote on March 13th, 2013
    • You don’t want to eat pork if you are paleo. or human in general

      E5wife wrote on August 20th, 2013
  7. “The one thing I’m still wondering after all this: why do I keep misspelling “pork” as “prok”?”

    Grok :-)

    Diane wrote on March 12th, 2013
  8. I just adore pork rings, they are my favourite. I always tend to get more, cause my hubby is not in to it:)

    vickie wrote on March 12th, 2013
  9. Avocado oil makes a great mayo although somewhat expensive. The La Tourangelle brand seems to be darker green than the Spectrum oil I have found and makes a green colored mayo.

    The oil has done well with cooking. I use it for dishes where avocado just seems more appropriate to me than olive flavor (e.g. Mexican). Obviously if I am making an Italian tomato sauce, I will reach for the Olive oil.

    Jesse wrote on March 12th, 2013
  10. Green Deane eats *ripe* raw black elderberries and lives to tell about it:

    Note: he warns to not eat red elderberries raw.

    Paleophil wrote on March 12th, 2013
  11. I may be late in the game here, but there’s a great store in Edmonton called Tienda Latina (Argyll Foods) at the NE corner of 99 St and Argyll. They sell pork rinds fried in lard without MSG. Great little store and friendly owners, not much available in the way of primal though…

    Lg wrote on March 12th, 2013
  12. Unfortunately, most pork scratchings in the UK use wheat rusk and other nefarious ingredients. You can get the nasty styrofoamy ones in chinese supermarkets but pork scratchings have a much better texture. More like than

    However, I recently found a brand, Awfully Posh Snacks, which are purely pork rinds and anglesey sea salt but maintain the delicious taste and texture of a proper pork scratching. You can get them in Waitrose.

    Joe Wrigley wrote on March 13th, 2013
  13. I hear you on consistently misspelling common words, made me LOL!

    I’m a nursing student now, but spent the last three years working as a health secretary doing medical transcription. I touch-type. For some insane reason, one of the few words I ever misspell is “treatment”. Imagine how often I have to type it!

    Go figure…

    Merope1078 wrote on March 13th, 2013
  14. I have yet to find a pork rind brand I like.. maybe I’m looking in the wrong place.

    Also, you can make your own elderberry syrup easily with dried elderberries and honey.

    PirateJeni wrote on March 13th, 2013
  15. Pork scratchings are easy to cook. If you slow roast a piece of belly pork you will get delicious crackling (but you need 20 mins at a high temp at the start of cooking until the skin puffs up). You can also just roast the skin. Here is a link to a recipe from Nigel Slater

    Anne wrote on March 13th, 2013
  16. I always spell ‘pork’ ‘prok’ too.

    Jessica wrote on March 13th, 2013
  17. primal pancakes, that is

    Steffo wrote on March 13th, 2013
  18. I enjoy cottage cheese from time to time although I really love fresh mozzerella it is my favorite of all the foods in the dairy category! I wonder if that is considered “primal” or not? My local Wegmans and whole foods have a great selection of it, it sure is delicious and is rBST free not to mention its carb content is next to nothing :)

    Jaybee86 wrote on March 13th, 2013
  19. Wow, I didn’t realize there were so many paleo peeps in Edmonton. We should definitely look at starting something up. I have a friend who just started an Edmonton paleo blog:
    Check it out!

    Patrick wrote on March 13th, 2013
  20. We make a cordial from home grown elderberries. 1 cup sugar in a quart jar, fill with berries, top with vodka. Close and shake twice a day for a month, wait another month, strain out berries, and taker your medicine. Tastes great in hot spiced cider.

    Joanna wrote on March 13th, 2013
  21. Interesting

    H88255 wrote on March 13th, 2013
  22. My corn-free, soy-free, organic, pastured half-hog came with about four pounds of skin. I used a guide I found on the internet ( to fry them up in coconut oil. I added a dash of sea salt at the end and the result is sublime. Light, crunchy, savory… nothing like the pungent, off-tasting ones that come in the bag at the supermarket.

    My boys (3 & 1) are absolutely wild about them. They have a hard time saying chicharrones, so instead they just ask for a “crunchy snack.”

    Jennifer Lissette wrote on March 14th, 2013
  23. I live in Malaysia and eat a fair amount of sago based foods every now and then. I’m happy you wrote about it in this article, and made special mention about Keropok Lekor, which is one of my favourite foods.

    Ammar Zolkipli wrote on March 14th, 2013
  24. Pork rinds have to be one of my favorite snacks. Trouble is, they can become addictive especially with the fat content.

    Jackie wrote on March 15th, 2013
  25. Pork rinds are delicious!

    Amy Hagerup wrote on March 16th, 2013
  26. Monk fruit mogrosides are natural and probably safe–I say probably, because I contacted the manufacturer of Nectresse and obtained all of the available scientific information about Nectresse and its components, and there have been zero published studies in humans. But I’m not worried about that for two reasons: 1) I hate the taste of the stuff (bitter) and 2) because Nectresse contains infinitessimally small amounts of mogroside–most of what’s in that bright orange packet is erythritol.

    High doses of mogrosides in animals cause insulin spikes, but we don’t know if this occurs in humans at typical doses:

    Georgia Ede MD wrote on March 17th, 2013
  27. As the admin of this website is working, no uncertainty very soon it will be well-known, due to its feature contents.

    dr renato calabria reviews wrote on March 21st, 2013
  28. Is elderberry syrup even more primal if the shirecakes are made with dwarf wheat?

    Animanarchy wrote on March 26th, 2013
  29. Pork rinds as primal? R u nuts??? They have got to be one of the worst things for you!! Its fried pork fat!! Fried, fat along with tons of sodium. Paleo? If your paleo, you try and stay clear of “packaged” foods which would make Pork rinds one of them for one and 2, unless the pork was naturally feed, it was more then likely fed gmo feed. Pork is a filthy to eat. They are the scavengers of the farm eating insects, trash, their own feces to even their own young. They digest food quicker then other animals such as cows meaning they don’t rid of toxins. They also don’t have sweat glands so there’s another cause of them not ridding of toxins which end up storing in their fat cells that we wind up consuming. No, I am not of Eastern Decent nor a Bible thumper. I’ve done my research on pork and there’s more cons then pros to consuming it. Should I add that they carry parasites!? I once was a pork eater but have gone Paleo and I can tell you I don’t miss bacon or any pork product now that I have educated myself on pork. DON”T EAT Pork Rinds! For natural sweetener, use raw honey. The point of Paleo is being as plant based as possible along with eating your food in its natural state as much as your able. I am dumbfounded that I found this blog. People, do your research and educate your self, don’t always rely on other people to tell you what’s ok to eat and not to eat!!

    E5wife wrote on August 20th, 2013

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