"Take the bitter with the sweet" need not necessarily be a metaphoric piece of advice. Bitter foods are not just healthy but can be delicious too and it is just as well that they seem to be now trending the world over with the hipsters. In India, Ayurveda-based food traditions have always recognised bitter foods as part of a complete meal. Of the six tastes that this "science of food and medicine" ostensibly recognises, bitter is an important one - said to be "airy and light", especially benefitting people with dominant pitta and kapha, and lowering these "doshas". Bitter, however, is different from pungent foods, which are a class in themselves in Ayurveda and include the likes of chillies and mustard, both of which also have elements of bitterness.Since bitter foods are thought of as cleansing and important to boosting metabolism in many regional food traditions, they are mandatorily included in traditional meals. A fine example is Bengali food, perhaps the only cuisine in India eaten in courses. It is always the bitter - shukto - made up of ingredients such as bitter gourd or neem leaves that is served first as a palate cleanser of sorts and as a course to boost appetite.
In different parts of India similar preparations and traditions using bitter flavours abound. In fact, neem leaves with a little honey and black pepper mixed into them to cut the bitter and have a juxtaposition of different flavours are supposed to be the first thing you eat on new year day in many regional cultures. The symbolism is obvious-imbibing all the different flavours of life in the year to come. But it's also true that neem bitters are supposed to have a therapeutic effect in folk medicine and are hence eaten to ward off disease.
Bitter Gourd or Karela
One of my favourite vegetables is the bitter gourd - karela. One of the oldest "Indian" vegetables around (it is thought to have originated in the subcontinent), the bitter gourd belongs to the melon/cucumber family and is a typical summer vegetable in many parts of the country. In Kerala, it can be stir fried with the sweetish coconut to cut through the bitter, and be included as a side dish. But in UP and other parts of northern India, it is a delicacy in its own right.
Karela, with its skin scraped off and salt rubbed into it to leech out the bitterness, is stuffed with mince in many Mughalai-based traditions. The vegetarian equivalent of the Bharwan Karela, stuffed bitter gourd, in my Kayasth home has always been the gourd stuffed with browned onions. This is carefully spiced with fennel and amchoor, spices and flavours that tone down the bitterness (the sourness of the amchoordoes that and fennel has a faintly sweet aroma) but don't drown it. This is exactly the way so many Indian dishes are artfully constructed - with contrasting flavours that highlight one particular one in a delicate balance.
Bitter gourd, of course, is also thought to be medicinal. It is low in calories and good for weight loss, it has antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins like C and A. Folk medicines ascribe almost miraculous benefits to it - from anti-ageing to cure for cancer though none of this has been conclusively proven. Finally, there are also the anti-diabetic properties of Karela. A hypoglycemic agent called Charantin present in it is supposed to be able to regulate blood sugar levels and act as a substitute for insulin.
A host of other bitter foods like chocolate, leafy greens like nettle, turmeric and so on are all equally thought to be superfoods boosting our metabolism, preventing ageing, fighting infections and improving moods and vitality. Nettle soup, now being rediscovered as a lost recipe in many parts of the world, in fact is common in the Himalayan belt. Cuisine from Garhwal has it as a nutritious part of its repertoire.
Then there is fenugreek, used both as leaves and as dried seeds in many cooking traditions. As the name suggests, it came from Greece to the Subcontinent, where we found good and varied uses for it. Not only are methi greens a cheap and common source of nutrition in northern India in the winter months but the dried seeds - methi dana - is a favoured spice in many curries.
Sour and bitter as a flavour combination works in many Indian dishes. The typical old Delhi potato curry is an example, tangy with a hint of bitter that is imparted through the use of methi seeds. The use of this spice distinguishes the curry-scooped up with hot bedmi of old Delhi from its cousins in other parts of India, where the dominant spice may be different.
Many bitter foods such as these greens, cacao, and bitter melon contain sulfur, along with fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). All these are thought to benefit the liver and help in the production of bile, the enzyme that helps us digest food. It's just as well that modern food trends too are no longer shying away from the bitter.
We have a whole range of Indian traditions that are now forgotten or have evolved over the years. It's kosher to say that some of these have changed for the better, but not others. One of these traditions is the basic practice of eating using our hands, now replaced mostly with the use of shiny cutlery. Though most of us may have turned to spoons and forks, some still like to eat their meal with hands. Back in ancient days, this practice was adopted by most civilizations including Indus valley, Greek and the Egyptians.It is believed that as per the Vedas, hands are the most precious organs of action and that every finger is an extension of the five elements - through the thumb comes space, with the forefinger comes air, the middle finger is fire, the ring finger signifies water and the little finger represents Earth. According to Ayurveda, the nerve endings of the fingertips are believed to boost digestion. In fact, you become more aware of the textures, taste and aromas as you eat using your hands and engaging the fingertips.
Eating with your hands has more health benefits than eating with spoons. If you haven't given this a thought, we have your back.
Here are some of the benefits proving eating with hands is a healthy habit
1. Eating With Your Hands Helps Increase Blood Circulation
Eating with hands itself is an excellent muscle exercise, which in turn increases blood circulation. The excessive movement of the hands may help keep the blood flow smoother.
2. Stimulates Digestion
Our body is believed to have bacteria or flora, which resides in places like hands, mouth, throat, intestine and gut that protects us from harmful bacteria growing in the environment. When we eat with our hands, the friendly flora protects our digestive system from getting exposed to harmful bacteria, further stimulating the digestive system. This doesn't mean you forget to wash your hands before and after you eat!
3. Believed To Help Lose Weight
According to a study published in the journal Appetite, when people ate by hand while simultaneously reading a newspaper or watching television, they were less hungry during snack-time, and opted for a lighter snack. Researchers concluded that eating by hand promotes a sense of fullness and satiety as compared to eating with cutlery. This, in turn, could help lose some kilograms.
4. May Help Prevent Type-2 Diabetes
According to a study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, people with type-2 diabetes were more likely to be fast eaters who used cutlery to eat, as compared to people without the condition. Eating with spoons and forks correlates with faster eating that has been linked with blood-sugar imbalances in the body, further contributing to the development of type-2 diabetes. So, ditch the utensils and instead eat with hands that will ensure slow down consciously.
5. Helps Manage Food Portions
Eating with hands makes you eat slower than eating with cutlery, which is a much mechanical process. You have to pay attention to what you eat when you eat with hands, which makes you aware of how much you have eaten. Mindless eating is one of the biggest factors of gaining weight; hence, managing food portions plays a key role. Moreover, using hands makes you experience the food better and enjoyable.
So, what have you been waiting for? Toss the cutlery away and begin eating your favourite dishes in the gold old way to ensure a healthier you! And next time, don't toss away an old practice till you don't read up on all the facts!
Butter can make anything taste better. From sandwiches and pizzas to cakes, brownies and even chapatis and parathas, butter can liven up the taste of any food. A lot of people use this creamy dairy product as their favoured grease for cooking, grilling, basting or frying various foods. Butter is also used in making sauces and cake frosting, as well as pan-frying and roasting food and snacks. It seems to be all-pervasive in cooking and baking and is one of the most important and widely available milk products out there. Whether you like to spread it on breads and sandwiches, or like to use it instead of oil for cooking, butter is an essential ingredient that all functional kitchens have a stock of.
But there are plenty of reasons that one may want to move away from the use of butter in cooking and baking. A lot of people are allergic to dairy and dairy products and may not be able to use butter in cooking and baking. Too much butter in food is a cause for concern for a lot of people suffering from or are susceptible to cardiovascular diseases or high blood pressure. Butter is extremely high in saturated fat, which may clog up arteries and lead to plaque build-up when consumed daily and in excess. Moreover, a lot of commercially available butter brands contain too much salt and artificial flavour.
Here are three alternatives or healthier substitutes to butter that you may use while cooking and baking:
Ghee is a type of clarified butter that is heated to 120 degrees C after the water is evaporated, turning the milk solids brown. This process enhances the rich flavour of ghee and is also said to increase the level of antioxidants in it. Ghee can be used exactly like butter for grilling and roasting, but may have more moisture than butter when used in baking, so you may need to alter the ratio of liquid to flour in cookies and cakes. However, even ghee is rich in saturated fats and must be used judiciously while cooking on a daily basis.
2. Coconut Oil
Recently hailed as a superfood, coconut oil has been used for cooking in Asian cuisines for centuries now. Coconut oil is said to have a number of health benefits, including suppression of appetite and an improvement in level of High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol. Coconut oil is also said to improve immunity by killing harmful micro-organisms like bacteria and viruses, due to the presence of lauric acid in it. The only downside to coconut oil is the strong 'coconutty' flavour and taste that it comes with and that takes time to get used to. However, due to the high viscosity of coconut oil, it can used in a 1:1 ratio in the place of butter.
3. Olive Oil
For the longest time, olive oil has been considered as one of the healthiest cooking oils out there and it can be used to replace butter as grease as well. It contains high amounts of antioxidants, due to which it has anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil is a rich source of healthy fats, which is also said to offer protective benefits for the heart. For every cup of butter that you may use in a recipe, you may replace it with three-fourth cup of olive oil. Since olive oil is liquid, your baking recipes may require some adjustments in order to accommodate olive oil in the place of butter. But wherever you need to use butter as grease to cook foods, olive oil may function exactly like butter.
Edible fungi mushrooms have been consumed by humans for centuries. These nutrient-dense foods have innumerous varieties and although their popularity depends on the price and availability, mushrooms are generally considered healthy. The popularity of edible mushrooms also depends on the absence of toxins and how enticing the taste and smell of certain mushroom species is. From the most common white mushrooms to the prized and rare truffles, a range of mushrooms are consumed around the world, not just for their creamy, earthy flavour, but also because of their numerous health benefits, that many of us are aware of.
Mushrooms have increasingly come to be categorised as vegetable, although some vegetarians may still not consider consuming them, due to their soft, meat-like texture. They are added to numerous dishes like pastas, pizzas, burgers, patties, quiches and omelettes etc., but not all of these dishes are very healthy. However, there are some healthy ways of including mushrooms in your diet, without adding empty calories to your meals. Mushrooms can enhance the taste of any dish they are added to, due to their creamy flavour. Let's look at some of the health benefits of mushrooms, before we move on to healthy ways of adding them to our diets.
Mushroom Nutrition Facts And Values
White mushrooms are extremely low in calories- a 100 gm of the fungi packs just 22 calories! They also contain negligible fat and cholesterol, but are rather rich in protein (3.1 gm per 100 gm) and healthy carbohydrates (3.3 gm of carbs per 100 gm), according to data by United States Department of Agriculture. They also contain iron, magnesium and Vitamins C, D and B-6. They are also rich in potassium, which is an important nutrient for maintaining heart and brain health, as well as promote weight loss.
They help maintain health of the nervous system, due to the presence of potassium in them.
1. Mushrooms may also help bring blood pressure levels under control, due to the presence of high levels of potassium and low levels of sodium.
2. Mushrooms may even help diabetics regulate blood sugar levels, due to the presence of chromium in them.
3. Mushrooms are great for promoting weight loss, on account of being low in calories and rich in protein. They also have good water content.
How To Add Mushroom To Your Diet In Healthy Way
1. Creamy Sauces
Mushrooms can make your sauces and gravies creamy and eliminate the need for you to add cream or milk. Add a paste of mushrooms instead of your regular cream to your pastas or any other dish and enjoy them guilt free!
2. Mushroom Coffee
A lot of people are now adding mushroom supplements and powders to their morning coffee, to reap the health benefits of these nutritional powerhouses. Coffee purists may crinkle their noses at the prospect of adding mushroom to their cuppa, but it may be a quick way of adding it to your diet.
3. Mushroom Soups
Make soups using mushrooms or add them to your soup broth to make them more nutrient-rich.
4. Mushroom Stir-Fry
A side of vegetable along with your favourite protein makes for a complete and wholesome meal. You can stir-fry mushrooms, along with a number of vegetables including broccoli, beans, sweet peppers etc., and enjoy along with your choice of white or red meats.
Coconut has gained popularity around the world as a 'superfood.' The oil from coconut has been particularly hailed for its treasure trove of healthy fats. Southeast Asians have been enamoured with coconut and all coconut products for a long time now. Now, that the western world is also catching up with the fibrous fruit's wonders, coconut and coconut products are much in demand. Even as coconut oil has become a popular healthy cooking oil choice for health freaks, coconut milk is also being used as a non-dairy milk alternative in a number of dishes. However, there's one coconut product that is yet to gain its rightful place in the spotlight - coconut vinegar.
Coconut vinegar is used in a number of dishes of Goan cuisine as a souring agent and a flavour -enhancer. It's also used in preparing the desi Goan alcoholic drink - coconut feni. It is milder in taste than the more popular apple cider vinegar and has a cloudy, white appearance. Coconut vinegar is used for preparing traditional Goan delicacies like vindaloo and sorpotel. It can also be prepared at home and can be used in a number of ways. But before we go into the process of preparing the vinegar, let's take a look at some of the benefits of coconut vinegar.
Coconut Vinegar Benefits:
1. Regulates Blood Sugar
Coconut vinegar contains acetic acid, which is said to regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, especially when consumed after a carb-rich meal.
2. May Promote Weight Loss
Coconut vinegar maybe a good addition to a weight loss diet as it may curb hunger pangs and promote satiety. This benefit of coconut vinegar is also credited to the presence of acetic acid in it.
3. Promotes Digestive Health
The fermentation process that the coconut water undergoes makes the finished product rich in probiotics, which promote gut health and also boost immunity.
4. Regulates Blood Pressure
Coconut vinegar is said to be rich in potassium, which is a mineral that is key to regulating blood pressure and promoting heart health. It may also reduce levels of triglycerides in the blood.
How To Make Coconut Vinegar At Home:
Coconut vinegar is made by fermenting coconut water or the milky translucent liquid inside coconut shell. Here's the step-by-step process of preparing coconut vinegar at home:
1. Take some coconut water and filter it into a pan.
2. Heat the water and add the sugar to it. Stir the mixture until all the sugar is dissolved.
3. Allow the mixture to cool and once it's completely cool, pour it into a glass container. Cover the container lightly and keep it in a dark place for about a week.
4. This will turn the liquid alcoholic. Add some mother of vinegar to this solution. Mother of vinegar is a substance that contains cellulose and acetic acid bacteria. This bacteria can turn alcohol into acetic acid with the help of oxygen.
5. After adding the mother vinegar, allow the mixture to sit for four to twelve weeks, during which time it will turn into vinegar.
Coconut vinegar has multiple culinary uses, which are similar to other vinegars. If you are prone to frequent gastric distress or acidity, you should not consume vinegar as it is highly acidic. Otherwise, may consume it after diluting it with water. Consult your doctor before adding this to your diet.