Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The curious case of Kombucha tea

Clearly, I am favorable to natural non processed foods. However, I also like to distinguish between popular beliefs and scientific evidence.

Non all probiotic foods are healthy. For example, it is easy to find scientific articles describing the link between kefir consumption and decrease of several types of cancer (e.g., Parvez et al., 2006). Kefir is a fermented milk that produces something similar to yogurt. It tastes a little alcoholic and it is known to have many health benefits. To give you an idea the search for "kefir+cancer" on a database such as pubmed gives you immediately more than 100 results.

Another popular beverage is Kombucha tea, which is supposed to have medical properties. I personally had a curious experience with kombucha, which dates back to when I was 9. At that time I used to live in a very superstitious little town, where somebody started spreading a rumor about magic properties of this tea. Specifically, I was told that when the fungus reproduced you could express a desire, which would have become true if you found three (not surprisingly number 3) people to give the plant to. I had it at home for a while and who gave it to me recommended to feed the fungus with commercial tea—which produced a disgusting smell but made the fungus really happy—and even talk to it. After a couple of months, another rumor spread: the fungus was in fact the incarnation of Satan! That, of course, given my catholic education, freaked me out and the next thing I remember is me burning the fungus in the country, which was not easy, as you can imagine.

Back to science, the association of Kombucha and the Devil is unfortunately appropriate. Indeed, there is little if no scientific evidence of its health benefits (Murugesan et al., 2009; but see Greenwalt, Steinkraus, & Ledford, 2000 for a review), while there are several well documented cases of intoxication, sometimes letal (the most recent is SungHee Kole et al., 2009), following ingestion of that beverage.

Kombucha tea is fortunately hard to find in regular groceries stores, but is highly available both online and in health stores.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sugar: The Bitter Truth

When I first came to the United States, I though it was just a matter of taste. I just thoguth that I was not used as that amount of sweet... I had no idea it was an actual conspiracy! You must watch this, I totally have a crash on him. I mean, a scientific crush.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Secret revealed # 1: Bread

The Food Industry is leading us to believe that simple things are complicated. When you read the ingredients on a label of any processed food, you will find that 90% of the ingredients are names of things that you never heard before. Well, I guess we are becoming familiar (I have been since I came here in US) with "high fructose corn syrup" but I still do not know precisely what that means. Many of the ingredients are difficult even to say-aloud and not available in the grocery store for sure. They want us to think that things are difficult and if we d not buy their products, we are not going to able to replicate them. However, thing are not as difficult as they want us to believe.

Bread for example: flour, waster salt. That's it. I found an exhaustive description of the ingredients that you may expect to find in a pack of commercial white bread in this blog. When the package has less than 10 ingredients it usually shows off on, defining the bread "ALL NATURAL". Interestingly though, a friend of mine who saw pics of the loaf a made yesterday immediately asked: "Did you really make it" It looks like the one you buy at the store." But wait a minute... do we really need all that crap to make a "store bought quality" bread? Well, the answer is no.

Step one: yeast. You can buy natural dry yeast in any grocery store, but when I said that you can make bread with 3 ingredients, I really meant it. Sourdough bread can be made out flour and water. There are several ways to start your own starter for sourdough. I spent a lot of time looking for starters on the web and the better descriptions (with lots of pics) can be found here, here and here. These instructions will follow you step by step through the delivery of a nice 100% hydration (if you want to know what that is click here), starting from rye flour. It only takes 4-6 days of care and then you will have a starter that will potentially last for years and maybe decades.

Here's mine on day 1, I tried different hydrations and different flours:

At some point it developed a nasty vinegar smell and I thought that I killed it. But I found out that it is normal (yay!) and it depends on the amount of a certain type of bacteria that is growing in your starter.

As soon as one of them started bubbling and smelling yeasty, I tried it and I have to say, not sure of what was going to happen... but here my first loaf of bread before baking! It was ridiculous, you will find plenty of recipes on the web, just pick one! I actually started with one but then, as always, I started doing my own thing.

Just make sure to make the sponge grow for 12 hours before kneading and shaping, and then let it rest overnight. Then, first think in the morning, bake your bread. I did not mentioned but the whole active time was only about 30 min (so do not use your super-busy life style as an excuse to be lazy). And here's the result:

Since I was not satisfied and I had a lt of starter to try I also tried a couple of English muffins and here they are!

So, I guess I do not have to add more. Just do it.