14 March 2008

Yacon; yacon syrup

I am always looking for new food products to try and when I see or hear about an edible I don't know about, I will do a bit of research on it, and if it sounds good (sometimes even if it doesn't sound so great), I'll try it. So it is for yacon syrup.

The description from Wikipedia below says it has a taste reminiscent of watermelon and apple. I find the taste closer to a light molasses, with other flavors that are hard to describe. It is a nice alternative sweetener for fruit, oatmeal, coffee, etc. From Wikipedia:

"The Yacón is a perennial plant grown in the Andes for its crisp, sweet-tasting tuberous root. The texture and flavour have been described as a cross between a fresh apple and watermelon which is why it is sometimes referred to as the apple of the earth. The root is composed mostly of water and fructo-oligosaccharides. It has recently been introduced into farmer's markets and natural food stores in the US.

Although sometimes confused with jicama, yacón is actually a close relative of the sunflower and Jerusalem artichoke. The plants produce two types of roots: propagation roots and storage roots. Propagation roots grow just under the soil surface and produce new growing points that will become next year's aerial parts. These roots resemble Jerusalem artichokes. Storage roots are large and edible.

These edible roots contain inulin, an indigestible sugar, which means that although they have a sweet flavour, the roots contain fewer calories than would be expected...

...The leaves of the yacón contain quantities of protocatechuic, chlorogenic, caffeic and ferulic acids, which gives tea made from the leaves prebiotic and antioxidant properties. As a result, some researchers have explored the use of yacón tea for treating diabetes and for treating diseases caused by radicals, e. g., arteriosclerosis."


"In addition to its distinctive flavor — a satisfyingly sweet cross between celery and Granny Smith apples — yacon is noted for its high fiber and low calorie content. The tubers and leaves contain high levels of inulin, a form of sugar humans cannot easily break down, making it low in calories. Inulin also aids digestion and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine, while inhibiting toxic bacteria. Recent research also has found that yacon tubers and leaves are a good source of antioxidants. Yacon is an ideal food for diabetics and weight watchers, but it will make a delicious addition to anyone’s diet. Plus, the tubers only get sweeter in storage."

The syrup is a bit pricey, at about $14 for nine ounces, and is available in some specialty grocers, health food stores, and sometimes online at The Vitamin Shoppe.

02 March 2008

In Defense of Food An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan

It's been a while since we featured and new and noteworthy book on edibles, though not because of a lack of publications. In Defense of Food An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan, is featured here because, well, it's by Michael Pollan, and every book by him is a valuable addition to anyone's culinary library.

Part food news, part nutrition, part dietary guidelines, it is for any person seriously interested in EATING. As he is often quoted (and it should be the motto of this blog), "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food."

From Jessica's Biscuit:

"What to eat, what not to eat, and how to think about health: a manifesto for our times.

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." These simple words go to the heart of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, the well-considered answers he provides to the questions posed in the bestselling The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Humans used to know how to eat well, Pollan argues. But the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused, complicated, and distorted by food industry marketers, nutritional scientists, and journalists-all of whom have much to gain from our dietary confusion. As a result, we face today a complex culinary landscape dense with bad advice and foods that are not "real." These "edible foodlike substances" are often packaged with labels bearing health claims that are typically false or misleading. Indeed, real food is fast disappearing from the marketplace, to be replaced by "nutrients," and plain old eating by an obsession with nutrition that is, paradoxically, ruining our health, not to mention our meals. Michael Pollan's sensible and decidedly counterintuitive advice is: "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food."

Writing In Defense of Food, and affirming the joy of eating, Pollan suggests that if we would pay more for better, well-grown food, but buy less of it, we'll benefit ourselves, our communities, and the environment at large. Taking a clear-eyed look at what science does and does not know about the links between diet and health, he proposes a new way to think about the question of what to eat that is informed by ecology and tradition rather than by the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach.

In Defense of Food reminds us that, despite the daunting dietary landscape Americans confront in the modern supermarket, the solutions to the current omnivore's dilemma can be found all around us.

In looking toward traditional diets the world over, as well as the foods our families-and regions-historically enjoyed, we can recover a more balanced, reasonable, and pleasurable approach to food. Michael Pollan's bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we might start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives and enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy."

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Pub. Date: January 2008
ISBN-13: 9781594201455

Available online from Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.

Mark Bittman, aka, The Minimalist

Mark Bittman produces some informative, concise, wry, and entertaining podcasts for The New York Times' "Dining and Wine" section.

Generally around five minutes in length, the videos are worth watching, even when you might not be particularly interested in the subject covered. They are better than most of the foodie programs on TV. Sit back, and let a smile cross your face as you learn something...