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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Grapes Revisited

Grapes Revisited:


A grape is a fruiting berry of the deciduous wood vines of the botanical genus "Vitus".   
Grapes grow in clusters of 15 to 300 grapes, and can be crimson, yellow, black, dark blue, green, orange, or pink.  What are referred to as "white" grapes are actually green.   Grapes can be eaten raw or used in making wine, jam, jelly, juice, grape seed extract, raisins, vinegar, and grape seed oil.

Commercially cultivated grapes are classified as table grapes or wine grapes.  Table grapes tend to be larger, seedless, and have thin skin.  Wine grapes are usually seeded (with seeds), smaller, and relatively thicker skinned.  Wine grapes also tend to have a higher sugar content.  The cultivation of grapes began 6000 to 8000 years ago in the Near East.  Yeast, one of the earliest domesticated microorganisms, occurs naturally on the skins of grapes, leading to the innovation of alcoholic drinks such as wine.   The earliest evidence of wine-making dates back 8000 years in Georgia.

My Story:  

Growing up I remember grapes being around, but usually they had seeds, so we didn't bother with them that much.  What I remember more was my grandfather on my mother's side having a jug of his home-made wine  on the floor by his foot under the dinner table.  My father would mix the wine with some ginger ale and give it to me.   My father used to tell the story of when his father had the grocery store and had one of the cousins working for him.  Well, Grandpa Schiera used to make wine in the cellar of the store. Back then soda was sold in glass bottles and a deposit for the bottle was charged.   After the bottle was empty you could return it to the store and get the deposit  back.  It was a great way for us kids to make some money by collecting up the empties and returning them to the store.   When the store received the bottles they would have to be separated and organized to return to the bottling company.   Well, this cousin seemed to love separating the bottles in the cellar.  He was constantly asking, "Uncle Joe, can I go down and work on the bottles?"  He did a good job but something just didn't seem right.  Finally, Grandpa followed him down to the cellar and stood in the shadows to watch, only to find out the kid was doing the bottles ok, but he was also drinking some of the wine.  He always seemed so happy when he came back up after doing the bottles.

Varieties of Grapes:

While there are no reliable statistics breaking down grape production  by variety, it is believed the most cultivated is the Sultana, also know as the Thompson Seedless.  Next is the Airen variety.  Others varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Grenache, Tempranillo, Reisling, and Chardonnay.
Juice is obtained from crushing and blending grapes into a liquid.  The juice is sold as such or fermented and made into wine, brandy, or vinegar.  The raisin is a dried grape.

Health Benefits:

Grapes contain phytochemicals that have been positively linked to inhibiting cancer, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, viral infections, and mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease.  Grape seed  oil from crushed seeds is used in cosmeceuticals and skin care products.  Commercial juice products from Concord grapes show potential benefits against onset stage cancer, platelet aggregation and other risk factors of Atherosclerosis, loss of physical performance and mental acuity during aging.  Grapes have long been classified as a low glycemic index food.  Studies have connected grape intake to better blood sugar balance, better insulin regulation, and increased insulin sensitivity. 

Selecting and Storing:

Fully ripened grapes are plump and free from wrinkles.  They should be intact firmly attached to a healthy looking stem and not leaking juice.   The sweetness of grapes can be predicted by the color of the grapes.  Green grapes are medium sweet.  Red grapes are very sweet.  Blue- black grapes are the least sweet.  
Store unwashed grapes loosely wrapped in a paper towl in an airtight container or plastic bag.  They will keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 


Consumption of grapes and raisins are a potential health risk to dogs.  Toxicity can cause acute renal failure with anuria and may be fatal.  No grapes or raisins for your dog.

Enjoying Grapes:

Grapes retain their maximum amount of nutrientsand their maximum taste when the are enjoyed fresh and not prepared in a cooked recipe.  Cooking temperatures in baking can samage some of the unique and delicate phytonutrients found in grapes.

So..... Eat up!  Enjoy! I'll show you how.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014




Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizomatous herbaceous perrenial plant of the ginger family. It is native to southeast India. When not used fresh the rhizomes are boiled for about 30 - 45 minutes and then dried in hot ovens.  They are then gound into a deep orange-yellow powder commomly used in Indian cuisine including curries, for dyeing, and to color mustard condiments.   The most important chemical component in turmeric is a group of compounds called curcuminold.   Its major active ingredient is cucumin. 


Known as "manjal",  turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years, and is a major part of Siddha medicine.  Turmeric was originally called "Indian saffron" due to its similar yellow-orange color. Turmeric comes from the root "Curcuma longa" and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh.  Its flavor is peppery warm and bitter,  while its fragrance is mild yet slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, to which it is related. 

My Story:

My first exposure to turmeric was the first time I had curry.  Tumeric is a major ingredient of curry.  I was in my twenties and on vacation on the island of Bermuda.  I had recently been diagnosed with gall bladder disease and was trying not to eat spicy foods.  Well, we were in this restaurant and I didn't know what to order.  One item on the menu was "curried chicken".  I thought you can't go wrong with chicken, right?  Well, when the plate came to the table, it occurred to me that  this chicken  is full of some kind of spice I've never had.  I was hungry, so I ate it but just didn't finish.  Of course, it didn't bother me.  In fact the turmeric in the curry is a powerful anti-inflammatory. 

Health Benefits:

Turmeric has long beem used in the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat a wide variety of conditions including flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, bloody urine, hemmorage, toothaches, bruises, chest pain and colic.  
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric,  may provide an inexpensive, well tolerated, and effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease such as "Crohn's" and "ulcerative colitis".  As an antioxidant, cucumin is able to neutralize free radicals.  This is important in many diseases, such as arthritis, when free radicals are responsible for the painful joint inflammation and eventual damage to the joints.   Curcumin in turmeric and quercitin, an antioxidant in onions, reduced the size and number of precancerous lesions in the human intestinal tract. 
Prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in American men is a rare occurence among men in India,  attributed to a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables and turmeric.
Turmeric also has cholesterol lowering properties and helps protect against Alzheimer's disease. Curcumin has shown some promise in treating depression.  In a small study participants were placed in 3 groups.  One group was given "prozac" and another group was given curcumin, the third group was given prozac and curcumin.  After 6 weeks the cucumin group showed improvement similar to that of the prozac group.  The group that took both prozac and curcumin did the best.  So, according to this small study, curcumin is as effective as an antidepressant.  

Using Turmeric:

Turmeric is mostly used in savory dishes.  Outside South Asia turmeric is sometimes used as an agent to impart a rich custard like yellow color.  It is used in canned beverages and baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cake, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, sweets, cake icing, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc.  Turmeric is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders.   

Here are some ways to enjoy turmeric;
  • Add turmeric to egg salad for a bolder color
  • Mix brown rice with raisins and cashews, and season with turmeric
  • Add turmeric to lentil recipes as a complement
  • Give salad dressings an orange-yellow tint by adding turmeric powder
  • Saute' cut cauliflower with a spoonful of turmeric for about 5 minutes and add olive oil and salt and pepper to taste
  • Be careful when using turmeric since its deep color can easily stain
So..... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

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