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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pistachios

Pistachios:

About:

The pistachio (pistacia vera) which is a member of the cashew family is a small tree originating in Central Asia and the Middle East.  The tree  produces seeds which are widely consumed as food.  The word "pistachio" comes from the Medieval Italian "pistacchi".   Pistachios have been a symbol of wellness and robust health since ancient times.
The pistachio is a desert plant and is highly tolerant of saline soil. .  It is reported to grow well when irrigated.  Pistachio trees are fairly hardy under the right conditions. 
The shell of the pistachio is naturally a beige color, but is sometimes dyed red or green commercially.  Originally dye was applied by importers to hide stains on the shells when the seeds were picked by hand.  Most pistachios are now picked by machine and the shells remain unstained.
Pistachio trees are planted in orchards, and take approximately  7 to 10 years to reach  significant production.  The largest world producer of pistachios is Iran, followed by the U.S., Turkey, and China.  

History:

 Pistachios were a common food as early as 6750BC.  The pistachio was one of the trees unique to Syria which was introduced into Italy by a Roman Proconsul and at the same time to Hispania.  The modern pistachio was first cultivated in Bronze Age Central Asia.  Remains of the Atlantic pistachio and pistachio seed along with nut cracking tools were found in Israel dating back thousands of years.  Pistachios have been commercially cultivated more recently in many parts of the English speaking world, in Australia and in New Mexico and California in the U.S.  where it was introduced as a garden tree in 1854. 


My Story: 

My first memory of pistachio nuts was in vending machines in my native Brooklyn, New York.  For a penny you could twist the knob and the machine would dispense a handful of red dyed pistachio nuts,  They were delicious you wound up with red stained fingers from the dye.  It wasn't until much later that I found out that the red dye was to cover stains on the shells from the hand picking process.  Today most pistachios are picked by machine and left with their natural beige color.  I remember getting soft serve pistachio ice cream from a place next to Nathan's in Coney Island.  What a treat!  Pistachio is one of my favorite ice cream flavors to this day.  

Uses: 

The kernels of the pistachio are often eaten whole, either fresh or roasted and salted and are used in pistachio ice cream, hulfi, spumoni, historically in Neapolitan ice cream, pistachio butter, pistachio paste, and in confections such as baklava, pistachio chocolate, pistachio halvah, pistachio lokum, or biscotti and in cold cuts such as mortadella.  Americans make pistachio salad which includes fresh pistachios or pistachio pudding, whipped cream, and canned fruit. 
Pistachio oil extracted from kernels is one of the healthiest cooking oils.  It has a pleasant nutty aroma, and posses excellent emollient properties.  It helps to keep the skin protected from dryness.  It is also employed as a "carrier or base oil" in traditional medicines in massage therapy, aroma therapy, in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry.
Roasted and crushed kernels can be sprinkled over salads, desserts, sundaes and other ice cream preparations, biscuits, sweets and cakes.  Split pistachios are a great addition to vegetable or fruit salads


Nutrition:

Pistachios are a nutritionally dense food.  In a 100 gram serving they provide 562 calories and are a rich source (20% or more) of Daily Value of protein,dietary fiber, several dietary minerals, and the B vitamins thiamin, and especially vitamin B6.  Pistachios are a good source (10 - 19% DV) of calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B5, folate, vitamin E and vitamin K. 
Pistachios are storehouses of minerals like copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.


Health Benefits:

Regular consumption of pistachios (a handful per day) in the diet may help in lowering total as well as LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL cholesterol levels  in the blood.  They compose proper amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid and antioxidants which can help reduce coronary artery disease and stroke risk by favoring a healthy blood lipid profile.  Pista kernels are a rich source of many antioxidant phytochemical substances such as carotene, vitamin E and polyphenolic antioxidant compounds.  These compounds may help remove toxic free radicals from the body and protect it from diseases, cancers, and infections. 
Pistachios are an excellent source of vitamin E which is a potent lipid soluble essential for maintaining the integrity of mucosa and skin.  Vitamin E also  works as a scavenger of harmful free-oxygen radicals. 
100 g of pistachio nuts provide 144% of the daily recommended levels of copper, an essential trace mineral required in neurotransmission, metabolism and red blood cell production.


Season:

Pistachios are available year round in the grocery store.  They are found shelled, whole (with shell), roasted, salted and sweetened or flavored. 

Selecting and Storing:

Look for unshelled (with intact outer coat) whole nuts, rather than processed. They are generally available in airtight packs and bulk bins.  Look for healthy compact uniform off-white unshelled that feel heavy in the hand.  They should be free from cracks other than the natural split, mold spots, and rancid smell.
Raw unshelled pistachios can be placed in a cool dry place for many months.  Shelled kernels should be placed in an airtight container and kept in the refrigerator in order to prevent them from turning rancid. 


So........ Eat up!   Enjoy!  Eat some pistachios.  They're good for you!





Saturday, July 8, 2017

Chocolate

Chocolate: 

About:

  Chocolate is a typically sweet usually brown food preparation of "Theobroma cacao" seeds roasted and ground.  It is made into the form of a liquid, paste, or a block, or used as a flavoring ingredient in other foods.  Cocoa solids are a source of flavonoids and alkaloids, such as theobromine phenethylamine and caffeine.  Chocolate also contains anandamide.   Chocolate has become one of the most popular types and flavors in the world. 
The seeds of the cacao have an intense bitter taste and must be fermented to develop their flavor.  After fermentation cacao beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted.
The cacao tree is native to Central and South America.  Today it is cultivated around the equator and can be found in the Caribbean, Africa, South East Asia and even in the South Pacific Islands of Samoa and New Guin

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History:

Cacao has been cultivated by many cultures for at least 3 millennia in Mesoamerica.  The earliest evidence of use tracks to the Mokaya (Mexico and Guatemala) with evidence of chocolate beverages dating back to 1900 BCE.  Although cocoa originated in the Americas recent years have seen African nations assuming a leading role in producing cocoa.  
Columbus had taken the cacao bean with him back to Spain, but chocolate had no impact until Spanish friars introduced it to the Spanish court. 

The






Types:

Dark Chocolate: so called because it contains less milk than other chocolates and sometimes no milk at all.  It is made by mixing cocoa solids, fat, and sugar.  Usually  chocolate with a cocoa solid component of 35% or more is deemed dark chocolate.  Because of the lack of milk, dark chocolate is far browner in color.  It is often used in baking and cooking.  Dark chocolate is less sweet and has a higher percentage of cocoa soli9ds with more of a bitter taste.

Milk Chocolate: most  likely the most popular kind of chocolate.  It is made by adding milk, most often milk powder, into the traditional chocolate combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar and frequently vanilla flavoring.

White Chocolate: is a very sweet variety made without using cocoa solids.  White chocolate is a mixture of sugar, milk and cocoa butter.  The absence of cocoa solids and the presence of milk gives it an ivory or yellow rather than brown color.

Unsweetened Chocolate is a term often used interchangeably with baking chocolate.  Unsweetened chocolate is made without the addition of sugar which also makes it very rich and also quite bitter.  Chocolate liquor and fat are the 2 ingredients used to make unsweetened chocolate which is primarily used in baking.

Semisweet Chocolate is technically a kind of dark chocolate.  To qualify as semisweet dark chocolate must contain half as much sugar as it does cocoa solids.

Compound Chocolate: is made by combining cocoa solids with a cocoa butter substitute such as vegetable oil, coconut oil and a variety of other hydrogenated fats.  Compound chocolate is often used as a topping or coating for other confectionery goods because it tends to be cheaper to produce and purchase.

Raw Chocolate: chocolate that has not been processed in any way or mixed with any different ingredients.  It is sold as a healthy alternative to traditional chocolate since it does not include sugar or milk products.

Health Benefits:

The latest research backs up claims that chocolate has cardio=vascular benefits.  In a 9 year study in Sweden of 31,000 women, those who ate one or two servings of dark chocolate each week    cut their risk of heart failoure by as much as one third.  Another big long term study in Germany this year found that about a square of dark chocolate a day lowered blood pressure and reduced the risk of stroke by 39%.  Most of the credit goes to flavonoids and antioxidant compound that increase the flexibility of veins and arteries.  
Chocolate is rich in antioxidants.  Potential benefits of eating chocolate are said to include : lowering cholesterol levels, preventing cognitive decline, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems.  Chocolate has been said to cause acne and tooth decay, and has a reputsation for being a fattening, non-nutritious food.  On the other hand chocolate is also known for being an antidepressive to an aphrodisiac.   Most of the bad effects of chocolate have been found to be over-stated of just false.  

So, eat up.  Enjoy.  Have some chocolate.  It's good for you!