Tuesday, 25 August 2009

What are culinary nuts?

Nut is a general term for the large, dry, oily seeds or fruits of some plants.

According to the botanical definition, nuts are a type of dry one-seeded fruits that are indehiscent i.e. they do not split apart along a single seam once they have reached maturity. The pericarp (fruit wall) becomes hard at maturity. Examples are Acorns (in oaks), Chestnuts, Hickory and Hazelnuts etc.

In culinary terms, however, the word nut is used more broadly to include fruits, and even seeds, that are not botanically qualified as nuts, but those have a similar appearance and culinary role. Any large, oily kernel found within a shell and used in food may be regarded as a nut. The term nut is also used to refer to various hard-shelled fruits or seeds.

Thus both botanical (true) nuts and non botanical nuts (various hard-shelled fruits and seeds) are included in the list of culinary nuts.

Culinary nuts are:

  • True nuts (dry indehiscent single seeded fruits): Acorns, Chestnuts, Hickory and Hazelnuts
  • Seeds of Drupe fruit (fleshy fruit with a single stone or pit) also called as Drupaceous nuts: Cashew nuts, Brazil nuts, Coconut, Walnuts, Pecans, Almond, Pistachio nuts
  • Seeds of Legumes (Dry dehiscent fruits): Peanuts
  • Follicle (Dry unilocular dehiscent fruit): Macadamia
  • Seeds of Gymnosperm: Pine nuts

Cashew nut is the seed of the drupe fruit which is kidney or boxing-glove shaped and grows at the end of the pseudo fruit.

The fruit (Capsule) of Brazil nuts has a hard woody shell, and inside contains 8–24 triangular seeds 4–5 centimeters long, packed like the segments of an orange; it is not a true nut in the botanical sense.

The Coconut is considered a dry fibrous drupe with a green, waterproof outer layer (exocarp), a thick, buoyant, fibrous husk (mesocarp) and a hard, woody, inner layer (endocarp) surrounding the large seed. The actual seed embryo is embedded in the coconut meat (endosperm).

Walnuts and Pecans are not true nuts but technically drupes, called drupaceous nuts. The husks are produced from the exocarp tissue of the flower while the part known as the nut develops from the endocarp.

Almond is the seed of the drupe fruit. The outer covering or exocarp of the fruit is a leathery grey-green coating (called the hull), which contains inside a hard shell, and the edible seed, commonly called a nut in culinary terms.

The Pistachio nut is the seed of thin walled drupe. The fruit has a hard, whitish exterior shell. The seed has a mauvish skin and light green flesh. The characteristic feature of the pistachio fruit is the semi-opening of the shell after maturity.

Peanuts are the seeds of the Legumes that are dry dehiscent fruits.

The fruit of Macadamia is a very hard woody globose follicle with a pointed apex, containing one or two seeds, dehiscing by the ventral suture in order to release seeds

Pine nuts are edible seeds of Pines which develop on the surface of cone scales, exposed to the environment.

Desi Ghee (Clarified Butter)

Ghee is clarified butter with its milk solids and water removed.

Typically it is produced by melting butter and allowing the different components to separate by density. The water evaporates, some solids float to the surface and are skimmed off, and the remainder of the milk solids sink to the bottom and are left behind when the butter fat is poured off. The components that are not butter fat are usually discarded.

Texture, color, or taste of ghee depends on the source of the milk from which the butter was made. In India, Ghee is usually made with water buffalo’s milk as it tends to be whiter than cow’s milk

It occupies an important position in South Asian and Middle Eastern Cuisines.

According to Ayurveda - India's nutritional sciences, Ghee (clarified butter) used in moderation is the best oil for cooking. One needs less ghee (half or two-thirds) as compared to oil to achieve the same goals.

It has following advantages:

  • The ayurvedic texts say that ghee helps balance excess stomach acid, and helps maintain/repair the mucus lining of the stomach. It stimulates the digestion (Agni) better than any other oil.
  • Increases immunity from disease or Ojas as it is known in Ayurveda.
  • Ghee is said to promote all three aspects of mental functioning -- learning, memory and recall.
  • Clarified butter has a higher smoke point than regular butter, and is therefore preferred in some cooking applications, such as sautéing.
  • It increases the medicinal properties of spices when spices are sautéed in it.
  • According to Ayurveda - it is more alkaline than other oils and this results in a smoother skin tone and makes one look younger.
  • Ghee balances both Vata (the dosha that controls movement in mind and body) and Pitta (the dosha that controls heat and metabolism).
  • Ghee balances both Vata (the Ayurvedic mind/body operator that controls movement in mind and body) and Pitta (the operator that controls heat and metabolism).
  • Like aloe, ghee is said to prevent blisters and scarring if applied quickly to affected skin.
  • Eating ghee is also believed to enhance virility and sexual potency.
  • Excessive consumption of ghee is known to cause bromhidrosis. It is a type of body odor known as foot odor.

Ghee does not require refrigeration if you keep it dry; for example, don't dip a wet spoon into the ghee jar.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Rock Salt (Sendha Namak)

  • Rock salt (Sodium chloride) is the common name for the mineral ‘halite’ or ‘Land salt’. It is mined from deposits in the ground.
  • Rock salt crystals are larger, less refined, and more discolored than purified ‘table salt’. It can have impurities of gypsum (CaSO4) and sylvite (KCl) but it is very rare to find potassium sulfate as a mineral, although occasionally polyhalite (K2Ca2Mg(SO4)4.2H2O) is found associated with rock salt deposits.
  • It does not contain additives such as iodine or anti-caking agents commonly found in table salt.
  • The salt is sold in most grocery stores or health food stores in either edible/gourmet or inedible forms. The inedible form is not dangerous, however it does contain grit that would make it unpleasant to eat.
  • It is lower in sodium thus it is believed that it helps in checking the blood pressure.
  • Its best known use is to help make homemade ice cream in an electric or hand-crank machine. The salt lowers the freezing point of the ice, which causes it to melt. Melted ice water is much better at absorbing the heat from the ice cream mixture than ice cubes and this makes the ice cream freeze faster.
  • The edible form of rock salt can be used in the cooking and seasoning of the food.
  • The importance of this salt can be realized from the fact it is used in number of Ayurvedic medicines.
  • In India, it is used mainly during 'fasts' and known as ‘Sendha Namak’.

Raw Papaya

  • Raw (un-ripened) papaya is the most common and preferred tenderizer for red meat (Lamb, Mutton, Goat)used in India. The papaya, also known as mamao, tree melon, or pawpaw, is the fruit of the tree Carica papaya.
  • Green papaya fruit and the latex (milky sap like liquid) of the tree are both rich in an enzyme called papain, a protease (protein digesting enzyme), which is useful in tenderizing meat and other proteins.
  • Papain is obtained by cutting the skin of the unripe but almost mature papaya and then collecting and drying the latex which flows from the cuts.
  • The papain enzyme breaks down collagen present in the meat and thus make it more palatable for consumption.
  • The enzyme is active when the pH factor is neutral (pH = 7) to slightly acid (pH = 6). The pH of most of the meats is neutral to slightly acid.
  • Papain is used as clarifying agent in many food industry processes. It is a common ingredient in brewery and meat processing. It is also used in the tanning of leather, paper and adhesive industries and in sewage disposal etc.

Kewra Water

English Name: Screw Pine flower extract

Common Name (Hindi): Kewra water

  • ‘Kewra water’ is extract distilled from the Pandanus flower, used to flavor drinks and desserts in Indian cuisine.
  • Kewra plant / Screw Pine (Pandanus odoratissimus) belongs to family Pandanaceae (screw pine family). It is native to southern Asia.
  • Some of the local names of kewra in other Indian Languages are: Assamese - Keteki; Bengali and Gujarati - Ketaky; Malayalam - Kaitha, Thaazha; Punjabi - Keora; Telegu - Mogil;
  • Kewra/Ketaki is a densely branched shrub. It is rarely erect and is generally found along the coast of India and the Andaman Islands. Both male and female flowers are produced on different plants. The ancient Hindus called male plants as ‘ketaki-viphala’ or ‘dhuli pushpika’. The female plants were known as ‘sawarana ketaki’.
  • The male flowers are fragrant and white in color. These flowers are used for extraction of ‘Kewra attar’ and ‘Kewra water’ and ‘Kewra oil’.
  • Kewra attar’ is one of the most popular perfumes extracted and used in India since ancient times. It is used for scenting clothes, cosmetics, soaps, hair oils, tobacco and agarbati. ‘Kewra water’ is used for flavoring various foods, sweets syrups and soft drinks. The use of Kewra water is very common on festival occasion, weddings and other social functions in North India. The ‘Kewra oil’ is considered as stimulant and antispasmodic and is useful in rheumatoid arthritis.
  • The tender leaves of Ketaki are eaten raw or cooked with condiments. In the Philippines the leaves are cooked with rice for imparting the smell of new rice. Its leaves are also used to flavor ice creams
  • All the parts of the plant are having tremendous medicinal value. The anthers of male flowers are given in earache, headache and diseases of blood. The juice of the flowers is quite useful in rheumatic arthritis.

Ketaki - A cursed flower

The Ketaki flower is mentioned in the Brahma’s story as the cursed flower. Kewra, also known as Ketaki is a forbidden flower cursed by Lord Shiva for bearing a false witness of Lord Brahma. According to a legend, Lord Vishnu was lying on the serpent couch in the sea of eternity. Lord Brahma, while passing by felt insulted when Lord Vishnu neither rose nor greeted him. Both flew into rage over the question of supremacy and this led to a fight. Horrified Devas rushed to Lord Shiva for aid. On the request of Devas, Lord Shiva proceeded to the battlefield and in the midst of battle; Lord Shiva assumed the form of a huge pillar of light. Both Brahma and Vishnu were awestruck by the cosmic pillar of light. Vishnu had to admit the defeat because he was unable to explore the limits of the mighty pillar of light whereas Brahma on his journey upwards came across Ketaki flower wafting down slowly.

Inquiring from the flower from where she had come from, Ketaki replied that she had been placed at the top of huge pillar of light.

Although Brahma was unable to find the uppermost limits of the cosmic pillar, he decided to take the flower back to Vishnu to bear witness that Brahma had reached the top of the pillar. Brahma gloated over the defeated Vishnu. This infuriated Shiva. Brahma was punished for telling lie and the creator was banned from being worshipped. Similarly, Ketaki was also cursed that she would never again be used in worship of Shiva. Thus, Ketaki is debarred forever from being offered in worship.


English Name : Saffron
Common Indian Name (Hindi): Kesar
  • Saffron, the world's most expensive spice by weight, is native to Southwest Asia.
  • It is derived from the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), a species of crocus in the family Iridaceae.
  • Each purple crocus flower produces three stigmas, which are hand-picked from the blossom, dried, and permitted to ferment slightly to produce saffron.
  • Saffron is marked by a bitter taste and an iodoform or hay like fragrance; these result from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal.
  • A carotanoid dye, crocin, allows saffron to impart a rich golden yellow hue to dishes and textiles.
  • The saffron crocus (Crocus sativus L.) is sterile and does not set viable seed. Therefore, the crop must be propagated by corm multiplication. Each corm only lasts a single season and is replaced by 1 to 10 cormlets, depending on the original size of the mother corm.
  • Saffron used in cooking as a seasoning and coloring agent.
  • Saffron, like other herbs and spices, is sensitive to light, so saffron should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. For maximum flavor and to protect it further, wrap the packet in foil. It will not be spoiled, but it will lose increasingly more and more of its flavor with age.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Besan (Gram flour)

English Name: Chickpea flour / Garbanzo flour / Gram flour

Common Indian Name (Hindi): Besan

  • Gram flour is made from ground Chana dal, a legume otherwise known as chickpeas.
  • It has a slightly nutty flavor and earthy aroma.
  • Gram flour contains a high proportion of carbohydrate but no gluten.
  • In comparison to other flours gram flour has a relatively high proportion of protein.
  • It is used in Italian cuisine to make farinata and in French cuisine to make socca.
  • In Indian cooking flour is used widely as a thickener in curries, it also is used to make fritters called pakoras, pancakes and savory balls. Kadhi, a North-Indian soup, combines besan with yogurt and cooked spices.
  • It is also mixed with milk as a cleansing face wash.

Sabit Masoor (Lentils)

English Name: Lentils

Common Indian Name (Hindi): Sabit Masoor

  • The unhulled (skins on) red lentil is known as the Brown Masoor.
  • They have a mild, earthy flavor and soft texture.
  • They are most commonly used in Middle Eastern or Indian food dishes.
  • They hold their shape fairly well if not overcooked and can be added to salads and other dishes. The varieties that are soft after cooking are used mainly to thicken stews and soups or are made into purees.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Panch Phoran

Panch phoran or Bengali five-spice is an Indian spice blend typically consisting of five whole spices in equal measure.

  • Cumin seeds
  • Fennel seeds
  • Nigella seeds
  • Fenugreek seeds
  • Mustard seeds

Some variations include wild onion seeds instead of cumin, while others include radhuni seeds in place of mustard seeds.

Radhuni is also known as wild celery in English or ajmod in Urdu and Hindi. It is a very strong spice, with a characteristic smell similar to parsley with the taste of celery.

In the tradition of Oriya and Bengali cuisine, seeds are used whole and quickly fried in very hot oil until they crackle. Vegetables (especially potatoes), lentils, or fish are added to the cooking vessel after this to coat with the spice mixture.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Blueberries are one of only a few human foods that are naturally colored blue. Blueberry bushes typically bear fruit from May through October; “blueberry season” peaks in July, which is National Blueberry Month in the United States and Canada.

Although blueberries are native to North America, they are now grown also in Australia, New Zealand and South American countries, and are air-shipped as fresh produce to markets around the world.

  • Blueberries are one of the most popular fresh fruits, considered as a ‘super fruit’. They contain vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium and iron.
  • They are number one in total antioxidant power. Blueberry antioxidants include flavonoids (catechin, epicatechin), anthocyanin (which gives the blue pigment to the fruit), beta-carotene, phenolic compounds and ellagic acid (ellagitannin). Blue berry is high in antioxidant vitamins such as Vitamin E, A and C. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research substances antioxidants are the substances that can slow the aging process and reduce cell damage that can lead to cancer.
  • Several researches indicate that blueberries may reduce neurodegenerative diseases such as memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Besides antioxidants, blueberries contain condensed tannins that help prevent urinary infections.
  • Blueberry also helps lower LDL cholesterol (a cause for stroke and cardiovascular heart disease).
  • It is also a good source of dietary fiber.
  • Blueberries can help improve vision.

Which is better for the body, Brown Rice or White rice ?

Rice (Oryza sativa) is one of the most important foods in the world, supplying as much as half of the daily calories for half of the world's population.

Oftentimes, rice is categorized by its size as being short grain, medium grain or long grain. Another way that rice is classified is according to the degree of milling that it undergoes. This is what makes a brown rice different than white rice.

Although brown rice and white rice have similar amounts of calories, carbohydrates and protein, the main differences between the two forms of rice lies in the essential nutrients which are lost during the processing of white rice.

Today brown rice is a staple for health conscious eaters who believe food should be consumed in its most natural state.

Before discussing anything about the brown rice or white rice, let us first understand the different parts of the rice grain.

Structure of a Rice Grain:

  1. Husk or hull is the outermost protective layer of a grain of rice present outside the grain.
  2. Bran is the outermost part or layer of a grain of rice present just below the husk. It consists of combined aleurone (protein rich outer most layer of seed coat) and pericarp (outer most layer of fruit). Bran is particularly rich in dietary fiber and Omegas and contains significant quantities of starch, protein, vitamins and dietary minerals.
  3. Germ in a cereal grain is the reproductive part that germinates to grow into a plant. It is the embryo of the seed. Germ is a concentrated source of several essential nutrients including Vitamin E, folate (folic acid), phosphorus, thiamine, zinc and magnesium, as well as essential fatty acids and fatty alcohol. It is a good source of fiber.
  4. Endosperm is the tissue produced in the seeds of most flowering plants around the time of fertilization. It surrounds the embryo and provides nutrition in the form of starch, though it can also contain oils and protein. This makes endosperm an important source of nutrition in human diet

What are Brown Rice and White Rice?

Brown Rice (hulled rice) is produced when only the outermost layer the husk or hull is removed.

White rice is produced when husk, bran and germ layers are removed during milling and polishing of rice.

Milling removes the bran and most of the germ layer. Polishing removes the aleurone layer of the grain-a layer filled with health-supportive, essential fats. Because these fats, once exposed to air by the refining process, are highly susceptible to oxidation, this layer is removed to extend the shelf life of the product. The resulting white rice is bright, white and shiny; but simply a refined starch (made up of endosperm only) which is largely deficient in its original nutrients.

Brown rice becomes rancid more quickly than white rice. At many places it is more expensive than common white rice, partly due to difficulty of its storage and transport.

Nutrients Contents of Brown Rice and White Rice:

The process of removing husk from the rice grain is the least damaging to the nutritional value of the rice but milling and polishing of white rice cause loss of several vitamins and dietary minerals. These processes destroy 67% of the vitamin B3, 80% of the vitamin B1, 90% of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60% of the iron, and all of the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids.

By law in the United States, fully milled and polished white rice must be "enriched" with vitamins B1, B3, and iron. But the form of these nutrients when added back into the processed rice is not the same as in the original unprocessed version, and at least 11 lost nutrients are not replaced in any form even with rice "enrichment."

  • Brown rice is a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body's use of glucose and insulin secretion. They help out by keeping blood sugar levels under control, so brown rice is an excellent grain choice for people with diabetes.
  • Brown rice is an excellent source of manganese. This trace mineral helps produce energy from protein and carbohydrates and is involved in the synthesis of fatty acids, which are important for a healthy nervous system, and in the production of cholesterol, which is used by the body to produce sex hormones. Manganese is also a critical component of a very important antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is found inside the body's mitochondria (the oxygen-based energy factories inside most of our cells) where it provides protection against damage from the free radicals produced during energy production.
  • Brown rice is rich in Selenium. Selenium is an essential component of several major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant defense systems, and immune function. Selenium has been shown to induce DNA repair and synthesis in damaged cells, to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, and to induce their apoptosis, the self-destruct sequence the body uses to eliminate worn out or abnormal cells.
  • Small amount of fatty acids and fibers are also lost during the formation of white rice. Fibers provide bulk to the food in the intestine thus help in reducing constipation. The oil present in rice bran may help in lowering LDL cholesterol.
  • Deficiency of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) causes neurological disease called Beriberi in the people who are largely dependent on unenriched white rice.

Even though I strongly prefer the taste of brown rice, I wanted to know just how much better that brown rice is for you when compared to white rice. After comparing the nutrition that both brown rice and white rice have to offer, you may change your mind on which you choose to get.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Some Facts about Lentils

Lentil ( Lens culinaris) is a pulse (grain legume) crop, grown for its lens shaped seeds. Lens is the Latin word for the Lentil. The size and appearance of lentil varies depending on the variety.

Lentils have been found in Egyptian tombs that date from 2400 BC. It may have been used as an aphrodisiac. They also thought that the lentil enlightened the minds of children, making them more cheerful and studious.

  • Lentil is a protein/calorie crop. Protein content ranges from 22 to 35%, but the nutritional value is low because lentil is deficient in the amino acids methionine and cystine. Adding grains, eggs, nuts, seeds, meat, dairy products, or egg will provide a complete protein. The high protein content in lentils makes them an excellent meat substitute.
  • When using a pressure cooker to cook lentils, add a teaspoon of oil to keep the scum from blocking the safety valve.
  • Salt added to the cooking water will toughen the beans. Add salt once the lentils are completely cooked.
  • Acidic ingredients such as wine or tomatoes can lengthen cooking time. You may wish to add these ingredients after the lentils have become tender.
  • Older lentils will take longer to cook because they have lost more moisture. Do not mix newly-purchased lentils with old ones. They will cook unevenly.
  • Lentils are simple to prepare. Simply sort, removing any debris. Then rinse and boil. There is no need to soak lentils. Depending on the variety and age, cooking time may take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Storing lentils is simple. They keep indefinitely in a cool, dry place. After long storage, the color may fade slightly, but the taste will not be noticeably altered.
  • Folic Acid is one very important nutrient found in lentils. One cup of cooked lentils provides 90% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Lentils provide more folic acid than any other unfortified food.
  • Lentils provide cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, as well as about twice as much iron as other legumes. Eating lentils with foods rich in Vitamin C, such as tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, and citrus fruits or juices, helps the body absorb iron more efficiently.
  • Soluble fiber in lentils acts as a scrub brush, cleaning the digestive system. This type of fiber also decreases serum glucose and cholesterol, and decreases insulin requirements for people with diabetes.
  • Sprouting also enhances the digestibility of dried pigeon peas via the reduction of indigestible sugars that would otherwise remain in the cooked dried peas.
  • If lentils are eaten with a food high in vitamin C, like tomatoes or bell peppers, their iron content is absorbed more efficiently by the body.
  • And lentils are higher in most B vitamins and folate, which is especially important for women of childbearing age because folate reduces the risk of birth defects.