In addition to its natural caramely sweetness, there’s one more reason to pour on the maple syrup: it’s actually good for you. Yes, pure maple syrup is not only high in antioxidants, but every spoonful offers nutrients like riboflavin, zinc, magnesium, calcium and potassium. According to Helen Thomas of the New York State Maple Association, maple syrup has a higher concentration of minerals and antioxidants, yet fewer calories than honey.
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There’s nothing new about fermenting food. In fact, it may be one of the oldest food preparation techniques around. Long before we were sipping pricy Kombuchas at the local café, our ancestors were using this process as a means of keeping their food from spoiling in age without refrigeration. “Fermentation was one of the earliest forms of food preservation,” says Kathie Swift, RDN, author of The Swift Diet (Hudson Street Press, 2014). “Traditional cultures were intentionally fermenting fruits, vegetables and grains well over 10,000 years ago, but they lost popularity when modern conveniences came into use.”
Lately, despite our ability to preserve and refrigerate food, fermentation is all the rage again. So what exactly are fermented foods (and beverages)? And why should we make a point of including them in our diets? We asked Swift — a huge fan of fermenting — for some answers.
The name sounds strangely antiseptic, and the powdery flakes look suspiciously like what you’d sprinkle into the goldfish tank. But that does not deter certain cooks and bloggers (mostly vegetarian and vegan ones) from singing the praises of nutritional yeast. So what exactly is this supplement and what has it done to deserve a spot on the health food hot list? Read more
They used to be the stuff that fueled childhood nightmares: forkfuls of overcooked broccoli or endless orbs of bitter Brussels sprouts that had to be endured in order to tackle, finally, the chocolate ice cream. But today’s renditions of green vegetables don’t require nose-holding or the camouflage of cheese in order to win over legions of fans. From the once-maligned spinach that only Popeye fancied to the leafy kale that went on to wildly successful oversaturation, here’s a passel of formerly shunned vegetables (and a few equally undesirable fruits) that chefs have helped give miraculous makeovers. Read more
Halva, the Middle Eastern sesame candy, is a dessert favorite. Dense and rich, it tastes like peanut buttery fudge and is often layered with ribbons of chocolate. What could be better? Just one problem: It’s traditionally loaded with sugar. Israeli native Shahar Shamir was a huge halva fan too, but as a former dancer keen on keeping healthy, he was hesitant to dig in.
A home cook since the age of eight (his mother taught him everything he knows), Shamir decided to fiddle with a recipe of his own, grinding sesame seeds with honey and roasted nuts, and making something that more closely resembled a nut butter than a candy. His rendition also dispensed with the usual hydrogenated oils and artificial flavors. He served his new-fangled halva spreads to friends at dinner parties. They went wild.
It’s the new smoothie dilemma: Straw or spoon? Just when you thought the world of liquid meals was complete, along comes something new. The latest trend in purified food: Smoothie bowls. That’s right, these are smoothies, but you eat them out of a bowl. Before you write off this craze as just as change of scenery for your smoothie, there are, apparently, a few key distinctions between an old-style smoothie you drink and the newer, smoothie-in-a-bowl versions.
Besides the obvious difference in how you consume it, smoothie bowls provide the opportunity to get even more creative with liquefied creations. Because smoothie bowls don’t have to be slurped through a straw, cooks have the option to make the concoction as thick as they want — blending in ingredients like seeds, frozen bananas, nut butters or even avocado for added heft and texture.
“Smoothie bowls are essentially more nutrient-dense smoothies, thick enough to eat with a spoon and often topped with fruits, nuts, seeds, muesli or granola,” explains McKel Hill, MS, RD, and creator of the plant-based, whole foods blog Nutrition Stripped. “Think of smoothie bowls as the new cereal — like cereal 2.0.”
Technically, Soylent isn’t really a food at all. It’s a drink mix designed to replace actual food in order to make your diet easier, cheaper and more convenient. Soylent was created by a 25-year-old software engineer named Rob Rhinehart, as a solution, in part, to his own dilemma. The entrepreneur was on a tight budget, which meant subsisting on a steady diet of ramen noodles, fast food and frozen burritos. In search of something healthier but even cheaper, he started researching nutrients and eventually came up with this concoction of protein, carbs, fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Read more
If fat was the star dietary villain for the past few decades, sugar is quickly stepping up to take its place. The sweet stuff figures prominently in the recent documentary Fed Up. There are websites, such as I Quit Sugar, devoted to eliminating sugar from the diet. And several books published this year chronicle or advocate similar nutritional journeys, including Year of No Sugar — which recounts a family’s quest to rid their lives of added sugars — and The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, written by Dr. Mark Hyman, who just so happens to advise the Clinton family on matters of healthy eating.
Baby corn has long been a stir-fry staple, and those so-named baby carrots have become the obligatory sidekick to hummus. But small vegetables only seem to betting bigger — at least in supermarkets and restaurants. Earlier this year, California’s Shanley Farms introduced “single-serving” avocados (trademark name: Gator Eggs) sold in clever packages reminiscent of egg cartons. Produce titan Green Giant sells Little Gem Lettuce Hearts, a lettuce hybrid that resembles romaine in miniature. Not to mention the countless iterations of baby broccoli — in fact, a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale — that appear in grocery stores everywhere. Are bitty vegetables merely an eye-catching novelty or are there culinary benefits to downsized produce?
At least for chefs, the most desirable baby vegetables are generally the ones that are indeed babies — that is, harvested young. “When grown well and picked fresh, baby vegetables eat beautifully,” says Aimee Olexy, chef and owner of Talula’s Garden and Talula’s Daily, in Philadelphia. “Often tender and sweet, they require less overall cooking and retain a more perky mouthfeel and appeal on the plate. Young baby peas and beets are almost always wonderful, and a dainty little treat worth the work,” she says.
They simmer in stocks, accentuate pot roast and stand in as a crunchy, good-for-you snack between meals. But in the hands of deft chefs, taken-for-granted carrots are fast becoming the highlight of the dinner table.
“Carrots have a nice bright flavor, sweet, with the slightest bit of bitterness and astringency,” says Rob Marzinsky, executive chef of Fitler Dining Room, in Philadelphia. At the restaurant he combines a melange of carrots — yellow, white, Purple Haze and Kyoto red among them. The baby ones are roasted with whole spices and coffee beans, while the larger varieties are sauteed in shallot, ginger, jalapeno and the North African spice mixture, ras el hanout. Marzinsky then pairs them with farro from nearby Castle Valley Mill that’s dressed in ginger-carrot vinaigrette, a “pesto” made with carrot leaves and tangy yogurt.