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Book Data

ISBN: 9781931498623
Year Added to Catalog: 2005
Book Format: Paperback
Book Art: b&w illustrations, tables
Dimensions: 8 x 10
Number of Pages: 544 pages
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Old ISBN: 1931498628
Release Date: January 28, 2005
Web Product ID: 124

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Whole Foods Companion

A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods

by Dianne Onstad


The following is an excerpt from Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods by Dianne Onstad. It has been adapted for the Web.

Chinese Cabbage

(Brassica chinensis, B. rapa)

The Latin name Brassica derives from the Celtic bresic; chinensis designates the plant’s Chinese origins.

General Information

Long appreciated for its delicate flavor and crisp texture, Chinese cabbage has been cultivated since before the Christian era. It has been described as a cabbage that even cabbage haters love—it is crisper, juicier, sweeter, and more tender than common cabbage. There are several varieties of Chinese cabbage, the two most popular being bok choy and Pe-tsai. All form a head, but the head varies from round like cabbage to elongated like romaine lettuce; also, the crinkly leaves may curl inward or outward.

Buying Tips

In most markets, at least one form or another of Chinese cabbage is available year-round. Select fresh, light-colored greens with plump ribs. Squeeze the heads to find a firm, heavy one. Avoid those that have wilted leaves with any rot spots. Small dark specks, however, are naturally occurring. Chinese cabbage stores exceptionally well (but not so long as cabbage), and the flavor even improves when it is slightly wilted.

Culinary Uses

Chinese cabbage’s sweet flavor is enhanced with long simmering, and the leaves become silky soft but hold their form. Try it in soups and stews, baked, or braised. It’s also delicious when lightly cooked (stir-fried, steamed, or blanched) or even raw in a salad, where its thin, crispycrunchy leaves add great texture and make an excellent salad base on their own. The blanched leaf makes a flexible and excellent wrapper that is, compared to common cabbage, easier to work with yet more delicate. Pickled Chinese cabbage, kim chee, the signature dish of Korea, is as easy to make as sauerkraut, the pickled cabbage of equal prominence in German cuisine.

Health Benefits

Chinese cabbage is cooling and beneficial to the lungs, stomach, and liver channels. It also moistens the intestines and treats constipation. It is an anti-inflammatory and useful in cases of yellow mucus discharge and other heat symptoms, including fever. According to Oriental medicine, stalk vegetables raise energy and are expansive and cooling foods. All Brassica genus vegetables contain dithiolthiones, a group of compounds that have anticancer, antioxidant properties; indoles, substances that protect against breast and colon cancer; and sulfur, which has antibiotic and antiviral characteristics.

Strawberry (from the Fruit Chapter)
Tomato (from the Vegetable Chapter)

Doubtless God could have made a better berry,
but doubtless God never did.
—William Butler

(Fragaria virginiana, F. vesca, F. moschata)

Fraga was the ancient Latin name and refers to the fruit’s wonderfully enticing fragrance. The term virginiana means “from Virginia”; vesca means “weak” or “thin”; moschata means “having a musky scent.” The etymology of the English name strawberry is often disputed: one group claims that it came about because straw was used between the rows to keep the berries clean and to protect them in wintertime; another explanation is that in Europe ripe berries were threaded on straws to be carried to market; a third contingent claims that the name was originally strewberry because the berries appear to be strewn or scattered among the leaves of the plant.

General Information

Strawberries are probably the most popular of all the berries, and indigenous to both the Old and the New World. There are approximately seventy-five varieties of wild strawberries found in the United States alone, all of them edible. The commercial fruits we know today are the result of an 1835 cross between one of the small, wild strawberries native to Europe and North America and a walnut-sized strawberry of Chile. A French spy on a mission to Chile had smuggled the large Chilean strawberry home to France, and in King Louis XV’s garden at Versailles the plant was crossed with another strawberry, F. virginiana, which Virginian colonists had sent back to England. Although the cross produced a berry of good size and flavor, wild strawberries have a flavor that is unequaled by any commercial berry. The alpine strawberry (F. vesca) is a form of wood strawberry, the wild strawberry of antiquity. It was discovered about three hundred years ago east of Grenoble in the low Alps, and since the fruit was larger and the plant bore continuously throughout the growing season, it soon surpassed other wood strawberries in popularity. Some strains of alpine strawberry produce fruits colored creamy white or yellow, slightly larger than the red, and with just a hint of pineapple flavor. The musk strawberry (F. moschata) is larger than the alpine strawberry and grows wild to a limited extent in the shaded forests of central Europe, north into Scandinavia, and east into Russia. The strawberry itself is an unusual fruit in that its seeds are embedded in its surface rather than protected within. The sweetest and most nutritious strawberries are those that have been sun-ripened on the plant, because the amount of vitamin C increases the longer the berries remain unpicked in the sun. California provides 80 percent of the nation’s fresh and frozen strawberries. Strawberries are one of the foods permitted irradiation.

Buying Tips

All berries should be unblemished, fully and deeply colored without any runny or bleeding spots, slightly soft, and fragrant, with their stems intact. Avoid those with green or white tips as well as overly large varieties, since they have not had enough sun to ripen thoroughly and develop their full sweetness. Both alpine and musk strawberries are flavorless until becoming dead ripe, at which time they become extremely soft and aromatic (plus hard to ship). Strawberries should be refrigerated but taste best at room temperature. Don’t take off the cap until just before eating. Culinary Uses

At their best, strawberries have a musky aroma and are sweet but acid, almost pineapple-like, in flavor. Fruits of the alpine strawberry have an intense, wild strawberry flavor, while the musk strawberry tastes like a combination of strawberry, raspberry, and pineapple. Wash them just before using, if at all, and remove the stems and hulls. An American favorite is strawberry shortcake, but the berries also appear on Belgian waffles, in jams and jellies, and as an adornment for various dishes. A natural complement to strawberries is cream in various forms, whether whipped into clouds, slightly soured, clotted as in Devonshire cream, or enriched with egg into a custard.

Health Benefits

pH 3.00–3.50. Strawberries are highly rated as a skin-cleansing food, even though skin eruptions may increase at first as they rid the blood of harmful toxins. Hives or other allergic reactions to the berries are most likely a result of eating them in their unripe state or when they have not been fully vine-ripened. Strawberries are recommended as essential for cardiac health and offer good nutritional energy that is easy to digest and process. All berries, but especially strawberries, are good sources of the anticancer compound ellagic acid. They are among the highest organic sodium fruits and thus are eliminative and good for the intestinal tract; however, the seeds can be irritating where there is colitis or inflammation of the bowel. Their considerable vitamin properties are mostly lost during cooking, so that although strawberry jelly, jams, and preserves may taste good, they have only a fraction of their original natural vitamins. The addition of sugar renders them acidic and detrimental to the body. Strawberry leaf tea has many of the same properties as raspberry leaf tea and may be used to ease diarrhea, increase the flow of milk after birth, and restore strength. A cut strawberry rubbed over the face after washing will whiten the skin and remove a slight sunburn. Research has determined that strawberries have a slight tranquilizing effect; that’s why surgical gloves for dentists and masks for children’s anesthesia are often perfumed with a strawberry scent. A kitchen remedy to remove tartar and strengthen teeth is to rub a halved strawberry on the teeth and gums and leave on for forty-five minutes, then rinse with warm water.

Lore and Legend

The early Greeks had a taboo against eating any red foods, including wild strawberries, and this added mystery to the fruit, leading many to believe that it possessed great powers. Strawberries are often associated with fairy folk, and in Bavaria a basket of the fruit is sometimes tied between a cow’s horns to please the elves so that they bless the cow with abundant milk. During the Middle Ages, pregnant women avoided the berries because they believed their children would be born with ugly red birthmarks if they ate them. In art and literature the strawberry is usually a symbol of sensuality and earthly desire.

(Lycopersicon esculentum)

It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.
—Lewis Grizzard

Lycopersicon is the latinized nickname “wolfpeach,” given the tomato by the French botanist Tournefort during the mid–sixteenth century, when it was often mistaken for the wolf peach written about by Galen thirteen centuries before. Peach was for its luscious appearance, wolf for its presumptive poisonous qualities, in analogy to pieces of aconite-sprinkled meat thrown out as bait to destroy wolves. The term esculentum means “esculent” or “edible.“ The English word tomato is a Spanish rendering of the Nahuatl (Mexican Indian) tomatl.

General Information

The tomato is a member of the nightshade family that came originally from western South America, where small-fruited wild forms, described by botanists as weedy and aggressive, still proliferate. The invading Spaniards saw the tomato growing in Montezuma’s gardens in 1519 and described it recognizably, though in less than glowing terms: they found the sprawling vines scraggly and ugly. Still, Cortez brought tomato seeds back with him to Europe, along with the more spectacular plunder, and tomato plants were soon growing as curiosities in the sunny gardens of Renaissance Spain. In 1544 the Renaissance botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli called them pomi d’oro—golden apples—so presumably it was a yellow variety he knew. However, he also called them mala insane (unhealthy fruit), and for centuries there was much confusion about the tomato’s goodness and healthfulness. There are thousands of known tomato varieties, which differ greatly in color and shape, with cultivars adapted to any number of climates. The most common shapes are the large, round varieties such as Jersey and Beefsteak; the small, pear-shaped plum or Italian Roma tomatoes, which make such good sauces; and the small, round cherry tomatoes. Yellow varieties tend to be the least acidic. By cultivation and use the tomato is a vegetable, but botanically it is a fruit and can be classified as a berry, since it is pulpy and contains one or more seeds that are not stones. As the result of a tariff dispute, when an importer contended that the tomato was a fruit and therefore not subject to vegetable import duties, the plant was officially proclaimed a vegetable in 1893 by the U.S. Supreme Court. They ruled it should be classified a vegetable because it was most frequently served in soup or with the main course of a meal, as a vegetable would be. Joseph Campbell brought out his famous canned tomato soup in 1897, shortly after chemist John Dorrance, at a weekly salary of $7.59, worked out the formula for condensing it. After potatoes and iceberg lettuce, tomatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetable in the United States. But tomatoes rank above all produce in the popular fervor they inspire; they are considered a dietary necessity.

Buying Tips

Choose firm, plump tomatoes with an aromatic tomato fragrance. Avoid soft, overripe tomatoes with blemishes, bruises, soft spots, or growth cracks. As they are extremely fragile when ripe, most commercial tomatoes are picked and shipped green and then artificially ripened in ethylene gas chambers. They may need a little help to finish ripening—keep them upside down at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, until they turn richly red. Those tomatoes whose skins are red but whose seeds or internal parts are still green were picked too soon; when a tomato is fully ripe, the seeds inside are brown. Fully vine-ripened tomatoes are sweet and juicy, with a slight tang. Because they are best when picked straight from the vine, even people who are not avid gardeners like to grow them. Hydroponically grown tomatoes may be cosmetically perfect, but they tend to lack flavor. Researchers at the USDA found that vine-ripened tomatoes grown outdoors in sunlight are twice as rich in vitamin C as their greenhouse counterparts. Store tomatoes in a warm location but not in direct sunlight. They will keep for about a week. Do not refrigerate tomatoes as this drains their flavor and gives them a mealy texture.

Culinary Uses

Tomatoes add flavor and color to a wide variety of both raw and cooked dishes. They are used in more spicy sauces, canned in more soups, drunk in more juices, added to more salads, and spread on more pizzas than any other vegetable. No other fruit or vegetable has such mass appeal. Cherry tomatoes, because of their small size, are perfect for tossing whole into salads. Sun-dried tomatoes have an explosively concentrated flavor that provides a tremendous boost to many dishes. One other very important application for the tomato (or tomato juice) is as a neutralizer for butyl mercaptan, the nose-shriveling prime ingredient in the defense spray of skunks.

Health Benefits

pH 3.50–4.90. Tomatoes are over 93 percent water. A natural antiseptic, fresh raw tomatoes contain a great deal of citric acid, which has an alkaline reaction if digested when no starches or sugars are present. Their chlorine content increases the alkalinity of the blood and helps to stimulate the liver in its function as a filter for body and toxic wastes. Raw tomato (both whole and juice form) is especially effective in reducing liver inflammation from hepatitis and cirrhosis. Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin A as carotene—not beta carotene but a different kind, called lycopene. Studies have found that Hawaiians who ate a large number of tomatoes had a lower risk of stomach cancer, Norwegians who ate lots of tomatoes had a lower risk of lung cancer, and Americans who ate much of this fruit had a lower rate of prostate cancer and lower death rates from all cancers. Another large population study in Wales found that tomatoes ranked high in protecting people from acute appendicitis. The highest vitamin content is in the jelly that surrounds the seeds, so de-seeding tomatoes reduces their food value. Never eat raw green tomatoes, as they contain a toxin known as solanine and the acids in the green tomato are very detrimental to the body. Cooked or canned tomatoes have many of their nutrients destroyed.

Lore and Legend

Although the early Aztecs of Mexico considered the tomato a “health” food and reverently offered it to their gods of healing, Europeans shunned it because of its association with known poisonous plants, and because its bright shiny colors—red, orange, yellow, and white—were highly suspicious. The turning point for the pro-tomato faction in America, according to time-honored legend, occurred on the steps of the Salem, New Jersey, courthouse on September 26, 1820. That was the day when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate, in public and without ill effect, an entire basketful of tomatoes. Colonel Johnson, an enthusiastic gardener, had earlier introduced the tomato to the farmers of Salem after a trip abroad in 1808, and each year offered a prize for the largest fruit grown. A forceful individualist and notorious eccentric, the colonel wanted his introduction to be regarded as more than an ornamental bush, so when he announced that he would in public eat not one, but a whole basket of “wolf peaches,” a large crowd of some two thousand curious people from miles around gathered to watch him commit certain suicide. Dressed in his habitual black suit with impeccable white ruffles, a tricorn hat, black gloves, and gold-topped walking stick, the colonel made an imposing figure as he ascended the courthouse steps at high noon to the accompaniment of a dirgelike tune played by the local firemen’s band. Selecting a tomato from his basket, he held it aloft and launched into his spiel:

The time will come when this luscious, golden apple, rich in nutritive value, a delight to the eye, a joy to the palate, whether fried, baked, broiled, or eaten raw, will form the foundation of a great garden industry, and will be recognized, eaten and enjoyed as an edible food . . . And to help speed that enlightened day, to help dispel the tall tales, the fantastic fables that you have been hearing about the thing, to show you that it is not poisonous, that it will not strike you dead, I am going to eat one right now! —Hendrickson, Foods for Love, pp. 188–189

Colonel Johnson bit into the tomato, and the juicy bite could be heard through the silence, until he bit again, and again—at least one female spectator screaming and fainting with each succeeding bite. The crowd was amazed to see the courageous colonel still on his feet as he devoured tomato after tomato. He soon converted most onlookers, but not until the entire basket was empty did the band strike up a victory march and the crowd begin to chant a cheer. The colonel’s personal physician, Dr. James Van Meeter, had taken a dim view of the proposed tomato eating and had been quoted as saying, “The foolish colonel will foam and froth at the mouth and double over with appendicitis. All that oxalic acid! One dose and you’re dead.” Barring immediate effects, it was feared that the tomato skins would stick to the lining of the stomach and eventually cause cancer (tomatoes were generally held to induce cancer until nearly the end of the nineteenth century). Dr. Van Meeter stayed, black bag in hand, until the whole basketful of tomatoes had been devoured, and then quietly slunk away. The colonel, undaunted, continued to live in undisputed health to the ripe old age of seventy-nine.

Ketchup started out at ketsiap, a sauce developed in the seventeenth century by the Chinese that would never have appealed to westerners. It was a tangy potion of fish entrails, vinegar, and spices, and was used mainly on fish. Exported to Malaya, where it was called kechap, the strange purée was sold to English sailors in the early eighteenth century. Back in England it caught on quickly, but English cooks substituted mushrooms for the fish entrails. The first printed recipe, from Richard Brigg’s 1792 cookbook The New Art of Cookery, called it catsup and included tomatoes as an ingredient (a rarity for the time, because tomatoes were still considered poisonous). Henry Heinz was the first to use the term ketchup when he started advertising the product in the early 1900s; he liked the unique spelling. Other competitors slowly followed suit, the last making the change in 1988. Ketchup is now consumed at the rate of seven 14-ounce bottles per person annually.

Oats(from the Grains Chapter)
Broad/Fava Bean (from the Legumes Chapter)

(Avena sativa)

There is great healing power in the sight of oats, the faintly blue color of their stems, the knack of each seed head to hold a single, radiant drop of moisture after rain.
—Tom Ireland, “Birds of Sorrow”

Avena is the old Latin name for the plant, while sativa means “cultivated.” The English name oat comes from the Old English ate.

General Information

Oats seem to be of western European origin, probably developed from two wild grasses, the common wild oat (A. fatua) and the wild red oat (A. sterilis), around 2500 B.C. Most likely oats traveled to northern Europe along with the raiders, the merchant caravans, the invaders, and the plunderers, who would have carried them as feed for their horses. In cold northern climes such as the British Isles and Scandinavia, where few other grains would grow, oats were of great importance and soon became a staple food. By the thirteenth century oats, then known as pilcorn, were a part of every Scot’s daily fare. They were also a popular food among the poor, who could not grow wheat or afford wheat flour. Oats arrived in the New World in 1602 and were planted on the Elizabeth Isles off the coast of Massachusetts, where they soon flourished. An annual grass, oats can grow to heights of two to five feet; only about 5 percent of the entire crop is consumed by humans, with the rest grown primarily as livestock feed. There are both winter and spring varieties, as with wheat. The grains, known as groats, are most often crushed to make oatmeal, oat flour, and oat flakes. Americans consume only about eleven pounds of oats per capita annually, mostly in the form of oatmeal for breakfast.

Lore and Legend

The Romans conquered the English but found the wild Scotsmen invincible. One old account attributed the Highlanders’ prowess and guerrilla-like mobility to their staple food. Each Highlander carried a pouch of oatmeal, and dinner was as quick as mixing seawater with it to form a cake that baked in minutes on a hot stone over an open fire. Eighteen centuries later Samuel Johnson in his famous English dictionary defined oats as “A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people,” to which a Scotsman replied, “England is noted for the excellence of her horses; Scotland for the excellence of her men.”

Culinary Uses

Unlike other grains, oats must be steamed before their two inedible outer hulls can be removed. As with other grains, the more processed oats are, the more their flavor and nutrients are compromised. For all of northern Europe, oats are a part of the culinary heritage, and for the Scots no celebration or cookbook would be complete without their appearance. While the whole groat (minus the inedible outer hull) may be cooked like brown rice, most oats are consumed in the form of oatmeal. Oats contain moderate amounts of gluten and can be used for thickening and enriching soups, for extending meat loaves, for stuffings, pilafs, cakes, breads, muffins, pancakes, granola, and muesli. Oats also contain an antioxidant that delays rancidity; thus the groats can be ground into flour that is longer lasting than whole-wheat flour.

Health Benefits

pH 6.20–6.60. Oats contain a higher proportion of fat and protein than most other grains, and rightly have a reputation for being a warming food appropriate for cold climates. Oats are the one adaptogen grain, meaning that they improve resistance to stress and thus support the system being in a healthy state of balance. Oats help stabilize blood sugar, regulate the thyroid, soothe the nervous and digestive systems, reduce the craving for cigarettes, and reduce cholesterol. The rolled variety are easily and quickly digested and take less time to cook than steel-cut oats. They are best eaten alone, as milk and sugar will cause them to ferment in the stomach, with all the possible benefits lost. Many people find that oats act as a mild laxative because of their high fiber content. Eating oats can lower cholesterol, as the soluble fiber acts like little sponges, binding cholesterol and carrying it out of the body. Oats are reputedly beneficial for those with an under-functioning thyroid gland, and their rich silicon content helps renew the bones and all connective tissue. Externally, oats have an anti-inflammatory effect on certain skin problems such as contact eczema, and some physicians recommend oatmeal packs to treat psoriasis. Oat flour is an effective skin cleanser and can replace soap when necessary. Added to bathwater it will soothe the itch of irritations such as eczema, poison ivy, and poison oak, or if made into a thick poultice it can be applied directly to the affected areas.

Lore and Legend

In ancient plant lore an offering of oats showed an appreciation for someone’s music; this evidently was an allusion to the shepherd’s pipe, the popular “oaten straw” of pastorals. Tea made from oats achieved a curious reputation in the early part of the twentieth century as being able to “cure the opium habit,” and reduce the craving for cigarettes.


Oat bran is the outer covering of the hulled oat groat. Although not the universal panacea for health problems that was originally claimed, studies show that the consumption of oat bran does help lower blood cholesterol levels, as do rice, corn, and wheat bran, because of their fiber content. Oat bran is a delicious and nutritious addition to any baked product. Since it is the oil in the bran that contains the nutrients, all types of bran need to be stored in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity.

Oat flour, also known as flaked oats, retains most of the nutrients present in whole oats, as the bran and germ remain intact in processing. It can be used interchangeably with whole-wheat pastry flour in some recipes, giving a moist, delicate sweetness to breads, pancakes, biscuits, scones, and other pastry products. The addition of oat flour to baked goods gives the added benefit of a natural antioxidant, which enables baked products to retain their freshness longer. Oats have only a moderate gluten content, so they need to be combined with wheat flour or other high-gluten-content flour when making leavened bread. Oat flour can also be used as a thickening agent in sauces, soups, and stews. If you can’t find oat flour at a health food store, you can make your own by whirring rolled oats in an electric blender and then sifting to remove the coarser elements.

Oat groats are hulled, whole kernels that have been cleaned and dried. They are roasted slightly during the cleaning and hulling process but have virtually the same nutrients as the whole grain; plus, the roasting process adds richness to the flavor. Softer than a wheat berry, oat groats can be pounded with a wooden mallet or rolled on a flat surface with a rolling pin so they will cook quicker than in their original form. They are used in baking, as a cereal, or added to other grains for chewiness.

Rolled oats are made from hulled groats that have been steamed and rolled flat into flakes. “Instant” or “quick oats” are groats that have been precooked in water, dried, and rolled superthin; although quicker to cook, they have less nutritional value because of their exposure to high heat during processing. Both varieties may be ground into a coarse meal suitable for bread making or used whole in cereals, cookies, cakes, and breads or as toppings for fruit crisps. Rolled oats made from the whole grain are subject to rancidity within one to three months after milling; thus it is advisable to store any bulk quantities that will not be used within one month below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Steel-cut oats, also known as Scotch or Irish oats, are natural, unrefined oat groats that have been processed with a minimal amount of heat by steel blades, which cut them into two or three small pieces. These are available in coarse and fine grinds—the finer the slicing, the quicker the grain cooks. They still contain everything that is in the whole oat, retaining most of their B vitamins even through processing. With their fairly long cooking time they are best used for tasty, chewy cereals; however, cooked steel-cut oats can be blended with various flours for baking.

Whole oats are unprocessed and retain the beneficial bran and germ. This whole form stores well without substantial deterioration. They can be used in baking (after being cooked), as a cereal, added to other grains for chewiness, or sprouted. Sprouting dramatically increases the supply of B vitamins and also releases other minerals for use.

Broad/Fava Bean
(Vicia faba, Faba vulgaris)

Also Known As: Horse Beans, Daffa Beans, Windsor Beans, Grosse Bohnen

Vicia is a classical name for the vetch family (a type of legume) and is believed to come from the Latin vincire, meaning “to bind” or “to twist.” Faba comes from the Greek phago, meaning “to eat,” as this plant yields edible seeds. The specific term vulgaris means “common.” As its English name suggests, the broad bean is substantial in size.

General Information

The broad bean is considered native to the Mediterranean basin, with seeds being found in Egypt dating back to between 2400 and 2200 B.C. A large bean—about 1 1/4 inches long—resembling a lima in size, it is light brown in color and oval in shape, with a dark line running down the ridge where it is split. As a vegetable the broad bean retained its popularity in Europe not only because it could be dried and saved for eating later but also because for many centuries it was the only readily available bean. So important was it, together with other pulses, that from the early Middle Ages onward there was a death sentence for theft from open fields of beans, peas, and lentils. It has remained a favorite throughout the major continents, with the exception of North America, where it is just now becoming widely available. Ful medames are a small variety of broad bean widely eaten in the Middle East; its white counterpart is called ful nabed. This smaller variety has given its name to one of Egypt’s national dishes (ful medames), in which the beans are baked with eggs, cumin, and garlic. The name is thought to derive from mudammas, meaning “buried,” because a dish was cooked by being buried in hot ashes and left overnight. Ful is simply the Arabic word for the fava bean.

Culinary Uses

Fresh fava beans are large, flat, and oval, with a firm creamy texture and dainty, nutty taste. Young beans are quite tender, but as they mature, the skin covering the bean becomes coarser and tougher. Older beans need this coarse outer skin removed or “slipped” before they are eaten. If you are fortunate enough to be in possession of young beans, cook them whole. Simply trim the ends, rinse, and cook in boiling water for four to five minutes. The young pods are unexpectedly filling, and you will find one pound in weight will happily satisfy six to eight people as a side dish. Dried favas look like large lima beans and have a mealy, granular texture and an assertive flavor; they need long, slow cooking and their thick skins peeled before eating. Favas can be eaten on their own, in casseroles, or in salads. Served hot with melted butter, seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper, and sprinkled with chopped parsley or basil, they are delicious. In most recipes, favas can be substituted for limas.

Health Benefits

Fava beans provide nutritional benefits similar the kidney bean family. Note: Favism is a painful blood condition brought on by eating fava beans or by inhaling the pollen from the flowering plant. Evidently this is an inborn error of metabolism, a genetic defect that causes the red blood cells to rupture after the individual comes in contact with them. There is no known way to remove or inactivate the responsible substances. Favism is thought to affect up to 35 percent of some Mediterranean populations and 10 percent of African Americans. Symptoms of favism include dizziness, nausea, and vomiting, followed by severe anemia.

Lore and Legend

In the Greek and Roman world the broad bean was highly regarded, although there have been some very curious beliefs regarding these beans. Herodotus (History, II.xxxvii) recounts that the Egyptian priests regarded broad beans with horror as unclean, and Pythagoras, who imported many Egyptian elements into his religion, similarly despised them. A tenet of his doctrine of metempsychosis is that souls may transmigrate into beans after death. This may have some connection with the fact that bean feasts traditionally ended funerals, and that they figured in rites to rid households of the evil effects occasioned by the nocturnal visits of lemurs, the wandering souls of the wicked (in England, several beans were placed in graves to keep ghosts away, and if you happened to see a ghost, you were to spit a bean at it). Yet broad beans were popular enough with the lay folk, to whom they were distributed by candidates for public office at election times. The politicians were not simply currying favor, since the beans were used as voting tokens during magisterial elections. This custom was later remarked upon by Plutarch, whose proverbial dictum abstineto a fabis (abstain from beans) passed into English. No one is sure now whether this was an injunction to refrain from politics and bribery, or from involvement in civil affairs (a continuing of the Pythagorean and priestly prejudice), or a warning against dabbling in the supernatural, since beans have been connected not only with ghosts and death but also with supernatural spirits and witches. Scottish witches, it was once believed, rode not on a broomstick but on a beanstalk. Since the Middle Ages (and earlier in Rome at the Saturnalian festivities, the holiday that became transformed into Twelfth Night), beans were the main ingredient in the Twelfth Night Cake, which also contained honey, flour, ginger, and pepper. This was a sacred cake: one portion was for God, one for the Holy Virgin, and three for the Magi. In Rome even now, a holiday cake is baked with one fava bean hidden inside; the one who gets the piece with the bean is crowned king (or queen) of the festivities.

Almond(from the Nuts, Seeds and Oils Chapter)
Bay (from the Herbs, Spices, and Other Foods Chapter)

(Prunus dulcis, P. amygdalus)

The almond tree is part of the plum family—thus the genus Prunus. Dulcis means “sweet,” while amygdalus is the old Latin name for the almond. The English word almond came from the French amande, a derivative of amygdalus.

General Information


The graceful almond tree is native to North Africa, west Asia, and the Mediterranean. Botanically, almonds are a fruit—the ancient ancestor of later fruits that have large stones for seeds, like nectarines, peaches, plums, and apricots. The almond itself has a tough, greenish-gray hull that looks very much like a small, elongated peach. This hull splits open at maturity, revealing the familiar almond shell, which encases the edible nut. Two types of almonds are grown: sweet and bitter. The sweet is the only one used as a nut, mostly for desserts and confectionery items. Bitter almonds are cheaper and easier to grow but contain prussic acid and are suitable for use only after the removal of this poison by heat. The bitter almond provides the main source of bitter almond oil, which is used both as a flavoring and as an ingredient in cosmetic skin preparations. Early on, almonds became popular throughout Europe. An inventory of the household goods of the queen of France in 1372 listed five hundred pounds of almonds, versus only twenty pounds of sugar. Almonds were brought to California in 1843 by Spanish missionaries, and today this state produces the world’s largest share of almonds. They remain a dominant nut in world trade and the most widely grown and eaten tree nut.

Culinary Uses

For freshness, purchase whole almonds and then slice or chop them just prior to use. The thin brown skin of a shelled almond should be intact and unscratched, as it provides some protection from rancidity. Slice an almond kernel in half and examine its texture. A solid white nutmeat denotes freshness, while a honeycomb-textured kernel or yellow color indicates rancidity. Although the skin is edible, some authorities claim that it should be removed because of its astringent tendencies. Almonds are widely used in confectionery, are made into drinks and liqueurs, combine successfully with cheese and vegetables to make a good stuffing, and may be added raw to salads. Use almonds in tandem with almond oil for reinforced flavor in baking or to give body to a salad dressing. Raw, whole almonds will sprout. Indeed, sprouted almonds are very delicious; many people consider them to have a much better flavor than dry, unsprouted almonds. Don’t sprout them for longer than twenty-four to thirty-six hours or else the sprouts may turn rancid.

Health Benefits

pH > 6.0. Demulcent, emollient. Almonds are traditionally regarded as having special healing and protecting properties; some doctors even “prescribe” almonds daily for their patients. The most alkaline of all nuts (but still slightly acidic), almonds are particularly valuable as an essential “building food” for those who are underweight. Their high fat, carbohydrate, and protein content make them an ideal food for strengthening the body when there is no need to worry about the increase in the supply of fat. Almonds contain a small amount of amygdalin, better known as laetrile, which has resulted in their gaining a reputation as an anticancer food. According to Ayurvedic medicine, almonds build and strengthen the bones, nerves, and reproductive system. Best eaten raw, they are easy to digest when well masticated or ground fine.

Note: Since almonds have a high ratio of arginine to lysine, they should be avoided by individuals susceptible to cold sores or herpes infections; arginine promotes (and lysine prevents) the activation of the virus.

Lore and Legend

Greek mythology relates that a beautiful Thracian princess named Phyllis was deserted on her wedding day by her lover, Demophon. After waiting many years for him to return, she eventually died of a broken heart. In sympathy and for eternal compensation, the gods transformed her into an almond tree (called phyla by the Greeks), a symbol of hope. When Demophon finally returned it was too late, and when the leafless, flowerless, and forlorn tree was shown him as the memorial of Phyllis, he clasped it in his arms, whereupon it burst forth into bloom—an emblem of true love inextinguishable by death. In Greece almonds in uneven numbers of three, five, or seven are offered to guests for good fortune and happiness at christenings, weddings, and the ordination of priests. Shelled almonds and raisins, combined, were early symbols of good luck for Jews. The nuts and fruits, packaged together, are still popular in eastern Europe.

Another beautiful legend comes from Portugal. A Moorish prince from the deep south of Portugal (Algarve) married a Scandinavian princess, who pined away in that snowless land for lack of winter and the sight of snow. Her prince relieved her homesickness by planting almond trees so thickly along the entire coast that when they bloomed, their white blossoms covered the land each spring with a snowy-white blanket.


Almond butter is made from either raw or roasted almonds ground to a creamy consistency. It can be used on toast or in baked goods, wherever you would use peanut butter.

Almond extract is made from the oil of the bitter almond, a cousin to the sweet almond. The oil is diluted with water and alcohol to make this common flavoring.

Almond milk is made from almonds that have been soaked, crushed, and strained. This delicately sweet and satisfying beverage is a wonderful dairy-free and soy-free milk that can be directly substituted for cow’s milk. Although it is available commercially, almond milk can be produced easily at home, and the result is fresher and sweeter.

Almond oil is made by crushing whole raw almonds to extract the oil. Food-grade almonds are expensive, making a quality almond oil expensive and very difficult to find in a truly cold-pressed form. Unrefined almond oil is sweet, pleasant tasting, and known for its high content of vitamins A and E. Therapeutically, the oil has been used for treating gastric ulcers, as a laxative, and as an antiseptic for the intestines, as well as to help stabilize the nervous system. It is also a time-honored balm for dry or sunburned skin, a skin beautifier, and a massage oil.

(Laurus nobilis)

The Bay leaves are of as necessary use as any other in the garden or orchard, for they serve both for pleasure and profit, both for ornament and for use, both for honest civil uses and for physic, yea, both for the sick and the sound, both for the living and the dead; . . . so that from the cradle to the grave we still have use of it, we still have need of it.
—John Parkinson, Garden of Flowers (1629)

Its botanical name emphasizes the respect with which the ancient held this plant: the Latin Laurus means “to praise” and nobilis means “renowned” or “famous.” The English word bay derives from the Latin baca, meaning “berry.”

General Information

The stately, fragrant bay tree is indigenous to the Mediterranean basin, growing especially near the coasts of the three continents surrounding the Mediterranean Sea but also extending its range inland and northeast to the Black Sea coast of Turkey. It was so highly valued in all the Mediterranean regions that a Roman gold coin of 342 B.C. has a laurel wreath modeled upon its surface. Usually a shrub or small tree, the leaves are dark green and somewhat glossy, as leathery and as thin as when they are dried. The leaves are gathered by hand in mid- to late summer by mountain peasants—picked in the morning and dried in the shade lest they turn brown. Leaves from the American bay (Umbellularia californica) have a camphor-and-paint smell and an awful taste. These are sometimes sold for culinary uses but should be avoided. Instead, seek out the best European bay you can find.

Culinary Uses

Bay leaves have an aromatic perfume and a strong, spicy flavor reminiscent of pine, nutmeg, and pepper. When the leaves are shredded or crushed, the aroma and flavor are even more apparent. Fresh leaves are strongly scented, bitter, and not to everyone’s taste. They are best left to dry and mellow for a few days, although not for too long, as old dried leaves will be quite flavorless. Newly dried leaves are sweet in the sense that cinnamon and clove are sweet, with a grassy freshness. Popular in Mediterranean cooking, bay leaves are usually used when preparing meats but can also be added to stews, casseroles, and soup stocks. By their very nature, bay leaves provide support to other seasonings. They should be used sparingly because of their strong flavor, with one-half to one leaf all that is needed for a medium-sized pot of soup or stew. The whole leaves do not cook down and should be removed before the dish is served. Bay leaves appear to repel roaches, moths, and fleas. Put a whole leaf in a canister of flour to keep insects out, or put whole leaves on the floor of your closet, in drawers where woolen clothes are stored, or around the drain under the sink in your kitchen.

Health Benefits

Antiseptic, relaxant. Bay has an ancient reputation of being beneficial to the health and happiness of humans. A pleasant tonic that gives tone and strength to the digestive organs, bay is especially good for soothing the stomach, relieving abdominal cramps, and relieving flatulence. Bay oil is said to benefit sprains, bruises, and skin rashes; studies show that it has bactericidal and fungicidal properties, as well as having narcotic and sedative effects on mice. In the past a decoction of the leaves was used to bring on menses and to ease childbirth, bring about a speedy delivery, and expel the afterbirth. Too much, it is said, can cause abortion. American Indians have used bay leaves in hot baths for rheumatism and place them on their heads to cure headaches. They also place a piece of the fresh leaf inside the nostril to clear the breathing passages and refresh the brain. To help prevent tooth decay, buy a toothpaste with bay in it.

Lore and Legend

Legend has it that we owe the bay laurel to Apollo, Greek god of prophecy, poetry, and medicine. It seems that one day Apollo scolded Cupid for some unseemly conduct and called him a mere child. The usually charming but mischievous Cupid decided to avenge the insult, and succeeded in shooting Apollo with a golden arrow to induce passionate longing for the first woman he saw; Cupid then loosed a second arrow of lead to cause that woman to be equally repelled. While traversing the verdant forest, Apollo came upon the lithe and lovely wood nymph Daphne, and the effect of the golden shaft was immediate. He saw before him not merely a wood nymph but a goddess of superb beauty with attributes of wisdom and charm beyond all description. However, Daphne felt such repugnance that she fled in panic. Apollo eagerly pursued and entreated her, but she refused to stop; when the capture seemed inevitable, Daphne prayed urgently to the gods to take from her the physical form that had so enchanted Apollo, and under his grasping hands her feet were rooted into the ground, her body and upraised arms thickened into a tree trunk and limbs covered not with silky skin but rough bark, and her blowing hair turned into rustling leaves. The amazed Apollo was inconsolable but determined that his unrequited love would take another form, and thus decreed that the tree would remain green during both summer and winter, and that its leaves would be the badge of honor and glory for those who excelled in courage or accomplishment. Laurel wreaths were given the victors in the Pythian Games and at the first Olympics in 776 B.C. in honor of Apollo.

It was believed that laurel endowed prophets with vision, and the Pythian priestesses at Delphi, the oracle dedicated to Apollo, chewed laurel leaves to induce oracular powers. Since the leaves are mildly narcotic in large doses, they may have induced the required trance states. When the ancient Greek civilization flourished, bay branches from the sacred groves near the healing temples were gathered and woven into wreaths to honor great artistic figures, victors, heroes, and athletes. Physicians, upon completing their studies, were crowned with wreaths of berried laurel branches, the “baca lauris,” and students even today receive their baccalaureate degrees.

No man can be wise on an empty stomach.
—George Eliot


Food is necessary for life to exist. Much of our time on this planet is devoted to either thinking about food, hunting and gathering it (now called shopping), or preparing and consuming it. Trade routes, agriculture, and spices have occasioned war and conquest, and many fortunes have been made and lost because of food. The time is ripe to celebrate food for the central role it plays in our lives. It is a magical, precious gift from nature, one not to be taken lightly. This book provides a starting point for an exploration into the fascinating world of food and offers a wealth of information both historical and practical: where our foods originated, how they received their botanical and common names, the stories associated with them throughout their travels, how they are used for culinary purposes, and their many nutritional benefits.

There is a growing demand for wholesome and flavorful foods, a demand that will influence the way food is grown, packaged, and shipped in the future. Sales of organic produce are rapidly increasing as the public becomes aware of the dangers of food additives, chemical fertilizers, and insecticides. The term “organically grown” refers to a method of growing fruits and vegetables the way they were raised before the advent of industrial farming—without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Researchers at Rutgers University recently tested produce to find out just how much more nutritious organic produce really is. Their conclusion: organic produce has as much as a 75 percent higher mineral content than non-organic produce. Freshly picked and unprocessed food can supply over two thousand different enzymes; these enzymes are destroyed by heat greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit and by pasteurization, and their beneficial effects are greatly inhibited by chemical substances added either to the soil or during processing.

The foods profiled in this book are organized by category, for instance “Fruits” and “Vegetables,” and then organized alphabetically within each category. Some foods are placed by botanists in one category while popular use places them in another. For example, tomatoes and eggplants are botanically fruits but are used as vegetables. For the purposes of this book, popular use prevails. Products made from whole foods (such as apple juice or peanut butter) do not have separate entries but are covered along with their parent whole food. If you are unsure where to find a particular food, please check the index. Dairy products and eggs were omitted in order to concentrate solely on plant-based foods. Like the animals from which they come, these foods may carry large amounts of toxic chemicals, including antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides, which are dangerous to health. Margarine, though not derived from animal sources, was also excluded because it is neither a whole nor a healthful food. However, a brief discussion of butter and margarine can be found in the introduction to the “Nuts, Seeds, and Oils” section.

This book is intended to be used as a reference, but I hope it will also be entertaining. Each entry contains information on the plant’s botanical name and the food’s history, folklore, culinary uses, and nutritional data. Although entries vary according to how much information was available, there should be enough information in each case to identify an unfamiliar item at the market and then prepare and serve it successfully. The nutritional composition tables, which present all available information from a number of sources, provide only an estimate of each food’s fat, carbohydrate, protein, vitamin, and mineral content; nutrient value may vary up to 100 percent depending upon the quality of the soil in which the plants grew, the stage at which they were picked for shipment, and even weather conditions; methods and duration of storage and preparation also cause wide variations. Measurements are given in the standard gram (g), milligram (mg), microgram (mcg), and IU (International Unit) increments.

A note on botanical names: The botanical name of a plant consists of two parts. Of these, the first word indicates the genus or family, while the second identifies the species within the genus. These botanical names change from time to time, sometimes at a speed that must be disconcerting even for botanists. Some of the names given here may already be scheduled for replacement, but fortunately obsolete names have a sort of afterlife and continue to enjoy some currency for a decade or more after they have been replaced.

The idea for this book grew out of my combined interests in organic gardening, cooking, and holistic health. After an initial study of food and its relation to health, I decided to research and compile the information I had found on natural foods into one comprehensive volume. This book is the culmination of my effort to discover the relationship between the foods we eat, the health of our bodies, and the clarity of our minds. It was not my intention to promote one manner of eating over another, and thus there is no recommendation for any particular “diet.” There are many excellent books already written on that subject, quite a few of which are mentioned in the bibliography. Bon appétit!


It is an obvious truth, all too often forgotten, that food is not only inseparable from the history of the human race, but basic to it. Without food there would be no human race, and no history.
—Reay Tannahill, Food in History

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