Superfoods: the “disgusting” parts of food that are cheap and good for you
Many of us are fascinated by superfoods, we read everything we can to understand what is the food of the moment that we must absolutely buy, because it is dense with nutrients and antioxidants. Today I did a search on the internet by entering the term ‘superfood’: using the most renowned search engine, in a few seconds I got about 336,000,000 results. These foods with multiple benefits, which however seem to be written with a copy-paste, all contain antioxidants, all contain vitamins, all contain minerals. But their true uniqueness is that they generate a colossal turnover. Everyone is free to spend their money as they see fit, but if we pay a little attention to traditional foods, often much cheaper, we could be doubly winners. Not to mention the parts of the food that are considered waste, which are surprisingly rich in beneficial properties.
So let us start.
The disgusting water of yogurt
We love yogurt, especially the Greek one. Dense and with a soothing flavour, ideal for breakfasts and snacks, it is the perfect companion of your diet. But sometimes our beloved yogurt is not solid as it is supposed to be, yes I am talking about that water. I have seen so many people throw away with disgusted faces, ‘liquid’ that comes out of the yoghurt. What you see is not produced by extra-terrestrials, nor is it a sign of bad production practice, or a spoiled batch: it is simply the whey of the milk. The whey is formed thanks to the hard work of the lactic ferments, and it is, in other words, the part that remains after the milk has curdled and strained. This liquid, not much appreciated by consumers, is responsible for the slightly acidic taste, so characteristic of yogurt, but this is not the only property that it has. For those who are attracted to super foods, consuming it, should be a must: it has low fat and cholesterol, while it is rich in calcium, protein complete with all 9 essential amino acids, a substantial amount of B vitamins and probiotics. You cannot buy yoghurt, because it has always been considered one of the most remarkable super food, and not consume its whey: it would be like buying cheese sandwiches and not eating its cheese. If you are eating the yoghurt classically, you can simply homogenize the watery and the solid part by stirring; or if you have drained the yoghurt because you need it thick, just collect the liquid and use it in soups, rather than in smoothies or ice cream: but do not waste that real superfood!
The ‘skin’ on boiled milk
In the morning, at the home of many working people there is a race. Participants are those who have to leave the house in time, after a triathlon of shower, dressing, combing and makeup and possibly with a good breakfast. The latter part is sometimes done smoothly: cold milk/yogurt from the fridge, combined with cereals or a piece of cheese or ham in a sandwich. However, when you want to drink hot milk, there may occur some well-known pitfalls. Going away for just a moment to check your mobile phone, rather than answering your little daughter’s question, here comes the disaster: a substantial part of the milk destined to be your family’s breakfast is now out of the pot to soften the scum of your cooktop, and then form a fortress against the attacks of the best performing detergents if you don’t clean it properly and immediately. In order not to run the risk of ruining a potentially beautiful day, I suggest you to leave a wooden spoon inside the milk pan; or stir it often, thus allowing the water vapour to escape from the barrier formed on the surface. But have you ever wondered what is this film that we often discard without even thinking about it, because it is quite disgusting?
Milk is an aqueous system containing proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins that make it one of the few complete and perfect foods. By heating it, we activate various processes, including protein denaturation and fat transformation, along with vitamin degradation. Milk proteins are made up of caseins and whey, and we know they are very complex structures that can be influenced by heat. By heating the milk, we change the structure of the proteins; while casein gets coagulated, at the same time an ‘insurmountable barrier is being formed on the surface of your breakfast’. The heat in this case does not affect the amino acid content, it is not a threat for getting your whole protein content. But this threat comes in reality when we throw away that skin (actually resembling a spider web), we actually eliminate the protein content of our drink.
Another complicated thing happens in the fat content. These are made up of short-, medium- and long-chain fatty acids, the structure of which is also influenced by heat: the concentration of short- and medium-chain fatty acids increases, and that of long-chain fatty acids decreases. Short chain fatty acids are very important for our immune system and for the health of the intestinal flora. Medium chain fats are the only types of fats that are not deposited like adipose fat, but are introduced, without waiting for digestion, into the “system” to generate energy. Of long-chain fatty acids such as omega 3, however, we do not find many, so decreasing content is not a great loss. So even to get the most out of milk fats, keep that skin tight.
The cooking water of legumes
I’ll say it right away, it’s not a super food, but its characteristics have led me to put it in the super category.
Who would have thought that with the cooking water of chickpeas, you could make excellent meringues, or mayonnaise! The first time I had my mother-in-law (she is Italian) taste the fruits of my experiment, she didn’t believe what she saw with her eyes and felt with her palate. Yep, but we were talking about the disgusting things, weren’t we? The story of the aquafaba is quite original: its inventor, a French musician, looking for an alternative to the egg-white, wondered what could be “nauseating” as much as this one; and it was there that he saw similar disgust in the murky chickpea water. Luckily or by intuition, he experimented with the liquid, and the result was just amazing.
Although its ability to “act” to replace the egg in recipes is really something unique and phenomenal, the cooking liquid of chickpeas is equally good in the role of chicken stock while that of black beans is very satisfying when replacing meat stock. The old Italians used to say during the WWII times, when finding something to eat was a real challenge: “what doesn’t choke you, makes you fat”. But aquafaba is anything but caloric, and having nothing but surprising properties, surely it can’t makes you fatter. OK, good, so we can eat it whenever we want? Not quite right! All legumes contain anti-nutrients and phytic acid, and when you soak and cook them, these components are released in soaking/cooking water. For reducing their concentration you should prolong the time for soaking (at least 36 hours), and increase the frequency of changing the soaking water (every 6-8 hours), this method removes the major part of phytic acid content. Here’s another reason why you shouldn’t buy canned legumes, not only for safe aquafaba but for safe legumes too, because you will never know if they had been soaked properly, and in the food industry, soaking legumes for very long periods is not a common method. In this way, unless you don’t eat aquafaba in every meal, it won’t damage you.
Have you prepared the chicken legs for dinner? I love chicken, when I cook it once every ten days, it’s a party for me. But I love cartilage more than chicken meat. My husband tells me that I am strange: he, very picky, leaves a thigh with some meat still attached because ‘maybe’ there is the presence of some ligament. As I grew older, I met and ate together with many people, and I can say that my husband is probably right. It wasn’t enough for me to bring the relevant scientific documentation, showing that I wasn’t the only one in the world who loved them, and that chicken bones, for example, naturally contain the umami taste, a word that alone confirms what my palate feels (in Japanese it means ‘deliciousness’). But I’m stubborn, and when he complains of back or knee pains, I tell him to try cartilage. And now I’ll explain why. A good part of us live a sedentary life at the highest levels; others may be sedentary for most of the day, but then they do physical activity even very extreme, for two or three hours a week; and still others, most of them, instead, are overweight or obese. Do you know where these three categories meet? Arthrosis, arthritis and co. On the market, there are many types of supplements to improve the state of cartilage and give relief to the patient, reducing pain. The studies carried out to demonstrate the effectiveness of these supplements are a bit vague, there is no equally beneficial effect for all subjects, but they are still sold for various prices (can be also very expensive), and people continue buying them. Because they see a pill, not the legs of chicken or disgusting greasy parts. Have you ever heard the saying “does the organ feed the organ?” It means that if we have problems with cartilage, we can perhaps benefit from eating… cartilage. China, land of traditional medicine, teaches us how to take the best from chicken feet. But also in Portugal it’s normal to ask your butcher to give you the feet of chicken that you are buying. To be honest, I find them a little bit revolting, so I content myself with the only bones and cartilage of my chicken (preferably bought from sustainable farms) and I prepare a traditional and satisfying broth, made with the addition of vinegar and cooked for several hours, so as to let the bones release their collagen. Don’t forget that collagen is good also for your skin and hair. Et Voilà. When you eat chicken the next time, think about it.
Fish fat and skin
According to the WHO, we must eat fish twice a week, one of which must be an oily fish. When fish is not intensively farmed, or lived in heavily polluted waters, it is an excellent source of various nutrients, of which perhaps the most important is omega 3. Omega 3 is used to practically improve every part of the body: from eyes to skin, from hair to brain and so on. Oily fish, is the best source of it among the whole food universe. But we cannot eat fish whenever we want, not only for their probable heavy metal toxicity but because overeating requires overfishing. It’s sure that overfishing is very far from being sustainable, it’s simply emptying the seas, as a result global fish stocks are exploited. And if omega 3 is good for us, we cannot just waste it. Having said that, we know that if it does not come from a low-quality farm, it often has a significant cost, and not everyone can afford to eat wild salmon twice a week. I think it’s clear where I want to lead you. We eat like kids: we think that edible parts of fish are only the fillets, all the rest goes to the bin. Those parts of fish that you discard with disgust, are actually excellent sources (perhaps the major ones) of omega 3, collagen and protein. I know that eating those parts requires lots of courage at the beginning. But you should comprehend that omega 3 supplements are not efficient as may do a whole fish. So, if you really can’t swallow, despite trying to close your eyes and nose, you could remove the cooked skins, blend them well and mix them with tuna, for example, to make delicious fish balls. But don’t throw away what it would cost you a whole lot of money just because it’s free and makes a little sense.
Yes, I know, while reading this last paragraph, you will all agree with my husband: “Başak, you’re weird, really!”. But when you have finished reading, you’ll change your idea and will be looking forward to summer. Okay, so I’ll go straight to the point and shoot the bomb, but please don’t laugh: I love to munch on the watermelon peels. I like their low sweet and watery taste which counterpoise the extreme sweetness of the watermelon. It was therefore surprising to hear the following news that at least made me regain my status as a reasonable person. A 2008 university study showed that watermelon peel contains citrulline, which is converted in the body into a very special amino acid, which improves blood circulation, everywhere. Yes, you got it, it is a natural aphrodisiac. Of course, eating the peels as I do may not attract you the same, but here are some ideas for using them. You can extract the juice of them and use it for enriching some smoothies, or even cook them in dishes in place of zucchini/courgette family. Try to believe it.
Joking apart, I want to invite you to reconsider what you eat, how you perceive it. The above mentioned issues show us how precious is our food. Even the parts are not supposed to be eaten are rich of some very special property. So, to get all of what is offered to us let’s try to reduce drastically our domestic waste. And let’s try to make every small and big sacrifice to succeed in this purpose: do not be picky and try to buy less to throw even less.
In this blog you will often find suggestions on how to reuse leftovers, so you will not be alone and in case of doubt, send me your questions.
Good revolution to all