Archives for posts with tag: health

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Honey, Cooking, and The Science Behind The Sweet

A.V. Walters

Honey is a foodstuff of almost mythical proportions. It is one of a handful of foods that, left in its original form, never spoils. Honey has been known to last literally thousands of years—and still be edible and sweet. Honey will crystalize—a condition that may put off the uninformed consumer—but crystalized honey is still good. If it offends, you can simply warm it gently and it will resume its liquid amber loveliness.

Honey has three characteristics that, acting together, serve as its natural preservative. Despite being a liquid, honey has a very low water content of only 14 to 18 %. Bees will not “cap” honey in the comb until it has reached this low moisture threshold. Most bacteria cannot survive in such a low-moisture environment. Honey is also highly acidic, with a pH between 3.0 and 4.5. That acidity will kill off the few remaining things that might want to grow there. And, as we all know, honey is sweet. That natural sweetness also discourages bacterial growth. Archeologists have found sealed honey in ancient Egyptian tombs that was still preserved and unspoiled. Add to these three basic characteristics are the enzymes in honey that come from the bees’ stomachs. These enzymes combine with nectar sugars to produce gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide—natural components of honey. Blended together all these characteristics make a super-food that keeps, nearly indefinitely.

Herbalists and healers of ancient times understood these qualities in honey. It was widely used to treat wounds, for skin ointments and to prevent infections. To retain its natural preservative qualities though, stored honey must be sealed. Because honey is hygroscopic (naturally low in water) it will absorb liquid from the air and eventually spoil if left uncovered. Though honey is naturally pure, it can contain trace amounts of bacteria, and while this is not a problem for healthy children and adults, raw honey is not recommended for infants or people with compromised immune systems.

What about cooked honey? Cooking honey poses two questions: Does cooking undermine honey’s otherwise beneficial qualities? And, is it actually toxic? Purists and practitioners of natural or ayurvedic medicine will tell you that cooked honey is poisonous, and should never be eaten. There’s a smidgeon of science that supports that position, technically, but most feel that’s a little extreme. At the end of the day, this is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. Honey is essentially a natural, supersaturated sugar solution. Added into that are enzymes, courtesy of our friends, the bees. Many of the purported health benefits of honey are connected to those enzymes. But, when you heat honey, the enzymes begin to break down, beginning at about 118 degrees, Fahrenheit. Over-heating may result in losing most of the beneficial properties, making honey just another sweetener. (A good reason to gently heat your crystalized honey. You can warm it in a bath of warm tap water or in a double-boiler, at very low heat, to protect its enzymes.) In cooking, you can preserve honey’s integrity by adjusting how and when you heat it. Whenever possible, wait and add the honey until later in the cooking process (this is especially true when sweetening sauces or glazes.) Or, you can also “dilute” any heated honey mixture with a larger quantity of unheated ingredients. Check your recipes to see if there might be ways to limit exposure to high temperatures. Needless to say, honey is always at its best when used in recipes that are never heated, like salad dressings, toppings, dips or icings.

But, is it toxic? When honey is heated, its fructose, in combination with its natural acidity, degrades and begins to form hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), which is mildly toxic. The hotter it gets, the more HMF forms. The solution is dilution. Diluting the honey with other ingredients, (prior to heating) lowers the acid level of the honey, helping to prevent HMF formation. Even then, the actual HMF toxicity levels that result from normal cooking are very low. Our evolved human gut is fully capable of digesting cooked honey products, with no observable adverse affects. If you are a purist—don’t heat your honey. Otherwise, take reasonable efforts to preserve the maximum beneficial effects by keeping honey temperatures as low as practical. You can cook and bake with confidence, knowing that you are not putting yourself at risk.

There is one group that should never consume heated honey. That is your BEES! Bee guts and intestinal systems are relatively simple and cannot safely digest HMFs. Ingesting even a small amount of honey that has been heated can result in bees developing gut ulcerations. Many beekeepers use heat to separate wax from honey—and feed the resulting honey back to the bees. Don’t do it! Only give bees cold-processed, unadulterated, honey. Even adding water to honey, for bee feeding, must be done carefully because once water is added, the honey mixture is subject to bacterial spoilage, and fermentation. (Think mead!) If you use watered-down honey for bee feeding, make sure that it remains fresh. Remove any unconsumed honey blends within a day or so, replace with a fresh mixture, and periodically clean containers.

The very characteristics that give honey its extended shelf life can require some adjustments when cooking or baking with it. The most obvious is that honey is a liquid, so when substituted for sugar, you must adjust the balance of dry and wet ingredients to retain the desired texture. Every cup of honey used as sweetener contains about three extra tablespoons of liquid. So, you must reduce the other liquids in your recipe, increase the dry ingredients, or a combination of both. (The approach you take will depend on the recipe.)

It is often assumed that you can do a “cup for cup” substitution of honey for a recipe’s sweetener. Not so. In addition to increased moisture content, honey is sweeter than sugar when measured cup for cup. Depending upon the bees food source, and the seasonal time of production, honey can be anywhere from 1.25 to 1.5 times as sweet as sugar. You’ll have to substitute accordingly, and remember to taste as you go. Honey has a lower glycemic index rating than sugar (55 compared to sugar’s 61) so it’s a healthier option, with a slower impact on blood sugar. It’s easier to standardize baking with lighter honeys—the darker honeys come laden with their own native flavors. They can add depth and character to your baked goods, but darker honeys are a shifting exercise in taste exploration. Since the sugars in honey brown faster than regular sugar, you might have to lower your baking temperature by 25 degrees and cook your baked goods a little longer. Even if all your adjustments are correct, remember that baked goods made with honey are moister than sugar baking. If you’re looking for a drier finish—carefully bake longer, at a lower temperature.

Finally, honey’s natural acidity can play havoc with the leavening in baked goods. Most leavening agents (baking soda/baking powder) are “base” ingredients. The higher acidity in honey can act to neutralize your leavening agent—leaving an unadjusted recipe as heavy as a brick! You will need more leavening to achieve a proper rise, usually an additional 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoonful per cup of honey sweetening. There is no need to adjust if you’re using yeast. Yeast usually does well in the more acidic environment of honey. Add the honey to the bread dough mix, itself, to avoid interference with yeast performance. Do not “proof” your yeast in a honey mixture.

Honey as a food product has been with us for thousands of years. Whether you revere it for its mystical healing properties, or enjoy it as a healthy sweetener, it’s helpful to know how it behaves in cooking and baking. Following these tips, along with a little experimentation, will yield light and tasty results.

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The following is an article written by guest writer TRESSA S. EDWARDS, daughter of our intrepid editor. Originally published in her high school newsletter, Tressa has given us permission to post her article. Though the content is not typical for Two Rock Chronicles, we feel Tressa’s voice deserves to be heard, and look forward to her future contributions to the blog and to Two Rock Publishing.

New Hope in the Battle Against AIDS/HIV

Tressa S. Edwards

For the last 32 years, AIDS has been a somewhat mysterious disease, killing off nearly 30 million people since its discovery.

On June 5th, 1981, American Epidemiologists reported that five previously healthy men in LA had become ill. Two of them died, becoming the first lives claimed by a then unidentified virus. Now, over 33 million people are infected with the same virus that causes AIDS. Though there is now a name for it, a cure hasn’t yet been discovered. Or has it?

In 2007, a man known as the ‘Berlin Patient’ was cured of HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. His name is Timothy Ray Brown and, at the time, was the only person on record to be cured of HIV. He received a life-saving (in more ways than one) bone marrow transplant for Leukemia. Found in the bone marrow was a gene mutation which made the newly produced white-blood cells resistant to infection while playing host to the HIV virus. Though he was lucky, not everyone can have that same opportunity. Aside from being incredibly painful, bone marrow transplants can be fatal or have severe side-effects. This rules them out as both practical and as a cure.

Recently, however, there was a baby who was cured of HIV. She was born to an unknowingly HIV-positive woman in rural Mississippi. Just 30 hours after she was born, her bloodstream was tainted with signs of the virus. She was indeed HIV positive, having most likely contracted the disease in the womb. After confirming her status as HIV-positive, she was transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center and given her first dose of AIDS medicine. Within a week, the viral load was almost undetectable. She was then continually treated for the next 18 months, until the mother disappeared with her child. She re-appeared some time later, telling doctors that she had not given her child her medication in over 5 months. The doctors assumed that the virus would have continued to replicate, and start to deteriorate the child’s immune system. However, they ran tests and found her to be HIV negative. After checking and rechecking the results, the young girl was deemed ‘cured’ by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, as well as John’s Hopkins. She is now 2 1/2 years old, and still HIV free.

So what does this mean for a cure? It means that those at risk of being born with HIV, as well as those already born with HIV, are given a possible chance to remove the virus from their systems. Though there are preventative measures already available for mothers who could potentially pass on the virus, they are not always effective. Instead of simply giving people a way to potentially prevent the disease from being passed on, there may be a way to now ensure that even if it is transferred, it doesn’t have to claim more lives. Scientists and researches along with doctors are figuring out ways to measure the proper dosage, and length of time which newborns need to be given the standard AIDS medicine for it to effectively remove the virus from their systems. Let us hope they find a way soon. In the mean time, we must remain proactive and aware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gluten-free is all the rage right now. I guess I’m the lucky surfer riding that wave, since it has resulted in many new products and labeling that makes life easier for those of us who cannot tolerate gluten. I guess I’m a trend-setter. What’s gluten? It’s a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It used to be that only celiacs avoided gluten, but they’re discovering that there is a whole range of people whose lives are easier and more comfortable if they follow a gluten-free diet. Now there is more accurate testing for the various gluten related ailments. Still, many doctors are completely ignorant of the symptoms and the treatment for folks who are gluten intolerant. I don’t blame them, the symptoms can be wildly diverse and confusing. The only real solution is a gluten-free diet, which isn’t easy in this world of processed foods. Still, since I quit eating gluten (and in my case, cow’s milk products, too) my life has completely changed. The first 46 years of my life I struggled constantly with many, many health problems–but my doctors just shrugged. Now, as long as I watch what I eat, I am one of the healthiest people I know.

What are the symptoms? They are wildly different for many people. I guess I’m lucky that my symptoms were “classic” celiac. They included gastro-intestinal problems, a chronic rash, aching joints, infertility, chronic upper respiratory problems and a continually growing list of foods and drugs that triggered allergic reactions. I remember feeling frustrated that, at some point, it felt like I’d be allergic to everything. I was afraid to end up like the boy-in-the-bubble. I always was the sickly kid. Little did I know I was the poster-child for Celiac Disorder. (aka Celiac Sprue, aka Celiac Disease)

I wish I could say that a kind and conscientious doctor listened to my complaints and did the detective work to find out what was wrong with me. Nope. Despite the fact that I presented with all the classic symptoms, and even endured years of unsuccessful infertility treatments, nobody ever suggested that we take a look at my diet. Long after childbearing was an option, I discovered I was a celiac, while driving down the road, listening to NPR. That’s it, my medical provider of choice, National Public Radio. It was December 27, 2004 and a talk show host was interviewing a man about his mysterious ailment. He went through his symptoms. I pulled over to the shoulder. By the end of the program I was weeping behind the steering wheel; this had been my problem all along. I stopped eating wheat the very next day.

Thank god for the internet. I did all my own research and completely reformulated how I eat. At first my family thought I was crazy, but within a month or two, even the doubters could see the improvement. I never looked back. My doctor initially resisted my self-diagnosis, but it’s hard to argue with a sudden attack of good health. For a while I was angry. I could have felt good decades earlier if the medical people had listened, and had known about the condition. Maybe I could have had children. Often with celiacs, especially younger celiacs, a year or two gluten-free can reverse all the symptoms. A niece of mine, also suffering from infertility issues, was able to conceive after changing her diet. Many gluten issues are hereditary. My discovery has changed everyone in my family. Three of us have gone completely gluten-free, with great results. Others are considering it–but it’s a big step and requires some sacrifices. (One just isn’t willing to give up her fancy micro-brew beer! Sheesh! Believe me, even though I like beer, too–it’s worth it.)

Why am I coming clean now? Someone I know through blogging has complained of similar symptoms. I occupy only a tiny corner of the blogosphere, but if, by writing this blog, I can lessen the suffering of just one person, then I should make that effort. I’m not NPR, but since my recovery I have made it part of my mission to help others transition to better health when the learn that they, too, have won the gluten-free lottery. So, Nick, look into it. Find out and choose health. It’s worth it.