Heirlooms are better for you

3036 Web Tomatoes come in many more colours than red and one of them — the tangerine tomato — has proved to be a much better source of important nutrients than its red cousins. Tangerine tomatoes are richer in the cis form of the chemical lycopene, while red tomatoes contain the trans form of the chemical. Researchers fed human volunteers tomato sauce for breakfast. Those who ate tangerine tomatoes absorbed almost three times more lycopene than those fed red tomatoes, even though those red varieties were known to be especially high in lycopene.

Lycopene is rapidly finding favour as an antioxidant that can help to protect against various forms of disease. While researchers scramble to produce high-lycopene fruits and vegetables, Tangerine is an heirloom tomato that has been around for decades. I’m sure nobody grew it for its cis-lycopene; they just liked the look and taste. But that’s the thing about agricultural biodiversity; you never know what you’ll find when you go looking.

Article: Carotenoid Absorption in Humans Consuming Tomato Sauces Obtained from Tangerine or High-beta Carotene Varieties of Tomatoes

Photo from the W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

The place of meat

I just had to link to Tom Philpott’s latest over at Gristmill, for its truly wonderful headline: In Seitan’s Lair.

Seitan, for those unfamiliar with it, is what you are left with if you wash a good lump of wheat dough under water. All the starch goes down the plug, leaving you with a ball of essentially pure wheat gluten protein that can then be fashioned into various meat substitutes.

It crops up late in Philpott’s musings, as an aside on vegan cooking, but if I had been smart enough to think of the headline I would not have let its irrelevance to the whole article put me off either. Anyway, the entire article is worth a read because it tries to put meat-eating into context, reminding us that meat fattened on grain is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that good farming requires diversity, of which livestock should be a small, but important component. Just as meat can be a small but important component of a good diet.

To the vegetarians and vegans who take a different view, I would point out only that animals are awfully good at turning things we humans choose not to eat, like grass and acorns and household scraps, into things we do, like lamb chops cheese and prosciutto. It seems wasteful not to use them in that way.

Latin cooking

This piece on the polyphenolic content of yearba mate (llex paraguariensis), a tea-like drink traditionally consumed in South America by pouring boiling water onto leaves held in a seasoned gourd, led me to this interesting-sounding book on Hispanic foods in general. Polyphenols are antioxidants and the food industry wants to add them to juices and teas.

Crops in the news

I’m not sure what to make of newspaper articles describing how to grow and process staple crops. On the one hand, it is nice to see the mainstream media take on agricultural subjects. On the other, it is sometimes difficult to see who exactly is meant to benefit from articles such as this on cassava from the St Kitts & Nevis and this on sweet potato from Zambia. Any thoughts?