Originally published October 21 2008
Freshness First: Volatile Oils in Your Food
by Stephen Perkins
(NaturalNews) You know the great scent that fills the air when you peel a fresh orange? How about the whoosh! that fills the air when you open a can of pressurized coffee? The odors are more than appetizing, they're mind boggling. Those scents represent the volatile oil content of their plant source. Volatile oils are the delicate compounds within a plant—fruit, bean or vegetable—that give it its distinctive smell and taste. They are termed 'volatile' in that they are easily destroyed by exposure to the air or to heat - 'fragile' could be used alternatively. Retaining volatile oils is highly desirable because they are crucial to the freshness—and healthiness—of food.
Processing kills volatile oils, especially produce. Processing methods that do this dastardly work are heat, long exposure to air, and the addition of chemicals and preservatives that artificially extend the life of the food (but not of the oils). Processed foods do not contain volatile oils. They will smell less appetizing than the fresh version, and not taste as good either. By contrast, the very presence of intense smell and taste in fresh foods signals the hidden virtues of the oils, which are often argued to have anti-bacterial properties and to contribute to cellular repair.
Clearly, we want to hang on to as many of these molecules as possible, all the way from harvest to plate. But how to go about this without eating a raw diet? Here are a few tips for preparation, cooking, and storage:
Use only fruits and vegetables while they're still fresh with no processing. Buy and use fresh raw certified organic produce and products whenever possible; they're well worth the expense and are environmentally responsible.
Always clean fruits and vegetable with a produce wash, then rinse well. After that, keep the slicing and dicing to a minimum. Food cut into small pieces means more surface is exposed to the air and more nutrients are lost. Bigger pieces cook slower, but more of the essence and flavors are retained.
The best and easiest cooking method is steaming, in a stainless steel basket over water with the pan covered. This method is quick, and fewer nutrients are emitted via steam or dispensed in cooking water.
If you can't steam, try to go with low and slow cooking. Lower heat and longer cooking time retains nutrients and flavor across the board. Learn how to use the lower power settings on your microwave; what's another two minutes, really? After steaming, the best cooking methods for vegetables in order of preference are: baking, then broiling, grilling, and microwaving, using boil-in or bake-in-bags.
You could probably guess that deep frying is a bad idea—but you might not expect that one of the worst ways to cook vegetables is to boil them in water. This completely leeches the oils out of the produce, leaving it totally depleted. You toss your volatile oils and massive amounts of nutrients down the sink, instead of down your throat.
Sometimes you can't get around cooking produce in water. In that case, use a trick to get the volatile oils back into your diet. Freeze the cooking water. Put the water used to boil fruit (for a sauce or pie) in an ice cube tray. The flavorful and nutritious 'runoff' makes for smart ice cubes for drinks. Stored veggie cooking water (or veggie water ice cubes) makes great soup stock for your next slow cooker extravaganza.
Steve Perkins ("The Cooking Buff"), CDN of Los Angeles is the author of "The Muscle Kitchen: Practical Bodybuilding and HIV Nutrition." He presents unique seminars entitled "User-Friendly HIV+ Nutrition" and "Nutrition for Bodybuilding" and "Cook as if Your Life Depends on It, Because it Does." Perkins also developed "Ready-Aim-Fuel," a series of food target magnets (available at www.amazon.com and www.TheMuscleKitchen.com ).
About the authorHe's 61, looks 45, says he feels 30 (most of the time). The author of "The Muscle Kitchen", Perkins is a long-term survivor of HIV, has surmounted AIDS Dementia Complex, endured hearing loss, tinnitus, herpes Zoster and recent elevated PSAs (potential prostate cancer markers) successfully reversed in 6-weeks homeopathically.
Steve Perkins is also a three-time physique contest medalist (2006). Not your typical credentials, but a unique perspective, his nutrition education diploma in Fitness & Nutrition will continue in the Fall ('08, Bauman College, Nutrition Educator). Perkins regularly presents "User-Friendly HIV Nutrition" presentations for The Life Group LA; his website is chockablock with real-life accessibility and success stories: www.themusclekitchen.com
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