Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Corn: GMO or non-GMO

As I try to get a grasp of the corn story, I first had to understand the elements that make corn bad for you.  In researching, I found that corn can basically be categorized into two groups: GMO and hybrid/non-GMO.  It is very hard to find traditional corn seeds any more.  GMO or Genetically Modified Organism corn means that the corn has been modified through genetic engineering at the genes level and contains genes that are not naturally occurring.  Basically, it is modifying the DNA or cellular structure of the corn.
Most of the commercial corn has been modified so that it can withstand glyphosate (as in the commercial chemical herbicide Roundup) and it also termed as RR Corn (Roundup Ready Corn).  This means that Roundup can be applied without affecting the corn plant as the plant absorbs the glyphosate to the individual corn kernel level.  The result is you can get beautiful corn filled with glyphosate so from a commercial aspect, corn can be produced in quantity at a reduced overall production cost as you get a higher yield since no insects want to eat it no will it be affected by any disease or bacteria.  If the insects try to eat them, they die.
The Big Chem will say that it is safe to eat corn that is filled with glyphosate.  The US Pesticide Trade organizations also say it is safe.  The major GMO corn seed producer is Monsanto and the produce for Roundup is Monsanto.  In the 2012 Nutritional Analysis - Comparison of GMO Corn versus Non-GMO Corn  conducted by an independent, outsourced, major food company found the GMO corn contains a similar amount of nutrients to non-GMO corn but also contained a number of elements absent from traditional corn, including chlorides, formaldehyde and glyphosate, and in harmful quantities.  In case you are wondering what formaldehyde is used for – it is used in preserving corpse!
You will find conflicting studies and outcomes depending on who did them.  Personally, I look for independent studies done by groups or companies not affiliated with Big Chem.  It is also interesting to note that you get conflicting results from studies done within an organization in US.  I guess it depends on what the policy or interest-to-be-protected is.  At the same time, we all know the lobbyist play a big role.  Other than the studies done by independent entities in US, I also read up on the studies done in Europe and it should be noted that the major sentiment is against GMO. 
The International Agency on Cancer Research has concluded that glyphosate can possible cause cancer in humans.  Monsanto discredits this study by saying that it is inconsistent with their finding.  An international study has also found that it causes hormone disruption as well as resistance to antibiotics in humans.
What are these GMO corn used for apart from eating it as “corn on the cob”?  The corn are used for many things:
1.     Ingredient in production of feed for animals such as cows, sheep, goats and chickens.  This means that these animals also become contaminated with these chemicals and are introduced into our food intake by products from these animals.
2.     To make corn oil.  Corn oil has been touted as being the great alternative for cooking oil and good for the heart.  In exchange you may get damaged livers and kidneys and hormone disruptions.
3.     To make corn syrup, a cheap sweetening alternative which are bad for your liver and kidneys.
4.     To make corn flour.
5.     Ingredient in cereals that are touted as being healthy alternatives.  My thinking: How can it be a healthy alternative?
6.     To make snacks such as popcorn and many others.  There are many alternatives snacks.

I am opting for hybrid corn that has not undergone the GMO process.  Hybrid corns are grown from corn seeds that were produced by crossing 2 types of corn to create a new variety with the characteristics of the “parent” corn.  It involves no genetic engineering at the gene level.  Some of the characteristics the hybridization seeks is drought-resistant, sweetness and color of corn.  From a commercial production perspective, it costs more to produce hybrid seeds and they are not immune to chemical herbicides such as Roundup so you cannot flood a field with Roundup but will have to use alternative means to control weeds.  Hence, it costs more from the production of corn perspective.

At the end of the day, I see my choices as simple:
Do I want to eat corn that can possibly cause liver and kidney failure as well as a host of other possibilities and later pay the medical costs to “cure” these diseases and endure the suffering
Do I eat good corn and pay more for it but have a better chance of not getting liver and kidney diseases and other problems and avoid the suffering?

I love corn so now we plant our own hybrid corn without the use chemical pesticides or herbicides or fertilizers.  We use organic pest control and fertilizers and control weeds the “old-fashioned” way, manual weeding.  The end result is we get good tasting, healthy corn.  It is not difficult to plant and care for them, just requires more time.  However, I find it well worth the effort.

I find it interesting that the manufacturer of Roundup and GMO corn seeds, Monsanto bought a major pharmaceutical company, Bayer.  To me, it is making profits from both ends.

The onus is on us to educate ourselves.  The debate continues with those with commercial interest categorically saying that GMO Corn is safe and those without, saying it isn’t or further studies needed as initial study indicates it is possible not safe.  For the adults, we can make our own choices.  For our children, I hope we make the right choices.  Personally, I do not want my son to suffer from liver and kidney diseases as a result of the choices I made for him.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Possibilities in dehydrating Part 1

This is part 1 of my new series on dehydrated foods.  All the produce that we dehydrate are produced at the farm hence it is natural and grown in an organic manner.  I remember growing up, my grandmother, grand-aunts and aunts often things were dried to preserve them especially in the villages where there was no electricity supply which means no refrigerators, chillers or freezers.  They did it to various fruits and also fish.  They didn't use low quality items but fresh, good quality items to create these foods that can be preserved for later consumption.  With our weather and tropical fruits, once ripe they do not store for long periods well so dehydrating them is a good option.

We only do market once a week and the fruits ripen when they "feel" like it.  To me, they will not be in its prime for market so I had to come up with a way to not waste them.  I also had to come up with an alternative on the occasion that we are left with some produce after market.  After all the hard work in growing and caring for them, it would be a shame to just have it rot away although at the farm, it becomes food for the animals.  After evaluating various options, I decided to invest in a dehydrator as to me, the fresh produce can then be dried in a clean manner free from flies and the like, preserving as much as the nutrients and allowing for storage without the need for chillers or refrigerators.

Two of the fruits that we dehydrate and convert to an on-the-go snack which is healthy and tasty are papayas and bananas.  By dehydrating it, there is a minimal loss of the nutrients and the flavour is intensified.  It is packed in a suggested fruit serving size so it is easy to take it with you.  It can also serve as your breakfast fruit if you are on the run - you can munch it on your way to work.  The idea is to have your fruit servings easily accessible as a snack without any additives, sugar, colouring or preservatives.  Seasonally, we will also have dehydrated jackfruit.

One of the often used plant as a condiment that we dehydrate is lemongrass.  It comes in a crushed form and can be used in multiple ways.  By steeping in hot water, it can be turned into lemongrass tea.  This drink can be served either warm or cold, either sweetened or unsweetened or added to another drink as flavouring.  In the crushed form, it can also be used for cooking.  Being in a dehydrated form, it can be stored in your kitchen, ready for use whenever you want.    One stalk is approximately 1 teaspoon.  We do not add anything to our dehydrated lemongrass so it is pure lemongrass.  Lemongrass is an alternative therapy or home remedy used for various conditions such as to aid in digestion, improve skin condition, fighting cancer, controlling cholesterol levels, for cleansing and detoxifying - there are quite a few others.  Some of the properties of the lemongrass are analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anticancer, antibacterial and diuretic.  It is from these properties that it is used as alternative or complementary treatment.  I find the taste to be pleasing and add it to drinks and used it for cooking.  Although I prefer it fresh, for the times when I do not have any fresh lemongrass, this works just as well.

Ginger torch is also another commonly used herbal condiment in local cuisine.  By having the
dehydrated crushed ginger torch flower within easy access, you can use it as a seasoning that is sprinkled over the top of hot rice, giving a wonderful fragrance to plain white rice.  It can also be used to season various dishes. namely savoury dishes.  Each pack contains only ginger torch flowers without any preservatives,  The color of the crushed ginger torch is also all natural - the color of the flower.  With the dehydration process, it retains its aromatics and flavour.  There is no need to refrigerate it, just store it the same manner that you would store dried herbs - in a cool area.
In traditional or alternative therapy, it is used to reduce diabetes and hypertension and also to treat loss of appetite.  No wonder I like the plain rice better when I sprinkle some bunga kantan on it.  It is said to also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Blue sweet pea flower (bunga telang) is a bright, depp blue flower which is often used in Malay cooking especially for making nasi kerabu, colouring the rice a nice blue.  This flower is a natural food colouring and with its color also have antioxidant properties as well as other healing properties.  To make a food colouring, just pour hot water over a few friend flowers and allow it to steep until the liquid is cool.  This liquid can then be used as a food colouring for making cakes, agar-agar, etc.  Apart from using it as a food colouring to make both savoury and sweet dishes, it also makes a nice blue tea with a subtle floral flavour.  To make the tea, pour hot water over a few pieces of the dried flower and you will immediately see the water turning blue.  It can be served hot or cold, sweetened or unsweetened.  It can be combined with other ingredients to make a drink and I find it interesting that when calamansi (limau kasturi) juice is added to it, it turns into a royal purple color.  This would make an interesting and good tasting drink especially for children in providing them with a healthy alternative.  The flowers are picked at full bloom and dehydrated making it easy to store and have readily available.

I grow all kinds of plants that lends itself to being dehydrated and in part 2, I will describe the other dried products that we have :)

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Fish Story: Part 2: The Fishes

Whenever we harvest the fish, I do enjoy cleaning the fish because the fish are not smelly, they are firm and fresh and look good and my mind is filled with endless possibilities of what to do with them.  Three things that I have invested in that I find serves me well is the chiller, the freezer and the dehydrator.  These three heavy-duty equipment backs me up in processing my fish and retaining the quality and freshness of the fish.

Once the fish are harvested, and there normally is a lot of it, the ones waiting to be cleaned are placed in the chiller.  This ensures that the fish does not spoil and remains fresh until I clean it.   As the water
used to clean the fish is also from a clean, fresh uncontaminated source, this further adds quality to the fish and keeps it clear of chemicals.  Once cleaned, I then decide what to do with it.

Live catfish
Catfish fillet
For catfish, all the larger ones are filleted, packaged and frozen in the freezer.  The catfish do not go into the chiller before being processed but is kept alive.  The mid-sized ones are cleaned, marinated with herbs from the farm and then smoked with unprocessed wood being the source of the fire.  Once it is smoked to the degree desired, it is then dehydrated, reducing the moisture content to a level that will inhibit microbial or bacteria activity.  It is then packaged and ready for sale.  We do also sell live catfish at our market stall but it all depends on what the demand is at that time - fillets, smoked or fresh. 
Smoked catfish

Fresh red tilapia
Marinated red tilapia
The red tilapia is also processed to be sold either as frozen fresh which means it goes directly into the freezer and depending on order, are sometimes cleaned before frozen.  Some are marinated in herbs and are then dehydrated and sold packed as dehydrated marinated red tilapia.  For the dehydrated fish, I will remove the scales as I do not enjoy eating the scales.  Once dehydrated, this fish can simply be fried or cooked in other savoury dishes with a gravy like asam pedal or masak lemak (with a coconut milk based grace).

Smoked and dehydrated eel
Marinated eel
From the river water coming in, we also get river eel which then find our fish pond as the place to live.  They eat the small river fish and flourish.  They are cleaned and filleted, producing long strips of fish meat.  We cut them to shorter strips and then marinate them in a herbal mixture for at least 12 hours.  It is then smoked and then dehydrated.  We use all natural ingredients with the aim to keep it as natural and tasty as possible.  Many people tend to say that they don't eat eel because of how it looks.  Strangely enough, many of these people eat Unagi (the Japanese name) and didn't realise  that they were eating eel.  They can be steamed to rehydrate or made into soups.  I just like to cut them up into pieces and eat with rice porridge or cook them in a savoury coconut milk based gravy like masak lemak cili.  It can also be used as a topping in salads.

Packed dehydrated lampam
The lampam is a fish with many bones but it is tasty.  Since I am too lazy to pick out the bones, I find  that by turning them into dried fish, they taste great and I do not have to worry about the bones and I can just munch my way though it as it becomes crispy.
It is cleaned including removing the scales and then marinated with a slightly salted herb marinate.  I leave it to marinate at least 12 hours before placing them in the dehydrator.  Once dehydrated, you can just enjoy them as is. The smaller sized ones becomes a pure fish cracker.  The larger ones, can either be further fried or eaten as is with or without sambal belacan.  It can also be cooked with a sambal sauce or in a savoury dish with a coconut milk based gravy.    It is packed ready for sale and does not require refrigeration for storage as long as it is stored in a cool area as the dehydration process removed moisture thus preventing bacteria or microbial activity.

Packed, dehydrated selling
Fresh seluang
The seluang is a small river fish that is tasty but delicate.  Improperly handled when fresh, you will end up with a mush on your hands.  Sometime we sell it fresh but it has to be sold and cooked within 24 hours so this makes it tricky.  We get lots of it in the pond so it is a waste if I do not handle it correctly.  As such, most of the time I will dehydrate it.  I will place them in a draining bowl to minimise handling of the fish.  This bowl is them placed in water that has sea salt and various herbs added and gently shaken so that the fishes are coated with it.  It is left to sit in the liquid for about an hour before draining.  This process firms up the fish whilst at the same time adds flavour to the fish.  They are then arranged on the dehydrating tray and placed in the dehydrator.

All the fish wastes are collected from cleaning the fishes serve as the  main ingredient in creating my fish amino acid (FAA) fertiliser which is then used in fertilising the vegetation at the farm.  I use the water from cleaning the fishes to water the plants.  I find this is a good way to return to nature as it improves the soil at the same time that it nourishes my vegetation.  The FAA it then formulated with other ingredients and becomes one of the fertiliser produced by the farm for sale.

I use the dehydrator a lot and not the traditional way of drying the fish in the sun for several reasons:
  1. I can dry my fish any time and am not dependent on the weather.
  2. I can be assured that my dried fish will be free from air-borne contaminants.
  3. I can be assured that my dried fish are free from flies, fly eggs and worms.
  4. The fish are dried more evenly and to the level where the bacteria or microbial activity will be prevented.
  5. Once in the dehydrator, I can just leave them until they are ready and not have to keep checking on them.
The herbal marinate contains herbs that are grown on the farm so I can be assured that they are free of chemicals.  I use sea salt because they are better for us.

Why do I do all these?  Simple.  It doesn't make sense to ruin good quality, fresh and tasty fish by adding chemicals or ruining them with improper handling and processing.  At the end of the day, it is the taste that counts and so far, I have got good feedback on them and that makes me happy :)