Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Our ancestors are clever: Coconuts beyond coconut milk

I remember when I was very small - and we won't say how many years ago, hahaha - in the kampong, my grandmother and aunty would gather very matured coconuts where the outer husk was brown, peel them, grate them and squeeze the coconut milk from them and start the process of cooking the
oil over wood fire.  It would take hours to cook the coconut milk until what was left was the oil and the brownish black solid clumps.  My parents would tell me stories of how when they were kids, the highlight of this process was getting to eat these coconut clumps with rice and how tasty it was.
Coconut oil was the staple oil and without them knowing the science behind this, this is virgin coconut oil which is good for them and now being touted for all the benefits.

Used to be that almost everyone in the villages would grow coconut trees and many produced their own oil.  Over the decades, some researchers and Big Businesses made coconut oil into the villain saying how it was bad for you because of the high fat content.  Bg Businesses were out to promote their own oils from corn and soya bean as examples.  Then GMO came into play and more corn and soya bean could be produced  albeit with chemical content and this made it cheaper (although you pay extra because it was imported and so-called branded) so our markets were flooded with it.  It was touted as being healthy for you and easily available.  Coconut oil began to die.

Fortunately, there were good researchers who did further research when they saw that people who relied on coconut oil didn't get heart attacks, lower brain diseases and were healthy.  This lead to the differentiation of fats and the discovery that coconut fats were medium-chain triglycerides or fatty acids (MCFA) and does not contain any trans fats.  Some medical researchers also found that coconut oil is not glucose-based but it converts to ketones which is easily used by the brain to rebuild or repair brain cells.  It was found that it could prevent or even cure, in some cases, Alzheimer's and reverse some effects of other brain nerve diseases.  No wonder my great grandmother had a good memory with no major diseases and we think she was at least over 90 (hard to say as those days there were no birth certificates).  Being the energy source is non-glucose base, it also doesn't provide food for cancer cells.  This makes it a good oil for some cancer patients as not only does it not promote cancer cells, it also provides immunity building benefits which is especially good for those undergoing chemotherapy.

The coconut water from young coconuts is a traditional way of cooling fevers as well as used for detoxification of the body system.  With our hot and humid climate, drinking fresh coconut water is a
healthy option and it tastes good.  The flesh from the coconut has a high fiber content as well as vitamin C, E. B1, B3, B5 and B6 as well as iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.  So guess what, those curry dishes that grandma used to make with coconut oil for sautéing the spices and condiments and then adding the coconut milk and then fish, chicken or beef was good for you.  So for guilt-free healthy curries, go back to the way that our ancestors made them.  Of course, be sure the protein you add is also good or as good as you can get them.  So when you think of it, most of our traditional dishes are healthy if we revert to how it was done then and going local is the best option.

In the old days, they didn't have freezers so producing coconut oil using cold-pressed permaculture method wasn't an option.  Nowadays, this is possible so you no longer have to stand over a fire for hours to make your own coconut oil.  The trade-off is it now takes days as you have to freeze, defrost, freeze and defrost before you can get to the straining part to produce the oil.  Needless to say, the uses of the oil produced is not only for cooking tasty dishes but also used in healthcare, skin care and hair care and makes a good oil base for for herbal infusions as well as in natural soap making.

From producing coconut milk, you get the so-called coconut flesh "waste".  To me, this is just another product.  In the olden days, you use this to feed the chickens and
without them knowing the science behind it, this is actually a super food for chickens as it contains antiviral, antibacterial, as well as other properties which keeps the chickens healthy without the need for all those antibiotic shots that are used nowadays.  It also promotes egg production.  See, our ancestors are clever.  In the autoimmune protocol diet as well as gluten-free diet, this grated flesh can also be processed into flour making coconut flour.  Just dry it and mill it and you get an alternative flour.

So do as our ancestors do, plant coconut trees :)
A related article to this is >> http://suria-helang-lui.blogspot.my/2017/05/evco-extra-virgin-coconut-oil-my-wonder.html

Monday, 29 May 2017

Our ancestors are clever: Beyond raw tapioca to Starch and flour

We plant 2 varieties of tapioca or cassava (ubi kayu) at the farm: Ubi kayu pulut and Ubi kayu merah.  This articles focusses on ubi kayu pulut.  I have heard stories of how this particular variety was planted during the Japanese occupation of the then Malaya and was the replacement for rice as all the rice was confiscated by the Japanese for their consumption.  This particular variety is soft and melts in your mouth.  It doesn't take long to cook it and cooks in less then 15 minutes when steamed and I find that it is best steamed as it has that fluffy texture.  Sometimes when we harvest I get tubers that are big wishing at 5-6 kg thus not popular among our customers as it is too big.  Some are scared to buy it thinking that it is probably hard like the root.  So we often end up with consuming it ourselves and since it is so big, we also share with the chickens and dogs.

Now I have found a solution for these big tubers as well as excess tubers: to turn them into tapioca starch and flour.  After researching and experimenting, I found that it is not difficult to make them.  I choose this variety because you end up with pristine white starch and flour - no bleaching, refining,  etc. needs to be done to make it white.  It would be a shame to contaminate organically grown tubers with chemicals to produce starch and flour.  What I end-up with is organic, gluten-free starch and flour that can be used in many ways.  Growing up, I remember my grandmother, great-grandmother and mother producing traditional dishes with tapioca both savoury and sweet.  In doing my research, I find it interesting in how it has been maligned as a prohibited food for diabetics in favour of the other Big Business commercial crops but it turns out that studies done in people with a high content of their diet being tapioca has negligible to low occurrence of diabetes.  It is now classified as a low glycemic index food.

First, you rinse off all the soil from the outer skin.  The tubers are coated with 2 levels of skin: (1) the brown grainy texture layer that you see and (2) the pink on the outside and white on the inside layer.  Both layers need to be removed to reveal the white-fleshed tuber.  I cut them into big chunks so that I can handle them easier when I grate them.  I just use a hand grater and grate them using the same size that I use for parmesan cheese.  Being a "soft" tuber, it is easy to grate them as they slide easily over the grater.

Once you have the grated tapioca in a bowl - you can use plastic, metal or
glass bowls - I will add enough water to cover the grated tapioca.  Be sure you use a large enough bowl to allow room for swishing the tapioca in the water without spilling.  I let it sit in water for about 10 minutes and then I swish the mixture or using a spoon stir them rapidly for a couple of minutes.  You will find that the water has turned chalky white.  Place the mixture in a cloth strainer and strain the liquid.  Be sure to squeeze the mixture well to get as much of the liquid out of it.  I tend to use a piece of muslin cloth which I will wring to squeeze all the liquid out of the mixture.

The end result is a chalky liquid and grainy, semi-dry lumpy solids solids.  The chalky liquid will produce the tapioca starch or in Malay tepung kanji ubi kayu  and the grainy solid will produce the tapioca flour or cassava flour or in Malay, tepung ubi kayu.  Place the grainy solids in a cool, dry area overnight covered with a cloth to prevent unwanted "visitors" or contaminants from entering.

Leave the chalky liquid in a container for a couple of hours and you will see that it has separated into two: a yellowish liquid on top and a white sludge at the bottom.  Pour away the liquid and retain the sludge which is actually the tapioca starch.  Let the starch dry overnight by leaving it in the container in a cool, dry area covered with a cloth.  The next day, you will find that whatever liquid was left in the starch will be at the top - remove this and you will find that the starch has hardened.  It is now ready for use.
You can break it up by raking with a fork and place in a container for storage.  I tend to keep it in the refrigerator as it does not have any preservative or additives.  I am not sure how long it lasts as I tend to use it all up within a short period of time.  The starch produced is a great binding agent so I use it when I make fish balls, prawn balls, squid cakes and meatballs and I do not have to worry when I serve it that anyone with allergies to gluten or nuts or grains cannot eat them.  Another great use for it is as a thickening agent to thicken sauces and gravy.  Unlike corn starch which is most probably made from GMO-corn, I do not have to worry about chemical contaminants using tapioca starch.

Using ubi kayu pulut, the solids that you obtained after straining is almost ready-to-use flour.  You can just run it through a grinder or food processor and you will get a fine flour.  For most of our local sweet dishes, you do not have to further process it.  As this variety is not fibrous, it really works well when just using it as is to make bingka ubi kayu (tapioca pie), lepat ubi kayu, and many other dishes. For people who have to be on gluten-free, nut-free or grain-free diets due to health and/or allergy reasons, this flour  and the starch flour is the flour of choice as it contains no gluten, not from grain nor it it from nuts or seeds.  It is also for people on autoimmune protocol diet.  The flour is high in carbohydrates, good dietary fiber and vitamin C, low in fat, sugar and micronutrients so is a good replacement flour for people who are diabetic and with high blood pressure.

Another of our locally-grown plant that serves as food in multiple ways which is easy to grow and can be added to you ground-based garden (it doesn't do so well in pots).

Monday, 8 May 2017

EVCO (Extra Virgin Coconut Oil) - My wonder oil

Over the last year, I have been carrying out research as well as experiments on producing and consuming this wonderful oil - EVCO.  We live in a country that coconut trees can flourish and it can be planted organically without much effort.  When I first started the farm, I planted several trees and over the years, I have continued to add more trees.  There are so many varieties of coconut trees so I just basically split it into 2 groups:  (1) for cooking and producing oil and (2) for consuming fresh.  Naturally, I choose pandan coconut for consuming fresh due to its sweetness and nice pandan aroma.
For cooking and producing oil, I choose varieties that producing good yield of coconut milk and that has high "oil" content when mature.

In this article, I will focus on the production of EVCO.  The trees that I chose for this purpose takes an average of 5 years before it starts fruiting.  These trees are not tampered with to induce fruit production nor do we use any pesticides or herbicides at the farm.  From flowering, it takes about 9 months for the fruit to mature to the level I desire.  I continue to plant more trees over the years to increase the future yield since I realised how great EVCO is.  We are planning to continue to add more trees as we refine our farm operations.  As it is, we have to work hard to keep up with our demand so at the moment, we do not offer it to retail outlets but sell it directly.

The average shelf life of properly stored EVCO is 18 months and we are continuously producing them in batches.  We use cold-pressed permaculture method to produce our EVCO.  This ensures that we produce quality EVCO.  The main difference between EVCO and VCO is the use of fresh coconut to produce the coconut milk and no artificial heat is used in the process.  Living in a tropical country, the day's heat is sufficient in the process.  The use of copra (dried coconut) is often used in VCO and we do not do this because we do not want to introduce any contaminants that can occur during the drying process.  There are many ways to make EVCO which you can easily find the method in books and e-publications.  In purchasing EVCO, it is important to ensure that is has not been refined, produced using heat that causes hydrogenation or have any chemical added during the process for whatever reason.  It is currently a hot item so be aware so that you get what you think you paid for.  As always, know your source.

The beauty of EVCO is it is not hydrogenated oil and contains no trans-fat.  It is also unrefined.  Yes, it contains saturated fats but the good kind - the medium-chain triglycerides also known as MCFA (Medium Chain Fatty Acids).  MCFA are easy to digest and processed by the liver to produce energy and do not easily get stored by the body as fat - a plus for me as I do not want to store more body fats.  It has a high lauric acid contain and a good amount of choline.  There are many documented benefits of EVCO with the main ones of interest for me being:
  1. good for the immune system with its anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties and acts as a natural antibiotic
  2. good for the brain health and preventing diseases like Alzheimers - something important as we age
  3. good for the heart.
  4. stomach cancer prevention as it is know to kill helicobacter pylori bacteria which increases the risk of stomach cancer.  Moreover, because the energy source is the ketones as opposed to glucose, cancer cells are not able to access it.
I take 1 additional tablespoon as soon as I feel a flu coming on as so far, it has worked well for me.  I am a believer in preventing the flu is better than taking loads of antibiotics.  The main difference being with EVCO, I build my immune system to fight the virus versus taking antibiotics which does damage to me by killing the good as well as the bad organisms and especially upsetting my digestive system balance.

On a daily basis, I consume at least 1 tablespoon of EVCO and I found that there are many ways of consuming it.  Part of the fun of eating it as food for medicine as opposed to medicine for food is to be able to enjoy it.  Whilst some people take it by consuming 1-2 tablespoon as if you a taking medicine, that has little appeal to me and takes the enjoyment out of it.  To me, doing it this way tends to lead to boredom which leads to it being a chore and people tend to stop doing it.  I add it to my diet as normal food consumption.  There are so many ways but some of the ways that I incorporate it into my daily living is:
  1. Adding it to my morning coffee turning it to a tasty, coconut latte.
  2. Adding it to my beaten eggs when I make omelettes adding flavour to the eggs.
  3. Mixing with calamansi, herbs, sea salt and black pepper to make a rich flavour salad dressing
  4. Drizzling on cooked rice while it is hot giving it a coconut flavour.
  5. Brushing it on a piece of bread and placing it on a hot pan or grill to toast it
  6. Adding to vegetable dishes either for a stir-fry or even after the vegetable is cooked like tossing cooked french beans with it.
  7. Brushing it on the bread when making garlic bread
  8. Drizzling it over fresh tomatoes and season with sea salt and other herbs
  9. Tossing cooked pasta with it
  10. Adding it to pancake mix when making pancakes
For my son, I add about 10 drops to his milk so he can drink and enjoy his milk without the feeling of eating medicine.  I feel this is an important component in supporting his immune system to prevent flus and colds.

Apart from consuming it, I also use it in my hair care and skin care.  I pour about the size of the 10 cents coin in my palm and work it through my scalp and hair to prevent dry scalp and hair.  I do this at least twice a week and this keeps my hair manageable (I have coarse and curly hair which can get tangled up so this keeps it tangle-free).  For my skin, I produced indian borage infused EVCO which I apply to my skin to moisturise and prevent dry skin.  I even use this infusion on my face at least a couple of times a week to keep it moisturised and improve the condition of my skin - my wrinkle prevention regime.  In this aspect, I do not worry about any chemicals being contained in my skin care.  For a mosquito repellant when I am going to areas that have lots of mosquitoes, I use EVCO infused with citronella - no funny chemicals required.

I look forward to continuing to learn more about the benefits of EVCO and its application.  I look forward to trying out different infusions for EVCO.  I hope I will have time to get into natural soap making as I think EVCO will provide for a great ingredient in producing natural soap.