Food Babies

No, not you…. you, the bowlegged one

Archive for the ‘edification’ Category


Posted by Hilary on April 18, 2010

The second question my mom had was about rice. There’s so many types of rice, it can be hard to know what to choose.

Brown Rice vs. White Rice

Most people recognize brown vs. white rice to be one of the basic distinctions. Rice itself is the seed of a plant (Oryza Sativa). Brown rice has only the chaff removed, whereas white rice has the bran and germ removed. White rice keeps longer, but has far less nutritional value than brown rice. Brown rice has much more fiber, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium than white rice. It also has more vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B vitamins, selenium, folacin, magnesium, and iron.  Fortified white rice will have a lot of these nutrients added back in later in processing (which makes zero sense to me, why not just leave them in to begin with?). Brown rice is also more environmentally friendly, as it is less processed and thus requires less energy. Brown rice takes longer to cook, but all that means for me is starting the rice cooker earlier (in my rice cooker brown rice takes about 45 minutes and white rice takes about 20-25 minutes).

Rice brain oil (mentioned in previous post on oil) is found in brown rice (not white rice), and contains gamma-oryzanol, a compound thought to help lower cholesterol. Brown rice also has a lower glycemic index than white rice.

Long vs. Medium vs. Short Grain Rice

Long-grain rice is just that, long. It is light and fluffy when cooked. Some people argue that long-grain rice has more flavor. Medium-grain rice is more tender, and sticks together a little more than long-grain rice. Short-grain rice is very nearly round and is soft and sticky when cooked (popular uses include sushi and risotto). Short-grain rice is more glutinous, which may be an important factor for people on low-gluten/no-gluten diets.


We exclusively buy brown rice now. Our favorites are two popular aromatic rices: Jasmine and Basmati. Jasmine rice is a long-grain rice that smells amazing. The cooked kernels are very moist. Basmati rice is also a long-grain rice. When cooked the grains swells only lengthwise, resulting in “free-floating” grains that are less sticky than most rice. Basmati is a popular accompaniment to Indian fare.

In the end I recommend brown rice for nutritional and environmental reasons. Long-grain rices are probably the best starting point for most purposes. Beyond that, there are still a multitude of rices to choose from, so just try what looks interesting until you find your favorites.

P.S. I also strongly recommend a rice cooker. They are cheap and make cooking rice so easy.


Posted in edification, HilHil | 1 Comment »

All About Oil

Posted by Hilary on April 16, 2010

I got a couple of questions from my mom today, so I set off to do some research. Topic one: what’s a healthy oil, especially for high-heat cooking?

Oil is categorized in a number of different ways, so I’ll try to address some major points.

First, it is important to consider the type of fat each oil is composed of. We want to have the least amount of saturated fat, which raises total blood cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. We also want the least amount of trans fat, which raises LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol. What we do want is monounsaturated fat, which lowers total and LDL cholesterol and raises HDL cholesterol, and polyunsaturated fat, which also lower total and LDL cholesterol.

Next, consider that oil is either pressed or chemically extracted. Oils that come from soft fruits or nuts (e.g. olive, walnut, avocado) only require pressing. You’ll notice that these are often labeled as “cold pressed”. Some oilseeds are harder and cannot be cold-pressed (e.g. soy, canola). These are pretreated via a non-toxic process (like steaming) before pressing. Other oils are extracted with toxic chemical solvents, including hexane (scary chemical of the week!), and undergo very high heat processing.

Moving on, unrefined oils are filtered minimally, removing only large particles. They may look cloudy or have sediment that settles. Unrefined oils are thought to have greater nutritional value than refined oils. Refined oils are filtered and strained to a greater degree, often using additional heat. This type of processing is reported to reduce both nutritional value and flavor. The only pros of refined oils are a longer shelf life and a higher smoke point (for high-heat cooking).

For high heat cooking, the most important thing to know about an oil is its smoke point. You absolutely do not want to cook an oil hotter than that point, as the oil can destabilize and become not only gross tasting, but carcinogenic.

I typically keep 3 oils on hand, extra virgin olive oil (smoke point 406 F, but 320 F for unrefined), expeller pressed canola oil (smoke point: 225 F unrefined, 400 F refined), and sesame oil (smoke point 350 F unrefined, 410 refined). However, after the topic of coconut oil was brought up to me, I wanted to check out some alternatives.

Several oils are now being touted by various groups as “the healthiest oil”:

1. Coconut oil (Smoke point: 350 F)

This one proves to be pretty controversial. There are strong naturopath advocates, and websites chock full of glowing testimonials. Commenters on various websites are claiming that is cures everything from Alzheimer’s to Autism (uh, really folks?)! Coconut oil truly does contain lauric acid, which is a disease-fighting fatty acid found in breastmilk. Researchers on this side claim that coconut oil stimulates the thyroid (and is thus a good natural treatment for hypothyroid), which leads to lowered cholesterol. There are also claims of weight loss effects, anti-cancer effects, and antimicrobial effects.

But, here’s what the detractors say: One fact that is not contested is that coconut oil is very high in saturated fat (one source said 92% s. fat). In fact, coconut oil is one of the few plant-based sources of saturated fat. This is a hard stumbling block to get over. Click here for a 2003 SPC document summarizing research on coconut oil; pp. 12-14 specifically address links to cholesterol and heart disease.

From the linked document: “Overall, there is strong evidence to show that the main types of saturated fatty acid found in coconut (and in most foods rich in saturates) are effective at raising blood cholesterol levels and so increase the risk of developing heart disease. The individual effects of different fatty acids needs further research.” The research cited suggests that coconut oil raises all cholesterol, good and bad. But rahr!, proponents shoot back saying old (biased) research was done on hydrogenated coconut oil, and they are using organic unrefined, pressed oil. I have no answer on this one people. Try at your own will.

2. Macadamia nut oil (Smoke point: 389 F)

This is popular in Australian cooking. Proponents say macadamia nut oil is one of the highest in monounsaturated fat (even better than olive oil). The ratio of omega-3 to omega 6 in MNO is 1:8, which is purportedly great! MNO contains palmetolaic acid, which is thought to lower cholesterol.

3. Avocado oil (Smoke point: 520 F refined)

As with macadamia nut oil, avocado oil also has one of the highest concentrations on monounsaturated fat (again, higher than my beloved olive oil). Also, the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is favorable. Avocado oil contains beta-sitosterol compounds, which help prevent LDL absorption. Vitamin E rounds out the list of benefits.

4. Rice brain oil (Smoke point: 490 F)

This one is popular is Asian cooking and perhaps the secret to great tempura. It contains vitamin E, antioxidants (Tocopherols, Tocotrienols, Gamma Oryzanol, Phytosterols, Polyphenols and Squalene), and micronutrients (can someone define “micronutrient”? Is it just a tiny nutrient?). Animal studies have shown that TRF (a concentrated fraction of vitamin E) extracted from rice brain oil and fed to rats lowered total cholesterol (2005, in Food and Chemical Toxicology). Similar studies found that TRF stimulates liver enzymes that clear toxic substances from the liver, thus having a positive effect on liver tumors. Critics say it contains too much omega-6 linoleic acid  (the omega-3: omega-6 ration is about 1:35) and not enough monounsaturated fat.

My personal choice for up to high-heat cooking: Organic refined canola oil,  maybe. I could still be persuaded. I’m very finicky. I’d like to try some of these others, especially avocado oil for high heat, but there’s no way I’m finding that in Idaho :/

P.S. Feel free to offer information here. I can tell there’s a wealth of information I’m not completely tapping and I may revisit the issue in the future.

Edited to add…

5. Safflower oil (Smoke point: 225 F unrefined; 450 F refined)

Safflower oil is good in that along with many of these other oils, it contains a higher percentage of monounsaturated fat (about 76%). However, it seems that the monounsaturated fat is pretty much all omega-6 linoeic. From the research I’ve done so far it seems that we really want omega-3 linolenic acid to be in there too.  However, if you really want something high in linoleic acid, safflower oil contains the most linoleic acid of any known seed. A plus for safflower oil is that it also has vitamin E.

6. My current canola oil (Smoke point: 425 F refined)

After I posted this I went and looked more carefully at my canola oil. What I was mainly worried about after reading was the possibility of genetically modified ingredients (common in canola) and of course the smoke point. After I examined the bottle I decided I was pretty happy with my my current high-heat oil.

Plus, canola oil is low in saturated fat and contains both omega-6 and omega-3, with a great ratio of 2:1!  Canola oil is made from rapeseeds (they had to change the name on this one), which are often sprayed with pesticides, so my only beef with my current bottle of oil is that it is not organic. But hey, that’s easily rectified in the future.

This is Spectrum expeller-pressed refined canola oil for medium to high heat:

Click here for a link for cooking oil smoke points.

Posted in edification, HilHil | 1 Comment »

Word of the Moment: Treacle

Posted by Hilary on August 31, 2009

I admit it, I kind of thought treacle only existed at Hogwarts. Apparently it appears in muggle recipes too, which is copacetic, as I not so secretly wish graduate school was more like Hogwarts. Here begins my culinary edification via vocabulary words.

Courtesy of

“Technically treacle is a generic word in Britain for any syrup made in the process of refining sugar cane, and it can range from very light to very dark. In practice, the lighter syrup which is produced when the sugar cane juice is first boiled, is called light treacle or golden syrup.

The second boiling produces a much darker syrup, which British cooks call treacle (or dark treacle) and we callmolasses (or dark molasses). The third boiling produces what we both apparently call blackstrap molasses, which is very dark and somewhat bitter, and which health-food advocates think is heaven on earth, although it is more often used to feed cattle.

If you don’t want to track down the real British thing, supermarket-available dark molasses is what you want for your recipes.”


Photo by


Posted in edification, Words to the Wise | Leave a Comment »