23 Feb
2017

Cassava flour is becoming popular among the gluten free community, as it is much easier to use as a flour in place of wheat flour.  It can also be used freely in the paleo diet as it is a vegetable, not a grain.  It is also, however, somewhat expensive.  Otto’s Naturals is the only company that makes Non-GMO Project Verified cassava flour, and their flour is very enjoyable.   If you are looking for something easy to use for gluten free uses or even something new and different, cassava flour is definitely an excellent place to start!

Find Otto’s cassava flour at the lowest price at Lucky Vitamin, rated 4.5/5 stars!

 

Madhava is currently the only company producing cassava syrup but with their commitment to quality, non-GMO products I would not hesitate to buy.  Those that use this product rave that it is light in flavor but completely sufficient for any sugar needs.  The only use for which it may not be ideal is cold drinks, as it does not dissolve well in cold fluids.  But that is easily solved by dissolving in warm water first!  Doesn’t it look tasty?

At 4.5/5 stars, try Madhava cassava syrup and see the difference for yourself!

Thrive Market has the best price for Madhava Cassava Sweetener so shop now!

21 Feb
2017

Cassava the Ancient

Also called manioc, the domesticated version of cassava is thought to be a relative of the wild version originating in west-central Brazil.  By 1492 when Columbus arrived in America, cassava was already an established staple food in South America and the Caribbean, so no one truly knows how far back in human civilization cassava held a place.

Even though the Spaniards refused cassava in their diet in preference for more “civilized” foods like bread, olive oil and meat when they first occupied the Caribbean, cultivation of manioc continued and flourished.  Ironically, cassava bread became the first Spanish industry established in Cuba and was depended upon by ships carrying exports from Cuban ports to Europe, as the bread was more resistant to becoming stale.

Cassava was introduced to Africa in the 16th century and quickly became a staple food.  Being a drought-tolerant crop, it can be grown in minimal soil.  Nigeria is now the world’s largest producer of cassava.

The cassava plant is actually a shrub that grows from one to three meters in height, but the root is the part that is used as a food source.  Resembling a yam, the root is long and covered with a thick, brown rind with flesh that is white or light yellow.

In the Diet

Cassava Bread
Cassava exists in both sweet and bitter varieties, and each has nutritional benefits and cautions.  As cassava contains toxic anti-nutritional factors, improper preparation of cassava can lead to residual cyanide levels high enough to cause cyanide toxicity, goiter and potentially more serious conditions leading to death.  Bitter varieties are more likely to cause these effects so they must be processed properly.  Sweet varieties are safe for consumption after boiling.

The cassava root is primarily a source of carbohydrates, with a small amount of protein and micro-nutrients.  The roots are rich in calcium and vitamin C and contain a significant amount of thiamine, riboflavin and nicotinic acid. While it is low in protein, it does contain respectable levels of all of the essential amino acids except methionine, cysteine and cystine.  Cooked cassava starch has a digestibility of over 75 percent, making it a reasonable food source if supplemented properly.

Unless you live in or visit an area where cassava is cultivated, it is unlikely you will consume anything that is made from cassava.  Cassava flour is well available in the U.S. and is quickly becoming a popular flour for gluten-free diets as it is the most similar to wheat flour.  If you are looking for an easier way to make bread, this is a great option.

Cassava sweetener is a very recent addition on the market.  It is produced from the cassava root like other cassava products, and enzymes are used to yield a liquid sweetener.  Calorically, it is very close to that of table sugar, but without the fructose.  It can be used as a replacement for sugar in any use.

Why You Will Love Cassava

If you prefer the taste of sugar over lo calorie or no calorie sweeteners, but worry about the fructose, cassava is your answer!  It is the only natural sweetener that does not contain fructose but still retains that sweet-like-sugar taste.

Fructose is a simple sugar that joins with glucose to make sucrose, or table sugar.  It also comprises either 42% or 55% of high fructose corn syrup, depending on its desired composition during manufacturing.  These two sweeteners are the predominant sweeteners on the market today.

Dried cassava

Fructose is not inherently bad, as it is the sugar that makes fruit sweet.  It has become a dietary concern because of the amount that many consume as a food additive.  If you are a regular consumer of soda, candy, or packaged foods it is a guarantee that you will find sugar or high fructose corn syrup, or both, on the label.

Consumption of large amount of fructose can damage your health in several ways:

  • Fructose is the preferred food source of cancer cells.  The human body is built with cellular processes that work all day, every day to kill cells that have the potential to become cancerous.  The less fructose there is available for these cells to use as energy, the less likely they are to become problematic and the easier it will be for the body to continue its management of these cells.
  • The liver suffers a great deal when fructose is ingested.  The liver is the only organ than can metabolize fructose, and if you consume large amounts this puts a great strain on this important organ.  The higher the consumption of fructose, the more the liver has to work at metabolizing it and the less time it can spend on other important functions like detoxifying the blood, making bile, and making other important blood proteins like immune and clotting factors.
    • This metabolism creates many waste products, one of which is uric acid, that causes gout and can raise blood pressure.
  • Because fructose cannot be used as an energy source, ALL OF IT is automatically stored as fat or fat precursors: free fatty acids, VLDL’s and triglycerides.  The latter two you may recognize as numbers on your lab report that need to be kept low for health concerns.
  • Fructose does not suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin or stimulate leptin, as glucose does, so you overeat.  Is this possibly why we have an obesity epidemic in America?

GMO Watch

Cassava is currently undergoing a field trial in East and Central Africa that began in 2015.  This field trial is testing a virus-resistant variety due to the declining yields of the crop due to the black streak virus.  The country has tabled the decision to allow the crop to continue being grown until further notice.

Even if for research, the introduction of GM cassava has opened the door for the possibility of it spreading even if Africa chooses not to allow it to be grown.  As we all know, once the possibility is there, the likelihood of it being used increases.

Read my GMO Free Cassaav Products Review blog to find cassava products!

 

 

11 Feb
2017

It’s not Related to the Monkey

The monk fruit is a large fruit that looks very much like a honeydew melon of a different color, but is actually a member of the gourd family.  According to legend, it is named monk fruit after the Buddhist monks who first cultivated the fruit over 800 years ago.

The first recorded mention of the monk fruit was in 13th century records of Chinese monks, where at the time the plant was only grown in family gardens due to it being difficult to cultivate.  1813 showed the beginning of cultivation in China.  The English first reported monk fruit in a 1938 manuscript, and it was taken to the U.S. in the early 20th century.

Current crop cultivation is still located primarily in southern China where the climate is ideal.

The monk fruit can be cut open and the inside eaten fresh.  The juice from the monk fruit is known to be up to twenty times sweeter than other fruit juices.  The rind of the fruit can be used to make tea.  If the fruit is to be stored, it must be dried at low temperatures to retain the nutritional value.

Improve Your Health with Monk Fruit Sweeteners

Making sweet water with monk fruit
Monk fruit initially gained popularity as a no-calorie sweetener substitute and it serves that purpose quite well.  It is several hundred times sweeter than sugar!

What I find unique about the monk fruit is that the very thing that makes it sweet is what also gives it its greatest health benefits!  Mogrosides are very powerful antioxidants that give the monk fruit its sweet taste, and are very effective at fighting free radicals.  This can reduce the symptoms of painful inflammatory disorders and even improve the healing of inflamed injuries.

Historically, monk fruit juice was used by the Chinese as a healing remedy for colds, cough, immune deficiency, fever, lung disease, and digestive disorders.  In Chinese medicine, it is used to balance out heat build-up to relieve respiratory conditions, constipation and enteritis.

Using a no-calorie sweetener has benefits all its own.  Decrease in sugar intake leads to decrease in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Why not use one that has all of these other very important benefits!

GMO the Monk Fruit

Screenshot of In The Raw Monk Fruit Sweetener

Which is currently not happening, and is not likely to happen.

However, because of the intense sweetness of monk fruit extract some producers dilute their monk fruit powder to dilute the sweetness.  The most common substance used for this dilution is dextrose.  The texture of dextrose makes it ideal for dissolvable sweeteners.  But, it is also a derivative of corn, and corn crops are now largely genetically modified.

Finding non-GMO Monk Fruit

Read my Monk Fruit Review Blog to find out!

10 Feb
2017

When the option exists, I look for the raw option.  It is very easy to find raw, organic, non-GMO agave nectar!

We come back to my favorite sweetener company, Wholesome Sweeteners!  If raw is not to your liking, they also offer varieties that are not raw.  They favor the blue agave, which has a milder taste.  Give them a try on your breakfast goodies!  Their sugar products are very good as well, 5 stars in my book!

 

 

 

Madhava is a very popular brand when it comes to agave nectar, and also sources the blue agave.  They are dedicated to bringing their customers high-quality sweeteners that you are sure to enjoy.  I have always been very pleased with Madhava products.  If agave isn’t your tune, check out their other sweeteners as well!

 

Find both of these excellent brands in varying sizes at Lucky Vitamin!

9 Feb
2017

Short and Sweet

The agave plant is a native plant of Mexico, and is where a large amount of agave products still come from.  The Aztecs used both the flower and nectar as a food source, eaten as a cooked or raw vegetable.  The flowers, the leaves,
the stalks and the sap are all edible.  Agave nectar is used to make the drink called Aguamiel, otherwise known as honey water, or fermented to make Mescal and Tequila.

Agave plants grow from a short stalk, and the leaves can be quite long.  Agave plants bloom only once in their lifetime, growing a large stem and a number of short tubular flowers.  The original plant dies but suckers at the base of the stem regularly grow into new plants.  The stalks may be harvested before the plant flowers and chewed as a sweet treat.

The agave plant exists in many different sizes and colors, but the blue agave is a popular choice for food related uses.

The juice of the leaves will lather in water like a soap.  Natives of Mexico used parts of the agave to make pens, nails, needles, and string to sew and weave. Leaf tea or tincture is used to treat constipation, flatulence and as a diuretic. Root tea or tincture is used to treat arthritis.

Making the Syrup

Agave hollowed out and ready to harvest

Agave nectar, first realized in the 1990’s, is harvested by cutting the off the top of the plant, hollowing out the core, and replacing the top.  The nectar is harvested after several days of collection.  Harvest occurs when the plant is 7 to 14 years old.

After harvest, the nectar is boiled down to increase its concentration and yield a sweeter syrup.  Heating also breaks down the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars that make it easier to digest.  A heat-free method of processing involves the use of enzymes derived from Aspergillus mold.

Raw agave nectar is produced in a similar fashion, with the exception that it is not heated above 118 degrees.  Similar to honey, this retains the live enzymes to yield greater health benefits.

The Grades

Like honey and maple syrup, there are several grades of agave nectar that yield different flavors.

  • Light agave syrup-almost neutral flavor, mostly just sweet
  • Amber agave syrup-caramel flavor of medium intensity
  • Dark agave syrup-stronger caramel flavor than amber.  This will be the most flavorful as a topping for foods. It is unfiltered and contains a higher concentration of minerals.
  • Raw agave syrup-mild taste similar to light.   Because it is produced at temperatures below 118 °F, it retains the natural enzymes.

To your Health

Agave has been proven to be a low glycemic index food, meaning its fructose is released slowly into the blood stream.  This is good for diabetics, who have difficulty with blood sugar maintenance.

It also contains high levels of vitamins E, C, D, and E. and the minerals calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium.  And if you are buying the raw variety, the natural enzymes help with inflammation and healing.

There is some controversy of the overall health of agave nectar because its sugar content is primarily fructose.  Fructose has been shown in studies to be the primary food source for cancer cells, so there is questions surrounding if its benefits outweigh that concern.

GMO agave?

To this date, agave has not been genetically engineered.

However, agave is a farmed plant and may be treated with fertilizer or other plant food products.  For this reason I would seek out non-GMO verified agave products.

Find Non-GMO Verified Agave Sweetener on my blog!

 

 

7 Feb
2017

Maple syrup is one of the more expensive products on the market per serving so you will be looking at spending a bit more than your generic corn syrup based maple products.  There are, however, non-GMO products available that are not too hard on the pocketbook.

Coombs Family Farms is a family-owned farm located in Vermont, where they produce organic and non-GMO certified maple products from start to finish.  For the average syrup consumer that uses maple syrup on pancakes and occasional food preparation, their syrups available from Lucky Vitamin will serve your purposes.  Thrive Market also sells Coombs Family syrups and they slightly less expensive.

Regular customers give Coombs Family 5-stars!

 

 

 

6 Feb
2017

Let the Trees Share their Wealth

Maple syrup is another sweetener whose beginnings were with the indigenous people of North America, and later adopted by European settlers.  Maple was used by settlers primarily as a source of concentrated sugar because cane sugar had to be otherwise imported.

While the retrieval of maple has always been done by boring and tapping the tree trunk, processing methods have been refined over the years.  In the 1850’s, flat sheet metal pans replaced iron kettles for boiling as the increased surface area made evaporation faster.  In 1872, a firebox was developed that shortened the boiling time considerably.  And in the early 1900’s, the bottom of the pan was bent into flues to increase the surface area of heating to further speed up evaporation.

Collection methods have also been modified from buckets to plastic bags, and tractors allow for delivery of larger quantities of maple to the evaporator at a faster pace.  Filtration methods have been developed that eliminate
contamination and heating methods are more efficient.  Plastic tubing methods have been perfected that allow the maple to be pumped from the tree directly to the evaporator.

The Process

Maple tree tap

Making maple syrup is really quite simple.  Sap is collected from the tree, usually sugar maple, black maple or red maple, and heated to evaporate the water and leave a thick syrup.  The boiling process is monitored to ensure that the sugar content is at the correct concentration to prevent crystallization or spoilage.  Many large producers use reverse osmosis to separate the water from the sap.

Maple trees must reach an age of 30 years to be useful for syrup production.  Maple season is typically in the spring, and each tree can be tapped one to three times per season depending on the size of the tree.  Tapping is only productive during the daytime when the sap rises up the trunk with the warmer temperature.

Today, Canada produces approximately 80% of the world’s maple syrup.

Making the Grades

The grading of maple syrup was revised in 2015 to eliminate Grade B and C and create four unique yet overlapping Grades of A.  When you head to your grocer to buy maple syrup, you will now see the folllowing grades:

  • Grade A: Golden Color and Delicate Taste
    • Usually from the first tap in colder climates.  Has a light flavor that can easily be overcome with other
      The Grades

      foods.

  • Grade A: Amber Color and Rich Taste
    • Mid-season tap, more flavorful and well-used in baking and cooking.
  • Grade A: Dark Color and Robust Taste
    • Flavor is similar to that of brown sugar.  Can be used for a tasty glaze for meat or a flavorful BBQ sauce.
  • Grade A: Very Dark and Strong Taste
    • Last tap of the season, the strongest tasting.  The flavor is very similar to that of molasses.

Why is it Good for You?

Maple syrup provides significant levels of manganese and riboflavin with moderate levels of zinc and calcium.  It also contains polyphenols, antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

Its sugar base is comprised of sucrose and water, with small amounts of glucose and fructose.  Maple syrup is a sugar product and is best used in moderation with other sweeteners.

GMO’s may be an issue

Because maple trees have to be 30 years old or more to produce maple syrup, the  likelihood of GM maple trees being introduced to the market is very small.
If, however, you are not buying 100% maple syrup you need to pay attention to the ingredients.  Brands like Aunt Jemima contain zero maple syrup.  Their primary ingredient is corn syrup to make the syrup base, which as you know is derived from corn.  Over 90% of corn crops grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, making it very likely that your “maple syrup” is indeed GMO.

Buying non-GMO Maple Syrup

You might ask yourself why it would be necessary to purchase non-GMO Verified maple syrup when the trees are not GM.  If it is non-GMO verified, it ensures that there are no products used in the process that could potentially contaminate the syrup during tapping or production.

Visit my Non-GMO Maple Syrup Review Blog to find it!

 

 

1 Feb
2017

As I mentioned in my honey blog, raw honey is the best form of honey to consume because it retains the natural enzymes that give honey its anti-bacterial properties.  You can also find healing Manuka honey here.

 

Wholesome Sweeteners makes excellent raw honey to compliment their other sweetener products.  I always find Wholesome products superior quality and their honey is no exception.  Try this 5-star product, you won’t regret it!

 

 

 

Wedderspoon, along with their Manuka honey, produces mono-floral honey varieties from Rata, Beechwood, Dandelion and Fir that retain a unique flavor from the flowers that they harvest.  If you are looking for a honey that is unique in taste in comparison to the typical poly-floral blend, this is the company!  All of their honey products earn 5-stars from their consumers.

 

 

Heavenly Organics makes one poly-floral and Acacia and Neem mono-floral blends to suit your taste!  Their mono-floral blends are of a different variety than those of Wedderspoon, so take your time as give them all a look since each has a unique taste and application.

 

 

Find all three brands at Lucky Vitamin, take your time and shop!