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Premium Tea

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An item that inevitably finds place in every health conscious person’s shopping list is green tea. Yes, it has so many benefits to offer – first and foremost, it is less in caffeine when compared to coffee; it aids in weight loss, acts as a stress buster, promotes cardiovascular health and whets cognitive function. And if the green tea is of the premium type, it has added advantages. Premium tea is neither oxidised nor fermented and undergoes a special three stage processing of steaming, rolling and heating. This unique treatment helps to preserve the treasure of antioxidants that is inherently present in the tea leaves.

I recently came to know about a brand of premium tea called Mystic Green, through one of my good friends. This tea is provided to the employees of some renowned corporate companies during tea breaks. Thought, I should also try it.

The varieties of premium tea available are impressive. Green tea comes in blends of i) rich Indian spices, ii) lemongrass and ginger (a very novel combination), iii) hibiscus blossom and iv) rose petals. There is a variety of black tea too, blended with v) cinnamon and mint (my gut feeling says that this variety would taste better as iced tea). So the little tea bag is packed with the benefits of not only the premium tea but also the goodness of spices and herbs added. The spices-green tea infusion is invigorating, the lemongrass-ginger combo acts as detoxifier, the hibiscus blossom brew as cleanser (the crimson tinge of this brew and its intense aroma are endearing), the rose petals tisane as immune booster and the cinnamon-mint black tea serves as a stress reliever.

Tea pack containing 20 pyramid tea bags

Tea pack containing 20 pyramid tea bags

The tea bag is worthy of special mention. It is a pyramid tea bag that has an edge over the conventional paper bag. The nylon net-like mesh of which it is woven, makes for bigger holes than in the paper bag. This allows water to come in contact with more surface area of the tea leaves, thus releasing more essential oils and character into the cup. The pyramid structure allows for much higher quality larger tea leaves to be inserted into the tea bag. It also gives more space for the tea leaves to unfurl, circulate and brew into a better cuppa. In short, the pyramid tea bag mimics the action of a tea infuser.

Pyramid tea bag

Pyramid tea bag

Milk is not added to these teas as it interferes with the function of antioxidants. There is no need to add table sugar as the natural sweetener licorice has already been incorporated into the blend (Some may feel, that the sweetness is not enough…depends on individual’s sweet threshold…honey can always be added). These quicken the brewing process and make it non-messy. Isn’t this convenience at its best!

I think it is important to read food labels as a consumer and I earnestly do it (Do you? If not, start today). I am glad that the label read ‘100% Natural’, meaning, it is devoid of any artificial ingredients and preservatives and the ingredients are only minimally processed. It gives a good idea about the major ingredients, specifies the benefits of the prime ingredient and also mentions its shelf-life. It enlists clear instructions for brewing. However, information regarding the caffeine content per serving is something that is missing. If declared on the label, it would be a valuable guide to those on caffeine restriction. I am happier to find out that these products can be procured online via bigbasket.com, amazon.in and healthkart.com. Makes life easier.

Info on ingredients and brewing on the pack

Info on ingredients and brewing on the pack

Satisfied with my research on this product, I am heading off to take a sip of the rose petals infused green tea…Aww, the tisane tastes so good. Money spent on such tea is definitely an investment in health.

Rose petals green tea

Rose petals green tea

Related Posts:

Filter Coffee

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I am back from vacation, charged with energy to blog more. Of all things in my luggage from India, a small package made me extremely happy. That package held double delight that could brighten my mornings – Coffee powder and a Coffee filter.

Coffee Powder and Coffee Filter

Coffee Powder and Coffee Filter – A Double Delight

The coffee powder was a mix of Plantation A (250 g), Peaberry (250 g) and Chicory (50 g), which is the usual combination my mom uses. I got ready to prepare the decoction. The process is quite interesting.

Disassembled Coffee Filter

Disassembled Coffee Filter. The upper container has been inverted to show the perforations.

Preparation of Coffee Decoction:

  1. Add 5 heaped tablespoons of coffee powder to the upper container of the coffee filter.
  2. Level and pack the powder tightly using the stemmed disc provided in the filter.
  3. Pour a cup of sizzling hot water over the powder and allow it to percolate.
  4. Coffee decoction collects in the lower container in drops. It takes a few hours for the entire water to drain into the lower container. 
  5. Transfer the decoction to a small jug or container.
  6. Store it in the refrigerator and use when required.

Now, it is time for actual coffee-making.

Preparation of Filter Coffee: 

  1. Take about ¾ cup of hot milk.
  2. Add coffee decoction according to the ‘body’ or strength you desire-weak, medium (2-3 tbsp) or strong.
  3. Add sugar (about 1- 1 ¼ tsp) to taste. Do not make it very sweet. Good coffee always bears a hint of bitterness – Don’t you agree coffee lovers?
  4. Stir ingredients with a coffee frother and that’s it.
Filter Coffee and Decoction

Filter Coffee and Decoction

A sip of this hot filter coffee and I was at a loss for words – it felt like paradise on earth. I look forward to my mornings, just to have a taste of my favourite South Indian Filter Coffee.

The Java Cup is Brimming with Benefits

  • Coffee improves cognitive function. 
  • Caffeine in coffee works as a therapeutic against Alzheimer’s disease.  Dr. Cao et al., at the University of South Florida performed a mouse study and reported that caffeine interacted synergistically with a mysterious component in coffee and increased blood levels of GCSF (Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Factor) which is greatly reduced in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. GCSF improved memory performance in the Alzheimer’s mice in 3 ways. It recruited stem cells from bone marrow to enter the brain and removed the harmful beta-amyloid protein that initiated the disease. It also created new connections between brain cells and increased the birth of new neurons in the brain.

    “Because Alzheimer’s starts in the brain several decades before it is diagnosed, any protective therapy would obviously need to be taken for decades,” Dr. Cao said.  “We believe moderate daily consumption of caffeinated coffee is the best current option for long-term protection against Alzheimer’s memory loss. Coffee is inexpensive, readily available, easily gets into the brain, appears to directly attack the disease process, and has few side-effects for most of us.”  

  • Coffee also keeps Parkinson’s disease at bay.
  • It is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

As good as it may be, coffee is not a drink for indulgence. Let us fathom what’s okay and how much is too much, when it comes to coffee. 

What’s Okay and How Much is Too Much, When it Comes to Coffee

About 200 – 300 mg of caffeine a day is considered okay. In terms of cups, that translates to 2-4 cups of coffee a day. Anything more than 400 mg/day is considered harmful. It may lead to nausea, headaches, sleep difficulties, increased anxiety and even heart palpitations. To get an idea about the caffeine content of a few types of coffee, click here. 

When to Avoid Caffeine Kicks 

Caffeine in coffee is the perpetrator.

  • It hampers fat burning when taken early in the morning on an empty stomach. It stresses the body by increasing the blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate. So, never wake up to coffee or for that matter any caffeinated beverage. Postpone your morning coffee to atleast an hour after breakfast. I know that this advice is a bitter pill to swallow for many. But following it would definitely do good. 
  • It stimulates the body and interferes with sleep. So, avoid coffee close to bed time.
  • It hinders the absorption of nutrients, especially iron and calcium from food. So keep away from it atleast an hour before or after meals.
  • It has the tendency to aggravate acidity. So those with heart burns or oesophagitis, stay away from coffee.
  • It is associated with foetal growth restriction. It is better to avoid caffeine or atleast limit it to ≤ 200 mg/day when pregnant.
  • It dehydrates. Do not drink coffee immediately before or after exercise regimen. 

Reap rewards of coffee-drinking by scheduling coffee breaks wisely, at appropriate times.

Interesting Links:

Caffeine Content in Espresso Vs. Drip Coffee

Would You Still Love This Coffee?

Jallab – A Dates Syrup Summer Cooler

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Jallab syrup and beverage

Jallab syrup and beverage

Jallab is a popular Middle Eastern drink, a traditional mixture of dates syrup, grape molasses and rose water. The ready-made syrup is usually found in Arabic shops, along with other syrups like Tamarind, Grenadine and Qamar-el-din. It is priced anywhere between 800 fils to 2 dinars per 500 ml, depending on the quality and brand.

The syrup is diluted with iced water to prepare a reviving summer cooler. Sometimes plain dates syrup is mixed with iced water, flavoured with few drops of rose water and raisins added to achieve the same taste as the beverage prepared with Jallab syrup. Being made of dates, Jallab is a preferred choice for iftars during Ramadan.

The ingredients list of a top quality Jallab syrup I purchased read as: sugar, dates, water, caramel, citric acid, sodium benzoate as preservative and colour E129. I was flummoxed because there was no mention of grapes or roses. Nevertheless, I was eager to try it and see how it tasted.

Requisites:

  • 3-5 tbsp of Jallab Syrup
  • ¼ Glass Crushed Ice
  • ¾ Glass Cold Water
  • Few Pine Nuts
  • Few Golden Raisins

Instructions to make up the syrup into a beverage:

  • Fill a tall glass with crushed ice.
  • Pour 3 tbsp of Jallab syrup on to the ice.
  • Add cold water and mix thoroughly. Check the drink’s taste and add more syrup, if you feel it is not sweet enough.
  • Add the customary golden raisins and pine nuts to the drink. These introduce an element of interest in an otherwise plain drink.
  • Finally spruce up the presentation with a squiggle straw and a spoon.

Intersperse sips of beverage with pauses to dig into the raisins, pine nuts and chew them. That completes the Jallab experience.

Jallab with golden raisins and pine nuts

Jallab with golden raisins and pine nuts

I reckon that the dark brown beverage with some light coloured pine nuts afloat, is sheer joy to behold; it is pleasantly sweet, has a slight hint of rose fragrance (!) and a tad of tanginess (may be from the citric acid). I can not say for sure if rose water and grape molasses were also present in the syrup, may be they were there but not declared on the food label or may be the other ingredients together brought about a simulated effect. Whatever, Jallab is a befitting summer cooler.

Posts About Other Summer Coolers:

Would You Still Love This Coffee?

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Many of us like to wake up to a piping hot cup of coffee. There are those who feel that the day goes awry, when they miss their morning coffee. With varieties like Americano, Espresso, Latte, Mocha, Cappuccino, Turkish and last but not the least, South Indian filter coffee to pick from, coffee breaks are all the more enjoyable and invigorating. But did you know that world’s most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak costs roughly about US $50-80 a cup!!! Ever since my friend in FB brought up this topic, I have had a burning desire to write about it. So, what makes it so special and pricey? Let me spill the beans in the order of pleasant first to gross, later.Kopi Luwak (Civet coffee) from Gayo

Kopi Luwak lacks the bitterness of other coffees and has a unique aromatic flavour. Those who have drunk it describe it as the best coffee with attributes like syrupy consistency, chocolaty-caramel taste and rich aroma. This exotic beverage owes its flavour to the unusual way the beans are processed. Kopi Luwak as the Indonesian name suggests, is coffee processed by Luwaks or Asian Palm Civets. These civets devour the choicest of coffee berries, among other things for food. The pulp is digested whereas the beans undergo desirable changes in the digestive tract before being excreted. The clumps of beans shrouded in the civet excreta are gathered by the farmers. They are cleaned, dried and most importantly given just a gentle roast to preserve the flavours. The beans are then ground and brewed into the world’s tastiest coffee. Those who are inquisitive about how on earth this Kopi Luwak culture evolved, should read its history.

A study on the physicochemical properties of Kopi Luwak, published in Food Research International, revealed the following changes as responsible for its flavour:

  • The proteolytic enzymes in the civet’s digestive tract seep through the beans. They break down the proteins into short chain peptides and free aminoacids. Most of these end products leach out of the beans during the journey through the gastro intestinal tract of the Luwak, resulting in low protein beans. Lower the protein in beans, lesser the bitterness in coffee.
  • The Lactic acid bacteria in the gut of the civet ferment the beans, endowing them with a superior flavour.
  • Malting of the beans in the gut add on to the flavour.
  • The Maillard browning that occurs during roasting further enriches the flavour.

The beans remain intact all through these phenomena. Massimo Marcone, Food scientist at the University of Guelph, and the author of above mentioned study, reassures people with apprehensions about Kopi Luwak by stating, “Tests revealed that the Kopi Luwak beans had negligible amounts of enteric (pathogenic) organisms associated with feces.” He also added, “The low bacteria count is likely due to the washing process performed by local Indonesians collecting the beans. The “cherry” or endocarp surrounding the bean is not completely digested by the Luwak; it must be removed during processing. This probably leads to a more thorough washing process”. So, the extensive washing, sun-drying and roasting (350-400°F) are treatments adequate to render the beans safe for human consumption. The fact that there has not been any public record reporting illness from drinking Kopi Luwak reinforces the scientist’s statements.

The unusual processing, laborious task of collecting the beans clubbed with the decrease in the Luwak population due to poaching, explain the low production of this coffee and also why this gourmet brew burns our pockets.

Never mind the adjectives “exotic”, “gourmet” and the like attached to Kopi Luwak. Tell me frankly, despite learning how Kopi Luwak is made, would you still love this coffee?

If you are one of those die-hard coffee lovers, who is keen on tasting this exquisite coffee, do so when in Indonesia, for it costs comparatively cheaper there – just US $5-8, a cup!

Related Links:

Composition and properties of Indonesian palm civet coffee (Kopi Luwak) and Ethiopian civet coffee

Kopi Luwak

Kopi Luwak: Indonesia’s rich cup or ‘crappuccino’?

Image via Wikipedia

Apricot Leather Juice

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Apricot pulp sheet aka apricot leather

Apricot pulp sheet aka apricot leather

The sale of this particular stuff wrapped in yellow cellophane paper flourishes in Middle East super markets, especially in the Holy month of Ramadan. A glimpse of the product, the image of apricots on the cover and ingredients list stating apricot pulp, glucose and olive oil (was thankful that atleast some of these food labels were in English), took me down memory lane. It reminded me of the mango or orange pulp sheets that I used to be so fond of during my college days. I vividly remember the two different brands in neat little packages, which I often used to share with my friends as we chilled out in the canteen.

A glimpse of other side of the product

A glimpse of other side of the product

As I was reveling in the glory of finding something similar, a look at another make of the same commodity bore the picture of a glass of juice on its label. Then I understood that this pulp had to be prepared in to a juice and then consumed.  At the same moment I also realized that my skill of deciphering from images had greatly improved by now… those were the only comprehensible portions for me among the Arabic sprawled across most of the food wrappers :-). The dried apricot pulp sheet is referred to as “apricot leather” as it hard to touch but still malleable; it is locally known as “Qamar el din” and is commonly used in making juices or puddings.

Way to concoct a juice from apricot leather:

  • Take about 250 g of apricot leather.
  • Cut it into small chunks and transfer them into a bowl.
  • Add sugar to the chunks depending on the sweetness you desire. Remember the pulp already contains glucose.
  • Pour one litre of boiling water to the mixture and allow it to soak for about 3-4 hours so that the pulp dissolves completely. Stir the mixture occasionally.
  • Now warm the concoction once again to dissolve any remnant chunk, cook the pulp and to intensify the flavour. 
  • Allow it to cool down, refrigerate and serve chilled. 
And there is the popular Qamar el din drink offered during iftar. 
Qamar el din drink

Apricot Leather Juice

This is certainly not a juice that can be made on the spur of the moment…it requires preparation in advance…but it is definitely worth the time and pain taken, considering the energizing drink that is the outcome. I personally thought that the whiff of unctuous flavour that emanated from the drink on addition of boiling water and on warming, may make it a little less endearing. But to my surprise, the oily flavour had mellowed so much on cooling that it nearly seemed non-existent. If you still want to make it healthful and flavourful, then you should probably start from the scratch…attempt preparing the apricot leather at home, for then you would be free to substitute honey in place of other sweeteners, add a punch of lime juice and also omit the fatty additives that are so common in the commercial versions.  The fruit leather wrapped in cellophane sheets can be stored in airtight containers and used when needed.

Related Links:

Apricots

How to make fruit leather

Shelf-life of homemade Qamar el din

Qamar el din Pudding

Use of Qamar el din in  making apricot and chocolate tart

Commercial fruit leather

Cool Down with Gond Katira

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Summer is at its peak in some countries in the Middle East during July-August. The mercury even soars to more than 45°C during the day. Information has it that the highest temperature recorded last year in Kuwait was 53.1°C on 15 June, 2010. People resort to various measures like using air-conditioners, reaching out for their sun glasses, sun screen lotions, umbrellas, hats and drinking lots of chilled drinks to get respite from the scorching heat.  They even go to the extent of staying indoors during most of the day time and venture out only during nights 🙂 Last summer, I was quite new to the place and was in the process of getting acclimatized. Amidst juices, barley water, butter milk and other such usual stuff to beat the heat, I was introduced to a coolant prepared from a not so common ingredient called Gond Katira.

Gond (Urdu: gum) Katira follows in the line of gum arabic, xanthum gum and guar gum and is used as an additive in the food industry. Known by a myriad of names like Goond, Katira or Quatira, Dragon gum, Tragacanth gum, Shiraz gum, gum Elect and Qujah, it is referred to as E413 on food labels. Katira serves as an emulsifier, thickener, binding agent and stabilizer. It is used in sauces, salad dressings, processed cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream, icing and confectionery. On acquiring this information, I frantically searched the labels of some of these foods at home, but was disappointed on not spotting E413 on any 😦 Then it dawned on me that since Katira is native to Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, I should rather be looking for it on products manufactured from such places.

Katira is the exudate obtained from the roots and incisions made in the stem of various species of leguminous shrubs belonging to the genus Astragalus (locoweed or milk vetch). Though the gum is extracted from A.adscendens, A.tragacanthus and A.gummifer, the one from the latter (common name: goat’s thorn) is rated to be of the best quality. The gum is tasteless, odourless, predominantly dull white with tinges of brown and amber. It is viscous and dries into flakes, blocks or crystals on exposure to air. It is composed of polysaccharides and like any other gum has no nutritional value. Its virtue of swelling on absorption of water paved way for its use as a texturant in food industry; this trait also makes it a good laxative. Katira packets are usually placed along with the spices and condiments in super markets and cost 600 fils per 100 g.

Gum Karaya or Indian Tragacanth is often mistaken for Katira. Though Karaya has properties similar to that of Katira, it is the sap obtained from the bark of a tree called Sterculia urens (local name: Thapsi or Karaya tree) and its industrial identity is E416. Karaya is sometimes used to adulterate Katira.

Now, for the preparation of the coolant:

Requisites:

  • Gond Katira– 10 g
  • Water            — 300 ml
  • Milk               — 500 ml
  • Sugar            — as desired
  • Cardamom powder– a pinch
  • Chopped Almonds  — a few pieces

Procedure:

  • Pound the Katira blocks to get smaller crystals. Do not powder them finely as it may make it difficult to separate the impurities.
  • Soak the crystals in water overnight so that they absorb water and swell.  The swelled up gel is not gooey but sort of stiff. It looks like crushed ice, to be precise. Tip: Do not be misled by the small quantity of gum taken for preparation because it expands to enormous volume. About 25 g of gum in 300 ml of water filled a 500 ml capacity bowl up to the brim on gelling. So, use a relatively large bowl to soak the gum.
  • Next day, drain the water away; wash the gel twice or thrice; remove the impurities.
  • Boil milk; add sugar and cardamom to it; simmer it and reduce it to half its volume; refrigerate it.
  • Add the chilled flavoured milk to about 2-3 tbsp of  gel.
  • Garnish with chopped almonds.

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Wow! This  gummy coolant is not a mere visual treat, it tastes yummy as well.

Portions: 2 

The traditional preparation is a simple mixture of the swelled up gel with cold milk and sugar. But just to pep it up a little, I added the thickened milk, flavouring and nuts. We could tap our imagination to extend Katira’s use in sherbets, cordials, custards and many other desserts.

Related Posts

Additives in Food – Info – Tragacanth

Gum Karaya (Sterculia urens)

Opinion of a Scientific Panel on the Use of Certain Food Additives in Jelly Mini Cups

UK Food Gide – E413 – Tragacanth Gum

What is Gond Katira?


The Forgotten Drink

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Come summer and we adopt various strategies to fight the sweltering heat. We go to the rescue of tender coconut water, lime and various other fruit juices, butter milk, cucumber and water melon to keep our body cool. But does “barley water” strike a familiar chord to you? I sincerely doubt if many of us remember this simple yet excellent thirst quencher. I call it simple because the preparation does not require any culinary expertise or many ingredients. Here is how you prepare it:

 Ingredients:

  1. Pearl Barley-2 to 3 tbsp
  2. Water             -3 cups
  3. Sugar              -3 tsp or as per taste
  4. Lemon juice -1 or 2 tsp according to your preference
  5. Lemon zest   – few strands

    Pearl Barley and Lemon Zest

Methodology:

  • Rinse pearl barley to remove any dirt or debris in it.
  • Boil barley in water and then simmer it for 10-15 min.
  • Strain clear barley water into cups containing sugar and lemon zest.
  • Allow it to cool down and add a few ice cubes to it.
  • Add lemon juice for flavor and stir it well. 

And yes your nutritious coolant is ready. 

Lemon Barley

No of Servings: 2

Modifications:

Orange juice or mint can be used to flavour it. Sometimes I also add a small quantity of milk to barley water. If you do not want it sweet, just spice it up with a pinch of cumin powder and salt… and when it comes to combinations sky is the limit.

Benefits:

Learning about some of the benefits of this drink may prod you to include it in your routine menu.

  • It rehydrates the body and is an excellent thirst quencher.
  • Pearl barley is loaded with copper, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium. The presence of potassium and the fact that it leaches into water has been exploited in using barley water for restoring fluid and electrolyte balance of the body.
  • It acts as a diuretic and comes handy when you want to relieve yourself of oedema i.e., swelling caused due to retention of water in the body.
  • It helps in preventing urinary tract infections and soothes inflammations in the tract.
  • The soluble fiber in barley called beta-glucan softens stools by its capacity to absorb water and hence eases bowel movements.
  • Beta-glucan binds to bile acid and flushes it out along with the cholesterol contained in it, thereby reducing blood cholesterol level in the body.
  • Beta-glucan also delays absorption of carbohydrates thus reducing Diabetics’ need for insulin.
  • It can be given for convalescing patients and just plain barley water can also be used as weaning food.

Well, if  barley water’s long association with Wimbledon will help to elevate its image, then it is worth mentioning that it has been served to the players off and on the court since 1935!!! And for those who want to maintain the reputation of a teetotaler and still have a taste of barley, this drink might be an ideal option.

Postscript:

I usually reuse the same barley three or four times before discarding it.  


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