The Oldways Table Blog

Celebrating health,
happiness, heritage,
and delicious,
nutritious food.

April 28, 2016 | Oldways Table

April 16 was a day full of appreciation for raw milk cheeses! We loved looking at all your pictures and posts, and hearing about all the creative ways you celebrated Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day this year. You can see some pictures on our website, and more on our Instagram page.

The number one comment we heard from folks was: “We need a week, not only one day!” We agree. One single day to celebrate the hundreds of raw milk cheeses available is certainly difficult, but our global community of raw milk cheese lovers rose to the challenge. The official count was 632 events in 14 countries — a big increase from last year! Plus we had 80 participants new this year, which shows that this is a bandwagon worth jumping on.

Highlights from our 2nd Annual Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day:

Maple Hill Creamery gave away raw milk cheeses to lucky consumers who entered their competition on social media. Maple Hill regularly hosts fun contests, you should follow them and try some of their delicious cheddars.

Neal’s Yard Dairy and Milk Jam got together to taste raw milk from the producers of some of the most iconic raw milk cheeses in the United Kingdom, after traveling 750 miles around the UK to collect the raw milks.

There were wonderful events in Canada, Brazil, and Mexico in the Americas, and we learned a lot about the raw milk cheeses and producers in those countries.

There were special samplings, tastings, and special menus in Spain, France, England, Switzerland, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Sweden. We tried to follow the conversation, but we need to learn more languages. Luckily, raw milk cheese benefits, tradition, and flavors translate well amongst us turophiles.

Finally, there were events in Australia in independent shops and also in larger stores — all demonstrating that raw milk cheese is something we all enjoy, all around the world. New Zealand's one event was a product of the true cheese solidarity between cheesemongers and cheesemakers in the country.

Our official hashtag, #rawmilkcheese, reached an estimated 1 to 2 million people on Twitter, and more than 1,000 people were talking about raw milk cheese on Facebook. All of this engagement, from the worldwide events to social media celebrations, energizes us moves us forward. We will be celebrating the 3rd Annual Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day on April 15, 2017.

Your contribution to the Oldways Cheese Coalition helps us ensure that we can continue promoting raw milk cheese and many other events coming up. Visit our website or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out more.

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April 26, 2016 | Oldways Table

Ask any chef or home cook for a list of ingredients they couldn’t live without, and all of them would include salt. When used properly, salt enhances the natural flavor of food and bridges the gap between boring and exceptional meals. It balances bitter, sour, and sweet flavors too. Just think of dessert recipes; it might be counterintuitive to add salt to your cake batter, but it’s essential for brightening sweet flavors.

For those of us who look to recipes for home-cooked meals, the phrase “salt to taste” is commonly included in the instructions to allow room for cooks to adjust the seasoning according to their preferences. You might think, what is the point of following a recipe if you have to figure out how much salt to add yourself? Recipe writers know that people have different preferences or dietary restrictions, and may use different kinds of salt, some stronger than others, at home. Even if a recipe doesn’t use the phrase “salt to taste” or “season to taste,” it’s best practice to do it anyway.

The most important thing to remember for successful salting is to taste your food before adding salt, then taste again, and repeat continuously while cooking. This helps build layers of flavor that won’t exist if you just salt a dish at the end. Salt draws the moisture out of food, so it’s useful when you want vegetables to caramelize or wilt while sautéing, for example.

Tip: If you accidentally add too much salt to your dish, add acid, like vinegar or lemon juice. Starch, like whole grains or potatoes, also do an excellent job of absorbing salt.

Chemically and nutritionally, there is no difference between the different kinds of salt on the market. However, they have important differences when it comes to flavoring your food:

Table Salt

Table salt is the most common, cost-effective type of salt, mined from underground salt mines and industrially produced. Its fine crystals make it denser and harder to control when sprinkling, but other than that there is no reason not to use it in your cooking. Keep in mind that it’s easier to over-salt with table salt than any other kind of salt, so add a little bit at a time.

Tip: To evenly coat your food with salt, while cooking or to finish, raise your hand high above the food and sprinkle a pinch at a time.

Kosher Salt

Kosher salt got its name from “koshering” meat: removing blood from meat to adhere to Jewish dietary restrictions. It is also extracted from salt mines, but unlike table salt, it is raked to form larger, irregular flakes. It’s easier to season with kosher salt because it’s less dense, and there is less risk of over-seasoning. If a recipe calls for kosher salt and you only have table salt, use less than the amount called for.

Tip: A tablespoon of kosher salt equals roughly a teaspoon of table salt.

Sea Salt

Sea salt is evaporated organically from the sea, mostly in hot, dry Mediterranean climates. The harvesting process allows sea salt to retain its natural minerals, resulting in a noticeably different taste and color from other types of salt. It is more expensive than other types of salt (think French Fleur de Sel), so it’s best used to finish dishes, much like extra virgin olive oil.

Now that we've explained the differences between salt varieties, have fun experimenting with them in the kitchen. You can also practice salting to taste with these Oldways recipes:

Ayfer’s Kisir: Kisir is a bulgur grain salad served room temperature or cold. Since you’ll only salt to taste once, at the end, it’s a perfect opportunity to use sea salt.

Island Skordalia: Skordalia is a dip made from capers, almonds, walnuts, and garlic. Preserved capers naturally have a lot of salt, so it’s especially important to taste the dip before salting.

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April 21, 2016 | Oldways Table

Cooks around the world have used the seeds, roots, barks and leaves of plants to add deliciously subtle or bold flavor to their cuisine for centuries. These little gems add zip to dishes, but did you know they can add pep to your step, too? The health benefits of herbs and spices are numerous; they add antioxidants to our diet and are a versatile and flavorful alternative to salt.

From Aleppo pepper to za’atar, there’s a bounty of herbs and spices from which to choose. Here’s six of our favorites, along with their healthful properties:

  • Hot and piquant, cayenne pepper has a high concentration of capsaicin, a substance that not only gives the pepper its fiery sensation, but temporarily acts as a pain reliever, too. Who knew?! Add small amounts to sauces, stews and seafood dishes for enhanced flavor and heat.
  • Cumin, wonderfully warm and fragrant, promotes healthy digestion. Add it to curry dishes and chili, or stir into Greek yogurt for an instant dip.
  • Dill is considered an antibacterial herb, and also protects against free radicals that can cause cellular damage. Enjoy a refreshing dip by mixing together Greek yogurt, chopped dill and cucumber – it’s not only tasty, it may keep the wrinkles away, too.
  • If you’re tummy is upset, try ginger. It’s known to help with nausea, sea sickness and upset stomach. Make your own ginger tea by pouring boiling water over several thin slices of ginger root, add juice from ½ lemon and let steep for five minutes.
  • More than a garnish, parsley is a good source of folic acid, an important B vitamin for heart health. Fresh is best when it comes to this slightly peppery herb which can add balance and brightness to most dishes. Pair it with salads, pasta and grains, as well as fish and meats.
  • Have you been a little forgetful lately? Be sure to add rosemary to your grocery list. It contains carnosic acid that helps fight off free radical damage in the brain. When roasting potatoes that have been lightly dressed with olive oil, place sprigs of rosemary around the pan; they’ll not only boost the flavor of your spuds, they may just help you remember where you left your keys.

Now that you know the hidden benefits of some of our favorite herbs and spices, let's start using them. Get the most out of our herbs and spices by purchasing them in smaller quantities to ensure you’re using them at their peak flavor. We also recommend you store them in tightly sealed jars, and away from heat and light. When cooking with your herbs and spices, try toasting or blooming them first — it’s an easy way to bring out even more of their fragrance and flavor. If you're hungry for more, our 12 Great Ways to Use Healthy Herbs and Spices has got you covered.

Still hungry? We show you how you can eat your way to better health in our new ONE Food as Medicine Toolkit. Better yet, try our African Heritage Spicy Chickpea recipe, which I fondly call the magic bean recipe. A couple of simple vegetables melded with a few teaspoons of spices and some chickpeas, and abracadabra, you have a heart-warming, fragrant, and filling dish in around 20 minutes. Now that’s magical.

Happy and healthy eating!

Deborah Plunkett, Program Manager, Oldways Nutrition Exchange (ONE)

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April 18, 2016 | Oldways Table

While some journalists seek out the most well designed research studies to report on, others choose instead to seek out controversy, regardless of the merits of their arguments. Such is the case with a recent British Medical Journal (BMJ) study questioning the link between saturated fat and heart disease. Not surprisingly, the article prompted several sensationalist headlines, some even as misguided as to suggest it indicates flaws in the Mediterranean Diet.

While this study, which randomly assigned over 9,000 adults to a high saturated fat diet (from margarine and shortening) or a high omega-6 diet (from corn oil), may not be especially relevant to readers today (as neither margarine nor corn oil are particularly popular picks), the study has become a conversation starter for one key reason: the research used in this analysis has been “recovered” after being unpublished (and forgotten) for over 50 years, thus positioning itself as somewhat of a buried treasure (or a hidden conspiracy, depending on your outlook).

A Problematic Study to Start

Great scientists continuously seek out answers, even if the answers seem to challenge prevailing theories. So it’s exciting (and respectable) that the BMJ researchers approached these ‘forgotten’ findings with serious analysis. However, upon closer inspection, the decades-old data that the scientists happened upon don’t quite hold up in comparison to the well-designed evidence that we’ve gathered in the years since.

First and foremost, more than 75 percent of the study subjects dropped out of the study, which seriously calls the results into question. Second, the ones who were left were subjected to a diet that most people today would not actually eat or be recommended to eat (high in omega-6 fatty acids, from lots and lots of corn oil). In other words, this was not a study about the Mediterranean diet, or even olive or canola oil. The foods used in the vegetable oil group were corn oil, lean beef spiked with corn oil, and even milk and cheese mixed with corn oil. Thus, even the melodramatic TIME article concedes that the “amount [of vegetable oil] in the study was about double what the average American tends to eat.” Nonetheless, despite the exciting buildup, the scientists found that mortality rates between the corn oil group and the margarine group were not even significantly different.

In an analysis of the study, Dr. David Katz explains that “Despite the inevitable headline hyperbole, this study did not show higher mortality in the corn oil group in conjunction with their significant cholesterol reduction. Rather, it found a correlation between falling blood cholesterol levels and mortality in both groups, and this was significant in those over age 65. Cholesterol tends to fall in older people with serious illness, and unintended weight loss, which in turn, unsurprisingly, tend to predict mortality.” Note that these findings do not mean that high cholesterol is a good thing. After all, studies continue to report that high blood cholesterol levels are related to an increased risk of heart disease.

One Study Doesn't Change Fundamentals

This BMJ study doesn’t uncover hidden secrets; it simply sows confusion. There are many studies that suggest that replacing animal fats with vegetable fats may lower the risk of heart disease. In a large 2016 study in the  Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers analyzed the eating patterns and heart disease statistics of 186 nations across the world. They found that 10.3 percent of coronary heart disease deaths were attributable to not eating enough omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (found in soy, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and some plant oils), while 7.7 percent were due to eating too much trans fat (found in margarine and highly processed foods), and 3.6 percent were due to eating too much saturated fat (found in red meat and butter). In fact, in 80 percent of nations studied, deaths from heart disease due to inadequate omega-6 polyunsaturated fats were at least double the heart disease deaths due to too much saturated fat.

Similarly, in a 2015 study of over 120,000 adults in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Harvard researchers found that replacing 5 percent of daily calories from saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats (found in fish, nuts, seeds, and safflower oil), monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil and canola oil), or whole grains is linked with a 25 percent, 15 percent, and 9 percent lower risk of heart disease, respectively.

Clinical trials, the gold standard of nutrition research, also indicate a benefit from preferring certain fat sources (such as those from olive oil and nuts) over others (like red meat).  The PREDIMED study, which was published in 2013 was a groundbreaking clinical trial which randomly assigned nearly 7,500 adults at high risk of a heart attack to a low fat diet or a Mediterranean diet. Those in the Mediterranean diet group were significantly less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and also had a decreased risk of many other diseases.

From vegan to Paleo, Oldways Common Ground Scientists across all philosophies agree that “Fundamentals and current understanding do NOT change every time a new study makes headlines,” and that “New evidence should be added to what was known before, not substituted for it sequentially.” The next time you see a headline claiming that everything we ever thought was completely wrong, or that we have all been misled, take a step back and analyze the new evidence in the context of the prevailing consensus, rather than ignoring seemingly contradictory data.

Kelly Toups, RD, Oldways Whole Grains Council program director

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