Tag Archives: Superfood Sunday

Superfood Sunday: The Magic of Maca

Maca root, a tuber similar in size and shape to a beet, hails from the high plateaus in the Andes of South America.  This relative of the radish has been cultivated in Peru for at least three millennia, where ancient Incan warriors ate it for energy boosts before battle.  Also known as Peruvian Ginseng, Lepidium meyenii has been used for food for both humans and livestock, and traditional Andean preparations include steeping the root in tea or eating maca whole, like a baked potato.

maca powder

Of course, Maca increases more than just energy level.  It also enhances libido.  A rumored aphrodisiac, maca has been shown to improve fertility.  Other effects include easing anxiety and depression – perhaps as a direct result of the increased energy and libido.  However, maca comes with a caveat, like most superfoods.  It turns out, your body can actually build up a resistance to maca.  Therefore, if you decide to consume it regularly, you should take a week off for every three or four weeks that you eat it.

I found a bag of maca powder online and gave it a try in my morning oatmeal.  The best way to describe its taste is malty, like eating the ground innards of a Whopper candy.  While I cannot be sure if my energy that day was from the teaspoon of powder in my breakfast or the good old placebo effect, I managed to forgo my morning tea without too much caffeine withdrawal.

If you find yourself with a bag of this pale, slightly sweet powder and are wondering what to do with it, maca would be an interesting flavoring addition for banana soft-serve or a vegan milkshake of ice, plant-based milk, and dates, and cacao.  In a fitting end to a highly experimental culinary summer, I decided to toss a tablespoon of everything I have tried this summer into a blender and watch what happened.  Honestly, I cannot recommend this course of action to anyone.

The mixture of chia, goji, hemp, wheatgrass, spirulina, and maca blended up into a superfood cocktail that looks like a dangerous brew.  It tasted heavily of spirulina and wheatgrass, and I couldn’t tempt any of my taste testers into taking more than one dubious sip.  Overall, it was a highly gag-inducing blend and an oddly perfect end to my summer foray into the world of superfoods.

superfood smoothie
My superfood macarita. Bottoms up!

Superfood Sunday: A Little Kelp from my Friends

Ok, so spirulina isn’t exactly kelp. It’s technically Arthrospira platensis, a blue-green freshwater algae, but “a little cyanobacteria from my friends” didn’t have the same ring.

Up until the late 16th century, Spirulina was believed to have been harvested from Lake Texcoco by the Aztecs, who called it techuitlatl. Across the Atlantic, the Kanembu population along the shores of Lake Chad collected algae and dried it in the sun before mixing it into sauces, millet, beans, fish, or meat. European phycologists and botanists noticed its usage during expeditions in the middle of the 20th century, and in the 1970s, it gained popularity among researchers as a possible inexpensive protein source.

Spirulina PowderThis blue-green algae, which arrived on my doorstep in a cheery orange package a few weeks ago, joins the cadre of superfoods with exhaustive beneficial qualities, if its proponents are to be believed. It is a source of B vitamins, iron, and dietary protein, making it popular in both its powder and pill forms. Some experiments have shown that spirulina increases the body’s production of cytokines, which fight infections and colds.

Other studies show that it worked as an antihistamine in rats and that it killed cancerous cells in chickens. However, experts are cautious about downing algae like Jacques from Finding Nemo.

Image courtesy of Disney and Pixar

Other doctors have noted that the benefits of spirulina are negligible at best, and that one would do better to eat a piece of fruit instead. Most of the warnings, however, center around the lack of regulation.

Spirulina isn’t currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and because it grows on the top of water, it is highly susceptible to contamination. Sincerely hoping I wasn’t poisoning myself for the sake of a blog post, I spooned out some of my spirulina powder for a taste.

It has a similar odor to the wheatgrass I sampled before – and haven’t touched since – so I was a little wary. My powder was very finely ground and highly pigmented, like someone had crumbled up a blue-green chalk pastel. This did not help my poisoning suspicions. Despite their similar odors, however, spirulina and wheatgrass don’t share much in the way of taste. Mixed with a little bit of water, spirulina takes on a distinct seaweed flavor, unsurprising given its origins. Although I am a fan of all types of seaweed, especially when it’s wrapped around sushi, my fellow food adventurers were not so enthused. When I decided to mix up a salad dressing, I thoroughly enjoyed its tangy, briny taste, but my mother and sister were not so enthused.

I have included the recipe anyway, in case you get your hands on a big bag of algae!

Spirulina dressing
I promise it gets more visually appealing when you whisk it!

2 tbsp. hummus
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. water
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. spirulina powder
1/4 tsp. dill weed
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
a few drops of liquid sweetener, if desired.

Whisk ingredients together and pour over a grain salad (perhaps one with hemp seeds).

Superfood Sunday: Hi there, Hemp!

Toasted Hemp Seeds

I promise, there is nothing illegal going on in my kitchen.  Those little seeds were straight from Whole Foods, not grown in the United States.  Hemp seed comes from the Cannabis sativa plant, the same plant whose fibrous stems are used to make rope and whose leaves are also known as marijuana.  Regardless of the dubious effects of its leaves, when it comes to its seeds, hemp offers up an impressive resume.

The seeds have a high protein content and contain all nine of the essential amino acids human bodies can’t produce on their own, making them popular among vegetarians and vegans.  Easily digestible because of the lack of phytic acid, hemp is rich in polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, with a 3:1 ratio of Omega-6s and Omega-3s.  Studies have shown that a lower ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 helps to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

I tried the toasted hemp seeds I found at Whole Foods and found a mildly nutty little seed that added an impressive crunch to my salads.  Although I enjoyed the sideways glances from my parents when I informed them that I was making a hemp salad, I didn’t enjoy them enough to add them to my regular grocery rotation.

And now the question I really wanted answered: what is the difference between the hemp in my yoga guru’s granola and the marijuana that’s so controversial?

Apparently, although they come from the same Cannabis sativa plant, there are different varieties of Cannabis plants.  THC, Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive component of the Cannabis; while marijuana comes from the tops and leaves of high-THC varieties, “Industrial” hemp comes from low-THC strains of the plant.  Commercial hemp seeds contain negligible amounts of THC, so no; the following recipe will not lead to any kind of high except the natural exhilaration of a healthy meal.

Shelled hemp seeds are an interesting way to add fiber, chlorophyll, vitamins, and protein to smoothies, yogurt, veggie burgers, or salads.  If you’re feeling particularly DIY-esque, you could make your own hemp milk from one of the recipes that abound online.  As for me, I tossed my toasted hemp seeds into a simple bean and quinoa salad, excellent over greens.

Simple Hemp Salad

2 cups cooked quinoa

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 scallion, finely chopped

½ yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, grated

¼ tsp chili powder

¼ tsp ground cumin

juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons hemp seeds, toasted or hulled

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients and top with hemp seeds.  Serve on a bed of spring mix lettuce.