Superfoods and their stories
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Last year someone gave me a huge fleshy pumpkin he had grown, with the instruction to “dry out the seeds for a while”.
Many seeds came out of that one pumpkin.
So, when food gardening guru KZN-born and bred Jane Griffiths’ latest book, Jane’s Delicious Superfoods for Super Health, was delivered, I headed straight for the page on pumpkin seeds.
There I read that pumpkins originated in South America and spread throughout Asia.
“They’re particularly popular in Burma, where cinema audiences enthusiastically crunch their way through the seeds at such a rate that it’s difficult to hear the movie’s soundtrack,” she writes.
“Packed full of a diverse range of antioxidants, pumpkin seeds are extremely healthy for us. In addition to an array of vitamins and minerals, they contain fibre, unsaturated fat and protein.”
There’s a cross-reference to growing them followed by more dope on preparing them and a list of vitamins and nutrients they contain.
Similar accounts on various vegetables, grains, seeds, herbs, legumes and pulses, nuts, spices, algae, mushroom and fruit fill Griffiths’ book, in which she points out that while there’s no scientific definition of a superfood, her personal journey towards better health is inextricably linked to eating and growing super-nutritious foods.
“As I became more aware of the importance of beneficial soil micro-organisms and how destructive pesticides and chemicals are in the garden, so I became more conscious of food additives and preservatives, and what I was putting into my body,” she said.
“I started questioning where food came from and how it was made. I began understanding how health is inextricably linked to what we eat. The lessons I learned in my garden applied to my health and well-being too.”
Griffiths said that in much the same way that healthy, fertile soil produced strong and nutritious plants, so eating a balanced and nourishing diet was the foundation for a healthy body and vigorous immune system.
“Now more than ever, people are focused on their health and are realising the importance of eating nutritious food.”
Griffiths’ many travels have fuelled her interest, knowledge and anecdotes, such as her calling the coconut “the Swiss army knife of the tree world”.
“I first heard it being called that when we spent a few months island-hopping in the Philippines and an agile youngster was harvesting fresh coconuts for us to drink. It’s such an apt name as the coconut tree has a multitude of uses.”
In Zanzibar, she saw turmeric growing for the first time, “smelled fresh cinnamon as the bark was being harvested and marvelled as a fruit was opened to reveal a glistening, dark-brown seed – nutmeg – encased in a fire-engine-red, lacy seed covering called mace”.
“I had no idea that the ingredients on my kitchen shelves came from these fascinating plants and I have been learning more about them ever since. In this book I include detailed information on more than 150 delicious, nutrient-rich foods which, eaten as part of a balanced diet, boost our immune system, improve our health and reduce risk of disease.
“The research and reading I did for this book led me on wonderful journeys of discovery, including the history of these foods, which is complex and fascinating. I'd spend days reading up about spice wars or the history of milling ‒ then more days reducing the vast amount of information into digestible nuggets for the book.”
Griffiths said that in some instances, through thousands of years of crop selection, we have vastly improved what we eat.
“Take melons, for example. We’ve been eating these refreshing fruits for millennia, but the luscious melons of today bear little resemblance to the original wild ones, which were hard, bitter and unpalatable.
“However, in the hot, dry areas where they grew, they were a valuable source of liquid. They lasted for ages once picked and could be carried when travelling. These characteristics led to selective breeding, resulting in the delicious melons of today. But in other cases, mechanisation and industrialisation have negatively affected what we eat, a good example being highly-refined and processed white flour, a far cry from nutrient-rich stone-ground flours.”
The book is a mix of creativity and science.
“I think art and science are inextricably entwined,” said Griffiths. “Photography is a combination of mathematical apertures and shutter speeds as well as understanding light and composition. When you look at a very detailed image of a human cell it’s the most beautiful work of art.
“I also like to understand the 'how and why' behind things. Especially terminology, buzz words and fads.
“What exactly does 'Extra virgin olive oil' mean? What are the facts behind gluten intolerance? What are our gut bacteria and why are they good for us? In this book I delve into many of these questions, demystifying confusing concepts and providing a guide for people to map their own path to healthy eating.”
- Jane’s Delicious Superfoods
The Independent on Saturday