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TOPICS: Goji berries; Crack seed; Tamari

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Newman's News and Notes

Winter Volume: 2006 Issue: 13(4) page(s): 30 and 33

GOJI BERRIES are 'hot' but new the are not. What is new is this food item making its way into columns in food, wine, even into a magazine I never heard of before called Edutopia. Recently they also turned up at the Fancy Food Show at New York City's Javits Center. Just as the kiwi once had, this fruit has been renamed; it is not a new food. It was once touted as a 'health cure' by many Asians, and discussed by this magazine in Volume 12(2) on pages 35, 36, and 38.

When we first read about the goji berry, we had no clue as to what they were because we knew them not by that name. Reports said they were from the Himalayas. That did not help either. One report mentioned their origin as Tibet, and still we had no clue. Our epiphany came one day in an upscale super-duper supermarket. There hanging in cellophane bags at the end of an aisle were bags of them under a big sign saying 'goji fruit.'

We did know this berry, but by another older name. In this supermarket the labeling said they were a fruit popular in Tibet and Mongolia. They are a small berry known for thousands of years by the Chinese; other Asians, too. We know them as a popular fruit and herbal in Asia, Africa, Europe, and elsewhere.

The berries are semi-dry reddish-orange, mildly sweet, and most nutritious. They are usually less than half-inch long. The plant they grow on has leaves the Chinese and others adore and call the matrimony vine. These less-than-new fruits in Chinese are called gou ji zi. Chinese herbal stores and large Asian supermarkets have been selling them for as long as I can remember.

Upscale, and in this fancy-dancy supermarket, these small fruits had a price tag of a dozen bucks a pound. I n Chinese supermarkets and herbal stores, we purchase them for half that price.

Known for centuries, the health-giving properties were recognized in China’s early dynasties. They are, in English, called 'boxthorn' or 'wolfberry' and botanically known as Lycium barbarum, L. chinensis or L. chinense. You may know them as a member of the Solanaceae family. Some consider them a super-food. We considered them last year, and as indicated above, and told lots about them, but not know their new name at that time. Over the years, we have used the wolfberry is an ingredient is several recipes, and used their vines, as well.

Current research indicates these small red berries are loaded with vitamin C, and that they have high anti-oxidant levels. One recent item says those consuming them daily have an increased life span longer those who do not. These recent toutings are more hearsay than anything else because they fail to advise how much longer or what amount to consume each day. Not approved in the United States as a medical food, manufacturers in and outside of China tout their health values, and they sell them whole and as juice. Some outside the United States go so far as to say they are an aid for cancer patients. Acceptable proof seems to be lacking and western governmental agencies do not advise about any good research as yet.

Be aware that there are notes of concern even though this fruit is touted as an anti-aging as well as an anti-cancer herbal. Diabetics need to know that these berries elevate blood glucose levels, and everyone needs to know if they take the drug called Warfarin, they should not eat them. Another general concern is not to eat the leaves and unripe fruit at the same time.

Health clams aside, the berries are delicious, and as such should be incorporated into many foods for flavor and for their vitamin content. Enjoy the recipe at theend of this column.

CRACK SEED is available and common, as well. However, considering the many queries we get about this snack food, most are not familiar with it by name, taste, and/or content. Rachel Lauden wrote about these popular Hawaiian goodies. She frequented 'crack seed stores' in Hawaii, her native state at that time. It was published in Flavor and Fortune’s Volume 2 (2) on – ages 5, 16, and 18; and is available at this magazine’s website: www.flavorandfortune.com

Most Chinese and other Asian supermarkets sell them. They are sweet-salty and sometimes sour fruits, mostly made from the li plum or from Chinese olives. They come in small glass jars or small plastic containers. Most are prepared by soaking or cooking in licorice, sugar or a sweet substitute, and lots of salt.

Crack seed came to Hawaii from southern China and now their use and what they are made from are no longer limited to these two food items. They are also made from pieces of mango and several other whole or sliced small fruit items, and from some cooked nuts.

Recently, we heard of powdered crack seed. Frankly, we never purchased this ingredient, though it is available. Why not? We grind our own, after cutting out and removing any pits. We dry them and then put them into our coffee grinder if we have no small blender or canning jar handy. For the blender we use a regular-size small canning jar as its aperture is identical to that of most blender jars. We screw that closed with the bottom of the blender and get the machine to do its work. Suggestion: Hold the machine when it is running, as it can dance all over the counter-top. Actually, this is better than the coffee grinder as that is difficult to clean and therefore, tastes can remain and flavor the coffee.

TAMARI is not Chinese, contrary to some literature we have seen recently. It is a Japanese liquid drained from and after making miso. Miso itself is a fermented soy bean paste used to season Japanese soups and other foods. It is made with soybeans and little or no wheat. Those allergic to wheat such as people with celiac disease need to carefully read the label, or better yet check with their dietitian to be sure that the particular brand they plan to use is not made using wheat nor made in any machinery once was used for any wheat grain or wheat product.

Some tamari products are naturally brewed, others made by chemically hydrolyzed soy or other bean or grain proteins. Some have additives and/or preservatives, others do not. The same is true of Chinese soy sauces. A few do not have any wheat in their manufacture, others can have up to fifty percent wheat and fifty percent soy beans. Label reading good for everyone. For those with health concerns, it is a required behavior, certainly if they know they might have an allergic reaction; which can be deadly.
Pumpkin Rice
1/2 pound Chinese pumpkin, peeled and its seeds removed
3 Tablespoons goji berries (Lycium barbarum)
2 cups long-grain rice
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup Yunnan or Smithfield ham, cut into half-inch cubes
4 black mushrooms, soaked, stems removed, cut in half-inch dice
2 Tablespoons frozen peas
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Cut pumpkin into half-inch cubes. Steam for ten minutes, then mash with one cup of boiling water.
2. Mix pumpkin puree, goji berries, and rice and put into a rice cooker. Seam until done and rice-cooker turns off.
3. Heat a wok or pot and add the oil. Add ham, mushroom pieces, peas, salt, and sesame oil, and stir-fry for one minute.
4. Stir the mushroom mixture into the pumpkin-rice mixture. Serve.

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