By Tammera Karr PhD
The cacao tree, aptly named Theobroma cacao, by the famous botanist Carl Linnaeus. The cacao tree only grows within twenty degrees of the equator in the tropics’ damp conditions. Once mature, the tree will produce small, white flowers that can only be pollinated by midges, a fly no larger than a pencil’s tip. When cacao pods are mature, they are harvested by hand using a machete. Each pod is broken open to expose the beans and white pulp and collected into a pile. The beans and pulp remain outside in the heat and high humidity to undergo fermentation.
What is fermentation?
Fermentation is a metabolic process that occurs with microorganisms. Bacteria and yeast thrive in hot, moist climates, and the cacao pulp is an excellent nutrient source. In this case, the bacteria and yeast are needed to produce the precursor compounds necessary for chocolate’s characteristic flavor and aroma. Bacteria do this by eating some of the sugar and acid content, converting it into other molecules. Fermentation typically lasts for about a week. Once fermentation is complete, the farmers will separate the beans from the pulp, used as a nutrient source during fermentation. Next, the beans are left to dry in the sun.
A little history
In Greek, Theobroma translates to food of the gods. Chocolate connoisseurs know there is more than a gustatory pleasure to be found in this food of the gods. In 1753, Carl von Linnaeus, a Swedish scientist, thought cacao was so important he named the genus and species of tree Theobroma cacao, which means cacao, the food of the gods. This food dates back to prehistoric times and was extensively cultivated in Mexico, Central, and South America for centuries before Europeans’ arrived. 173 The Mayan Indians began cultivating cacao about 600 AD. The indigenous populations ate only the fruit, which contains numerous health benefits. The seed or cacao nib was set aside for a psychedelic brew, called ayahuasca, and for medicines. According to Aztec myth, the cacao awakened power and wisdom. When the explorer Cortes brought cacao back to Spain in 1528, it was sequestered and enjoyed only by nobility and the wealthy.
The many uses of chocolate
In medieval times, chocolate was viewed as a luxury item and an indulgence. In modern times chocolate is used as gifts for mothers and sweethearts. It is made into cocktails, cold and hot drinks, candies, powders, wines, and lotions. The Spanish are widely responsible for the introduction and development of chocolate foods and beverages.
The making of chocolate foods
The most critical step is roasting. Roasting generates hundreds of the flavor compounds associate with chocolate. The beans are roasted at high temperatures for roughly one hour. There are many chemical reactions responsible for cacoa color, flavor, and aroma. Cacoa naturally has a strong, pungent/bitter taste, which comes from the flavonols. Without roasting, the cacao beans would never obtain the flavor profile we associate with modern chocolate. Cacoa nibs are crushed to form cocoa butter and cocoa liquor. There are several processing steps involved in reducing cacaos bitter taste. Cocoa liquor has a very concentrated, chocolatey flavor with a trace of bitterness and acidity. Other ingredients like sugar, milk solids, vanilla, and emulsifiers are added to the pure cocoa liquor. The addition of these ingredients to the liquor results in a coarse, heterogeneous mixture that still must be further processed. The more chocolate is processed (through fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are lost. 174
What science tells us about the health properties of chocolate
Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods that offer specific health benefits. They are part of the polyphenol group (chemicals found in plants). Flavanols are a type of flavonoid found explicitly in cocoa and chocolate. More than 4,000 flavonoid compounds are found in various foods and beverages, such as cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea, and red wine. Most popular commercial chocolates are highly processed, providing little if any health benefits.
Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants (nearly eight times the amount found in strawberries). Flavonoids also help lower blood pressure nitric oxide production; they can also balance certain hormones. The fats in chocolate (1/3 oleic acid, 1/3 stearic acid, and 1/3 palmitic acid) do not impact your cholesterol. Dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while preventing white blood cells from sticking to blood vessels’ walls. Both arterial stiffness and white blood cell adhesion are known factors that play a significant role in atherosclerosis. Scientists found that increasing the flavanol content of dark chocolate did not change this effect. Research published in the March 2014 issue of The FASEB Journal.
The effect that dark chocolate has on our bodies is encouraging not only because it allows us to indulge with less guilt, but also because it could lead the way to therapies that do the same thing as dark chocolate but with better and more consistent results,” said Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. Until the ‘dark chocolate drug’ is developed, however, we’ll have to make do with what nature has given us! 175, 177
Benefits of dark chocolate
Chocolate is a complex food with over 300 compounds and chemicals in each bite. Look for pure dark chocolate or dark chocolate with nuts, orange peel, or other natural flavorings. To enjoy and appreciate chocolate, take the time to taste it. Most studies used no more than 100 grams, or about 3.5 ounces, of dark chocolate a day. One bar of dark chocolate has around 400 calories.
Enjoy moderate portions of chocolate (e.g., one ounce) a few times per week, and don’t forget to consume other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, onions, and cranberries. Your best choices are dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate (especially milk chocolate that is loaded with other fats and sugars) and cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing (cocoa treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity).
Caution: According to the National Hazardous Substances Database: In large doses, theobromine may cause nausea and anorexia, and the daily intake of 50-100g cocoa (1.5 g theobromine) has been associated with sweating, trembling, and severe headache. Occasionally, people (mostly the elderly) have needed hospital treatment for a theobromine reaction.
by Tammera J Karr, PhD, BCHN, CNW, CGP
So often we forget about the nutrients that have been around for decades. Zinc is one of those minerals that have a multifaceted nature. Forty years ago the essential nature of zinc and human health was first reported in the Middle East. It is required for cellular enzyme function, the formation of hormones, and it provides the immune system with a unique skill – zinc is used by the immune system to strengthen the T-helper cells. The current estimate is that over 2,000 transcription factors may be zinc-dependent.
Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system. Zinc is crucial for the normal development and function of cells mediating innate immunity, neutrophils, and NK cells. Macrophages also are affected by zinc deficiency. The ability of zinc to function as an anti-oxidant and stabilize membranes suggests that it has a role in the prevention of free radical-induced injury during inflammatory processes.
The role of zinc in modulating oxidative stress has recently been recognized. Oxidative stress is an important contributing factor in several chronic human diseases, such as atherosclerosis and related vascular diseases, mutagenesis and cancer, neurodegeneration, immunologic disorders, and the aging process.
In studies of zinc deficiency, researchers found when zinc intake was insufficient it resulted in; decreased serum testosterone level, oligospermia, severe immune dysfunctions, hyperammonemia, neurosensory disorders, and decreased lean body mass. It appears that zinc deficiency is prevalent in the developing world and as many as two billion subjects may be growth retarded due to zinc deficiency. Besides growth retardation and immune dysfunctions, cognitive impairment due to zinc deficiency also has been reported recently. Our studies in the cell culture models showed that the activation of many zinc-dependent enzymes and transcription factors were adversely affected due to zinc deficiency.
For viruses to anchor to cells, we have to have a week immune system, which is a result of poor diet, sleep and heightened stress. Zinc is pivotal in the effectiveness of the anti-malarial drug function being used for COVID-19, and it is responsible for loss or off-taste and smell being reported by those who have recovered from COVID-19.
A lack of zinc can make a person more susceptible to disease and illness, along with increased risk for macular degeneration and infertility. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “zinc-deficient persons experience increased susceptibility to a variety of pathogens.”
According to the European Journal of Immunology, the human body needs zinc to activate T lymphocytes (T cells). T cells help the body in two ways: controlling and regulating immune responses and attacking infected or cancerous cells
Zinc is responsible for a number of functions in the human body, and it helps stimulate the activity of at least 100 different enzymes. Only a small intake of zinc is necessary to reap the benefits. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for zinc in the United States is 8 milligrams (mg) a day for women and 11 mg a day for men.
Vegetarians may require up to 50 percent more than the recommended intake of zinc because of the low bioavailability of zinc from plant-based foods.
Foods with the highest reported zinc content are:
raw oysters (Pacific),
beef, lean chuck roast
baked beans, canned
King Alaskan crab,
ground beef, lean
Zinc supplements are also available in the form of capsules and tablets. However, the tolerable upper limit for zinc is 40 milligrams for males and females over 18 years. It has been proven time and again that isolating certain nutrients in supplement form will not provide the same health benefits as consuming the nutrient from whole food. First, focus on obtaining your daily zinc requirement from foods, then use supplements as a backup if necessary.
To a Healthy Spring, Real Foods and Resiliency
Prasad, Ananda S. “Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells.” Molecular medicine (Cambridge, Mass.) vol. 14,5-6 (2008): 353-7. doi:10.2119/2008-00033.Prasad
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
One of the magical things about this time of year are the smells – cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, ginger, fruit fillings and festive colors swirled around on cookies. Many of these powerful aromas stimulate memories and affect brain chemistry in positive ways.
All of these spices that add to the flavor of the winter holiday season have a warming quality, and in medieval times they were valuable for their food preservation effects. Known as “pie spices,” these flavors are indeed wonderful compliments to pies and other baked goods, but they’re also excellent companions to root vegetables, roasted meats, sauces, gravies and more. When flavoring, it helps to think of allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg as sweet; cardamom, cloves, ginger and star anise as pungent; and coriander as peace-making.
The flavors we call Spices’ come from the volatile oils they contain in the seed, berry, and bark. These oils dissipate when they are left out in the open air or a bad quality storage containers. Spices should be stored in airtight and tinted glass containers away from light, heat, and humidity. Whenever possible, buy small quantities and grind your whole spices to ensure fresh flavor.
According to A Guide to Buying and Cooking with Winter Spices
Ginger has been flavoring foods and beverages from antiquity forward. Ginger is versatile with a range of flavors from fresh, zingy and lemony to spicy and hot. It is one of the oldest Asian spices. Gingerbread, as we know it today, descends from Medieval European culinary traditions. Ginger cookies feature prominently on Northern European Christmas tables. Of all the Christmas pastries, the gingerbread cookie was one the one most loved by early American children. A large part of gingerbreads popularity hinged on gingerbread being cheap, and easy to make; a small batch would yield many cookies, and gingerbread dough stood up well under the vagaries of both brick-oven and cook-stove baking.
Cloves are the dried flower buds of a tree native to Indonesia. This aromatic spice is found in kitchens across the globe. The word clove comes from the Latin clavus, which means “nail.” Its “nail heads” can be spiked into foods for a dramatic presentation. Ground cloves lose their volatile oils quickly, so it’s best to grind your own in a coffee grinder. Use pungent cloves sparingly when cooking. They are perfect for roasted meats, baked beans, split pea or bean soups, citrus, stewed and baked fruits, desserts, and pickles.
Allspice is the cured berry of an evergreen tree found in Jamaica. When buying this spice look for dark, red-brown spheres with a rough surface. You should hear the inner seeds rattle when shaken. Ground allspice should be rich, dark brown, highly aromatic but not musty, and a bit oily, never dry. When using them for cooking select whole berries to avoid adding a brown tint to foods. Try allspice in sweet baked goods, Jamaican jerk seasoning, tomato and barbecue sauces, seafood, red meat and curry blends.
Cardamom is called the “Queen of Spices” in its native India. It comes in brown and green forms. Green cardamom is the traditional winter spice. Cardamom pods should be whole, slightly oily and lime green, not pale.
The flavor of cardamom is perfect for sweet and savory foods, especially curries and rice, and citrus. Ground cardamom loses its volatile oils and flavor rapidly. For the best flavor add whole pods, slightly bruised, to dishes cooked with liquids (remove pods before serving). Or split pods to remove the sticky, black seeds and grind seeds in a coffee grinder.
Star Anise as winter spices is beautiful and has a strong licorice flavor. Popularized in the 16th century, it is a relatively new spice to many parts of the world coming from China, Vietnam, India, Japan and the Philippines. Look for whole, reddish-brown stars with little splits that contain a shiny brown seed. When popped, the seed should release a strong, spicy aroma. Ground star anise should be fine and dark; purchase it in small quantities to retain freshness. Star anise pairs perfectly with many savory Asian dishes, most famously Peking duck. It also works well with pork.
Do It Yourself Spice Blend
—Adapted from The Spice and Herb Bible by Ian Hemphill
This blend is the popular way to flavor fruitcakes, shortbread, sweet pies and all kinds of delectable pastries. Mix the following ground spices together:
4 teaspoons coriander seed
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cassia
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon green cardamom seeds
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon cloves
To impart a deliciously aromatic, sweet spice flavor to cakes, biscuits, cookies and pastries, add 2 teaspoons of mixed spice per cup of flour to the dry ingredients. Fruitcakes, mince pies, and rich or sweet foods require up to twice the amount if a distinct flavor is wanted.
Happy Holiday Season filled with Spice, laughter, and love.
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
Recently my husband and I decided late summer was a good time to learn how to ferment drinks and vegetables. A little background: Naturally fermented beverage products called Kombucha, Ginger Beer, and water Kefir are all the rage. Even general purpose markets are now carrying some form of fermented drink. The internet is awash with fermenting kings and queens sharing pictures of their newest delivery, or gadget that aids in your fermenting of kimchee or beet kraut. These predigested or live foods are perfect for the Pacific Northwest, especially Oregon with it’s “Do it Your Self” culture. Don’t confuse pickling with fermenting – they are not the same and do not yield the same health benefits. Fermenting is far older, found in almost every culture and as a live food, the health properties are greater than eating raw, organic or minimally processed foods. Many traditional cured types of meat from Europe are fermented – and not allowed into America by the FDA.
We Oregonians seem to like our independence in several areas but most assuredly in the food department. Part of that comes from the immigrants who built the strong farming and ranching history, of many parts of our state. The Willamette Valley has been producing hops for beer making sense the 1890’s. These same fields also are home to produce, grapes, nut and fruit trees and berries.
In the Oregon Historical Society resides a photo of men in 1950 circ, with their sleeves rolled up shredding cabbage and salting it for fermentation, right in the fields, for sauerkraut. So if they can do it, we thought, so can we…. Not wanting to take on the job of sauerkraut or fist time out, especially as we are working and living in our 29’ RV; we thought this would be an excellent opportunity to save some money on our food budget and learn the art of fermented probiotic drinks. After all, a half gallon glass jar doesn’t take up much room, or require as much space when packed for moving camp to the next job site right? If you haven’t tried any of the fizzy, tangy, and yummy drinks from Dr. Kombucha of Portland or the dozens of others, I encourage you to, and once you see the price on them, you will know why we are learning to make our own.
From past experience we knew sourdough starter could turn into an RV monster, crawling out of the jar, oozing across surfaces, seeping into drains and vents; from the agitation of the RV going down the road. We still have a sleeping bag with white butterfly patterns from sourdough starter escaping a sealed jar, on our pack horse 20 years ago! So surely with our gained knowledge and experience we could contain this next alien life form.
We went to Amazon and ordered a pack of water Kefir grains, assuming all we would need to know would come included with them. Well not really. It seems Kefir does not tolerate metal utensils, likes it between 60 and 70 degrees and takes up to 3 weeks for the grains to become happy in their production of the fizzy electrolyte-rich drink; you had your heart set on. But it is worth it, for the fun, nutrition, and health to be gained by the adventure.
By week 2, we could taste fermentation, but it wasn’t as much as we had hoped for; I went to Amazon again and ordered a book: Delicious Probiotic Drinks by Julia Mueller, a nylon strainer, cheesecloth and more grains. As I write this, I now have 3, half gallon jars at various stages lined up on my tiny RV galley counter – the baby won’t is tasted like we did before, Julia suggests pouring it out as the grains are just beginning to activate. The second jar is our 3-week old grains which are working much faster, and the water kefir is ready to strain and add fruit to after 24 hours. And that is the very bubbly, yummy strawberry lemonade in jar 3. It will be gone by tomorrow afternoon, which is when jar 2 will need to be strained and put on for its second fermentation with fresh fruit. So far we have not had any exploding glass jars, but this adventure is in its early days yet.
Naturally, fermented drinks are cost efficient and beneficial when compared to supplements. They are a simple and tasty way to rebuild your digestive tract from years of eating processed foods, antibiotic and prescription drug use, chlorinated water and stress. AND can be done in an RV galley. If you have IBS, Crohns, or Leaky Gut; these naturally fermented foods are a must, if you expect to heal. The era of eating processed food, using anti-bacterial soaps, and destroying our body’s ability to heal through the wonderful microbiome in our digestive system, is hopefully coming to an end. Traditional foods like these are safe and efficientt ways to rebuild the immune function of the body potentially preventing chronic illness and debilitation age-related dementia. As so many knowledgeable natural health care and integrative providers are learning – “all illness begins in the digestive tract.” Sage words from the past.
To fizzy fun and probiotic health!