Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Beans - Stop the music

I've been thinking about beans. Have you heard of the Paleo Diet or the Caveman Diet?  The idea is that our bodies were better off eating a pre-agricultural diet. I watched a little video intro to the diet and I remember an argument against eating beans something along the lines of, "since you have to soak them and boil them to make them edible, that's a sign our bodies weren't meant to eat them." That just isn't a good enough argument in my book.

I believe there are A LOT of problems with the diet of most people on earth. However, I also believe it is possible for humans to evolve and that different cultures may have evolved to eat and digest different regional menus.

I recently read a post from Whole New Mom about de-gasing your beans using Ajwain and Epazote. It really got me thinking about digestive aids different cultures have developed to accompany their regional cuisine.

I posted on the Israel-Food Yahoo! Group asking if anyone had tried Ajwain and Epazote when cooking beans, if it was available in Israel, and what it is called.  No one had found it in Israel, but I did get some interesting answers I would like to share.


Ruth Baks  wrote,
I have a stash of Ajwain which I bought in India, but have never used it for the purpose of degassing beans. I don't know if it's available here. If you want to try it, you can get a bit from me.

I never heard of Ajwain being used in India for degassing beans. Indians I cooked with use a pinch of Hing /asafoetida for this purpose. Also, according to research conducted in India, adding fresh or dried garlic and ginger to a pot of cooking beans can reduce their gas-producing properties.

Beans contain oligosaccharides, a type of sugar which the enzymes in the small intestine cannot fully digest. The undigested sugars pass to the bowel where they become fermented by bacteria. The end result is gas.

To prevent gastric upset, cooks have come up with all sorts of tricks: some add a tiny bit (1/8 teaspoon) of baking soda to the pot when cooking beans (note: this destroys nutrients!) - others swear by adding a few slices of potato.

Every culture has developed it's own folk remedies for addressing the gas problem based upon ingredients locally available. While Indians may use Hing /asafoetida, garlic and ginger, Japanese cooks (or Macrobiotics) add a piece of Kombu (seaweed) to the bean pot. (Dried Kombu is available in Israel at health food stores and at shops that carry Asian food supplies.)

Often digestives are also taken after the meal; in India a small dish of fennel or anise seed (both effective gas busters) is passed at the table following a meal. Chewing these seeds not only freshens the breath, it releases their digestive aiding properties. Sage and dill also help prevent intestinal gas, as does Peppermint. Menthol, the active ingredient in peppermint, is a proven muscle relaxant (think Bengay) and is commonly found in antacids. Licorice tasting Arak, a liquor popular with Jews from Arab countries, achieves similar results.

Regarding beans, here's what I do: pick through the beans, place in a strainer and rinse well. Combine in a pot with at least triple the volume of water and bring to boil. Cook for 5 minutes. Cover and turn off heat; let sit overnight. Next day, discard the water (which has leached out much of the oligosaccharides) then rinse the beans thoroughly under running water. They are now ready to cook.

Works for me.

You can experiment with different 'add ons' to aid in gas-busting, and the place to start is with what's locally available.


Mikhoyel Basherives wrote,
[Epazote is] very Mexican. Many people add it to beans the last 15 minutes of cooking. I occasionally see seeds of it for planting. Here in northern California I grow it like a large weed and use it fresh though rarely. I
 think it's an acquired taste. It has an unusual smell. I've come to like it in stews. I find it interesting that it is traditionally Mexican yet most of my Mexican friends say that though they know it "I think my grandmother used to cook with it" they themselves don't use it. Only one friend asks me almost every year to get him several plants (I have a small plant shop). I don't know why he doesn't grow it from his own seeds each year. An American friend who lived in Mexico many years asked me if I was sure I wanted it in my yard since it
 spreads so invasively. So far here on the cool coast it hasn't done so. Sometimes I think the gas problem mostly disappears after a while once you start eating beans on a regular basis. My Mexican friend Juanita is the only Mexican I've ever met who wouldn't eat beans ever.


Gavriela  wrote,
When I lived in the states, I bought Ajwain in an Indian store. have not seen it here.
 My daughter - married to a Tunisian - told me that her husband's family uses kimmel [caraway] for the same effect. I have not tried it



Sarah Meir in Jerusalem  wrote,
Indians use a large pinch of turmeric and a couple of thin slices of fresh
ginger added to the cooking water. I find it works well.



Did you know you can get all your essential proteins at a meal by combining beans with nuts or seeds? Think hummus with tehina/tehini (garbanzo beans with sesame seeds).

How do you take your beans?

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