Enjoy Nutrient-Packed Avocados in Many Shapes and Forms

Avocados: Versatile and Healthful Superfood

All About Avocados

Let’s clear something up right away – contrary to popular belief, the avocado is a fruit. The green color of avocados, and their lack of sweetness, can trick you into thinking they’re vegetables; however, not only is an avocado a fruit, it’s a berry. Call it what you may, however, avocados are incredibly healthy and wonderfully versatile and, if you’re unfamiliar with this amazing fruit, it’s time to be introduced.

History of Avocados

Archaeologists have found evidence of wild-avocado consumption in central Mexico going back almost 10,000 years in central Mexico, and it is believed that people began cultivating avocados about 5,000 years ago. Fifteenth-century Spanish navigator Martin Fernandez De Encisco set out on his quest to discover the “New World,” and came upon a fruit in the port town of Yaharo, Mexico, that, he wrote, “looks like an orange but turns yellowish when it is ready to be eaten.” He went on to explain the wonderful flavor of the fruit, which tastes “like butter” and is “so good and pleasing to the palate.” Later, Spanish historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo discovered the fruit in the northern part of South America. He identified the avocado tree as a variation of a pear tree in Spain and said that the fruit, “is the color and shape of pears, and the rind somewhat thicker, but softer, and in the center of the fruit is a seed like a peeled chestnut.” He goes on to say that between the peel and the pit “is the part which is eaten, and is a paste very similar to butter and … of good taste.”

Neither Encisco nor Oviedo named the fruit, leaving that to explorer Pedro de Cieza de Leon who referred to it as “aguacate” in his mid-16th century writings and said that the fruit was widely used by the people from the Inca civilization. The Spanish conquistadors eventually brought avocados to Europe and sold them to other countries including England. However, the name avocado appeared for the first time in naturalist Sir Hans Sloane’s catalog of Jamaican plants, which was published in 1696. He described the tree and called it, “the avocado or alligator pear-tree, which grows in gardens and fields throughout Jamaica.”

Avocados in the United States

Henry Perrine, a horticulturist, first planted avocados in Florida in the 1830, although they didn’t become a commercial crop until 70 or 80 years later. While they were widely eaten in Florida, California and Hawaii, where they were grown, the rest of the country was ambivalent about the green fruit and the avocado didn’t start gaining country-wide popularity until the 1950s and ‘60s. By the 1990s, though, the California Avocado Commission had succeeded in spreading the word about the avocado’s nutritional value via TV commercials, convincing Americans that avocado-based guacamole was the perfect food for snacking at sporting events or while watching the game at home, leading sports-crazed Americans to embrace the avocado in all its incarnations.
Today, Americans consume over 80 million pounds of avocados per year, mainly in the form of guacamole, the dip that contains mashed avocados, a fair amount of salt, and anything else you have on hand.

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Learn About the History and Nutritional Value of Cinnamon

Cinnamon: Loaded with Flavor and Health Benefits

The Wonders of Cinnamon

Cinnamon is an ancient spice that is widely used in modern times due to its amazing flavor. Today, cinnamon is one of the world’s most popular spices, sprinkled on lattes; indispensable at Thanksgiving; and awesome on French toast. Much like salt, cinnamon is an ingredient that, while often taken for granted, adds depth of flavor, inviting warmth, and multi-faceted dimension to our food. Cinnamon has a long history and an abundance of uses. Let’s learn more.

Cinnamon Basics

The website, Cinnamon Vogue, is a one-stop shop for information about the spice. The site explains that the cinnamon tree is a tropical evergreen, the parts of which can be broken down and used for an assortment of purposes. The bark from the tree can be rolled into sticks that can be used in stick form or ground into cinnamon powder – the most widely used form of cinnamon. The leaves of the cinnamon tree can be steamed and distilled into oil, and the bark can be further broken down into chips (to throw into a fireplace, for instance).

All cinnamon trees – and there are a number of species – are members of the genus Cinnamomum in the Lauraceae family, although not all of the species are grown commercially. Cinnamomum verum is sometimes referred to as “true cinnamon” (more on that controversy later), but most internationally produced cinnamon is called “cassia.” The world’s supply of cinnamon is largely provided by Indonesia and China, which together produce about 75% of the global supply of the spice.

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Discover the Health Values and History of Chocolate

Fill Your Senses with Fabulous Chocolate

Wonderful, Delicious, Healthy Chocolate

Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food: we reach for it in times of stress, it improves our mood when the going gets rough, and it is downright delicious under any circumstances. Amazingly, after years of getting a bad rap, as unhealthy and high in sugar, chocolate is experiencing a renaissance of sorts and research now shows that high-quality chocolate, in moderation, is actually good for us. That’s a win-win situation for the chocoholics among us – which is pretty much everyone, right?

The History of Chocolate

In “A Brief History of Chocolate,” the Smithsonian Institute Magazine interviews Alexander Leaf, who runs Chocolate Tours of New York. As Leaf says, chocolate is “the best-known food that nobody knows anything about.” Etymologists trace the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which was a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. Today, the term “cacao” is usually used to refer to the plant or its beans before processing, while the term “chocolate” refers to anything that is made from the beans.

Chocolate has been around for about 2,000 years, though some experts claim that it may be even older. Recently, anthropologists discovered cacao residue on pottery excavated in Honduras that could date back as far as 1400 B.C.! In pre-modern Latin America, cacao beans were considered so valuable that they were used as currency. And the ancient Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical properties, using it in many rituals related to birth, marriage and death.

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Enjoy Peaches and Nectarines in Summer Recipes

Peaches and Nectarines: The Pinnacle of Summer Fruit

The Great Stone-Fruit War

Peaches and nectarines are, for many, the peak of summer fruit. Sweet, juicy, and delicious, this duo of nature’s bounty – so similar, yet so different – is completely irresistible. Both peaches and nectarines are considered stone fruit —fruit that has a hard, large pit (the stone) surrounded by sweet flesh. Learn more about peaches and nectarines now – moments before they hit the fruit stands.

Peaches vs Nectarines

Nectarines and peaches are basically the same, except for the fuzz, or lack thereof. Contrary to popular belief, nectarines are not a cross between a peach and a plum. Typically, nectarines are smaller and firmer than peaches, but both have either yellow or white flesh on the inside. So while they might look slightly different on the outside, their insides are very much alike. Their genetics are nearly identical as well – aside from a recessive gene in nectarines that gives them their smooth skin, versus the peaches’ fuzzy skin.

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Discover the Health Benefits and Delicious Taste of Turmeric

Turmeric: A Flavorful and Healthy Exotic Spice

Turmeric: From the Middle East to… Everywhere

Middle Eastern cuisine in general, and Mid-Eastern spices, in particular, are big trends this year, with caterers using exotic tastes to lure trend-savvy clients. Dishes spiced with turmeric are popping up everywhere due to their amazing taste and turmeric’s powerful health benefits. Learn more about turmeric here and start using this increasingly popular spice in more of your dishes.

Turmeric: Background

A prominent member of the ginger family, turmeric has been used in East India and the Middle East for thousands of years, but only lately has it become one of the most popular spices in the world. Turmeric is packed with the powerful medicinal properties of curcumin, which research indicates may have strong anti-inflammatory properties. In ancient times, turmeric was used to treat a wide variety of conditions, such as jaundice, toothaches, bruises, chest pain, and colic.

The name “turmeric” is derived from the Persian word for “saffron,” and the spice provides the intense color of the pricey spice, as well as classic yellow mustard and curry powder. A domesticated plant, with a peppery flavor and a mild kick, turmeric it is grown primarily in India, while Indonesia, the Philippines, and China are also major producers of the spice.

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So Many Uses for Strawberries: Nature’s Candy

Strawberries: The Widely Loved Spring and Summer Offering

The Wondrous Strawberry

As winter morphs into spring, it’s time for everyone’s favorite fruit to hit the marketplace: strawberries. Although strawberries are available in most places all year ‘round, their peak seasons – when they’re at their reddest, juiciest, and most delectable – are spring and summer. Their sweetness and juiciness have earned them a reputation of being nature’s candy, loved by children and adults alike. Whether you like your strawbs straight up, dipped in sugar, or smothered in whipped cream, now is the time to put them on your produce list and bring them home to enjoy.

A Few Strawberry Facts

Strawberries are members of the Rosaceae family, and they are known botanically as Fragaria ananassa. Technically and botanically speaking, strawberries, like raspberries, aren’t really berries. While true berries stem from one flower with one ovary and typically have several seeds, strawberries are derived from a single flower with more than one ovary, making them what is known as an “aggregate” fruit, fruits that develop from multiple ovaries of a single fruit.

Real berries have seeds on the inside of the fruit, while a strawberry wears its seeds on its exterior. (The definition of a berry as something produced from one flower with one ovary containing seeds on the inside means that some of the lesser known berries are bananas, pumpkins, avocadoes, tomatoes, watermelons, and kiwis… strange but true.)

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Discover the Health Values and Uses of Dates

Dates: Healthful and Sweet Fruit

Dates: Sweet and Luscious Fruit

Dates – the dried yet succulent morsels of amber-brown deliciousness that, at the same time, are healthy and satisfy our craving for sweetness – are the fruit of a tree known as the date palm. Dates are among the oldest cultivated fruits in the world, first thriving in the Middle East and now grown all over the globe. There are over 2,000 varieties of dates, but the medjool date is the most common type of dates grown in the United States.

Dates: Background

The name “date” is derived from the Greek word daktylos, which means finger, probably because dates are more or less shaped like the fingers of the hand. In the Middle East and Northern Africa, dates have been grown for thousands of years as a profitable agricultural product. (The date palm is the national symbol of both Israel and Saudi Arabia.) Date palms are found in abundance in the desert (one of the few crops that grow in such arid, hot, and challenging conditions) and many parts of the Middle East would be uninhabitable were it not for this type of tree.

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The Revival of the Nutrition-Packed Root Vegetable

Root Vegetables are Making a Comeback

The Root Vegetable Revival

Several factors are taking root vegetables out of the culinary (and metaphorical) cellar and onto plates everywhere. The trend among restaurants and caterers to use locally grown ingredients has spread to the home cook, as well, and many people are shopping in farmers’ markets for the freshest produce possible. And, as people make the shift from a supermarket state of mind to a local-market mentality, the root vegetable is making a comeback.

Nutritious, Delicious Root Vegetables

Root vegetables, particularly potatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes, have long been considered staples, albeit neither glamorous nor exciting. Now, however, retro is in and the lowly root vegetable has gone from staid and boring to hip and trendy. Root vegetables are literally the roots of a plant. Some root vegetables — carrots, radishes, beets and sweet potatoes — are familiar to just about everyone, while others, such as parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi, celery root, Jerusalem artichokes, and ginger, are a bit more esoteric.

Strictly speaking, a root vegetable is the underground, edible portion of a plant. Botanists make distinctions between “true roots” and “tuberous roots” and other non-roots that grow below ground such as “tubers” and “rhizomes” and “bulbs.” The root is one of six parts of a plant: the root, the stem, the leaves, the flowers, the fruits and the seeds. Plants anchor themselves into the ground with their roots, drawing moisture and nutrients through the roots into the above-ground stems and leaves. Many of these roots are inedible; however, root vegetables are the roots of certain plants that swell up to form an edible root.

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Endless Uses for the Many Varieties of Mushrooms

Mushrooms: The Fungi That is Loved Around the World

Mushrooms: The King of Fungi

Although most people treat mushrooms as vegetables, they are part of the fungi family, which means they don’t need soil or light to grow. Mushrooms, unlike fruits and vegetables, do not contain chlorophyll and so they do not photosynthesize. Mushrooms are just one of the many species of fungi that exist; however, because there are so many different species, they have been given their own kingdom: the Kingdom of Fungi.

The History of Mushrooms

Although undocumented, there is a good chance that mushrooms have been eaten for as long as there are people inhabiting the Earth. Before mushrooms were cultivated, they grew wild, and our ancestors ate mushrooms that they found in fields and forests. Historians have seen wild mushrooms on the menus of the Romans, Aztecs, and Egyptians, who considered mushrooms to be the “food of the Gods.”

The shift from edible wild mushrooms to cultivated mushrooms began in the middle of the seventeenth century, when a French melon grower accidentally poured water, used to wash wild mushrooms, over some melons discarded in a field. He soon noticed that many mushrooms sprouted in the spot, launching the era of cultivated mushrooms. The mushroom was named the “champignon de Paris,” which has since become the most common and versatile mushroom in the world.

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An Amuse-Bouche is a Tasty Way to Welcome Guests to Your Home or Restaurant

Amuse-Bouche: Entertain Guests with a Bite-Sized Surprise

Amuse-Bouche: Current Culinary Phenomenon

In upscale restaurants around the world – and, nowadays, at home-cooked dinner parties – the amuse-bouche is having a moment. Once the mainstay of French chefs alone, these bite-size hors d’oeuvres aren’t just reserved for fancy restaurants anymore. These tiny bites served just before a meal are a clever way for chefs and amateur cooks alike to show off their skills, welcome their guests, and give a small peek into what is about to come.

Not Just for the French

Amuse-bouche (pronounced amuse boosh), means “to amuse the mouth” in French, and that is exactly what restaurant chefs and home cooks who serve these little bundles of culinary joy are setting out to do. The goal is to entertain guests with a beautiful, bite-size surprise that delights almost all the senses. Amuse-bouches are not to be confused with palate cleansers (also known as intermezzo) as these are served between courses, while amuse-bouches are classically offered before the meal begins to prepare guests for what comes next and to tantalize and stimulate the taste buds.

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