Monday, January 26, 2009

MKS's Log: A new take on fake

Still waiting for the recipe inspiration to hit. In the meantime, I've been scheming.

If you ask any health-conscious vegan why they avoid fake meats, I bet one or more of these reasons will turn up in their explanations:

-Egg protein and/or casein (dairy protein) are found in a lot of these meats, rendering them very much NOT VEGAN. (In my head I'm imagining the NOT VEGAN sound byte from Vegan Freak Radio.)
-Soy protein isolate. Vegan, but extremely unhealthy. In the words of Dr. John McDougall, "You may as well eat meat." Here's why. (Scroll to the section titled "Calcium Loss and Cancer Growth from Protein Concentrates".)
-Isolated wheat gluten is used as a binder and a texture enhancer in a lot of commercially available fake meats. Wheat gluten may very well be the most potent and common food allergen, and it can cause unpleasant digestive and skin conditions for sensitive people. Along with casein, it is also thought to enhance the symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders. (I'm not going to provide a link for this one, but google "wheat gluten autism" and witness the debate for yourself.)
-Fat. Some fake meats are loaded with any and every kind of oil you can imagine just to simulate the feeling of biting into a 30% fat ground chuck burger.

While there are many reasons to avoid commercially available fake meats, that doesn't make fake meats out of the question. There are perfectly good replacements for the proteins, texture enhancers, binders, and fats listed above.

For protein: Instead of relying on soy protein isolate, use enzymatically processed rice protein powder (available at health food stores and gyms). You can mix it into baked goods, and use it in lentil balls and lentil loaf. Rice protein is a perfect compliment to bean and lentil proteins, therefore adding rice protein will not only increase the amount of protein in otherwise grain-free meats, it will enhance the quality of the protein already present. Enzymatically processed rice protein producers tout their low-temperature production method as not destroying any of the amino acids in the finished product, but uncooked rice also contains higher levels of lectins, which are proteins apparently capable of causing stomach upset, and possibly inhibiting nutrient absorption, among other nasty things. So, baking this stuff might actually be the better bet.

For binders and texture enhancers: Use xanthan gum and flax "gluten". Xanthan gum is something that is commonly used to replace wheat gluten in gluten-free baking. It is GRAS (generally recognized as safe) but I don't want to make a habit of using it in large amounts. A little will go a long way to provide a (I hate using this adjective) meaty texture. Flax "gluten" is not only a great binder, but it also provides omega-3 fatty acids even post-baking. Flax is also a very highly anti-inflammatory food.

For fats: Instead of adding isolated fats, grind up whole, raw pumpkin seeds in a coffee grinder, and add the meal to a fake meat mix. Pumpkin seeds are very rich in iron, vitamin K, and protein. Pumpkin seed meal also adds a rich, (I don't want to use that adjective again) flavor to any fake meat.

(In case you're wondering why using the word "meaty" bothers me, but talking about fake meats does not, I am wondering that as well. I think that there's some latent guilt present for even wanting something so close to the "original", animal carcass that it is...)

So, there you have it: Fake meats to feel good about. I guess I should write some recipes about now...

Friday, January 23, 2009

In the spirit of health: Healthier spirits!

Two substances in red wine are thought to have a positive impact on cardiovascular health, and those are the alcohol in the red wine, and the resveratrol in the grape component.

While drinking any alcoholic beverage in moderation can provide potentially beneficial alcohol, not all contain other health promoting compounds like resveratrol. That doesn't mean that they cannot be added, though, along with some pizzazzy flavors. (I dedicate my use of the word 'pizzazzy' to Rachel Maddow for inspiring me to utilize some quirky linguistic creativity.) For some great creative mixing potential, a spice-infused vodka can be a wonderful tasting experience that provides beneficial phyto-nutrients and antioxidants to boot.

For a basic cinnamon-ginger vodka you'll want to begin with a liter of good kettle-made vodka. Ketel One is good, although if you can find something of similar quality made closer to home that might be a better bet. Dehydrated whole ginger root will work best as an infusing spice, but if you can't find dehydrated whole ginger at your local supermarket fresh whole ginger will work as well. You'll want to use a whole medium-small size root to infuse a liter of vodka. Find some cheap cinnamon sticks, too -- you'll need four or five to infuse a liter of vodka. Slice the dehydrated or fresh ginger into small enough pieces to fit into the mouth of the bottle, and place the 4-5 cinnamon sticks in as well. Unfortunately, some of the vodka might be displaced when the spices are being added, but that's a sacrifice that sometimes has to be made for the greater vodka. The other sacrifice that has to be made for this greater vodka is a bit of a wait. Specificaly, the vodka should be allowed to infuse for at least a week, at the end of which it will have turned a dark, rich amber color. It will also smell absolutely amazing.

I'm not too up to speed on the benefits of cinnamon and ginger, but I've heard that ginger is extremely anti-inflammatory, and cinnamon can help to moderate blood sugar levels. I think I heard that cinnamon bit from a slightly new-agey source, though, so you might want to check on that one. The thing about ginger being anti-inflammatory came from The Man Himself, Dr. Michael Greger, so you can take that to the bank. (In case you haven't figured it out, I really appreciate Dr. Greger's skeptical inquiry into health issues, and I trust the guy's word quite a bit.)

So, health issues aside, what exactly can you make with this stuff? I usually like to mix a little juice and a little mineral water with regular vodka, and I found that the same will work with this infused vodka. You just have to take into consideration the new flavors of the vodka and add a juice that will meld well with them. Cinnamon and ginger pair really well with orange juice and, surprisingly, with black cherry juice. My favorite mixture (so far) is:

-~1.5 teaspoons black cherry juice concentrate
-1 oz cinnamon ginger vodka
-2.5 oz mineral water (as in Perrier, but a less expensive brand is perfectly fine)

It's truly a taste sensation worthy of a fancy glass, a comfy chair, and a good book. An episode of The Rachel Maddow Show works, too. (Here's to Rachel Maddow. Cheers!)