How to make tahini

How to make tahini at homeTahini is so good. It has a smoky, nutty flavour that works well in so many dishes – sweet and savoury. I use tahini in salad dressings, in sauces, on eggs (in fact I had this homemade tahini on eggs this morning and I will describe these awesome eggs below), in dips, in brownies, in slices and even in my coconut milk ‘ice cream’. So I thought it was about time I had a go at making my own. It turns out it is very easy and the texture is great too. I actually prefer the texture of my homemade tahini to the store bought tahini. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Oven roast your sesame seeds at 160°C for about 15 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown. Do this on a silicon based baking tray or line a baking tray with baking paper. I started with 1 and a ½ cups of sesame seeds and this produced half a jar. Next time I would go with at least 2 cups because I figure if I am going to put in that effort then I may as well make a decent amount.

Step 2: Add the roasted sesame seeds to a food processor and process until the sesame seeds, basically, turn into tahini. You will need to scrape the sides of the food processor with a spoon during this process. This took no longer than 10 minutes (I wasn’t timing to be honest).

Step 3: Pour your delicious tahini into a clean jar and enjoy!

Not only is tahini delicious and versatile, but it also has beneficial properties. Sesame seeds contain about 50% fat, predominantly in the form of the polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) linoleic acid (1, 2). PUFAs have been shown to have cardiovascular protective effects (3). Be mindful, however, that due to the high fat content of sesame seeds, tahini is high in calories (like all nut and seed butters), so if you are actively trying to lose weight I suggest you limit the amount you eat. As well as the oil, sesame seeds also contain about 20% protein, a range of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamin B. The most interesting compounds in sesame seeds are the sesame lignans, which include sesamin, sesamolin and sesaminol. I have previously talked about these lignans in my post ‘Low carb bibimbap’. Research into these lignans has shown that they display antioxidant properties (4), meaning these compounds can scavenge free radicals, which are believed to contribute to life style diseases such as circulatory disorders and aging. Additionally, research conducted on lignans has shown serum lipid lowering and cholesterol lowering effects in experimental animals (5-7) and humans (8).

Homemade tahini on eggsSo you are probably wondering about the cost. Did I save money by making my own tahini? Well I paid $9.00/kg for sesame seeds and I used about 250 grams ($2.25) to make approximately half a jar. I normally pay $5.10 for a full jar of tahini, so I could potentially save myself 60 cents per jar. 60 cents does not sound like much but I buy a jar of tahini almost every fortnight, so that is $15.60 a year. If I could buy sesame seeds even cheaper then I could save even more. Will I continue to make my own tahini? If I have the time then yes, I probably would as I quite enjoyed the process and I enjoyed the texture. Plus there was no added oil – just sesame seeds. I had scrambled eggs, vegetables and lentils this morning with my delicious homemade tahini on top, along with cottage cheese, extra sesame seeds, salt, pepper and some homemade fermented sweet chilli sauce – similar to sriracha. I may post this recipe soon. Have a go at making tahini. You will be impressed.

  1. Beroza M & Kinman ML (1955) Sesamin, sesamolin and sesamol content of the oil of sesame seed as affected by strain, location growth, aging, and frost damage. J Am Oil Chem Soc 32:348-350.
  2. Chen P, et al. (2005) Dietary sesame reduces serum cholesterol and enhances antioxidant capacity in hypercholesterolemia. Nutr Res 25:559-567.
  3. Morris MC (1994) Dietary fats and blood pressure. Journal of cardiovascular risk 1(1):21-30.
  4. Fukuda Y, Nagate M, Osawa T, & Namiki M (1986) Chemical aspects of the antioxidative activity of unroasted sesame seed oil and the effect of using the oil for frying. Agri Biol Chem 50:857.
  5. Hirose N, et al. (1991) Inhibition of cholesterol absorption and synthesis in rats by sesamin. Journal of lipid research 32(4):629-638.
  6. Ide T, et al. (2001) Sesamin, a sesame lignan, decreases fatty acid synthesis in rat liver accompanying the down-regulation of sterol regulatory element binding protein-1. Biochimica et biophysica acta 1534(1):1-13.
  7. Sugano M, et al. (1990) Influence of sesame lignans on various lipid parameters in rats. Agric Biol Chem Tokyo 54:2669-2673.
  8. Alipoor B, Haghighian MK, Sadat BE, & Asghari M (2012) Effect of sesame seed on lipid profile and redox status in hyperlipidemic patients. International journal of food sciences and nutrition 63(6):674-678.

How to make sunflower seed butter plus a Sesame chicken salad with a sunflower seed dressing

How to make sunflower seed butterI made some sunflower seed butter over the weekend for the first time and it turned out very well. I would describe the taste as a cross between peanut butter and tahini; smoky but creamy. It was very tasty and cheap too. I purchased a packet of sunflower seeds from Aldi for $2.49. I also picked up a silicone-based 20cm x 20cm baking tray for $4.99, which was perfect for roasting the sunflower seeds. I simply roasted 1 ½ cups of seeds in the oven at 160°C for about 15 minutes (or until the seeds started to turn golden brown). I then processed them in the food processor for about 10 minutes until they formed a creamy butter. I added a sprinkle of sea salt during the processing and I had to scrape the sides with a spoon a couple of times during the processing. Very easy. It is also quite healthy with sunflower seed butter containing more monounsaturated fat, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, manganese and vitamin E compared to peanut butter (1), although, bear in mind that like any nut or seed butter, it is high in calories.

Below is a recipe for a Sesame chicken salad with a dressing made with the sunflower seed butter.

Sunflower chicken salad 2

Sesame chicken salad with sunflower butter dressing

Makes 2 serves or 1 large salad

Ingredients

1 chicken breast, cubed

1 brown onion, finely sliced

1 clove garlic, finely minced

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

½ teaspoon sesame oil

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Sprinkle of chilli flakes

Sunflower butter dressing

2 tablespoons sunflower seed butter

½ cup light coconut milk

1 tablespoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon rice wine vinegar

¼ ground ginger

Sprinkle chilli flakes

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Lettuce, shredded

½ red capsicum, diced

1 carrot, grated into ribbons

Extra sunflower seeds to sprinkle on top

Utensils

Large bowl

Spoon

Sharp knife

Chopping board

Non-stick fry pan

Measuring cups and spoons

Small microwave safe mixing bowl

Salad bowl (or just put it directly onto plates to save washing up)

Sunflower chicken salad

Method

  • If you have time, marinate the chicken and onion in the garlic, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, ginger and chilli for at least 30 minutes.
  • Add the marinated chicken breast along with about ¼ cup of water to a non-stick fry pan and cook over high-medium heat.
  • To make the salad dressing, mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Microwave for 1 minute then stir further until all the ingredients are well combined.
  • Prepare the salad in a salad bowl and top with the Sesame chicken and sunflower butter dressing.
  1. Thomas R and Gebhardt S (2010) Sunflower and almond butter as nutrient-rich alternatives to peanut butter. American dietetic association, Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo. Boston, MA. http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Aricles/ADA10_SunflowerAlmondButter.pdf, accessed on 08-03-2013.

How to make a great mugcake

Carrot mugcakeI felt that my mugcakes were doomed to fail. They always seemed to turn out gluggy and misshapen and even with clumps of cocoa powder or protein powder that had not been mixed in properly. However, being a scientist, I am used to repeated failure so I continued to attempt to perfect my mugcakes. I have now realised that the secret to a great mugcake is to use a food processor (or blender) to process the mixture before pouring it into the mug for microwaving. While this introduces an additional wash up step, it is worth if for the even, fluffy texture that is achieved in the resulting mugcake.

Carrot mugcake 2Why spend all this time troubleshooting my mugcake method? Mugcakes make a tasty, satisfying, low carb, protein rich breakfast option, when made with the correct ingredients. High quality protein is provided by the egg white and whey protein powder, coconut milk adds a quality fat source, making them satisfying, and coconut flour keeps the mugcake relatively low in carbs while providing a source of dietary fibre. Plus the flavour possibilities are endless. This morning I opted for a Carrot mugcake using one large carrot, as well as cinnamon, ground ginger and nutmeg. This mugcake turned out to be pretty huge so I sliced it in half and topped it with a Lemon ricotta cream. Other tasty mugcake varieties I have made include Chocolate and tahini and Chocolate and blueberry. So if you are looking for healthy and delicious way to start your day, then try a mugcake.

Carrot mugcakesCarrot mugcake

Makes 1 large mugcake

Ingredients

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1 egg white

1 scoop of a good quality vanilla whey protein powder

½ cup of light coconut milk

1 ½ tablespoons coconut flour

½ teaspoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

Sprinkle of ground ginger and nutmeg

Lemon ricotta cream

2 tablespoons reduced fat ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon coconut cream or milk

2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt

½ teaspoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon stevia

A few drops of vanilla extract

Utensils

Chopping board

Sharp knife

Food processor

Measuring cups and spoons

Large mug

Butter knife

Small mixing bowl

Spoon

Method

  • Add the chopped carrot to a food processor and process until the carrot is finely chopped. Add in the remaining ingredients for the mugcake and process until the mixture is of an even consistency.
  • Pour the mugcake mixture into the mug and microwave for 4 – 5 minutes. The mugcake will rise quite considerably.
  • Remove the mugcake from the mug by running a butter knife around the inside edge of the mug and turn the mug upside down. Slice the mugcake in half and smother it with the Lemon ricotta cream.
  • To make the Lemon ricotta cream, add all the ingredients into a small mixing bowl and mix well until the mixture is smooth and an even consistency is achieved.

How to make kimchi plus everything you always wanted to know about fermented foods

Kimchi daysFermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kombucha, have become increasingly popular in the health space at the moment. I have been making sauerkraut at home for several years in the belief that the bacteria responsible for the fermentation of the cabbage, lactic acid bacteria (LAB), predominantly Lactobacillus plantarum, would contribute to the diversity of my gut microbiota. As a research scientist in the field of bacterial pathogenesis, this made sense to me. Now that I have started this blog and have been writing more in depth articles about health related topics, I started thinking about what actual research has been conducted on the health benefits of fermented foods and do the bacteria within fermented foods actually survive the harsh conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, particularly the stomach? Hence I put together this review (supported by peer-reviewed science) about everything I always wanted to know regarding fermented foods.

What are fermented foods?

Fermentation is a predominantly anaerobic process, meaning without oxygen, carried out by microorganisms or cells in which sugars, such as glucose, are converted to other compounds, such as alcohol, for the purpose of energy production. Typically bacteria and yeast, which undergo lactic acid fermentation and ethanol fermentation, respectively, are used in the fermentation of foods. The unique flavours and textures of fermented foods are due to the different species of bacteria and yeast used.

Humans have fermented foods for thousands of years all throughout the world, with particular foods being unique to certain ethnic groups (1). Not only does the fermentation of foods add to the flavour and texture, but fermentation also improves the shelf-life of food. It is believed that fermentation processes were originally developed as a way to preserve fruit and vegetables during times of scarcity (2). The fermentation of food can occur spontaneously by the natural LAB surface microflora or by the use of a starter culture (3).

Types of fermented foods

Fermented diary

Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are the main bacteria involved in the production of fermented dairy products, such as yoghurt, cheese and kefir milk, where they convert lactose (the main sugar in milk) to lactic acid. This results in an increased acidity making the growth of other microorganisms unfavourable. The most common LAB involved in the fermentation of dairy include members of the genera Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Leuonostoc, Enterococcus and Lactococcus. Bifidobacteria are also included in fermented milk products. (4). Yoghurt is typically produced by using a culture of L. delbrueckii subp. bulgaricus and S. thermophiles (5).

During the fermentation of dairy a number of beneficial compounds are produced by the metabolic activity of LAB, propionibacteria, yeast and mould. The content of vitamin B-12, folic acid and biotin are enriched during the fermentation of milk by LAB (6). Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which I have previously discussed, is also increased in fermented milk (7). Bioactive peptides with reported antihypertensive, antimicrobial, antioxidative and immune-modulatory activities are released by the activity of LAB in fermented milk products (8). Galactooligosaccharide, which is synthesized by LAB from lactose, has a prebiotic effect on intestinal microbiota, meaning it promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut (9). In addition, yoghurt in particular is a rich source of dietary minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc (10). The concentration of these minerals is nearly 50% higher in yoghurt than in milk (11). The acidic environment created by fermentation with LAB can enhance the bioavailability of these minerals. Furthermore, yoghurt is also an excellent source of essential amino acids. The amount of free amino acids is increased due to the pre-digestion of milk proteins by the activity of bacterial cultures, allowing for better protein digestibility (12).

Harmful compounds, including mycotoxins and biogenic amines can also contaminate fermented dairy products, however, strict regulatory standards are set by international agencies for the monitoring of these substances and reliable methods to detect these compounds have been developed (13-16).

Large cohort studies conducted in the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark found that fermented milk products were significantly associated with decreased disease states. These disease states includ bladder cancer, cardiovascular disease and periondontitis (17-19).

Kombucha

Kombucha has become a popular fermented beverage. It is a sweetened black tea fermented by a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, meaning that both the bacteria and yeast live in close physical association and have a mutually beneficial relationship. The interaction of these microorganisms results in a floating cellulose layer on the surface of the fermented tea, which becomes thicker the longer it is fermented. The species that constitute the bacterial component of kombucha cultures are the acetic acid bacteria Acetobacter xylinum, A. xylinoides, Bacterium gluconicum, A. suboxydans, Gluconbacter liquefaciens, A. aceti and A. pasteruians and LAB including Lactobacillus bulgaricus (20).

The earliest known use of this beverage was by Dr. Kombu in 220BC who used it to cure the digestive troubles of Japan’s emperor (I did not make this up!) (21). The main metabolites found in kombucha are acetic acid, lactic, gluconic and glucuronic acids (22, 23). Kombucha also contains polyphenols, amino acids, vitamins and a variety of micronutrients (24).

Not a lot of studies have been conducted on the health benefits of kombucha. However, I did discover that kombucha contains the compound D-saccharic acid-1,4-lactone (DSL). DSL is a derivative of D-glucaric or saccharic acid (25) and is known to possess antioxidative properties (26). The chronic hyperglycemia associated with diabetes mellitus results in oxidative stress due to the overproduction of reactive oxygen species causing tissue damage such as renal (kidney) injury (27). Studies investigating the effects of feeding DSL to diabetic rats found that DSL was able to reduce renal injury and oxidative stress in the kidney tissues. The authors of this study speculate that this is due to the ability of DSL to maintain intracellular antioxidant machineries, such as the antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione reductase, at normal levels (28, 29).

Fermented vegetables

The fermentation of vegetables by LAB is recognized as a simple and valuable method to maintain and enhance the safety, nutritional quality and the shelf life of vegetables. This method is particularly important when access to fresh vegetables is limited.

The most commercially significant fermented vegetables are cabbage, in the form of sauerkraut and kimchi, cucumbers, in the form of pickles, and olives. Typically the fermentation of vegetables occurs spontaneously by the surface microbiota, however, starter cultures are also used. Starter cultures can speed up the fermentation process, ensure reliability of the final product, prevent the risk of fermentation failure and assist with the inhibition of spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms (30).

Lactic fermentation has been shown to enhance the nutritional value of foods, including vegetables. Lactic fermentation of maize, soybeans and sorghum (a grain) reduces the content of phytate, a well-known inhibitor of iron and zinc absorption (31). It has also been shown that fermentation of maize enhances the bioavailability iron (32). A recent study published in the European journal of Nutrition found that the reason for the increased bioavailability of iron in lactic-fermented vegetables compared to fresh vegetables is due to an increase in the concentration of hydrated ferric iron (Fe3+) which may be more favourable for iron absorption (33).

One of the metabolites produced by the LAB responsible for the fermentation of vegetables, known as bacteriocins (antimicrobial compounds which are discussed later), has attracted attention for their potential use as safe and natural food preservatives (34).

The impact of fermented foods and probiotics on the human gut microbiome and health

With our increasing understanding of the importance of the human gut microbiota and microbiome to health and disease, research in this field has focused on how the composition of this complex bacterial community is modulated (to clarify the gut microbiota is the microorganisms that inhabit the gut while the gut microbiome is the total genome content of the gut microbiota). Diet is one of the main factors that influence the human gut microbiota (35, 36). Many food-ingested bacteria are capable of transiently or temporarily integrating into the gut microbiota where they may have an impact on the composition and the activity of the resident gut microbial community. These food-ingested bacteria can be found in fermented foods and as probiotics. Probiotics are defined as the live microorganisms, when supplemented in adequate amounts as part of food, confer a health benefit on the host (37). The bacteria used to ferment foods can be considered probiotics. Recent research suggests that the human gut microbiome is made up of a core AND a variable commensal community and it seems that bacteria ingested via food contribute to this ‘variable microbiome’ (38).

As already discussed, LAB are the most widely used strains to ferment foods. Some LAB species are thought to be permanent inhabitants of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract while other species, such as L. plantarum, L. rhamonosus and L. paracasei appear to be transient colonizers (39). Some species of bifidobacteria, which are the dominant members of the microbiota of breast-fed babies (40) but make up only 1% of the total adult gut bacteria (41), are also typical members of the transient microbiota (42). Some species of bifidobacteria are used as probiotics. The propionibacteria, commonly used to make Swiss-type cheeses, are another common form of ingested microbes (43).

In order for ingested bacteria to have any sort of beneficial impact in the human intestinal system, they must first be able to survive within the food matrix. A number of factors can affect the probiotic viability in the food matrix, such as the acidity, oxygen availability, the concentration of sugars, the moisture content and the storage temperature (44).

Next these microbes must be able to withstand the very hostile environment of the human upper GI tract. After ingestion, the bacteria from fermented foods and probiotics initially passage through the stomach, which is very acidic (pH <3) and contains enzymes, such as pepsin, which break down proteins. Most ingested bacteria will not survive. Those bacteria that do happen to survive then enter the small intestine, where the pH rises to over 6, but they are exposed to bile and more digestive enzymes, such as pancreatin and lipase. Some bacterial strains can recover, and even grow in the small intestine before these cells continue on to the colon (45). Ingested bacteria must also be able to adhere to the gut epithelial cells of the human host in order to have any beneficial effects (46, 47).

Variation in the ability of probiotic strains to survive the human GI tract has been demonstrated. Studies subjecting various strains to conditions simulating the environment of the human GI tract found that strains of B. animalis, L. casei, L. rhamnosus and L. plantarum have the greatest resilience (45, 48-50).

Numerous clinical studies have been conducted investigating the impact of probiotics on human health. The reported beneficial effects of probiotic consumption include improvement of constipation, diarrhea, intestinal inflammatory conditions such as, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and necrotizing enterocolitis (51), and the prevention of allergic disease in infants (52, 53). Furthermore, supplementation with probiotics has been shown to positively enhance immune system function (54-56), improve the symptoms of lactose intolerance, and can prevent infection with pathogenic or disease causing microorganisms (57). The mechanisms by which probiotics exert these benefits to humans are not yet totally clear. What the research tells us is that the intestinal epithelial cells of the GI tract are a very important part of the innate or non-specific immune system and act as a link to the adaptive or specific immune system. The intestinal epithelial cells are able to recognize many bacterial components and are the first point of contact for ingested microbes (58, 59). The latest research suggests that possible mechanisms for the health benefits of probiotics include outcompeting disease causing bacterial pathogens, inhibiting attachment of pathogens to host cells (60-62), strengthening the mucosal barrier (63), stimulation of anti-inflammatory cytokine production (cytokines are cell signalling proteins which are produced by a range of cells, importantly immune cells) (64, 65) and the production of antimicrobial substances, including bacteriocins (66), which are antimicrobials peptides that inhibit the growth of other bacteria, organic acids and hydrogen peroxide (67).

Products containing probiotics can come as either supplements, such as pills and capsules, or as foods. In 2009 it was estimated that the global probiotic supplement market was approximately $1.5 billion USD (68) and was predicted to expand to $32.6 billion by 2014 (69). It is estimated that the probiotic industry holds about a 10% share of the global functional food market (70). There seems to be agreement in the literature that at least 108 – 109 (100 000 000 – 1 000 000 000) viable cells must reach the intestine for health benefits to be achieved. This means that the product or food must contain 108 – 109 CFUs/serving (CFUs stands for colony forming units – when the product/food is plated, this amount of colonies must grow from 1 serving) (71-73). The traditional method of plating used to validate the amount of bacteria present in food is quite time-consuming, however, faster more reliable methods are becoming available. A study in 2013 published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found between 107 and 108 CFU/ml of Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus within a commercial brand of yoghurt (Activia® from Danone). This strain was mentioned on the product’s package (74). Other studies have also found that commercial yoghurts do contain significant numbers of Lactobacillus species to confer potential health benefits (75).

So do the bacteria within commercial yoghurts actually survive the treacherous journey through the human GI tract? A study involving 15 healthy volunteers between the ages of 24 and 46 looked at the effect of commercial yoghurt consumption containing probiotic LAB on the fecal bacterial community. The subjects were divided into 3 groups with one group consuming 110grams of yoghurt A, one group consuming 180ml of yoghurt B and the third group consuming 90 grams of yoghurt C. The subjects consumed one serve per day for 20 days. The labels of yoghurt A and B stated that these products contain a probiotic Lactobacillus strain, while yoghurt C did not state this on the label. The probiotic strains were detected in the feces of subjects consuming yoghurt A and B for up to 28 days after the first day of consumption. The study also detected changes in the populations of bacterial groups of the fecal microbiota in all three groups (76). This study showed that probiotic strains in yoghurt can survive the human GI tract, however, it seems that the consumption of yoghurt, and not just the presence of probiotics in the yoghurt, can influence the composition of bacterial groups in the fecal microbiota. Another study involving 36 subjects looked at the persistence of 4 probiotic strains administered as capsules, yoghurts or cheese at a dose of 1.9 – 5.0 x 109 CFUs. This study found that all four probiotic strains survived the GI tract and could be detected in fecal samples following consumption in all subjects. This study also found that the food matrix had an effect on the survival of 2 of the 4 strains, with the highest quantities recovered in the fecal samples from the yoghurt group (77). These studies suggest that probiotics present in yoghurt can survive the human GI tract provided that the bacteria are present in high enough numbers in the yoghurt to begin with.

On 24 April 2013, the First Global Summit on the Health Effects of Yoghurt was held. Keep in mind that sponsors of this event included the Dairy Research Institute and the Danone Institute, who may have vested interests. However, The Nutrition Society and The American Society of Nutrition were also sponsors. The conclusions from this summit were that there is accumulating preclinical, clinical and epidemiological evidence to support the health benefits associated with yoghurt consumption. Further research needs to be conducted to firmly establish these findings including investigations across the life span, from the very young to the old, randomized, placebo-controlled studies in healthy and diseased populations, more detailed descriptions of the types and doses of bacteria present in the yoghurt products being used in studies, assessment of the delivery matrix on the efficacy of probiotic bacteria, the effects of live compared to killed bacteria in yoghurt and studies into the mechanisms of yoghurt and/or probiotic bacteria on gut health and the microbiome (5).

So what about the health benefits of other fermented foods, such as vegetables? I will focus on kimchi as, eventually, I will be describing how to make this tasty fermented side dish. Kimchi has been consumed for about 2000 years in Korea. The most popular kimchi is baechu or chinese cabbage kimchi, which is generally made by LAB fermentation of beachu cabbage, radish, green onion, red pepper powder, garlic, ginger and fermented seafoods (78). Usually kimchi contains approximately 107 – 109 CFUs/gram of LAB. The LAB profile of kimchi actually changes during the fermentation process due to the pH. Leuconostoc mesenteroides is present during the early fermentation (pH 5.64 – 4.27) while Lactobacillus sakei dominates in the later stages of fermentation (pH 4.15) (79). Other LAB contributing to kimchi fermentation include Leu. citreum, Leu. gasicomitatum, L. brevis, L. curvatus, L. plantarum, Lactococcus lactis, Pediociccus pentosaceus, Weissella confusa and W. koreensis (80, 81).

Studies investigating the potential beneficial effects of the bacteria isolated from kimchi have found the following:

One of the LAB strains isolated from kimchi was found to have potent antioxidative activity (82). L. plantarum from kimchi has shown various immune-modulatory activities, such as the activation and stimulation of cytokine production in macrophages (a type of innate immune cell) from mice (83, 84). Furthermore, L. plantarum enhanced immune function when fed to mice (85, 86). LAB from kimchi was found to have antiobesity effects in rats (87, 88) and in mouse adipocytes (fat cells) (88). LAB isolated from kimchi has shown antimicrobial activities against a range of pathogenic bacteria (89, 90).

Again this raises the question of whether the LAB found in kimchi can survive the human GI tract? One study found that L. plantarum KC21 isolated from kimchi showed acid and bile tolerance and the ability to adhere to human intestinal cells (90). Another study found that human subjects who consumed 300grams/day of kimchi containing 108 CFU/gram of LAB for 2 weeks had significantly higher counts of fecal Lactobacillus species and Leuconostoc species during the kimchi intake period (91). These results suggest that if LAB is present in sufficient numbers in your kimchi then the bacteria will survive the journey through your GI tract and may confer health benefits.

Conclusions

My final thoughts after conducting this thorough analysis of the research are as follows: although further research needs to be conducted on probiotics, including those found in fermented foods, it is clear that these microorganisms have positive effects on human health. It also seems that the consumption of fermented foods can have a can confer these health benefits, if the bacteria are present in high enough numbers to begin with and have survived the storage conditions. Not only do the microbes themselves confer health benefits, but the fermentation process also enhances the nutritional qualities of the food. I will continue to enjoy fermented foods knowing that the microbes are beneficial for my health. However, I do suggest that you are wary of the high sugar content that is present in a lot of commercially available yoghurt and go for unsweetened and add you own stevia or a little bit of honey.

Now that we have established that fermented foods are good for your health, here is how to make kimchi.

As with most of my recipes, I am always looking for short cuts that reduce the preparation time without reducing the quality of the end product. Some methods for making kimchi that I came across online instruct you to soak the cabbage overnight, but in my experience this is not necessary. I soak the cabbage for one hour and the texture is perfect and the fermentation is successful.

Typically kimchi contains a seafood flavour, such as fish sauce or shrimp paste, however, I actually despise both of these ingredients and although I do enjoy traditional kimchi, I decided to have a go at making kimchi without the seafood flavour. I enjoyed the taste, so this version is actually vegan. I find the process of making kimchi enjoyable, it is tasty, there are health benefits associated with eating it, beyond the presence of the probiotics, and the total cost to make a huge jar, which keeps in the fridge, was about $3. Have a go at it this weekend. I will be posting some follow up recipes involving my homemade kimchi soon.

Homemade kimchi

Ingredients

¾ wombok cabbage

Salt

3 tablespoons Korean red pepper powder (purchase this at your local Asian supermarket)

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 large clove garlic, finely minced

3 cm fresh ginger, finely grated

3 tablespoons water

2 shallots (green part only), chopped

Utensils

Chopping board

Sharp knife

Large mixing bowl

Colander or large strainer

Small mixing bowl

Spoon

Large glass jar with lid for fermenting

Method

  • Chop the wombok cabbage into quarters lengthwise and remove the core. Slice the cabbage into about 2 -3 cm thick strips and place the cabbage into a large bowl. Salt the cabbage and massage it with your hands until it begins to soften. Cover the cabbage with water and allow it to soak for at least one hour.Kimchi soaking cabbage
  • Keep ¼ cup of the salty water that the cabbage is soaking in. Place the cabbage into a colander or large strainer and rinse it well in water and drain it. Rinse the bowl that the cabbage was soaked in and place the cabbage back into the bowl after it has drained.
  • To make the paste combine the red pepper powder, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and water into the small mixing bowl and mix well. Add in the chopped shallots and mix.Kimchi paste
  • Add the kimchi paste to the cabbage and mix it into the cabbage. I found using clean hands is the easiest way to do this.

Kimchi cabbage mixed

  • Using your hands put the cabbage into a large glass jar, pressing the cabbage down firmly with each handful. The idea is to remove as much oxygen as possible to create the correct environment for the fermentation to occur. This process does get a bit messy.
  • Wipe the sides of the jar down and place the kimchi into a warm spot to ferment. I typically ferment my kimchi for 3 days, however, I believe that this would vary depending on the climate. I live on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. Even in the middle of winter the temperature can reach 20°C, so if you live in a colder climate you may need to ferment it for longer. Taste the kimchi and continue fermenting until your desired taste is achieved.Kimchi day 0
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How to cook restaurant quality steak with less than 10 minutes of preparation time

Restaurant quality steakWhen I started eating meat after 10 years of being a vegetarian I had absolutely no idea how to cook a steak. Naturally, being the scientist that I am, I conducted some thorough research on how to cook a restaurant quality steak.

One of my idols is the multi-talented entrepreneur Timothy Ferriss. Tim’s book the 4-hour Chef has instructions on how to cook a perfect steak, which he refers to as ‘Sexy-Time Steak’ due to the boost in testosterone provided by the cholesterol in the saturated fat from the steak. While Tim’s method does result in a very tender, melt in your mouth steak, the protocol is a bit too involved and time consuming for me, especially on a weeknight. So I have streamlined his protocol and have found that you can still produce a restaurant quality steak with less than 10 minutes of preparation time.

I like to use grass fed beef eye fillet. Aldi sells this for $13.26 for two steaks. Usually one is slightly larger than the other, which is perfect for the boyfriend and myself. Here is the process step by step.

Step 1. The morning before you plan to cook steak for dinner heavily salt one side of each of the steaks using sea salt. Leave the steaks uncovered in the fridge with the salted side up all day (about 30 seconds). This tenderizes the steak.

Restaurant quality steak 1Step 2. That night, preheat the oven to 150°C. Rinse the salt off the steaks and pat them completely dry with paper towels. I do this on a chopping board. This step is important to ensure a perfect sear. You need to remove as much moisture as possible (about 2 minutes).

Step 3. Rub both sides of the steaks with a garlic clove cut in half and season with salt and pepper. Heat enough olive oil in a non-stick fry pan to cover the pan while doing this (about 2 minutes).

Step 4. Using tongs, brown the steaks on both sides (about 2 minutes each side). I also like to thinly slice the remaining half of the garlic clove used to rub the steaks and throw this into the fry pan.

Step 5. Use the tongs to transfer the steaks into a baking tray. If you have some fresh rosemary, place a sprig under each steak. If not, sprinkle some dried rosemary on top of the steaks. Pour the oil and juices from the fry pan over the steaks (about 1 minute). Cook the steaks in the oven at 150°C for 20 minutes. This will produce well-done steak. Prepare a salad while the steaks are cooking and serve immediately.

Now bear in mind that I like my steak well done with absolutely no signs of pink meat. I am still getting used to the concept of eating flesh so I cannot stand any redness or blood. You may want to reduce the temperature of the oven or the cooking time to produce your desired steak. Experiment with this protocol.

How to make your swim workouts more effective and a Choc orange smoothie bowl

Balancing a demanding a career as a research scientist whilst training for multisport events can be difficult. Over the years, however, I have implemented a number of tactics that have allowed me to manage both, just. In this post I am going to go over some of the strategies that I use to make my swim workouts as effective and time efficient as possible.Swimming

  1. Do not swim with a squad. This only applies if you are happy with your swim technique and are self motivated in the pool. When I first started training for triathlon and had not swum properly since I was a kid, attending a swimming squad was the best thing I could have done for my swimming. The coach helped me to improve my stroke, I learnt about swimming drills and I learnt how to put together a swim set. Now that I am more confident with my swimming, I swim on my own. This eliminates any chit-chat between sets (if you enjoy the social aspect of a swim squad then by all means keep going) and allows me to design my own swim workouts based on my goals and how I am feeling.
  2. Use the clock. Performing sets on a time cycle reduces rest time, which is great for improving fitness and endurance, and ensures you maintain a certain pace. I find that if I am not swimming to a time cycle, for example 10 x 100m on 1: 40, then I tend to let my pace slack off.
  3. Kick with a pull buoy instead of a kick board and don’t use fins/flippers ever. Kicking with a pull buoy is actually quite a bit harder than using a kick board due to the reduced buoyancy and I really believe that performing kick sets with a pull buoy helps build leg strength that makes you a more efficient kicker, and translates over to running and cycling. I personally think that fins are a bit of a waste of time for your average age group triathlete/multisport racer. Using only a pull buoy also reduces the amount of equipment you have to take to the pool so you can run with just a pull buoy in your backpack.
  4. Incorporate drills. Although drills are not necessarily good for improving your fitness, they do help to improve your stroke and sighting in open water. I always finish a swim set with the crocodile eyes drill, which consists of you raising just your eyes out of the water and looking straight ahead just before you turn your head to take a breath. Do at least 100m of this drill every swim workout.
  5. Swim hard. Incorporate at least some hard swimming into each swim workout. Even if it is only 4 x 50m on 60 seconds, swim each of these 50m laps hard so that it is uncomfortable. You need to experience this intensity so that you can feel comfortable with a more moderate pace during a race.
  6. Finally, if it is logistically feasible, run or ride to and from the pool. I will often tuck my swim cap and goggles into my shorts and run to the pool. This saves time as you can combine two workouts in one and helps to simulate race day conditions.

This morning I rode to the pool for a 2.8km swim consisting of the following:

Warm up – 400m (50m swim, 50m drill)

8 x 50m on 50 seconds

4 x 200m (1st 200m – 50m hard, 150m easy, 2nd 200m – 100m hard, 100m easy, 3rd 200m – 150m hard, 50m easy, 4th 200m – 200m hard with 15 seconds rest in between each 200m)

400m with pull buoy focusing on technique

8 x 50m kick with pull buoy – no fins on 90 seconds

Cool down – 400m of 50m swim, 50m ‘crocodile eyes’ sighting drill

At the moment my swimming fitness is pretty average compared to what it has been in the past, so I am trying to build that fitness back up. This set took me approximately 1 hour to complete. As my swimming fitness improves (I am currently training for another adventure race in September – details to come in a future post) I would perhaps repeat the 4 x 200m set and try to do this on a particular time cycle.

So as you can imagine, after this swim set I was ready for a decent breakfast. But as always, I was in a hurry to get to work and needed something quick that was filling and nutritious. Smoothie bowls cover all these needs. I just don’t feel satisfied if I drink my breakfast so I prefer to make my smoothies super thick, sprinkle nuts and coconut on top and eat it out of a bowl. So below is a recipe for the Choc orange smoothie bowl that I consumed this morning. With protein provided by the whey powder and cottage cheese, medium chain triglycerides from the coconut cream, sufficient carbohydrates from the orange and some extra vitamins and minerals from the spinach, this smoothie bowl really was a complete meal.

Choc orange smoothie bowlChoc orange smoothie bowl

Makes 1 large serve

Ingredients

½ an orange, peeled and cut in half

30 grams of a good quality chocolate flavoured whey protein powder

2 blocks of frozen spinach

2 tablespoons cottage cheese

2 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon

2 trays of ice cubes

½ cup reduced fat coconut cream

Shredded coconut and walnuts to sprinkle on top

Utensils

Shark knife

Chopping board

Measuring cup and spoon

High-speed blender

Method

  • Add all the ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend until a smooth texture is achieved. Pour the smoothie into a bowl, sprinkle with shredded coconut and walnuts and eat with a spoon.

How to dominate at your local parkrun (hint – you have to run hard)

RunningI would consider myself a decent runner. I have been the first female finisher at my local parkrun 4 times now with a PB of 19:24 and I have broken 19 minutes for 5km (once) in a sprint distance triathlon. The photo is of me running the Noosa Half Marathon in 2012 for a time of 1:28:33. The following year I ran 1:27:21. At the moment I am not running at those speeds, but I do believe that one of the essential components of my training that allowed me to achieve my fastest run times was repetitions or reps at my 5km pace or faster.

Repetitions or reps

Training your body, as well as your mind, to run at 5km pace is imperative to improving your 5km time. When I was at my fittest running wise I was performing 7 x 1km reps on a 5:00 cycle once a week. I ran these reps at my 5km race pace or just faster. Yes, it was tough and it hurt (a lot!), but it was effective. I have been running consistently for over 10 years now, so I am a fairly experienced runner. If you are reading this blog post then I am going to assume that you are fairly new to running and are looking to improve your 5km time. Alternatively, you may be an experienced runner who has let their training slide due to work or family commitments. If this is the case then you already know what you need to do – start running those reps again and do them hard!

For the less experienced runners, I would suggest starting with 400m reps with a 2 – 3 minute rest in between, depending on how you are feeling. Start with 4 and see how you feel. If you feel absolutely exhausted, stop there and aim to increase the number of reps to 5 within the month. As you feel faster and stronger, increase the distance of the reps to 600m, then 800m. Eventually work your way up to 5 x 1km reps at your goal 5km pace, and even a touch faster.

If you not yet at the point where you are aiming for a specific time in the 5km, then begin by performing the reps at your 5km effort. By that I mean run the 400m reps at the effort that you feel you could maintain for a 5km race. As your running improves and you set your goal for a 5km race, then run your reps at your desired 5km pace.

I find tough sessions such as these reps to be more beneficial and slightly more enjoyable, or should I say bearable, when you feel rested and refreshed. Don’t try to do this session after a heavy weights session with a focus on legs or if you had a huge day at work followed by a poor nights sleep. In order to get the most out of a session like this you really want to be in the right frame of mind to push yourself.

A brief review of interval training

Still not convinced about repetitions for improving your running performance? Let’s have a look at the science then. I have previously posted about the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) compared to a continuous moderate-intensity based training protocol for improving physical fitness. I started digging further into the scientific literature to look at the impact of interval-based training on running performance. I came across a fascinating and in depth article (well I found it fascinating but then I am a scientist and I love training) entitled Interval Training for Performance: A Scientific and Empirical Practice (1). This article provides a detailed review of the history of interval training, starting as far back as 1910, and the physiology of interval training. I won’t go into detail about the physiological responses of athletes during interval training in this particular post.

The pioneers of interval training include the 10 000m Finnish Olympic championship runner, Hannes Kolehmainene, who was using interval training in 1912 at his specific 10km pace. His training regime included 5 – 10 repetitions of 3 minutes 5 seconds every 1000m at 19km/hour (that is insane)!

Interval training was popularized by the Czechoslovakian Emil Zatopek, who was a triple gold medalist at the 1952 Summer Olympics in the 5000m, 10 000m and marathon events. Emil Zatopek was known to perform intervals at his critical velocity, which was calculated from his personal best in the 3km and 10 km events (2). In fact, he was known to repeat up to 100 X 400m repetitions per day with 200m recovery in between (that is even more insane). Clearly this amount of reps is not necessary to do well in your local parkrun, but surely you are now understanding the effectiveness of repetitions.

The 1960’s saw the first scientific reports on interval-based training pioneered by the physiologist Per Oløf Astrand. Astrand studied 3 minute intervals and considered that this was one of the best forms of training to improve VO2 max (maximum rate of oxygen consumption) (3). Astrand and Christensen, another researcher in the same lab group, published further studies throughout the 1960’s examining the metabolic effects of interval training. By the end of the sixties various groups had conducted research on interval training and the general consensus was that the performance of highly trained athletes could be improved by utilizing interval training.

The 1970’s and 1980’s saw more exceptional runners use interval training. Examples include Sebastian Coe, a British middle-distance runner who won four Olympic medals, including the 1500m gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984, (4) and the North African runner, Said Aouita, another middle-distance runner who held the world records for the 1500 to 5000m.

As the technology to study the physiological responses to interval training became more advanced, it became evident that interval training performed at velocities close to the velocity associated with VO2 max results in improvements in VO2 max, in mitochondrial density and the rate of lactate removal (5), all of which will improve performance. One particularly relevant study showed that moderately trained recreational runners can improve both running economy and VO2 max within a short period (6 weeks) by exchanging parts of their conventional aerobic distance training with more intensive distance or long interval training (6).

Finally, I came across one recent study that should give you further motivation to start implementing intervals or reps into your training. This study is entitled Four weeks of sprint interval training improves 5km run performance (7). This study compared 20 participants, who engaged in a sprint interval-training program 3 times per week for 4 weeks, to 10 participants that did no training and found a significant improvement in 5km performance for those that engaged in the interval training. Although this study was conducted on untrained males, the results suggest that improvements in 5km performance can occur in as little as 4 weeks.

If you are ready to dominate at your local parkrun then start incorporating reps into your training today. Yes they are going to be hard and yes they are going to hurt, but if you REALLY want to improve your time then you must do reps.

Please refer to the Disclaimer on the About me page before embarking on any exercise program.

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  2. Ettema, J. H (1966). Limits of human performance and energy production. Int Z Angew Physiol. 22: 45-54.
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