The Fundamentals of Bread!

Soup season is in full flow so it seems only right to take a look at how to make a great loaf of bread to go dunking in your favorite soup!

Basic Information
Throughout recorded history, bread has been popular around the world and is one of humanity’s oldest foods; having been of importance since the dawn of agriculture. Doughs are usually baked, but in some cuisines breads are steamed (e.g., mantou), fried (e.g., puri), or baked on an unoiled frying pan (e.g., tortillas). Salt, fat and leavening agents, such as yeast and baking soda are common ingredients; though bread may contain other ingredients, such as milk, egg, sugar, spice, fruit (such as raisins), vegetables (such as onion), nuts (such as walnuts) or seeds (such as poppy). Referred to colloquially as the “staff of life”, bread has been prepared for at least 30,000 years. The development of leavened bread can probably also be traced to prehistoric times. Sometimes, the word bread refers to a sweetened loaf cake, often containing appealing ingredients like dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts or spices; such as pumpkin bread, banana bread or gingerbread.

Fresh bread is prized for its taste, aroma, quality, appearance and texture. Retaining its freshness is important to keep it appetizing. Bread that has stiffened or dried past its prime is said to be stale. Modern bread is sometimes wrapped in paper or plastic film or stored in a container such as a breadbox to reduce drying. Bread that is kept in warm, moist environments is prone to the growth of mold. Bread kept at low temperatures, in a refrigerator for example, will develop mold growth more slowly than bread kept at room temperature, but will turn stale quickly due to retrogradation.

The soft, inner part of bread is known to bakers and other culinary professionals as the crumb, which is not to be confused with small bits of bread that often fall off, called crumbs. The outer hard portion of bread is called the crust. The crumb’s texture is greatly determined by the quality of the pores in the bread.

The Basic Steps Of Making Bread Are:

Activation of yeast/Making a sponge
Some home cookbooks call this proofing the yeast, but proofing in a professional bakery is the final dough-rise step before baking, and refers to a specific rest period within the more generalized process known as fermentation.
By adding yeast plus warm water and a sweetener, the baker can verify the yeast is alive and active. The water should be 95° F to 105° F. Yeast cells die at 120° F. After setting for 5-10 minutes, active bubbles should appear on the top of the mixture.
A sponge is a mixture of an active culture, warm water, sweetener and flour. This was the traditional way breads were made, before baker’s yeast. By using a sponge the bread will have an improved taste and texture.


Mixing Ingredients
Salt is added only after the yeast has been developed because the salt can kill yeast cells that it comes into contact with, so there needs to be an active colony of yeast to survive. The purpose of the salt is to add flavor, tighten the gluten structure, and helps to give color to the crust.
Flavor ingredients such as nuts, seeds, herbs and oil are added before more flour. If dried fruit is used it is best to soak it, otherwise it will pull moisture from the bread.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients otherwise flour can spread everywhere.

Kneading helps align the gluten proteins to make the dough stretchy and able to capture the gas bubbles that are developed from the yeast during the rise period. It is nearly impossible to overwork a dough by hand but care must be taken if using a machine. Often 10-15 minutes of kneading by hand is necessary. The dough should feel elastic and cohesive.

First Rise
Shape the dough into a ball and place into an oiled bowl. Cover with a towel and plastic wrap and let is rise in a warm place. The oven with simply the light on is usually sufficient.
The dough should double in size and you should be able to poke the dough with your finger and the indentation should not fill in.

Punch Down
Punching down the dough will redistribute the yeast, allow for new air bubbles to form and allow for the prolonged fermentation to add greater flavor to the bread.
Push your fist into the center of the dough and then fold the edges into the center. Slide the dough onto the table. You may perform this a couple times to make the bread lighter and airier.

Divide the dough
Divide the dough into the portions you want to make. If you want to make one large loaf you may leave it as is.

Rounding the dough helps to align the gluten strands even more and should result in a dough with smooth skin without seams or cracks. To do this place your hands, palms down, on top of the dough. While pulling the dough with your palms, move your hands down the side of the dough and pinch the dough underneath the dough ball with your pinkies touching. Turn the dough ¼ turn and repeat. Repeat this until the dough is smooth and round. Around 10 times.

Shape the dough
You can leave the dough round or you can shape the dough into different sizes and shapes.

Proof the dough
This is the final rise of the dough before it is baked and it should rise to about double its size once more.

Dock the dough
Place slashes in the dough’s top surface to allow the steam to escape as the dough cooks.

An optional glaze of cornstarch and water or egg may be added to give the outer crust a nice color and shine.

The bread will be done when the internal temperature reaches 200° F and when tapped with a knuckle on the bottom will have a hollow sound.

It is important to let the bread rest before cutting into it. If the bread is cut while still warm you can crush and condense the crumb.

This blog has been adapted from one of Chef Nic’s cooking lessons. To learn more visit us at


Modified from Bread, (last visited May 6, 2014). The text of this work is released under CC-BY-SA 3.0


Baking without Eggs

Baking without eggs you say? What now?!

Cue the humble yet powerful Flax egg!

A flax egg is essentially just flax seeds simmered in hot water until they form a gel like substance. It’s easy to make and great to have on hand for baked goods. The flax gel helps to hold food together and can used in veggie burgers. Freeze in ice cube trays and each frozen flax egg substitute can be used as 1 egg in a recipe.

Here’s Chef Nic’s recipe…


1/2 cup flaxseed
4 cups water

How to prepare

Boil flax seeds for 25 minutes

Place flax seeds and water into a sauce pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce to a low boil and cook for 25 minutes.

Strain flax gel. Measure out 3 tbsp increments and freeze.

Sounds pretty great huh! And it means you don’t have to worry about being mid-way through preparing a birthday cake only to find out you’ve got no eggs. Storing flax eggs in the freezer means you’ll never be caught short!


So how does it work?

3 tbsp of flax egg substitute will replace 1 egg. It is easiest to use a syringe to measure it out. This will often be about the size of an ice cube in an ice cube tray.

Yet some of you are likely still skeptical! Give it a try and let us know how it goes!

Learning to sit with it…

I want you to humor me. Just for one minute. Follow these instructions…

Just sit with it. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to control it. Sit with it. Focus on your breathing. In and out. In and out. Notice the tension in your jaw, your neck, your shoulders. Just notice it. Don’t fight it. Acknowledge it. Breathe. In, out. In and out. The noise in your background? Notice it, accept it and go back to your breathing. In and out. In and out. In and out.

Feel free to sit here for a while…

Hi again! How do you feel? How does your body feel? If you are familiar with mindfulness you’ll realize what we just did. If that term is new to you – welcome! Mindfulness is the art of being aware, the art of being in the present moment. It’s a term that definitely means different things for different people but what we did at the start of this blog is one way of entering the state of mindfulness.

To me mindfulness means pressing pause. In our fast paced, high stress, over stimulated lifestyles learning to press pause is an incredibly useful tool. Now I’m not saying that mindfulness enables you to stop the clock but it does give you an opportunity to reset. When you take the time to reset you return to the day (only as little as a few or 10 minutes later) in a relaxed, calmer state of mind which makes you a nicer, more productive human! Quite frankly its a win for you, and a win for all those around you!

Sound good? So how?


Quietening your mind isn’t just a flip switch. Like anything else in life, you’ve gotta work at it but believe me, it’s worth it. Learning the art of mindfulness is pretty accessible now too. You can download apps onto your phone which will walk you through a guided mindfulness session, or you can do your research and teach yourself. There is really great app called ‘Headspace’ which has a free 10 course session, each of which is ten minutes long. The sessions take your from an introduction to mindfulness through to a head space where mindfulness begins to come more easily. They use a great analogy that I think sums up mindfulness to a T and it goes something like this:

Imagine yourself sitting by a road. All the cars that are passing, speeding along in either direction…those are your thoughts. The challenge of mindfulness is to sit and simply let the cars drive by. Don’t run into traffic. Don’t try to flag down a taxi. Just sit and let the cars, your thoughts, your worries, your stressors, let them ride by you for these precious ten minutes.

It doesn’t sound like much but it can be pretty empowering to allow yourself a space where your thoughts can’t touch you. And, yeah don’t get me wrong, it can be hard to just switch off. Initially you’ll probably find yourself fighting the thoughts that persistently pop into your head space. The trick here is to think “I see you thought, but right now i’m focussing on my breathing. I’m focussing on the breath in, and the breath out”. Make those breaths deep and purposeful and hopefully you’ll find a sense of calm washing over you.

So give it a go! Take 10 minutes out of one day this week to try mindfulness. If you like it, try it twice a week. Feeling the positive effects? Do it every day. Challenge yourself to make a commitment to your calming your body and mind: you’ll soon see why.

Guest Blog from The Up Beet Kitchen Intern; Rhona Auckland

Stay Sharp with Knife Skills

All chefs must master the basic knife skills. Mastering these skills will help make cooking easy and enjoyable. These are the same techniques taught in the top culinary schools around the world, but now you can learn them in your own home and at your own pace. On the blog this week we’ll give you an insight into a few of our favorite knife skills, but to get the full lesson you’ll want to check out the “Knife Skills” course on our website! Here’s a great taster to wet your appetite!


Supreme is a culinary knife cut in which citrus is cut to remove the pith or membrane.Citrus that is supreme looks clean and aesthetically pleasing, as well as tastes great. It is often used for salads or used as a garnish.
To supreme a citrus fruit slice off the top and bottom. Set the citrus on its bottom and cut down the side from top to bottom following the curvature of the fruit. Repeat this around the whole fruit until the peel and pith, the white part, is completely removed. Then pick up the citrus and hold the bottom towards your chest and the top away from you in your non dominant hand. Slice down either side of the membrane to separate out clean pieces.


Chiffonade is a culinary knife cut in which herbs or leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and basil, are cut into long, thin strips. This is generally accomplished by stacking leaves, rolling them tightly, then cutting across the rolled leaves with a sharp knife, producing fine ribbons. Chiffonade means little ribbons in French, referring to the little ribbons you create while cutting.

Julienne, matchstick and batonnet

This is often done for aesthetic and texture reasons. Julienne can also be cut using a mandolin. While julienne and batonnet cuts are squared off at the ends, matchsticks are cut from a bias cut and have tapered ends. Common items to be julienned are carrots for carrots julienne, celery for céléris remoulade or potatoes for julienne or ‘shoe string’ fries.
To start make a square blank of food by trimming the vegetable and the edges to make four straight sides, this makes it easier to produce a uniform cut. Then make long thin cuts. To make a matchstick cut the carrot on the bias into long ovals, then slice these ovals into long thin strips.
The measurement for julienne and matchsticks are ⅛ x ⅛ x 1 to 2 inches (3 mm x 3 mm x 3 to 5 cm). Once julienned, turning the subject 90 degrees and dicing finely (⅛ in or 3 mm) will produce brunoise (⅛ x ⅛ x ⅛).
The measurement for batonnet is ¼ x ¼ x 1 to 2 in (3 mm x 3 mm x 3 to 5 cm).



This is done for aesthetic reasons and to create uniformly sized pieces to ensure even cooking. Dicing allows for distribution of flavor and texture throughout the dish. Smaller size dice cuts will cook faster. To quickly dice an onion, trim off both ends but leave the root partially intact. Cut the onion in half and peel off the outer layer. Place the root end towards your non dominant hand and make horizontal cuts towards the root but not through it. Use the root to hold the onion together while cutting, then place the root end furthest away from your body and make vertical cuts with the grain of the onion. Lastly place the onion back into its first position and make vertical cuts against the grain to make a dice. The spacing between each cut will determine the size of the dice and should be as even as possible.
The size is often specified in the recipe, and in classical French cooking there are of four sizes:

Brunoise – ⅛ x ⅛ x ⅛ inch (3x3x3 mm) cubes
Small dice –¼ x ¼ x ¼ inch (6x6x6 mm) cubes
Medium dice – ½ x ½ x ½ inch (9x9x9 mm) cubes
Large dice – ¾ x ¾ x ¾ inch (1.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 cm) cubes

This blog has been adapted from Chef Nic’s course ‘Knife Skills’, to get the full course visit us at The Up Beet Kitchen:

Understanding Seasoning

Seasoning is the process of adding salt, acids, herbs, or spices to enhance the flavor of food.

Basic Information

Herbs and spices-these are what what we think of when the word seasoning is brought up. While they are definitely used to add specific flavors to the dish, they are meant to enhance the natural flavors. Acids are also added in small amounts for the same purpose.

Seasoning encompasses a lot of different things and its meaning changes a bit from chef to chef, but the main star of the seasoning show is salt. Salt on a basic, fundamental level is the single most important element when it comes to cooking and building a flavor. When you add salt to things a wonderful process called osmosis is set in motion. Through osmosis, the salt draws out fluids from within the cell, along with even smaller molecules known as aromatic molecules. Flavor (outside of the five basic flavors -sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami), is detected through our sense of smell. With the help of an oil or fat, these lipid soluble (trapped by fat) aromatic molecules will coat whatever substance they came out of. Whenever you chew your food, these molecules are disrupted and then released through your olfactory system. That’s why when you sweat or saute vegetables you add pinches of salt. SCIENCE!


This is why salt is so important; by drawing out these aromatic molecules it cause the essence of that particular flavor to come out of the cells to play beautiful music with our taste receptors. Imagine if you made a soup without the aid of salt, it would just taste like a bowl of liquid with a bunch of different ingredients. The use of salt takes all of the individual aromatic molecules from each separate ingredient and blends their flavors together, creating what the fancy chefs refer to as a flavor profile.

Salt is the conductor of the orchestra, while spices and herbs are the violin and horn players; they add the flare while also making the dish more rounded and whole. Spices are the dried fruit, bark, seeds, and sometimes a vegetable used for everything from flavor to preservation, and from coloring to finishing a dish. You often hear of people “toasting” their spices. What this does is excite those aromatic molecules we were discussing earlier and traps them within the natural oils present in the spice itself; sort of like charging a battery. Once the spice is ground, all of those flavor pockets are released into the food creating a richer product.

Herbs, on the other hand, are a wide ranging group of aromatic plants. They work in the same way as spices, releasing the aromatic molecules (word of the day!) that are trapped within. However, they are much more delicate; meaning as soon as you cut or tear your herbs, the molecules are consistently being released and overtime will lose their flavor. This is why recipes often have you wait to add the fresh herbs closer to the end of the cooking process. This volatility is what makes herbs so good to infuse in oils. The oil traps all of those aromatic molecules and often times their colors within the oil itself, and preserves the flavors. Drying herbs is an often used tactic to preserve them for even longer. With dried herbs you should add them much earlier than their fresh counterparts, to rehydrate them. Beware though, this concentrates the flavor heavily. Whenever substituting dried herbs for fresh, only use 1/3 of the what the recipe calls for.

Close up of pepper grains

Following recipes is a great way to gain confidence in the kitchen, making you the master of your dinner. The end goal, however, should be getting to the point where you don’t have to measure out every little thing with a measuring spoon. It is highly recommended to store your salts, herbs, and spices in wide mouth jars so that you are forced to use your fingers to pick them up. This allows you to begin to gain a much deeper understanding on how an ingredient feels between your digits; the difference between a two finger, three finger, four finger, etc. pinch and how much of each of those ingredients effects the over all flavor of the food. When you are shaking it through a perforated top, you really have no idea how much you are adding and will result in an inconsistent flavor. It’s all about getting more connected to your food.

Acids, while they are most certainly their own animal, are very important when it comes to creating a well rounded flavor. In small amounts, they balance out sweet and salty flavors. In larger amounts, they can completely change the whole profile of the flavor while still helping bring out all flavors in the other ingredients.

This blog has been adapted from Chef Nic’s course on ‘Understanding Seasoning‘. To see the full course and an engaging video lesson from Chef Nic click here:

Keeping It Local

The local food movement is a collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies; one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place.

Basic Information
It is not solely a geographical concept. A United States Department of Agriculture publication explains local food as “related to the distance between food producers and consumers,” as well as “defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics.”
Food system refers to how food is produced, reaches consumers, and consumer food choices. The terminology subsumes the terms “food chain” and “food economy”, which are both too narrowly linear and/or economic. The food system can be broken down into three basic components: biological, economic/political, and social/cultural. The biological aspect refers to the organic food production processes; the economic/political aspect refers to institutional moderation of different groups’ participation in and control of the system; and the social/cultural aspect refers to the “personal relations, community values, and cultural relations which affect peoples’ interaction with food.”
No single definition of “local” or “local food systems” exists. The geographic distances between production and consumption varies within the movement. However, the general public recognizes that “local” describes the marketing arrangement (e.g. farmers selling directly to consumers at regional farmers markets or to schools).


The concept of “local” is also seen in terms of ecology, where food production is considered from the perspective of a basic ecological unit defined by its climate, soil, watershed, species and local agrisystems, a unit also called an ecoregion or a foodshed. The concept of the foodshed is similar to that of a watershed; it is an area where food is grown and eaten.


Community Benefits
A community supported agriculture system is extremely beneficial to a community because it enables consumers to support local farmers, obtain food that might be fresher than store-bought food, and learn more information from farmers about how the food is grown. Furthermore, local eating can support public objectives. Local eating can promote community interaction by fostering relationships between farmers and consumers. Even shopping experiences and interaction at local farmers markets have public benefits such as bonus-incentive or gleaning programs, the hosting of health sessions and dissemination of informational materials, and establishment of an organized central location that facilitates community engagement. In fact, farmers markets inspire more sociable behavior. Studies show that 75% of shoppers at farmers markets arrived in groups while only 16% of shoppers at supermarkets arrive in groups. Only 9% of customers in chain supermarkets had a social interaction with another customer and 14% had an interaction with an employee, but at farmers markets, 63% had an interaction with a fellow shopper and 42% had an interaction with an employee or farmer. Local food builds community vibrancy and retains local traditions while establishing a local identity through a unique sense of community.

Environmental Benefits
As stated in the New York Times, “foods that are minimally processed, in season and locally grown, like those available at farmers markets and backyard gardens, are generally the most climate-friendly.” They are the most climate friendly because the energy needed to store and transport the meat is removed from the equation. There is a decrease in greenhouse gases emitted because locally grown goods do not need to be transported across the country, or constantly cooled in large refrigerators. Besides the benefit of not having to transport food, locally grown foods are also better because of the smaller size of the farms. According to the USDA, more than 335 million tons of manure are produced annually in American farms. In factory farms, this waste is extremely concentrated, and without proper regulation and disposal, the waste pollutes the surrounding areas. The Natural Resource Defense Council even remarks that factory farms have reached a point in which the farms threaten public health. Pollutants from the manure and urine of overcrowded factory farms lead to water and air pollutions. Some pollutants include hydrogen sulfide and various nitrates, all of which are dangerous, even at low levels. Factory farms are also considered unsanitary because they place animals in overcrowded conditions in fully enclosed rooms. Resultantly, these rooms often become the perfect breeding grounds for diseases. Locally grown foods support free-range or pasture-grazing farming methods, decreasing the need for large factory farms. With fewer factory farms, waste will not be so concentrated and will thus not have such profound effects on the immediate surrounding areas.


Economic Benefits
A critical objective for any community is to promote investments that serve to increase the economic and social opportunities available for residents. If the United States wishes to sustain current agricultural production in the future, there must be a market for emerging farmers to counter the effects of a collectively aging farmer population. The introduction of farmers markets into the local economy can have a direct positive impact on the lives of all citizens within the community. In a study conducted in the state of Iowa (Hood 2010), it was concluded that the introduction of 152 farmers markets into the state economy led to the creation of 576 jobs, a $59.4 million increase in output, and a $17.8 million increase in income. While this is just one state, other studies conducted in different regions have produced similar results on the positive economic impact of more local farming on a specific community. Otto’s study further reported that each individual farmers market produced 3.8 new jobs per market.

However, these economic developments are not limited to local food markets. Surveys of towns in Oregon, (Lev, Brewer, and Stephenson 2003), found that farmers markets were the primary reason that tourists visited local towns on the weekend. This gross economic impact can be calculated, as in the case of the Crescent City farmers market in New Orleans, where this single market contributed over $10 million to the local economy. The potential reauthorization of the Federal Farmers Market Promotion Program led to the creation of thousands of jobs within local economies, and further collective economic growth. The logical conclusion is that with the increase in economic benefits due to local farming, room is created in this ever expanding industry.

The local food system represents an alternative to the global food model; a model that increases the separation between the producer and consumer via the middleman (e.g. processors/manufacturers, shippers, and retailers). The contributors to the local food system are complex networks of relationships between actors including producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers grounded in a particular place. These systems are the unit of measure by which participants in local food movements are working to increase food security and ensure the economic, ecological and social sustainability of communities.


Food Miles
Critics of the local foods movement question the fundamental principles behind the push to eat locally. For example, the concept that fewer “food miles” translates to a more sustainable meal has not been supported by major scientific studies. According to a study conducted at Lincoln University in New Zealand,

“As a concept, food miles has gained some traction with the popular press and certain groups overseas. However, this debate which only includes the distance food travels is spurious as it does not consider total energy use especially in the production of the product.”

The only study to date that directly focuses on whether or not a local diet is more helpful in reducing greenhouse gases was conducted by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews at Carnegie-Mellon. They concluded that, “Dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household’s food-related climate footprint than ‘buying local’”.

Environmental Impact
Numerous studies have shown that locally and sustainably grown foods actually release more greenhouse gases than food made in factory farms. The “Land Degradation” section of the United Nations report Livestock’s Long Shadow concludes that, “Intensification, in terms of increased productivity both in livestock production and in feed crop agriculture, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation”. Furthermore, Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia found that cattle raised on open pastures release 50% more greenhouse gas emissions than cattle raised in factory farms. Additionally, Adrian Williams of Cranfield University in England found that free range and organic raised chickens have a 20% greater impact on global warming than chickens raised in factory farm conditions, and organic egg production had a 14% higher impact on the climate than factory farm egg production. Furthermore, studies such as Christopher Weber’s report Food Miles have shown that the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions in production far outweighs those in transportation. This implies that locally grown food is actually worse for the environment than food made in factory farms. However, the fertilizer used for growing organic vegetables has less of an impact on the environment than conventional fertilizer.

Close - up of eggs in bowl

Efficiency And Feasibility
While locavorism has been promoted as a feasible alternative to modern food production, some believe it might negatively affect the efficiency of production. As technological advances have influenced the amount of output of farms, the productivity of farmers has skyrocketed in the last 70 years. Locavorism requires more land to be turned over to agriculture, leading to more global deforestation, which in turn could affect CO2 levels and reduce biodiversity. The modern food industry and its methods are criticized regarding their environmental effects, but there might also be some adverse consequences of locavorism.

Modified from Local & Regional Food Systems (last visited May 6, 2014). The text of this work is released under CC-BY-SA 3.0

Coconut Oil: what now?!

You must have been living under a rock (or perhaps are very good at filtering news) if you haven’t seen the hype that coconut oil has been causing in the news. This hype exploded in the middle of June when the American Heart Association (AHA) released a set of new advisory guidelines that strongly recommend that we end our passionate love affair with coconut oil. Apparently all those healthy fats aren’t so healthy? What now!?

Cue a flurry of confusion among foodies nationwide. Until recently the media has hailed coconut oil as the answer to all of our health issues from obesity to dry hair, ‘coconut oil is the magic cure’! So why the U-turn? Should we rid our houses of all coconut products? Has coconut oil been doing us more harm than good?

Well before we enter panic mode the writers here at the Up Beet Kitchen have done a little research for you so that you can make a more informed decision on whether to break up with coconut oil.

So here’s what we are going to cover:

> A quick recap on what coconut oil is and what has made it so popular in recent years and an introduction to the famous medium chain triglycerides (MCTs)

> Where the AHA’s advisory against coconut oil has come from. We’ll talk good and bad cholesterol, and the changing view that good cholesterol may not provide a protective influence over our risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

> A friendly reminder that coconut oil has a history of going in and out of fashion.


What is coconut oil?

So let’s go back to basics. What is coconut oil, where does it come from and why is it making so much noise?

Coconut Oil has been in use for centuries being described as the “swiss army knife” of the plant world. It’s as versatile as they come, providing a source of energy dense nutrients and water, as well as a long list of practical uses from flotation, to rope and much more.

The oil we buy today is derived from the flesh of the coconut. The coconut flesh is dried via smoking, sun or kiln-drying and then has to be refined to remove impurities – a process that typically involves bleaching through clay filters. Virgin Coconut oil is made using fresh (not dried) coconut flesh and oil extraction comes through pressing, fermentation, boiling or mechanical means. In general, unrefined/virgin coconut oil is of higher quality than refined due to less processing and a higher antioxidant count. But Virgin Coconut oil has a low smoke point so it’s not the best to cook with. We will go into detail later.

Coconut oil consists of 80-90% saturated fat (that’s what makes it a solid!) which you will probably be familiar with as the ‘bad fat’ in our diets. A fat is defined as saturated based on its chemical structure and the most important part to consider is the type of ‘fatty acids’ that make up the fat molecule. Longer fatty acids are typically harder to digest and thus more likely to be stored in the body as fat. Medium chain fatty acids digest more easily and can be absorbed from our stomachs as a readily available energy source. Coconut oil is made up of the fatty acid Lauric acid, which forms medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that have been the biggest selling point for coconut oil distributers. These MCT molecules are what makes the saturated fat in coconut oil deemed more beneficial than other typical saturated fats.

Benefits of Coconut Oil

>Easily digested and a ready energy source – hence the bulletproof coffee trend

>MCT’s may boost levels of HDL – (high density lipoprotein) ‘good cholesterol’ – these are the guys that help transport fat away from your arteries and to your liver to be processed which can help reduce risk of Cardiovascular disease (CVD).

>MCT’s may reduce activity levels of LDL – low density lipoprotein – ‘bad cholesterol’ associated with depositing too much fat in your arteries which can increase CVD risk.

>MCT’s are processed in the liver in a thermogenic process (produces heat) which is believed to temporarily increase metabolism.

>Coconut oil has a better anti-inflammatory profile than vegetable oils.

>There is some research showing that MCT’s can pass the BBB(Blood Brain Barrier) and provide energy to the brain which has been linked to Alzheimer’s prevention

>When used as part of a Ketogenic diet (high fat, low carb) coconut oil can help with weight management and reducing abdominal circumference

>The fatty acid lauric acid is anti-pathogenic/bacterial once digested and so can improve gut health. In your mouth using coconut oil for a technique called ‘oil pulling’ can clean bacteria from your teeth.

>And of course that never ending list of cosmetic/lifestyle uses!

There have been a lot of meta-reviews over the years which have collected data from research done on coconut oil and the overriding result is that there has never really been a clear consensus on coconut oil.

So what’s the most recent verdict?

The American Heart Association’s (AHA) Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Advisory recently conducted new research proving that the saturated fat in coconut oil leads to increased level of LDL cholesterol (the bad one). Results gathered from 7/7 randomized control trials claim that coconut oil raises LDL at about the same rate as butter, beef fat and palm oil. This isn’t exactly a brand new finding, the u-turn comes in terms of how the AHA view HDL. Historically it was believed that as long as the ratio of HDL to LDL remains high the risk of CVD remains low. However based on a small study showing that saturated fat may reduce the anti-inflammatory properties of HDL, while polyunsaturated fats may increase its positive impacts, the AHA have lessened their interest in dietary impacts of HDL on CVD. So if HDL is discounted then the impact of coconut oil on our cholesterol levels is negative. Coconut oil raises LDL. Period. No saving grace.

The AHA also highlights that a disportionate amount of the public views coconut oil as ‘healthy’ (72%) in comparison to very few nutritionists (37%). This is perhaps part of the reason they have come down so hard on coconut oil.


Things to Consider

It’s worth mentioning that with any large scale government publication/research you may want to consider any conflicts of interest. Many critics of the AHA report site marketing of the vegetable oil industry as a driver of the findings. There may also be conflicts of interest among those on the AHA panel in terms of which oil industry they support or are affiliated with. Having said that, it’s equally hard to find a neutral source that shouts about the benefits of coconut oil (really look at the websites that are pro-coconut and you’ll see that many are part of the coconut oil industry or ambassadors of their products!).

Furthermore the AHA have failed to acknowledge the other side of the debate: is sugar any better for your cardiovascular health than fat? While this most definitely warrants a lengthy discussion (perhaps a future blog!) the jist of it is that there is a fairly consistent thread of research highlighting a strong link between increased sugar intake and CVD. How does this relate to fat? Well typically if you opt for a low fat option, as is so often recommended, you’ll find yourself consuming a heavy dose of added sugar, added in to improve the taste of a product that has had all it’s fat stripped away. Low fat, high sugar fats tend to cause your blood sugar levels to spike and crash which can cause havoc on your cravings and lead to overeating. So you are left with a choice between real whole foods that have a healthy dose of fat, or processed low-fat options that have a heavy dose of sugar…

So look at how you are using coconut oil. There is a lot of research that suggest that on a ketogenic diet coconut oil can help in the reduction of LDL: HDL ratio. However many of these research articles comment on how ‘unpleasant’ a strictly low carbohydrate diet is. Are you truly eating a ketogenic diet or are you accidentally eating more fat on top of your normal diet?

There is evidence to suggest that the type of coconut oil you buy is also a determinant of how many health benefits you receive. Virgin oil, particularly that processed without heat, has high antioxidant content and has been found to have a larger positive effect on HDL:LDL profiles than refined types.

It’s also worth noting that coconut oil isn’t the only source of MCT’s in our diet – whole milk dairy products, cheese and palm kernel oil (not the same as palm oil!) are also good sources. So if it’s the MCT benefits you are searching for then switch up your sources!

So what now!?

When you look at the history of coconut oil over the years it becomes apparent that this ‘super food’ has long had the jury out on whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’. If history really does repeat itself we could see another U-turn in the future!


So yes, the research on coconut oil is unfortunately very hard to interpret. For every piece of research that finds it beneficial, another will pop up that finds it to be nothing special or even negative. The thing to remember is the food philosophy: everything in moderation. Coconut oil is a source of fat so eating tablespoon upon tablespoon on a daily basis may not do your waistline or arteries any good. Yet equally, if you cook with oil, a high quality non-virgin coconut oil is a good option, with a dose of easily digestible MCT’s thrown in there. If you are a proponent of ketogenic diets, coconut oil has a slightly better profile than butter so it’s probably a more favorable option for your bulletproof coffee!


Get to Grips with Grains

This week Chef Nic talks grains and why you should get well-acquainted with the best option for you!



Grains are small, hard, dry seeds, with or without attached hulls or fruit layers; harvested for human or animal consumption.In the culinary world, grain usually refers to cereal and pseudo cereal grains; while legumes and beans are considered beans, even though they are seeds also.

Basic Information
After harvesting, dry grains are more durable than other staple foods; such as starchy fruits, like plantains and breadfruit, and tubers, like sweet potatoes and cassava. This durability has made grains well suited to industrial agriculture; since they can be mechanically harvested, transported by rail or ship, stored for long periods in silos, and milled for flour or pressed for oil. Thus, major global commodity markets exist for canola, maize, rice, soybeans, wheat, and other grains; but not for tubers, vegetables, or other crops.
Grains are grown in greater quantities and provide more food energy worldwide than any other type of crop; they are therefore staple crops. In their natural form (as in whole grain), they are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, oils, and protein. However, when refined by the removal of the bran and germ, the remaining endosperm is mostly carbohydrate and lacks the majority of the other nutrients. In some developing nations, grain (in the form of rice, wheat, millet, or maize) constitutes a majority of daily sustenance. In developed nations, cereal consumption is moderate and varied but still substantial.


The first cereal grains were domesticated about 8,000 years ago by ancient farming communities in the Fertile Crescent region. Emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, and barley were three of the so-called Neolithic founder crops in the development of agriculture. Around the same time, millets and rices were starting to become domesticated in East Asia. Sorghum and millets were also being domesticated in sub-Saharan West Africa.

Maize, wheat, and rice together accounted for 89% of all cereal production worldwide in 2012 and 43% of all food calories in 2009; while the production of oats and triticale have drastically fallen from their 1960s levels. Other grains that are important in some places, but that have little production globally (and are not included in FAO statistics), include:

Teff: an ancient grain that is a staple in Ethiopia. It is high in fiber and protein. Its flour is often used to make injera. It can also be eaten as a warm breakfast cereal, similar to farina with a chocolate or nutty flavor. Its flour and whole grain products can usually be found in natural foods stores.

Wild rice: grown in small amounts in North America.

Amaranth: an ancient pseudocereal, formerly a staple crop of the Aztec Empire and now widely grown in Africa.

Millets: a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for both human food and fodder.
Quinoa: a species of goosefoot, is a grain crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, as it is not a member of the true grass family.

Kañiwa: a close relative of quinoa.

Buckwheat: despite the name it is not related to wheat, as it is not a grass. Instead, buckwheat is related to sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb. Because its seeds are eaten, it is referred to as a pseudocereal. Buckwheat that has been toasted is called kasha.

Several other species of wheat have also been domesticated, some very early in the history of agriculture:
Spelt: a close relative of common wheat.
Einkorn: a wheat species with a single grain.
Emmer: one of the first crops domesticated in the Fertile Crescent.
Durum: the only tetraploid species of wheat currently cultivated, used to make semolina.
Kamut: an ancient relative of durum with an unknown history.
Bulgar (also burghul, bulghur, or burghul): is a cereal food made from the groats of several different wheat species, most often from durum wheat. It is most common in European, Middle Eastern, and Indian cuisines.

In 2013 global cereal production reached a record 2,521 million tonnes. A slight dip to 2,498 million tonnes was forecast for 2014 by the FAO in July 2014.

Some grains are deficient in the essential amino acid lysine. That is why many vegetarian cultures, in order to get a balanced diet, combine their diet of grains with legumes. Many legumes, on the other hand, are deficient in the essential amino acid methionine, which grains contain. Thus, a combination of legumes with grains forms a well-balanced diet for vegetarians. Common examples of such combinations are dal (lentils) with rice in South India and Bengal; dal with wheat in Pakistan and North India; and beans with corn tortillas, tofu with rice, and peanut butter with wheat bread (as sandwiches) in several other cultures, including Americans. The amount of crude protein found in grain is measured as the grain crude protein concentration.

Modified from Food grain, (last visited Sept. 23, 2014). The text of this work is released under CC-BY-SA
Modified from Cereal, (last visited Sept. 23, 2014). The text of this work is released under CC-BY-SA
Modified from Pseudocereal, (last visited Sept. 23, 2014). The text of this work is released under CC-BY-SA

To Wash Or Not To Wash?

To Wash or Not To Wash?

That is the question. Do you really need to spare a valuable 30 seconds of your fast paced lives to wash fresh produce before you eat it? What if it’s organic? Surely you don’t need to wash organic produce…right?

Well let’s start with the highest advisory there is – the American Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Their recommendations for all produce: wash it!

“Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before preparing and/or eating, including produce grown at home or bought from a grocery store or farmers’ market”


They do however claim that produce labeled as ‘pre-washed’ doesn’t need to be exposed to a second rinsing. Though this is a somewhat debated recommendation it is rare for your pre-washed lettuce to be contaminated. The only issue would be contamination in your own kitchen – make sure it doesn’t come into contact with any uncleaned surfaces. Still not convinced, give it a rinse.

But why should you wash food that is organic certified? It does seem to go against what organic means; this produce is grown free of toxin filled pesticides…technically. You see, even if the farmer doesn’t use pesticides, soil contamination, contamination from neighbouring land and basic human error means that at least 1 in 10 organic products test positive for pesticide residues. This isn’t supposed to scare you, the benefits of fresh organic produce far outweigh the potential negatives of pesticide contamination, but it could be a reason to keep washing. Washing removes about 80% of residues so it’s well worth the extra time.

Furthermore, if you aren’t going to peel your produce (good, you are saying yes to extra nutrients!) then many recommendations suggest that you buy yourself a sturdy scrubbing brush (preferably separate from the one you use to clean your dishes) to really get the dirt and bacteria off the surface. We recommend the Tawashi, a Japanese style bristle brush made out of renewable palm fiber.


What about your homegrown produce? Well that depends on the quality of the soil you grown in and the purity of the water system in your garden and immediate surroundings. Providing you grow your produce organically and are confident that your garden patch is of the highest quality then you are probably safe to leave this produce unwashed. In fact, it may actually be beneficial. Many in the functional medicine community believe that soil based organisms can help boost our microbiome, improving gut health and immunity. This links into the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ which suggests that we may be causing a wide range of health issues due to making everything squeaky clean. Our immune system responds to stimulation, and clean often means stimulation is lacking. This doesn’t mean you should go and eat a spoonful of dirt but it does suggest that your home-grown produce just needs a quick rinse before eating. Leave the scrubber for store bought foods.

It is also worth referring to two lists called the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and the ‘Clean15’.



Generated by the Environmental Working Group, these lists lay out the 12 worst offenders for having high levels of toxic substances on the end sale-point produce, and the top 15 cleanest produce when not organically farmed. In general, if the produce has a thick protective skin it is likely to be less contaminated. The interesting part of the Dirty Dozen report is that washing supposedly doesn’t get rid of pesticide contamination since the list was compiled after vigorous washing, however it does reduce the exposure. So rinse everything, and maybe give the dirty dozen offenders a more thorough scrub. And by the way, water seems to be just as good, if not better than vegetable washes. Testing at the University of Maine found that three commercial vegetable wash products performed no better than distilled water washing and advised that clean cold water from your faucet is likely good enough. Other studies support this and suggest that for produce with lots of ‘crevices’ (think broccoli!) soaking for a few minutes in cold water will increase the amount of bacteria/produce you remove.

Oh, and one final thought. Washing store-bought produce also gets rid of some of the germs that collect after several people have touched, squeezed and picked up the apple that you end up buying.

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Summer Salad Celebration

This week we are talking salads. The perfect refreshing meal for a hot summers day, an ideal dish to take to a BBQ potluck with friends, a nutritious lunch for work, or an accomplice to whatever else you have going on in the kitchen!

The mighty salad sometimes gets a bad rep but Chef Nic has some tips to ensure you stay on track for a salad that steals the show.
The Basics:

While the world of salads can seem a bit overwhelming there are really only two broad categories of salads:

1. A mixed salad is one in which the ingredients and the dressing are tossed together:

Mixed salads can be broken down into bound salads and marinated salads. Bound salads are mixed with a thick dressing, usually mayonnaise or tofu based. An example of a bound salad is potato salad. A marinated salad is one mixed with a lighter liquid, like a vinaigrette.

2. A composed salad is aesthetically arranged on a plate. The salad dressing, often a vinaigrette, is then drizzled on top. In contrast a mixed salad has all of its ingredients tossed together, often with the salad dressing:

Many composed salads are meals within themselves.
Salad Niçoise is a composed salad of tomatoes, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, and anchovies, dressed with a vinaigrette. It is served variously on a plate, platter, or in a bowl, with or without a bed of lettuce. The tuna may be cooked or canned. The salad may include raw red peppers, shallots, and artichoke hearts, but according to many sources, excludes cooked vegetables, except for green beans and potatoes.

The Cobb salad is a main-dish American garden salad made from chopped salad
greens (iceberg lettuce, watercress, endives, and Romaine lettuce), tomato, crisp bacon, chicken breast (boiled, grilled or roasted-but not fried), hard-boiled egg, avocado, chives, Roquefort cheese, and red-wine vinaigrette. Black olives are also often included. One way to remember the components is to use the mnemonic EAT COBB: Egg, Avocado, Tomato, Chicken, Onion, Bacon, Blue cheese.



There are two basic types of dressing: vinaigrette and creamy.

Vinaigrette is an emulsion of vinegar and a form of oil, such as soybean oil, canola oil, olive oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, or grape seed oil; and sometimes flavored with herbs, spices, and other ingredients. It is used most commonly as a salad dressing, but also as a cold sauce or marinade. The ratio of oil to vinegar can be 3:1 or 2:1. The herbs and other ingredients, like salt and pepper, are simply added in small amounts to taste. The oil and vinegar are whisked into an emulsion, which is a mixture of insoluble liquids. Vinaigrettes are unstable emulsions, meaning that they will blend together but if let set for a time they will separate out back into their separate oil and vinegar states. This is why it is important to shake vinaigrettes before using. Sometimes mustard is used as an emulsifier to create a stable emulsion. Some commercial dressing manufacturers use chemical emulsifiers to stabilize the emulsion so it does not separate.

Creamy dressings are often based on mayonnaise or fermented milk products, such as yogurt, sour cream (crème fraîche, smetana), or buttermilk. Plant based milk products (almond, soy, rice milk, etc.) and even tofu can also be used.
Salads can be served warm or with a warm dressing. Some dark leafy greens taste less bitter when flash fried with a little oil, salt and acid. A flavorful fond or gastrique can also be made and poured over top of a salad.

Formula for the Perfect Salad

The Perfect Salad

Need some more inspiration? Check out Chef Nic’s recipe for a delicious Chickpea Curry Salad, click on the image to find this recipe and more from The Up Beet Kitchen.


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