Friday, August 12, 2011

Canary Tip: Keep It Cool

So we've just recently set a record here in Austin.  More than 27 consecutive day of triple-digit temperatures.  And on top of that, barely any rain.  Now if you think I'm complaining, you're partly right.  I'm really just acknowledging our current climatic state of affairs.  Trust me when I say that you will know when I am complaining.

So while baking banana bread the other day (recipe forthcoming), I was digging through the refrigerator drawer I use for storing my flours and oats, and It reminded me of when I first started using the refrigerator instead of the pantry to store my flours, grains, oats, nuts, and seeds.  And with the relentless heat outside, I thought to myself, "Thank goodness I figured that out.  It makes such a difference in my cooking, baking, and snacking.  I should probably share this with my readers, in case they don't already know." :)

So here you go: a tip from one canary to the next.

It was actually only in the last 4 years, at the outset of my path to gluten freedom, that I even had a need to store these things, I so rarely cooked for myself.  At first, I was keeping everything at the back of my pantry, where it would often become nice and toasty during our 6 months of summer.  But after noticing a variety of grocers storing their grains, flour, and raw nuts and seeds in the refrigerator, it made me wonder.  So I made the resolution to do the same at home and see if it made a difference.

And indeed, it did.  Rice cooked more evenly with stronger aroma and flavor, and I stopped having to worry about random grains that just wouldn't cook.  Nuts tasted noticeably better and maintained their snap or their crunch much longer.  And the biggest difference was in my baking, in terms of texture and taste being more consistent.  And when it comes to GF baking, that is something to write home about.

nuts, seeds, shredded coconut, grains, pasta, oats, flours

 What's refrigeration for anyway?  Oh yeah, to prolong the shelf life of food items and preserve their nutritional integrity. Duh.  

But there's more.

Nuts, grains, and seeds all contain oils.  Particularly in the case of nuts and seeds, these oils are a large source of their purported health benefits.  But if stored improperly (i.e., a warm, dark pantry in an unsealed container or bag), they can quickly become rancid and all those benefits can be undone.  As one can imagine, this situation becomes very common during late spring and summer.  Rancidity can usually be evidenced by an unpleasant taste and odor, ranging from sour to bitter to soapy.  Grinding down grains and nuts into flours makes them especially susceptible to this as this increases their exposure to oxygen and decreases their viable shelf life. 

And not to scare anyone, but when oils become rancid, they become an abundant source of free radicals.  And free is not a good thing here.  Cliff's Notes version: an excess of free radicals leads to oxidative stress, in turn resulting in systemic inflammation, which can then contribute to premature aging and degenerative, terminal illnesses including arthritis, Alzheimer's, cancer, and heart disease.  And people with autoimmune disorders (like celiac) seem to be especially vulnerable to these effects.

 Don't get me wrong - free radicals are everywhere, and they are even a natural byproduct of many processes within our bodies.  But with escalating exposure to free radicals from the air we breathe and the water we drink, why make matters worse by purposefully eating more of them than we have to?

Sour, soapy tasting banana bread that will damage your body's tissues from the inside out and make you look older.  Yum.

So this is my advice:  
Store nuts, grains, pasta, flours, and seeds in your refrigerator.  Keep them sealed tightly in bags or in containers.  Do your best to buy only what you will use shortly (e.g., 1-3 months), and if you must buy in larger quantities, keep the rest in the freezer (grains and nuts in particular).  And remember that if what you're buying isn't fresh, no amount of refrigeration or freezing is going to make it fresher.  Note an item's marked shelf-life (estimated time to expiration), if it undergoes rapid turnover in the bulk section, and the first impression, when possible, of its smell and overall appearance.  Because when you take special care of your food, you are taking special care of your body.

Live like there's no tomorrow, sure, but let's try not to eat that way, too.

remember to stay hydrated

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