This page is where I give some definitions of terms that I use that might not be commonplace. I've tried to give links to further information in case you want to know more ... and I usually couldn't resist giving my opinion on things too. I'll keep adding as new terms pop up in my posts. Happy learning! Amanda xx
Agave syrup is a liquid sugar made from a cactus and has a high proportion of fructose. This means it has a lower glycemic index (GI) than regular sugar, but it's also a bit sweeter tasting than regular sugar too. You can use regular sugar or honey in place of agave syrup whenever a recipe calls for it.
These are raw bits of cocoa beans ... nothing else added, full of antioxidants!
These Meso-American natives are chockers full of Omega-3 fatty acids ... and along with their high protein and fibre content, chia seeds make a great addition to nearly any diet. They don't have much flavour on their own, meaning you can easily include them in baking, on cereal, or anywhere you need a little extra crunch. You can find them at natural foods stores.
Fair-trade is a trade process by which companies pay higher prices for goods from developing nations in order to promote sustainable agriculture and a better quality of life. There is some debate as to whether this works, but it makes me feel nice to buy fair-trade products anyway.
Free range livestock/poultry/etc are typically given regular access to open areas and more natural conditions - this in contrast to high density and/or caged housing common in animal farming. If you want more information, Peter Singer and Jim Mason have written a really informative and practical book called: The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter.
An Andean "superfood," maca is best known for its positive effects on libido and fertility. A study of post-menopausal women in 2008 found that maca improved mood and libido independently of any effect to reproductive hormones - as in, it made the women feel better, but not via changes in their reproductive hormone profiles (which is good, for us breast cancer survivors). As with anything, I use maca now and then, to vary up the foods (and nutrients) going into my body, and because it tastes nice with chocolate - rather than as a magical remedy for anything.
This is a paste made from fermented soybeans, rice and/or barley, used extensively in Japanese food. It has a slightly sour but rich flavour, making it a great base for soups, stocks and gravies.
The definition of 'organic' varies country by country, but generally means that synthetic chemicals or fertilisers have not been used in the growing or processing of the produce. Organic meat has not been raised with growth hormones or unnecessary antibiotics, and animals are given access to open range. 'Organic' is one of those labels that you have to be careful about ... there is a certification process and the only way to be sure something is truly organic is if it's certified. At the farmer's market you'll often find 'chemical-free' produce, which usually means organic but not certified (and for me that's good enough). But at the natural foods store or online you often find products (lately for me this has been moisturiser or essential oil - can you tell I'm a little bitter here?) that call themselves organic but aren't. Because, you see, the other definition of the word is 'chemical compounds with a carbon base,' (as in that hideous organic chemistry I had at uni ...). So check the ingredients carefully so you aren't tricked.
Anyway, buying organic is great for the environment because growing tends to be more sustainable and local. And many people say organic produce is higher in nutrients and antioxidants (because it hasn't been bred for cross-world transport or appearance). Regardless, it's got to be a good thing to avoid ingesting chemical residues, right?
Parabens are a class of chemicals used as preservatives in many cosmetics and toiletries. Check for them in your shampoo, your face wash, etc ... they might be called methylparaben or propylparaben or something similar. Parabens are currently controversial as they have been indirectly linked with breast cancer (they mimic estrogen in the body). The cosmetics industry maintains that the chemicals they use are safe for humans in the small doses used, but when many of the products we use have known or suspected carcinogens and mutagens in them one wonders what the cumulative effect is. Since having cancer, I've definitely got parabens on my hit list.
Check out these sources for great information about chemicals in our everyday lives:
Chemical Free Kids by Dr. Sarah Lantz
Chemical-Free Kids: How to Safeguard Your Child's Diet and Environment
by Anthony Zolezzi
Chemical Maze (a book to take shopping with you) by Bill Statham
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a non-profit organisation dedicated to making beauty products more healthy.
Passata is tomato puree - unadulterated and smooth. It usually comes in tall, 700mL-ish bottles (which are great for storing grains and dry beans afterwards. It's one of my pantry staples, because it can be used for so many different, near-instant dishes. Yum.
Rapadura sugar is a brown sugar formed directly from sugar cane juice. No extensive processing - just squeezing the juice, drying it, and grinding it up. No molasses added back in, for colour. Just sugar cane sugar! I recommend you try it out for baking - it's so tasty. You can find it at most health food stores.
Raw sugar has been much less processed than white sugar ... many believe that minimal processing is better for you and the environment. Robbie and I have certainly tried to reduce the amount of processed food we eat. For more information about processing of food and the whole-food movement, check out this book by Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.
Tahini is sesame paste - like peanut butter, but made from sesame seeds.