Ingredient Insights: Tamarind, Anise Seed, Dragonfruit, Cilantro


Happy Sunday evening to you, and happy National Ice Cream Day! Did you do anything to celebrate this very important holiday? Ryan and I did – we went out to LA’s Smorgasburg in celebration of their Ice Cream Alley and got ourselves a couple of frozen treats from local vendors. Ready for this?… Creamy coconut horchata popsicle dipped in chocolate, topped off with toasted marshmallows and caramel popcorn. All vegan. All delicious. All I’ve ever wanted in life. Thanks, Buddy Pops!

I know it’s pretty late in the day for an Ingredient Insights post, but it’s better late than never! Ladies, take off your bras – let’s get comfortable! Gentlemen, well…. you can take off your bras too. It’s about to get real snug in here.

If you’re new to Ingredient Insights, there’s a section on the website specifically for all of my previous posts – it’s right under “Recipes” > “Kitchen Staples” > “Ingredient Insights.” And to explain to you what this section is, it’s basically an entire shin-ding where I briefly talk about four different ingredients, whether they’re unusual or common or they’re sitting in your fridge but you still have no idea what it really is except for the fact that it tastes good.

Alright, I’ll stop blabbering now. Let’s get started!


Tamarind:

Here’s one of those “a little goes a long way” ingredients. Tamarind: a fruit and a legume. If you ever see a tamarind dangling from the tree, you’d probably think it’s poop – because yes, it looks like a long poop – but once you get past that thought and open it, you’ll be dazzled by the fruit that’s inside. Kinda like peas (except, more dazzling). The tamarind fruit has a well-balanced mixture of sweet and tart flavors, which makes it perfect for spices, jams, candies, or even as a touch of sweetness in dishes. Pad Thai is probably a dish you’re familiar with that contains it!

Tamarind started its existence in the tropical regions of Africa, where it’s been cultivated for thousands of years, then it made its way to Asia approximately 5,000 years ago, AND THEN, about 500 years ago, it made its way to America. Today, you’ll most commonly find it in India and Mexico. Funny how food travels – and they don’t even have to buy plane tickets! Man, I’m jealous.

If you’re looking to lose some weight before that pool party next weekend, eat some this fruit. There’s an enzyme in your body that stores fat and the hydroxycitric acid in the tamarind stops it from storing fat. Another thing is that tamarind contains tartaric acid, malic acid, and potassium, which are all components that help improve the digestive system, so if ya having troubles in the bathroom, this fruit should do the trick! Not to mention, tamarind is chuck-full of vitamin C, thus helping boost your immune system, respiratory system, and vision!

If you’re on a vegan, lectin-limited, and no-sugar diet, chances are, you miss Chick-Fil-A’s Polynesian sauce. I know I do. We gotchu fam – take a look at our version of Polynesian sauce (with tamarind paste!)

You could find tamarind paste in major grocery stores, and your best bet of finding fresh tamarind would be at any local Asian market.


Anise Seed:

It’s the star of any dish… literally… because it’s shaped like a star.
Get it? No? Okay, moving on.

Anise is quite the underrated spice when it comes to cooking but little known fact, it’s ranked as one of the top herbs and spices for healing. Another little known fact: it’s related to carrots, parsley, and celery. I know, it sounds like a strange family. Anise is native to the Mediterranean and Southwest Asia, and even though it’s been used commercially since the 1800’s, the use of anise actually dates back to biblical times, where it was considered to be one of the top 14 herbs of the Bible.

Benefits of anise include relief of menopause symptoms such as hot flashes (thank god, am I right, ladies?! – just kidding, I’m only 22), blocking the growth of fungus and bacteria, decreasing bloating, and BONUS: anise oil helps cough up mucus, rid of acne, and rid of lice infestations.

Chances are, you’ve been consuming anise in your teas and liquor without even realizing it, or confusing its flavor for licorice root. Been there, done that. Next time you’re at a social gathering and you’re drinking Jagermeister, you can impress your friends by carefully swirling your glass and saying “mmm yes the anise flavors in this fine liquor is very prominent” in your snobbiest voice. I am not responsible for the reactions you receive.


Dragonfruit:

Dragon-who???
Aren’t they extinct?!?!
Calm down, grandpa, dragons aren’t even real.
Just kidding, dragons are totally real.
And my grandpa would never say that – he barely knows english.
Plus, dragonfruit is a big thing in my family.

To clear the air, no dragons were harmed in the making of dragonfruits.

You’ve probably heard of this fruit by their popular alter ego, Pitaya. For the sake of me growing up calling it a dragonfruit, I’m going to call it a dragonfruit in this post. Dragonfruit kinda looks like a threat, but trust me, it’s more of a treat than a threat. It’s about the size of a large fist, it’s red/pink with big soft spikes, and when you slice it open, it reveals its white flesh covered in hundred upon hundreds of tiny black (easily edible) seeds.

Dragonfruit is an exotic fruit – one of several cactus species, to be specific – that grows in dry areas of Central America and Southeast Asia. The plant from which it grows upon can have up to six fruit-producing cycles yearly and the white flowers that it yields produces a sweet fragrance when they’re in bloom. It’s going to be hard to catch the flowers in full action, since it only blooms ONCE, during the night, then it’s pollinated by bats and moths. After blooming for 8 hours, it wilts, and a dragonfruit takes its place within approximately 15 days. What a quick & majestic fruit.

This unique fruit is loaded with phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamin C. On top of that, it’s also rich in protein, fiber, and carbohydrates, it’s a laxative, and it’s low in calories. All of which helps in boosting the immune system, detoxifying the body, helping with digestion, boosting metabolism, improving eye sight, and preventing cancer.

I’ve come to terms that dragonfruit was given to us by aliens because nothing about it makes sense. Like, c’mon, even its flower illuminates in the night. That just screams “ALIENS!” 

It’s still my favorite fruit in the entire world though.

Check out any açaí shop – they’ll most likely have “Pitaya” since it’s the new fad right now. Or check Whole Foods if you’re ready to put down about $8/pound. As always, Asian markets sell them for cheaper, if there’s one near you!


Cilantro:

Raise your hand if you’ve accidentally bought parsley instead of cilantro and didn’t realize it until after you’ve arrived home.

*raises both hands because this has happened way more than it should*

I’ve never liked parsley so I consider cilantro the better version of parsley. There’s just a flair in flavor that parsley is slacking on. Anyway, enough talk about parsley – it’s cilantro’s time to shine!

First off, to clear out any confusion: coriander and cilantro are the same thing – the only thing that sets them apart is where you come from. Those in the UK call it coriander, which stems from the French word, “coriandre.” In the US, it’s referred to as cilantro, which stems from its Spanish name. Coriander seeds, on the other hand, will be saved for another Ingredient Insights article.

You can find this herb just about anywhere these days – restaurants, grocery stores, your neighbor’s garden, etc. It’s truly a superfood, I mean, the benefits it has just goes on and on. I’ll try not to bore you too much with information on its abilities but I’ll at least inform you on the more important ones! Bear with me here.

Cilantro contains your full daily value of vitamins A & K, it’s rich in vitamin C, potassium, manganese, and it contains a strong cleansing agent that specifically targets toxic metals in the body. On top of that, cilantro protects your skin of damage caused by UV radiations, oxidative stress (which links to arthritis, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s), and toxins. So say goodbye to food poisoning and goodbye to that annoying Urinary Tract Infection.

And if you’re one to have troubles with sleeping or anxiety, cilantro might do the trick! This herb helps balance your sleep cycle and calm down nerves naturally. A study actually found that high levels of cilantro produces the same levels of anti-anxiety effects as Valium, which is a common prescription drug. Three cheers to a better night’s sleep!


It’s late and I’m a little tipsy. Hope you’re enjoying this fine night. Thanks for sticking around!

Cheers!
Kimberly

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