Khary Roberts dives into commonly held food myths in Trinidad and Tobago and digs up whether they are accurate or not.
What if I told you that you’ve been lied to all your life? And what if I added that it was by the people you trusted most? Finally, what if I told you that you’ve been lied to for so long that you believe it’s the truth? At this point, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this and saying to yourself, “I thought this guy wrote about food”. Well, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. There are a bunch of things that we have heard repeated about food often enough that we accept them as fact. It doesn’t even cross our minds to question them because they seem logical. That’s the funny thing about information, get enough people talking about something a lot and over the passage of time it is widely accepted as factual. And thus, myths are born. The beauty about food is that there is a lot of sound information based in science to support or disprove almost any claim. Today, we will go through some of the most common food fallacies and facts.
Myth: Carrots improve eyesight
There are more than a few things said about carrots that need to be cleared up. The most popular: eat lots of carrots because they will improve your eyesight. This myth has some basis in truth and can be misleading. Carrots contain beta carotene which converts to a form of vitamin A. Vitamin A is a key compound the body uses to maintain normal vision and research has shown that it may reduce age-related muscular degeneration. Otherwise, unless one is vitamin A deficient due to imbalanced nutrition, malabsorption, or alcoholism, beta carotene will not make poor vision good.
This myth started during World War II where the false information was spread as a means to conceal the fact that the fighter pilots of the British Royal Air Force were using the newly developed radar to detect and subsequently shoot down enemy aircraft. It was thought that they attained improved vision by consuming a lot of carrots; a belief that is still held by many today.
Myth: Peel carrots before using them
Another common carrot myth is that “you need to peel a carrot before using it”. A carrot grows underground before being harvested and it is commonplace practice nowadays to peel it before use. Fresh carrots oftentimes have remnants of dirt on them so it is human nature to feel the need to remove the ‘dirty part’ before preparing them to be eaten. Many believe though, that the skin can be potentially harmful but, this is not the case. The skin of the carrot contains a high degree of nutrients and beneficial enzymes. While it is easier and sometimes quicker to just peel the skin off, you would be missing out on the added benefit of these compounds. Alternatively, the skin should be thoroughly washed after which the carrot can be used.
Myth: Always wash rice
Now on to a different item, rice! This is something we hear quite often in the Caribbean, especially from the more mature generation. In fact, growing up, I would witness my grandparents engaging in this activity every day without fail. It is possible that in the old days the rice my grandparents bought loose from a market vendor may have been questionable as pertains to food safety and sanitation guidelines that we follow today and, there was probably a legitimate reason years ago for washing rice before use. Others say that there would be too much starch if the rice is not washed before cooking. So it is correct that washing rice removes starch but, it also removes beneficial nutrients as well. The most common forms of rice readily available at supermarkets are usually highly processed and already lose a lot of nutritional content because of the processing. Washing only serves to further remove nutrients so it is therefore not recommended.
Myth: Rub cucumbers...because?
Now, the following has been up for debate for quite some time. I am almost certain the majority of you do this and are not exactly sure why. I confess I’m a cucumber rubber too. You must have been advised to remove the ends of the cucumber and rub them to prevent the cucumber from being bitter at some point in time. When rubbed, the ends of the cucumber secrete a white, foamy substance. Well, that sap-like substance contains a compound called cucurbitacins. All members of the gourd family contain this compound and thus, it can be found in zucchini, squash and the like, and it is responsible for the bitter taste of cucumbers. Cucumbers that you find at the supermarket are oftentimes bred to reduce the level of this compound so it is likely you may not get any bitter taste from those, but the ones grown at home or by a farmer, are more likely to have higher levels as they are naturally inclined to. In addition, cucumbers grown in areas with less water available and other factors are likely to have higher concentrations of cucurbitacins. So, this one is actually true.
Myth: Wash Your Eggs
Last one for today; “You need to wash your eggs.” One fact about the egg is that the shell is comprised mainly of calcium and is porous in nature. Another fact about the egg is that it comes out the rear end of a chicken and is harvested from an area that oftentimes contains faecal matter. Being that the eggshell is porous, it is not recommended to wash them with soap or other chemical cleaners but it is necessary to sanitise them with warm water and a cloth to remove at least some of the contaminants. Luckily, the inner membrane of the egg is not porous so the yolk and albumen of the egg are protected from external contaminants but it is still best practice to clean them to some degree where possible.
As we have learnt over time, not everything you hear in life is the truth and the same can be said about food. It is always a good idea to question things and do research where possible so that you can rest assured you are always in the know. I do hope that this clears up at least a couple misconceptions and gets you questioning whether you are doing what is best.