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The cool ingredients on our radar: tamarind, yuzu and kombucha

March 3rd 2016 / Anna Hunter

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Your latest vitamin hit is about to get a lot more exotic (not to mention tangy)...

If an apple a day seems a bit ‘safe’ to you, you’ve come to the right place. The following food items are not only zesty, unconventional and fun to name drop at dinner parties (yuzu martini anyone?), they also have the potential to boost everything from your gut health to your energy levels. We got the downlow on three particularly ‘hip’ foodstuffs that we’re seeing crop up on more and more trendy menus of late from nutritional therapist Gabriela Peacock, and we’ve suggested ways to incorporate each in both your diet and your beauty recipe. Just leave your wallets and food mile concerns at the door…

Kombucha

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Kombucha is derived from tea, but has a cloudy and dark appearance which is a by-product of the natural fermentation process. The fermentation process creates a drink rich in probiotics, antioxidants and nutrients. Its fermented nature makes it a viable thriving ground for good bacteria. Yeast turns sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, and bacteria called ‘acetobacter’ convert the alcohol into acetic acid, giving it a sour taste.

Probiotics are the bacteria that live in the digestive tract and support the function of the intestinal lining, enhancing its ability to act as a barrier. This immune protective role helps to alleviate digestive issues such as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, indigestion, flatulence, food allergies and fatigue. Consequently kombucha is a popular drink shown to support immunity, digestion and raise energy levels.

Fermentation can also increase the availability of vitamins and minerals in food for our bodies to absorb. Additionally, colonic bacteria manufacture many B vitamins, along with folic acid and vitamin K.

Keep fermented foods like kombucha in the fridge and beware of buying straight from the shelf at a supermarket. If it’s not in the fridge, it’s been heat treated and pasteurisation destroys the naturally occurring probiotics. Watch your choice of kombucha too; some are packed with sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners which are not going to have the same benefits for the gut.

I love to drink kombucha when I travel as it can help to keep my digestive system strong. The first time I drank it I was a bit nervous about the cloudy appearance, but it’s common to see a bit of the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). I’m yet to try making it at home, but it’s super simple (or so I’m told!).

Nutritional therapist Zoe Stirling likens the taste of kombucha to cider, but thankfully if you choose a worthy brew it won’t give you any scrumpy style side effects:

“It does contain a little sugar (sugar is needed to help the drink ferment) so it’s great as an alternative to traditional sugary fizzy drinks or even coconut water, but it shouldn’t replace your intake of plain water. Often my clients find it a much easier way of increasing probiotic consumption compared to eating other fermented foods. Always drink it chilled for ultimate refreshment!”

Where to get it: Zoe recommends sourcing yours from the likes of Wholefoods; kombucha hasn’t made it onto the high street quite yet. Try Love Kombucha Ltd, a British based brewing company that strives to keep sugar levels low (see site for stockists)

Beauty benefits: Fresh Black Tea Age Delay Firming Serum, £80, has a kombucha base; fermented black tea extract apparently helps to firm and tone skin by improving its elasticity.

Tamarind

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Tamarind is a distinctive seed pod used widely in South Asian and Indian cooking. You can often taste it in chutneys and curries. Its flavour is unique – part sweet, part sour. You might discover the seeds in an international food shop, and tamarind paste can be found widely, sold as a solid block or a pre prepared paste in most supermarkets.

To use the block version, tear a bit off and soak it in water, give it a good mix before putting it through a sieve. Use only the liquid, not the pulp that is left behind. The liquid can then be used in cooking or diluted further to make a drink.

You can find processed tamarind products in supermarkets, but these always come with the risk of having additives or sweeteners. It’s best to choose the fresh ones and check labels, but making the paste yourself can be quite labour intensive.

Medicinal uses of tamarind include settling the stomach and aiding digestion. It’s also very rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. You can’t avoid it in Asian cooking, and rightly so! It’s deliciously tangy and a welcome addition to a stir fry or curry.

‘Tamarindo’ is one of my favourite drinks from Central America. The seeds grow there, so it’s commonly made into a refreshing drink with ice and water (I like it with soda water too), just make sure to avoid added sugar as it can be very sweet. Ottolenghi is a big fan, so you will find tamarind in a number of his tasty recipes.

Where to get it: It’s actually lurking in your average bottle of Worcestershire sauce, but you’re most likely to find it in its fresher form at a local Asian supermarket.

Beauty benefits: Elethea Revitalising High Protection Fluid SPF 30, £75, moisturises as its shields skin from sun damage; the tamarind seed extract used in the formula has been found to have greater hydration potential than hyaluronic acid in certain studies.

Yuzu

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Yuzu is a citrus fruit that hails from Japan; a cross between a lemon and an orange. It has a sharp taste. A bit like tamarind it can be sweet and sour and it works particularly well in salad dressings and in trendy cocktails!

You’re unlikely to find it fresh, but it can be found bottled in some larger supermarkets. It has a strong flavour so you only need a drop or two; a bit like a bitter. Think of yuzu in a Japanese context alongside other traditional flavours like ginger, matcha, shochu and soy. The citric acidity means that yuzu works in similar scenarios to orange, lime and lemon, flavouring everything from marmalades to sorbets and light crab or fish dishes.

While yuzu zest is used, the fruit is full of seeds so juicing has always been the preferred way to consume it. Other uses include drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), in clear Asian style soups, added to dipping sauces, with sushi and ceviche or in sauces, salad dressings, and mayonnaise instead of other citrus juices or vinegars. It can be used instead of lemon, lime or orange in cakes, biscuits or preserves.

The seeds are gaining popularity in the beauty industry for retaining skin tone due to its high vitamin C content. It’s not something I’ve personally used in cooking as it’s difficult to find in the shops and if you’re considering local, seasonal foods, then it might not be the best choice! However, knowing the way the food world works, yuzus will be lining the aisles before we know it!

Where to get it: Waitrose, Ocado and your local Japanese food stockist are on it.

Beauty benefits: Molton Brown Japanese Orange Body Wash, £18, is packed with zingy yuzu to wake up your every nook and cranny. Fresh is the word.

To find out more about Gabriela, discover her new supplement programme or book an appointment, visit her website

For more information about Zoe and to book an appointment, check out her website

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