Q. What are truffles and are they worth the cost?
A. Looks are definitely deceiving when it comes to truffles. Misshapen and lumpy, these earthy orbs are among the most prized delicacies in the culinary world. They are intensely flavored and aromatic, with a unique musky, nutty fusion; certain varieties fetch thousands of dollars per pound--not too shabby for a fungus.
Nutrient values vary among species and growing region, but edible fungi are known to contain nutrients, proteins, fiber and bioactive compounds that possess antioxidant properties. A slice or dusting of raw truffle (cooking diminishes flavor) atop entrees, soups and sauces is all it takes to create a true culinary experience.
Though an equally intense price makes them inaccessible most of the time (they may be purchased online and in some farmers markets), truffle oils, seasonings and salts may contain truffle essence and are more affordable. Be sure to check the labels, however, as many products do not contain actual truffles, but a chemical flavor substitute. -- Lori Zanteson
Q. I saw tea seed oil in a natural food store; is it a healthy fat?
A. Tea seed oil is an edible, cold-pressed oil derived from the seeds of the Camellia oleifera, a shrub native to China. The oil is used extensively in China for cooking, as its high smoke point of 485 degrees F and stability make it ideal for cooking seafood, poultry, meat or vegetables. Tea seed oil is also a popular base for marinades, dips, dressings and sauces.
Tea seed oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fat--52 percent and 23 percent, respectively. In the Western world, this oil is gaining more attention for its speculated antioxidant properties. Preliminary studies indeed indicate that the compounds in tea seed oil exhibit activity that may help protect against diseases caused by free radicals and oxidative damage, such as cancer and heart disease.
It certainly wouldn't hurt to incorporate a little tea seed oil into your diet, especially if a recipe calls for high temp cooking. But keep in mind that tea seed oil is not as readily available on this side of the globe. You might be better off using extra virgin olive oil as your first choice of oils. As with any oil, tea seed oil calories--at 120 per tablespoon--can add up quickly. -- McKenzie Hall, R.D.
(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. http://www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)