There are foods -- some considered commonplace in countries outside of the United States -- that were once viewed as too-exotic or even unhealthy here. Lucky for us, many have been trending favorably in recent years. Various animal fats are once again becoming positively viewed as an alternative to processed and refined vegetable oils and organ meats are also making a comeback -- and not just in fine dining establishments. A “real food” movement is evolving because individuals passionate about cooking and health are embracing techniques and ingredients that boast traditional methods and diets. A lot of these old-school foods are known for their unhealthy reputations but, it turns out, we were terribly wrong!
We know, we know -- it is nothing new! Hopefully we’ve all experienced Grandma’s homemade cure-all chicken soup. But up until recently, it’s been the norm to buy packaged broth off the shelf or use bouillon cubes to enhance...well, water. Though starting from these places are still better than just opening a can of soup, it’s still not the “real deal” and, from a nutritional view, doesn’t come close to making bone broth from scratch.
Slow-cooked broth made from chicken, cow, and pig bones, or seafood shells offer up a host of minerals, amino acids, and gelatin that can support bone health, collagen production, wound healing, healthy skin, and gut repair. All you have to do is throw bones in a slow cooker and let them sit for 12 plus hours. The nourishing broth is a delicious health advantage that those with patience and a desire to follow traditional recipes can find very rewarding.
Tallow and Lard
It took us some time to accept coconut oil back after years of banishment -- partially due to the fact that it was classified in the same category as the unhealthy hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Recently, coconut oil seems to be understood again as the health-promoting food that it is. But if we had that much trouble with a coconut, are we quite ready as a fat-fearing nation for fats such as lard and tallow to enter modern-day kitchens?
Lard is the rendered fat from a pig. At one point, it was much more commonly consumed and used for cooking in the United States. Though its use outside of the States is still probably more common, it is beginning to make a comeback here without the stigma that it once carried. Similar to coconut oil, lard has a high smoke point, making it an ideal cooking oil for high-heat cooking. Lard has a traditional use in many cultures yet we have maligned it and replaced it with vegetable oils like corn, soy, and canola oils which can be highly refined and processed and not the best choices for our health.
Tallow is another traditionally used fat derived from beef. Not only is tallow a preferred fat to cook with (less likely to oxidize at high heat), but it serves as a perfect ingredient for natural body care products like soap, balms, and candles. Cecilia Sing, a health advocate and homesteader says,“Pure tallow is incredibly healing and nourishing because of its compatibility with our own skin biology. We should look more often into ancestral wisdom for guidance because truth is, we didn't discover anything new, it's always been there. Properly raised animals give us the ultimate gifts from nature and tallow is definitely one of them.”
Organ meats also known as offal, are nutrient-dense foods that have been traditionally consumed, but at least in the United States have been forgotten in favor of leaner cuts of meat mostly from the muscle of various animals. Traditional Chinese Medicine has always had a place for these foods. Liver, for example, is a powerful food that can help correct certain nutritional deficiencies. For those who have never experienced organ meat, it can be a tough bite to swallow -- it may take time to acclimate to the taste...not to mention the texture. More people however are becoming open to the idea of incorporating small amounts of these organs, like kidneys and other glands, into dishes to boost levels of certain nutrients in the body without relying on supplements which can be costly and difficult to discern for the average consumer.
There is a new, exciting emergence of savvy consumers and health-conscious individuals who are welcoming these prized foods and preparation methods into their lives in order to reap the health benefits. Roots or traditional cooking, homesteading, the paleo or primal lifestyles -- whatever you want to call it, the underlying foundation of eating food the way it was traditionally consumed and prepared while maximizing the health benefits is an underlying goal and mission. Focusing on high-quality ingredients and “real foods” that some shy away from may be just the way to go for true health.