Archives for category: Neodiet!

Is Bubble Tea a drink, a food, or a dessert?  Invented in Taichung, on the west central coast (where my father lives now), this wildly popular tea is a blend of tea, milk, sugar, and ‘bubbles’–little squishy sweet globes of manioc starch. Better known to Americans as tapioca, manioc starch comes from an ancient root that was domesticated more than 6,000 years ago by Native South American tribes. Manioc comes in two varieties: bitter and sweet. The bitter kind needs lots of cooking to remove toxins (useful for keeping pests at bay). The sweet kind can be found in Mexican produce sections and can be subbed for potatoes in a chicken stew.

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Manioc, like many traditional root foods, has long, complex sugars that digest slowly so that you don’t absorb many before they exit your body. Slow-release starches are a GOOD thing, as you feel full but don’t pack on carbs as quickly as say, Twinkies. My research project in Taiwan will focus on another complex starchy root–taro–which has a rich and ancient past in Southeast Asia and Polynesia (poi, anyone?) Above is a delicious combination of them both: taro-flavored bubble tea!

We and our primate ancestors adore eggs. In our earlier tree-dwelling phase, eggs snatched from nests were a high-protein food that could be enjoyed by infants and adults alike. Eggs were part of paleodiets that pre-date our species, even our genus. They are important to hunter-gatherers, gardeners, farmers, and city folk. No diet, paleolithic, neolithic, or industrial, is complete without eggs (my apologies to those of you who are allergic).

The Taiwanese love a good thousand-year egg on their breakfast plate, a tradition that floated across the Taiwan Strait more than 400 years ago on bamboo junks. The below example comes from the kitchens of Academia Sinica (picture the Smithsonian Institution or M.I.T., smaller with nice dorms and a restaurant). The eggs (duck, chicken, or quail) are prepared by wrapping in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls and then leaving for weeks or even months. In the old days eggs were buried and there are tales of ancient eggs being exhumed–then consumed.

Chinese people probably didn’t invent thousand-year eggs until the advent of domestication (so you could grab a few eggs on short notice from chickens, who were converted from jungle fowl at least 6,000 years ago) and settled living (so you could bury your eggs and be reasonably sure to remember where you left them).

When removed from their coating, the egg shells are a delicate grey-brown sometimes with branchlike markings. The above left image is of a painstakingly wrapped thousand year egg; on the right, of my Taiwanese breakfast egg. The yolk turns granular, with a deep thunderhead-grey color and a faint flavor of salt, smoke, and sulfur. The white becomes an exquisite translucent deep brown or caramel color, and rubbery-smooth. I’m not making this sound very tasty; nonetheless,  you’ll have to try one and see for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Have you experimented with a Paleodiet before? I’ve actually lived with hunter-gatherers and eaten a real paleodiet, complete with fibrous roots, all kinds of fruits, beans, and nuts; and wild creatures like anteaters, storks, crocodiles, electric eels, armadillos, and of course, nice juicy larvae!

In my view any paleodiet that doesn’t include bugs is phony, straight up.

But you might not have to eat bugs to eat optimally. There’s a concept out there called your ‘food family tree’ that basically says you should eat what your ancestors were eating–not your ape-like ancestors, but more recent farming or herding ancestors (or, if you are of indigenous descent, then your hunting/gathering/fishing ancestors). Great concept, huh? Especially since, unlike the paleodiet, your Neolithic diet might include beer and wine :–) The tribe I lived with, the Pume of Venezuela, make a delightful beer; women chew cakes made of manioc root, spit them into a bucket of water, cover with a cloth, and leave it alone for about 12 hours. The mixture turns into a sweetish light beer–with chunks. Cheers!

My Taiwan project will focus on traditional foods of the indigenous Taiwanese farmers: Millet, taro, wild ginger, chenopodium (known to us by its Peruvian name of quinoa). This sculpture, from the Taiwan National Museum of Prehistory, shows a young lady bringing home tribal crops in her carrying basket. These crops may hold a secret not only to improved health, but resiliency to climate change (which is really affecting Taiwan’s agricultural economy). My next post will be about specifically adaptive characteristics of ancient foods, including crops like these, and why our diets should include more of them.

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At the National Museum of Prehistory in Taitung, a sculpture captures the image of Neolithic crops of millet, taro, and rice carried by a young tribal woman to help feed her family.