The term ‘functional foods’ describes foods that are considered to have health-giving additives. Functional foods have become much more prevalent upon the dinner table in comparison to 10 years ago. Whether it be due to trends, ‘fads’ or just society becoming more health conscious, we seem to be more aware of what we are eating and the benefits we get from it.
Through greater understanding of how food affects our bodies, and an influx in allergy awareness, such as gluten intolerance (which has become the enemy of many) we now make careful decisions when doing the weekly shop or choosing a meal at a restaurant. Furthermore, veganism and vegetarianism are rife in today’s society and are becoming increasingly popular through encouragement over social media and technology aids.
Thanks to the technology available at our fingertips, we have become more mindful and knowledgeable of what we feed our families. As a generation that is living longer, healthy foods have become far more important, yet our obsession with technology and always being relevant in today’s society has led these foods to transcend beyond health and into trends.
This generation’s fixation with ‘googling’ creates a buzz around certain foods at any given moment, which more often than not, owes to their health benefit. Coconut water is now readily available in every supermarket nowadays due to a ‘discovery’ in its ability to provide energy, be low-calorie and even cure upset stomachs. However, the nouveau-trend of foods such as coconut water or turmeric having such great benefits may not be as straightforward as we are led to believe.
The incredible additional factors to these foods have long been known in many cultures, particularly where the foods originate. Turmeric, for example, has recently become a trendy functional food, however, it has been a key component in ayurvedic medicines for centuries.
Whilst our society may see these foods as being primarily used for their health benefits, other cultures don’t see them as being a ‘cure’. It is simply the taste of home. Turmeric, for example, is integral to many Sri Lankan dishes, including the recipe below. This is a humble Sri Lankan recipe that naturally includes many functional foods.
Sri Lankan Lentil Recipe
2 cups red split lentils
3 – 4 cups water
10 -12 curry leaves
1 inch cinnamon stick
1 tbs chopped onion
1 heaped tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1 cup coconut mill
1 medium onion chopped
2 pandan leaves (optional)
10-12 curry leaves
1 Tbs black mustard seeds
2-3 cloves grated garlic
1 tsp up to 1 Tbs red chili flakes
1-2 green chilies sliced or whole
2-3 Tbs vegetable oil
– Wash lentils with water and soak for at least one hour.
– Add the lentils into a large pan with water, curry leaves, onion, cinnamon stick and turmeric powder. **Do not add salt yet. Boil on medium high heat until water is cooked out and lentils are very soft (20-30 minutes). If you need more water to get the correct consistency add it as needed.
– In a separate frying pan heat 2-3 Tbs of vegetable oil on medium high heat. Add onions, pandan leaves, curry leaves, garlic, green chilies, red dried chili flakes and mustard seeds. Once frying add a little salt to flavour. Fry while stirring until onions have started to brown
– Once the lentils are cooked, add some salt to taste and coconut milk. Then add the tempering ingredients and stir well. Allow to cook for 3-5 more minutes. Serve rice or flat breads.
It is easy to research every ingredient and condemn some, and it’s even easier to become obsessed with trendy foods. However, as ‘functional foods’ can take over our lives one must remember that food is more than a function. Food can be a memory or a comfort irrespective of whether it involves kale or can cure bad skin. Although embracing other cultures through functional foods is veritably good, we should try and leave the technology away from the dining table.
For more information on functional foods, visit: www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/foodfacts/functional-foods.html