James Wong’s 5 tips to superpower your food
James Wong certainly knows his stuff about eating well. As the author of bestselling books such as Grow Your Own Drugs and Homegrown Revolution, and presenter of programmes such as BBC2’s award-winning Grow Your Own Drugs and Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, he’s the man you need if you’re looking to improve your diet and give your health a boost.
James has got a new book out in March, the rather brilliant Grow for Flavour, and he’s been kind enough to give us a bit of a preview of what to expect. Here are a few simple tips from James to help superpower your fruit and veg….
Simply not boiling carrots, cooking them any other way, can make them up to 25% sweeter and more nutritious according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. If you don’t fancy roasting, baking or steaming, try boiling them whole and slicing them after, to ensure flavour and nutrients are not lost to the cooking water.
Want to go one better? Try growing the almost pitch black ‘Purple Sun’ carrots, whose intense colour stems from the same antioxidant pigments that give red wine and blueberries their purported health benefits. Not only that, but they are also sweeter and just as easy to grow.
Storing these fruit on the counter (instead of in the fridge) for a few days triggers chemical reactions that will make them more fragrant, brighter in colour and higher in antioxidants. In one Canadian study, strawberries stored at 20C for four days experienced a whopping 700% increase in their flavour compounds. Be warned that these reactions will not take place at lower temperatures though, so avoid the fridge at all costs.
Hailed as a ‘superfood’ for their antioxidant content, what most non-geeks don’t know about blueberries is that their content of these health promoting compounds varies dramatically between varieties. The homegrown variety ‘Rubel’, for example, delivers three times the antioxidant payload of supermarket staple ‘Bluecrop’. With these easy to grow plants kicking out up to 6kg of crop a year (worth £80 in supermarkets) its a real no brainer.
The best bit? One trial has found that lightly cooking blueberries (for example in pie) doubles their absorbable antioxidant content. Talk about having your pie and eating it.
Popping store-bought mushrooms on a windowsill for just a few hours can result in over x10 increase in their Vitamin D content. When exposed to the UV light from the sun, a chemical known as ergosterol is converted into Vitamin D2, with just 30-60 minutes anytime between 10am to 3pm capable of making a measurable difference. Placing them with the gills side facing up can spike this even further. A nutritional supercharge for zero work.
Unbelievably spraying a dilute aspirin solution onto tomato plants (we are talking 1/2 a soluble tablet per litre of water) is capable of causing their sugar content to soar one and a half times and boost their Vitamin C content 50%. This treatment can even make your plants more resistant to cold, drought and, not that we’ll ever need it in the UK, heat stress. This works as aspirin is a close chemical copy of the plant stress hormone, salicylic acid, which turns on the genes that regulate their immune system. The more stress a plant ‘thinks’ it is under the more sugars that it sends to the fruit to ensure they are eaten and their seeds dispersed to save the next generation.