Question: Is there really a significant advantage to using clarified butter in cooking? I've only done it once, and I found it rather burdensome to do.
Answer: Clarified butter is more suitable for frying and storing than is regular butter. The milky liquid that is discarded when the butter is clarified is the protein casein, which scorches at high heat. Therefore, foods fried in clarified butter brown better because frying may be done at a higher temperature.
The protein that is removed in clarified butter is also the component that makes butter rancid, so the shelf life of clarified butter is improved. Ghee, a solidified, super-clarified butter from India (not to be mistaken for the common Indian ghee that is made of various oils), keeps for months at room temperature without producing ill effects and is a good example of the longer shelf life of clarified butter.
Q: My doctor advised me to be on a high-fiber diet and gave me a list of high-fiber foods, which included whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes. My question is, will cooking change the amount of fiber in foods?
A: Research on dietary fiber for health benefits is still being explored, so theories are still not conclusive. To answer your question on cooking fiber, studies done at Cornell University show that cooking does not appear to decrease fiber in most foods. It was found that when refined or whole-grain carbohydrate foods such as breads, cereals and chips are toasted, baked or fried, they contain more fiber-like materials. However, these may not actually have the same physiological effects as natural food fibers.
And because water is lost in cooking, fiber can make up a greater proportion of fruits and vegetables (which have a high water content) after they're boiled. Peeling, of course, decreases the fiber content of these foods, but cooking will not destroy their fiber.
Other processing methods like canning, freezing and freeze-drying do not cause changes in the fiber content. But fiber is generally discarded when fruits or vegetables are processed into juices. Bran itself, when finely ground, as in processed foods, has less fiber-like effect in the body. Lettuce, contrary to popular belief, has very little fiber because of its high water content.
Q: I heard you can make your own baking powder at home. Do you have the formula?
A: Yes. You'll need to have cream of tartar (an acid) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) on hand. Combine 2 teaspoons cream of tartar with 1 teaspoon baking soda. The mixture will leaven 1 cup of flour sufficiently.
Q: In your article last month about fish, "Healthy Catch" (Times Food section: July 11), you described the benefits of eating fish and fish oils (based on studies done by Dutch scientists) for lowering the risk of dying from heart diseases. If that is true, would it be beneficial to take some fish oil supplements that are sold in health food stores?
A: The omega-3 fatty acids contained in oily fish have been found to be beneficial in lowering the risk of heart disease. However, researchers involved in these studies warn against experimenting with fish oil supplements, even under medical supervision. Changes in blood clotting, bleeding problems and inflammatory reactions caused by changes in white blood cells were reported in people taking high doses of fish oil capsules.
Since the studies concluded that one or two fish meals a week are preventive, one doesn't really need fish oil supplements, which can be risky.