Month: March 2015

Feel at home with Breadfruit

Posted on Updated on

Feel at home with Breadfruit.


Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a species of flowering tree in the mulberry family, Moraceae originating in the South Pacific and that was eventually spread to the rest of Oceania. British and French navigators introduced a few Polynesian seedless varieties to Caribbean islands during the late 18th century and today it is grown in some 90 countries throughout South and Southeast Asia, the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean, Central America and Africa. Its name is derived from the texture of the cooked moderately ripe fruit, which has a potato-like flavor, similar to freshly baked bread.
Ancestors of the Polynesians found the trees growing in the northwest New Guinea area around 3,500 years ago. They gave up the rice cultivation they had brought with them from Taiwan, and raised breadfruit wherever they went in the Pacific (except Easter Island and New Zealand, which are too cold). Their ancient eastern Indonesian cousins spread the plant west and north through insular and coastal Southeast Asia. It has, in historical times, also been widely planted in tropical regions elsewhere.
Breadfruit trees grow to a height of 25 m (82 ft). The large and thick leaves are deeply cut into pinnate lobes. All parts of the tree yieldlatex, a milky juice, which is useful for boat caulking.
The trees are monoecious, with male and female flowers growing on the same tree. The male flowers emerge first, followed shortly afterward by the female flowers, which grow into capitula, which are capable of pollination just three days later. The compound, false fruit develops from the swollen perianth, and originates from 1,500-2,000 flowers. These are visible on the skin of the fruit as hexagon-like disks.
Breadfruit is one of the highest-yielding food plants, with a single tree producing up to 200 or more grapefruit-sized fruits per season, and only requires very limited care. In the South Pacific, the trees yield 50 to 150 fruits per year. In southern India, normal production is 150 to 200 fruits annually. Productivity varies between wet and dry areas. In the Caribbean, a conservative estimate is 25 fruits per tree. Studies in Barbados indicate a reasonable potential of 16 to 32 tons per hectare (6.7-13.4 tons/acre). The ovoid fruit has a rough surface, and each fruit is divided into manyachenes, each achene surrounded by a fleshy perianth and growing on a fleshy receptacle. Most selectively bred cultivars have seedless fruit.
The breadfruit is closely related to the breadnut, from which it might have been selected, and to the jackfruit.
Uses
Breadfruit is a staple food in many tropical regions. The trees were first propagated far outside their native range by Polynesian voyagers who transported root cuttings and air-layered plants over long ocean distances. Breadfruit are very rich in starch, and before being eaten, they are roasted, baked, fried or boiled. When cooked, the taste of moderately ripe breadfruit is described as potato-like, or similar to freshly baked bread. Very ripe breadfruit becomes sweet, as the starch converts to sugar.
The fruit of the breadfruit tree – whole, sliced lengthwise and in cross-section
Because breadfruit trees usually produce large crops at certain times of the year, preservation of the harvested fruit is an issue. One traditional preservation technique is to bury peeled and washed fruits in a leaf-lined pit where they ferment over several weeks and produce a sour, sticky paste. So stored, the product may last a year or more, and some pits are reported to have produced edible contents more than 20 years later. Fermented breadfruit mash goes by many names such as mahr, ma, masi, furo, and bwiru, among others.
Most breadfruit varieties also produce a small number of fruits throughout the year, so fresh breadfruit is always available, but somewhat rare when not in season.
Breadfruit can be eaten once cooked, or can be further processed into a variety of other foods. A common product is a mixture of cooked or fermented breadfruit mash mixed with coconut milk and baked in banana leaves. Whole fruits can be cooked in an open fire, then cored and filled with other foods, such as coconut milk, sugar and butter, cooked meats, or other fruits. The filled fruit can be further cooked so the flavor of the filling permeates the flesh of the breadfruit.
The Hawaiian staple food called poi, made of mashed taro root, is easily substituted for, or augmented with, mashed breadfruit. The resulting “breadfruit poi” is called poi ʻulu. In Puerto Rico, breadfruit is called panapen or pana, for short and in some in-land regions it’s also called mapén.Pana is often served boiled with a mixture of sauteed bacalao (salted cod fish), olive oil and onions. It is also served as tostones or mofongo. In the Dominican Republic, it is known by the name buen pan or “good bread”. Breadfruit is also found in Indonesia and Malaysia, where it is called sukun. In the South Indian state of Kerala and coastalKarnataka, especially on the sides of Mangalore, where it is widely grown and cooked, it is known as kada chakka or seema chakka and deegujje, respectively. In Belize, the Mayan people call it masapan.
A polished basalt breadfruit pounder used by the Tahitian people of French Polynesia. From the Honolulu Academy of Arts collection.
Breadfruit is roughly 25% carbohydrates and 70% water. It has an average amount of vitamin C (20 mg/100 g), small amounts of minerals (potassium and zinc) and thiamin(100 μg/100 g).
Breadfruit was widely and diversely used among Pacific Islanders. Its lightweight wood (specific gravity of 0.27) is resistant to termites and shipworms, so is used as timber for structures and outrigger canoes. Its wood pulp can also be used to make paper, called breadfruit tapa. It is also used in traditional medicine to treat illnesses that range from sore eyes to sciatica. Native Hawaiians used its sticky latex to trap birds, whose feathers were made into cloaks.

In a 2012 research study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a division of the USDA, and collaborators at the University of British Columbia in Okanagan, Canada, “identified three breadfruit compounds — capric, undecanoic and lauric acids — that act as insect repellents.” These saturated fatty acids were “found to be significantly more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET. 

Text courtesy: Wikipedia
Photo by: Ramesh Menon, Abu Dhabi

Family values – Gulf Today – Short Take Dt 28 March 2015

Posted on

Family values
The trend these days is to have a dedicated day to remember someone or something special. So we have a day for water, earth, father, mother etc.
Looking at each one of them and the current upbringing style of children makes me really worried.
Are we becoming fully dependent on these dedications to remember our duty and commitment to all these beneficiaries?
Let us take the example of water. In the early days, it was passed on to children from a young age that water is precious and to be preserved in all possible ways. Likewise the affection of mother. It is perennial. Whatever be our actions towards them, their love and care will continue to follow till the end.
Then comes the important lady in the life of a married man: Wife. The culture and tradition is different among many, but the duty remains the same globally. After marriage, there is always a sense of togetherness in everything one does. If not there, it should be that way.
In many cases these days both husband and wife are working. Activities are in plenty for those who want to socialise around. However, share the duties together, give as much time for each other as possible. Show affection and continue to promote and pamper each other with a sustained interest.
It is a special feeling. The affection and care after your mother, only your wife can give. She is the best person who can judge your best and worst days in advance. Only she will have the patience to adjust the environment according to your mood syndromes.
I am thankful to God for giving me a loving wife. No special day is required to promote her as every day is special. I am sure it is vice versa. That has been the case with my parents too. It is a special feeling when I see that they are nearing the golden jubilee of their married life.

Let love, affection and family values prosper worldwide without the need for any special days or dedications.

Up, Close and Personal with a Squirrel

Posted on Updated on

Squirrels are members of the family Sciuridae, consisting of small or medium-size rodents.
Squirrels are generally small animals, ranging in size from the African pygmy squirrel at 7–10 cm (2.8–3.9 in) in length and just 10 g (0.35 oz) in weight, to the Alpine marmot, which is 53–73 cm (21–29 in) long and weighs from 5 to 8 kg (11 to 18 lb). Squirrels typically have slender bodies with bushy tails and large eyes. In general, their fur is soft and silky, although much thicker in some species than others. The color of squirrels is highly variable between—and often even within—species.
In general, the hind limbs are longer than the fore limbs, and they have four or five toes on each paw. Their paws include an often poorly developed thumb, and have soft pads on the undersides. Unlike most mammals, Tree squirrels can descend a tree head-first. They do so by rotating their ankles 180 degrees so the hind paws are backward-pointing and can grip the tree bark.
Squirrels live in almost every habitat from tropical rainforest to semiarid desert, avoiding only the high polar regions and the driest of deserts. They are predominantly herbivorous, subsisting on seeds and nuts, but many will eat insects and even small vertebrates.
As their large eyes indicate, in general squirrels have an excellent sense of vision, which is especially important for tree-dwelling species. They also have very versatile and sturdy claws for grasping and climbing. Many also have a good sense of touch, with vibrissae on their heads and limbs.
Most squirrels die in the first year of life. Adult squirrels can have a lifespan of 5 to 10 years in the wild. Some can survive 10 to 20 years in captivity.
Behavior
Squirrels breed once or twice a year and give birth to a varying number of young after three to six weeks, depending on species. The young are born naked, toothless, and blind. In most species of squirrel, only the female looks after the young, which are weaned at around six to ten weeks of age and become sexually mature at the end of their first year. In general, ground-dwelling species are social animals, often living in well-developed colonies, but the tree-dwelling species are more solitary.
Feeding

Squirrels cannot digest cellulose, so they must rely on foods rich in protein, carbohydrates, and fats. In temperate regions, early spring is the hardest time of year for squirrels, because buried nuts begin to sprout and are no longer available for the squirrel to eat, and new food sources have not become available yet. During these times, squirrels rely heavily on the buds of trees. Squirrels’ diets consist primarily of a wide variety of plants, including nuts, seeds, conifer cones, fruits, fungi, and green vegetation. However, some squirrels also consume meat, especially when faced with hunger. Squirrels have been known to eat insects, eggs, small birds, young snakes, and smaller rodents. Indeed, some tropical species have shifted almost entirely to a diet of insects.

Text source : Wikipedia
Photo by: Ramesh Menon, Abu Dhabi

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis – a flower with full of medicinal values

Posted on Updated on

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a bushy, evergreen shrub or small tree growing 2.5–5 m (8–16 ft) tall and 1.5–3 m (5–10 ft) wide, with glossy leaves and solitary, brilliant red flowers in summer and autumn. The 5-petaled flowers are 10 cm (4 in) in diameter, with prominent orange-tipped red anthers.
National symbol
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is the national flower of Malaysia, called Bunga Raya in Malay. Introduced into the Malay Peninsula in the 12th century, it was nominated as the national flower in the year 1958 by the Ministry of Agriculture amongst a few other flowers, namely ylang ylang, jasmine, lotus, rose, magnolia, and medlar. On 28 July 1960, it was declared by the government of Malaysia that Hibiscus rosa-sinensis would be the national flower.
The word bunga in Malay means “flower”, while raya in Malay means “celebratory” or “grand”. The Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is literally known as the “celebratory flower” in Malay. The red of the petals symbolizes the courage, life, and rapid growth of the Malaysian, and the five petals represent the five Rukun Negara of Malaysia. The flower can be found imprinted on the notes and coins of the Malaysian ringgit.
Uses
The flowers of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis are edible and are used in salads in the Pacific Islands.[citation needed] The flower is additionally used in hair care as a preparation. It is also used to shine shoes in certain parts of India. It can also be used as a pH indicator. When used, the flower turns acidic solutions to a dark pink or magenta color and basic solutions to green. It is also used for the worship of Devi, and the red variety is especially prominent, having an important part in tantra. In Indonesia, these flowers are called “kembang sepatu”, which literally means “shoe flower”.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is considered to have a number of medical uses in Chinese herbology. It may have some potential in cosmetic skin care; for example, an extract from the flowers of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis has been shown to function as an anti-solar agent by absorbing ultraviolet radiation.
Medicinal uses
The chemicals in hibiscus flower helps in growth of hair. It reduces dandruff and makes the hair black.
The natural oil in this flower acts as a good conditioner
This flower can be used as natural dye for hair
The oil in this flower can be applied to the skin of patients who are suffering from cellulite which makes the skin to glow
The ash obtained by burning the flower and leaves of this flower can be applied to eyebrows which glazes them black
This flower can be used as shoe polish by rubbing it on the shoe
Hibiscus flower can be used as contraceptive. The oil from this flower is used for abortion in some tribes in Jamaica.
Jamaicans use this flower in herbal tea as it contains many minerals and vitamins
The juice from these leaves and flowers can regularize the menstrual cycle
Ayurveda says the medicine made from its roots can be used as a prevention of venereal diseases.
According to traditional medicine if we eat the buds of white hibiscus flowers early in the morning on empty stomach it should cure all the diseases. We can mix sugar if we are unable to eat directly.
This flower improves digestion. Hence raw flowers are eaten by Hawaiian people, and Chinese eat this flower by making pickle.
The fiber from this stem is qualitative. This can be used in manufacturing of clothes, nets and paper.
The roots of hibiscus are boiled in oil until the water gets evaporated. Then the oil can be applied to the wounds caused by cancer. This can be very useful in initial stage of cancer.
According to the traditional medicine, the flowers of white Hibiscus can be dried in the shade of neem tree. Then they can be powdered and it can be used to fight all cancers.
According to Ayurveda it is good for increasing blood count among anemic people. The bright Red variety that is commonly found in tropical countries is supposed to be the best . The flowers are boiled in a little water and blended in a mixer with roasted cummin seeds and salt and consumed after diluting it to the required level ,for increasing the quantity of hemoglobin .
The flower is also used for hair care. The leaves and flowers are added to hot coconut oil and slowly heated for a few minutes , after which the oil is completely cooled and filtered. The Oil is then stored in bottles and used to apply to the hair . The oil should be massaged into the hair and left for an hour or two after which it can be washed with a shampoo. This treatment when done regularly has been proved to be  very helpful in stopping hair loss and promoting new hair growth.
Hibiscus is famous for its ability to improve hair. Hibiscus when applied to hair promotes hair growth and gives black color to hair. The beautiful flower of the hibiscus plant should be rubbed against head and hair and washed off after 15 minutes. Hibiscus would cool head and promotes hair growth. 
Hibiscus would also prevent hair graying. Applying hibiscus regularly would ensure good health for hair. In Kerala women regularly apply hibiscus flower (chembarathi poovu) and leaves on hair. Kerala women are traditionally having long beautiful hair. Hibiscus is the secret behind the long beautiful hair of Kerala women. Hibiscus flowers are used to prepare oil that promoted hair growth. 
Hibiscus flowers should be cut into small pieces and boiled with oil. Boil till the flowers are cooked in oil. This oil has great medicinal value. This oil would cool head and eliminate headache. It would prevent graying and ensure hair growth. Hibiscus oil also fights off dandruff in hair. If you experience hair loss, dandruff or baldness you can try hibiscus. Hibiscus flowers should be applied on hair (paste of hibiscus flower). Hibiscus can fight skin infections also. Allying hibiscus on hair would clear off any skin infections. Rubbing hibiscus flower paste on skin infections would also be good.
Hibiscus leaves is the best natural shampoo. In Kerala women use hibiscus leaves as shampoo. Hibiscus leaves should be grind and applied on hair. This would thoroughly clean your hair. Using hibiscus shampoo also promotes hair growth.
Hibiscus for weight loss, mouth ulcer, heart problem, constipation and hypertension
Hibiscus (chembarathi chaya in malayalam) decoction helps lose weight. Regular usage is found to help shed weight. Hibiscus flowers is a home remedy for canker sores or mouth ulcers. Apply paste of hibiscus flowers on canker sores. It will be healed soon. Eating hibiscus flowers is found to be strengthening body’s circulatory system. People with high cholesterol and heart problems would be benefitted by hibiscus flowers. Boiling hibiscus flowers in water and drinking this water would be beneficial. Hibiscus is rich in vitamin C. Consuming hibiscus decoction would prevent cold and fever. Being rich with vitamin C hibiscus would boost the immune system. Drinking hibiscus decoction is found to be benefitting hypertension patients also. Hibiscus can refresh people by lessening the feeling of stress.

In India certain varieties of Hibiscus flowers are used for cooking. Hibiscus is supposed to contain some vital nutrients that are essential for the body and in the southern parts of India it is regularly used in cooking.

Text source: Various online sites including Wikipedia
Photo: Ramesh Menon, Abu Dhabi

Wolrd Water Day 2015

Posted on Updated on

World Water Day 2015 – 22nd March 2015
This is one of the winning entries of Malayala Manorama Jeevajalam Photography Competition 2009 – a photo taken by me at Athirappally Waterfalls, Chalakudy Kerala.

To know more about WORLD WATER DAY, please visit 
http://www.unwater.org/worldwaterday — atAthirappilly WATER FALLS.

Nutmeg – full of medicinal and culinary value

Posted on Updated on

Nutmeg – full of medicinal and culinary value

Nutmeg (also known as pala in Indonesia) is one of the two spices – the other being mace – derived from several species of tree in the genus Myristica.[1] The most important commercial species is Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas (or Spice Islands) of Indonesia.
Nutmeg is the seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped and about 20 to 30 mm (0.8 to 1.2 in) long and 15 to 18 mm (0.6 to 0.7 in) wide, and weighing between 5 and 10 g (0.2 and 0.4 oz) dried, while mace is the dried “lacy” reddish covering or aril of the seed. The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7–9 years after planting, and the trees reach full production after twenty years. Nutmeg is usually used in powdered form. This is the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices. Several other commercial products are also produced from the trees, including essential oils, extracted oleoresins, and nutmeg butter.
Culinary uses
Commercial jar of mace
Nutmeg and mace have similar sensory qualities, with nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavour. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is used for flavouring many dishes, usually in ground or grated form, and is best grated fresh in a nutmeg grater.
In Penang cuisine, dried, shredded nutmeg rind with sugar coating is used as toppings on the uniquely Penang ais kacang. Nutmeg rind is also blended (creating a fresh, green, tangy taste and white colour juice) or boiled (resulting in a much sweeter and brown juice) to make iced nutmeg juice.
In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is used in many sweet, as well as savoury, dishes (predominantly in Mughlai cuisine). It is also added in small quantities as a medicine for infants. It may also be used in small quantities in garam masala. Ground nutmeg is also smoked in India.
In Indonesian cuisine, nutmeg is used in various dishes, mainly in many soups, such as soto soup, baso soup or sup kambing.
In Middle Eastern cuisine, ground nutmeg is often used as a spice for savoury dishes.
In original European cuisine, nutmeg and mace are used especially in potato dishes and in processed meat products; they are also used in soups, sauces, and baked goods. It is also commonly used in rice pudding. In Dutch cuisine, nutmeg is added to vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and string beans. Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog. In Scotland, mace and nutmeg are usually both essential ingredients in haggis.
In Italian cuisine, nutmeg is almost uniquely used as part of the stuffing for many regional meat-filled dumplings like tortellini, as well as for the traditional meatloaf.
Japanese varieties of curry powder include nutmeg as an ingredient.
In the Caribbean, nutmeg is often used in drinks such as the Bushwacker, Painkiller, and Barbados rum punch. Typically, it is just a sprinkle on the top of the drink.
The pericarp (fruit/pod) is used in Grenada and also in Indonesia to make jam, or is finely sliced, cooked with sugar, and crystallised to make a fragrant candy.
In the US, nutmeg is known as the main pumpkin pie spice and often shows up in simple recipes for other winter squashes such as baked acorn squash.
Essential oils
The essential oil obtained by steam distillation of ground nutmeg is used widely in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. This volatile fraction typically contains 60-80% d-camphene by weight, as well as quantities of d-pinene, limonene, d-borneol, l-terpineol, geraniol, safrol, and myristicin. In its pure form, myristicin is a toxin, and consumption of excessive amounts of nutmeg can result in myristicin poisoning. The oil is colourless or light yellow, and smells and tastes of nutmeg. It contains numerous components of interest to the oleochemical industry, and is used as a natural food flavouring in baked goods, syrups, beverages, and sweets. It is used to replace ground nutmeg, as it leaves no particles in the food. The essential oil is also used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, for instance, in toothpaste, and as a major ingredient in some cough syrups. In traditional medicine, nutmeg and nutmeg oil were used for disorders related to the nervous and digestive systems.
After extraction of the essential oil, the remaining seed, containing much less flavour, is called “spent”. Spent is often mixed in industrial mills with pure nutmeg to facilitate the milling process, as nutmeg is not easy to mill due to the high percentage of oil in the pure seed. Ground nutmeg with a variable percentage of spent (around 10% w/w) is also less likely to clot. To obtain a better running powder, a small percentage of rice flour also can be added.
Nutmeg butter
Nutmeg butter is obtained from the nut by expression. It is semisolid, reddish-brown in colour, and tastes and smells of nutmeg. About 75% (by weight) of nutmeg butter is trimyristin, which can be turned into myristic acid, a 14-carbon fatty acid, which can be used as a replacement for cocoa butter, can be mixed with other fats like cottonseed oil or palm oil, and has applications as an industrial lubricant.
Photo: From home – Ramesh Menon, Abu Dhabi

Text source : Wikipedia

Quiet tribute – Short Take – Gulf Today Dt 21st March 2015

Posted on

Short Take: Quiet tribute
March 21, 2015, Gulf Today
A short break of two weeks. In a way tried my best to keep silent from as many activities as possible. It was an effort to join a divine bliss. In the process I learnt a lot of things including an increased confidence to practise the art of not to react impulsively to circumstances and realities.
The silence was indirectly to show my tribute to join the sorrow of a friend whose mother passed away. I know the feelings and void created when a person we love a lot in our life suddenly departs. I had experienced it the recent times, when my mother in law and my grandmother passed away. Many times, I was stuck with whom to ask certain things when I needed guidance. Of course, life went on and will.
Motherhood is a special feeling beyond explanation. Back from my leave, at work on a busy morning, I listened to a colleague of mine busily phoning and ordering birthday cake for her son. It was a hectic day and in between the busy tasks, she found time to order the cake specially decorated with her son’s favorite football teams design. She was arranging other gifts too to the little boy.
It brought tears in my eyes as I suddenly remembered, how my mother who was a teacher during my childhood days, come back from her school with a gift, either a shirt or a colouring set. Those days transportation was not easy and she had to change three buses to get back home from the school. It used to be late by the time she reach back home. But even then, she never missed to show her affection and love for us.
A casual talk with my colleagues revealed the general trend with children these days. They are pampered with costly gifts; mobiles, Ipads, laptops and what not. So, it is a big challenge now for parents to offer them with a gift which will remain impressive with the children at least for some amount of time.
Challenges aplenty for the modern day mothers. But, their affection and love will remain forever, however fast modernisation happens. This is a fact proven many times in the world around.

Ramesh Menon
To read it in original, please visit Gulf Today online