Chocolate – the food of the Gods

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Chocolate comes from the cacao tree or, as it’s botanically known, Theobroma cacao. The word theobroma comes from Greek θεος (theos), “god,” + βρῶμα (broma), “food.” So chocolate is literally the food of the gods.

Theobroma cacao is native to the American tropical rain forest. It is a delicate tree that can survive only in a narrow band extending 20 degrees either side of the Equator.

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Cacao trees are small and delicate, usually no more than 20-40 feet high. They need taller trees (such as hardwoods) to shelter them from the elements. Continue reading

Mopane worms taste just like… potato chips

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Cruncy, salty mopane worms are a favorite snack in Zimbabwe and other parts of southern Africa.  The “worm” is actually a caterpillar of Gonimbrasia belina, commonly known as the Emperor moth.  It is called a mopane (or mopani) worm from its diet — the leaves of the mopane tree.

Ounce for ounce, mopane worms contain three times as much protein as beef.  They have a whopping 31 mg of iron per 100 grams of dry weight, and are a good source of potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, manganese, copper and B vitamins.

To harvest mopane worms, mature caterpillars are plucked by hand (or shaken from higher branches) and placed into buckets. Stubborn worms are pried loose with a stick. As they are handled, the worms excrete a brown liquid, which leaves the pickers’ hands slippery and wet. Continue reading

The delicious, nutritious dandelion is anything but a common weed

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Many people think of the dandelion as little more than an alternative to a daisy for playing “he loves me, he loves me not.”  Indeed, it’s said that if you can blow all of a dandelion’s seeds off with one try, then you are passionately loved. If some seeds remain, your lover has reservations about your relationship.  And if a lot of seeds stay stuck to the globe, you are supposedly loved very little or not at all.

But taraxacum officinale, as dandelion is botanically known, is good for much more than mere child’s play.  Full of Vitamins A, B, C, D and K, as well as iron, potassium and zinc, young dandelion greens make a tasty and nutritious addition to any meal.  In many parts of the world, dandelion is also consumed as a medicine, though claims about it have not been clinically tested in humans.  It has been used for centuries, however, to treat dyspepsia (indigestion/upset stomach), dropsy and liver disorders, and as a mild laxative for chronic constipation.  It is also said to improve the appetite and promote digestion.

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