Our culture looks at the nutritional value of each type of food separately. For example, we are told the amount of calories, and the nutrients contained in a potato. Or we are told to eat a certain group of foods daily, with little attention paid to what they are actually eaten with, or how they are prepared, as long as certain “bad” foods are avoided.
Yet our ancestors paid enormous attention to combining different foods, herbs, and spices, and to how they were prepared. Thousands of combinations and preparation methods were developed, and food was always eaten and prepared in harmony with these traditions.
Why did they go to so much trouble and effort, and follow these very distinct rules and traditions?
When they wrote about it, or passed down the tradition verbally, our ancestors were clear that these traditions were developed to enhance nutrition and health, with taste being a secondary though important consideration.
In my opinion, this is precious knowledge, often reflecting thousands of years of human experience and testing, and well worth preserving, and using.
How Food Combinations Work
When you eat several kinds of foods at one meal, your body does not process each food item separately, but processes the combination of what is eaten. We know that combining different substances often changes their effect, and can create a combined effect.
For example, let us look at the potato. Potatoes are classed as carbohydrates, and believed to cause hyperglycemic effects. But few people eat potatoes in isolation. In traditional Europe, potatoes were usually eaten with a large amount of animal fat. Some studies have indicated that eating potatoes with fat can counter the glycemic effect. No doubt eating potatoes with other foods also changes the effects of the potatoes, in ways that have not been scientifically studied.
Different cultures would eat many different things with potatoes as well as fat. For example, it became a widespread tradition in Europe and the U.S. to often combine meat and potatoes. In fact, the combination became so widespread and common that the phrase “meat and potatoes” meant the foods that were essential for a complete meal.
Later research has established that meat is essentially an acidic food, and that potatoes are essentially an alkaline food. We know that it is important for our health to maintain the right acid/alkaline balance in our bodies. I suspect the tradition of eating meat and potatoes (or meat with alkaline foods), stems from old knowledge of how to combine foods. Knowledge learned without the benefits of chemistry or studies, learned instead through long experience.
One of the oldest and most common Chinese food combinations is to use, ginger, garlic, and green onions together, in a multitude of dishes. We know that each of these foods has beneficial effects individually, but no one appears to have studied them in combination. Yet the Chinese tradition of combining them reflects a belief that they are far more effective in combination than alone, which may very well be true.
How to Learn and Use Traditional Food Combinations
Fortunately, many of these combinations have been preserved as recipes and traditions. We can get the benefits just by using these recipes, with real food ingredients. We do not even need to know what they do, to get the benefits.
There are so many of them that I will not even attempt to list them, but I do use them in cooking. Not only does this usually result in a delicious meal, but I believe the nutritional and beneficial effects of the food is enhanced by using these traditional combinations. I am working on a new cookbook that is based on using some of these traditional combinations in easy recipes, using only real food ingredients. Testing the recipes for this book has been absolutely delicious!
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