Why We Love Regional Superfoods
Sometimes what you need is right in front of you
Superfoods have never been more on trend, especially among the health conscious, but why rely chia seeds and quinoa from far away when the good stuff could be just around the corner—at a farm nearby, at your favorite greengrocer, or even on your windowsill?
What does superfood mean?
The term "superfood" refers to certain foods that are high in nutritional values. Superfoods are generally unprocessed, ‘whole’ foods, and often stem from organic farming. All of them contain various vitamins and minerals, rather than a high concentration of a single one.
Chia seeds, for example, contain more iron than spinach and, on top of that, large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, chia seeds are a superfood par excellence.
To be considered a superfood, a food doesn't necessarily have to taste good (ever tried wheatgrass juice?) or be expensive––or be from a faraway region. Some superfoods grow right on your doorstep––and those are the ones we’ll focus on in this article.
Is there really such a thing as superfoods?
Good question! Not really, to be honest. Or rather: Unless you integrate so-called superfoods into your daily diet, they won’t be able to do anything for you in the long run. The term itself is quite vague and misleading.
First, the term is not regulated, which means you could basically name every food a superfood. The term wasn't originally created by nutrition experts, but rather by marketing professionals and was first used up in the early 20th century to help an importer sell more bananas. Nowadays, superfood also means super sales, since quite a few people will pay extra money for the promise of eternal youth and the benefits of holistic health.
Why you should buy local
From chia seeds and quinoa from South America to goji berries from China: You can bet most popular superfoods have travelled a long way. Long distance traveling isn't exactly beneficial for fresh food and different countries have different guideline values for pesticides. Now, do these facts fit really fit with an environmentally-friendly approach to life? Not really, which is why I never miss an opportunity to praise regional superfoods. Here are some examples:
What regional superfoods do we have?
The whole superfoods thing is a little tricky: What indeed, is the best way to consider the environment but also nourish your love of varied foods? We'll show you how.
Superfoods: Powerhouse veggies
Vegetables are cool now! There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan dishes you can always come up with to help keep things exciting. Luckily, our seasonal calendar offers many interesting foods to experiment with––including what I’m going to call “regional superfoods”.
Before it was the beloved, always-on-trend ingredient the world knows today, in the north of Germany, kale was synonymous with Pinkel, a coarsely-ground smoked sausage. But now we know kale is so much more than a grey-ish side dish. This wrinkly vegetable stands up to wheatgrass, one of the most-hyped superfoods. Kale also is full of vitamins and high-quality protein. And yes, your favorite farmer probably grows it.
Just like kale, broccoli is a green veggie that is jam-packed with chlorophyll. The green pigments are responsible for its color and can also improve digestion. Broccoli is low in calories, provides lots of vitamins A, C, and E, and is rich in fiber. Did you know that you can also eat the leaves and the stem? Waste not, want not, I say.
Say hello to the Swiss chard, spinach’s cute little brother. This leafy vegetable is colorful and really good for your digestion. While the leaves can be prepared like spinach, the stems need to be cut and steamed for a little longer.
Not as trendy but definitely great alternatives: All cabbage varieties, legumes, or bulbous plants like leeks, chives, or even garlic—are a great source of selenium and vitamin C. And the best part is: These are all locally grown options.
Superfoods: Cheeky little fruits
Summertime is berry time: Strawberries in your porridge, raspberries on your fingertips, and even more blueberries in your belly –finally!
Why do we need frozen acai berries from afar if we can have fresh blueberries from right around the corner? These little marbles are real powerhouses, in taste and in their nutritional value. The plant pigment anthocyanin gives them their dark blue color and lots of antioxidants. Sour cherries and blackcurrants are also on this team.
Besides being sweet and juicy, raspberries also have remarkable nutritional values. Raspberries are low in sugar and a great source of iron, folic acid, and potassium. You can also try raspberry leaf tea to help ease cramps.
However, regional superfoods are not limited to berries. Apples and pears are just as healthy as any other fruit. Balance is important here –as well as origin and modes of cultivation.
Small yet mighty: Microgreens and sprouts
Microgreens remind me of my very first attempts at gardening: scattering cress seeds on cotton wool and harvesting delicate plantlets after a few days. Microgreens are simply young plants grown from vegetable seeds. They grow from light green to purple, have an intense aroma and a relatively high nutrient density. For example, broccoli seeds often contain more vitamins than mature vegetables.
Sprouts, on the other hand, are seedlings that, unlike microgreens, need no soil or daylight to grow—and they're entirely edible! As always, they're best when planted by yourself or cultivated in a sprout glass, which is not only cheaper, but allows you to experiment with different tastes and colors.
Superfoods: Millet & Co.
Who isn’t familiar with quinoa? This pseudo-grain is gluten-free like buckwheat or millet, but is still prepared just like wheat and other grains. Quinoa contains a lot of valuable proteins, many minerals such as magnesium and iron, and above-average levels of folic acid, which has given quinoa the title of "supergrain."
But of course, there are also local alternatives. Millet, for example, is the oldest man-made grain, and when it comes to calcium and magnesium, it's only a few steps behind quinoa. Millet is rich in natural iron and easy to digest. Buckwheat with its nutty taste is great in your morning cereal or as a base for vegetable patties.
But wheat isn't the only grain out there. How about spelt or other ancient cereals like emmer or kamut? These cereals are high in minerals and vitamins and have an interesting taste that’s both nutty and aromatic.
Superfoods: Crack the nut
Nuts and kernels have a relatively high amount of fat and calories, but that’s not to say they cause weight-gain, since our body can use all these nutrients very wisely by converting fat into energy. Therefore, nuts and kernels also count as superfoods.
Walnuts are widely available in Germany and Northern Europe in general. They're usually ready to be picked and eaten in the fall. Walnuts contain many antioxidants that support our body in to neutralize negative metabolic waste products.
Flaxseed works as a chia seed substitute because it also contains a lot of calcium, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Hemp seeds, also locally grown, are a source of vegetable protein. Their nutty taste goes well with muesli or as a salad topping.
Overview: Quickly replaced!
These are local alternatives to many ‘conventional’ superfoods––and can be used as a replacement in any dish! Just make sure to take a look at the origin label.
Most recipes that contain a superfood from a distant country as an ingredient can be easily "regionalized." For example, swap quinoa for millet or buckwheat and chia seeds for flaxseed.
Your regional superfood source
All in-season vegetables and fruits available from local area are very likely to be found at your local farmers' market or at farm shops. Then all you'll have to do is apply your recently-acquired knowledge and choose whatever takes your fancy. For example, you’ll find blueberries in the summer, from June to September. Kale season starts after the first frost of the year and lasts from November to March.
In addition to regional superfoods, most supermarkets carry all the foreign-grown ones too, like algae, hemp seeds, or quinoa. Ideally, the best way to obtain as many nutrients as possible would be to look for organic products, as only a very small number of toxic pesticides—or none at all—are used in organic farming.
If you have a garden or even a window box–and a green thumb–you can try to plant herbs or leafy greens and grow sprouts by yourself.
Nature is the cheapest supermarket and accessible to everyone. You will find heaps of dandelions in the summer and stinging nettles to forage all year round. Just make sure to collect them away from busy roads.
Superfoods: How to get the most out of them
Some fresh foods begin to spoil right after the harvest (e.g. berries and eggplants), while others will still ripen afterwards (e.g.avocados and peaches). So instead of limiting yourself to your grocery list, consider the seasons and the time of year when food shopping. For example, an imported mango won't be as fresh as the strawberries you pick straight from the field. To find out how to store your food best, have a look at this articles.
When it comes to cooking with fresh produce, a good rule of thumb is: As little heat as possible, as much time as necessary. Low-temperature cooking saves nutrients and, with a gentle preparation, your produce will remain crisp and flavorful.
Okay, let's face it: Do we really need superfoods?
Yes and no. You do need vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants for good bodily-function, but your body will be more than adequately nurtured if you stick to a varied diet. In a nutshell: Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you want and use them as the foundation for the dishes you cook yourself as often as possible. Using as many seasonal and regional products as possible protects your wallet and the environment.
Now, all that’s left to take care of is to drink enough water throughout the day. And if you like to eat chocolate or meat or enjoy a cold beer or soda once in a while, don't stress. That’s more than okay. After all, eating and drinking are a huge source of pleasure and enjoyment—and for that, you already have many allies here in the Kitchen Stories Team.
Do you try to stick to a ‘local’ diet? Which regional superfood would you recommend? Let us know in the comments below!
Published on April 25, 2019