Apr 24, 2015

Noni Health Benefits


Noni is one of those wonder herbs that hit the herbal supplement scene a decade or so back. There are still many nutritional supplements that come with noni juice and extracts today, though they have since been outshoned by the more popular ones such as acai berry and goji… you know how fad- and trend-prone the herbal scene goes. However, is noni just a passing fad or is it really a legitimate wonder herb? Read on.

What is noni?

Noni is Morinda citrifolia, also called the Indian mulberry, a small green plant that can be seen growing in the tropics and subtropics. This plant can be found growing in such lush abundance along the seashore. It also shows the unique ability to be the first to grow on lava-covered regions in Hawaii.

It is interesting to note that prior to its use as a nutritional herb, noni plant has been used solely for dyeing fabrics. It was only in the 20th century that noni plant has been discovered as a wonder herb and has since then been the cornerstone of Polynesian and Hawaiian herbal medicine.

What nutrients can be found in noni?

Noni holds an impressive line-up of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
  • Vitamin B1 or thiamine
  • Vitamin B2 or riboflavin
  • Vitamin B3 or niacin
  • Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Folate
  • Vitamin E
  • beta-carotene

  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Phosphorus

  • Quercetin
  • Anthrquinone
  • Vanillin
  • Pinoresinol
  • Proxeronine
  • Kaempferol
  • Isoscopoletin
  • Bisdemethylpinoresinol

What are the health benefits of noni?

The array of antioxidants present in noni lend protection against the harmful effects of free radicals. Here's why antioxidants are essential.

Oxidative damage caused by free radicals is the underlying mechanism of cancer development. The antioxidant line-up of noni serves to neutralize free radicals and prevent tumor and cancer formation.

Promotes cardiovascular health
Noni has been found to relax the smooth muscles in the blood vessel walls, thereby causing dilation, better flow of blood and reduction in blood pressure. Furthermore, noni juice has also been found to produce healthy blood lipid profiles -- lowering homocysteine levels as well as LDL.

Noni juice has shown potential to improve symptoms of Central Nervous System disorders such as psychosis. Possibly by a combination of antioxidant activity and promotion of blood flow and delivery of nutrients, noni juice has been documented in studies to improve behavioral manifestations of psychotic patients.

Noni has been shown in studies to have antibacterial powers against the common skin bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, the common colonic bacteria called E. coli as well as the common UTI culprit, Proteus vulgaris. This reminds me of the antibacterial properties of human breastmilk.

Noni inhibits xanthine oxidase and its enzymes which lead to gout. It has also shown analgesic properties that are comparable to standard analgesic drugs.

May prevent Type 2 diabetes
Consumption of noni has been shown to reduce the blood levels of glycosylated hemoglobin and LDL -- risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. Noni also improves insulin sensitivity of the body cells and encourages glucose uptake into cells.

Noni has been widely used to treat muscle pain and discomforts. This herb works by way of stimulating the secretion of intracellular calcium in the body as well as by inducing blockade of voltage-dependent calcium channels.

Improves skin
The rich nutritional and antioxidant profile of noni helps to prevent free radical-induced skin damage. Anthraquinones in noni also stimulate the production of collagen which keeps the skin firm and taut. Proxeronine in noni is also a precursor of xeronine which is essential for the integrity of cell membranes of the skin.


Noni is one of the few herbs which have a long list of health benefits. Turmeric, garlic and ginger are other examples. If you can find a trustworthy source of noni supplements or noni-containing supplements, that would be a good addition to your routine supplementation. Read labels and do a research on the legitimacy of the company. Don't fall prey to marketing hype, just do a solid study on the product and the people behind it.


Apr 20, 2015

Sago pearls -- definition, composition and uses

sago pearls
Sago refers to those colorful little edible balls we keep seeing in various tropical drinks. In the Philippines, sago pearls are often used to lend visual appeal and offer textural interest to such popular coolers and drinks as buko-sago-gulaman, dinoldog or tabirak.

I cook with sago quite often as they are low-cost additions which have big visual and textural impact in dishes. Coconut water sweetened with condensed milk and then mixed with gulaman cubes and sago pearls is a favorite summer thirst quencher here in my home. Rice porridge with coconut milk, various yams and sago pearls is a favorite dessert during cold rainy months. Recipes for these coming soon.

The natural colors of sago vary from off-white to brownish and grayish but they are often artificially-colored with green, red, pink and a host of other hues.Their soft, chewy and slimy texture, coupled with their attractive colors and globular shapes make them a favorite add-on to various drinks and desserts in the tropics.

Sago is made from the starchy pith of the stems of a number of tropical palms such as Metroxylon sagu and the sago cycad known as Cycas revoluta.

Metroxylon sagu or palm sago
Palm sago is the primary source of sago and can be found in Southeast Asia as well as Papua New Guinea, particularly in the lowland forests and freshwater swamps. The sago pearls we have in the Philippines come from this source.

Cycas revoluta or Cycad sago
Also called sago palm or king sago palm, the cycad sago is not a palm at all but a cycad. This other source of sago can be found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This is a less-common food item as many parts of the plant contain a dangerous neurotoxin. In fact, there has been an outbreak of Parkinson’s disease-like maladies in Guam following consumption of Cycad sago. Extended processing is needed to remove the toxins from the sago.

Two weeks ago or so, two people died after drinking the Ergocha brand of milk tea, and though the cause is yet unknown, it is suspected that the poisoning could be due to the presence of a powerful neurotoxin in the sago pearls used in the milk tea.

Sago pearls vs tapioca pearls
Typically sold in the form of pearls, sago can also be found in the form of a paste or flour. Sago pearls are often confused with tapioca pearls and are interchangeably used as well in cooking. To be clear though, tapioca pearls come from cassava and not from palms.

How is sago harvested?
Large stems of palms are split open longitudinally to reveal the starchy pith. A single stem of palm yields anywhere from 150 to as high as 360 kilograms of starchy material which is then ground to powder and formed into either flour, paste or pearls.

Sago is primarily carbohydrate with very little protein, vitamins and minerals. A 100-gram serving of sago contains 94 grams of carbohydrates, just 0.2 grams of proteins, a measly 0.5 grams of dietary fiber, 10 mg of calcium and negligible amounts of fats, Vitamin C, carotene and thiamine.

Dishes made of sago around the world:
  • Sago can be baked into a bread, biscuit or pancake in New Guinea, Borneo, Sulawesi, Sumatra and Maluku.
  • It can also be mixed into boiling water to form a starchy paste that is also eaten in these same areas.
  • In Brunei, sago starch is used in making noodles and bread.
  • In Malaysia, sago starch is one of the main ingredients in their popular fish cracker.
  • In India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, pearl sago is used extensively in puddings.

I think sago pearls are still safe to eat. The sago we have in the Philippines comes not from the poisonous cycad but from the tropical palms and are thus free from neurotoxins.

Realize that colored sagos are dyed with artificial food colors which are not exactly healthy. I say go for brownish or grayish sago pearls if you can help it. I only use colored sago for special occasions when most people are blissfully unaware of the impact of food dyes and would find uncolored sago pearls rather sorry-looking.

Sago pearls are not nutritionally superior food items -- more like fillers and extenders.

Apr 17, 2015

Homemade Spanish Sardines (without the need for pressure cooker or canning bottles)

Homemade Spanish Sardines recipe
Spanish sardines is one dish that I have long been wanting to learn because it comes in handy for church activities. For one, it is something that can be cooked ahead. I like that for then I can cook a gigantic pot days before an event and then do not have to worry about a dish on the day of the event itself. Secondly, it can feed a crowd -- a big pot could feed up to 50! It also means it could feed your family for weeks! 

Thirdly, sardines is cheap -- would you believe that at the time I did this, sardines (also called tamban or tuloy or malalangsi in Cebuano) was sold for only 15 pesos a kilo here? (Okay, it has since gone up to 60 pesos a kilo, but still, it helps to have this recipe around, ready for times when schools of sardines hit the shores.) Fourthly, Spanish sardines is delish -- spicy, salty, oily and bone-tender sardines peppered with tangy, melt-in-your-mouth cucumber pickles and carrot circles. Lastly, this is really healthy as it's just omega-3-rich fish cooked in spices and coconut oil.

I don’t think you could find this recipe in any other cooking site or blog. Trust me, I have been hunting down a recipe for spanish sardines that can be cooked sans pressure cooker or canning bottles for a long time now, and to no avail. I made 3 try-outs to come up with this recipe. The first one was a fail as I did not arrange the fishes in layers and the spices did not permeate the fish evenly. The second was a bit off as it lacked some deep flavors. I finally cinched the dish on the third try -- as my family and last week’s church campers said so -- and have since then made two more batches.

I highly recommend this recipe for Spanish sardines fans out there. This does taste the same as the pricey bottled ones -- minus the MSG of course.

Homemade Spanish Sardines (without the need for a pressure cooker and canning bottles.)

Note: Click on the links to read up on the nutritional profiles of the ingredients.
  • 3 kilos sardines
  • salt (unrefined sea salt), about 4 to 5 tablespoons
  • black peppercorns, about 3 tablespoons
  • bay leaves, about 8 pieces, torn
  • sweet pickles (whole, sliced thinly), 1 bottle
  • 1 big carrot, cut into thin circles
  • whole green or red chili pepper, depending on your taste
  • coconut oil, 500 ml
  • 6 cups water

  1. Carefullly arrange a layer of sardines on the bottom of a big stainless steel pot. Make sure the fishes are arranged tightly yet in a single, non-overlapping layer.
  2. Salt the fish layer the way you would salt fish when frying, about a teaspoon for a single layer of fish.
  3. Sprinkle some black pepper corns, about half a teaspoon per layer of fish.
  4. Add some torn bay leaves, about 2 bay leaves per layer of fish.
  5. Arrange half a handful each of sweet pickles, carrot circles and chili pepper.
  6. Repeat steps 1 to 5 until all the fishes have been layered.
  7. Pour in the juice of the sweet pickles.
  8. Add in enough oil as to cover the fish.
  9. Pour in 6 cups of water. (Note: a cup of water per kilo of fish.)
  10. Cover the pot with a lid and bring the pot to a boil. As soon as it boils, bring down heat to a simmer and let it simmer for about 6 to 8 hours.
  11. You’ll know it’s done when all the water has boiled away, the oil has turned brownish, fish meat is compacted, browned and softened all the way to their bones.

This goes so well with my lacto-fermented, probiotic Sauerkraut and Curtido. How about you, would you like to try this recipe? Please do tell me how it goes.

Homemade Spanish Sardines recipe

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