Some Useful Food Ingredients


The onion is believed to have originated in Asia, though it is likely that onions may have been growing wild on every continent. Dating back to 3500 BC, onions were one of the few foods that did not spoil during the winter months. Our ancestors must have recognized the vegetable's durability and began growing onions for food.

The onion became more than just food after arriving in Egypt. The ancient Egyptians worshipped the onion, believing that its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternity. Of all the vegetables that had their images created from precious metals by Egyptian artists, only the onion was made out of gold.

Today, onions are used in a variety of dishes and rank sixth among the world's leading vegetable crops. Onions not only provide flavor; they also provide health-promoting phytochemicals as well as nutrients.

Selecting Onions

Most onions are sold loose by the pound, although some types are sold in bags or small boxes. Look for onions that feel dry and solid all over, with no soft spots or sprouts. The neck should be tightly closed and the outer skin should have a crackly feel and a shiny appearance. Onions should smell mild, even if their flavor is not. Avoid selecting onions with green areas or dark patches.

Storing Onions

Onions should be kept in a cool, dry open space away from bright light. Onions do best in an area that allows for air circulation. Because onions absorb moisture, do not store onions below the sink. Also, do not place onions near potatoes because potatoes give off moisture and produce a gas that causes onions to spoil more quickly. Spring/summer onions usually store for about two weeks and storage onions for about three to four weeks.

Varieties of Onions

Onions came in a variety of sizes, colors and shapes. They are often broken down into three categories: spring/summer, storage, and pearl onions. Spring/summer onions are grown primarily from fall to spring in warm weather areas and have a soft flesh and a mild or sweet taste. These varieties are generally shipped right after harvesting. Storage onions have a firm flesh, dry, crackly outer skins and have a pungent flavor. After a brief period of drying, these onions are stored for several months before shipping. Pearl onions are often called white onions and are densely planted to make the onions smaller. There are no nutritional differences among these onion types.

Onions also come in three colors: yellow, red, and white. Approximately 88 percent of the onion crop is devoted to yellow onion production, with about 7 percent red onions and 5 percent white onions.

Yellow onions are full-flavored and are a reliable standby for cooking almost anything. Yellow onions turn a rich, dark brown when cooked and give French Onion Soup its tangy sweet flavor. The red onion, with its wonderful color, is a good choice for fresh uses or in grilling and char broiling. White onions are the traditional onion used in classic Mexican cuisine. They have a golden color and sweet flavor when sauteed.

Preparing Onions

Onions may be eaten raw or cooked. Onions should be peeled before preparing, except when baking. Onions may be boiled, braised, baked, microwaved, or sauteed.

Onion Trivia

• According to an old English Rhyme, the thickness of an onion skin can help predict the severity of the winter. Thin skins mean a mild winter is coming while thick skins indicate a rough winter ahead.

• If you eat onions you can get rid of onion breath by eating parsley.

• Americans eat 18.8 pounds of fresh and storage type onions on average each year.


Did you know?

• The apricot is a native of China and has been cultivated for over 4,000 years.

• Today, the United States produces close to 90 percent of the world's apricots, most being grown in California.

• Apricots are an excellent source of betacarotene (vitamin A) and also provide vitamin C, iron, potassium, and fiber.

Suggestion for Use of Apricots

Apricots can be halved or sliced then frozen in syrup made from 2 cups sugar to 5 cups water; add 2 ounces ascorbic acid for each 2-1/2 cups syrup. Plunge the whole apricots into boiling water for about thirty seconds, and peel, pit and halve or slice.

Apricots can be made into wine and brandy.

Apricots are one of the best natural sources of Vitamin A, especially when dried. Although it is one of the few vitamins which we can theoretically build up to toxic levels, this doesn't normally happen if it is taken naturally. Three medium apricots contain about 50 calories.

Apricots originally hailed from China. Cuttings of this golden fruit made their way across the Persian Empire to the Mediterranean where they flourished. The Spanish explorers get credit for introducing the apricot to the New World, and specifically to California, where they were planted in the gardens of Spanish missions. In 1792, in an area south of San Francisco, the first major production of apricots was recorded.

Apricots are delicious eaten whole and fresh, and the good news is they are low in sodium, calories and fat, so there is no need to feel guilty no matter how many you eat.,/p>

Apricots are also high in fiber and low in calories, and make a good snack. Weight for weight, dried apricots are an even healthier option as the drying process increases the concentration of the beta carotene and fiber and also the levels of potassium and iron.

Make Apricots Part of Your 5 A Day Plan

It is easy to include apricots in your meals. Try these great short cuts to getting your 5 to 9 A Day!

• Slice them up for fruit salads.

• Puree apricots for sauces. The sauces are especially good on pancakes, desserts, or meat.
• Use apricots whenever a recipe calls for peaches or nectarines.
• Add apricots to your favorite baked desserts.
• Pack them for your lunch, or have them as a snack
• Add apricots to low fat cottage cheese and your fruit smoothies.

• For a great tasting snack when hiking, add dried apricots to your trail mix


The United States is the world's number one commercial producer of avocados. It is a major cash crop in Southern California and southern Florida, and to a much lesser degree in Texas. California has about 80 percent of the United States' market and their avocados are available twelve months of the year.

The avocado has a unique flavor and texture. All other tree fruits have either a tart, tart-sweet, or sweet flavor and a juicy texture. The avocado looks like a huge green olive and, like the olive, has a single hard pit. It is very firm when immature and is rich in oil when it reaches full ripeness.

Depending on the variety, the immature fruit comes in every possible shade of green. Some are smooth and shiny, others are dull and have pebble-grained skins. Some varieties retain their original green color as they ripen. In others, as the fruit ripens the green changes to bronze, reddish purple, or even jet-black. Some varieties are almost round, but for the most part avocados are pear- shaped. Hence they are often called avocado pears.

To test for ripeness, cradle the avocado in the palm of your hand. If it yields to the slightest and gentlest pressure, it is ready to serve, it is a Florida avocado. If it is of the California variety, give it an extra day. Too many avocados are cut and served before they have reached full maturity and flavor. Once the fruit is cut, the ripening process is terminated. So make sure that it does have the slight yield before you cut it.

Avocados are not only flavorful and colorful, but are also blessed with versatility. They can be sliced, diced, pureed or served on the half-shell. They are flavorful enough to serve alone, but also blend well when served with fresh fruit, salad greens, cottage cheese, cold meats and especially seafood. A fully ripe avocado has the consistency of soft butter and makes a delicious and colorful sandwich spread.

A cut avocado, like a sliced peach or banana, will darken and discolor when exposed to air. Sprinkling the exposed surfaces with fresh lemon or lime juice will retard this discoloration. Try to use a cut avocado as soon as possible. In the interim, cover the exposed surfaces with plastic film. If you cut the avocado in half, don't remove the pit until ready to serve.

Avocados are tropical fruits and don't like cool temperatures. Never put a firm avocado in your refrigerator. At best it won't ripen properly, at worst its flesh will turn black.

A black-skinned avocado is a hallmark of quality. The California Hass variety is an ugly duckling that has a dull, pebble-grained green skin when it is immature. As it ripens. the color of the skin turns to jet-black. This least attractive variety is by far the finest-flavored avocado available. When you see this Hass variety, remember that its ugliness is only skin deep.

Avocado Facts

From the California Avocado Commission...

• Avocados are sodium and cholesterol free and have only five grams of fat per serving, most of it the monounsaturated kind.

• Avocados were once a luxury food reserved for the tables of royalty, but now California avocados are enjoyed around the world by people from all walks of life.
• Brazilians add avocados to ice cream
• Filipinos puree avocados with sugar and milk for a dessert drink.
• Latin Americans wrap avocados up and give them as wedding gifts.
• The avocado is also called an Alligator Pear because of its pear-like shape and green skin.
• About 43 percent of all U.S. households buy avocados.

• Avocados are a fruit, not a vegetable, belonging to the genus Persea in the Lauraceae family.

Avocados Are Nutritous

• Avocados contain 81 micrograms of the carotenoid lutein, which some studies suggest may help maintain healthy eyes.

• Avocados contribute nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds that can contribute to the nutrient quality of your diet.
• Avocados, due to their mono and polyunsaturated fat content, are a healthy substitution for foods rich in saturated fat.
• One-fifth of a medium avocado (1 oz) has 50 calories and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals making it a good nutrient choice.

• Avocados contain 76 milligrams beta-sitosterol in a 3-oz serving of avocado. Beta-sitosterol is a natural plant sterol which may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.


Currently, tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables eaten by Americans. Tomatoes are members of the fruit family, but they are served and prepared as a vegetable. This is why most people consider them a vegetable and not a fruit. Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A.

Tomato Varieties

There are thousands of tomato varieties. The most widely available varieties are classified in three groups: cherry, plum, and slicing tomatoes. A new sweet variety like the cherry tomato is the grape tomato, really wonderful to eat alone or in a salad.

Selecting Tomatoes

Cold temperatures damage tomatoes, so never buy tomatoes that are stored in a cold area. Choose plump tomatoes with smooth skins that are free from bruises, cracks, or blemishes. Depending on the variety, ripe tomatoes should be completely red or reddish-orange.

Storing Tomatoes

Store tomatoes at room temperature (above 55 degrees) until they have fully ripened. This will allow them to ripen properly and develop good flavor and aroma. Try to store tomatoes out of direct sunlight, because sunlight will cause them to ripen unevenly. If you must store them for a longer period of time, place them in the refrigerator. Serve them at room temperature. Chopped tomatoes can be frozen for use in sauces or other cooked dishes.


This fact sheet provides basic information about the herbA plant or part of a plant used for its flavor, scent, or potential therapeutic properties. Includes flowers, leaves, bark, fruit, seeds, stems, and roots. ginger -- uses, potential side effects, and resources for more information. Ginger is a tropical plant that has green-purple flowers and an aromatic underground stem (called a rhizome). It is commonly used for cooking and medicinal purposes.

What Ginger Is Used For

• Ginger is used in Asian medicine to treat stomach aches, nausea, and diarrhea.

• Many digestive, antinausea, and cold and flu dietary supplements sold in the United States contain ginger extract as an ingredient.
• Ginger is used to alleviate postsurgery nausea as well as nausea caused by motion, chemotherapy, and pregnancy.

• Ginger has been used for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and joint and muscle pain.

How Ginger is Used

The underground stems of the ginger plant are used in cooking, baking, and for health purposes. Common forms of ginger include fresh or dried root, tablets, capsules, liquid extracts (tinctures), and teas.

What Science Says About Garlic

Studies suggest that the short term use of ginger can safely relieve pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting.

Studies are mixed on whether ginger is effective for nausea caused by motion, chemotherapy, or surgery.

It is unclear whether ginger is effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or joint and muscle pain.

NCCAM-funded investigators are studying:

• Whether ginger interacts with drugs, such as those used to suppress the immune system.

• Ginger's effect on reducing nausea in patients on chemotherapy.

• The general safety and effectiveness of ginger's use for health purposes, as well as its active components and effects on inflammation.

Side Effects and Cautions for Ginger

• Few side effects are linked to ginger when it is taken in small doses.

• Side effects most often reported are gas, bloating, heartburn, and nausea. These effects are most often associated with powdered ginger.

• Tell your health care providers about any herb or dietary supplementA product that contains vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and/or other ingredients intended to supplement the diet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has special labeling requirements for dietary supplements and treats them as foods, not drugs. you are using, including ginger. This helps to ensure safe and coordinated care.


Broccoli has been around for more than 2000 years, The name "broccoli" comes for the Latin word brachium, which means "branch," or "arm." Americans have grown it in their gardens for only about 200 years! The first commercially grown broccoli was grown and harvested in New York, then planted in the 1920's in California. A few crates were sent back East and by 1925 the broccoli market was off the ground.

Broccoli Varieties

Broccoli was first grown in the Italian province of Calabria and was given the name Calabrese. Today there are many varieties. In the United States, the most common type of broccoli is the Italian green or sprouting variety. Its green stalks are topped with umbrella-shaped clusters of purplish green florets.

Selecting Broccoli

Choose bunches that are dark green. Good color indicates high nutrient value. Florets that are dark green, purplish, or bluish green contain more beta carotene and vitamin C than paler or yellowing ones. Choose bunches with stalks that are very firm. Stalks that bend or seem rubbery are of poor quality. Avoid broccoli with open, flowering, discolored, or water-soaked bud clusters and tough, woody stems.

Storing Broccoli

Store broccoli unwashed, in an open plastic bag and place in the crisper drawer of refrigerator. It is best if used within a day or two after purchasing.

Fresh vs. Frozen Broccoli

Packaged frozen broccoli differs from fresh in its nutrient content. The flower buds or florets are richer in beta carotene than the stalks. Manufactures typically cut off most of the stalk before packaging it, so frozen broccoli may contain 35 percent more beta carotene by weight than fresh broccoli. The downside is that frozen broccoli has twice as much sodium as fresh (up to 68 mg per 10 oz. package), about half the calcium, and smaller amounts of iron, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin C.

Preparing and Cooking Broccoli

The best way to cook broccoli is to steam, cook in the microwave or stir-fry with a little broth or water. These methods are better than boiling. Some of the vitamin and mineral content are lost from the vegetable and end up in the cooking water when they are boiled. Cooked broccoli should be tender enough so that it can be pierced with a sharp knife, and still remain crisp and bright green in color.


This fact sheet provides basic information about garlic -- uses, potential side effects, and resources for more information. Garlic is the edible bulb from a plant in the lily family. It has been used as both a medicine and a spice for thousands of years.

What Garlic Is Used For

• Garlic's most common uses as a dietary supplement product that contains vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and/or other ingredients intended to supplement the diet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has special labeling requirements for dietary supplements and treats them as foods, not drugs. are for high cholesterol, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

• Garlic is also used to prevent certain types of cancer, including stomach and colon cancers.

Using Garlic

Garlic, the cousin of the onion, enhances the taste of many foods. When cooking, break apart the head of garlic and remove the skin from individual cloves before chopping.

The smaller you chop garlic, the stronger the flavor. Chopping or pressing releases more of its essential oils, giving the strong garlic aroma.

Garlic cloves can be eaten raw or cooked. They may also be dried or powdered and used in tablets and capsules. Raw garlic cloves can be used to make oils and liquid extracts.

What Science Says About Garlic

Some evidence indicates that taking garlic can slightly lower blood cholesterol levels; studies have shown positive effects for short-term (1 to 3 months) use. However, an NCCAM-funded study on the safety and effectiveness of three garlic preparations (fresh garlic, dried powdered garlic tablets, and aged garlic extract tablets) for lowering blood cholesterol levels found no effect.

Preliminary research suggests that taking garlic may slow the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a condition that can lead to heart disease or stroke.

Evidence is mixed on whether taking garlic can slightly lower blood pressure.

Some studies suggest consuming garlic as a regular part of the diet may lower the risk of certain cancers.

Vitamin C

What Vitamin C is good for:

• Vitamin C helps wounds heal

• Vitamin C strengthens blood vessels
• Vitamin C builds connective tissue
• Vitamin C builds healthy gums, skin and promotes strong teeth and bones
• Vitamin C may boost immunity

• Vitamin C also protects the cells of the body from free radicals that cause cell damage that may lead to cancer, heart disease, and other health problems.

Studies suggest that vitamin C supplements taken for ten years can reduce cataracts by more than 75-percent.

Where you get vitamin C:

• Citrus fruits, strawberries, green and red peppers, collard and mustard greens, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, kiwi, guava and parsley.

Vitamin C: Keeping Skin Young

Vitamin C and the linoleic acid in foods like oils and nuts may protect skin from aging, while carbohydrates and fats other than linoleic acid may make skin worse. Scientists asked 4,000 women aged 40 to 74 to recall their diets from the previous 24 hours and to allow a dermatologist to examine their skin, as part of the national Health and Nutrition Examinations Survey:

• Women who consumed more vitamin C-rich foods were 11 percent less likely to have a wrinkled appearance and 7 percent less likely to have dry skin associated with aging.

• Women who consumed more linoleic acid (an omega 6 polyunsaturated fat found in oils, especially soybean) were about 25 percent less likely to have skin atrophy and dryness.

• Women who ate more total fat or carbohydrates were more likely to have wrinkles and skin atrophy.


Calcium is one of the most vital nutrients all of us need for optimum health.

When we, men and women alike, do not get enough calcium our bones are not the only things that will suffer. Calcium offers some protection from high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney stones and possibly colon cancer.

Here, in the United States, we still do not get enough calcium in our diets.

Dairy products are our best source of calcium, but most dairy products contain too much fat. This can become a lose-lose situation. What to do? Use low fat or fat-free dairy products. Read on...

Low Fat or Fat Free Dairy Products and Calcium

Low or fat-free dairy foods often contain slightly higher amounts of calcium than full-fat dairy foods. A cup of fat-free milk contains 306 milligrams of calcium, while a cup of whole milk contains 276 milligrams. Fat contains no calcium; when it is removed, calcium increases simply because of volume. In products where the milk is further processed, calcium content may increase with the reduction of fat. For example, a cup of whole-milk yogurt contains 296 milligrams of calcium; a cup of low-fat yogurt, 448 milligrams.

There are ways around this, however. If you are a milk drinker, drink skim milk. (Check out our Healthy Milk Recipes!) Cheese is an excellent source of calcium and now comes in many low-fat and non-fat options that are much better than they used to be.

Calcium Supplements

Supplements are another choice. While it is always best to get your nourishment from the foods you eat, supplements are a far better alternative than not getting your nutritional needs met at all. Doctor approved and safe clacium supplements are available at very reasonable prices:

Calcium and Magnesium -- This high potency calcium product combines three different kinds of calcium, Vitamin D, Magnesium, and Boron into 1 capsule.

Calcium Liquid -- A high quality, cost effective liquid formula that builds strong bones and teeth, supports healthy heart, nerves and muscles, provides calcium in highly bioavailable forms, includes Boron for building bone density. Superior absorption.

Calcium and Magnesium Citrates -- High Absorption Calcium Supplement.

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