February 08, 2011


Flowering Oregano
Scientific classification
O. vulgare
Binomial name
Origanum vulgare

Oregano (pronounced UK: /ɒrɨˈɡɑːnoʊ/, US: /əˈrɛɡənoʊ/) – scientifically named Origanum vulgare by Carolus Linnaeus – is a common species of Origanum, a genus of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It is native to warm-temperate western and southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region.
Oregano is a perennial herb, growing from 20–80 cm tall, with opposite leaves 1–4 cm long. Oregano will grow in a pH range between 6.0 (mildly acid) and 9.0 (strongly alkaline) with a preferred range between 6.0 and 8.0. The flowers are purple, 3–4 mm long, produced in erect spikes. It is sometimes called Wild Marjoram, and its close relative O. majorana is then known as "Sweet Marjoram".

Description of Plant Biology
Closely related to the herb marjoram, Oregano is also known as wild marjoram. Oregano is a perennial, although they are grown as annuals in colder climates as they often do not survive the winter months.
Main constituents include carvacrol, thymol, limonene, pinene, ocimene, and caryophyllene. The leaves and flowering stems are strongly antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, cholagogue, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic and mildly tonic.
Many subspecies and strains of oregano have been developed by humans over centuries for their unique flavors or other characteristics. Tastes range from spicy or astringent to more complicated and sweet. Simple Oregano sold in garden stores as "Origanum vulgare" may have a bland taste and larger, less dense leaves, and is not considered the best for culinary uses, with a taste less remarkable and pungent. It can pollinate other more sophisticated strains, but the offspring are rarely better in quality.

Syrian Oregano (Origanum vulgare syriacum)
Notable subspecies are:
  • Origanum vulgare gracile (= O. tyttanthum). Originally from Khirgizstan. It has glossy green leaves and pink flowers. It grows well in pots or containers, and is more often grown for added ornamental value than other oregano. Pungent and spicy.
  • Origanum vulgare hirtumItalian Oregano, Greek Oregano. A common source of cultivars with different aroma than those of O. v. gracile. Vigorous and very hardy. It has darker green, slightly hairy foliage. Generally considered the best all-purpose culinary subspecies.
  • Origanum vulgare onitesCretan Oregano, Turkish Oregano, rigani, "pot marjoram". A tender perennial growing to 18 inches tall, with pale green to gray-green woolly rounded foliage. Strong, intensely spicy flavor.
  • Origanum vulgare syriacumSyrian Oregano, Lebanese Oregano, za'atar – Larger leaves that vary in colors ranging from pale green to grayish. Their taste is pungent and similar to Greek Oregano.
Example cultivars are:
  • 'Aureum' – Golden foliage (greener if grown in shade). Mild taste.
  • 'Greek', 'Kaliteri'O. v. hirtum strains/landraces. Small, hardy, dark, compact, thick, silvery-haired leaves, usually with purple undersides. Excellent repuration for flavor and pungency as well as medicinal uses. Strong, archetypal oregano flavor (Greek kaliteri: "the best").
  • 'Hot & Spicy'O. v. hirtum strain.
  • 'Nana' – dwarf cultivar.
Cultivars traded as 'Italian', 'Sicilian' etc. are usually Hardy Sweet Marjoram (O. ×majoricum), a hybrid between the southern Adriatic O. v. hirtum and Sweet Majoram (O. majorana). They have a reputation for sweet and spicy tones, with little bitterness, and are prized for their flavor and compatibility with various recipes and sauces.

Culinary Uses

Dried oregano for culinary use.

Oregano growing in a field.
Oregano is an important culinary herb. It is particularly widely used in Turkish, Palestinian, Syrian, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, Latin American, and Italian cuisine. It is the leaves that are used in cooking, and the dried herb is often more flavourful than the fresh.
Oregano  is often used in tomato sauces, fried vegetables, and grilled meat. Together with basil, it contributes much to the distinctive character of many Italian dishes.
It is commonly used by local chefs in southern Philippines when boiling carabao or cow meat to eliminate the odor of the meat, and to add a pleasant, spicy flavor.
Oregano combines nicely with pickled olives, capers, and lovage leaves. Unlike most Italian herbs, oregano works with spicy foods, which are popular in southern Italy.
Oregano is a widely used ingredient in Greek cuisine. Oregano adds flavor to Greek salad and is usually added to the lemon-olive oil sauce that accompanies many fish or meat barbecues and some casseroles.
In Turkish Cuisine, oregano is mostly used for flavoring meat, especially for mutton and lamb. In barbecue and kebab restaurants, it can be usually found on table, together with paprika, salt and pepper.

Oregano growing in a pot.
It has an aromatic, warm and slightly bitter taste and can vary in intensity. Good quality oregano may be strong enough that it almost numbs the tongue, but the cultivars adapted to colder climates have often unsatisfactory flavor. Factors such as climate, seasons and soil composition may effect the aromatic oils present, and this effect may be greater than the differences between the various species of plants.
The related species Origanum onites (Greece, Turkey) and O. heracleoticum (Italy, Balkan peninsula, West Asia) have similar flavors. A closely related plant is marjoram from Turkey, which, however, differs significantly in taste, because phenolic compounds are missing from its essential oil. Some varieties show a flavor intermediate between oregano and marjoram.
Pizza Sauce
The dish most commonly associated with oregano is pizza. Its variations have probably been eaten in Southern Italy for centuries. Oregano became popular in the US when returning WW2 soldiers brought back with them a taste for the “pizza herb”.

Hippocrates used oregano as an antiseptic as well as a cure for stomach and respiratory ailments. A Cretan oregano (O. dictamnus) is still used today in Greece as a palliative for sore throat.
Oregano is high in antioxidant activity, due to a high content of phenolic acids and flavonoids. It also has shown antimicrobial activity against strains of the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.
In 2005, the US Federal Trade Commission brought legal action against a firm that had claimed that oil of oregano treated colds and flus and that oil of oregano taken orally treated and relieved bacterial and viral infections and their symptoms, saying that the representations were false or were not substantiated at the time the representations were made, and that they were therefore a deceptive practice and false advertisements. The final stipulation on the matter said that no representation as to any health benefit could be made without "…competent and reliable scientific evidence…"
Other plants called "oregano"

Plectranthus amboinicus
  • Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus, formerly Coleus aromaticus), also of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Sometimes also called "Mexican oregano", it has large and somewhat succulent leaves.
  • Mexican Oregano (Lippia graveolens) is not of the mint, but of the closely related vervain family (Verbenaceae), including e.g. the Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora). It is a highly studied herb that is said to be of some medical use and is common in curandera (female shamanic practices) in Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Mexican oregano has a very similar flavour to oregano, but is usually stronger. It is becoming more commonly sold outside of Mexico, especially in the United States. It is sometimes used as a substitute for epazote leaves; this substitution would not work the other way round.
  • Poliomintha longiflora is also occasionally called "orégano" in Latin America.
Oregano is the anglicised form of the Italian word origano, or possibly of the medieval Latin organum; this latter is used in at least one Old English work. Both were drawn from Classical Latin term origanum, which probably referred specifically to sweet marjoram, and was itself a derivation from the Greek origanon ρίγανον, which simply referred to "an acrid herb". The etymology of the Greek term is often given as oros ρος "mountain" + the verb ganousthai γανοσθαι "delight in", but the Oxford English Dictionary notes that it is quite likely a loanword from an unknown North African language.

February 07, 2011

Pine nuts

Pine nut
Pine nuts are known as Sanober in the Arab world. It is familiar in various kinds of Arabic Cuisines. They are used with Meat,Fish, Salad and other Vegetable dishes such as fillings for Kibba, in Confectionary used as filings, garnishing for different deserts and also baked with breads. More details as follows..........

Shelled Korean pine nuts (Pinus koraiensis)
Pine nuts are the edible seeds of pines (family Pinaceae, genus Pinus). About 20 species of pine produce seeds large enough to be worth harvesting; in other pines the seeds are also edible, but are too small to be of great value as a human food.

Species and geographic spread

Stone Pine cone with pine nuts — note two nuts under each cone scale

In Europe, pine nuts come from the Stone Pine (Pinus pinea), which has been cultivated for its nuts for over 6,000 years, and harvested from wild trees for far longer. The Swiss Pine (Pinus cembra) is also used to a very small extent.
In Asia, two species are widely harvested, Korean Pine (Pinus koraiensis) in northeast Asia (the most important species in international trade), and Chilgoza Pine (Pinus gerardiana) in the western Himalaya. Four other species, Siberian Pine (Pinus sibirica), Siberian Dwarf Pine (Pinus pumila), Chinese White Pine (Pinus armandii) and Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana), are also used to a lesser extent. Afghanistan is an important source of pine nuts.
In North America, the main species are three of the pinyon pines, Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis), Single-leaf Pinyon (Pinus monophylla), and Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides). The other eight pinyon species are used to a small extent, as are Gray Pine (Pinus sabineana), Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana), Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) and Parry Pinyon (Pinus quadrifolia).

In the United States, pine nuts are mainly harvested by American Indians, particularly the Uto-Aztecan: Shoshone, Paiute and Hopi, and Washoe tribes.[ Certain treaties negotiated by tribes and laws in Nevada guarantee Native Americans' right to harvest pine nuts.
Pollination and seed development
The pinyon pine nut (seed) species will take 18 months to complete its maturity, however, in order to reach full maturity the environmental conditions must be favorable for the tree and its fruit.

Development begins in early spring with pollinization. A tiny cone (small marble size) will form from mid spring to the end of summer in which the premature cone will then become and remain dormant (cessation of growth) until the following spring. The cone will then commence growth until it reaches maturity near or at the end of summer.
Mature fruit and harvesting process
The mature pinyon pine cone containing fruit is ready to harvest ten days before the green cone begins to open. A cone is harvested by placing it in a burlap bag and exposing it to a heat source such as the sun to begin the drying process. It takes approximately 20 days from that time until the cone fully opens. Once it is fully open and dry the fruit (seed) can be easily extracted in various ways. The most common and practical extracting method used is, to repeatedly hit the cone(s) in the burlap bag against a rough surface in order to cause it to shatter, leaving just the job of separating by hand the seed from the residue within the bag.
Another option for harvesting is to wait until the cone opens on the tree (as it naturally will) and harvest the cone from the pinyon pine, followed by the extracting process mentioned above.
Fallen seed can also be gathered beneath the trees. 

Ecology and status
In the United States, millions of hectares of productive pinyon pine woods have been destroyed due to conversion of lands, and in China, destructive harvesting techniques (such as breaking off whole branches to harvest the cones) and the removal of trees for timber have led to losses in production capacity.
Elevation and pinecone production
In ecology, in regards to that of the pinyon pine tree, the elevation of the tree is an important determinant as to the quantity of pinecone production, and therefore, on the large part, will determine the amount of pine nuts the tree will yield.
Pinyon pine tree cone production is most commonly found at an elevation between 6,000 to 8,500 feet and ideally at 7,000 feet. This is due in fact that increased temperatures at elevations lower than 6,000 feet, during the spring, will dry up humidity and moisture contents (particularly snow packs), that provide for the tree throughout the spring and summer, causing little nourishment for pinecone maturity. Although there are several other environmental factors such as clouds and rain that determine the conditions of the ecology, without this nourishment (water) the cones are more susceptible to perishing and the tree will tend to abort the cone(s).
There are certain topographical areas found in lower elevations, such as shaded canyons, where the humidity remains constant throughout the spring and summer allowing the pinecones to fully mature and produce seed.
At elevations above 8,500 feet the temperature will substantially drop, drastically affecting the state of the dormant cone. During the winter, the change in temperature, along with gusty winds, with their severity, can cause the cone(s) to be susceptible to freezing that damages the fruit permanently, in which case, growth is stunted and the cone withers away.
Physical characteristics

European Stone Pine nuts (Pinus pinea) to be compared with the picture below
Pine nuts contain, depending on species, between 10–34% protein, with Stone Pine having the highest content. They are also a source of dietary fiber. When first extracted from the pine cone, they are covered with a hard shell (seed coat), thin in some species, thick in others. The nutrition is storembryo (sporophyte) in the centre. Although a nut in the culinary sense, in the botanical sense pine nuts are seeds; being a gymnosperm, they lack a carpel (fruit) outside.
The shell must be removed before the pine nut can be eaten. Unshelled pine nuts have a long shelf life if kept dry and refrigerated (at –5 to +2 °C); shelled nuts (and unshelled nuts in warm conditions) deteriorate rapidly, becoming rancid within a few weeks or even days in warm humid conditions. Pine nuts are commercially available in shelled form, but due to poor storage, can have poor flavour and may be already rancid at the time of purchase. Consequently, pine nuts are often frozen to preserve their flavour.
European pine nuts may be distinguished from Asian ones by their greater length in comparison to girth; Asian pine nuts are stubbier, shaped somewhat like long kernels of corn. The American Pinyon nuts are known for their large size and ease of shelling. In the United States, P. edulis, the hard shell or New Mexico and Colorado became a sought after pine nut species due to the Trading Post System and the Navajo people who used the nuts as a means of commerce. The Italian pine nut, (P. pinea) was brought to the United States by immigrants and became a favored treat along the East Coast until the early 1930s when bumper crops of American Pine nuts were readily available at low prices.

Korean Pine (Pinus koraiensis) pine nuts - unshelled, and shell, above; shelled, below
Culinary uses
Pine nuts have been eaten in Europe and Asia since the Paleolithic period. They are frequently added to meat, fish, salads and vegetable dishes or baked into bread. In Italian they are called pinoli or pignoli and are an essential component of Italian pesto sauce. The pignoli cookie, an Italian specialty confection, is made of almond flour formed into a dough similar to that of a macaroon and then topped with pine nuts. In Spain, a sweet is made of small marzipan balls covered with pine nuts, painted with egg and lightly cooked. Pine nuts are also featured in the salade landaise of southwestern France. Pine nut coffee, known as piñón (Spanish for pine nut), is a speciality found in the southwest United States, especially New Mexico, and is typically a dark roast coffee having a deep, nutty flavour; roasted and lightly salted pine nuts can often be found sold on the side of the road in cities across New Mexico to be used for this purpose. The Nevada Pine Nut, or Great Basin pine nut has a sweet fruity flavor and is relished for its large size, sweet flavor and ease of peeling. Pine nuts are also used in chocolates and desserts such as baklava. It is also a widely used ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine, reflected in a diverse range of dishes such as kibbeh, sambusek, ladies' fingers and many others.
Throughout Europe and Middle East the pine nuts used are from Pinus pinea (Stone Pine). They are easily distinguished from the Asian pine nuts by their more slender shape and more homogeneous flesh. Due to the lower price, Asian pine nuts are also often used, especially in cheaper preparations. Pine nuts contain thiamine, vitamin B1 and protein. One study indicates that pine nut oil may suppress appetite.
Risks of eating pine nuts
A small minority of pine nuts can cause taste disturbances, developing 1–3 days after consumption and lasting for days or weeks. A bitter, metallic taste is described. Though very unpleasant, there are no lasting effects. This phenomenon was first described in a scientific paper in 2001. Some publications have made reference to this phenomenon as "pine mouth". This is a relatively new phenomenon which might be caused by the nuts spoiling and having gone rancid. It has been also hypothesized that this bitter side effect is caused by an allergy that some people may have to pine nuts, but this does not explain the recent appearance of this syndrome. Another theory attributes the phenomenon to nuts imported from China. It has been hypothesized that the nut trees are absorbing something and passing it on to the nuts, or the nuts themselves are being treated with something before packaging. Metallic taste disturbance, known as metallogeusia, is reported 1–3 days after ingestion, being worse on day 2 and lasting for up to 2 weeks. Cases were self-limited and resolve without treatment.