Though I wrote about the side effects of sugar in my Halloween newsletter, that does not straightaway mean that we should eliminate the sweet flavor from our diet. Sweetness is one of the five flavors, each of which offers a different health benefit. Sweet foods tend to nourish fluids and relax muscles and tendons.
The side effects of sugar are due not only to excess consumption of it but also to its refined form (i.e. white sugar, brown sugar). This is because refined sugar is removed from a whole food and stripped of nutrients. In contrast, unrefined sugar (Sucanat) is not stripped of nutrients. When it is used in moderation and in the context of a healthy diet, you can enjoy its sweetness without side effects. However, diabetics should always be vigilant of any sugar intake to effectively manage their blood glucose levels.
Below is a recipe for sweet and nourishing black sesame soup, replacing white sugar with unrefined sugar in a 1:1 exchange. This dessert is similar to congee (porridge) in that it also contains an equal portion of rice.
Bonus: you can benefit from both the healing effects of congee and black sesame.
Congee (porridge) is traditionally made using white rice. It builds qi and blood, benefits the mucous membranes, and strengthens digestion. These basic properties can be enhanced by the addition of other healing ingredients. Since congee is bland, it is a good base for infinite food modifications depending on your needs.
[If you choose to substitute white rice with another grain, the nutritive properties will vary. A good reference for differentiating grains is Healing with Whole Foods.]
Black sesame seeds (Chinese herb: ‘hei zhi ma’) are grown throughout China. They are used in Chinese medicine to treat numbness, dizziness or blurred vision due to blood deficiency. It also treats constipation due to blood or fluid deficiency (i.e. dryness of the intestines), and is commonly used to prevent premature graying of hair. Its medicinal properties are characterized as sweet (nourishing) and neutral (no effect on body temperature).
- 1 cup grain of choice, soaked 8 hrs (or overnight).* It is traditionally made with white rice. But you can have fun experimenting with healthier grains like millet, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, amaranth.
- 1 cup black sesame seeds, soaked 8 hours (overnight)*
- 7 cups water
- 3/4 to 1 cup unrefined sugar (Sucanat), depending on the sweetness of your tooth. (I think 3/4 is plenty.)
- optional: add in walnuts, or other nuts
Preparation (based on this recipe):
- Drain rice, or chosen grain. Add to blender, and blend thoroughly with 3 cups water. Remove from blender and set aside.
- Drain sesame seeds. Toast in frying pan on low-medium heat, 1-2 minutes, until fragrant.
- Add seeds to blender with ~3/4 cups water, and blend thoroughly.
- Add rice mixture back into blender (along with optional walnuts) and mix thoroughly.
- Transfer mixture to a pot, combined with sugar and the rest of the water (~3 1/4 cups).
- Bring to a boil, then simmer on low until thickened (5-8 minutes). Stir frequently to prevent sediment from sticking to bottom of pot and burning. Add more boiling water to adjust thickness, if desired.
Enjoy it warm. It will nourish you. It is intended as a dessert, and we should remember that even unrefined sugar should be eaten in moderation. Note that if you are eating in moderation as you should, this recipe yields many, many small portions. So either reduce the ingredients proportionately, or share the recipe–as is–with plenty of friends and family, or freeze leftovers for sweet enjoyment over time.
Above is the basic recipe for black sesame soup. It does not include black sesame balls (Tang Yuan), as shown in the image above. There are different fillings for tang yuan, but I prefer black sesame. Here’s a recipe for tang yuan, with an option for eating it with ginger syrup(!).
Soaking grains, nuts and seeds is essential for nutrient absorption. The wise folks at the Westin A. Price Foundation wrote a great article about this necessity and the detriment of phytic acid in grains and seeds. Fallon and Enig wrote:
Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss.
The above is also included in their excellent book, Nourishing Traditions, where it goes on to explain that whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. All of these “antinutrients” can be neutraliezed by soaking whole grains (as long as you discard the soak water).
Another good reference on soaking nuts and seeds is by Marie-Claire Hermans over at Ravishing Raw.