Winter draws on, and it’s time to put your winter drawers on! This is the time of year for delicious hot drinks to keep you warm, and healthy fruits and spices to keep illness at bay. In all the teas featured in this article, there’s one very special ingredient that none of us can do without. It’s water, of course.
So, let’s have a look at some tasty seasonal drinks.
White tea – like black tea – is made from the dried leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. As soon as the tea leaves are picked, the plant’s natural polyphenols react with oxygen in the atmosphere by giving up single electrons from the molecules’ component atoms. This is the process of oxidation.
In the production of black tea, the tealeaves are crushed, rolled, and exposed to oxygen for maximum oxidation. For white tea, the leaves aren’t crushed or rolled, and exposure to oxygen is kept to a minimum. Very often, white tea is made with immature leaves and unopened buds. The white, downy hairs on the leaf buds give white tea its name.
Oxidation also takes place in our bodies.
A free radical is a molecule that contains an atom with an odd electron in its outer orbit, making the molecule unstable and reactive. Free radicals react with other chemicals, taking an electron for stability and leaving the attacked molecule unstable, thus setting in motion a chain reaction. Free radicals are important in living organisms because they destroy pathogens, but they’ll also attack other molecules, which can lead to cell death and illness.
Antioxidants are molecules that can donate an electron to a free radical without becoming unstable.
Polyphenols are antioxidants. When it comes to tea, less oxidation in the treatment of the leaves means higher potential for oxidation in the body. That’s why white tea is such a rich source of antioxidants.
To make a refreshing cup of white tea, pour hot water (at a temperature of approximately 80°C) over loose white tea leaves and allow to steep for five or six minutes. Strain and serve.
In Indian cuisine, masala refers to a blend of spices. Masala chai means “spiced tea”, and this hot drink is traditionally made with milk and water.
Star anise is the seed of Illicium verum, an evergreen tree native to China. The spice, which gets its name from the star-shaped seed pods, contains many health-promoting compounds and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Star anise is known to have antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
Ginger spice comes from the rhizome of the ginger plant (Zingiber officinale). The main bioactive compound in ginger is gingerol, whose antibacterial and antiviral properties protect the plant from pathogens and provide a multitude of health benefits to humans. Ginger aids digestion, helps lower cholesterol and blood sugars, promotes cognitive function, reduces nausea, and inhibits the growth of oral bacteria. Ginger is a powerful antioxidant and pain reliever.
Cinnamon spice comes from the inner bark of trees in the Cinnamomum genus, and, like ginger, it has a wide range of health benefits. Cinnamon helps to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, inflammation, and insulin resistance. It’s an antioxidant and plays a role in maintaining neurotransmitter levels, thus promoting healthy cognitive and motor function. Cinnamon also has antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Black peppercorns are the cooked and dried unripe fruit of the flowering vine, Piper nigrum. It’s believed that black peppercorns increase levels of digestive enzymes, facilitating the metabolism of food. (White peppercorns are the seeds of P. nigrum’s ripe fruit.)
Cloves are the dried flower buds of the evergreen tree, Syzygium aromaticum. Rich in vitamin K and manganese, cloves have antioxidant, antibiotic, and analgesic properties. Studies also show that cloves can increase insulin levels.
Green cardamom spice is made from the seeds – and sometimes the pods, too – of the True Cardamom tree (Elettaria cardamomum), which belongs to the same family (Zingiberaceae) as the ginger plant. Cardamom is an antioxidant well known for lowering blood pressure and fighting oral bacteria. It also aids respiration by relaxing airways and increasing oxygen absorption.
To make a cup of masala chai, combine equal measures of tea concentrate, hot milk, and hot water.
Your masala chai concentrate can be used to make another delicious winter drink: spiced pumpkin tea. The pumpkin – fruit of Cucurbita pepo, a cultivated plant native to North America – is rich in vitamins A, C, B2, and E, as well as potassium, copper, manganese, and iron. For this recipe, you’ll need pumpkin puree, which is made by mashing steamed pumpkin flesh.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
Not strictly true, but this mantra didn’t come about by accident. Apples are very good for us!
Containing antioxidants and high levels of potassium, sodium, magnesium, and vitamin C, apples can aid digestion, reduce blood sugar levels, and promote the development of strong bones.