All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pumpkin Pulp Bread

Pumpkin Pulp Bread

I've been reading the Harry Potter series again, for the first time (last time I tried, I was so bored, I gave up, thinking they were merely kid's books; now I figured I'd at least skim read it, to see how it was put together).  And when I read about how all the student wizards and witches at Hogwarts drink pumpkin juice, I recalled seeing a blog somewhere in German where someone used their Dampfentsafter (steam juicer) to extract juice from a pumpkin (e.g. here, they used it to make a cordial(?) with vodka!  Sorry Harry, you're not old enough yet for this kind of pumpkin juice).  

Now that pumpkins are in the stores, I thought I'd give it a try.

From one ordinary jack-o-lantern type pumpkin, I bottled 4 jars of pumpkin juice (and it is really nothing special, it is clear in colour and it just tastes like mild squash; it can eventually be fermented, if I want to try it, but it will require quite a bit of sugar or honey to make a decent pumpkin wine or mead).  I reserved the pumpkin pulp, which was still quite wet, since it had been steamed in the Dampfentsafter.  Today I used 800g of that pulp, straight from the refrigerator, to make a sourdough whole wheat bread. 


  • 1000g ww flour
  • 50g wheat germ
  • 800g pumpkin pulp
  • 200g sourdough starter
  • 20g coarse salt

The salt was added with 50g of the pumpkin pulp.  I kneaded the dough prior to adding the salt, to ensure that the pulp mixed all the flour well.  After adding the salt, I squooshied it in, and then kneaded it again.  Curiously, the texture of the dough utterly changed when the salt was added, and not necessarily for the better.  The salt probably pulled any remaining water from the cells of the pumpkin pulp, and the dough became slimy with wet.  I kneaded it for about 5 minutes, until I could no longer feel the coarse salt in the dough, and the consistency became better.  

Once it was easier to work with, I finished off kneading it.  It went back into the bowl and for the next couple of hours I stretched and folded it the best I could.  It really wasn't all that well hydrated, despite the slime.  It is impossible to say, of course, just how hydrated the dough was, because I had only added pulp, and hadn't added any water directly.  If I had to guess, though, based purely on how the dough felt in my hands, it was probably somewhere around 65% hydrated -- pretty low, compared to most of the dough I've been working with.

The dough was refrigerated overnight once it was divided and placed in the baskets.  In the morning I set it out and walked the dog for a couple of hours.  I preheated the stone in the oven and baked it with steam.  The dough plumped up in the oven drastically.


This doesn't taste too pumpkiny.  It is a mild tasting bread.  You can put anything on it -- jam, cheese, whatever.  The sourdough seemed to like the dough, it fermented well despite the removal of the slightly sweet juice; but this dough wasn't well hydrated.  It could probably have done with some water -- or perhaps, the juice I had extracted from it in the first place.

Reveal your secrets!
This pumpkin loaf has a jack-o-lantern smile inside it.

Notes to Myself
  • While there is still a lot of food value in the pumpkin pulp, all of the natural yeasts and enzymes would have been killed or denatured in the steaming process.  What is left is the pumpkin minerals and carbs.  Not sure whether this method is better than baking the pumpkin to make the pulp, like I've done in the past -- but it sure is easier.  

    Mostly I wondered whether removing the juice would concentrate the taste in the remaining pulp, or if it would flatten the taste.  I suspect the taste is somewhat flattened, but not too much.  The steam juicer certainly did not take all of the wetness from the pulp, it has still quite a lot of water in it.

25% Rye with translucent onions and bread spice

The Backslopping Baker 
A Sourdough Baker from Brungerly
always backslopped his dough quite stubbornly.
His wife was nonplussed;
when he kissed her she sussed
he had backslopped her mouth with his tonguerly.

Four Breads
I made 4 breads, and as usual gave half of them away.  Thank goodness I have one friend who will take my bread without much complaint.  I don't even have to kiss him.

The boules are simply 100% ww sourdough bread, my current staple.  I froze mine (so there are no pictures here of the crumb).

The other, longer but mishappen loaves are 25% rye, 75% ww sourdough loaves with almost-caramelized onions and bread spice (and the usual 5% wheat germ, 2% salt).  I heated the chopped sweet onion in some olive oil, and got it translucent but not browned.  I added it to the dough, and mixed it in 30 minutes after adding the salt and the final water (the final water brought the hydration to 72%).  The bread was mixed and stretched and turned and baked in the usual Tartine Bread style.

Flat and misshapen: over-proofed because oil tore apart the gluten and the onions sweetness overfed the yeast?

Gave one away, froze one: no crumb shot of this one, but I've seen it before many times.

When I bake only for myself, I tend to get a bit sloppy.  If you saw this rye loaf in a store, you would pass it by, I'm sure.  Fortunately, I don't have to pretty things up to sell these loaves.  Still, occasionally there are times when I'll make some bread and am so ashamed of it I won't give it away, I'll eat it all myself, hanging my head in shame with each slice cut.  The friend who usually gets my bread says, "It would have to be really bad to not want to even give it away."

Well, sometimes it is that bad.  But these were at least good enough to give away.

Excellent taste, this loaf got me through a weekend of work.  I ate it some with miso, and some with old cheddar.

I did not care for the way the loaf sagged.  It was overproofed, and had expanded beyond the banneton top.

Some dough stuck to the basket.  I scraped it off and made a misshapen bun with it, and baked it in the hot Dutch Ovens in the cooling oven, after the other loaves were finished. 

 It was fine too.
Nothing wrong with the way it tasted, but it too didn't look all that great.

And there was little to no oven spring.  This resulted in a very flat loaf.  But it tasted so good, I'm not sure I'd do anything different.

Notes to Myself
  • I think that the onions contributed to the speed with which this dough fermented; and the oil on the onions probably contributed to the breakdown of the gluten in the loaf, contributing to the sag.

The Immeasurable Loaf

This bread was made without measuring anything.  GOK* the exact measurements.

  • Starter: I took a bunch of sourdough that I would have discarded, far more than I would normally use, made a hard dough of it by adding no more water, just more ww flour, and left it on the counter overnight.  There it expanded, softened, became sticky.  
  • Flour: The next morning, I added ww flour to it, 
  • Water: and then some water, and then some more ww flour, 
  • Seeds: and then some sunflower seeds, 
  • Salt: and finally a bit of salt, and I mixed up the dough.  I got it to a consistency I thought was okay, but I didn't knead it or stretch it much.  
  • 8 Grain: I sprinkled some 8-grain mixture in a buttered tin, placed the dough in there, and added some of the same 8-grain mix on top, and let it rise.  
About four hours later I woke up and baked it.

Lost skill
When I was eleven -- the same age as Harry Potter when he first learned of the world of Magic -- I was struggling to teach myself how to use a slide rule.  I waved it in the air like a wand, my mind trying to wrap itself around the concepts of multiplication, division, logarithms and the arcane mysteries of the simplest D and C scales.  The slide rule I had purchased had lots of moving parts, and I quickly became enamoured with the complexity and levels of precision of the instrument.  As I learned more, I remember one day in a relaxed state moving the inner slider one way and the clear acrylic slider the other way in slow motion, realizing that the numbers that the ruler was pointing to were even now calculating mathematical ideas that I could not comprehend, and the scales were as mysterious as a futhark.  My mind was merely on the edge of the very simplest mathematical concepts that were being continuously expressed in the number scales written on the wood.  An epiphanic moment occurred, when I intuited a Mind so vast it could comprehend infinite things I did not and could never know, to an infinite precision.  "That must be God," I assumed.

In the next few years, calculators were all the vogue, and became increasingly cheap to obtain.  Slide rules became obsolete.  Using them is a lost art.  I myself have forgotten everything I ever tried to teach myself about their use.  But I remember this moment when I thought I glimpsed the Mind of God.  The idea that God is not only Infinite Intelligence, but has already measured out everything in existence, had occurred to me when I handled a slipstick of calibrated wood.  But I had only glimpsed this because I had approached the infinite precision of All Things Unknown through that which can be known.

Despite the way the slide rule -- and the math that it embodied in various wooden scales -- had opened this window, though, it may well have been this moment when I determined that Mathematics would never allow me to arrive at God's infinite understanding.  Atheists might assume that it was at this moment that I set aside Truth in favour of Myth, set aside Fact for Conjecture, accepted the Easy Answer ("God") rather than pursue the Infinite Enquiry that is Science.  But what I was really looking for, after this moment, was a shortcut to God's Mind.  How could I get another glimpse into God's Knowing?  Was there a way to expand consciousness from the puny human to the Infinite?  What would it mean to not merely be conscious of God, but to have God's Consciousness?  How could one do this?  What would everything look like from that vantage point?  How would I recognize it?

This was a Faustian struggle for me, and no one seemed to be able to steer me in the correct direction.  I lost my ability to speak to people about what mattered to me.  I had no friends who were even remotely interested in my deepest pursuit.  School wasn't moving me toward this Infinite Understanding.  That way was plodding and ineffectual.  Religion wasn't really speaking to this at all. Everything in religion that I had encountered up to that moment was like looking at a piece of wood instead of the idea that the wood embodied: it offered up idols and slide rules instead of God and the Mathematical Concept that unleashes Infinite Understanding.  Even now I can barely put into words my needs at the time.

I suspect that this is a fairly common experience for youngsters, growing up, perhaps part of the process of individuation**.

The Cloud of Unknowing
I think I finally opted for Mystery.  I would try to teach myself everything I could about something, but then step beyond that, into the Unknown, where only God has understanding.  That would be my method.  I admit now that I spent far more time trying to learn about what is presumed known already than I did using my time  stepping off into the unknown.  And further glimpses of what God might be became increasingly more rare.

Had I but known it, I would have come to the understanding that Mystery is the method of all School and Religion and Science too.  Perhaps it is the way of the human, after all, to continually step into the personal unknown to approach the infinitely known.  

I think you have to have a sense of wonder to go beyond what you already know.  If humans have any part of the Infinite in them, I believe it is Curiosity***.  To step into the Unknown, aiming for the Infinite, using only Wonder as a guide: that is the Human Way.

And to take that first step, you merely have to set aside your measuring stick.

Although I haven't measured anything, I have not left what I know, at least not very far.  The bread is fine.  It is fairly bland, but has an interesting crunchy, roasted sesame seed crust.  Its a rustic bread with little flavour, perfect for my wife who has been complaining loudly about all the "flavours" and "spices" in the recent bread.
loaf in front of the sample of what the new kitchen cupboards will eventually look like

This bread staled quickly.  We didn't finish it, but left the heel of it for the chickens, who finish most of the bread that we don't eat.

Neither baking this bread nor eating this bread will lead one to experience God.  But neither will not eating it lead one away from experiencing God.

Notes to Myself
  • * GOK:
    My grandmother had a room full of stuff she could not part with, that she had gathered after a long lifetime of gathering, collecting, and dispersing, and she called it her "G.O.K. room" because "God Only Knows what is in there."  To enter into your own personal GOK room, I believe you have to set aside what you think you know.  You have to stop measuring, because what you are measuring is known.  You have to allow for serendipity, you have to keep a sense of playfulness, you have to express wonder, to get to the place you want to be.  And you do not yet know where that is or what it will look like.

    It is like moving into death itself.

    All bread ultimately contains GOK elements.  The species of lactobaccilli in a sourdough starter, the unmeasured pH at any given stage, the unplotted curve of the bulk fermentation volume to radius, the enzymes involved in the breakdown of dextrans, the type and number of flavinoids, the ordering of the lattice of gluten or other proteins, the pressure of gas molecules on each cell of bread dough, the many things we do not yet know and may not ever know, about what happens in our daily bread.  

    Bread retains mystery no matter how much we learn about it.  I intend no blasphemy as I say that bread is as deep as God's knowing.

  • ** (It might account partly for the popularity of the Harry Potter series of books, because it taps into the need to have something meaningful, secret, and powerful (wizardry) going on even while one is immersed in the meaningless everyday world (of muggles)). 
  • * * * (…but can God be curious?  Or is God's knowledge too vast to admit to curiosity?  Knowing All, God cannot leave off knowing to know yet more.  Is God Infinite Boredom, rather than Infinite Curiosity?)
  • Sometimes you just have to set aside your scales and measures, and let God do it all again.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Turmeric in Whole Wheat Bread

WW Turmeric Loaf

This experimental loaf was made to determine how much turmeric a whole wheat loaf could take without compromising the formation of the gluten.  I've used 75g of the stuff, or 7.5%.

The complete list of baker's percentages:

  • 100% ww flour
  • 5% wheat germ
  • 7.5% turmeric
  • 78% water
  • 2% salt
  • 20% sourdough starter
Turmeric doesn't weigh much.  To me, this seemed like quite a pile of spice to add.  But at 7 1/2 %, you can just taste the turmeric.  It is not unpleasant.

I've looked at turmeric in a part-rye loaf earlier this week too.  More info on the benefits of turmeric there.

Notes to Myself
  • The deep golden colour of the loaves reminds me of someone with jaundice.  Have you ever seen a person with jaundice?  Perhaps someone with cirrhosis, or pancreatic cancer, whose skin turns a bright golden?  I am always amazed at the sight of it.
  • This loaf stales quickly.   Tough to cut on the 4th day.   Does turmeric contain volatile oils that break down when exposed to air? If so, perhaps putting it in bread will not give the benefits that eating it in other foods will.   Just asking the question, don't have any answers.

Friday, September 14, 2012

smokey tomato bread

Smoke Eater Bread

Every year my wife & I run out of her famous 'smokey tomato sauce' -- mostly because we end up giving some away to people who seem to like it.  This sauce, made from fresh ripe Roma tomatoes, takes a bit of extra effort to make, because the tomatoes have to be smoked over smouldering fruit wood.  We eat it sparingly because it is so precious, and it remains a nice special treat -- for pizza, lasagna, or wherever else you might use a tomato sauce.

We made a double batch this year, hoping to give more away and keep more for ourselves.  But we didn't have any fruit wood to burn, so we originally used maple wood.  Big mistake!  The sauce took on inexplicable bitter flavours that ruined the entire batch.  Luckily, a friend found some apple wood for us (and more tomatoes!) and delivered them up to us for us to make another batch.  This time it turned out okay.

 Making sauce and saving the tomato pulp that we usually throw away for bread

Every time we make this, I am amazed at how much tomato skin, cores, seeds and pulp is left over.  We have a tomato processor, a little grinder with a plastic flywheel that removes all this stuff almost effortlessly without the boiling and peeling common to many other tomato sauce recipe methods.  But I look at the pile of this stuff when we're done and I think, "If I was eating a tomato, I'd have eaten all that stuff along with the juice we've extracted."  I hate to waste it.

So this year, instead of throwing it away into the compost, I thought I'd try a couple of different things with it.  First, for most of it I would try fermenting it, following the method of Sandor Katz, in his book "The Art of Fermentation".  Second, I would use a small portion of it to add to bread dough.  

I tried to 'quick ferment' the portion of tomato pulp with a tablespoon full of my sourdough starter overnight, before putting it in the bread dough.  My thought was that fermenting the smokey skins might help eliminate some of the possible toxins (Katz' book talks a little bit about this).  I put 200g of pulp in with some sourdough starter and 200g of water, and left it as I would a sourdough starter refresh.  The next day I removed the water by squeezing the pulp over a sieve.  If I had been thinking ahead, I might have used this reserved water in the bread itself, but I had already measured my water.

  • 1000g ww flour
  • 200g wheat germ
  • 200g sourdough starter
  • 750g water
  • 20g salt
  • 200g tomato pulp
This dough rose nicely.  It had an extra long fermentation time, but that was in the fridge, because I was working days.  I mixed it up in the morning, added the salt and did one turn, then it spent 14 hours in the fridge.  That night I took it out of the fridge, let it sit for an hour and a half, then divided the dough and shaped it.  Back into the fridge to proof for about 22 hours, until I had time to bake it.  It was baked on a stone with steam.

I wasn't sure that the bread would be edible, but it is, and it reminds me of eating barbecue.  When you eat a slice of this bread, you are in fact ingesting some smoke molecules.  To be honest, I don't think that eating much of this is going to be good for you.

The pulp carries a lot of the smokey scent, and it imparts it to the bread.  I cracked into this bread while it was still hot, because I was going to be fasting the next day.  Eaten with a softer cheese like mozzarella, or cream cheese, it was pretty good warm.  It did not go well with almond butter though.

The pulp had more of a smokey taste than a tomato taste, but it wasn't awful, the way eating the pulp by itself seems to be.  I've tastes some of the half-fermented crock that I started, and I usually end up spitting out some of the skin before I swallow it.  I don't have that trouble when its in bread.  You can slice it fine enough that the skin cellulose isn't a chore to eat.

Eating Smoke
Most of us who bake bread are familiar with the "lock and key" analogy of enzymes, developed by Emil Fischer to explain how one molecule can break apart another (and often one enzyme can repeatedly break apart many such molecules).  The theory states that the enzyme is like a key which is inserted into a receptor-site (the lock site) on larger molecule, and the shape of the enzyme, and its chemical polarities, then work to tear apart the big molecule*.

The same thing happens when a smell enters our nasal passages.  When we catch a whiff of something, it means a gas or soluble molecule from a volatile liquid or solid thing we are smelling has travelled through the air to reach us.  It has entered our olfactory passages, has been warmed and moistened, and has lodged itself, like a key into a lock, at a receptor site on one of our olfactory hairs, in the mucous membrane.  This changes the electrical polarity at the site, and the olfactory nerve carries the current to our olfactory bulb.  This sense organ is primordial.  It sits atop the brain stem, in what may be, on the evolutionary scale, part of the most ancient sensory apparatus of our brains.  It makes sense for life forms, even on the smallest evolutionary scale, to know in advance whether they should move toward something tasty or away from something rotten.  The sense of smell isn't merely an evolutionary advantage: it is vital for survival.

The old stereochemical theory of odour says there are only seven primary odours based on the nasal receptors (much the same way it is conjectured that there are 4-5 primary tastes -- salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami).  These original odours were identified by early proponents of the theory as camphor-like, musky, floral, minty, ethereal, pungent and putrid.  Although experimenters still think that the shape of a molecule is most certainly the biggest determinant of its scent, the 'seven primal smells' part of the theory has largely been ignored, or superseded.  Now it seems impossible to predict how gas molecules will change shape or behave in mucous solutions, and many molecules will fit different receptor sits in different ways.  There are in fact thousands of receptor sites, and humans can distinguish over 10,000 different smells.  Dogs can do much better and with a lot fewer molecules to work with.

Le Whaff
A new dining and dieting craze that came out of Europe last year, and is currently making the rounds of the world's trendier experimental restaurants ("It's a cultural experience!") who are constantly on the lookout for new culinary treats is "Le Whaff".  

Chefs make meals as usual, and then the food is distilled; the distillate is then vaporized by ultrasound to turn it into a cloud.  The cloud is inhaled (check this amazing YouTube video) -- through the mouth, usually -- so that the scent and the taste is experienced -- but nothing is actually eaten.  There are obviously few calories to be had this way.  Does the scent satiate, or make you hungrier, though?

The idea of "Le Whaff" came from the mind of David Edwards, in Le Labatoire, Paris, and it was further developed by food designer Marc Bretillot.

This new technology could blur the lines between people with different dietary requirements.  Would a vegan still be a vegan if they inhaled a roast beef sandwich, I wonder?  Would someone with religious convictions against eating pork be able to actually taste bacon without eating it and still keep their faith?

I can't imagine "Le Whaff" appliances for the home, but it may happen.  For my part, if I'm going to take the trouble to make a meal, I think it would be awful to just turn it into a cloud to inhale and not get any other benefits from it.  But there may be other ways to use such an apparatus.  What if you put those cloud molecules into a food that would otherwise taste merely bland?  Like flavouring tofu.  Or bread.  Then the taste molecules would be present, but not as many calories, I suppose.

What sorts of clouds could I put into bread, I wonder?

Besides the smoke from our smokey tomato sauce, I mean.

Notes to Myself
  • *In practice, the enzyme is often the larger molecule, and act like tiny engines doing specific tasks at breaking down and moulding molecules.
  • I had posted the recipe for the smokey tomato sauce here but my wife made me take it down.  She says its supposed to be a secret.  I think that she still wants to tweak it a bit.

Turmeric Whole Wheat and Rye Bread

Turmeric Whole Wheat and Rye Bread

I made this bread because I was hungry and needed something to eat.  No great overwhelming curiosity drove me to make it.  I just wanted food.

It was time for another rye bread, I felt that.  But I didn't know what else it should be.  I just grabbed some turmeric, and added it to the flour.  Not sure how much.  Maybe 1 1/2 TBSP.  Didn't weight it.

  • 750g ww flour
  • 250g rye flour
  • 50g wheat germ
  • 770g water
  • 20g salt
  • 200g sourdough starter
  • some turmeric

I've used turmeric in bread before, in different ways.  Example, here I rolled up some dough with turmeric spread on it; and here, I used it with pumpkin for a nice loaf.  But I haven't really done the proper research on turmeric yet, to learn why it is so good for you.  

I haven't done that much work on it here, either.  I know it is the curcumin in the turmeric, its main active ingredient, that makes it so beneficial.  It has long been known that turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory properties.  Because of this, it has been used to treat problems as diverse as tendonitis or cirrhosis of the liver.  It has also been found that it lowers your risk of developing diabetes.

It also has anti-tumour properties.  This is not mere conjecture.  We are only beginning to understand how it works to break down some tumours.

Recently it was learned that turmeric helps us express a protein called CAMP which boosts the immune system's ability to fend off foreign bacteria, viruses and fungi.

So from a health standpoint, this is a good spice to use.

In bread, the turmeric it makes the loaf a strange golden colour (which isn't unappealing, to me).  But its just a whole wheat and rye bread.  I can't really taste the difference.  It didn't affect the way the dough felt, when making the loaf.  It costs very little to add this to bread.

It's tricky to capture the colour of this loaf with flash photography, or with natural light, using this camera of mine.  IRL, it is a lot more golden than this funny gray loaf looks, in the photos.

Notes to Myself
  • This was a good loaf. In the beginning I thought it was staling quickly, but it actually lasted well, and on the third day it actually improved. Bread with rye sometimes does this, curiously.

Bread Flower

Nasturtium Loaf

This is a 100% whole wheat loaf, made with nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) from my garden.

The idea of eating a flower is strange for a lot of folks who have been taught since childhood to avoid them.  But violets, nasturtiums and marigolds have long been used in salads.  Nasturtiums have a nice peppery taste when you chew on the leaves and flowers, so they lend an interesting spice to a salad, or when I'm just wandering through the garden to get some vegetables.  We like to plant them every year, they are easy to grow and they look nice.  If you don't use them, however, they can get fairly weedy.  At this time of season, they are in fact getting a bit out of hand, in some cases climbing out of their beds, and over the lawn, making for new land to conquer.  They walked across a path, and beneath our grape vines and climbed all over a certain variety of heirloom tomatoes that I had neglected.

I picked a few nasturtiums for a bread.  I've used nasturtiums before, most recently in Lou Preston's Garden Tomato bread, and I thought I could taste them there, but in those loaves I also had other garden ingredients.  This time, the nasturtiums had to carry the day, so I picked 50 flowers and 50 leaves.  That didn't even begin to put a dint in our crop.  The total weight of the flowers, leaves, ants and earwigs was 136g (prior to my washing it).

You've got to watch those earwigs.  They like to hide in the flowers.  Rather disconcerting if you slice into your bread and find half an earwig.  It could happen.

I chopped the leaves coarsely, but left the flowers whole, and just kneaded them into the dough at the same time I added salt and the final 50g of water.  Very pretty.  Didn't seem to effect the properties of the dough too much, I was still able to do a full set of stretch and folds, in the Tartine style.  I took this bread to 77% hydration, and it worked nicely.

  • 1000g ww flour
  • 720g + 50g water
  • 20g salt
  • 50g wheat germ
  • 136g nasturtium flowers (50 flowers & 50 leaves) 

About nasturtiums
The complexity of the pathway by which various plants synthesize mustard oils has suggested to plant biologists and geneticists that they share a common evolutionary ancestor, and are thus related.  The taxonomy debate is as hot as mustard, but if the evolutionary argument holds, nasturtiums belong to the mustard family of plants, Brassicaceae, and are thus related to plants as diverse as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages and papaya.

A number of web sites have some info on nasturtium nutrition, but I don't really trust all of them.  You have to be careful, because some of the info seems to be quoting studies about watercress (which is Nasturtium official), and sometimes its about horseradish (Nasturtium armoracia).

This nasturtium is out-of-hand, climbing up over my neglected tomatoes

The flower and leaves and seeds and root of the garden plant nasturtium are edible, and Barnes PDR for Herbal Medicines seems to think it is fairly benign.  The plant parts have antioxidant properties: they contain Vitamin C, and oxalic acid.  It also contains spilanthol, glucosinolates*, volatile oils, flavonoids, carotenoids, and it is loaded with enzymes (some of them unique to the plant's own specific peptides; nasturtium has drawn curious scientists for its levels of myrosin, an enzyme that hydrolyzes the glucosinolate sinigrin, also found in cabbage, which has received some favourable press recently due to its anti-cancer properties).  In "The Art of Fermentation," Sandor Katz recommends the use of nasturtium leaves in some of his vegetable fermentation recipes, both as a spicy addition, and because of its anti-molding properties.  The anti-bacterial nature of the leaves has long been recognized, and the plant has been used effectively in herbal remedies to expel phlegm, and improve sinusitis. Its use against sinusitis, respiratory inflammation, and urinary tract infection, has been studied, its antibiotic and antiviral efficacy conjectured.  The seeds have been used as a purgative.  The plant has folk-uses, and since 1684 when it was first brought to France, folk medicine has used it as a remedy for the flu.

Kintzios and Barberaki (Plants that fight cancer) say that benzyl glucosinolate from nasturtium, when it undergoes hydrolysis via enzymes creates BITC (benzyl isothiocyanate) which destroys several different kinds of cancer cells, at least in vitro.

The confectionary industry has taken an interest in nasturtium seeds as a source of nasturtium's xyloglucans, which can be developed into new edible gums and gels (similar to the way pectin is used).

But some (Carlson, K., and Keiman, R. (1993) Chemical Survey and erucic acid content of commercial varieties of nasturtium, Tropaeolum magus L., JAOCS, 70(11). pp. 1145 - 1148) have proposed that nasturtiums could be farmed on an industrial scale to harvest its erucic acid, the same way rapeseed and mustard are.  This sort of oil is not generally used for human ingestion, but more for lubricating, emulsifying, plasticizing, coating, and as an ingredient in rubber -- on an industrial scale.

Just to put this into perspective: when some studies with rats found erucic acid to be toxic, plant growers rushed to create a rapeseed with much less of it, so the negative study wouldn't affect the sales of their oil.  They called the new plant based on rapeseed canola:  so, canola has less than 2% erucic acid in its oil, and is considered edible, but rapeseed grown for industrial uses still contain 45-50% of erucic acid in the total oil of the seed.  Here's the kicker: nasturtium contains about 80% erucic acid in the oil of its seed.  The seeds are often eaten in recipes that otherwise might use capers or peppercorns.  I haven't been able to find out how much erucic acid (if any) remains in the flower and leaves, which are more commonly eaten. 

Erucic acid is an omega-9 monounsaturated fat, and it is said to lower blood platelet counts and morphology of the platelets themselves.  Furthermore, some studies consider high levels of erucic acid  dangerous because it tends to pile up in heart tissue.  Apparently animal studies suggest one would need high levels of it for this to happen.  Still, its use is generally discouraged, and laws are set up to limit the amount of it you should eat -- especially for children and pregnant women.**   

While he reports some dangers for mustard oil from the black mustard plant, including skin irritation, possible ulcers, goiter and nephrosis, James Duke the author of "Handbook of Medicinal Herbs (2002) seems to poo-poo the idea that nasturtium's mustard oil content is dangerous.  

That's what I've learned about nasturtiums.  You can eat it in your salad, crush the seed into mustard, or preserve that seed in vinegar like capers -- or you can use leaves and flowers in your bread like I've done here.  I suppose in the small amounts I've used here, any negative effects are going to be small indeed.  But I think you should still be aware that the seed at least contains erucic acid and of course triglycerides.  In the small amounts humans would ingest, I don't see a problem, but it never hurts to know more (Harlow R. et al. (1996) "Gas-liquid chromatography of triglycerides from erucic acid oils and fish oils" Lipids 1(3). pp 216-20). 

Bread Results
A nice loaf, but not as peppery as I'd imagined it would be.  The crumb is colourful, but would be much more colourful in a white bread, i.e. if it wasn't a whole grain bread.

Of course, I'm not going there.

Once in a while, it is nice to have a nasturtium loaf.  I wouldn't want it all the time.

Notes to Myself
  • * Glucosinolates are compounds comprised of nitrogen, and sulphur bound to glucose, and linked to oxygen.  Many predator insect species consider the resultant volatile oils a deterrent.  Gardeners have noted that it keeps greenfly under control, and grown at the trunk of fruit trees, it deters aphis.  Some organic gardeners will grind up nasturtiums and spray it on leaves, too.
  • ** More on erucic acid:  Curiously, part of the metabolic pathway for other omega-9 fats (oleic acid, for example) may lead to the creation of erucic acid internally.  When oleic acid is elongated by the elongase enzyme it will eventually metabolize to erucic acid.  (Enig, M. (2000) Know your fats: the complete primer for understanding the nutrition of fats, oils and cholesterol)
  • Apparently "nasturtium" refers to the way the taste twists your nose.
  • Why not just use pepper in a loaf?  Well, because pepper is a carcinogen.