The Fat And The Coconut

Raguan’s Rendang, Nasi Lemak, Cendol, Ayam Percik. What do they have in common? Coconut milk or in Malay, santan. Without santan, none of the dishes mentioned would taste as delicious as they should be. You could use substitutes such as evaporated milk or even yogurt, but those who have tried this will attest to the disappointingly huge difference in taste.

Santan and other coconut derivatives have not enjoyed a healthy relationship with consumers especially those from the West. One of the main reasons for this is due to the coconut’s fat composition. Think of fat and the first thing that comes to your mind is an image of an overweight person. If you’re asked about food fat, you still think of something which is not so healthy. For comparison purposes, butter has 62% saturated fatty acids (not-so-good fat), while coconut oil has 86%. With so much negativity attached to it, it’s now extremely difficult to find coconut cooking oil even in sunny, coconut friendly Malaysia. But recent studies have revealed some interesting revelations about coconut oil.

First, we need to understand what fats are. This may get a bit technical, but bear with me; you’ll have a better understanding of what fats are and what they do:

1. Before we talk about fats per se, we need to look at fatty acids and how they combine to become fats. A fatty acid is a long hydrocarbon chain capped by a carboxyl group (COOH). Very simply, they are chains of carbon attached to each other with hydrogen elements tied to many of them.

Courtesy of departments.jordandistrict.org
Courtesy of departments.jordandistrict.org

2. To make a normal fat, you take three fatty acids and bond them together with glycerol to form a triglyceride.

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The picture becomes clearer, right? During digestion, it’s the other way around; the body breaks down fats into fatty acids, before they can be absorbed into the blood. God builds things, humans break them apart!

3. What are the types of fats? There are basically three types:

a. Unsaturated fats:

Liquid at room temperature, they are considered “good” fats because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms, and play a number of other beneficial roles. Unsaturated fats are mainly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. They can then be divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

b. Saturated fats:

Saturated fat is mainly found in animal foods, but a few plant foods are also high in saturated fats, such as coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. They are solid at room temperature.

Meaning of saturation:

A saturated fat is where every carbon chain has hydrogen atoms (one carbon to two hydrogen atoms). An unsaturated fat has one (monounsaturated) or more (polyunsaturated) carbon chains that are bonded to another carbon instead of a hydrogen atom.

Courtesy of wallpaper222.com
Courtesy of wallpaper222.com

c. Trans fats:

Trans fats are unsaturated fats made to look like saturated fats. Why on earth would you want to do that? Humans are trying to make a healthier version of saturated fat. Does it work? Unfortunately, no. You also incorporate the bad stuff associated with saturated fats into it. You can never have your cake and eat it.

4. Why do we need fat? Too much fat in our diet is not good for you, but a totally fat-free diet would kill you! Bet you didn’t know that. Fats have a number of critical functions:

a. Fat stores energy and helps to regulate our body temperature.

b. Fat is found around our vital organs. They help support and protect them.

c. Fat are part of our cell membrane structure.

d. Our body uses fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K.

e. Fat helps in regulating hormones and controls basic processes such as metabolism.

Sort of a love-hate relationship, don’t you think so?

Coconut oil is higher in saturated fat than other plant oils. However, it is less harmful than partially hydrogenated oil, which is high in trans fats. Here are some other very interesting information about coconut oil:

a. It is cholesterol free. And it helps raise HDL (the good) cholesterol (we would need another topic solely on cholesterol to discuss this).

b. Coconut oil doesn’t contain saturated fats like you would find in cheese or steaks. No, they contain Medium Chain Triglycerides, which are fatty acids of, of course; medium length. They act like carbohydrates rather than fat, going straight to the liver where they are used as a quick source energy.

c. Lauric acid, which can kill harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi, forms 50% of fatty acids found in coconut oil.

Based on the premise that coconut oil is loaded with saturated fats, it doesn’t look good for the ever versatile coconut. But if you dig deeper into the facts of fats, coconuts may not be as harmful as touted and can even be beneficial to you. More scientific evidence is needed before we can conclusively say that coconut fat, which comprises mainly saturated fat, is definitively going to give you heart disease. And yes, you can’t beat the flavor of coconuts.

Finally, God commands us to eat what is allowed but in moderation as the key to good health.

Allah (swt) says:

“O ye people! Eat of what is on earth, lawful and good; and do not follow the
footsteps of the Evil One, for he is to you an avowed enemy.” (Al Qur’an 2: 168)

and Allah (swt) also says:

“Eat of the good things we have provided for your sustenance, but commit no
excess therein, lest my wrath should justly descend on you, and those on whom descends my wrath do perish indeed” (Al Qur’an 20:81).

This is confirmed by scientists and doctors as the healthiest diet for humankind.

Does eating spicy food lead to longer life?

An intriguing question, don’t you think so? According to an article published on Aug 4, 2015 by Harvard School Of Public Health, “People who eat spicy foods nearly every day have a 14% chance of living longer than those who consume spicy foods less than once a week, according to a new study. Regular spicy food eaters also are less likely to die from cancer and heart and respiratory diseases than those who eat spicy foods infrequently.” The large-scale study found that people who had more spicy food – generally in the form of chili peppers – more than once a week had a reduced overall risk of death over the seven-year study period.

Chili peppers, healthimpactnews.com
Chili peppers, healthimpactnews.com

Fresh chili peppers are high in vitamins C, A, K, B6, and potassium. The active ingredient in chili peppers, capsaicin, has been linked to a number of biological benefits in earlier studies. Capsaicin and other bio-active ingredients in chili peppers have been found in previous studies to have anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammation, and anticancer properties.

Malay cuisine uses a lot of chili peppers (fresh and dried) in dishes such as Rendang, Assam Pedas and fresh and cooked sambals. The Minangkabau people of Sumatra, Indonesia, take this affinity one step higher; raw bird chili peppers are eaten daily with meals!

Bird chili, www.capitalfm.co.ke
Bird chili, http://www.capitalfm.co.ke

There you have it. Chili peppers are good for you and Raguan™ is happy to provide you with six delicious items: Sos Pedas Bijan/Hot Sesame Sauce,  Sambal Goreng Cili/Fried Chili Sambal, Rendang Daging/Beef Rendang, Rendang Panggang/Roast Beef Rendang, Rendang Ayam/Chicken Rendang and Sambal Goreng Cili Daging/Fried Chili Sambal With Beef for your indulgence. Long live chili!

Raguan™'s Sos Pedas Bijan/Hot Sesame Sauce
Raguan™’s Sos Pedas Bijan/Hot Sesame Sauce
Raguan™’s Sambal Goreng Cili/Fried Chili Sambal
Raguan™’s Sambal Goreng Cili/Fried Chili Sambal

Eat your veggies!

spots the snail 1
Artwork by Nisyah Raguan

“Look at all those lovely red tomatoes. Why don’t you give it a little bite?” I said to my daughter. “Yuck, I don’t like tomatoes cause they taste funny,” she replied. I’m sure a lot of you have experienced difficulty in getting small children to eat their veggies. Well, this is a story about a snail named Spots and how I finally managed to get my youngest daughter to try some vegetables.

Spots the snail grew up in a vegetable farm way up in Cameron Highlands. He was different from other snails because he had spots all over his shell. You see, Spots has a sweet tooth. He loves candy.

Spots’ taste for sweets started when he was a baby. Kids would visit the farm and drop bits and pieces of candy at the farm. Spots had spots because of all the sugar he eats. And because of Spots’ sweet tooth, he doesn’t eat his veggies.

His parents tried everything to get Spots to eat his veggies but without success. One day his parents were surprised to see Spots eating some lettuce. They were amazed and couldn’t figure out what happened. Apparently, some candy was dropped on the lettuce and because of unusually hot weather had melted and coated the lettuce leaves. Spots was actually eating the lettuce leaves without realizing it was vegetables.

The same thing happened to my youngest daughter. She doesn’t particularly enjoy veggies and I had cooked them in many different ways to try and get her to eat them, but to no avail. One day we prepared some Malay Rojak (salad) together with our family salad dressing, Raguan’s Sos Pedas Bijan. I coaxed my daughter to try the Rojak and to our surprise, ate all of it and asked for more. My other children also tried the Rojak and liked it. My only problem now is to have enough Sos Pedas Bijan to serve with Rojak. And oh yes, Spots still has his spots and now loves his veggies!

Malay salad or also called Rojak
Malay salad or also called Rojak

Here are some nutritional benefits of Malay Rojak:

Lettuce
Lettuce. Photo courtesy of worldcommunitycookbook.org.

Low in calories but high in water volume. Lettuce are a good source of Vitamin A with lots of dietary fiber.

Tomato.
Tomato. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Is actually a fruit. Tomatoes provide sweetness together with bitter and acidic qualities to the taste of our Rojak. It is rich in Vitamin C and has been widely studied for its antioxidant and cancer-preventing properties.

800px-Cucumber_and_cross_section
Cucumber. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Provides a moist and cooling taste (its more than 90% water) nicely complimenting our Sos Pedas Bijan‘s hotness. A rich natural source of fibre, Silica, and hydrates the skin.

Sengkuang. Photo courtesy of www.trymasak.com
Sengkuang. Photo courtesy of http://www.trymasak.com

Jicama or Yam Bean in English. Provides excellent crunch and moisture for the Rojak. It is high in Vitamin C, low in Sodium and has no fat.

Tauhu/Tofu. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Tauhu/Tofu. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Provides the “meat” for the Rojak. Made by coagulating soybean milk. Rich in proteins and iron and is a good source of Omega – 3 fatty acids. Regular intake of soy protein also helps to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.

Egg. Photo courtesy of authoritynutrition.com
Egg. Photo courtesy of authoritynutrition.com

Eggs are a good source of protein and contains selenium, vitamins D, B6, B12, A, E, and K, and lecithin.

Eat healthy!

Raguan™’s Sambal Goreng Cili/Fried Chilli Sambal

According to Wikipedia, a “sambal is sauce typically made from a variety of chili peppers and secondary ingredients such as shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, shallot, scallion, sugar, lime juice, and rice vinegar or other vinegars.” There are two different versions, raw and cooked.

Raw sambal is typically used as a condiment but cooked sambals are usually served mixed with meat, chicken,  dried/salted fish and other food items.

Raw sambal (janetdeneefe.com)
Raw sambal (janetdeneefe.com)

Raguan’s Sambal Goreng Cili/Fried Chilli Sambal is a cooked sambal. It is a ready-to-eat version for ease of consumption. Don’t have time to cook a meal; Raguan’s Sambal Goreng Cili is the answer to your problems. It goes deliciously well with fried beef, chicken, fish, and eggs. Dried/salted fish with Sambal Goreng Cili and rice would even qualify as a main meal.

Raguan™’s Sambal Goreng Cili/Fried Chilli Sambal
Raguan™’s Sambal Goreng Cili/Fried Chilli Sambal

Are you too lazy to make a sambal for the evergreen Nasi Lemak? Just use our Sambal Goreng Cili. What about those funny tasting Mamak restaurant sambals served with Roti Canai? Chuck those away and try it with our sambal.

Oh yes, you may have noticed that our sambal’s name is a bit unusual; the name describes an action instead of being a noun. Based on good grammar, our sambal should be called “Sambal Cili Goreng,” which correctly translated into English would then be “Fried Chilli Sambal.” “Sambal Goreng Cili,” literally translated, would be “Frying Chilli Sambal,’ as “goreng” here describes an action done to the chilli instead of its end state.

How did this come about? My grandmother would frequently be cooking sambal as our residence back in the 60’s was a stopover for friends and relatives, including at really odd hours. Our sambal was an ever-ready meal for someone who is hungry. Being inquisitive children, we asked our grandmother what she was doing. Her reply was, “Mak Tok tengah goreng cili.” Translated, ”Grandma is frying chilli.” The description was ingrained in our minds and has remained as our sambal’s name till now!