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Let’s Talk About Salt, Baby!

(Note: most images here are taken from the internet and are for illustrative purposes only)

I am a third generation salt producer. My grandfather and my father (all called John, by the way 🙂 ) have been involved with solar salt production one way or the other.

Indeed, my paternal grandfather made his fortune from importing sun-dried “salted fish” from the Gambia into Ghana. He then entered into salt production, coincidentally with my maternal grandfather.

My father followed, by managing the town’s saltworks for a while, after he retired from the Civil Service.

So you can say, in a manner of speaking, I have salt in my blood.

But as I grew older, I didn’t know much of this history. I was engrossed in the world of technology and finance and loving the thrill of cutting the next big deal or discovering a programming code that could make things happen quicker and better. I was on a roll!! Sitting in the office, late night after late night. Bloated and… well, you get the idea.

But when I decided to research on the body and natural food, that I realised the importance of even the salt that was used in cooking! Like my brother in law likes saying:

“nothing beats doing what you love…..and being paid for it!”

And I loved the outdoors!! Especially being near the ocean with the wind in my face and the sound of the the sea filling my ears, without a care in the world (yeah right! I still have bills to pay).

So I quit my job in a leading finance house here in Ghana, leaving a highly paid and  career track to a future directorship behind and set out on an adventure.

That’s how I started my second business venture, and my lifelong obsession and romance with salt: a natural sea salt works at Apam, in the Central Region of Ghana: Crown Sea Salt Ltd.

But, one would ask:

What is salt and why is it so important?

In simple terms, salt is a basic compound, consisting of two elements: Sodium (Na) and Chloride (Cl), forming Sodium Chloride (NaCl), the scientific name for the mineral known as “Common Salt”. Going forward, we will use just “salt” to mean edible salt.

Now, throw out the chemistry book…..

…..and pick up your biology book.

Salt is essential to all animal life, due to their use of the mineral for the generation of nerve impulses (through electrical signalling in the nervous system) and for maintenance of electrolyte balance and fluid balance (water content) of the body and the individual cells that make up the body.

In animals, sodium ions are necessary for the aforementioned functions and for heart activity and certain metabolic functions.

In other words, salt plays a critical role in our very existence. So, it is not only that saltless food will taste bland, but it is essential to life.

Indeed, animals have worn out trails to location rich with salt. Trails that exist to this very day.

And if you have in anyway been involved with rearing animals, fish or poultry (as I have), you will know important salt is for the health of the animals.

Now, human beings are animals too, right?

All the science gobbledegook talk aside, salt is also used extensively as a preservative and a flavour enhancer. Without it, our food would be tasteless and bland and in addition, uneaten/unused natural food will go bad in record time.

However, despite it’s essential nature in our diet, salt has gotten a bad rap (undeservedly so…I will explain why shortly) in recent times.

Too much consumption of salt can lead to:

  • Cardiovascular (heart) disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Strokes
  • Stomach cancer,
  • etc……

 

But, here is where I get off the beaten path, as many have started doing too.

 

different_salts

 

Not all salt is created equal.

In all the related and voluminous literature and opinions online and in written texts about how bad salt is, what stand out as the major health concern, is “high sodium levels”.

This is absolutely true. It is what causes all the health problems associated with salt.

It is the level or amount of sodium chloride in the salt that is the real culprit and the poster boy for the myriad of salt-related health issues. And largely, we can lay the blame squarely on the variety known as Table Salt or refined salt.

This salt is refined, deodorised, bleached (oh yes! Salt is never naturally PURE WHITE) and further processed so that at the end, all that remains is over 99% Sodium Chloride (NaCl – from your science lesson earlier, remember?).

Aside that, it more often than not contains an anti-caking agent which is a known potential carcinogen and has been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease: Aluminium Silicate.

Now picture this: a chemical (Aluminium Silicate) that is used to keep salt dry by absorbing moisture (acting as an anti-caking agent to keep the salt free-flowing, and though it is “food grade”, it is similar to what is used in your store-bought clothes, shoes and bags – you know, the stuff that they say “do not swallow”? Yea, that one),  is ingested into your body, that consists of 72% water within and without every cell. Can you imagine the kind of havoc that is running riot internally? Go figure.

A breakdown of the components of refined salt (you can check this from the packaging of any salt near you right now), typically shows the following:

Sodium – 39%
Chloride – 60%
Ferrocyanide,
Aluminium Silicate,
Ammonium Citrate,
Iodide (or potassium iodate) – 1%

As my friend’s mum will say, “there is salt and there is salt.

 

sea salt

Natural Sea Salt is totally unlike that.

All salt originally comes from the ocean. However, over Millenia, as the oceans receded and dry land appeared, massive deposits of salt developed underground. These are now usually mined as “Rock Salt”, with the most popular being Himalayan Rock Salt.

More traditionally, salt that is wrested from the ocean through solar evaporation, is known as solar sea salt.

We could leave it right there and everything would be fine. But no! We had to go and try to “improve” on what we already had.

These two natural salt types (rock salt and sea salt) are basically what are then further refined (literally refined, bleached and mixed with additives) to produce the table salt in the form that you know in your salt shaker or salt sachet/pouch.

However, natural sea salt has lower levels of Sodium and Chloride (ranging from a low of 80% to “high” of 98%) but that is not the only factor that sets it apart.

Natural sea salt is better than table salt, by a wide margin.

In contrast to refined table salt, most sea salt is naturally harvested and dried in the sun, and contains a wealth of trace minerals and electrolytes that are easily assimilated by your body.

Unlike refined salt which contains only 2 basic elements (Sodium and Chloride), natural sea salt contains about 80 different mineral elements and electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and more) that are essential in small amounts for a variety of functions in the body. Sea water has that balance and so does natural sea salt.

These mineral salts and electrolytes are key in enzyme production, the immune system, adrenal and thyroid functions. Your body is designed to work with the salt to function effectively. Unlike what happens internally with the refined product, where the body literally fights it.

While, compared to food, salt is not a major source of minerals, like any whole food, natural sea salt has a natural balance and a lack of toxic additives, so we are actually nourished by it, rather than depleted, as we would be with the refined salt.

Below is a table tat shows some of the differences between refined (table) salt and natural sea salt:

 

SaltandSalt

 

 

When It comes to salt, Less is indeed, more.

Less sodium, that is.

 

Now, How is Salt Produced?

The processes of salt production are different, depending on whether it is refined or  natural.

Refined Salt

Most refined salt comes from large, highly mechanised operations.

This commercial refined salt has been harvested mechanically from various salt mines as brine or if from sea salt, as natural sea salt crystals, which are then dissolved into concentrated brine. Typically, when salt is planned to be refined, care is not taken to ensure it’s cleanness. After all, the refining process will get rid of all that dirt.

(Note: Brine is a highly concentrated solution of water and salt).

Prior to mechanical evaporation, the brine is often treated with chemicals or processed to remove minerals (which are sold for use in industry). The minerals are referred to as “impurities” in salt.

Next, water is evaporated from the resulting salt slurry, under high compression and heat which further disrupts the molecular structure of salt.

Finally, all of the remaining moisture in the salt is removed in a fluidized-bed dryer.
Typically we are talking of temperatures of over 648°C (1,200°F). Unless a vacuum is created, to reduce the heating temperature used.

After this, the salt is milled and anti-caking, free flowing, or conditioning agents are added. These agents may include sodium ferrocyanide, ammonium citrate, and aluminium silicate.

None of these products have any positive effects in the body.

Dextrose, also known as refined sugar, is sometimes added as a stabiliser, so that iodide will stay in the salt.

The final purity of “food-grade salt” is between 99.7-99.95% “pure”. In this case, “pure” refers only to the sodium and chloride content. The other “impurities”, including healthy minerals and elements, have all been removed from during the refining process.

Natural Sea Salt

The process of producing natural sea salt is a whole lot simpler:

Ocean water is channeled through a series of clay-bottom ponds.

 

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Next, the wind and sun evaporate the ocean water gradually, leaving mineral rich brine in the final ponds in the series.

This concentrated brine is then transferred into shallow crystallisation pans, in which the salt starts forming as crystals as the rest of the water evaporates.

When enough salt crystals have formed, it is harvested, usually using special wooden rakes or corrosive-resistant shovels.

The harvested salt is heaped and left in the open, for the remaining water to drain out by gravity, before it is packed and bagged for sale. In Ghana, as required by law, potassium iodate is added to the salt before bagging.

And that’s it.

  1962782_800558799979835_300321693274672969_n1

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This method has not changed since salt production started, over 2,000 years ago and it is this gentle method of gathering the salt ensures that the salt will retain all the naturally-occurring healthy minerals and elements that are meant to be in salt.

At Crown Sea Salt, we take this process one step further.

As with a lot of the salt producers in the southwest of Ghana, after the brine has become concentrated, we use wooden brushes to “wash” the salt and remove any soil, clay or dirt that may be left behind in the pan. This is done before the salt starts crystallising.

With this done, we are left with a clean, white product, which moves from being quite translucent when first harvested, to almost white after the excess moisture drains from it and it dries further.

 

IMG_5296

 

 

 

 

Solar Salt

 

IMG_5647And this is what my family and friends use.

 

 

 

 

Salt from the sea…naturally!!

 

 
IN CONCLUSION

There is a huge difference between refined and natural sea salt.

Natural sea salt is packed with essential minerals and supplies the body with a proper balance of sodium and chloride with over 80 trace minerals and elements.

Refined salt on the other hand, has nothing aside Sodium Chloride and chemicals that do nothing for the body and might even be detrimental to our health.

Refined salt is a poor food choice and really has no place in our diet. Without the balancing effect of the trace minerals, refined salt provides the body with too much sodium. Ergo, all the health warnings that abound on reducing salt intake.

Sodium was meant to be ingested with its complement of trace minerals. The consequences of the ingestion of large amounts of refined salt are mineral deficiencies, acidity, and the onset of chronic illnesses.

A Note of Caution:

Like my mother says: “Too much of everything is bad”.

So is too much salt. It wouldn’t hurt to reduce your salt intake even when using natural sea salt. However, that being said, invariably, you will find yourself generally use less salt when cooking with or using natural sea salt for food anyway. And trust me, food will actually be tastier.

Now, after all that has been said, here is the commercial stuff:

You can buy your natural sea salt from us here and all of it will come from our own natural sea salt works in Apam, Ghana, along the Atlantic Ocean.

However, we are still working on packaging for smaller units of 250grams, 500grams and 1kg. So for now, we sell in 70+kg sacks, to retailers.

We are uncomfortable using plastics for packaging, so we have been looking for environmentally-friendly alternatives, before making the salt available in those smaller units.

One proposal that has come up is biodegradable plastics and we are looking at the cost in order to avoid having to sell our salt at a premium locally.

And the good news is, we will offer our 100% natural sea salt in either crystals, flakes or powder form.
If you are outside Ghana however, and don’t mind ordering online, I have done all the hard work for you 🙂 .

Click here and shop to your heart’s content, on the fantastic choices that have been  compiled for you. You will be amazed at the variety of choices that are available. All natural.

Remember: It must be either Himalayan Rock Salt or Natural Sea Salt. In either case, it must be:

“Salt from the sea…..naturally!”

 

CSSL Logo

 

 

FarmerJohn

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A Philosophical Chinese Story about the Discovery of Salt (from “Tell Me a Story”)

Everyone in China knows that the phoenix, or feng-huang, as it is known, is a beautiful bird, with its tail as bright as a peacock’s and its scarlet head and breast and back. The feng-huang’s wings are huge and colorful, and its eyes are as blue as the sea. The feng-huang is not only beautiful; it is also a noble and wise creature. It seldom appears, but everyone knows that when it does, it hovers over treasures, bringing fortune to those who see it.

One day a poor, hardworking peasant walked to his marshy fields long day’s work. Suddenly he stopped and his eyes opened wide, for in front of him, half-hidden among the reeds, stood the fabulous feng-huang.

phoenix
The peasant quickly ran toward the marsh, but as he reached the spot where the creature stood, it soared into the sky. The peasant watched it disappear, and then he turned to the spot where the feng-huang had been sitting. He smiled. “There must be treasure buried here,” he said, and he began to dig as fast as he could.

He dug and dug, but he turned up only dirt and mud. At long last, he picked up a piece of earth and pondered. “This dirt must be the treasure,” he said, and gazed up to the heavens. “The feng-huang promises treasure, ” he said softly. And so he wrapped the piece of earth in cloth and hurried home.

When he ran through the door, he called to his wife, ”I have found treasure,” and he sat down and told her his tale.

The two stared in wonder at the piece of earth.

“Dear husband,” his wife said after a while, “you know you must take this to the Emperor. ”

The man nodded, for he knew, like everyone else in his country, that anyone who found a treasure must report it to the Emperor. The peasant dressed in his work clothes, for these were the only clothes he owned. His wife carefully wrapped the piece of earth and placed it in a willow basket. Then the peasant took the basket in his hand and walked all the way to the capital city. There he announced his wish to present a treasure to the Emperor.

When the Emperor asked to see the gift, the peasant bowed low, reached into his basket and held out the earth. He told the Emperor the tale of the magical phoenix.

The Emperor frowned. “You are trying to make a fool of me, ” he cried. “This is no treasure. Guards, take this man to the dungeon and put him to death. No one tries to trick the Emperor!”

The Emperor’s guards obeyed their master. As for the basket of dirt, one of the servants placed it upon a shelf in the royal kitchen, and there everyone soon forgot all about it.

Some time later, one of the cooks was carrying a bowl of soup into the royal dining hall. As he walked, he passed beneath the basket, and a small clod of earth splashed into the soup. The cook was horrified, but just then the Emperor boomed, “Bring me my soup!”

The cook quickly carried the bowl to the table and placed it before the Emperor. His hands trembled and sweat poured from his brow as the Emperor dipped his spoon into the soup. The Emperor took one taste and smiled. “Delicious, ” he said. this is the best soup I have ever tasted! What did you add to it?”

Still the cook trembled. “Your majesty,” he began, ”I did nothing special, but a bit of dirt from the peasant’s basket fell into the soup. As he spoke, he turned as pale as the clouds.

The Emperor was amazed. “Bring me that basket,” he called to his servants, for he remembered the peasant’s tale of the feng-huang. When the basket sat before him, the Emperor reached in and sifted the earth through his hands. As he did, tiny white crystals clung to his palms.

“This is a treasure, ” the Emperor said. “It is a gift from the phoenix. From this day on, we shall add these crystals to all of our dishes.”

He sent his men to dig in the earth where the peasant had first spied the phoenix. And that was how the people of China discovered salt and all its wonders.

The Emperor wept for the peasant he had punished with death. He sent for the man’s wife and son. He placed the peasant’s son in charge of all the lands where the white crystal gleamed in the soil. The young man became rich and comfortable, and he cared well for his family.

And so the peasant, honored through his son, rested in peace, and the feng-huang brought salt to China.

 

phoenix

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Where to Buy Organic/Natural Coconut Oil

Updated: September 22, 2018

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been inundated with requests on where we buy our coconut oil from.

As it is our aim to make sure that we recommend ONLY the  products that we as a family use or have tested and are confident with, here goes:

Not all coconut oil is created equal

We have come across so many different types. Some good, some bad and some (sigh! cliché!) very ugly.

In our search, we have found some processors that extract with very high heat. Invariably, this oil is a deep golden yellow and has a strong, overpowering coconut aroma when cooking with it or in the bottle.  I wouldn’t recommend this, except if that is the only oil available.

A second type, is oil that has been processed from partially fermented coconut oil or has not had all the water contained in it, removed. This is a low quality oil and also has a very strong scent.  It can be found quite often in the local markets.

Then, there is the oil that is extracted either through a process called cold press or using relatively low heat.  This oil is quite or very clear (almost as clear as water).

In cold pressing, the oil is obtained through pressing and grinding fruit or seeds with the use of heavy granite millstones or modern stainless steel presses, which are found in large commercial operations. The pressing and grinding produces heat through friction, but the temperature usually doesn’t go higher than 49°C (120°F) . Although they retain all of their flavor, aroma, and nutritional value, the aroma is not overpowering.  Cold pressed oil is quite expensive due to the relatively lower volumes extracted and the considered high purity.

There are a number of good sources we have come across here in Ghana. The first one we purchased, was named “Makola“.  It is an excellent product, even though a little pricey and for some reason, not so widely available. As far as we could gauge, it looked cold pressed, but we are yet to confirm the exact extraction method used.  We are working on getting a relationship with the manufacturer, so we can offer it to our readers at a discounted price.  Still in the works.

Now, we bottle our own ORGANIC, VIRGIN, COLD-PRESSED coconut oil, under our company name: “FarmerJohn Organics Coconut Oil.”

Certified organic, our cold-pressed, virgin, coconut oil is produced from monitored farms in the Western Region of Ghana and extracted under strict guidelines to meet international organic (USDA and EU) certification requirements.

It is that good!

So contact us for your genuine,  100% natural and organic cold-pressed coconut oil.

Packed in 1 litre bottles for now, you are assured of the quality.

 

 

 

 

For those outside Ghana, I have seen a great collection of organic natural coconut oils, here (please click on the link and spoil yourself for choice. And yes, I do earn a small commission on what you buy, but that will not affect the price you pay. Scout’s Honour!).

So, join our mailing list today and start benefiting immediately! No spamming and the posts aside from such offers, will be quite few and far in between.

Again, if you are outside Ghana (the USA, etc), click here on this link for nearby choices of organic, natural coconut oil.

We will be updating this and other recommended posts on products we find, as we check them out before putting the up here.

In our next posts, we will list the numerous health benefits of coconut oil. More than we had done in the first post here.

Stay tuned…..

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Restarting My Backyard Garden (or How to Print Money Legally…for real!)

My father is a retired Civil Servant and my mother, a housewife. Now, that meant when Daddy was in active service, we moved around the country every 4 years. Aside from a stint in Germany (more of that later in other posts), we moved through different parts of Ghana; the North, to the East and finally went South. I guess we didn’t go East because of the trip to Germany. But that’s just my belief.

Because of this, I have seen quite a bit of the country and have a lot of nostalgia whenever I go a-visiting any of my old locales.  I sometimes believe I can hear the voices of my friends laughing and shouting in the streets, as we ran or walked to and from each other’s homes. We were always welcome wherever we went and owned the streets (as a matter of speaking).

It is these jaunts cross-country, that gave me the deep love of the land. I have seen the savannah, the rainforest, the ocean front, the lagoon sides.

Everywhere we went, daddy will make sure he got a parcel of land either near the home or in a village not far from it. He would then plant all manner of food staples to augment the household income.  But even at a young age, I knew he wasn’t doing that because we needed the money, but because he loved farming. and since it reduced our expenditure, that was a hobby he gladly indulged in with all his heart.

My sister and I learnt to plant corn, apply fertiliser, harvest the corn, watch the weather and (oh my hands!!) shell the corn from the cobs, store them into bags with the requisite pest deterrents and lug these sacks in and out of the storeroom when necessary. It was hard manual work, but we never complained. We competed among ourselves to see who could find more innovative ways to shell the corn faster and more efficiently.

Then, we would also plant cassava (tapioca plant). I would cut the sticks into the required lengths, plant them in appropriate spacing and watch them grow. We learnt to know when the cassava was ready for harvesting and would harvest them, wash them and peel them.

My mother made sure that the two of us learnt how to grate the peeled cassava, squeeze the starch out of them, make garri and “tapioca” grits. We did everything ourselves. My Dad would do the fieldwork with us and Ma would do the processing. Again, with us.  I learnt it all.

We raised goats, chickens and ducks. But I was still considered a softie when I went to school and in the neighbourhood.  I just couldn’t figure that one!

Ma is in the habit of planting anything that grow. From flowers, to different grass types, to fruits and vegetables.  At a point we even had a groundnut (peanut) patch and soybeans on what others would use for a lawn.

We didn’t only plant along with her, we would water and maintain the garden and the plants and after harvesting, we would learn how to process the fruits and vegetables into healthy, awesome delights.

Finally, both parents loved medicinal plants. Don’t get me wrong, we would be forced to go to the hospital when ill, but invariably, Ma would look out for herbal or natural remedies and we would avidly learn the benefits and risks of each plant and/or any combination thereof.

What did I hate? Killing and prepping goats and chickens. Don’t get me started on those. 🙁 . But a boy had to do what a boy had to do.

Anyway, these childhood activities made sure we never had a dull moment when we were on holidays or off from school and instilled in us both, a deep love for the land, which we have carried on into our adulthood.

So, last year, after my epiphany, I started a backyard vegetable garden.

Veg bed

We started enjoying the benefits right away:

The sunshine

The quality time spent with my daughters

The physical activity (a.k.a.: “oh my waist!”)

Watching plants grow

The mistakes (inevitable)

The failures (also inevitable)

And finally….

The fruits of our labor:

IMG_5648

All these came from our backyard garden (of course, with the exception of the salt…I will tell you more about that awesome product later).

In the words of my initially sceptical teenager daughter,

“this tastes nicer and are firmer than what we always buy from the market!!”

(wide-eyed, she became an immediate convert. 🙂  . She was now always going to the garden to pluck ripe vegetables to cook with or make into a refreshing salad. What more could I ask for?)

Now, I ran out of steam and also decided to give the soil some time to improve (was that a lame excuse for laziness? You tell me).

It is time to restart the process. In subsequent posts, I will detail my progress and post pictures as well, as we grow.

You will see how we determine what to use for making beds, why the choice, the different types of vegetable bed gardens you can make, where we get our seeds from, how we handle (or don’t handle) pests, etc. It will be fascinating, I promise you this.

Why backyard gardening?

In the immortal words of Ron Finley, America’s guerrilla gardener:

Growing you own food, is like printing your own money“.

1. The exercise and spending time in the garden is definitely good for your overall well-being.  Good health = good wealth.

Less hospital bills = cash in your pocket

2. The produce you harvest, is invariably much cheaper than buying from the supermarket.  So, for eery tomato, pepper, onion, garden egg, etc that you go and harvest, the less you have to buy for your monthly grocery quota. Once again,

less money spent in the market = more cash in your pocket.

3. If you do it well enough, you should have extra produce you can sell to your friends, family or neighbours (or you can give it away – priceless!). That also translates into cash in your pocket

= more cash in your pocket

Invariably, you will be seeing more money than you are used to, at the end of the month. So it makes perfect sense to start your own backyard garden.

Also, and here is the kicker, you will be eating fresh produce that YOU KNOW, do not contain chemicals or have been bathed in vehicle exhaust fumes.

I will be open to discussions and suggestions as I chronicle our activities and “print our own money“.

Feel free to send me your progress as well, and I will put them up here if you permit me.

Let’s start printing!

Side Note: We have been inundated with questions on where we buy our coconut oil from.

For those in Ghana, we buy from a family-owned business. We have seen their production process and are quite happy with the products they sell.  Indeed, that’s the only oil we use for cooking at home, now.

Well packaged and labeled, it is easy for me to recommend “N⊃mi” (pronounced “normi”) Natural Coconut Oil.

GH_coconut_oil5

GH_coconut_oil1

It has no water, low scent and is clear in colour. Coming from the Volta region of Ghana, it is produced by a group of sisters, who select the copra and process and extract the oil themselves.

Packed in 5 litre gallons for now, they have been so kind as to give us a discount for all Friends of FarmerJohn (join our mailing list to qualify for this).

In Ghana, if you buy from us, you get it at a low price of GHS60 instead of their market price of GHS70 (As at time of tis publication). A savings of more than 10%. (Note, delivery charges MAY apply though).

For those of you outside Ghana, I have seen a great collection of organic natural coconut oils, here (please click on the link and spoil yourself for choice. And yes, I do earn a small commission on what you buy, but that will not affect the price you pay. Scout’s Honour!).

So, join our mailing list today and start benefiting immediately! No spamming and the posts aside from such offers, will be quite few.

Again, if you are outside Ghana (the USA, etc), click here on this link for nearby choices of organic, natural coconut oil.

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“Cocoa Na Chocolate” (Video Insert)

I believe agriculture should be a way of life for everyone. Young and Old. Rich and Poor. Man and Woman. Black and White (or any shade in between).

Think about it: we can’t eat diamonds, or gold or (worse still) money, or drink oil.

Food is kinda important, don’t you think?

This page and it’s posts are designed to motivate us all to both grow our own food and especially grow organic food.

I will be posting up tips and suggestions on how to start and maintain a vegetable backyard garden, and you will be seeing my efforts in that direction (the good, the bad and “wince” definitely the ugly). I will try and be as engaging as possible and I really look forward to comments, suggestions and encouragement from people who will be motivated to start the same journey on their own.

Think about it: Any food you grow yourself, is food you don’t have to pay for, or buy.  That translates literally into money in your pocket!

Below is a beautiful video I came across, entitled “Cocoa na chocolate”. (This, in standard English, means “Cocoa is also chocolate”).

Motivating a farming movement in Africa, this is One.org’s awesome music video, featuring a number of Africa’s top music stars.

Enjoy it, as much as I did.

And as they say: “Do Agric, It pays”

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My Journey to Using Coconut Oil

I am  a repentant Ghanaian Coconut Boy.

To the uninitiated, that means, I grew up on the West Coast of Africa, in Ghana and was mostly found at the seaside, where coconuts abound. And no, I never could climb the darn trees! Not even if my life depended on it. But the fruits were our constant refreshment and it’s meat, our nourishment everyday, after swimming and body surfing in the ocean waters.

 

Coconut Children

 

tropical coconut palms fringe a sandy beach

 

As a child, I remember that my grandmother (God rest her soul) was a very industrious woman.  She would cook and sell anything.  From iced blocks of water, to a local delicacy at that time, known as “bandfo bisi” (literally translated as the “bandsmen’s kola nut” – the caffeine in kola nuts, was used to help keep them awake during the long night hours of playing music – so we were told.  Why, this particular delicacy was called so, I have no idea!)

bandfo_bisi
“Bandfo bisi”, made with corn flour. Delicious, but…hard as a cracker when cold!

 

Now, one of the items she made, which was also my favourite, and since I loved cooking, she was always willing to allow me to help every time she was making them, was coconut toffees.

Making them was relatively straightforward:

Dried coconut meat (copra) is grated, thoroughly mixed with water and strained through a cheese cloth.  The result is actually known as “coconut milk“.

Now, this milk is mixed with some sugar and gradually brought to a boil, and, with constant stirring (that’s usually where I came into the picture), it would gradually simmer down into this brown very thick goo, that would be poured out on to a wooden chopping board and rolled, cut and cooled (just as you would do with regular candy).  The end result would be this. A healthy treat:

coconut toffees
Coconut Toffees

Well, for my wages, I would slyly (or so I thought) take out about a quarter of them and sneak them back into my room, to enjoy my well-earned booty, while my cousins took the day’s production out to sell.  Needless to say, they were quite popular with young and old alike, but children swarmed them.

But I digress.

As the milk was boiling down, a layer of clear oil would appear at the top of the mixture. My grandmother would carefully scoop this liquid out and put it into another pot set aside for that specific purpose. Now, it is about this oil I want to talk about.

My grandmother would take this coconut oil and …… do all sort of things with it, including frying delicious fish and shrimps (my favourite) , cooking stews, cooking in rice (yes, we could do that too) and apply topically as a skin lotion, hair conditioner and wound and skin rash or abrasions healing agent.  I honestly don’t recall if there was anything that we didn’t use that coconut oil for.

Now fast forward to the 21st Century (yes, I am that old 🙂 ) and the general thinking is “out with the old, in with the new”.  The new kid on the health block  was Vegetable Oil (all of them, but especially the Famous Four: Canola, Safflower, Sunflower and Soybean).

 

cooking_oil

 

These oils became our “super oils”. They were responsible for “lowering cholesterol”, “reducing the incidence of heart disease”, had been “fortified with vitamin A” and a host of other claims.

The other nut oils, including coconut oil, had been tarred with a very thick brush and painted as the bogey man in healthcare.  Indeed, when my Dad suffered a stroke and was given a list of foods and oils to avoid, coconut oil featured prominently on that generic list!

We went along with the flow.  The only oils you would find in my home were soybean oils (which we were told were the healthiest), sunflower oil (which we were told was good for the heart and lowered cholesterol) and the ubiquitous olive oil (EVOO was the bomb! And it still is).

But I still had questions about the health claims about vegetable oils. I just did nothing about it.

All this came to a head one very eventful week, when I had to visit a client’s site to review his processes for producing soybean oil. I moonlight as a management consultant once in a while, you know. 🙂

I learnt the production processes of vegetable oil completely (it was my job to understand the client’s operations even better than my client) and I was comfortable with everything as the company was using a “traditional” method pf production (expeller method), until we got to the way forward.  One word immediately flew my red flag at full mast:

Hexane

Hexane is a petroleum derived solvent which is used in most, if not all, modern extraction of all vegetable oils to extract the maximum oil from the oil seed, and  at the lowest possible cost.

It is toxic. Plain and simple.

I asked that in a closed-loop production process, are they always able to recover the equivalent amount of hexane used at all times.  I was told that there would always be some losses due to retention in the extracted oil and losses to the environment, so I should make cash allowances for replacement and refilling.

That, coupled with the fact that almost all (if not all) soybeans are genetically modified and heavily dosed with pesticides (a fact I didn’t know until that trip),  made me start looking at bottles of vegetable oil in a completely different light, from that day onwards.

In Ghana, people literally “drink” vegetable oil.  Picture this: In 2004, Ghana, a country of about 20 million people at that time, spent nearly US$28 million on importing vegetable oil (about 170,00 metric tons).  Now, this was aside what is produced in country, of about 100,000 metric tons in the same period.  These figures had a projected growth of over 5% per annum, from 2004.

Especially among my Fante people from the Central Region, we have been described as so enamoured with using edible oil, that it is told that if it was possible to even fry tea water, we would definitely do so! So our usage was definitely higher (my wife and I are both Fante, so go figure).

So, imagine what could be going on in the bodies of people, if even minimal levels of hexane are evident in the oil we use and all the jury still being out on GMOs and their long term effects on the human body.  These were my thoughts as I drove back to Accra, a couple of weeks later.

So, I started reading.  The more I read, the less enthralled I became with the entire vegetable oil juggernaut. But I still considered it the lesser of two evils. After all, they were not artery clogging like those saturated fats-containing oils, right?

WRONG!!!!

I will not bore you with the details and scientific mumbo jumbo for the pros and cons, but by early 2013, I started hearing of (was I late to the party? You tell me) articles and rumours of articles from respected reviewers and scientists, about new findings showing how UNHEALTHY vegetable oils were and – surprise! – how HEALTHY and HEART-HEALTHY the natural oils such as coconut oil, were.

Now, I am quite a sceptic, especially when it relates to online information and thus go by the biblical principle of getting 3 or more witnesses to prove a matter. So after reading from authors such as Dr Mercola, I just put them aside and continued on my merry way, with just a lot less vegetable oil usage than we had been doing in the past (one could never be too careful, you know).

Anyway, the rumblings wouldn’t go away. I started reading more and more articles, write ups and medical information about the upside down pyramid, that was the edible oil industry.  What was considered good, no longer was so and what was once demonised, was now being hailed as the anathema for a plethora of ills.

Here is how one writer put it:

 

“Filled with Medium Chain Fatty Acids and Lauric Acid, coconut oil is an all star of the saturated fats. Since the fat composition in cells in the body is largely saturated fat, it is important to get enough of it from healthy sources. Coconut oil does not oxidize easily at high temperatures or go rancid easily, making it a good choice for cooking and baking. It also makes a great natural moisturizer and can be substituted for butter.”

 

Now, how did we get it so wrong?  In the words of my dearly departed father-in-law, “the old is always good“.  Was he right after all?

Let me tell you how successful the crusade against the old edible oils had become in my society.  It was so well done that, it was considered backward to be seen, “smelt” or heard using coconut oil in cooking.  So good that it was only the poorest of the poor who used it and if anyone you know dared use it, the person became the whispered topic at dinner conversations, where people would sadly shake their heads and sigh deeply on how such and such was buying a ticket into an early grave. “Why on earth will anyone still use coconut oil or palm kernel oil??”

So well done was this campaign, that it became increasingly difficult to see coconut oil in any respectable outlet aside pharmacies and beauty shops,where they were sold for topical use.

At a point, I made a decision.  What is all the hype about coconut oil? So I checked it out.

With all the information under my armpits (figuratively speaking), I spoke with a sceptical wife and naturally inquisitive children and on that day, we agreed to stop buying vegetable oil for a month and use only coconut oil.

Now, they all looked at me.  Where was I going to get quality coconut oil consistently?

My first thoughts were to go to any village with coconut trees and find out any of the people there producing real oil and buy from them. The logistics of that seemed daunting didn’t look like it could be sustainable over the long term. And I still worried about the strong scent such coconut oil always had. Societal acceptance was still strong on my mind at that time.

As luck would have it, my sister had just come across virgin coconut oil and was looking for someone to share it with.  Not knowing of my recent epiphanies, she hesitated in calling me and when she finally did, quickly told me to try out this new oil she had received, which had very little scent and looked so clear that you would think it was water.

I waited for her to finish speaking and asked a very simple question: “Can I always get a constant supply of that coconut oil?”

Shocked silence.

Then I told her what I had found out and what we were looking for. So she gave us one small bottle of clear, expeller-pressed and filtered coconut oil and showed me the source.

I went to buy 3, 5-litre gallons the next week.

Now, over 1 year down the line, we are still using coconut oil exclusively at  home.  My elder daughter has started using it for oil-pulling (more of that later) and I have found another source of consistent supply of organic coconut oil.

In a subsequent post and in line with our principle of recommending only what we have verified and used, I will  be talking and illustrating how the coconut oils we use, are produced and where you can get some to buy. Of course, if you buy through FarmerJohn Organics, we will receive a small commission.

What are the Benefits of Using Coconut Oil?

Below are just a few of the benefits of using coconut oil that I found out:

 

  • Coconut oil IS beneficial for the heart. Containing about 50% lauric acid, it helps in actively preventing various heart problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
  • It is an excellent skin massage oil. It is an effective moisturizer on all skin types, including dry skin. It’s benefit on the skin is comparable to that of mineral oil. However, unlike mineral oil, there is no chance of having any adverse side effects on the skin from the application of coconut oil. It is therefore a safe solution for preventing skin dryness and flaking. Additionally,  it delays the appearance of wrinkles and sagging of skin which normally accompany aging ( my grandmother had very beautiful skin, well into her 80’s and she always told us it was because of the coconut oil – trust us, we didn’t believe her and just put it down to great genes – if only we had known then, but it is not too late anyway). Coconut oil also helps in treating various skin problems including psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema and other skin infections.
  • Helps in weight loss, since it contains short and medium-chain fatty acids that help in taking off excessive weight. It is also easy to digest and it helps in healthy functioning of the thyroid and endocrine system. Also, it increases the body’s metabolic rate by removing stress on the pancreas, thereby burning more energy and helping obese and overweight people lose the weight.  That largely explains why people living in tropical coastal areas, who use coconut oil daily as their main cooking oil, are not usually obese or overweight.
  • It is also good for the immune system. It strengthens the immune system since it contains antimicrobial lipids, lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid which have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which research has supported as an effective way to deal with viruses and bacteria that cause diseases like herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. Coconut oil helps in fighting harmful bacteria like listeria monocytogenes and helicobacter pylori (that causes stomache ulcers), and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia.
  • When used as cooking oil, coconut oil helps to improve the digestive system and thus prevents various stomach and digestion-related problems including IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). The saturated fats present in coconut oil have antimicrobial properties and help in dealing with various bacteria, fungi, and parasites that can cause indigestion. Coconut oil also helps in the absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
  • Coconut oil has been shown to prevent and even cure candida. It provides relief from the inflammation caused by candida, both externally and internally. It’s high moisture retaining capacity keeps the skin from cracking or peeling off. Furthermore, unlike other pharmaceutical treatments for candida, the effects of coconut oil are gradual and not drastic or sudden, which gives the patient an appropriate amount of time to get used to the withdrawal symptoms or “Herxheimer Reactions” (the name given to the symptoms accompanying the body’s rejection of toxins generated during elimination of fungi). But a note of caution: systematically and gradually increase dosage of coconut oil used and don’t start initially with a large quantity.

 

  • Coconut oil is very effective against a variety of infections due to it’s antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. According to the Coconut Research Center, coconut oil kills the viruses that cause influenza, measles, hepatitis, herpes, SARS, and other serious health risks. It also kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and gonorrhoea. Finally, coconut oil is also effective in the elimination of fungi and yeast that cause ringworm, athlete’s foot, thrush, and diaper rash.

Aside the above, coconut oil is beneficial in the following conditions:

Diabetes: Coconut oil helps in controlling blood sugar, and improves the secretion of insulin. It also promotes the effective utilization of blood glucose, thereby preventing and treating diabetes.

Liver: The presence of medium chain triglycerides and fatty acids helps in preventing liver diseases because those substances are easily converted into energy when they reach the liver, thus reducing the work load of the liver and also preventing accumulation of fat.

Kidney: Coconut oil helps in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases and helps to dissolve kidney stones.

Pancreas: Coconut oil is also believed to be useful in treating pancreatitis.

Bones: As mentioned earlier, coconut oil improves the ability of our body to absorb important minerals. These include calcium and magnesium which are necessary for the development of bones. Thus, coconut oil is very useful to women who are prone to osteoporosis after middle age.

Stress relief: Coconut oil is very soothing and hence it helps in removing stress. Applying coconut oil to the head, followed by a gentle massage, helps to eliminate mental fatigue.

Dental care: Calcium is an important component of our teeth. Since coconut oil facilitates absorption of calcium by the body, it helps in developing strong teeth. Coconut oil also stops tooth decay.

HIV and cancer: It is believed that coconut oil plays an instrumental role in reducing a person’s viral susceptibility for HIV and cancer patients. Preliminary research has shown an indication of this effect of coconut oil on reducing the viral load of HIV patients (Reference).

Coconut oil is often used by athletes, body builders and by those who are dieting. This is because coconut oil contains less calories than other oils, its saturated fat content is easily converted into energy, and it does not lead to accumulation of fat in the heart and arteries. Coconut oil helps boost energy and endurance, and generally enhances the performance of athletes.

Now, am I an expert, doctor or biochemist? No. I am an ordinary farmer.

Am I convinced about the health benefits of coconut oil? Most definitely. Absolutely.

Would I recommend it to my friends and family? I definitely will, without apologies.

This is my personal journey of discovery.  I will encourage you to also do your independent search and research and arrive at your own conclusions. It should be worth it.  We have only one life to live and it is our responsibility and in our own selfish interest, to live it right and live it long.

In the eternal words of Mr Spock; Live Long and Prosper.

So, Mama (my grandmother), your coconut boy has come home and brought his entire family along and a host of new friends as well.

 

coconut oil in a bowl