Tea: Good for You and Your Taste Buds

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Served both hot and cold, tea has been a popular beverage in many countries for many centuries. Tea brewed from black or green leaves contains flavonoids that act as antioxidants to neutralize free radicals. Free radicals occur in the environment and are naturally produced by the body. They can cause oxidative damage to cells that contributes to chronic conditions such as heart disease or cancer. Unsweetened tea contains no fat, calories, sodium, or sugar.

If you are trying to cut back on your caffeine intake, tea can be the answer. Regular brewed coffee contains around 135 mg of caffeine while black tea contains about 50 mg and green tea about 35 mg. Black and green teas are both available in a decaffeinated form that contains roughly only 4 mg of caffeine per cup. Many herbal teas are made from dried flowers, bark and herbs, and do not contain caffeine. Read the label of any tea product before purchasing to be sure that no caffeine-containing or stimulating ingredients, such as guarana or cola, have been added.

Green and black tea comes from the same plant, a bush that is a member of the camellia family. Green tea is dried for a shorter time than black tea and is not allowed to go through the short fermenting process that is used for black tea.

The perfect brew
Chilling tea does not affect its health aspects and certainly makes it refreshing during the warm weather months. Leaf or herb teas are easy to brew and chill and do not contain the extra flavorings or sweeteners that instant teas may have.

To brew the perfect pitcher of tea for chilling, bring one cup of water per tea bag or teaspoon of dried tea to a rolling boil. Measure the tea into a clean glass container. Plastic and metal tend to pick up extra flavors. Pour the boiling water over your tea and allow it to steep to the desired strength. Don’t leave the tea in for too long, as it will acquire an acidic taste. Add a little ice to speed the chilling process. Place your tea in the refrigerator and allow to cool for several hours. Brewed tea will keep its flavor for at least two days in the refrigerator, so you don’t have to brew it every day.

Flavor it with cubes
Iced tea on its own has a wonderful flavor, but sometimes you get the urge to dress it up. Rather than using sugar or flavored syrups, create fruity ice cubes that can added to iced tea. In addition to great flavor, you’ll be sneaking in some extra nutrition. Try freezing orange, apple or cranberry juice or apricot, pear, peach, mango or strawberry nectar in ice cube trays. Add several flavors at a time to create your own taste sensation.

Keep it cool
Iced tea is a great way to get those eight glasses of water every day. It can be a fast thirst quencher or you can pour tea into a tall glass full of orange, fresh pineapple, grapefruit or fresh ripe peach slices and some fresh berries for a beverage and a dessert all rolled into one. Along with chopped fresh mint, add a splash of iced tea to fruit salads for a “secret” ingredient. Brewed teas can be mixed with fruit juice or pureed fruit and frozen to be served as a refreshing, low-calorie summer treat.

FYI: Ethnic Iced Tea
Browse the shelves of ethnic markets for the following brew-ables. In addition to exciting new flavors, most of these products are caffeine-free!

• Central America: Jamaica is a dried hibiscus flower that brews up a brilliant crimson color. It is high in vitamin C and minerals with a clean, fresh taste.
• China and South East Asia: Purchase dried chrysanthemums in the tea section of the market and brew as you would leaf tea. Chrysanthemum tea is an energizer that may help soothe sinus pain.
• Japan: Peel and slice fresh ginger, boil water, then steep peeled and fresh ginger in the water for several minutes. The ginger tea will take on a delicate, pale green color and have a mild but stimulating flavor. Ginger tea is said to be good for sore throats or hoarse voices and is said to aid in the resolution of nausea.
• South Africa: Roobia looks like a cup of traditional black leaf tea and has a mild, pleasant taste. Taken from the bark of a tree that grows only in South Africa, roobia has no caffeine. Look for it in health and natural food stores.
By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD.

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