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Book Review: Superfood Smoothies

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Why are smoothies so popular? Smoothies, a blend of fruits, vegetables, and sometimes nuts or dairy, are the latest craze to promise the fountain of youth in a glass. Inspired by Brazilian pureed fruit drinks, they first appeared in the U.S. in the 1930s, coinciding with the invention of blenders. However, smoothies have long been a part of other cuisines, such as Indian and Middle Eastern. In Morocco, cafés serve "panachés," concoctions that can include milk blended with almonds and bananas.

By the 1960s, smoothies were an established part of macrobiotic vegetarian cuisine. In the 1970s, smoothies made their way to the mall, and the rest is a multi-billion dollar history. Not all smoothies are healthy, though. Mall smoothies are sometimes loaded with processed sugars, saturated fat, and calories, some topping the scales at over 1,000 calories. But at home, anyone with a blender can make healthy, inexpensive smoothies. For the truly obsessed, high power Vitamix and Blendtec blenders can turn even the hardest substances (I swear that mine could puree a shoe) into a smooth and creamy delight.

Two years ago, enthralled by the Ponce De Leon-like promises of Loretta, the charismatic Vitamix representative at my local Costco, I bought a Vitamix. Before then, I had scoffed at the idea of shelling out $400 for a blender, but now I'm a convert. I started making smoothies every day, throwing in a couple cups of baby spinach as well, and since then have noticed a definite improvement in my immunity, energy level and complexion. To be fair, I probably wasn't eating enough vegetables and fruits to begin with, but the Vitamix has been a gateway drug to healthier eating.

After a few years of blending along contentedly, I began to feel like my recipes were all starting to taste the same. When I got a copy of natural food chef Julie Morris' Superfood Smoothies: 100 Delicious, Energizing & Nutrient-Dense Recipes, I had high hopes that it would get me out of my smoothie rut. Largely a marketing tool and not a scientific term, "superfoods" are foods that are rich in phytonutrients. Some are antioxidants, while others contain healthy fats, phytochemicals, or fiber. Blueberries, dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach or kale, and kiwis are among some of the more readily available examples.

In addition to using common ingredients like fruits and vegetables or almond butter and flaxseed, Superfood Smoothies also focuses on exotic superfoods, many of which will be new to readers. Maca, lucuma, goji berries, cacao nibs, and sea buckthorn are a few. Some ingredients, like goji berries, should be used with caution -- goji berries could be harmful during pregnancy, and they interact negatively with certain blood thinning and diabetic medications. Also, there's the issue of increased Western demand for the latest exotic superfoods. Superfoods acquired from distant places, like açai and quinoa, can potentially alter sustainable farming practices and price locals out of the market.

Morris offers an extensive discussion of each superfood and its benefits, offering substitutes wherever possible. Recipes are also coded according to health benefits, including heart health, immunity, and bone strength. To get started, I picked a few recipes I wanted to make and bought those ingredients first. For those who don't have a natural foods supermarket close by, everything is available online (frequently cheaper). Some of the ingredients I could take or leave, but others, like hemp seeds and cacao nibs, were intriguing new culinary discoveries for me.

I may never end up buying sea buckthorn, but I'm satisfied with the way this cookbook has increased my smoothie range. My favorite recipes so far include cookie dough (loaded with bittersweet and crunchy cacao nibs, pecans, and pears), pineapple maca, pomegranate cherry and pistachio cherry. Many of the recipes contain protein, which helps to make them more filling. The best of the recipes are intriguing, unusual, and deeply satisfying.

You don't need exotic superfoods to make a delicious smoothie. And a smoothie may not hold the key to eternal life, despite a cultural frenzy that suggests otherwise. But for cooks who want to broaden their smoothie repertoire and experiment with new flavors, this is a must-have cookbook.

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