Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rosemary Improves Memory & Reduces Carcinogens in Grilled Meat

Rosemary grows easily in California and also in Spain, where I spent time as a Russian linguist in the Navy in the mid-1980s. Alas, I'm dating myself again.

A member of the mint family, rosemary is fragrant, robust, evergreen, has lovely blue flowers when in bloom, and is easy to grow for the beginning gardener--what more could you want from an also flavorful herb?! I love the smell and like to pinch off a sprig, roll fresh rosemary, and sniff the eucalyptus-like smell on my hands for hours. In the kitchen, I have always liked rosemary, along with lots of garlic, on lamb, and I often sprinkle rosemary liberally on oven-roasted potatoes, yams, and beets.

Rosemary traditionally was used to improve memory and also as a symbol for remembrance (i.e., weddings, funerals, and war commemorations). Modern research has shown folk wisdom to be grounded, specifically finding that rosemary's carnosic acid actively protects the brain from free radical damage.

In another study, rosemary and lavender essential oils were evaluated for their effect on working memory. Interestingly:
  • The scent of lavender significantly decreased working memory (thus lavender as a relaxing choice for aromatherapy)
  • The scent of rosemary significantly increased working memory (thus rosemary as a stimulant for aromatherapy sessions)
  • The scents of lavender and rosemary both improved subjective feelings of contentment (the control group wasn't nearly as content as the groups exposed to nature's scents)
Pretty cool. A case for aromatherapy as well as nutritional supplementation.

Meanwhile, new research shows that rosemary extracts can counter the potentially carcinogenic effects of meats cooked at high temperatures (grilled, fried, broiled or barbecued). Muscle meats cooked this way form toxic heterocyclic amines or HCAs, which have been associated with increased risk of some cancers.

Researchers from Kansas State University decided to investigate compounds that could reduce the amount of HCAs in meats cooked at high temperatures. Five different concentrations of rosemary extracts were tested on hamburger patties being grilled at 375 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

The results were published in the Journal of Food Science and included the finding that: all concentrations of rosemary extract significantly decreased levels of dangerous HCAs in meats cooked at high temperatures. Interestingly, rosemary extracted at lower ethanol concentrations were most effective in reducing the carcinogens in the meats tested.

That the research on making grilled meats safer came out of Kansas is not surprising. After all, Kansas is the 7th largest state in the U.S. in terms of total agricultural production and cattle produces about 60% of the agricultural revenue for Kansas.

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