Our mothers passed on more than recipes when they taught us how to cook–even if they werenít aware of it themselves. Many traditional foods and food combinations have turned out to be based on something more fundamental than just eating habits.
Many spices (often ones traditionally used to season meat) have antibacterial properties; the lecithin in egg whites can mitigate the effects of the cholesterol in the yolk (which may be why your grandmother used two whites for every yolk in her scrammies); cooking tomatoes in olive oil renders the lycopene in the tomatoes more useful to the body; and science finally decided to back up generations of moms: Chicken soup really is good for a cold.
So, if you are a bit nervous about carcinogens in your grilled food when you crank up the barbecue this summer, hereís some useful information from generations of grandmothers, via the Food Safety Consortium project at Kansas State University: Putting a little rosemary on the meat when you grill it is a good idea. Hereís why: Rosemary can break up HCAs, heterocyclic amines, the potentially cancer-causing compounds produced when food is charred or meat is cooked at high temperatures (not only on the grill). Compounds in rosemary (rosmarinic acid, carnosol, and carnosic acid) block the formation of the HCAs. Grandma may not have been a chemist, but that didnít stop her from knowing the best way to cook meat.
Marinating meats with other herbs, such as basil, mint, savory, sage, marjoram, thyme, and oregano, seems to help as well. And of course, all these herbs are loaded with antioxidants and other micro-nutrients (both discovered and yet to be discovered) that aid our health in many ways.
We put these herbs on and in our food because they taste good. Perhaps we developed a taste for them (over millennia of cooking and eating) because they are good for us.