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Health trends: Green tea

It's hard to escape the news—and hype—surrounding the latest health trend: green tea. What Asian cultures have known for thousands of years has recently been broadcast into the coffee bars, restaurants, supermarkets, and pharmacies of America. But green tea no longer appears solely in the teacup—it's now found in everything from dental floss to moisturizer; from chicken salad to crème brûlée.It's hard to escape the news—and hype—surrounding the latest health trend: green tea. What Asian cultures have known for thousands of years has recently been broadcast into the coffee bars, restaurants, supermarkets, and pharmacies of America. But green tea no longer appears solely in the teacup—it's now found in everything from dental floss to moisturizer; from chicken salad to crème brûlée.

Blame its popularity on our obsession with health. Recent studies have linked green tea to increased metabolism, higher energy levels, and even reduced blood sugar. It has also been found to aid in protection against heart disease by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, while increasing good HDLs. And its antioxidant effects have been shown to inhibit blood clot formation and prevent cancerous tumors from spreading. Other bragging rights include possible prevention of arthritis and food poisoning, lowering of blood pressure, and protection against Alzheimer's disease.

From an economic standpoint, the green tea business is booming. The Tea Council of the U.S. estimates that in the past decade, domestic production has increased from $2 million annually to $200 million. In 1990, 97% of imported tea was black, 1% was oolong, and 2% was green tea. Today, green tea makes up 9% of imports.

Green tea is processed from the leaves of the shrub Camelia sinesis, native to China, India, and Tibet. Legend has it that an ancient Chinese emperor was boiling water when some leaves from this plant fell into his pot; the result was the first brewed green tea. Records indicate that green tea was grown in China as far back as 2700 B.C.

These days, green tea is available as loose leaves or in bag form. To extract the most flavor, the Tea Council recommends brewing with water that is between 165°F and 185°F. This can be achieved by first bringing the water to a boil and then letting it cool for about 10 min. Green tea should be steeped for 20-60 sec.; too long a steeping will make it quite bitter and astringent. If the water is too hot, the flavor will brew out.

While green tea in a cup has been on the scene for awhile, it's the tea's presence on the plate that is quickly gaining steam. Chefs are finding new and creative ways to incorporate green tea into savory and sweet preparations. Its delicate taste and range of flavors makes it an excellent choice for lighter fare, ethnic dishes, and desserts.

Inventive kitchens are incorporating green tea into marinades and sauces for fish and meat, vinaigrettes for salads, and bases for ice cream and sorbets. Other uses range from flavored rices to sweet syrups to infused oils. At her Fort Worth, TX, eatery, Hui Chuan Sushi, Sake, & Tapas, chef Hui Chuan Chiang features a sea bass marinated in green tea miso mayonnaise. Across the globe in Singapore's My Humble House, Green Tea Martinis are a signature drink. Traditional green tea in the glass is also getting a boost from exotic infusions like passion fruit, mint, lychee, lemon, and kumquat. And barristas are incorporating the tea into designer lattes.

With the research continuing to flow in on the benefits of green tea, consumers are on the lookout for new and creative ways to not only drink, but also eat, to their health.

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