Barley is one of the oldest domesticated cereal grains still being grown around the world today. It originated in Ethiopia and southeast Asia. It is most often used in bread and malted beverages such as beer (barley beer was likely one of the first alcoholic drinks humans developed). Over the centuries, barley water has been used for various medicinal purposes; it is good for clearing up urinary tract infections and is also said to be a good remedy for kidney stones.



What would our Thanksgiving Day feasts be without cranberries? This staple of our holiday dinner has a long, proud history in the United States. According to the Cranberry Marketing Committee (, Native Americans used cranberries as a food staple as early as 1550. They ate them fresh and mashed them with cornmeal and baked them into bread. They used maple sugar or honey to sweet them. They also mixed cranberries with wild game and melted fat to make pemmican.



My mother loved decorating for the holidays. From the tree in the den to the lights around all the windows and a big Santa decal on the front door, she was all in. She would also hang a sprig of (fake) mistletoe, complete with sharp-edged leaves and white berries, from the lintel of the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. She and my father always shared the first kiss under the mistletoe after she put it up.


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OK, so it’s not really beautiful, what with all its spikes (its name means “thorny fruit”) and its inside pulp with its wrinkled appearance. And it smells awful, making you question the wisdom of opening it. It’s durian, an exotic fruit from Malaysia that is slowly making inroads to the United States.

In Southeast Asia, durian is called the “king of fruits” because of its size. It can grow up to 12 inches long and 6 inches wide and often weighs as much as seven pounds. Ripe durians falling from trees have been known to kill people. In addition to its spikes, its smell is the fruit’s defining characteristic. It has been described as similar to raw sewage or worse. There are actual signs on some public transportation vehicles in Singapore forbidding anyone from opening a durian on board, and even some hospitals and hotels ban it. Its flesh has been described as custardy, creamy and sweet. The seeds are also edible.

The durian fruit can be consumed at various stages of ripeness and is used as flavoring agent in a wide variety of culinary and sweet preparations in Southeast Asian cuisines. Its relatives include okra, cocoa beans, hibiscus and cotton. Like other tropical fruits such as banana, avocado and jackfruit, durian is high in energy, minerals and vitamins. Though it contains relatively higher amounts of fats among fruits, it does not have any saturated fats or cholesterol.

It is rich in dietary fiber, which helps protect the colon’s mucous membrane by decreasing its exposure time to toxins. It also binds and eliminates cancer-causing chemicals from the gut. Durian is a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C. In a rare turn for a fruit, durian is an excellent source of the health-promoting B-complex groups of vitamins, such as niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine and thiamin. It also contains a beneficial amount of minerals such as manganese, copper, iron and magnesium. Durian is rich in potassium, an essential electrolyte that aids in controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Additionally, it also contains high levels of tryptophan, which has been called nature’s sleeping pill (it’s also found in turkey). Durian Haven ( cautions against eating durian with alcoholic beverages “as the combination of natural substances is a powerful producer of internal gas.”

According to Durian Haven, the Mon Thong variety of durian is the only variety that is suitable to be shipped to faraway destinations because it can be harvested weeks before the fruit has fully ripened, can be stored for weeks and has no tendency to rot prematurely.

Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines also produce large quantities of durians.

The World Durian Festival has been celebrated in May in Thailand’s Chanthaburi province, which produces half of the country’s entire durian crop, thus earning it the title of “Durian Capital of the world.” According to, visitors can enjoy a decorated fruit contest, a parade, the Miss Fruit Gardener contest and participate in a durian fruit-eating competition at the festival. Road trip, anyone?


Tanya Tyler is the Editor of Health & Wellness Magazine

more articles by Tanya Tyler