Sauces: a traditional complement with health benefits

Have you ever met someone who can't eat without adding a touch of green or red sauce to their food? For sure in our families, there is someone with this habit.

Sauces: a traditional complement with health benefits
Sauces are a traditional complement with health benefits. Photo by Jonathan Borba / Unsplash

Do you know someone who can't eat without adding a touch of green or red sauce to their food? Surely in our families, there is someone with this habit. The truth is that sauces are part of Mexican gastronomy, considered by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity since 2010.

Mexico's richness in fruits and vegetables means that dishes contain a wide range of ingredients. In the sauces, we can find pre-Hispanic products such as chili (Capsicum annuum), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa), and others brought from the old world, such as onion (Allium cepa), garlic (Allium sativum), and cilantro (Coriandrum sativum).

In the different states of the Mexican Republic, we can find diverse styles of sauces, whether green, red, pico de gallo, or habanera, with an extensive variety of chiles in their preparation.

These ingredients contain bioactive compounds, such as lycopene present in tomatoes; lutein, β-carotene, and withanolides in tomatillo; quercetin and other phenolic compounds in cilantro, and alkaloids (called capsaicinoids) in chili peppers (it should be noted that these compounds are only present in different species of this fruit).

Flavonols and benzoic acids, such as quercetin and myricetin, predominate in onions and garlic. All these molecules have been shown to exert different biological activities for humans, such as antitumor, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant, to mention a few, so it is important to include them in our diet.

Dietary fiber is one of the main carbohydrates contained in serrano chili and tomatillo; this polymer exerts anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, prebiotic, and beneficial activity for the gastrointestinal system.

As we have seen, sauces contain different phytochemicals beneficial to health, which together can act synergistically, accentuating their biological activities. However, the way they are prepared can modify their bioaccessibility (release of the compounds into the body).

For example, recent research has shown that the percentage of bioaccessibility of raw red sauce is 50%, while that of cooked red sauce is up to 62%; in the case of green sauce, the percentage of bioaccessibility was higher in the raw (61.43%) than in the cooked (57.82%), which may be due to the different composition and texture of tomato compared to the tomatillo.

In the case of tomatoes, the increase may be because cooking breaks down its cell wall, efficiently releasing phenolic compounds. Another interesting fact is that the speed with which these compounds are released is greater in red sauces than in green ones.

Likewise, it has been observed that in the cooked green sauce the phenolic content and the non-digestible fraction (fraction of the food that is not digested in the stomach but the colon) is slightly higher than in raw sauce. This change is associated with various metabolites derived from the biotransformation of phenolic compounds that occurs after fermentation by the intestinal microbiota. For all these reasons, it is suggested to continue studying the beneficial qualities of this type of traditional food.

There is no doubt that all the ingredients contribute unique sensory characteristics, from the chile, with that pungency that makes us sweat; the tomato and tomatillo, with the necessary touch of acidity; the onion, garlic, and cilantro, with unparalleled herbal aromas, and a touch of salt for seasoning. All of them, through different mixtures, make the perfect sauces to accompany a good meal with a Mexican flavor. Without forgetting that with each spoonful, we are adding beneficial phytochemicals for our health.

Source: CIAD