Amongst the brassicas or cruciferous vegetables, cabbage, broccoli and radishes are obviously well known but cress much less so. Yet this semi-aquatic plant is so full of vitamins and minerals that back in antiquity some referred to it as "the health of the body". In France, watercress has only been cultivated as a crop since the beginning of the 19th century, although it is has always grown naturally in the wild, in springs, streams and small rivers. The most common varieties in France are garden cress and watercress, with its stronger spicier flavor, available in the shops all year-round.
There's nothing like cress for iron health! Cress and watercress are no exception amongst the brassicas: these vegetables are particularly rich in minerals, such as vitamin K (1), useful in the bone mineralization process, or "bioavailable" calcium, easily absorbed by the body and particularly beneficial to bone and cardiovascular health. The flavonoid acids and carotenoids (2) present in cress and watercress are also active against the ageing of the body by activating the cell renewal. This type of antioxidant acid helps combat oxidative stress, the cause of reduced cell health (3). Scientists are currently studying the effects of these antioxidants on the development of several types of cancer, and so far the results have been very encouraging. It would appear that the regular consumption of the flavonoid acids and carotenoids contained in cress and watercress can limit the development of cancer of the breast, prostate, and lung, even amongst smokers, by inhibiting certain active agents that have an effect on cell mutation. Cress and watercress are particularly rich in lutein and zeaxanthin (4), antioxidants that bind to the macular and retinal cells. So both forms of cress are great for your vision, reducing the risk of developing certain age-related eye conditions (6). Finally, the sulfur derivatives of watercress, such as isothiocyanates (5), play a major role in protecting the cells of the digestive system and intestinal flora. Although these molecules can sometimes make cress and watercress more difficult to digest, they are excellent for intestinal health and can even help in the fight against certain cancers (7).
How to cook and taste cress ?
Both cress and watercress can be eaten either raw or cooked. As far as possible, it is always recommended to choose fruit and vegetables grown using organic farming methods in order to reduce the amount of pesticides you consume. Raw, both cress and watercress are delicious in a salad with goat cheese and young spinach. A watercress-ricotta quiche is a great recipe for something a little different that will delight both young and old. In winter, you can also make simple but wonderfully tasty soups by adding watercress to carrots, potatoes, and onions. Consider adding it to purées: the delicate flavor of cress offers that little something extra to the humble mashed potato. Watercress and cress are also delicious lightly tossed in the pan and served with fish, such as salmon. In other words, the delicate and slightly peppery taste of the cress family will add an original touch to any of your recipes, from the simplest to the most sophisticated. Happy cooking!
References: (1) Booth SL, Broe KE, et al. Vitamin K intake and bone mineral density in women and men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Feb; 77(2):512-6. Texte intégral : www.ajcn.org (2) Stahl W, Sies H. Bioactivity and protective effects of natural carotenoids. Biochim Biophys Acta 2005 May 30;1740(2):101-7. (3) Gill CI, Haldar S, et al. Watercress supplementation in diet reduces lymphocyte DNA damage and alters blood antioxidant status in healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2007 February;85(2):504-10. (4) Ribaya-Mercado JD, Blumberg JB. Lutein and zeaxanthin and their potential roles in disease prevention. J Am Coll Nutr 2004 December;23(6 Suppl):567S-87S. (5) Ma L, Lin X.-M. Effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on aspects of eye health. J Sci Food Agric. 2010 Jan 15;90(1):2-12. (6) Nishino H, Murakoshi M, et al. Cancer prevention by carotenoids. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2009 Mar 15;483(2):165-8. (7) Zhang Y. Cancer-preventive isothiocyanates: measurement of human exposure and mechanism of action. Mutat Res 2004 November 2;555(1-2):173-90.