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Christmas Stollen:  of Turnip Oil and the Protestant Reformation

Jacob Schor ND FABNO

December 24, 2009


Stollen is a fruit and nut filled sweet bread that is associated with Christmas; something about the shape of the baked loaf is supposed to be reminiscent of a baby swaddled up in blankets, the original  incubulatum as it were. The tradition of making Christmas Stollen goes back a long way. The bakers’ guild of Naumburg an der Saale, Germany, apparently were baking something like stollen as early as 1330.   There are others who claim that the first stollen was created and baked as a Christmas pastry for the Saxon Royal Court in 1427.  Looking at the recipes for these breads, something stands out; these were things that only royalty could afford to eat. The candied citrus rinds that are fundamental to making stolen taste like stollen certainly weren’t grown locally, they must have been imported from the Mediterranean.  The cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and other spices used to flavor the breads came from even further a field. Mace and nutmeg, well they come from the other side of the world. If you think flying fresh produce halfway around the world is indulgent in our day and age, it is nothing compared to the ‘footprint’ these breads had 500 years ago. 

Of course the ingredients weren’t all exotic imports.  No doubt the raisins that made up the bulk of the dried fruit in these loaves were locally grown

Yet as extravagant as these breads were, the early stollen were made with water and oil rather than the butter and milk; one would have thought  these ingredients would be essential to satisfy the German palate.  Back then, Germany was a Catholic country and the Church of Rome prohibited baking with butter or milk during Advent, the period of fasting preceding Christmas. Instead of butter, bakers were allowed to enrich their bread only with turnip seed oil (Brassica rapa L.). Finland is the only country where turnip seed oil is considered edible.  Though a close relative to oilseed rape (Brassica napus L.) from which canola oil is made, interest in turnip oil now centers in its potential as bio-diesel.  It’s not particularly tasty.

Hoping to bring some easement to these restrictions on baking Christmas cakes with butter, the Prince Elector Ernst (1441-1486) and his brother Duke Albrecht (1443-1500) petitioned the Pope in Rome in 1647 arguing that turnip oil was too unhealthy to eat. Pope Nicholas V (1397-1455) denied their first appeal in 1450.  Part of this story obviously eludes us.  If these dates are correct, the Prince would have been 6 and the Duke 4 years old when they ‘wrote.’ Five popes were elected and died before, Pope Innocent VIII relented and granted their petition allowing use of butter in 1490 sending a letter, known as the "Butter-Letter.”  Though rather than a national reprieve, the Pope only allowed the Prince-Elector, his family and household to bake with butter; everyone else had to pay a monetary fine to help in church construction.

The butter ban was discarded for good after the Protestant Reformation and Rome no longer held sway over German eating habits.  In reading this history, one must wonder how much of the impetus for religious reformation was about religion and how much was about food.  Given the choice most Germans prefer butter rich pastries.

August the Powerful has long been credited with creating the largest Stollen ever baked.  In 1730 on his orders, the bakers of Dresden used a team of horses to pull a stolen that weighed 1.8 tons out from a specially constructed oven and divided it up among 24,000 holiday guests.  This record stollen weight stood for two hundred years but was topped in 2000 when Dresden bakers baked a stolen weighing 4.2 tons making it into the Guinness Book of Records.   For more information on the baking of giant stollen see:


Our regular readers expect some reference to the peer reviewed scientific journals arguing in favor of consuming some of the key ingredients in stollen.    The naive might think there was little in the way of redeeming value in a Christmas stollen aside for upholding tradition.  Least I disappoint anyone, let us see what PubMed reveals.

Back in the September 19, 2009 issue of Food Chemistry and Toxicology, Guimarães et al. tell us that citrus rinds have a powerful antioxidant effect protecting the brain from free radical damage.    Another paper published the same day but in the journal Inflammopharmacology tells us that extracts of citrus decumana, what we commonly call pomelo fruit, has both antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic potential.    Jayaprakasha told us in a 2008 paper that citrus extracts might be protective against free radical damage in the blood. Gorinstein et al. in 2004 told us the antioxidant effect of orange and grapefruit juice might protect against blood lipid oxidation.

Mace, the spice that lends stollen its other key flavor has similar action providing protection against free radical damage.    The raisins that make up the bulk of the fruit in the recipes are made from grapes and so contain resveratrol, a phytonutrient so highly acclaimed we won’t attempt to detail its benefits here. Even to summarize the papers published this December alone is beyond what we can attempt to do in this short newsletter. Of note though is a paper published a few days ago in Cancer Biotherapy and Radiopharmacology, “Resveratrol protects against Cisplatin-induced cardiotoxicity by alleviating oxidative damage.”    Still limiting our purview to papers from December 2009 we must also mention  Nicholson’s paper in the British Journal of Nutrition, “Physiological concentrations of dietary polyphenols regulate vascular endothelial cell expression of genes important in cardiovascular health.”   The dietary polyphenols looked at in this studyincluded resveratrol from grapes and EGCG from green tea.  

We could go on with this but what we are looking at when we look at stollen is a yeasted, less sweet than normal, fruitcake.  We have already made our arguments in favor of eating fruitcake ad nauseum.  See our past fruitcake newsletters.


What is most interesting about this stollen history is the allure that foreign ingredients have had over the Germans, a people that, if it was politically correct to make generalizations, one might say lean toward rationality.  A well made stolen in its day must have cost a fortune.  Why go to such expense?

How much different was this need to bake with exotic ingredients from our modern fixation with exotic fruits?  The benefits of grape juice will never compare to mangosteen, graviola or acai juices in the minds of our modern, educated populace.  Marketers may promote the later claiming miraculous health benefits for these exotics with rare mention of the benefits of common grape juice.  The National Library of Medicine’s search engine (www.PubMed.gov) currently lists 6 scientific papers on acai juice, only two of which are scientific investigations; the others simply report about consumer enthusiasm for this product.  In contrast there are 566 papers on grape juice.  People have always placed unearned value on that which is difficult to obtain.  The novelty and expense of these juices appears to trigger an irrational desire to consume them. 

When it comes to stollen, these once priceless ingredients are now easy to obtain so we might as well avail ourselves.  Eaten once a year stollen is probably good for us, or at least not that bad for us. 

Past seasonal articles and recipes:

Here we come a Wassailing January 2008: http://denvernaturopathic.com/Wassail.htm

Nutmeg Season: Spreading Good Cheer!  November, 2007: http://denvernaturopathic.com/news/nutmeg.html

Dead Pilgrims, Cranberries and a Fruitcake Recipe December, 2006: http://denvernaturopathic.com/news/cranberries2.html

Santa Claus, Hallucinogenic mushrooms, birch trees and melanoma

December, 2005: http://denvernaturopathic.com/news/santaandbetulinic.html

Wheat Free Chocolate Almond Torte Recipe:  Maybe from 2004: http://denvernaturopathic.com/news/ChocolateTorte.html


A Simple Stollen Recipe:

Fruit Mixture:

½ cup candied orange and lemon rind cup mixed candied fruit

½ cup dried fruit: apricots, dates, cherries or prunes

1 cup raisins

3 tablespoons dark rum

Mix fruit together, toss with rum, cover and let sit while dough rises. Shake or stir the mixture every so often to coat the fruit with the rum.

For the Sponge:

1 scant tablespoon or 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)

2/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon honey

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110 degrees F and add it to the yeast along with the honey and 1 cup flour. Mix. Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and let rise until light and full of bubbles, about 30 minutes.

For the Dough :

1/3 cup honey

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

1/2 tbsp. cinnamon

pinch of ground cardamom

1/2 cup chopped almonds, toasted

3 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Oil, for coating bowl

Add the fruit mixture, honey, egg, butter, zest, salt, mace, almonds, and 2 cups of the flour to the sponge. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

For the Topping:

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar


First rise:

Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Shape and Fill: Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. For 1 large loaf, roll the dough into a 9 by 13-inch oval. Brush with 2 Tablespoons of melted butter over the top of the oval. Combine 2 teaspoons of  cinnamon and 3 tesaspoons of granulated sugar and sprinkle over one lengthwise half of the oval(s). Fold the dough in half lengthwise and carefully lift the bread onto a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet. Press lightly on the folded side to help the loaf keep its shape during rising and baking.

Second rise: Cover with a towel and or plastic wrap let rise for until about doubled in size.

Preheat oven: About 10 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake and cool: Bake for 25 minutes until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees F. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and place on a rack to cool.

To serve: Sprinkle heavily with confectioners' sugar just before serving

Food Chem Toxicol. 2009 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print]

Targeting excessive free radicals with peels and juices of citrus fruits: Grapefruit, lemon, lime and orange.

Guimarães R, Barros L, Barreira JC, Sousa MJ, Carvalho AM, Ferreira IC.

CIMO/Escola Superior Agrária, Instituto Politécnico de Bragança, Campus de Santa Apolónia, Apartado 1172, 5301-855 Bragança, Portugal.

A comparative study between the antioxidant properties of peel (flavedo and albedo) and juice of some commercially grown citrus fruit (Rutaceae), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), lemon (Citrus limon), lime (Citrusxaurantiifolia) and sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) was performed. Different in vitro assays were applied to the volatile and polar fractions of peels and to crude and polar fraction of juices: 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) radical scavenging capacity, reducing power and inhibition of lipid peroxidation using beta-carotene-linoleate model system in liposomes and thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) assay in brain homogenates. Reducing sugars and phenolics were the main antioxidant compounds found in all the extracts. Peels polar fractions revealed the highest contents in phenolics, flavonoids, ascorbic acid, carotenoids and reducing sugars, which certainly contribute to the highest antioxidant potential found in these fractions. Peels volatile fractions were clearly separated using discriminant analysis, which is in agreement with their lowest antioxidant potential.

PMID: 19770018 [PubMed - as supplied by publish

Inflammopharmacology. 2009 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print]

Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic potential of the Citrus decumana L. peel extract.

Sood S, Arora B, Bansal S, Muthuraman A, Gill NS, Arora R, Bali M, Sharma PD.

Rayat Institute of Pharmacy, Nawanshahr District, Near Railmajra, Ropar, 144533, Punjab, India, soodshalu@gmail.com.

The present study was designed to investigate the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic potential of Citrus decumana peel extract. Antioxidant activity of Citrus decumana peel extract in four solvent systems was evaluated by 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH(.)) and hydrogen peroxide (H(2)O(2)) radical scavenging methods. Ethyl acetate peel extract of Citrus decumana (EtCD) was studied for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities at a dose level of 100, 200 and 300 mg/kg. Anti-inflammatory activity was performed using carrageenan-induced paw edema in rats. Analgesic activity was evaluated for its central and peripheral pharmacological actions in mice. EtCD showed significant antioxidant activity in a dose-dependent manner when compared with ascorbic acid. EtCD at the dose of 300 mg/kg produced significant decrease in paw volume and pain when compared with reference drug diclofenac and morphine, respectively. The Citrus decumana peel extract may be useful as a natural antioxidant in the treatment of inflammation and pain.

Bioresour Technol. 2008 Jul;99(10):4484-94. Epub 2007 Nov 1.

Radical scavenging activities of Rio Red grapefruits and Sour orange fruit extracts in different in vitro model systems.

Jayaprakasha GK, Girennavar B, Patil BS.

Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center, Department of Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M University, 1500 Research Parkway, Suite 120A, College Station, TX 77845, USA.

Antioxidant fractions from two different citrus species such as Rio Red (Citrus paradise Macf.) and Sour orange (Citrus aurantium L.) were extracted with five different polar solvents using Soxhlet type extractor. The total phenolic content of the extracts was determined by Folin-Ciocalteu method. Ethyl acetate extract of Rio Red and Sour orange was found to contain maximum phenolics. The dried fractions were screened for their antioxidant activity potential using in vitro model systems such as 1,1-diphenyl-2-picryl hydrazyl (DPPH), phosphomolybdenum method and nitroblue tetrazolium (NBT) reduction at different concentrations. The methanol:water (80:20) fraction of Rio Red showed the highest radical scavenging activity 42.5%, 77.8% and 92.1% at 250, 500 and 1000 ppm, respectively, while methanol:water (80:20) fraction of Sour orange showed the lowest radical scavenging activity at all the tested concentrations. All citrus fractions showed good antioxidant capacity by the formation of phosphomolybdenum complex at 200 ppm. In addition, superoxide radical scavenging activity was assayed using non-enzymatic (NADH/phenaxine methosulfate) superoxide generating system. All the extracts showed variable superoxide radical scavenging activity. Moreover, methanol:water (80:20) extract of Rio Red and methanol extract of Sour orange exhibited marked reducing power in potassium ferricyanide reduction method. The data obtained using above in vitro models clearly establish the antioxidant potential of citrus fruit extracts. However, comprehensive studies need to be conducted to ascertain the in vivo bioavailability, safety and efficacy of such extracts in experimental animals. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report on antioxidant activity of different polar extracts from Rio Red and Sour oranges.

J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jul 28;52(15):4853-9.

Fresh Israeli Jaffa blond (Shamouti) orange and Israeli Jaffa red Star Ruby (Sunrise) grapefruit juices affect plasma lipid metabolism and antioxidant capacity in rats fed added cholesterol.

Gorinstein S, Leontowicz H, Leontowicz M, Krzeminski R, Gralak M, Martin-Belloso O, Delgado-Licon E, Haruenkit R, Katrich E, Park YS, Jung ST, Trakhtenberg S.

Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products, School of Pharmacy, The Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, 91120 Jerusalem, Israel. gorin@cc.huji.ac.il

The bioactivity of Israeli Jaffa blond (Shamouti) fresh orange and Israeli Jaffa red Star Ruby (Sunrise) grapefruit juices was investigated in vitro and in vivo. The contents of bioactive compounds of these juices were determined. The influence of bioactive compounds on plasma lipids and plasma antioxidant activity in rats fed cholesterol-containing and cholesterol-free diets was assessed. Significant differences in the contents of dietary fibers were not found. The contents of total polyphenols, flavonoids, and anthocyanins in fresh orange and grapefruit juices were 962.1 +/- 27.2 and 906.9 +/- 27.1; 50.1 +/- 3.3 and 44.8 +/- 3.2; and 69.9 +/- 5.6 and 68.7 +/- 5.5 microg/mL, respectively. The antioxidant potential measured by the scavenging activity against nitric oxide, the beta-carotene-linoleate model system (beta-carotene), and the 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl and 2,2'-azino-bis(3-ethyl-benzothiazoline-6-sulfonic acid) diamonium salt assays was higher in orange juice but not significantly. A high level of correlation between contents of total polyphenols and flavonoids and antioxidant potential values of both juices was found. Diets supplemented with orange and to a lesser degree with grapefruit juices improved plasma lipid metabolism only in rats fed added cholesterol. However, an increase in the plasma antioxidant activity was observed in both groups. In conclusion, fresh orange and grapefruit juices contain high quantities of bioactive compounds, which guarantee their high antioxidant potential, and the positive influence on plasma lipid metabolism and plasma antioxidant activity could make fresh orange and grapefruit juices a valuable supplement for disease-preventing diets. Copyright 2004 American Chemical Society

Biofactors. 2007;31(3-4):219-27.

Free radical scavenging activity, metal chelation and antioxidant power of some of the Indian spices.

Yadav AS, Bhatnagar D.

School of Biochemistry, Devi Ahilya University, Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Food constituents are the major source of various phytochemicals and micronutrients. The importance of these dietary constituents has been stressed in recent years due to their antioxidant and anticarcinogenic potential. Spices used in Indian foods such as cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), mace (aril of Myristica fragans), and greater cardamom (Amomum subulatum) were tested for their antioxidant properties in vitro. The metal chelating activity, bleomycin dependent DNA oxidation, diphenyl-p-picryl hydrazyl (DPPH) radical scavenging activity and the ferric reducing /antioxidant power (FRAP) were measured in rat liver homogenate in presence of spices. Metal chelating activity was significantly high with all the spice extracts except mace. The spices due to higher reducing potential (in presence of bleomycin-FeCl_{3}) showed increased DNA oxidation. Cloves showed the highest DPPH radical scavenging activity, followed by licorice, mace and cardamom. FRAP values for cloves were also the highest, while other spices showed comparatively lesser FRAP values. The results show that the spices tested are strong antioxidants and may have beneficial effects on human health.

Cancer Biother Radiopharm. 2009 Dec;24(6):675-80.

Resveratrol protects against Cisplatin-induced cardiotoxicity by alleviating oxidative damage.

Wang J, He D, Zhang Q, Han Y, Jin S, Qi F.

1 Department of Medical Oncology, Tumor Hospital of Harbin Medical University , Harbin, China .

Abstract The clinical use of cisplatin, a potent antineoplastic agent, is limited by its severe adverse effects. The present study was designed to evaluate the effects of resveratrol on cisplatin-induced cardiac injury. Resveratrol is a potent free radical scavenger. In the present study, we tested whether resveratrol would prevent cisplatin-induced cardiotoxicity in rats. Plasma-enzyme activities and histologic myocardial changes were examined. The anticancer role of resveratrol and/or cisplatin were measured by MTT. Our data showed that cisplatin led to cardiac-function deterioration, myocardial injury, increased lactate dehydrogenase, creatine kinase, malondialdehyde activities, and decreased activities of superoxide dismutase, glutathione, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase. Treatment with resveratrol effectively hindered the adverse effects of cisplatin in a dose-dependent manner, such as myocardial injury and impaired heart function. An in vitro cytotoxic study showed that resveratrol could increase the antineoplastic activity of cisplatin to A549 adenocarcinoma cells. All the above lines of evidence suggest that resveratrol protects cardiomyocytes from cisplatin-induced cardiotoxicity via the suppression of oxidative stress.

PMID: 20025547 [PubMed - in process]

Br J Nutr. 2009 Dec 21:1-6. [Epub ahead of print]

Physiological concentrations of dietary polyphenols regulate vascular endothelial cell expression of genes important in cardiovascular health.

Nicholson SK, Tucker GA, Brameld JM.

Division of Nutritional Sciences, School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Loughborough, Leics LE12 5RD, UK.

Previous cell culture-based studies have shown potential health beneficial effects on gene expression of dietary polyphenols, including those found in red wine and green tea. However, these studies have tended to use higher concentrations (2-100 mum) than those observed in blood (0.1-1 mum) after consuming polyphenol-rich foods or beverages. The present study investigated effects of physiological concentrations of different classes of dietary polyphenol on the expression of genes important in cardiovascular health (endothelial NO synthase (eNOS), endothelin-1 (ET-1) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)) by cultured vascular endothelial cells (human umbilical vein endothelial cells) in the absence or presence of H2O2. Resveratrol and quercetin (0.1-1 mum) increased eNOS and VEGF mRNA expression particularly in the absence of H2O2 (50 mum) and decreased H2O2-induced ET-1 mRNA expression (P < 0.001 for polyphenol x H2O2 interactions). Similarly, resveratrol and quercetin decreased endothelin secretion into the media, blocking the stimulatory effect of 50 mum-H2O2 (P < 0.001 for polyphenol x H2O2 interaction). Of the nine other polyphenols tested, only epigallocatechin gallate had similar effects on both the eNOS and ET-1 mRNA expression, but to a lesser extent than resveratrol at an equimolar concentration (0.1 mum). The observed effects on gene expression would be expected to result in vasodilation and thereby reduced blood pressure. Since only three of the eleven polyphenols tested had biological activity, it is unclear whether particular structures are important or whether the effects might relate to the relatively high antioxidant capacities of the three active polyphenols.

PMID: 20021702 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]