Everyone knows what carrots are. But what about arrowroot starch, coconut oil, umeboshi vinegar, or miso? Here's a list of some of my favorite and commonly used ingredients that may be slightly off the beaten path. Like most of the pages on this blog, this is a work in progress, so check back soon for updates and additions.
AGAR AGAR: Also known as kanten, agar agar is a gelatinous substance derived from seaweed, and is traditionally used in Japanese and macrobiotic cuisine in both sweet and savory dishes. It comes in three forms (powder, flakes, and bars) and is an excellent vegan substitute for gelatin. It is rather expensive; look for it in the Asian specialty food section of natural food markets or grocery stores, or at Asian grocery stores. I've used both Eden Foods and Mitoku agar agar flakes, and my favorite agar agar powder I can get for only $.80 per pouch at my local Asian grocery store (MUCH cheaper than buying it in bulk or packaged at the co-op).
AMARANTH: A high protein gluten-free seed that can be cooked whole as a grain or ground and used as flour. It has a sticky texture and a nutty, earthy flavor. Whole grain cooked amaranth becomes thick and porridge-like when cooked, and the flour adds a sticky body to baked goods.
ARROWROOT STARCH/FLOUR: starch from the root of the arrowroot plant. It is white, flavorless, easy to digest and with a low-allergenic potential. It can be used in baking, as a thickener for making sauces or puddings, and as an egg replacement. It creates a glossy, clear finish when used as a thickener. Bob's Red Mill arrowroot starch is certified gluten-free.
- When substituting arrowroot for other starches, use 1.5 parts arrowroot starch for 1 part potato starch or corn starch, or 1:1 as a substitute for tapioca starch.
- When used as a thickener in sauces or puddings, dissolve desired amount of starch in a small amount of cool liquid first to make a slurry, then add to hot liquid. Unlike cornstarch, it thickens without boiling.
- Egg replacement for 1 egg: whisk together 2 Tbsp arrowroot with 3 Tbsp water and 1 tsp oil
BESAN: see chickpea flour
BUCKWHEAT:A high protein seed that is in the rhubarb family. Despite the name it is totally wheat-free and gluten-free, and is not at all related to wheat. It is high in protein, fiber, and lysine, and is low glycemic. The grains can be sprouted and eaten raw or dehydrated, cooked, or ground and used as flour. The flour adds a dense, heavy, cakey body to baked goods, and has a strong flavor.
BUCKWHEAT GROATS: The whole buckwheat seed. can be cooked whole, can be soaked and sprouted, and can be ground to make white buckwheat flour.
CAROB FLOUR/POWDER: flour from the pods of the carob bean, a member of the legume family. Can be used as a direct substitute for cocoa powder. It has a naturally sweet flavor, and unlike cocoa powder, is caffeine free and low in acid. Carob is high in fiber and helps strengthen the digestive tract. Can be found at well-stocked grocery stores and natural food markets, either raw or toasted.
CHIA SEEDS: small seeds that look like big poppy seeds. they are high in fiber and protein, and have a gelatinous quality when mixed with water. Can be used as an egg replacement, and when ground, flour adds a gooey quality to baked goods. Can be mixed with liquid for tapioca-style puddings.
- Egg replacement for 1 egg: mix 1 Tbsp whole or ground chia seeds with 3 Tbsp water, and let sit for 20 minutes.
CHICKPEA FLOUR: flour made from ground, uncooked chickpeas a.k.a. garbanzo beans, used often in Indian cuisine under the name besan. Adds excellent sturdiness and body to baked goods, and can be used alone or in combination with other flours for flatbreads, crepes, and tortillas. Can also be used as a thickener for curries, sauces, and gravies. I like to make a batter and cook it in a frying pan, scrambling it like eggs. It is high in protein but can be hard to digest for some people; never eat it uncooked. Flavor can be somewhat tinny if overused in a recipe, especially in sweet baked goods. Bob's Red Mill makes a certified GF chickpea flour. You can find it at Indian and Middle Eastern markets, but they may not be certified GF. Chickpea flour can be used as an egg replacer:
COCONUT OIL: oil from the flesh of the coconut. High in medium chain fatty acids and saturated fat, coconut oil is metabolized by the body slowly and is a good source of lauric acid, a naturally antimicrobial acid that helps to regulate healthy gut flora. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and makes an excellent replacement for butter in recipes. Look for virgin varieties for highest quality. Has a light coconut flavor. I really like Wilderness Family Naturals brand, and have also heard excellent things about Nutiva and Tropical Traditions. If you want to spend very little money, you can also find decent and inexpensive coconut oil under the 365 Brand at Whole Foods; the flavor and texture isn't as good, but it gets the job done for about $6 for 16 oz.
COCONUT FLOUR: high fiber, low carb, grain-free flour made from finely ground coconut flesh. Adds good body to baked goods. Coconut flour is highly absorbent, and can not be used 1:1 as a replacement for other flours without modifying liquid in recipe. Adds a light coconut flavor. I've only used Bob's Red Mill coconut flour (certified gluten free), but there are many brands available.
CORN-FREE BAKING POWDER: Avoiding corn? Commercial baking powder contains cornstarch. Make your own the easy way! Just as effective as commercial baking soda, but without the corn. Mix 1 part baking soda, 2 parts arrowroot starch, and 2 parts cream of tartar together. Store in a well-sealed jar. Best if made in small batches and used often.
FLAX "EGG": 1 Tbsp flaxseed meal + 3 Tbsp water = 1 egg substitute. Let sit for 20 minutes, then whisk vigorously. Or, heat on stovetop or in microwave for 1-2 minutes, until gooey, and whisk. Cool. Use in place of eggs in baked goods, no more than two eggs/recipe for best results.
GARBANZO BEAN FLOUR: see chickpea flour
GHEE: also known as butter oil, ghee is pure butter fat that has been separated from the milk proteins through heating. To clarify (ba-dum-ching!), clarified butter and ghee are not the same. Ghee is clarified butter that has been cooked longer to remove all the moisture, and the milk solids are browned (caramelized) in the fat and then strained out. This gives a rich nutty taste. Ghee has a longer shelf life, both refrigerated and at room temperature. It is traditionally used in Indian cuisine. Because proteins have been removed, many dairy intolerant and allergic people are able to tolerate ghee. In ayurvedic medicine, ghee is treasured as a digestive stimulant. It has a warm, nutty flavor and excellent texture that can be used 1:1 for butter or shortening in recipes. Easy to make at home from any high-quality organic butter, check this out for good instructions. If you want to purchase pre-made ghee, Pure Indian Foods and Purity Farms are both excellent.
GRAPESEED OIL: oil derived from the seed of wine grapes. It has light, nutty flavor, and is delicious in salad dressings. It also has a higher smoke point than olive oil, so it is an excellent choice for sauteeing and frying. It also makes an excellent replacement for melted butter in baked goods. I like La Tourangelle brand.
GUAR GUM: Guar gum is a white powder made from an East Indian seed, it is in the legume family, so if you have legume sensitivities/allergies, use with caution. It is used as a thickener, binder, and volume enhancer, and is often added to gluten free baked goods. It can be used as a 1:1 replacement for xanthan gum. Bob's Red Mill is certified gluten-free.
HERBAMARE: A seasoning salt developed by Swiss naturopath A. Vogel. It is a mixture of sea salt, celery, leek, watercress, onions, chives, parsley, lovage, garlic, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and kelp, and is high in trace minerals and nutrients. A great replacement for table salt. For more information check out the website, and look for Herbamare at natural food markets and well-stocked grocery stores.
KASHA: Roasted buckwheat groats, commonly eaten in Eastern European cuisine. In Eastern Europe, the word Kasha can refer to a porridge made from any kind of cooked grain.
KOMBU: a variety of kelp (seaweed or sea vegetable). Kombu is exceptionally high in nutrients, and adds good flavor to soup stocks. When added to beans while soaking and cooking, it helps soften the skins and makes them more digestible. Lightly used kombu can be removed, rinsed off, dried, and reused.
MESQUITE FLOUR: The ground bean of the mesquite pod. Mesquite flour has a unique cinnamon-coffee-chocolate flavor, and it gives baked goods a beautiful rich brown color. When added to baked goods (about 2 T per cup of flour) it lends a rich, earthy, spicy twist.
MILLET: Flour made from millet, a gluten-free seed that behaves very much like a grain. Millet is high in complex carbohydrates and protein, as well as amino acids and manganese, is alkalizing, has naturally antimicrobial properties, and is easily digested. The whole grain can be cooked fluffly like rice or creamy like porridge. Millet flour is golden in color and has a sweet, nutty flavor. It can be crumbly when used on its own, so use some kind of binder or starch whenever using millet flour.
MISO: a fermented bean paste used in Japanese cuisine. Miso is traditionally made from soybeans fermented with koji culture, rice, salt, and water. South River Miso, a company in Massachusettes, makes soy-free varieties using azuki beans and chickpeas. Miso is a source of healthy lactobilii bacteria, which can help regulate digestion and restore healthy gut flora. Since it is a live food, for the best benefit, miso should be added at the end of cooking, and never boiled.
PAMONA'S PECTIN: A fruit-pectin based thickener that is perfect for canning, and can be used without sugar for making jam. Pamona's Pectin can be found at natural grocers and online. Each package of Pamona's includes the pectin as well as calcium powder to make the calcium water, and a handy recipe chart and instructions.
RICE BRAN: Rice bran is a by-product of the rice milling process (the conversion of brown rice to white rice), and it contains various antioxidants that impart beneficial effects on human health. It is exceptionally high in fiber and makes a nice addition to baked goods.
QUINOA: a small grain that is actually a seed from a plant in the Goosefoot family (related to beets, amaranth, and spinach). It originally grew in Peru, and it is exceptionally high in protein and amino acids. It cooks quickly and can be sprouted. Rinse well and soak for 6-8 hours before cooking; it has a bitter seed coating that can affect flavor and irritate digestion. Use in place of rice. Also available made into flour and flakes.
QUINOA FLAKES: flaked quinoa grains, an excellent substitute for brown rice flakes or oatmeal. Can be used to make porridge or used in cookies or other baked goods. It has a sticky consistency that is good for holding things together without eggs or binders!
SESAME TAHINI: Ground sesame seed paste used in Middle Eastern and Asian cooking. Like other seed and nut butters, tahini is a concentrated source of fat and calories, and it lends a very creamy, rich texture to sauces and dips. It is exceptionally high in calcium, and is available made from either raw or toasted sesame seeds.
SORGHUM: Flour made from the gluten-free sorghum grain. The fluffy texture, sweet flavor, and light tan color make an excellent substitute for wheat when mixed in blends with other GF flours and starches. As with all gluten-free flours, it requires some kind of binder to make it sticky.
STEVIA: an herb with a naturally sweet-flavored leaf. Whole stevia leaf is available ground (green powder with a grassy, sweet flavor), or the extract is made into a white powder and a liquid. It is roughly 16x sweeter than sugar, so you use much less, and is zero calorie, zero glycemic, zero carb, zero sugar. There are a wide variety of brands on the market, and there are liquids available with different flavors added. I like SweetLeaf brand powder and liquid. Different brands have slightly different sugar substitute conversions, so check with your manufacturer to determine the appropriate amount to add to a recipe. When adding to a dish or a recipe, start with a small amount and don't get carried away - too much tastes metallic and soapy! For a great what's what on stevia, check out this great post by fellow blogger and stevia expert Ricki Heller from Diet, Dessert, and Dogs.
Spectrum® shortening: A brand of palm-oil based shortening that is free of all major allergens. It makes an excellent substitute for more processed shortenings or butter in baking. Find in the specialty baking section of well-stocked groceers, or online.
SUNBUTTER: a brand of roasted sunflower seed butter. It can be used as a direct peanut butter replacement. Made in a nut-free facility and available in a number of varieties. The organic variety is totally unsweetened; other varieties (creamy, crunchy, omega-3) have cane juice added as a sweetener. Look for it at well-stocked grocery stores or food co-ops or natural grocery stores. Some SuperTarget locations carry SunButter as well. I could live on this stuff. :) http://www.sunbutter.com/
SWEET RICE: also known as glutinous rice because of its sticky texture, sweet rice is a short-grain rice with a sweet flavor and plump texture. The flour is an excellent thickener for sauces and gravies and can be used in baking to add sticky and dense texture. Traditionally used to make mochi, a traditional Japanese confection. Available whole grain either white and brown.
TAMARI: a gluten-free byproduct of the miso-making process, tamari is very much like soy sauce, but made without wheat. Traditionally, tamari is made with soy, but South River Miso makes soy-free tamari from azuki beans and chickpeas, and excellent choice if you are sensitive to soy. True tamari should always be gluten-free.
TAPIOCA STARCH/FLOUR: Starch made from the root of the tapioca plant. White, light and fluffy, most commonly used in baking with heavier flours, or on its own. Adds a chewy, moist texture.
TEFF: a high protein small seed native to Ethiopia that is high in fiber, iron, protein, and calcium. Can be cooked as a whole grain or ground into flour. The whole grain has a sticky, porridgelike texture almost like polenta
UMEBOSHI PLUM PASTE: a paste made of pickled Umeboshi plums, traditionally used in Japanese and macrobiotic cuisine. Umeboshi plums are picked at the height of ripeness and soaked in a brine of water, salt, and shiso (beefsteak) leaf. Deep purple-red in color, and with a tart, salty flavor, ume plums are used medicinally to detoxify, stimulate digestion, and as a general cure all. The paste is excellent in sauces and dips, spread on cooked vegetables, or used in salad dressings. Look for it in the Asian food section of natural food markets; I like Eden Foods brand.
UMEBOSHI PLUM VINEGAR: not really a true vinegar, this is the salty brine leftover from the process of making umeboshi plums, containing only plum, water, shiso leaf, and sea salt. It has a 4.5% acidity and carries all the same health benefits as the plum paste. It is salty and tart, and makes an excellent substitute for salt in recipes - it is delicious over grains, popcorn, or vegetables. However, it is high in sodium, so use in moderation. Look for it in the Asian food section of natural food markets; I like Eden Foods brand.
VITAMIN C CRYSTALS: pure powdered ascorbic acid, can be found in the vitamin section of health food stores. For people who cannot tolerate citrus or vinegar, it is an excellent substitute for that tart and tangy flavor. It also packs in a ton of vitamin C! I use 1/4 tsp dissolved in 1 Tbsp water as a substitute for 1 Tbsp of lemon juice. It also eliminates oxidation of fruits and some vegetables like celeriac, so they don't turn brown. It is often derived from corn, so if you are sensitive to corn, look for varieties derived from sago palm. However, I have corn allergies and have used corn-derived vitamin C crystals with no reactions. Awesome!
WILD RICE: also known as Indian rice grass, it is high in protein and fiber. It has a nutty, earthy flavor and nubby texture.