A list of some of my most used and favourite ingredients and the reasons why I use them, and why you should too!
Although coconut oil is almost 90% saturated fat, not all saturated fats are created equal. Coconut oil is made up of medium chain fatty acids, these are metabolised by the body in completely different ways than long or short chain fatty acids such as butter. Medium chain fatty acids are transported directly from the intestines to the liver, where they are more likely to be burned as fuel, as opposed to shorter and longer chains, which typically get stored as fat.
These saturated fats in coconut oil have antimicrobial properties which help to combat various bacteria, fungi, and parasites that can cause indigestion. Coconut oil also helps in the absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids. About 50% of these fats are Lauric Acid which also helps to prevent high cholesterol and high blood pressure and supports the immune system and the thyroid.
Because coconut oil tolerates high temperatures it is the perfect substitute for butter and other oils when baking. It gives a unique lightness to cakes, muffins, brownies etc while still achieving that same fluffiness and decadence you get when using butter.
Coconut oil is also a great alternative to other oils and butter in cooking. The coconut aroma is very mild and unobtrusive and shouldn’t compromise the other flavours in your dish. I use it for all my cooking, no matter what the recipe. Once you’ve tried coconut oil scrambled eggs you’ll never go back, trust me!
There are so many brands out there but I always use Dr. Coy’s. The taste, smell and texture is by far my favourite of any that I’ve tried, I use it in almost all of my recipes (sweet and savoury!) and even on my skin and nails as a natural moisturiser! It also comes in gorgeous glass jars which I love.
Almonds are a great source of vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They are also rich in protein and fibre, and are naturally low in sugar. Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats which have been known to reduce cholesterol and and lower the risk of heart disease. They are also extremely alkaline which is great for your immune system!
Almond milk is a great dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk and I’ve become completely obsessed with it! It is great for vegans and anyone limiting their dairy intake. It contains no cholesterol and no saturated fats making it heart healthy. It is also naturally low in calories and fat. Compared to soy and rice milk, almond milk has the highest concentrations of vitamins and minerals, containing calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium, to name a few.
It is now widely available in many flavours and in both unsweetened and sweetened versions, however many of these contain lots of additives and stabilisers so it is always best to make your own when you can (check out my recipe for homemade nut milk). If you opt for store-bought, make sure to stick to the unsweetened and unflavored kind to avoid added sugars or artificial flavours.
Cashews are full of proanthocyanidins, a class of flavonols which fight against cancer tumour cells by preventing them from dividing any further. They have a low fat content compared to other nuts and are cholesterol free. Just like almonds, they are high in calcium and magnesium.
Cashews are great for both cooking and baking and can be used in numerous different ways as you can see from my recipes.
Quinoa is one of the original superfoods and is an incredible wheat-free alternative to other grains. Although cooked like a grain, quinoa is actually a seed, which if not harvested, sprouts into a vegetable like spinach or chard. Whatever it is, I’m quinoa obsessed and here’s why…
Quinoa is an amazing source of protein. It’s one of the most protein-packed foods we can eat, containing all nine essential amino acids – very handy for vegetarians or anyone avoiding meat. It’s also extremely high in fibre containing almost twice as much as regular grains. It is gluten-free, making it great for coeliacs or anyone avoiding gluten, it also has a low glycemic index and is a great source of antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium, iron and zinc.
When cooked correctly, quinoa is gorgeous and fluffy with a slight nutty aroma that absorbs sauces and flavours incredibly. The most fool-proof way to cook quinoa is to use a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa, and I swear by using chicken or vegetable stock rather than water.
Coconut milk is an amazing alternative to milk or cream. It tastes so luxurious and is perfect for adding delicious creaminess to curries, soups and desserts. When I mention coconut milk in my recipes I am referring to tinned coconut milk, not the cartons which are usually a blend of coconut and rice milk. Often, my recipes call for coconut milk which has been refrigerated overnight, this is a way of separating the cream from the liquid and leaves you with a layer of amazing coconut cream which is fabulous in desserts.
Many people are confused by the difference between cacao and cocoa. Cacoa powder comes from the cacao bean and is raw, unprocessed and extremely rich in nutrients and health benefits. Cocoa is when the beans are cleaned, roasted and processed. Raw cacao is an excellent source of essential fatty acids, fibre, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, calcium and sulphur. However cocoa, as it has been roasted and processed, loses much of these nutritional benefits.
In my recipes I always use cacao powder as opposed to cocoa powder and I have come to love the taste and extra richness. It is an acquired taste however, and you can substitute for cocoa powder if you really must! Cacao is one of Nature’s greatest superfoods. It contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any know food, more so than blueberries, green tea and even goji berries!
When dark chocolate is stated in my recipes I use a high percentage, dairy free dark chocolate. Seed & Bean and Ombar are two of my favourites. You can use whatever kind suits your dietary needs but I suggest using a dark chocolate that is at least 70%.
I’m obsessed with vanilla powder! It’s made from ground whole vanilla pods and should have nothing else added. It has the most incredible, powerful vanilla flavour that’s just so delicious and it makes things taste sweeter than they are, so you can avoid using excess sweetener in sweet treats. It can be hard to find in shops and it’s a little expensive but a small bag will last you ages- I usually use about 1/4 teaspoon per recipe so it’s so worth it. It’s really easy to find online.
There is a lot of debate about which natural sweeteners are best for you and as many articles in favour as there are against each kind. For this reason, when using a liquid sweetener in my recipes, I give the option of raw honey or maple syrup so that you can pick the one that suits you! Although the sweeteners mentioned below are natural, they should definitely still only be eaten in moderation.
- Dates- Dates are high in fibre making them great for digestive health. They are rich in magnesium, which helps to reduce blood pressure and acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. They’re also jam-packed with essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins such as Vitamin A, iron, potassium and calcium.I use them in my recipes as a natural sweetener, adding a gorgeous chewiness to baked goods.
- Coconut Sugar– I absolutely love coconut sugar. It’s loaded with vitamin C and amino acids and is a great substitute for white sugar. Despite it’s name, it barely tastes like coconut at all and has a subtle caramel taste.
- Pure Maple Syrup- Maple syrup is my favourite liquid sweetener. It has the most incredible flavour and is the perfect sweetness. Pure maple syrup contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants making it much more nutritious than table sugar. When buying maple syrup, make sure to look for pure maple syrup as many store bought options are just maple flavoured syrup, full of additives and sweeteners.
- Raw Honey- Honey is another natural sweet alternative to sugar which I use in my recipes. Honey is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and has a beautiful natural flavour. Raw honey is totally unheated, unpasteurized and unprocessed and is an even better alternative to store bought honeys.