Over the past year, I’ve been working hard on experimenting, creating and refining healthy, gluten-free recipes based on being high in protein and low on added sugar and ‘nasties’. Testing out combinations of flavours, amounts of ingredients and new products on the market, this has all played a key part in helping me come to a stage where I’m confident in sharing recipes on my blog which are tasty, enjoyable AND good for you at the same time – yes, this can exist!
With endless articles popping up about what is predicted to be ‘big’ in 2015 when it comes to health food, what ingredients we should spend our hard earned cash on and products we should incorporate into our daily diets, it got me thinking about my tried and tested baking essentials.
You don’t have to spend a fortune, most of these can be found in standard supermarkets, plus these aren’t likely to fade in and out of fashion as the year goes on. Whatever you’re making or looking to achieve when playing around with healthy food and recipes, I can’t stress enough how simple but effective these ingredients are for the desired effect. So, here goes the important list!
Want moistness and natural sweetness?
Adding a subtle sweetness while keeping a sponge or cake mixture moist, pureéd cooked (unsweetened) apples are a lifesaver when you don’t want to add too much fat or sugar to your recipes. You don’t have to keep the flavour of your recipe apple based, plus it works well with coconut flour, protein powders and added flavour combinations like spices, cocoa, vanilla or nuts.
Pureéd pumpkin / squash / sweet potato
Adding a deep orange colour with plenty of extra nutrients, any of these are wonderful for cakes, brownies or cheesecakes. Sweet potatoes add a starchy and rich flavour, while pumpkin and squash are more subtle but can be brought to life with spices and work well with chocolate or cocoa.
Bananas are an absolute essential in my kitchen, being a fantastic natural energy booster pre or post workout and make a key ingredient for smoothies, baking recipes and even to make an ice cream (see below)! Adding moistness and sweetness to pretty much any cookie, cake or sponge recipe, always have bananas around!
Looking for a smooth, creamy texture?
One of my miracle ingredients for cheesecakes, baking and desserts, silken tofu really is a lifesaver when it comes to cutting down on fat and calories, while keeping the texture smooth and creamy. You can find cartons of silken tofu in the oriental food aisle in most supermarkets and it’s an affordable alternative to cream or creme fraiche.
Similar to silken tofu, Quark adds creaminess and smoothness to recipes without adding the calories and fat, while keeping protein and calcium levels high. Great at absorbing flavours and working well with fruits, Quark can be baked, mixed with other flavours and chilled to use as ‘frostings’ to cakes and muffins. The options are endless!
Best ingredients for sponges and cookies?
Low in carbohydrates, natural and packed full of nutrients and protein, this gluten-free flour alternative is delicious, versatile and high in fibre. Since coming across it early last year, coconut flour is a store cupboard essential, adding an amazing but subtle hint of flavour to baking and cooking, especially to healthy cakes, cookies and brownies.
Packed full of protein, fibre and long-lasting carbohydrates, these legumes are popular in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cookery – and baking! That’s right – by blending these little beans of goodness with other ingredients, they make the most wonderful sponges and cookies and absorb flavours well; you’d never guess what was in them!
Other ingenious healthy substitutes?
As mentioned above, bananas are an essential ingredient and form part of my daily diet. One of the best ways I’ve discovered using them is peeling them, cutting them into chunks and freezing them in food bags. Then you’ve got them to pop out of the freezer whenever you need – they make the most amazing ‘ice cream’ when blending with any flavour you fancy trying!
Thanks to its unique combination of fatty acids which have profound positive effects on health, including fat loss and better brain function, coconut oil really is a super food and super versatile ingredient for all sorts of recipes, both sweet and savoury. Not only good for your health, a tub of this kitchen essential works wonders as a beauty product too!
These tiny seeds are miraculous little things bursting with health benefits and should be in everyone’s kitchen cupboard. Chia seeds a great source of healthy omega-3 fats and fibre, help to boost energy, stabilise blood sugar levels, aid digestion and help to lower cholesterol. The most common way of using them is soaking ⅓ of a cup of seeds with 2 cups of liquid (water, milk, yogurt) for a couple of hours or overnight, to produce a bulked-out ‘gel’. Add cocoa, vanilla, coconut, fruit…I’m constantly finding out interesting ways to use them!
Labelled as one of the ‘world’s healthiest foods’, whether you consumer them rolled, as oatbran or oatmeal, oats are a staple in any healthy baker’s cupboard. Used in cookies, flapjacks or bases for cheesecakes, these natural offerings can help lower the risk of colorectal cancer and blood pressure, are packed full of nutrients and fibre and are so versatile in many sweet or savoury dishes.
Choc Shot / Sweet Freedom
“The ultimate natural sweetness”, Sweet Freedom is 100% natural and made from apples, grapes and carob, contains no artificial baddies, is low GI & GL so is a great option for diabetics and contains 25% fewer calories than sugar. Choc Shot is a liquid hot chocolate sweetened with Sweet Freedom with the addition of cocoa and natural chocolate flavour. Similarly low GL / GI and suitable for diabetics and vegans, this squeezy product is also 100% natural. Amazing products if you’re looking for healthy honey, syrup or chocolate sauce alternatives.
So there you go. How about you – any other secret/key ingredients you think we should know about? Comment on the post or tweet me @SpamellaB and let me know!