My Favorite Ingredients
Tahini, a paste made from toasted and ground sesame seeds, is often featured in Mediterranean, Asian, Middle Eastern, and African cuisines. This ingredient is extremely versatile and can be mixed with other ingredients to create delicious dips, spreads, and condiments. Tahini is high in fiber, protein, healthy fats, and is a great source of copper, which is a trace mineral essential for iron absorption, blood clot formation, and blood pressure. Tahini is also rich in the mineral, selenium, that fights inflammation and boosts immune health, as well as phosphorus, which is important for bone health.
Date syrup or date honey is a sweet syrup made from the combination of dates and water. Date syrup is a great substitute for refined-sugar because of its low-calorie content, low glycemic index, and high nutritional benefits. You will find that in any recipe on my blog where date syrup is required, I have also added the option of using maple syrup if you don’t have date syrup. Maple syrup is also a great natural alternative to sugar, as well as honey! Since dates are most often used in their dried form, their calorie content will be higher than most fresh fruit. Dates contain important vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, manganese, iron, and vitamin B6. Dates are also very high in fiber that is beneficial for preventing constipation and blood sugar spikes which may help those with diabetes to regulate their blood sugar.
Vanilla is a tropical climbing orchid grown in places like Mexico, Central and South America, and Tahiti. The vanilla flavor is extracted from the pod, or “bean”, of the plant. The vanilla beans are then cured and dried, and treated with alcohol to create the dark liquid known as vanilla extract. Vanilla contains anywhere from 250 to 500 different flavor and fragrance compounds, vanillin being the most prominent. Vanilla, as a natural spice, is expensive, which is why many artificial versions made from petrochemicals have been commercially synthesized. So it’s important to make sure the vanilla you are buying is the real deal, as the artificial versions will not possess the same beneficial properties. Vanilla contains antibacterial properties to help fight infection, as well as antioxidants and antidepressants that help to soothe and calm the mind when the relaxing scent is inhaled.
Nutritional yeast, or Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a species of yeast popularized in plant-based cooking. So what’s the difference between brewer’s, baker’s, and nutritional yeast? All three are made from the same species of yeast, yet they are very different products. While baker’s and brewer’s yeast are usually purchased alive, the cells of nutritional yeast are killed during manufacturing, so they are not alive in the final product. Baker’s and brewer’s yeast are used for functional purposes such as leavening bread or brewing beer, whereas nutritional yeast is grown specifically to be used as a food product. Nutritional yeast has a unique savory flavor that is often described as cheesy or nutty, making it a great plant-based alternative for cheese.
Fortified nutritional yeast is the most common type of nutritional yeast available for purchase. This type of nutritional yeast contains synthetic vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins including vitamin B-12 and zinc, selenium, and manganese, added during manufacturing to enhance nutrient content. Whatsmore, nutritional yeast is a great source of high-quality protein. It is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the nine essential amino acids that humans require from food. Nutritional yeast is sold in the form of flakes, granules, and powders and can be located in the spice section or bulk bins of health food stores. Nutritional yeast is such a versatile food! You can sprinkle it on popcorn, pasta, soups, and salads for an extra “cheesy” flavor.
The use of cacao can be dated back tens of thousands of years when it was consumed, and revered, by the Mayan civilization of Central America. The use of this earth treasure has been passed down from the Mayans to the Aztecs, to the Europeans. But today, cacao is most famous in the form of chocolate. Unfortunately, the complicated processes of manufacturing have chipped away at the nutrients of cacao, causing it to become a popular, but unhealthy, sugary sweet. The over-processing of cacao often makes us forget how powerful these superfoods are in their true and original form.
Cacao is abundant in antioxidants and minerals that promote overall health. Cacao is high in healthy fats, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and copper. Cacao is also rich in polyphenols which are naturally occurring antioxidants found in plant foods. Polyphenols have a multitude of health benefits including reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and improving blood flow, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and brain function. However, processing cacao into more refined forms such as chocolate can significantly decrease the polyphenol content, so try to consume cacao in its less processed forms such as cacao powder, cacao nibs, or dark chocolate. Did you know that cacao has the highest concentration of flavanols out of all foods per weight? (Flavanols are a group of bioactive compounds, or antioxidants, found in plant foods.) The flavanols in cacao not only possess cancer-protective properties, but they may also have positive effects on mood and decrease symptoms of depression by reducing stress levels and improving calmness. Cacao also promotes healthy skin and teeth by fighting cavity-causing bacteria and improving protection, circulation, and hydration of the skin.
I love cacao powder not only for its healthfulness, but also for its versatility. You could mix it with some date syrup and turn it into a chocolate syrup! Or, you could make hot chocolates, smoothies, puddings, cakes, or brownies out of it! The options are endless!
Where Does It Come From?
Cacao powder is made from the cacao beans, or seeds, of the Theobroma cacao tree. This plant grows large, pod-like fruits, each containing 20-60 beans. The contents of these beans are what provide the basis of chocolate and cacao products.
Dark chocolate is one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures and is a much healthier alternative to the usual chocolates. Learn more about how to find the best dark chocolate for you!
My absolute favorite brand of vegan chocolate is called HU. Their chocolate tastes impeccably delicious and cleverly combines superfoods such as peppermint, quinoa, or cashews to create decadent dark chocolate flavors. All their products are palm oil-free, refined-sugar free, cane sugar-free, sugar alcohol-free, dairy-free, soy lecithin free, and fair trade.