I eat a lot of foods that seem “normal” to me because I eat them so often, but that really aren’t too common I suppose. So, in the hopes of turning you all to the dark side of these unusual but magical ingredients, I looked through my pantry and pulled together a list of some of the “weird” foods I’ve come to love and eat regularly. Here’s what’s great about them and how to use them:
This fermented soybean paste is full of detoxifying enzymes and has been used in Asian cuisine for centuries to add a wonderful umami flavor to anything it touches. It contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Because it’s full of beneficial probiotics, it aids digestion and strengthens the immune system. (Just make sure to buy the fresh non-pasteurized stuff.)
You can find it in most grocery stores near the tofu. There are several “shades” of miso–from light yellow to red. The lighter the miso, the milder the flavor. Organic miso is preferable, since it’s made out of soybeans and 90% of soy produced in the U.S. is genetically modified and you might want to be careful about that.
To borrow from the Chia Seeds post: Energy-boosting chia seeds are a great source of fiber, protein, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals. Given their tiny size, they’re one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
I add chia to smoothies, smoothie bowls (which I recently tried, and love that I can have a smoothie with nuts and coconut flakes and other fun stuff on top!), oatmeal, and I also make chia pudding (I reduce the added sugar in this recipe and eat it for breakfast with lots of berry/nut/seed toppings). And this amazing raspberry chia jam.
You can find chia pretty easily in most grocery stores, but I usually order mine from Amazon or find it discounted at Marshall’s.
Also known as hemp seeds, these little guys are one of the densest sources of plant-based protein. They’re also packed with Omega fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Because of their nutrient profile, they help to increase energy, regulate appetite and aid digestion.
I add hemp hearts to green smoothies, sprinkle them on salads and soups, and mix them into homemade granola and chia breakfast pudding.
I order mine online from Amazon, but you can also find them in Whole Foods, etc. They should be kept refrigerated after you open them.
I first learned of nutritional yeast as an essential ingredient in homemade vegan cheese. This immediately endeared me to it because CHEESINESS. Nutritional yeast is a dried, inactive form of baker’s yeast that’s surprisingly dense in protein, and despite its savory flavor is sodium-free. It’s also a good source of vitamins, including B12, which is especially important for vegans.
You can sprinkle it on anything you would sprinkle grated cheese on: pasta, veggies, salads, etc. It’s amazingly good on popcorn. And, it’s called for in some of my favorite recipes, like this butternut squash queso dip, these cheesy kale chips and this vegan pesto.
Tahini is sesame paste–kind of like peanut butter made from sesame seeds. It’s high in healthy fatty acids and a bunch of vitamins and minerals and is thought to help with digestion, immunity and detoxification. It should be pretty easy to find in most grocery stores. Unhulled tahini is more nutritious (and a little more bitter) than hulled.
You might be familiar with tempeh as a scary-looking meat substitute, but it’s actually a centuries-old staple of Indonesian cuisine. It’s made of fermented soybeans pressed into blocks and is high in protein, dietary fiber, healthy fats and many vitamins.
I simply bake tempeh and add it to other dishes as a protein source (I love adding it to this ginger turmeric rice recipe). You could also go traditional and make a tempeh curry or try what all the hip vegan restaurants are doing: a TLT.
Again, organic is preferable, since tempeh is made out of soybeans and 90% of soy produced in the U.S. is genetically modified and you might want to be careful about that.
I recently, and almost accidentally, kicked my decades-long sweet tooth issue (seriously, it wasn’t hard, you can do it too!). Since then, I haven’t baked much because I don’t really think of it–I truthfully don’t crave any sweets! But part of not being addicted to sugar anymore is that I feel awful when I do eat it. So now if I’m going to make treats I choose a recipe that uses medjool dates as a base.
Dates are high in dietary fiber and other vitamins and minerals that aid digestion. You can find them in the bulk section of the grocery store. They’ll keep for up to a year in the refrigerator.
(Bonus: a lot of date-sweetened recipes are raw, which means you don’t have to wait for them to bake to devour!)
Coconut sugar, from the coconut palm, is one of the lowest-glycemic sweeteners out there, which means that it bounces your blood sugar the least (this is good). Unlike refined white sugar, which is considered “empty calories” because it has no nutrients, coconut sugar retains some of the nutrients from the coconut palm (this is also good). However, it’s still a sugar, and like all sugars, should be consumed in moderation.
When I need a sugar-like sweetener I use coconut sugar. I sprinkle it on oatmeal and use it in place of regular or brown sugar in recipes. It has a nice, mellow caramel-y flavor. It’s easy to find at natural food stores, on Amazon, and even at Marshall’s.
This one’s getting more popular and isn’t that “weird” of an ingredient anymore, but I have some weird uses for it. ;) I fry food in coconut oil like a normal person, but I also add it to smoothies, coffee, and random recipes as a healthy fat supplement.
From the 5 Healthy Kitchen Substitutes post: Coconut oil has a fat profile that is actually linked to *reducing* risk of cardiovascular disease: it’s high in saturated fat (not so bad, don’t worry) and medium chain fatty acids (more easily digested and converted into energy than the more common long chain fatty acids, which get stored as fat). It’s also high in antioxidants and lauric acid, which is great for the immune system (coconut oil is 40% lauric acid, the richest natural source available!). And its antifungal and antimicrobial properties can help reduce candida and yeast and fight infection and illness.
As a saturated fat, coconut oil has a high smoke point, so it’s healthier to use in cooking/baking than vegetable oils, which easily break down into disease-causing free radicals when heated.
Apple Cider Vinegar
I cook with this occasionally and make salad dressings with it, but the way I consume it most is (brace yourself): in a glass of water. Almost every day I have a glass of water with about a tablespoon or two of ACV. When I first tried this, it was a little weird, but I’ve honestly come to like it. It’s kind of tangy and refreshing.
I take it daily to aid digestion, balance my pH (which boosts immunity!), and cleanse my body of things that can cause bloat and acne.