Delicious and healthy meals can be made with ease, thanks to the help of some flavor-packed ingredients that will tie your whole meal together. Small pantry staples that you can find at the grocery store will help inspire you to think outside the box when you’re crafting dinners or baking your favorite treat. Sometimes, these pantry staples can be substitutes for other ingredients that might have been higher in sodium or fat, which is great because you’re trading in healthy alternatives without sacrificing flavor.
Here are five staples to keep in your pantry that will bring nutritious benefits and wonderful flavor to your cooking. They may just become your best-kept secret ingredient.
(A food safety tip: once some of these items are opened, you may need to store them in the refrigerator. Refer to the package labels for directions.)
Miso paste, which has been traditionally used in Japanese cooking but has grown in popularity around the world, is made of fermented soybeans and a koji starter. It’s easy to see why it’s becoming so popular: the savory, salty paste brings one of the rarer flavors of umami to a dish and is versatile in how it’s used. From stocks to meat to stir fries and even cookies, miso can be added whenever you’re looking for incredible flavor. Miso is also nutritious, with probiotics, manganese, and vitamin K. You are likely to find miso in the international aisle in a food store near you or in your local Asian grocery store.
Whether or not you squirm at the mention of anchovies, you should know that chefs around the world sing their praises. For very small fish packed into a tin, anchovies bring a huge salty flavor punch to any meal they’re added to. Pastas, roasted vegetables, salad dressings, and sauces all benefit greatly from anchovies. (Here’s a list of recipes from Epicurious). The fish are high in vitamin B3, B12, Selenium, and Iron. Put your fears aside and give them a go!
Similar in appearance to soy sauce, coconut aminos are made from the fermented sap of a coconut tree, and the ingredient is often used as a lower-sodium substitute for soy sauce, sometimes even 75% less. It’s also a great substitute for people who are allergic to soy. Use in stews, as a dipping sauce, to flavor veggie stir-fries, and marinate meat.
While chia seeds don’t have much of a flavor of their own, they can become a gel when soaked in liquid that adds creaminess to your recipes. They are also highly nutritious, high in magnesium, calcium, vitamins B1 and B3, iron, and phosphorus. Chia seeds can be used to make breakfast puddings, sprinkled into baked goods, substituted for eggs, and added to granola and oatmeal.
It’s important to point out that cacao powder and cocoa powder are not the same thing. While they both come from cacao beans, cacao is processed at a lower temperature, and is considered raw. This means it maintains more nutrients and antioxidants than the more highly processed and roasted cocoa. Cacao powder has flavonoids, which help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow. It may also reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Add cacao to your smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, baked goods, stews, and of course, your favorite dark chocolate desserts!
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