I try to keep it simple for you guys when I post recipes, honestly I do. Still, when you’re new to the world of healthy cooking, vegetarian cooking, or the terrifying depths of vegan cooking you will almost always run into weird ingredients that you’ve never heard of. The first time I made a vegetarian meal I was stuck for hours looking for something called “Garam Masala.” I had no idea what it was, what it would look like, or where I would find it in the grocery store. Let my downfall be your gain because I come to you older, wiser, and with the knowledge that it is a mixture of traditional Indian spices that you can find in the spice section of most grocery stores before the garlic powder. But we aren’t making Indian food, yet. (Unless you guys want a lentil soup recipe, because I’m completely down for posting that oldie but goodie for you guys whenever you want it).
The truth of the matter is with new recipes, even on my site, you’re going to run into bizarre foods that you’ve never dreamed of encountering in your lifetime. Some of these are worth the time and money to find and have in your house, and others aren’t. Let’s begin with two that are in my kitchen right now, and I in fact purchased today.
Scary Sounding Food 1–Kombucha
Many of you know this about me, but for those who don’t, I know my tea. I can taste right away what you’ve brewed, the quality, whether or not you burned it, and what you sweetened it with. This is not a point of pride, so much as a fact. A fact that I’ve clearly wasted my life. Regrets aside, I’ll try almost anything with the word “tea” in it. Kombucha is tea that has been fermented, which gives it an acidic taste in addition to whatever was added to the finished product (if you want it mango flavored, for instance).
So, after hearing vegan blogger after vegan blogger raving about the stuff being their “essential kitchen item”, I decided to give it the old college try. I found it easily enough at Whole Foods in the drink section. For my first attempt, I went with “guava” flavor. This may have been in part because the bottle was pink, and naturally, pink things taste yummy. No matter, I took a few sips, followed by a few more enthusiastic sips, and left the bottle half full. The remainder is hanging out in fridge. The verdict? It’s not bad. Definitely a bit bubbly, which is great since I almost never drink sodas these days. It reminded me a bit of a wine cooler, um…not that I’ve ever had one of those…or a hard cider. It was good, for sure.
Is it the end all be all of a healthy kitchen? Look, at the end of the day it’s fizzy tea water. The health claims it makes have little scientific bearing so until I see some hard research I can’t justify dropping three bucks for a bottle of the stuff. Oh, did I mention that it was three bucks for an entire bottle? Well…it is! Want something cheaper that’s similar? Buy yourself some sparkling water, brew your favorite tea and combine the two. If you’re feeling peppy you can add a splash of your favorite juice. Is it as healthy for you? I have no idea, but it doesn’t matter how healthy something is if you can’t afford to ever drink the stuff.
Scary Sounding Food 2–Nutritional Yeast
It wasn’t until after I suggested you use it a few times in recipes such as Instant Gratification-role that I realized that most likely half of my readers have no idea what this stuff is. Nutritional yeast is a…thing…that you buy in the bulk food section of a natural foods store. Officially it’s a deactivated yeast that’s had some stuff done to it involving beet molasses and sugarcane. It’s all very, very scientific. It’s full of vitamins and minerals, high in protein (8 grams for TWO measly tablespoons! How great is that?) and most are even B12 fortified, which is great since that is the only vitamin that can be tricky for the average vegan to get. It tastes a bit cheesy and has a lovely “umami” flavor that many people miss when they give up red meat.
You can use it all sorts of ways. In our house we use it to top pasta, in salad dressings, on salads, on top of vegetables, in our mac n’ “cheese”, in various sauces, and sometimes baked into breads (I’m working on those damn cheddar biscuits and SOME DAY by god I will get them right!). I always keep a little container of it on my counter for when emergency cheese themed snacking must occur.
So, is it worth the cash? Well, a pound of it costs around $8, which sounds a bit pricy. What you won’t realize until you actually try to weigh it out is that you will have completely filled a bag with it before you reach that pound. It weighs NOTHING. Enough nutritional yeast to feed a ravenous family of three (more like five if you include the fact that we have dinner guests ALL THE TIME) for a month costs us five bucks. I can afford five bucks for a month’s worth of cheesy goodness.
And those are two of the weird items in my kitchen right now. One, totally worth your money, the other, I’m not so sure. The good news is now you know what they are, and where to find them if you find yourself in dire need of one someday. If you have questions about other scary sounding ingredients that might be on your shopping list, fire away, because chances are I’ve looked for it. And if I looked for it, chances are that I’ve had at least two different grocers tell me where to find it. The things I do for food!
What weird ingredients have you encountered in your quest to eat healthier?