Basically, what's the point of making something "home-made" if one doesn't consider the ingredients used? Since healthy is what we are going for, let's do some considering.
By incorporating as many wholesome and nutritious ingredients possible we will be that much closer to a healthier body. This article is to hopefully clarify and explain many of the ingredients used in the recipes represented on this site. Of course it is not an exhausted list and will be added-to as needed. Also, there are links included on this page for purchase convenience.
Yeast is a living organism which helps bread to rise, as well as add flavor and aroma. Yeast likes a warm, moist environment, so water temperature is important: too hot the yeast dies and the bread will not rise; too cold, the rising will very slow. There are two preferred types of yeasts:
Dry active yeast - My preference is instant yeast because you don't have to proof it first. You know, mix it with warm water and wait for it to bubble. Instant yeast, you just throw it in and get to mixing. I like simple.
Instant yeast - Sometimes called bread machine yeast. Instant yeast is ground finer and does not need to be dissolved in water like dry active yeast. It may be added directly to the other dry ingredients. It may be used interchangeably with dry active 1:1. You may do two rises with instant yeast for better flavor and texture, but it is not necessary.
Gluten - Also known as Vital Wheat Gluten. Wheat naturally has gluten in it, but sometimes you need a little help. Gluten helps with the rising process; especially if the environment is humid. It is totally optional; so if you don't have a "gluten" issue then it's nice to have a little on hand. I only use a teaspoon or so per loaf, so it doesn't take a lot.
Lecithin - Is an emulsifier so it helps make your bread smooth and soft. But more importantly, because it is an emulsifier and rich in the B vitamins: Choline and Inositol, lecithin breaks down fat and cholesterol (LDL) molecules into small molecules so they may pass through the arterial walls, which helps keep arteries clean. It improves the strength and function of the heart. Can aid cognitive functions such as logical thinking and memory. It helps the absorption on fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E and K. Lecithin can be found in egg yolks, whole milk, fish, peanuts, wheat, sunflowers and soybeans (however, I do not recommend the use of the soy form). For supplementation lecithin may be found in the form of powder, granules or liquid. Only choose non-GMO or use Rice Bran Extract as a lecithin alternative. Lecithin is an optional ingredient.
Beans are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals; so why not add all that goodness to pretty much whatever you are cooking. You make bean flour by milling your dried beans in your grain mill. You may use just about any dry bean of your choice: navy, northern, baby Lima, garbanzo or chick peas, kidney, black, etc. I usually use navy or baby Lima.
Milling Beans: Mill about one to two tablespoons of dried beans per every cup of grain. It does not have to be an exact measurement; it can be a little more or a little less.
Baked goods - breads, cookies, cakes, etc. Simply replace a small portion (about 1 tablespoon per cup) of your baking flour with the bean flour. Viola! Nutrients galore. Now, your raw cookie dough may taste a little beany, but have no fear, when they bake you will never know they're in there. So, shhhh, don't tell anyone.
Gravies - Bean flour makes an excellent thickener for gravies and sauces. Mix the bean flour with a little cool water then add to your gravy/sauce just like you would cornstarch, flour or arrowroot.
I can't say enough about coconut oil. Of the fats, coconut oil and other tropical oils are the best choices for most cooking, baking and frying despite what the "experts" say. Yes, they are more saturated than other vegetable oils, but more importantly they have NO trans fats. Every cell in our bodies needs some saturated fat to function properly and because the tropical oils are a medium-chain fatty acid (medium-chain triglycerides), made up of oleic acid, linoleic acid and lauric acid; they are absorbed straight into the liver from the small intestine, which in turn, produces quick energy. The lauric acid, also found in mother's breast milk (often used in baby formula), has powerful anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties. MCFA's (medium chain fatty acids) are liquid at room temp and become solid when cooled. The tropical oils are quite stable at room temperature with little concern for rancidity; having a shelf-life of many months and have a high smoke-point making the topical oils excellent high heat cooking i.e. roasting and frying.
Virgin Coconut Oil - Totally unprocessed. You want to choose one that says cold-pressed first-pressed. It will taste and smell like coconut. I find it delicious in sweet baked goods; you really don't taste it, but actually the coconut enhances the other flavors in the food.
Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil - Has almost no coconut flavor or smell. It is coconut oil that has been mechanically pressed to extract the oils, not with the use of chemicals. Some heat is created, but not too much over the 120 degree benchmark for maintaining the greatest quantity of nutrients. EPCO is the perfect choice for pretty much any type of cooking, baking or light frying.
Palm Oil - Or Red Palm Oil is also a tropical oil. Excluding the US, it is the most popular dietary oil in the world. Palm oil is super high in vitamins E & A. Has a very stable shelf-life and high smoke-point. Great for all cooking, baking and deep frying; however, it does have a strong taste, so keep this in mind when flavor is a factor.
Palm Shortening - Another tropical oil - palm shortening or Palmfruit; makes a great replacement for regular hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Palm shortening comes from palm oil. It is a mixture of unsaturated (mostly monounsaturated) and saturated fatty acids. Some of the unsaturated fats have been removed, creating a creamy-firm texture IT is NOT hydrogenated and contains NO trans fat!! Palm shortening is my go-to for baking cookies, pasty dough and biscuits; perfect for high heat deep frying. Does not have a tendency to rancidity. Is creamy white in color with no smell and no taste, so it will not change the flavor of foods.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Is mostly oleic acid, which is a stable monounsaturated fat. EVOO is rich in vitamins E, K & A and antioxidants. Olive oil can not tolerate high heat (really temps over 225 degrees) due to its low smoke point; the high heat will destroy the delicate nutrients. Therefore, EVOO is great for salads and low heat applications. Always choose one that is first-pressed, cold-pressed. Of the vegetable oils, it is the safest to use, but be careful not to overuse due to its long-chain fatty acid makeup, can contribute to body fat buildup.
Whole-Ground-Milled-Flax Meal - The all-important omega 3's - ALA, EPA & DHA are required by our bodies. These fatty acids, which the body can not manufacture, must be provided through our diet. Flax seed is among the champions of sources, along with fish oil. The best way for our bodies to utilize these precious seed nutrients is to freshly grind them when needed into a meal; a coffee grinder of blender will work. Add them to all your baked goods or sprinkle the meal onto cereals & salads, into smoothies & casseroles; really anything for that matter. They have very little flavor and come in brown or golden; use the golden if you feel you must hide it in your dish. Flax seed has been reported to offer many health benefits such as: anti-inflammatory properties, help normalize heartbeat, blood pressure lowering effects, helps reduction of plaque building up in arteries, cholesterol lowering effects, diabetes, cancer & heart disease fighter; aids cardiovascular health, cognitive & mental health (Alzheimer, memory), developmental health (ADHD, autism, etc.), hormone health (hot flashes). It has a suggested serving of 3-4 tablespoons per day. Because the oils are so delicate they can go rancid easily and the nutrients can oxidize quickly keep ground flax seed in the freezer and whole seed in a cool, dark airtight place for about a year.
"Give us this day our daily bread"; there really is something to that for a balanced diet.
Basically, grains are a vital part of the human nutritional requirements; we should have some form every day. Because there is a plethora of grains from which to choose, they will be discussed in a separate article coming soon. The following are just to name a few: Hard White Wheat, Hard Red Wheat, Soft White Wheat, Rye, Spelt, Kamute, Amaranth, Millet and many, many more.
Salt - Salt is so vital for our health, so vital that when you go to the emergency room one of the first things they do is hook you up with water and salt. The human body is made up of about 72% salt water and 28% mineral. To remove it from our diet is not an option. Frankly, all salt comes from the sea, but what is important is where and how it is harvested. True unprocessed sea salt should come from uncontaminated ancient sea beds, where very little "processing" is performed or required; no additives needed. It should be pink/white/grey in color; kinda resembling sand; not bleached white. Those colors and such are all the different minerals. Redmond Real Salt Sea Salt is such a salt and the only brand I use. This particular brand of sea salt is the real deal. Totally unprocessed with all it's trace minerals and nutritional components still in tact.
Raw Honey - Raw honey is an excellent choice of a sweetener with a full range of flavors; the darker the honey, the stronger the flavor. It is slower to raise blood glucose than sugar and has many enzymes, antioxidants and antibacterial properties. Keep in mind that most of these nutrients are destroyed when heated, so raw is the key. Also, raw honey is known to help with some allergies and sinus issues especially when consumed from local bee suppliers. As for commercial honey, don't bother; they have been high-heated and processed where very few nutrients are remain if any. So, raw, people; let's keep it raw.
Sucanat - AKA: Sugar Cane Natural or real brown sugar. Sucanat is my go-to sugar for most of my baking needs. It is dehydrated cane juice with the molasses still present, so it has a beautiful warm flavor. Made simple: cut sugar cane, pressed to squeeze out the juice, low heated till it becomes a heavy syrup, then hand-paddled to produce the granules. Nothing in, nothing out. Sucanat provides iron and potassium along with other trace nutrients. Great for anything you would use sugar for (one for one); except for making sweetened iced tea, yuk. I love it in my coffee though.
Raw Sugar - dehydrated cane juice that has had the molasses removed. My choice when the deeper flavor of the Sucanat is too much. Great for that pitcher of sweetened iced tea. Again, 1:1 replacement.
White Sugar - Well, if you can avoid it, do. All white sugar is processed, bleached and stripped of anything good for the body. Associated with many of our diseases, so, stay far, far away.
Brown Sugar - Simply put, it is basically processed white sugar with molasses added back; that's why it's sticky. Again, no nutritional benefits.
Molasses - It is the syrup left over after the sugar cane extraction process. The darker the syrup the more concentrated flavor and nutrients. Molasses is high in vitamins and minerals, especially iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Great for cooking, baking and sauces; also good for digestion. Always choose un-sulfered and organic if you can get it.