New ingredients are popping up daily, promising healthy benefits, but what the heck do you do with them and more importantly do they taste any good? Genevieve Taylor investigates the latest trends with our guide to healthy eating (includes recipes)
Healthy eating has been one of the most persistent food trends of the last couple of years. Forget kale (that’s so 2016) – with so many super new foods and textures emerging, we took on the challenge of finding out if a raft of new trendy healthy ingredients are worth eating as part of a balanced lifestyle. From fermenting your own vegetables to using turmeric in desserts (our dairy-free coconut, mango and turmeric fool is a real treat!), there are many ways to experiment with these exciting ingredients in your everyday cooking.
Some of the ingredients in our guide are surprisingly easy to find in supermarkets and health food shops – the flours and grains, for example – while others are a little trickier to track down. Buy water kefir online at happykombucha.co.uk and find shio koji and gochugaru at souschef.co.uk.
A word from Genevieve Taylor
Healthy eating has been one of the most persistent food trends of the last couple of years. As a naturally greedy person I’m happy to admit that most of this has drifted way over my head and my
kitchen remains firmly dedicated to the temple of taste rather than faddy diets.
My food philosophy is pretty much ‘eat what you like and compensate by moving about as much as you can when you’re not eating’. For me, getting loads of variety into my diet is the healthiest way to live – so as many colours, flavours and textures as possible. It was with these principles in mind that I took on the challenge of finding out if a raft of new trendy healthy ingredients are worth eating – call it a sceptical guide to wellness, if you like.
I heard that kefir, a symbiotic culture of wholesome yeast and good bacteria that ferments either milk or water, is the next big thing in probiotics. The very thought of drinking fermented milk
sends me spinning (unfortunately not in a good way) so I chose to try out water kefir.
It sounded simple – order the grains from the internet, mix with water and some sort of raw sugar (not honey, which is the enemy of bacteria) and ferment on the worktop for a couple of days. You can then strain the grains out (and re-use them again and again) and ferment a second time with different flavourings to result in a ‘good for you’ fizzy drink, or you can use the kefir in smoothies, or as a starter to other fermented food.
Kefir water looks a little dark and bubbly, and visually at least seems to hold little promise of deliciousness, but it does taste way better than it looks and I found myself really enjoying it. If you’re braver than me, do give milk kefir a try. There’s no getting away from it, it is better for you than water kefir, with twice the variety of probiotic strains.
Lacto-fermenting vegetables is bang-on-trend and an ancient way of preserving fresh food to last all year. The lacto bit refers to the lactic acid created during the ferment, rather than anything to do with milk, and the process of fermenting increases both nutrient and probiotic levels making these the healthiest pickles around.
One of the best known ferments is the gloriously spicy kimchi from Korea and this is where I decided to begin my lacto-fermenting journey. You can ferment using just brine (salted water) – the salt discourages bad bacteria and allows the conveniently salt-tolerant good ones to grow, or you can use a starter to encourage things along. As I’d been brewing kefir water I decided to use a good slug of that in my kimchi recipe.
Many people are put off fermenting by the idea of leaving something out of the fridge for a week or more to let bacteria develop, so that it’s sort of breaking it down by the time you consume it. What feels and tastes so right for wine and beer (especially when left in the hands of the pros) is a bit of a leap of faith for actual vegetables, right?
Fermenting is an immense subject, with dozens of books and websites dedicated to it and one I can only begin to scratch the surface of. The important thing to remember, as a novice, is that if it smells and tastes good, it will be good for you, while if it smells bad or offish it may not have fermented properly, so it’s best to discard it and start again. The fermenting process takes as long as it takes – it depends on temperature, whether you use a starter or not, how ‘sour’ you like things.
A longer, cooler ferment is generally thought to be better than a hotter, faster one. The red cabbage kimchi I made has now had three weeks of maturing – one out the fridge, and two in it – and it’s starting to taste great. I’m spooning it onto mac and cheese to zing it up, or adding a dollop to a ham sandwich. I reckon it’ll be a winner on a juicy beef burger too.
While the trend for watching your gluten intake isn’t one I subscribe to, I’m a bread aficionado and there’s no getting away from the fact that there has been an explosion of new flours into the market.
Whether or not you feel the need to reduce your intake of wheat or not, it has to be good to have as much variety as possible in your diet, so I’ve embraced the challenge of using new flours, in new ways.
Teff is a kind of millet from Ethiopia that falls under the ancient-grain banner and is something I’ve been keen to try. It’s gluten-free, really quite high in protein, and has a high vitamin C content. In the UK it’s most often found – in a ground form – as flour for baking.
Reading the back of the packet – gluten-free, high-fibre and high-protein – suggests coconut flour has promise. But, as it’s a by-product of the coconut milk industry, I was put off by the price – how can something that’s essentially a waste product (dried and finely ground coconut flesh) cost a fiver a packet? And I have to be honest and say the first thing I made with it, American-style pancakes, were a disappointment in comparison to the ones I make with plain flour.
The texture was more spongy than fluffy, it had a tendency to burn, and the coconut flavour was too pronounced for breakfast. But I persevered and found it worked brilliantly in Thai-style dishes where you want the coconut flavour to come out.
Try our Thai prawn, sweet potato and coconut fritters: This was by far the tastiest thing I made with coconut flour, crisp little prawn fritters flavoured punchily with all that I love most about Thai cooking – lime leaves, chilli, ginger, coriander and, of course, coconut.
These are better cooked over a medium-low heat, if you fry too hot they tend to catch on the outside and because they’re quite delicate, don’t try to turn them over before they’ve crisped up perfectly on one side.
Left-over coconut flour? Try this:
Its high protein and fibre content means coconut flour can be a good addition to breakfasts to give yourself a nutrient boost first thing in the morning. Try stirring a tablespoon through porridge or adding a sprinkle into the blender when you whizz a smoothie.
Khorasan flour is an ancient type of wheat said to have been eaten by the pharaohs, and while it’s not gluten-free, it’s higher in protein than regular wheat flour and has a similar fibre content to whole wheat/wholemeal flour. I love it for its lovely nutty colour and a soft buttery texture besides which it makes a really light, quite un-wholemealy loaf.
You can substitute it weight-for-weight in whichever bread recipe you’ve been using, but bear in mind that it may absorb a touch more water. I also discovered that it makes fabulous pasta dough, smooth, soft and a joy to work with.
Amaranth, another ancient grain I’d never heard of, turns out to be an incredible little seed that’s gluten-free and high in protein, calcium and vitamin C. The Aztecs were eating it centuries ago and it’s really popular in central and South America today. You can pop it in a dry pan like miniature popcorn, so the fun begins even before you get it in your mouth.
Amaranth is an incredible little seed that’s gluten-free and high in protein, calcium and vitamin C. This cheesy, herby flapjack makes a filling and wholesome snack that would go well with a bowl of soup or as a post-workout energy bar.
Turmeric is said to have antiinflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and has been used as a culinary medicine in India for centuries. Getting more turmeric into my diet is a no-brainer for me – it’s one of my very favourite spices, especially fresh, which is zingy and almost citrussy.
Think of the difference between ground dried ginger and fresh root ginger, they could almost be different spices; it’s the same with turmeric – so do try to find fresh root if you can.
Turmeric is most familiar in savoury curry recipes, but it’s really fab in sweet things too. Here it’s combined with mango and coconut to make a tropical, dairy-free fool. If you’ve never tried whipping coconut cream you’re in for an absolute treat – it makes for the lightest, most delicate and lovely little puddings!
You probably won’t have heard of it, but if you like soy sauce, miso or sake, you will have already eaten koji, a natural umami-packed seasoning made of rice fermented with special mould spores, it’s a key component in Japanese cooking, and it’s claimed that it can help strengthen the immune system.
You can buy pouches of shio koji – now something of a trend – easily online and in Asian and Japanese grocers. Koji is a natural umami-packed seasoning made of rice fermented with special mould pores, a key component in Japanese cooking and it’s claimed that it can help strengthen the immune system. Here it does a great job of making one of the most succulent roast chickens.