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How ingredients make (always) the difference

HOW INGREDIENTS MAKE ALWAYS THE DIFFERENCE
Written by Veronica Lavenia

How the ingredients always make the difference is a brief guide to the conscious choice of some of the ingredients that can make a difference to our health.

Cakes and sweets must be beautiful and scrumptious. But they should be also be nutritious and healthy at the same time.

I have put together a list of ingredients I often use in my recipes, along with some useful information. My suggestions refer to products readily available in supermarkets and/or organic food stores. Before buying, better carefully read the labels to certify the quality, origin and characteristics of the product.

Try to include sustainable, natural ingredients, or simply less refined ingredients to your diet (this applies, in particular, for all types of sweeteners) and try to eat with more awareness without sacrificing taste.

FLOURS:

Almond flour:

In Italy, it is made exclusively of chopped almonds. Almond flour can be found in good supermarkets and health food stores. With a good mixer it can also be simply made at home, chopping high quality almonds. For toasted almonds flours, just bake the almonds for five minutes and, once cooled, blend in the mixer.

 

Wholemeal flours:

Wholemeal flours do not undergo a bleaching process and, therefore all the nutritional properties remain unchanged (vitamins, minerals, fibers). When baking with white flours, I prefer to use flours from good quality traditional ancient grains as those mentioned below.

Brown rice flour:

The perfect flour for sweets and very soft cakes, it is low in protein and completely glutenfree. Brown rice flour is also a useful alternative to refined wheat flour, in the preparation of béchamel and as a thickener for puddings and custards. No need to add any type of artificial thickeners. Food made with naturally gluten-free flours, such as those used in my recipes, are not only tasty but, in some cases, have even better performance. There are also refined white gluten-free flours, however being refined and chemically treated, they are best to be avoided.

Wholemeal oat:

Rich in fiber, it has extraordinary nutritional properties. It contains a considerable amount of protein and noble fats, which helps to lower cholesterol levels. It also has a low glycemic index and diuretic properties.

Wholemeal Buckwheat flour:

Rich in fiber and gluten-free, it is best to mix it with other flours to mitigate its very rustic flavor. In Northern Italy, this flour is used in the preparation of cakes.

Wholemeal cornstarch (cornflour):

In Italy, wholemeal cornstarch is mainly used for the preparation of Polenta. Completely gluten-free it is perfect for creating dishes for those with allergies. Even though it is low in protein and vitamins of the B group, it contains a high percentage of iron, phosphorus and potassium. When making sweets it is advisable to mix it with other flours for greater elasticity.

  

SPECIAL ANCIENT ITALIAN GRAINS:

Farro:

It is one of the oldest cereals known in history. Farro is a very resistant wheat, it does not require fertilization, and is generally devoid of chemical substances. It has a high nutritional value, high in fiber and is rich in protein and B vitamins. Look for Farro in Italian food shops (Farro is not Spelt) but, in the absence of the first, feel free to use it).

Senatore Cappelli:

A precious grain (durum wheat) from Southern Italy. This wheat is used exclusively in organic and biodynamic agriculture because, having remained structurally original, is stronger and more durable and requires no chemical treatments such as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. It contains higher percentages of lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It is available in the best Italian specialty food stores.

HOW INGREDIENTS MAKE ALWAYS THE DIFFERENCE

PH. VERONICA LAVENIA

SUGARS:

Scholars from all over the world, agree in considering sugars to be a major cause of many serious diseases. Many people use honey or malt, as a sugar alternative, because they are a natural sweetener, however try to avoid this – getting used to less sweet dishes is the most useful advice.

Organic raw honey:

A natural sweetener, raw honey offers many nutritional benefits without the man-made chemicals found in many other forms of sweeteners. The natural opacity of the honey guarantees that it has not been subjected to chemical treatments and preservatives. Rich in enzymes, minerals, amino acids and protein it is a natural antibiotic, detoxifying the liver.

It also stimulates and regulates the digestive system.

Malt syrup:

Barley malt syrup is rich in vitamins and minerals. Malt syrup contains a high percentage of water, making it less sweet than white granulated sugar. When using malt syrup as a sugar substitute in recipes, you must take into account this proportion: 100 g (3½ oz) of malt syrup correspond to about 75–80 g (3 oz) of white sugar.

Other syrups (rice, corn, wheat), may look similar to the malt but they are not. The enzymes that cause the demolition of the starch do not derive from the natural process of germination of barley but are produced industrially. Therefore, are to be avoided like white sugar.

Raw coconut sugar:

A novelty in the field of sweeteners, it is obtained by grinding the coconut flower nectar. The extraction of nectar provides a light engraving on the bark, which secretes a sugary liquid that is, subsequently, concentrated. Similar in appearance and taste to raw sugar, it contains calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and has a lower glycemic index

Raw sugar:

This natural sugar goes through less chemical processes than white sugar. Rich in minerals, especially iron – raw sugar has a moist and grainy texture and is dark brown. There are various references to identify raw sugar, depending on the area of origin: Muscovado, Panela, Dulcita, Rapadura. Read labels carefully when buying to make sure it is real raw cane sugar and not white sugar colored with the addition of molasses.

 

ORGANIC OR NATURAL BAKING POWDER:

Organic or natural means no dry chemical baking powder and aluminum free. Usually, a good natural yeast contains potassium tartrate, naturally produced by the fermentation of grapes, purified without the use of chemical substances and mixed with the sodium bicarbonate, of mineral origin, and organic cornstarch.

 

SEA SALT:

Unrefined sea salt is obtained by evaporation of seawater and subjected to a series of surface treatments of washing and purification. It is not chemically refined, so it differs from table sea salt (extracted from underground mines, resulting from the slow evaporation of ancient marine basins), preserving the natural heritage of the trace element.

HOW INGREDIENTS MAKE ALWAYS THE DIFFERENCE

PH. VERONICA LAVENIA

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL:

Italians only ever use high quality extra virgin olive oil. Throughout all my recipes I use extra virgin, also known as EVO.

The olive is the only fruit where oil can be obtained with single pressing, without any chemical intervention. Extra virgin olive oil is digestible, rich in vitamins A, D, E, K, oleic acid, it protects against the excesses of high cholesterol and increases the so-called “good” cholesterol. Thanks to its content of antioxidants such as polyphenols, olive oil counteracts the processes that contribute to cellular aging.

Extra virgin olive oil is the most digestible fat and, due to its composition of monounsaturated fatty acids and the presence of components of valuable natural antioxidants, is less subject to alterations and has exceptional stability in high temperatures. So, it is the most suitable for cooking because it is very stable at high temperatures and is also appropriate for frying (contrary to what is commonly believed). The “smoke point” (the temperature at which the oil starts to burn and fats decompose in their main constituents, forming toxic compounds) of the olive oil is superior to that of other fats.

DRIED FRUIT:

If possible, choose organic dried fruit without preservatives. Sulfur dioxide and tropical vegetable oils are used as a coating agent (especially in sultanas, raisins and apricots) to make the dried fruit more palatable. Organic dried fruit, usually, contains only sunflower oil. A practical trick is to wash the raisins in a bowl with warm water, rubbing it with your hands to remove the oil, at least in part. Soaking the raisins for at least half an hour also increases the digestibility.

HOW INGREDIENTS MAKE ALWAYS THE DIFFERENCE

PH. VERONICA LAVENIA

ORGANIC EGGS:

Eggs are invaluable in the preparation of sweets and are rich in proteins, minerals, vitamins A, B and E. I will only use eggs produced from organic farming where the hens are fed on organic feed, are free range and breeding takes place in a natural environment. Beautiful and good eggs are the result of happy hens, free to roam unhindered, loved by those who love the country.

 

ORGANIC UNSWEETENED COCOA POWDER AND CHOCOLATE:

A natural antioxidant, rich in magnesium, iron, manganese and zinc. Organic cocoa powder is worked at low temperatures to maintain the nutritional properties of cocoa. When compared with industrial dark cocoa powder, which is roasted at high temperatures, you immediately notice its light color. Organic chocolate only contains cocoa butter with no recourse to other cheaper and low quality vegetable fats.

ORGANIC VANILLA:

The four types of vanilla, currently cultivated worldwide, are all of Mesoamerican origin. The most known is the “Vanilla Bourbon” (produced in Madagascar, Indonesia, Reunion and other tropical areas of the Indian Ocean south west) with a sweet, balsamic flavor; “Vanilla Mexican” (also known by the name of “Original Vanilla”) with a more bitter and slightly pungent flavor. The other two species of vanilla diffused in the globe are: “Vanilla Tahitensis” (located in the South Pacific Ocean) and “Vanilla Pompona” (especially in the West Indies, Central and South America).

Don’t miss:

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About the author

Veronica Lavenia

Veronica, PhD, is an Italian based food writer. Born and raised in Italy, surrounded by the thriving culture and spirit of Sicily, Veronica was a University academic before becoming a food writer. In the context of academic research, she has published essays on the Spanish-American narrative in national and international Academic Journals. As freelance journalist, she wrote about book reviews and tennis. Food was the subject she thought about most so, inspired by family recipes, and valuable Italian culinary heritage, she moved into writing her experiences and studies on the subject.
Sustainability, seasonality and selection of raw materials (as much as possible local, organic and unrefined) are the basis of Veronica’s natural food philosophy.
Cookery author, "Gluten Free Heaven" magazine contributor, some of her works have appeared in "Vegetarian Living", "Veggie Magazine", "Lifestyle FOOD", "Australian Good Food & Travel Guide" and "Chickpea", among others.