Welcome to Zema’s Clean Pantry blog. I will share all of my secrets to keeping a clean, gluten free, dairy free pantry that is easy to use in your daily life. These products are minimally processed, natural and are higher in nutrients than their counterparts. Some you may have heard of some of these items or walked by them in your store’s isle or maybe never knew they existed. It took me years to figure out what works for me and my family, so take your time. After reading about my favorites, think about what you like to cook and bake and try a couple of new substitutions. One step at a time. If you try to tackle it all at once, the odds of feeling overwhelmed are greater, thus leading to failure. Keep it fun, positive and interesting.
Oils and Fats:
My personal favorite oil to use in my baked goods. Our bodies need healthy fats. Olive oil’s greatest attributes are it’s content of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidative substances. Olive oil helps to protect against heart disease by controlling LDL(bad) cholesterol levels while raising HDL(good) cholesterol levels. It’s also easily absorbed by the stomach and aids in protecting against ulcers and gastritis.
EFA’s are fatty acids that the human body is not able to produce by itself. While other fatty acids can be synthesized within the human body from other components, EFAs cannot, and so they must be obtained through food sources. This is why they are “essential” elements of the human diet. Besides olive oil, EFA’s can be found in oily fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and herring, cod and haddock, canola oil, flaxseed oil, fish oil, seeds, walnuts, leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and kale. Olive oil is great for baking and high-heat cooking.
Another favorite of mine due to it’s tropical flavor and health benefits. Whenever I suggest using coconut oil in a recipe, I always get the same response, “Isn’t that bad for you?” No, unrefined, virgin coconut oil is excellent for you. The health benefits include hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, healthy teeth and bone strength. These health benefits can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial.
Look for coconut oil in a jar. It comes as a solid white mass which must be melted down prior to use. It’s great in baked goods, such as Zema’s Cocoa Teff pancakes, muffins and cookies instead of olive oil for a tropical flair, or stir-fry with chicken and vegetables. It’s wonderful in curry dishes and I pop my gourmet red popcorn in it with sea salt.
This lesser known oil is excellent to use for high-heat cooking because it can withstand high temps. It’s got a very neutral flavor making it ideal for baking as well. I use it in salad dressings instead of olive oil when I am not looking for that olive taste and want to pick up more on the fresh herbs I am using. I love baking with it because it adds a nice, warm buttery taste with healthy fat benefits.
If you have never had almond butter and can have tree nuts in your home, this is a must. I love all nutbutter spreads, but almond is my go-to one for multiple uses. I have a heaping tablespoon in my protein smoothie everyday. I love it on Zema’s Seeded Multigrain flatbread, toasty and warm. I eat it plain on a spoon and with apple slices. Two tablespoons has about 180 calories and 16 grams of fat. Again, this is a source of healthy fat. Just monitor how much healthy fat you are taking in. This can help to control blood sugar levels. Almonds and almond butter help to subdue spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels that occur after a high carbohydrate meal. Great for diabetics.
Because nuts are high in protein and fiber you have a greater sense of satiety keeping you feeling fuller longer and energized. Great to eat about an hour before a work-out.
This is the perfect substitution for peanut butter or other nutbutter lovers who are allergic to them. We don’t have any nut allergies and I still use this in place of almond butter just to change things up a bit. I use sunflower seed butter in the same way I use peanut butter and almond butter. In smoothies, spread on Zema’s Cocoa Teff flatbread, in Zema’s Seeded Multigrain Nutbutter cookies and PB & J Bars and even in some of my thai soups with coconut milk. It’s delicious, a healthy fat, full of protein fiber, B vitamins, and Vitamin E. It contains the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, iron, zinc, and copper.
I buy 2 kinds. The first is raw sunflower seed butter that is a little harder to spread. But, it’s sugar free and I prefer that in my smoothies. Not so great for baking though, because it’s tough to work with. I also stock Sunbutter brand which has added sugar but is terrific to bake with, use in granola bars and for dipping carrots or apples in. Much more kid friendly.
This liquid unrefined sweetener is a wonderful staple pantry item. It’s very versatile and can be used not just in Zema’s baked goods, but in tea, coffee, smoothies, on pancakes or waffles and over dairy-free or regular yogurt. It comes in different shades, but I prefer the light version due to it’s neutral flavor. Agave nectar looks a bit like honey, but not as thick, has a low glycemic index rating of 32-40(depending on brand), easier on our blood sugar levels and is natural, organic and gluten and allergen free. I like to use this for my dad because he is a diabetic and for my kids who have ADHD who do not need the blood sugar spikes. Because it’s sweeter than white table sugar, you can use about 1/2-3/4 the amount to still have the same sweet effect in your finished product. I also love that it doesn’t crystallize like honey, is easy to use and is perfect for vegans. Now, there has been a long debate about the health benefits about agave, but I find that using all of my recommended unrefined sweeteners in moderation is suitable. You can read about the agave debate until you are blue-in-the-face, but I find it completely safe and use it sparingly. I like to switch around my unrefined sweeteners.
Pure Maple Syrup
This is one of my favorites to use in Zema’s baked goods. Maple syrup is a superfood, Mother Nature’s sweet gift to us. It is made from the sap of the black or red maple tree, tapped from the tree, allowing the sap to run out freely. The sap is clear and almost tasteless and very low in sugar content when it is first tapped. Then it’s boiled to evaporate the water producing syrup, and like magic, maple syrup, as we know it, is created. Pure maple syrup contains many health benefits, including trace minerals manganese and zinc. Manganese is an essential player in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defenses. Zinc, in addition to acting as an antioxidant, has other functions that can decrease the progression of atherosclerosis, making this a great choice for those with heart disease.
There are three types of Grade A maple syrup, including Light Amber, Medium Amber and Dark Amber. The lighter the color, the more subtle the flavor. I prefer the Grade B version for baking. Pure maple syrup has a low glycemic index rating of 54, making this a suitable choice for diabetics(in moderation) and for kids. It is more runny that your traditional pancake syrup, so the kids may have a hard time changing their taste buds when used over pancakes and waffles.
Coconut Palm Sugar
This is the only dry unrefined sweetener I buy and use. Some of Zema’s recipes call for this and you can purchase it from your local Wholefoods Market or health food store. This unrefined sweetener is wonderful in Zema’s baked goods, but just as great to sprinkle over yogurt, unsweetened cereal, in tea and coffee and any application where you use white table sugar. Coconut palm sugar is made from the sap of the palm tree and looks like sugar in the raw. It has a low glycemic index of 35 and is rich in potassium and vitamin C. It can be used in a 1:1 ratio replacing your white and brown sugar in all recipes. Look for the SweetTree Brand in your market or online. This is a must and it will change the way you look at white table sugar forever. I also make powdered coconut palm sugar by grinding it in my coffee grinder with a little tapioca starch.
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown Rice Syrup is a natural sweetener produced by steeping whole brown rice with a special enzyme preparation derived from “koji.” This process transforms the steamed grain into a smooth flavored, pleasantly sweet syrup. It is an excellent sweetener for baked goods and marinades. Zema’s uses it mostly in our granola bars and energy bars because it gives the product a wonderful chewiness. You can also use it in smoothies, over pancakes and in tea. It’s gluten-free, hypoallergenic, easy to digest and is a great source of sustainable energy.
Brown rice syrup contains magnesium which helps in relieving fatigue, relaxing the muscles, nerves and blood vessels, aiding in relieving the symptoms of asthma, migraine headaches, tension and soreness in muscles. It has potassium, iron, manganese and B-group vitamins. Brown rice syrup has a rating of 25 on the glycemic index making this an optimal choice when trying to avoid sugar spikes in your blood sugar levels.
Dairy Free Milk Alternatives:
Unsweetened Coconut Milk
When I decided to start baking and cooking dairy free for my family it was easy. There are so many alternatives to cow’s milk out there, that it’s just a matter of finding which one, or ones, you love the most. You will find one! I find myself grabbing for unsweetened coconut milk these days(I go through phases) because of it’s creamy texture and health benefits. Some people are afraid to use coconut milk because it does have saturated fat, but let me share some information that will clarify coconut milk’s source of saturated fat. Coconut milk contains medium chain faty acids(MCFA) that are vegetarian based. Researchers now know that MCFA’s such as lauric acid and capric acid(in coconut milk) have anti-viral and anti-microbial properties that our body uses as energy instead of storing them as fat, as in animal-based saturated fats. Our bodies need good fat. Period.
Coconut milk helps to fight heart disease, the lauric acid helps build our body’s immune system and MCFA’s aid in weight maintenance without spiking cholesterol levels. Zema’s recipes use coconut milk in brownies, bread puddings, quick breads and pancakes. My go-to brand is So Delicious and it can be found at most conventional grocery stores either in a carton in the refrigerated section or in box cartons on the shelf. Don’t confuse this with canned coconut milk and make sure to by the unsweetened version to avoid the extra sugars.
Canned Coconut Milk
This is something very different than the coconut version above. Canned coconut milk contains guar gum, a natural thickener, and is great to use in soups, sauces and stews. Zema’s uses the canned version in some of our brownies, bars and bread puddings because of the built-in thickener. It is unsweetened and is found in the asian aisle of all conventional grocery chains. This is a great product, I use it weekly for my red curry dishes.
Another staple dairy free milk in my pantry, almond milk is a healthy substitution to cow’s milk. It’s an extract of protein rich almonds and packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It’s a great people who are lactose intolerant and strictly vegan. It comes in different flavors. I buy the unsweetened for Zema’s recipes and the vanilla unsweetened for my dairy-intolerant teenage daughter who lives off the stuff.
Here’s some health facts. Almond milk is a great source of magnesium which helps us break down food into usable energy. It also has the minerals manganese(an essential trace mineral that supports health skin and bones), selenium(helps our immune system) and Vitamin E, which is an antioxidant. Because it has unsaturated fat, it can help reduce the risk of heart disease. It’s packed with protein, potassium(improves our heart function) and has no cholesterol or saturated fats. Zema’s recipes call for almond milk wherever milk is needed. It’s one of our top substitutions, especially for our pancakes, waffles and bread puddings. Again, purchase unsweetened almond milk to avoid extra sugars. Obviously, this is not for those with nut allergies.
Not as popular as the others, but just as good. I love hemp milk, I love anything with hemp. This is another substitution for any Zema’s recipes that call for a dairy free milk product. Hemp milk has a neutral flavor, rich in omega-3 fatty acid, omega-6 fatty acid, has all 10 essential amino acids, protein, calcium, potassium, riboflavin, vitamins A, E, B12, D, folic acid, magnesium, iron and zinc. Not bad for a cup of dairy free milk. Besides baking with it, I drink it with Zema’s fresh baked cookies! No, there is no THC in hemp milk, so you won’t be getting the munchies from drinking it.
Rice Milk, Soy Milk
These are wonderful substitutions for milk as well. Those with severe allergies to the others listed above, use these. I do not stock these in my pantry, because my family does well with the others, but Zema’s recipes work just as well with these.
The kuzu root comes from Japan and is an amazing starch to use for thickening purposes and has medicinal healing properties. It’s complex starch molecules enter the intestines and relieve discomfort and pain caused by overacidity, bacterial infections and diarrhea. Kuzu also contains Flavonoids, which support digestion and circulation and they are antioxidants. This is Zema’s go-to starch for thickener our wonderful fruit crisps, cobblers and puddings. It is used in place of cornstarch, which is highly processed and full of toxins. I highly recommend switching over to kuzu, tapioca starch or arrowroot powder. Kuzu can be found in Wholefoods Market or health food stores. It looks like little white rocks in a small bag and the way you use them is to smash them with the back of your spoon and measure it in powder form. You then will dissolve it in a little water or juice then add to the recipe.
Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
This is a great staple to have for throwing into Zema’s cookie, bar and biscotti recipes for a nice tropical flare. Please, please do not buy the kind sweetened that is all sticky and doesn’t even resemble coconut. There’s nothing fun about that sugar, those sulfites and the toxins in that package. Let’s Do Organic brand is real food with real nutrients and is great even to just snack on. It’s nutrients mimic those of coconut milk. Can’t go wrong with this one.
Hain Featherweight Baking Powder
Now, I am not a fan of corn products, so I do my best to find alternatives. Hain Pure Foods is the only company I know of that has a corn-free baking powder, unless you mix your own. This is certified gluten-free and it’s also sodium free. This is what is mixed already into Zema’s mixes, however, some recipes call for additional and this is it.
Dark Chocolate baking bars
No pantry is complete without a high-quality chocolate baking bar. I buy the fun dairy free bars from Wholefoods Market that have funky flavors, as well as the dark chocolate bars. I prefer my bars to be over 60% cacao. Zema’s recipes uses these bars to melt down in a double boiler with coconut, almond or hemp milk for our brownies, cookies and pound cakes. I like the Scharffen Berger brand, but there are many to choose from. Do not panic when you see cocoa butter as an ingredients for the dairy free bakers out there. Cocoa butter is the fat portion of the cocoa bean, is a completely vegetarian fat source and is directly responsible for the melt-in-your-mouth quality of chocolate. There will be some sugar in there unless you are buying unsweetened bars. Zema’s uses the unsweetened version because we like to add agave, pure maple syrup or coconut palm sugar to keep it refined sugar free.
Unsweetened Apple Sauce
I am a believer in getting my sweetness for Zema’s baked goods from natural sources. Unsweetened apple sauce is a great addition to muffins, quick breads and bars for flavor and moisture. This can replace eggs in many recipes.
Other items I stock are nuts, seeds, prune puree(same use as applesauce), dates and figs(great add-ins) and dried cherries and cranberries. I hope you enjoy this clean, pantry list from Zema’s. Take your time, try something new each week or each month and feel the difference.