For me, one of the most important parts of healthy living is developing healthy habits. I have no problem eating the occasional giant ice cream sundae as long as I habitually rely on minimally processed plant-based foods. However, I see no point in eating healthy foods that don’t taste good. As one of my Lehigh professors taught me, “This food is a gift of the whole universe.” From a cura personalis perspective, foods that nourish the whole person will taste delightful in the moment and leave you feeling equally delightful after you eat them.
Thus, while my regular grocery list contains ample fruits and vegetables, one of my favorite things to do is discover new ingredients to combine with the old, so I’m always expanding the flavors and the nutrients in my life. Whenever I find a new ingredient or new way to use an old ingredient, I get super excited and tell basically everyone I know. In this column, I’ll share with you three of my all-time favorite weird ingredients.
First up, yeast flakes. I like to argue that nutritional yeast flakes are the most perfect food in the world. Made from deactivated, dehydrated yeast, this seasoning is absolutely packed with vitamins and protein. Do they taste like yeast? Certainly not! They taste like cheese.
While the protein and B-vitamins in yeast flakes are a great supplement to vegetarian-sometimes-vegan diets like mine, I’ve introduced yeast flakes to lots of people who didn’t expect to like them but will now add a heaping spoonful to their dinner. Because yeast flakes can be hard to find in some grocery stores, I like to order mine on Amazon. The big container I get costs $9 and lasts me at least a month. Many food blogs suggest sprinkling yeast flakes on popcorn, but my current favorite way to eat them is on yeast flake pizza. Yeast flake pizza is made by toasting a healthy tortilla until it’s crispy, spreading tomato sauce on it, covering the whole thing in yeast flakes, and then heating it up in the microwave for maybe 40 seconds. Not only is it super easy and healthy to make, but it really is a standout stand-in for pizza that leaves you feeling way better than Domino’s. Or, if you’re not into that, sprinkle yeast flakes ON your Domino’s.
Another favorite ingredient of mine is matcha powder. Matcha is made from powdered green tea leaves, and thus has even more physical and mental benefits than regular green tea – its nutrients are from the whole leaf instead of just what seeps into a cup of tea. Because the amino acids in matcha can help concentration and alertness, I always try to sneak a few tablespoons in my breakfast somehow. Mixed with hot water, matcha can be drunk as tea, but I prefer mixing the powder into oatmeal, smoothies, and even homemade protein bars. Matcha gives me a gentle stream of energy that keeps me focused long after my coffee has worn off. The only thing is, the matcha sold in grocery stores can be off-puttingly expensive. Instead, put some in your Amazon cart when you order your yeast flakes. I got an 8.8 oz bag for $11 on Amazon and it’s lasted me all summer.
Of all my favorite weird ingredients, oat flour is one of the most accessible. Although some stores will sell oat flour, it is quick and cheap to make at home. Just throw some plain, uncooked oatmeal in the blender and in a hot second, you’ll have an ingredient that can revolutionize the nutrient profile of any baked good you desire. By replacing some of the all-purpose flour in cookies or pancakes with oat flour, you can sneakily add all the protein and soluble fiber of oats to foods you already enjoy.
Personally, I like to create recipes that can be made entirely of oat flour or other whole-grain flours. My favorite oat-flour creation, the Bowl Pancake, is essentially healthy pancake ingredients cooked in a bowl. It gained recognition last year after I kept eating it in front of my sorority sisters, who were pretty confused by the process. Once I explained it (see Food Corner for recipe), though, my new creation caught on.
Playing around with often unheard of foods like these fuels my curiosity for healthy cooking and eating. By finding new ways to eat exactly what I want and still feel delightful afterwards, I have forged a new relationship with food that nourishes me mentally and physically. I encourage anyone seeking a healthier lifestyle to experiment with ingredients like these and start unleashing food’s potential.
See Karen’s recipe for a bold pancake in the Lifestyle section.