Using healthier ingredients can be a lot more complicated than using the traditional butter-white flour-white sugar combination which is sort of foolproof. I have destroyed millions of recipes whilst experimenting with healthier ingredients and that is why you need to be more flexible, more creative and more tolerant when using them in cooking and baking. It might take time and it might take patience but it is worth it in the end. I speak from a place of experience because I opened up my website in 2003 but in 2000 I was eating pasta uncooked as I didn't know how to boil it. If I can do it, so can you.

Below is a collection of terms and products that you might find unfamiliar and how I use them in my cooking. Click on a term and the answer will automatically expand below.

Food Items/Products

Rapadura Cane Sugar

Rapadura sugar is an unbleached, unrefined sweetener to use in place of refined sugars. It is the only sugar where the sugar stream is not separated form the molasses which in turn helps retain most of its essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals and is very high in dietary iron. Rapadura is produced by simply evaporating the water from the organic cane juice. It has a mild caramel-like flavour.  It is common in Latin American countries such as Brazil, Venezuela and the Caribbean.

How to use: You can use rapadura for baking and sweetening of food and drinks. Use 1 cup of rapadura for each cup of other sugars (such as white sugar) in any recipe. The only recipes I am not keen on using rapadura in, is ice creams where I prefer to use agave nectar. Also if you like to retain a light colour on your cooking go for cane sugar (not rapadura) as the rapadura will give a light brown hue. Also rapadura can be fairly strong in taste so if you are making something quite delicate in taste (such as meringues) it can be quite strong in flavour and it will make the meringues light brown in colour. Rapadura can be found in most health food stores and larger supermarkets. It is light brown in colour and is slightly coarse in texture (looking more like sand on the beach than sugar).

Skyr (an Icelandic dairy product)

Skyr is a cultured dairy product, unique to Iceland. It is similar to Greek yoghurt although technically it is a soft cheese. Skyr is made with pasteurised skimmed milk and live active cultures. It has a slightly sour flavour, almost bitter although there are several types of skyr with added flavours available such as vanilla, blueberries, strawberries and more. Skyr is high in calcium and has a high protein content (12%), is very low in fat (0,5%) and carbohydrates (3%), making it ideal for body building and weight watching. Skyr is very popular Iceland and be sure to try it out if you like yoghurt-type products. It is available in every shop in Iceland.

How to use: You can use skyr for added protein instead of yoghurt in smoothies, dips, blended with fruits for breakfast and more. Skyr is often eaten on its own and most people buy it flavoured. I only use 100% skyr without flavours added and then add fresh fruits in smoothies and more. Skyr is available in some health food stores in the UK, US (like Whole Foods Market) and Scandinavia and can sometimes be found in major supermarkets or speciality markets.

Smoked paprika

Smoked Paprika is a Spanish product (and widely used in Hungary as well) made from smoked, ground pimiento peppers. It can be found in varying intensities from sweet and mild to bittersweet and hot.

How to use: Smoked paprika is delicious in marinades, sauces, dips and salsas that require a smoky or "barbecued" taste. You can find smoked paprika in many larger supermarkets and delicatessens as well as markets specialising in Spanish (or Hungarian) products.

Spelt Flour

Originally grown in Iran around 5000-6000 B.C. spelt has been grown in Europe for over 300 years and in North America for just over 100 years. Spelt is similar to wheat in appearance but has a tougher outer husk which means that it protects the nutrients. It also protects the grain from pollutants and insects. Spelt is richer in protein than wheat and is easier to digest (more water soluble). Spelt contains gluten, however some people with coliac diseases or wheat allergies may tolerate spelt although they won't tolerate wheat (always check with your doctor however before trying).

How to use: I have used spelt instead of wheat in all my recipes since 2001. Some people blend spelt flour with wheat flour and as it is more expensive than wheat and if your budget is tight it can be a good idea to combine organic wheat with spelt. Note that spelt is slightly more sensitive to humidity than wheat (that is my experience at least) so some days you might find that you only need about 80% of the liquid required in a recipe. Your local health food store will stock spelt products and you can also find it is major supermarkets.

Tahini (Sesame Paste)

Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds and is the main ingredient used in hummus as well as halvah (Middle Eastern confectionary). Tahini comes in two varieties, hulled and unhulled. Unhulled tahini is bitter although healthier than the hulled tahini since it contains a lot more calcium and nutrients. Tahini actually contains more calcium than milk and is therefore an excellent calcium source for vegans and raw foodists. Tahini is also richer in protein than milk, yogurt, almonds and various other nuts. It includes important minerals such as iron, potassium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and magnesium. It also contains vitamins A, B1, B3, E, F and T and essential amino acids such as Methionine!!! Tahini is very good for your skin, eyes, heart and bones and contains dietary fibre, making it important for preventing certain types of cancer. Tahini is also a good source of essential fatty acids.

How to use: You can make your own tahini by using a food processor and mixing sesame seeds with peanut oil or olive oil and a little salt until creamy. Use tahini in hummus and for making (sweet and savoury) sauces creamier. I also use it in smoothies. Tahini is available in health food stores, larger supermarkets and Asian markets. Shake the jar before using (or stir with a spoon) as the oil will separate from the sesame paste. One of my favourite uses for tahini is in cookies (instead of butter) and in a delicious smoothie (with maple syrup, banana, cocoa powder, tahini and almond milk).

Tamari sauce

Tamari sauce is a type of shoyu (the Japanese word for soy sauce). It is very rich in flavour, is dark in colour with a slightly sweet/smoky taste. Tamari is made out of miso (fermented soybean paste) by collecting the liquid which drains from miso as it ages. Tamari should not include any additives or sugar and never wheat. It is naturally gluten free.

How to use: Use tamari sauce instead of soy sauce, especially if you are gluten intolerant or allergic to wheat. If you have allergies please read the labels of the tamari sauce carefully as cheaper versions often have added wheat. You can use tamari sauce as a dip, in marinades, as a seasoning or instead of salt. Tamari is found in most health food stores and larger supermarkets. If you don't have any allergies you can use soy sauce or shoyu instead.

Tamarind Paste

Tamarind Paste (Tamarind Concentrate) is made from the pods of the tamarind tree which is native to Africa.

How to use: Tamarind is extremely tart and usually needs to be mixed with a sweet ingredient (such as agave nectar or fruit juices) to be used in cooking. Tamarind is commonly used in Thai food and Indian curries and chutneys and is also used in fruit drinks in Africa and the West Indies. It is not an ingredient I use a lot but some recipes do require tamarind paste. Be careful not to confuse tamari sauce (which is similar to soy sauce) with tamarind paste. Tamarind paste can usually be bought from Asian markets and larger supermarkets. Make sure that the tamarind paste doesn't contain white sugar.

Wakame (Seaweed)

Wakame is an edible sea vegetable widely used in Japan in miso soups. Wakame seaweed is high in minerals and nutrients thanks to its kelp content. Wakame is also very low in calories (only five per serving) with almost no fat. Seaweed contains the broadest range of minerals of any food, the same minerals found in the ocean and in human blood such as magnesium, iodine, calcium, and iron. It's also high in vitamins A, C, E, and K as well as folate and riboflavin. It is said that it can also help prevent certain types of cancer (especially breast cancer). Wakame has also been shown to play an effective role in weight loss (by breaking down fat quickly).

How to use: Wakame is most often sold dried (and fairly salty) so it needs to be soaked before use and then drained. The leaves should be cut into small pieces as they will expand during soaking. Discard any tough stalks. Wakame is available in most health food stores and in some larger supermarkets. It is also sold in supermarkets specialising in Asian food products.

Whey Powder/Whey Protein/Dried Whey

Whey protein/Whey Protein/Dried Whey is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, left over when milk coagulates (removed after cheese is processed). The fat is removed and the whey is processed for human consumption, often by drying. It is often used by body builders and people looking to up their protein intake as it is a rich source of complete protein.

How to use: In smoothies, chocolate making, baking (at low temperatures) and more. It is also great to bring whey powder along on hikes as it keeps well even at higher temperatures and can be easily mixed with water for skimmed milk in cereals. Whey powder is usually stored in the chilled compartment in supermarkets. Look for organic whey protein from a free range farm.

Various Terms

Unsulphured Fruits

Unsulphured fruits have been dried naturally and not preserved with sulphur dioxide. Unsulphured fruits (such as dried apples, pineapples, mango and apricots) are darker in colour and might not look as "nice" than the sulphured fruits. They taste sweet and delicious and are much better for you than the sulphured ones. Sulphur dioxide is sometimes used as an insecticide and can cause allergies especially in young babies.