As a nutritionist though, I have come to understand that wheat products and white flour aren’t for everyone, and aren’t really as nutritionally valuable as some other pantry items. However, baking with nothing but nut flour is both expensive and impractical, and often doesn’t achieve the desired results. When I cook, I want ease, simplicity and something healthy if at all possible. So here’s my list of pantry staples, some you will know, some may be new. Stock these 5 pantry staples and you’ve got the basics for an array of cooking and nutritional needs.
I recently heard oats described as a ‘working man’s breakfast’. And I couldn’t love that statement more. Oats would feature in my house regularly on wintry mornings as a kid, no doubt with golden syrup and chopped banana. My father who grew up on a dairy farm recounts similar memories of porridge, as a sustaining and healthy breakfast staple.
Oats are one of those old faithful ingredients. I know if I have no flour, nuts or anything fancy in the cupboard, oats will save the day. Beyond porridge, I love using oats in baking, in pancakes or to add texture to desserts. My daughter loves eating rolled oats, as is, uncooked, with a spoon (or with her hands). They are dirt cheap and incredibly versatile. If you have a pantry, or even a single shelf, oats should take pride-of-place there, no question.
Are Oats Gluten Free?
No, oats aren’t strictly gluten-free, so don’t be fooled. The gliadin (protein) component in oats can mimic gluten in the gut. This means if you have coeliac disease or a glaring non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, best to skip oats and try something else your tummy may handle more easily.
Yet there’s emerging research that shows oats can be a safe and beneficial food for those with coeliac disease. The reason for this is that the avenin found in oats, another protein, reveals generally lower gluten content and immunoreactivity. There appears to be some varieties of oat cultivar that produce minimal to no reaction in the digestive tract and on dendritic cells and T-cells in the immune system. Cereal manufacturers are always keen to expand their market and this discovery could lead to the hybridising of oats with this trait, labelled as gluten-free and safe for coeliacs. This could be good news for coeliac sufferers who are missing their morning oats, time will only tell.
Health Benefits of Oats
Oats (Avena sativa L.) originate from the Middle East and Egypt and these days grow worldwide, enjoyed by millions across many cultures. Oats are an easy to grow agricultural crop, with a range of health benefits. Oats are usually sold as steel-cut oats, groats or rolled oats. Steel-cut oats go through the least amount of processing and retain the most of their nutrition as a result. Rolled oats or porridge oats are made by steaming the groats, which are then flattened into flakes. Packed with B vitamins, folate, calcium, iron and magnesium, they make a nutritious choice for almost anyone.
Oats may be most famous for their beta-glucan (β-glucan) fibre content. The benefits of beta-glucan include:
- Decrease LDL cholesterol and improve cardiovascular disease outcomes
- Prebiotic fibre for a healthy microbiome
- Enhances digestive function and immune regulation
- Promotes a feeling of fullness, triggering the satiety hormones in the gut
For a fancier gluten-free option that’s packed with nutrients, I always recommend almond meal. Slightly more expensive, yes, but well worth having it up your sleeve as a nutritious and versatile baking essential. In fact it was the first ‘alternative flour’ I tried when I first started exploring foods outside of wheat flour.
Almond meal can be used in a simple orange and almond cake, almond and oat pikelets or healthy bliss balls. The high monounsaturated fat content means it behaves differently in baking, and it’s not a simple ‘swap out’ if you want to use it. However, once your repertoire includes almond meal, you won’t look back.
Almonds have robust amounts of vitamin E as well as heaps of skin-loving, cell-loving nutrients like B vitamins, omega 3 and 6 and calcium. Including them in your diet in the form of Almond Meal or even LSA (A Linseed, Sunflower Seed and Almond Meal combination), is a very good idea.
Health Benefits of Almond Meal
The vitamin E content in almonds and therefore almond meal make it a great baking essential. Almonds are full of protective nutrients that help the skin, cells and brain.
A 2021 study showed that almond consumption reduced wrinkle severity by up to 16% in a group of postmenopausal women.
It’s also well established that almonds, like all nuts, help mitigate carbohydrate cravings and promote satiety. A 2019 study found that almond consumption suppressed the desire for high-fat foods and demonstrated higher satiety compared to crackers. This is why almond butter (and nut butters in general) are some of our most popular products.
Almond meal is made from raw whole almonds with skins intact. Almond meal has retained much of the healthy oil and protein content, making it denser, coarser and more moist. If you want to know more about almond meal and almond flour, read here.
If a recipe calls for wheat flour, spelt flour is what I’ll typically use instead. Spelt (Triticum spelta) belongs to the wheat grain family, yet it is a gentler, very well rounded flour to use in baking that behaves the way you’d expect from traditional flour. I love that the gluten content is lower, and the protein matrix in spelt is more soluble and easily digestible. This is due to the gliadin:glutenin ratio, which differs between wheat and other products containing gluten.
These days, you can get artisanal loaves of spelt bread, spelt pasta and spelt cereals too. If you want to take a baby-step away from standard wheat flour, spelt flour should be it. It’s an easy ‘swap out’ flour and works in both savoury and sweet dishes. I’ve used spelt flour to make a béchamel sauce more times than I’ve googled how to spell it!
Health Benefits of Spelt Flour
Spelt is naturally high in fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E, fibre and manganese. This makes spelt a great choice for boosting energy, digestive function and for promoting antioxidant activity in the body.
Buckwheat is gluten-free, grain-free and related to rhubarb would you believe. I’m a huge fan of buckwheat flour, now that I’ve acquainted myself with how to use it. I’m a big fan of buckwheat noodles, known as soba noodles in Japanese dishes. Buckwheat porridge makes for a nourishing, easily digestible meal that I commonly recommend as part of a postpartum recovery diet or as a baby-friendly porridge or first food.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is also known as common buckwheat and is full of nutrients. Buckwheat flour is high in minerals, amino acids, lysine and B vitamins as well as having notable therapeutic polyphenols. These include rutin, quercetin, flavonols and tannins, which are protective against stress, oxidation, cell damage and can promote tissue repair. Other polyphenols in buckwheat are catechins, luteolin, lignans, all of which protect the gut lining, help eyesight and liver function.
Buckwheat flour is slightly denser and as such makes wonderful in a gluten-free crepe. (See my buckwheat crepe recipe below). It has a nutty flavour and slightly grainy texture, and pairs well with pecans, maple syrup and fresh strawberries. Tell me you’re not inspired to get baking!
Health Benefits of Buckwheat Flour
Buckwheat is naturally gluten-free and part of the Polygonaceae family. The research in support of buckwheat is growing, with a range of health benefits. Buckwheat helps reduce cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. Other studies demonstrate buckwheat as a neuroprotective, and antidiabetic functional food.
Buckwheat flour also has powerful antioxidant activity, due to the high levels of rutin and quercetin. These polyphenols are also found in garlic, onion and citrus fruits. Rutin in particular may help preserve insulin signalling and has clinical applications in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Chia seeds have become very popular in recent years, yet they are among the oldest known seeds in the world. Chia seeds were a staple of Mayan and Aztec culture and are now available the world over. Have a read here for more on chia seeds and why I love them.
Perhaps less of a baking essential and more of a ‘goes on anything’ food. I love having a stash of chia seeds around to suit any cooking whim. I love sprinkling chia seeds on yoghurt with nuts and seeds, soaking them overnight for an easy chia pudding or pulverizing them in a blender to make a gluten free breadcrumb.
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds could well qualify as a superfood. They are full of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, B vitamins, and omega 3. They are also an incredible source of plant-based protein, boasting 16 essential and non-essential amino acids. They also contain a host of polyphenols, including caffeic acid, quercetin, kaempferol and genistin, all of which have incredible neuroprotective effects.
A 2020 study found these polyphenols, specific to chia seeds protect the brain against inflammation and toxic damage. Chia seeds have a modulatory effect on neuronal microglial cells, which improve immune function in the brain and nervous system. If chia seeds can do this, I’m thinking we all need to stock up.
Buckwheat Crêpes with banana
Naturally gluten free, these crepes are wafer thin, crispy and super easy to make. They can be dairy free as well, using almond milk and coconut yoghurt.
1 cup buckwheat flour
¾ - 1 cup milk
1 free-range egg
1 pinch salt
1 chopped banana
Yoghurt and maple syrup to serve
Lightly whisk the egg in a mixing bowl
Add salt and buckwheat flour and ¾ cup milk, stir to combine
Add a bit more milk if needed to achieve a ‘ribbon’ batter consistency
Ladle spoonfuls into pan on medium heat for 3 minutes, flip and cook for a further minute
Enjoy with fresh or caramelised banana, yoghurt, nuts and seeds.
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