I’ve had several questions about some of the ingredients, so here’s some information about some of the less common ones. I’m also making this post into an easily accessible link right under the header, and I’ll continue to update it as I use new ingredients.
Agave nectar is a honey-like sweetener that is produced by the agave plant. It is said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, as well as to have a significantly lower glycemic index than regular white sugar. I have not been able to find any reliable studies that support this information, but I really like the flavor of agave nectar, and I like using sweeteners that are less processed.
If you’d like to use agave nectar as a substitute for sugar in baking, use 1/3 cup of agave nectar for every 1 cup of sugar, and decrease your wet ingredients by about 1/3.
Agave nectar can be purchased at most health food stores, as well as on Amazon. I usually buy mine at Trader Joe’s.
Ch-ch-ch-chia! Yep, that’s the one. As it turns out, chia seeds are good for more than just producing novelty items. They’re loaded with fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients. They contain more omega-3 fatty acids than flax seed. In water, chia seeds form a gel, which is said to slow the digestion of carbohydrates when the reaction takes place in the stomach.
I love the flavor and texture of seeds in general, but I think chia seeds are superior. When added to yogurt or oatmeal, the gel that is formed provides a lovely, fluffy texture. They’re also great to sprinkle on a salad, or pretty much anything.
Chia seeds are available at Whole Foods (with the Bob’s Red Mill products), and I have also purchased them on Amazon.
Spelt is a relative of wheat. I use it because it has a pleasant, nutty flavor, and I find that the things I bake with it have a nice, chewy texture. As a perk, it’s also lower in calories and higher in protein that wheat. Spelt is also supposed to be easier to digest, and although it contains gluten, some people who are wheat intolerant can tolerate spelt.
Spelt flour is available in the bulk section of health food stores. I buy mine at Whole Foods.
Sucanat/Evaporated Cane Juice
Sucanat is a brand name for whole cane sugar, and it is simply pure dried cane juice. It retains its molasses content, and although the amounts are pretty much negligible, it does contain some vitamins and minerals. It is not a “diet” food, and still contains the same number of calories as processed white sugar.
I use sucanat because it’s less processed than regular sugar, so there are fewer chemicals used (or no chemicals, if it’s organic). Additionally, there are no animal products used in its processing. I also love the molasses flavor!
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when using sucanat instead of sugar or brown sugar in baking. First of all, your baked goods will be darker in color. The flavor will also be different. I use about 3/4 cup of sucanat for every 1 cup of sugar that a recipe calls for.
Disclaimer: I am not a physician, dietitian, or any kind of health professional. The sources of this information are the internet, some cookbooks and magazines, and my personal experience.