Our Favorite Superfood Ingredients for Your Pantry
Summer is the perfect time to wear out your blender, drink right out of a coconut and sprinkle your food with edible flowers. To turbocharge your smoothie bowl efforts, I’ve made a list of my favorite superfood ingredients. While I can’t guarantee their miraculous health benefits, I can promise they’ll make your kitchen creations sound expensive as heck.
For whatever reason, I’ve been a reluctant convert to algae-derived green powders I see food bloggers raving about. Maybe it’s because mixing food colors the wrong way has ruined too many smoothies for me, or maybe it’s because things made out of algae sound gross. Beyond that, a packet of these powders can be astronomically expensive.
I finally found this ingredient in bulk at my local co-op, and decided to buy myself the tiniest packet. I went home, put it in a smoothie with a banana and some protein powder, and was sold. First of all, it doesn’t taste like swimming in a moldy pool. Instead, it has a fresh, intriguing flavor, like spinach but sweeter. It turns smoothies a very cool color that beats the sad green-brown that comes with throwing a bunch of kale in with the mix. I even tried to make a “unicorn smoothie bowl” with it, but I need more time to work on that.
-Incredibly protein dense. 4g of protein per 1 tbsp.
-1 tbsp. provides 11% of your DV of iron
-A great source of vitamins A, K1, K2, B12, plus beta-carotene and antioxidants
I first heard of turmeric when I read Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life, which is a fantastic guidebook to living and eating with your health in mind. Turmeric played a starring role in that book, thanks to its powerful antioxidant properties. (Hot tip: any super bright ingredient is probably full of antioxidants, unless it’s made with artificial colors.)
This bright yellow spice is a key part of Indian cuisine, so you’ve probably had it in curry before. I was jazzed on its superfood benefits, and eager to try it for myself. It’s easy to find many recipes for turmeric lattes out there, so give ’em a whirl if you like. My friend pointed out that they “taste like clay,” so you might want to look beyond milky drinks for this spice. I like blending turmeric with lemon, ice, ginger, cayenne pepper, and honey and taking it as a healthy shot. Just don’t forget to add a shake of black pepper every time you consume it. The pepper magnifies the absorption of turmeric by 2000%.
Benefits of Turmeric
-Its primary active ingredient, curcumin, is a powerful antioxidant
Last summer, I got in the habit of watching plant-based recipe* channels on YouTube. These home cooks had the most colorful, creative diets I’d ever seen, and I couldn’t stop watching their “What I Eat in a Day” videos. One thing I noticed was that bee pollen was a common component in their smoothie bowls. Inspired, I picked some up in the refrigerated section of the co-op and tried it.
It adds a lovely golden color to whatever you put it on and is loaded with protein and nutrients. If you like the taste, which can be rich and a bit tinny, it’s definitely worth a sprinkle now and again. If you’re allergic to or sensitive to bees and pollen, please do not eat this!
-Approximately 40% protein
-Rich in B-complex vitamins
-Rich in folic acid
-Some people believe that ingesting local bee pollen will decrease your incidence of allergies. Apparently there is no proof that this works. Either way, you can probably find articles that back up whatever you already believe. Yay Internet!
-Again, do not eat bee pollen if you’re allergic to bees and bee products (you know that, I’m just covering my butt)
Apple Cider Vinegar
I like vinegar in general—the syrupy balsamic reduction kind, the splashy champagne kind, and the tangy rice wine kind. It turns out, there is a valid reason to desire vinegar in a recipe. Not only does it provide a delicious hint of acid to round out a dish, but a quality vinegar like apple cider vinegar (ACV) might be good for your gut and lower your blood glucose levels.
Before you start taking a daily “shot of vinegar,” save yourself from pain and dilute it with water. Your esophagus and teeth will thank you. You can also mix it with olive oil to create a basic salad dressing. As you put your ACV back in the fridge, admire its “mother,” a giant mass of enzymes, proteins, and bacteria, and know you are getting healthy in a way that disgusts your boyfriend. Mix it with sparkling water and lemon for what I like to call “poor woman’s kombucha.”
–Purportedly helps balance blood sugar and improves insulin resistance
-Kills off bad bacteria while promoting the growth of good bacteria
Matcha powder is Japan’s answer to coffee. This delicious, mellow form of green tea has replaced coffee for people around the globe, thanks to its milder buzz and impressive antioxidant roster. When I went to Japan last year, I got to mainline matcha products daily, from soft-serve to waffles. Grab some matcha powder and get ready to brag about how much you love yourself and are on the path to living past 100. It’s delicious in many recipes, but use with caution to avoid making energy bites that look like nuggets of weed.
-Provides vitamins A, C, E, K, B-complex and minerals
-High in polyphenols, catechins, and chlorophyll
I first heard of açaí when it was advertised as a so-called “superfruit” in energy drinks and juice. Skepticism pervaded. Then I went to Rio de Janeiro for vacation and realized that bottled drinks are selling us the wrong idea of this ingredient. In Brazil, açaí is not a jacked-up ingredient that only the bravest hipsters dare pronounce. There, it’s ice cream. I know this is an oversimplification, but I had at least three different kinds of frozen, sweetened açaí while I was there, and all of them were insanely delicious. One serving was in a tall glass, served by a very-proud restaurant owner on top of a statue of Jesus. One was mixed with guaraná syrup in a pre-packaged breakfast ice cream.
Be like an attractive Brazilian and grab some frozen açaí packets at your local co-op. Thanks to its dark purple color, you now know that it’s super high in antioxidants. It makes a great base for any smoothie and loves itself some banana.
This ingredient is so hot, it’s even one of Broad City’s lapel pins. As you may guess, it’s expensive. I found it for a fair price at Trader Joe’s and became quite fond of it. This New Zealand import is created by bees who pollinate the Manuka plant, which helps give their honey a higher ratio of methylglyoxal (MGO). This component supposedly makes it better at healing wounds than regular honey. Rub it on your skin at your own risk! I like to put mine in overnight oats.
-Anti-inflammatory and antibacterial
–May help heal wounds (Only the medical-grade kind)
Raw Cacao Powder
Sometimes science fucks with us and then comes back around and vindicates us. It says, “chocolate, coffee, and fat are all bad!” And then it comes back twenty years later and says, “Chocolate, coffee, and fat will make your dreams come true.” I can’t wait until this happens with cheese. What we land with after this dialogue is a bit of healthy nuance. Mainlining candy bars ≠ good for you. Processing the cacao plant and drowning it in sugar removes most of this ingredient’s “superfood” qualities. That said, it’s easy to get your hands on some raw cacao powder and start putting it in everything. I personally love adding it to frozen bananas to make “nice cream” and adding it to cookie dough to make double-chocolate cookies.
-High in magnesium and iron
-High in flavonoids (antioxidants)
What are your favorite superfoods? What do you like to do with them?
*Correction. Originally said “vegan.”
Becky Lang is a writer, creative director and occasional podcaster living in Minneapolis.She also likes to draw dogs and female protagonists.