In celebration of Halloween, let me share with you some of the freaky foods finding their way into my kitchen!
Foods that go ‘boo’ – Kombucha (kom-BOO-cha)
“Whoa” shrieks the clerk as the checkout belt delivers a frightening surprise before him. “That’s absolutely disgusting. Is that a brain?” Since I couldn’t stop laughing to explain to this nauseated clerk what exactly was living in the glass jar in his hands, let me at least take a stab at convincing you that it’s really not that freaky, and in fact might be pretty good for you.
- What it is: Kombucha is a fermented tea made of live bacteria, yeast and sugar. The SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) looks like a gelatinous pancake, flattened jelly-fish, mushroom, or a brain. This powerful little colony is added to tea and sugar and left to ferment for 7-21 days (depending on environment and taste preferences). The liquid (much more tart and significantly less sweet now) can then be bottled and brewers have the option of adding flavors (juice). The mini masterpiece is left to sit at room temperature while it carbonates as the vinegary sharpness mellows out. Next it’s thrown in the fridge and ready to be consumed in the next several months.
- Where to find it: Not ready to turn your kitchen into a chemistry lab? There are ready-to-drink bottles in the refrigerated section of mainstream stores such as Safeway and Fred Meyer. You will find more flavor and brand options at Whole Foods, PCC and natural markets (Madison and Metropolitan Markets).
Why you should consider consuming it: It tastes good to me (if you aren’t a vinegar fan, you may disagree), and it might be beneficial for your health. Since it’s fermented, it contains probiotics (more about probiotics in a blog post here), it so may aid in digestion, support your GI tract, and alleviate some common unpleasant GI complaints. It also contains prebiotics (which feed good microorganisms in your GI tract) and polyphenols (found naturally in tea).
- WARNING: If you have a compromised immune system, ask your health care provider before experimenting with it. If you want to brew it at home, make sure you are working in a sterile space and know what you are doing, otherwise you are risking contamination and sickness. Don’t drink it because you think it will solve all of your health problems – always talk with your health care provider.
The next ‘scary’ item on my shopping list – kelp noodles. This gluten-free girl has a thing for seaweed so thought I would give these fun noodles a chance.
- What it is: A raw noodle made of kelp (seaweed), salt and water.
- Where to find it: Check out Whole Foods, PCC and natural markets. There are multiple varieties of kelp noodles, and they may neighbor similar noodles such as Miracle Noodles (made of a root which is essentially soluble fiber).
Why you should consider consuming them: They are lower in calories (18 calories a pack), carbs, fat, and are incredibly allergy-friendly (no gluten, dairy, soy, egg). They seem boring right out of the package, but are incredibly versatile and can be dressed in exciting sauces and spices to create amazing dishes.
The cashier didn’t know what it was, other than it ‘feels like a brick’. Since I wasn’t paying extra for the personal opinions, I decided to reveal confidently that this “brick” is the best tasting, nutritious brick I’ve ever discovered.
- What it is: Don’t get excited and think we’re talking about (mochi) ice cream – or mocha for your caffeinated beverage! Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made by pounding glutinous rice (aka sticky or sweet rice) into a paste and then into the desired shape. Thaw the ‘brick’ and then cut into 1-1 ½” square and place on baking sheet. Place in a preheated oven and bake 10-12 minutes at 450F. They puff up into little pillows of happiness. You can enjoy them plain, or dress up with your favorite spreads and sauces.
- Where to find it: I’ve found it at Whole Foods, PCC and natural markets in the frozen aisle, but not sure if it’s gone mainstream yet.
- Why you should consider consuming it: Mochi is allergy friendly - gluten, dairy, wheat free and depending on the flavor, can be nut and soy free. It is all natural with no artificial additives, colors or preservatives. My favorite (and the one that has the most success with picky kids that you are trying to wean off commercial sweets) is Chocolate Brownie topped with peanut butter and fresh raspberry jam. It tastes like incredibly rich brownie squares, yet the ingredient list is nothing to be embarrassed about: organic sweet brown rice, filtered water, organic evaporated cane crystals, walnuts, unsweetened cocoa, unsweetened cocoa processed with alkali, natural vanilla flavor, and sea salt).
- WARNING: I said they taste better than brownies, but the catch is that there is no batter to lick out of the bowl.
These ‘frightening’ chips are the best chips I’ve ever had – and they’re not even chips!
- What it is: Roasted seaweed, oftentimes with oil and a pinch of salt or spices.
- Where to find it: Trader Joes, Whole Foods, PCC, natural markets.
- Why you should consider consuming them: Because you will forget potato chips exist. They are packed full of vitamins and minerals (B, C iron, iodine – the thyroid requires iodine to make hormones) and fiber. They are lower in calories, carbs, sugar, and fat.
- WARNING: They are more expensive than potato chips.
Hopefully you are now inspired to give Kombucha a swig, whip up a spicy peanut kelp noodle salad, bake up some sweet-tasting mochi, crunch on some seaweed snacks, or simply ring up my groceries without freaking out.