on my shelves
Here I've compiled a pretty comprehensive list of pantry items, products and tools I personally use and love. I have tried to give suggestions/advice on how to use certain ingredients, particularly where gluten free baking is concerned, and explained why I stock the ingredient. It's long, so just scroll through to where you'd want to be.
When I give nutrition facts etc. it's all from research I've done, I have no medical qualifications so take it all with a pinch of salt (as I always do anyway) (does this disclaimer scream I study law) and google is your friend. You'll probably come up the same info. No links are sponsored, they are products I actually use for myself, and sometimes a personal recommendation is a useful place to start.
Almond meal - basically, almonds that are ground. Blanched almonds make almond flour, almonds with skin make almond meal. I use them interchangeably and have never had any problems but in some settings finer almond flour is better, many recipes will specify. The high fat and protein content make this flour the obvious gf flour choice since it really helps structure. I find it more expensive than other flours so I tend to mix it with others (but like in this cake, it's lovely on its own) 1 cup: 100g (gf)
Buckwheat flour - a pretty special flour with a specific taste. It's sort of earthy, nutty and grainy that goes well with warm spices and the colder weather fruits that stand up to its flavour. Buckwheat flour is high in protein (vegetarians, it has a complete amino acid profile) which helps a lot with structure in gf baking, but the strong flavor means it's often best cut with a more neutral flour. I use it entirely in these pancakes, but most often mix it with lower protein flours.
1 cup: 130g (gf)
Brown rice flour - Tends to be a more 'all purpose' gf flour, with a very neutral taste and pale colour. Brown rice flour is very light (so a cup is heavy), fairly fine and has a low GI. There's a lot of discussion about arsenic in brown rice, which I discuss here, and I use millet flour interchangeably so that's an option if this is a concern for you. Alone it would make for crumbly/fragile baked goods, so I usually use a more structure friendly flour with it (almond meal often).
1 cup: 120g (gf)
Millet flour - A bit like brown rice flour millet flour is a neutral, light flour but has a bit of a pale yellow colour which can be nice. Millet and its flour is super digestible and low GI but I find that used alone in a recipe it can be bitter, so as with brown rice flour I'd cut it with something more mellow and something would help structure. cup: 120g (gf)
Oat flour - I love oat flour, not just for the fact you can make your own by chucking rolled oats into a food processor/blender. It's a heavy flour (so a cup is light) and is distinctly whole-grainy but with a mild, sweet flavor. It's reasonably absorbent and with some protein so it's a really good flour structurally speaking and I almost always add it to gf baking. Oats are also really good for you, so why not?
1 cup: 100g (choose a labelled gf flour)
Rye flour: Not gf, but much lower in gluten than wheat. A lovely dark color and full of grainy specks, rye flour has a distinct flavor (sort of malty and rich, but not bitter as you may have thought) and bakes up much more tender than whole wheat. The low gluten means it produces chunky, dense breads (think Scandi-style sourdough) and treats with a lot of character. 1 cup: 110g
Spelt flour: Again not gluten free but low gluten (and wheat free, though wheat is the modern relative of spelt) and really popular in health foodie circles. The low gluten in spelt flour means baked goods have pretty decent structure, which is useful for fragile treats like cutout cookies, pie crusts etc, and it comes through well in breads too (they are lighter and more crumbly than wheat breads). It's a hearty, nutty and mild whole grain that's a really good place to start if you're interested in trying alternative flours since it can usually be subbed instead of ww flour cup for cup, though it's less absorbent, you can usually get away with a direct switch. It's also fairly easy to find in standard supermarkets, and comes in a light variety which may appeal to younger children and the whole-grain averse. 1 cup: 110g
Quinoa flour: A bit of a difficult customer since quinoa flour has a strong, slightly bitter taste, but it can work really nicely with other bold flavours (things like cardamom, walnuts etc). It's really high in protein (and a slew of other health benefits) so if you're gf but allergic to nuts, may be a good stand in for nut meals which help with structure. 1 cup: 115g (gf)
Molasses - I use cane molasses (unsulphured) rather than more refined beet molasses, and usually use half blackstrap molasses which contains a lot of minerals (great source of iron). It has a really strong flavor either way, so use it where you want to taste molasses and a darker color is ok - gingerbread is the classic example. If you're in Holland or Belgium or somewhere in that region, appelstroop (apple syrup) is very similar.
Muscovado sugar (dark + light): more wholesome versions of dark + light sugar which actually have all the molasses (which contains minerals) removed and then 'painted' back. Muscovado contains most or all of the molasses, which gives the dark variety a deep caramel flavor and color and the light sugar a nice toffee color. You can use it where a recipe calls for brown sugar, or use brown sugar if muscovado eludes you. 1 packed cup: 150g
Turbinado (raw) sugar - Goes as demerara in the UK. As cane sugars go, this is one of the least processed. Turbinado is essentially a result of the sugar cane's first pressing, so many of the natural minerals and vitamins remain. The cane juice is evaporated and dried into turbinado's chunky, coarse, golden brown crystals, with a gentle molasses flavor. I find though a bit coarser than normal sugar, it makes a good substitute since each granule is more separate than coconut or muscovado sugar and a cup of turbinado is equal to that of white sugar. It's also good to use in crumble toppings or cookies where some texture is interesting. It is also easy to find at most supermarkets, sometimes called raw sugar since it's so close to natural. 1 cup: 200g
Coconut sugar - Also called coconut palm sugar. This is the main dry sugar I use; it's reputed to having a much lower GI than other unrefined cane sugars. To get scientific, coconut products, like coconut sugar from the dried sap of the coconut tree, contain a fiber called inulin which may slow glucose absorption, as do the phytonutrients (polyphenols and flavonoids, mainly) which remain intact. Vitamins and minerals like iron and zinc stay too. Make what you want of the research since it's not bulletproof, but it's definitely less sweet than regular sugar to taste. It's a bit caramel-y and slightly smoky, but not overwhelmingly so. Some places say it acts differently to regular sugar but I tend to substitute it 1 for 1, and I've had no problems. I can only find it online.
1 packed cup: 200g
Honey - I personally love honey, it's easy to find and totally natural without being pretentious. Try to choose honey from a local source if you can and from a semi-decent brand that doesn't process the honey to hell and back or it will loose it's goodness (antioxidants, vitamins + minerals, anti-fungal properties) and remember bees are living things that should be treated ok. 1 cup: 355g
Maple syrup - I always buy pure 100% maple syrup (pancake syrup is very different)I always buy pure 100% maple syrup (pancake syrup is very different) and I really love its distinct ski lodge in Vermont taste. You can buy either grade A or B, the only difference is that B tends to be darker with a stronger maple flavor. If you live in the UK, pure maple is pretty expensive at supermarkets so I order it in bulk online, I think this is actually the Costco one.
Avocado oil - All three of these oils are of the healthy variety but avo oil stands out for high heat cooking since it has a super high smoke point. It's liquid at room temperature and has a neutral flavor (nothing distinctive) which definitely has its uses in baking. It's high in mono-unsaturated fats which supposedly increase HDL ('good') cholesterol levels and is, personally, a more natural choice than often GM/refined/dubious canola or sunflower oil. I can't find it in any supermarkets near me so I buy it online, but I think in the States it's more widely available.
Olive oil - The OG good for you oil. I always buy extra virgin, good quality oil which is by no means cheap but I don't pledge allegiance to any brand and just buy what's on sale. It has a fruity, floral flavour which often adds something to baked goods, and mild varieties are available too. I never bake at very high heat but this delicate oil actually breaks down at its smoke point, so a lot of the nutrition is lost - avo or coconut oil are apparently best for high heat cooking.
Coconut oil - Another health foodie darling but I love this oil and its sweet taste. I always buy extra virgin, unrefined coconut oil as opposed to the refined variety despite the noticeable coconut flavour. I just prefer to keep it unrefined but that's your choice. Coco oil had a bit of a bad rap since its high in saturated fats but I think we all now know we need those. It's solid at room temperature (generally, if you live in a colder place) which has its uses as a butter substitute. You can usually use coco oil as 1:1 switch with butter (it creams with sugar pretty decently) but since coconut oil is higher in fat than butter which is part water, it sometimes works better if you reduce the amount of oil by 20%, particularly where the butter is melted. The texture doesn't change too much in most cases but I've found cookies have less spread.
As an aside, coconut oil is high in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of saturated fat that is easily digestible and delivered straight to the liver where it is quickly metabolised, making it particularly good for active people :)
Grains, nuts and seeds
Pumpkin, sunflower, hemp + chia seeds
Psyllium husk - Fiber, basically. The husks are super absorbent so they take in water and act as a binder, in a similar way to the proteins (that's gluten) in wheat, which ensure structure and make baked goods less crumbly.
Rolled oats - I don't feel like oats need much of an introduction but they are incredibly versatile. They're packed with heart healthy beta-glucan fiber (which also lowers blood sugar), immune boosting vitamins and even some protein. The obvious choice is as a hot porridge, granola or muesli but they add nice texture to any baked goods or pancakes. Oats are inherently gluten free but are often processed on the same equipment that handles gluten containing grains so choose a certified gf product if that's important to you.
Quinoa - the original super grain, or rather seed. It has an (elusive) complete amino acid profile, so it's a complete protein and high in calcium + iron so good for plant-based eaters. As with buckwheat and millet I often make a batch of quinoa for the yogurt and berries treatment. Sometimes I increase the liquid - often creamy coconut milk - to make a more porridge-y breakfast bowl.
Arrowroot starch - I prefer to use arrowroot rather than cornstarch but they act more or less the same. Primarily the starches are used to thicken liquids (like pie filling) but I sometimes add a small amount to gf baking since it can help 'lighten' the texture of whole grain flours and dense nut meals.
Almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts
Buckwheat - Nothing to do with wheat, technically a seed but more of a gluten free whole grain. As with the flour, it's high in protein, anti-oxidants and has a deep nutty flavor. You can add the raw groats to granola, or I like to use it as an alternative to oatmeal for breakfast. I just usually cook it with water and a few bashed cardamom pods then serve with yogurt and some berries or raisins.
Flax seeds + flax meal - A super seed that's nutritious and helpful in baking. It's an incredible source of omega three fats (skin, hair, brain health) and a particular type of polyphenol (lignans, antioxidants). Flax meal, just ground flax, is absorbent so helps in gf baking where the flours take in less moisture than wheat. This also means flax meal helps structure i.e. reducing crumblyness. The seeds are small and can be used in granola, smoothies, on yogurt, in muffins etc. It's naturally gf.
Millet - Maybe reminds you of bird feed? This gluten free seed is very easily digested, and packed with nutrients. Millet is quick cooking and can be cooked to either have a more crunchy, dry texture like quinoa or cracked for a creamier more porridge-y effect. I like to cook a bit of millet and top it with plain yogurt, some honey and berries.
Spices & small pantry things
Dark / bittersweet chocolate (70%) - I don't consider myself a chocolate expert but a bit like cocoa powder, there's more to it in baking than you'd have thought. I'll let the pros at Bon Appetit explain. I almost never use chocolate chips, I prefer to cut up a bar which is why I also do more weight measurements than cup measurements for chocolate.
Dates - Love them. The Medjool type dates (the big, soft, sticky ones that are usually sold with pits) are the ones I buy most and use them to sweeten drinks, smoothies occasionally, granola and baking, or with nut butter for a snack. Check they're not packed with oil or sugar.
Dried figs, cranberries, mulberries, raisins,
Pure vanilla extract - I always choose a more expensive type (this is my favorite) that's just vanilla beans and alcohol, which is all extract needs to be. Some are made with vanilla flavoring, sugar etc. but the pure extract has the nicest flavor and fragrance for sure. It really adds something to most baked goods so I encourage you to find a good, natural variety you like, even if it's a little expensive :)
Salt - People have their preferences: sea salt, pink salt, kosher salt, fancy flaky salt. I'm not really going to tell you which type to use except not to skip the salt in a recipe because it really rounds things out.
Vanilla beans - I love using vanilla beans - extract is great but the smell and little black flecks beans leave in your baking will win you over. You can also use a split pod to add a vanilla note to jams, porridges (love doing this) or compotes. I give you that they're not cheap - don't buy them at the store (like I did the first time) since they are much cheaper in bulk online. They last a long time, so one bulk buy will last you a long time and you'll find it's worth the splurge.
Almond + cashew butter - Practically my main food group. If I had to survive on two things forever, it would be nut butter and yogurt. I literally use it on/with everything and also straight out of the jar, my favorite snack is a banana with some of this. In the UK I can find Meridian at most supermarkets and it's totally natural with no added sugar or oil, which can be a huge problem. I have also splurged on this and this from the States and loved both. I'm not a huge fan of PB but this one has a good rep. You can also make your own in a food processor but I don't have one, I'd encourage you to try if you do.
Apple cider vinegar - Another health foodie darling. ACV has lots of health benefits, particularly if you buy one of the real deal types that is fermented in the same way as drinks like kombucha and kefir. The obvious brand is Braggs, which contains the 'mother' or part of the apple fermentation that is loaded with nutrients + digestive enzymes. In baking, the acidity can help make doughs with whole grains more tender (like in pie crust), and if you mix 1T with 1 cup milk, you get DIY buttermilk, which also keeps baked goods supper fluffy and light.
Baking powder + soda
Cardamom pods, cinnamon (ground + sticks), cloves, ground ginger, nutmeg
Cocoa powder - You could really talk for days and get all political about cocoa v raw cacao v dutch processed and which is best for you but really I just keep it simple and buy a natural cocoa powder (not Dutch processed). You can't necessarily switch out cocoa/cacao for dutch processed because it would change the acidity which would interfere with leavening agents, but I am going to refer you to this very reliable source for the 401.
Equipment + tools
Food processor -I don't actually have one ha. If you are considering one, my logic is that it's not worth the money unless I can spend enough to buy a really good one that's somewhere over 650W because my main purpose would be making nut butter and flour and that needs something strong. I blew all my cash on my Vitamix and Le Creuset goods so until my funds restore themselves I am choosing between a Magimix and this Cuisinart. These also have a good reputation if you're in the market for this sort of appliance and you're in the US ( I'm jealous). For the most part I can get away with my Vitamix but I know the shape of a food processor has its uses.
Offset spatula: Also called a palette knife, it's sort of a delicate spatula. I don't decorate cakes a ton but when I do this little tool is useful, it's also good for smoothing out the top of cakes before baking and lifting delicate things (pie crusts, just baked cookies)
Spatula: I have two, a large and a small (Le Creuset because I am very fancy but any brand will be totally fine) which are two of my most used tools. Maybe obvious, but easy to overlook. Good for folding delicate things into batters and scraping bowls, jars etc.
Standing mixer - Another thing I actually don't have but I dream of the day I can buy one of these KitchenAid Minis. They do make baking much easier, so if you're a keen baker I'd reccomend you look into one (you can even get ice cream making attachments on KitchenAids). I have a tiny, super cheap and flimsy electric hand mixer that serves me ok, but nothing like a shiny stand mixer to liven up the kitchen.
Digital scale: I do use cup measurements often because they're convenient for things like ratios and give you room to improvise but I do use a scale a lot too. Some baked goods are very sensitive to different amounts of flour etc and a scale is obviously the most accurate measurement and honestly saves a lot of mess if you just weigh out everything into the bowl. For things like chopped nuts weights seem the logical way to go since the size of the cut would affect the volume and I only ever use weight measurements for chocolate because I never use chips, only bars which come weighed out anyway and again cutting a bar could give very different measurements. This is the exact scale I use, it's very basic but hardy and does the job perfectly.
Dutch oven: Yeah ok so I went the whole way and got a Le Creuset cast iron (almond) 24cm (4.4 quarts if that's more helpful). I don't really take care of it as you're supposed to (aren't you supposed to leave cast iron things greasy?) but I'm careful and it's beautiful and will probably last forever. I use it a couple of times a week at least, and it's perfect for making jams, compotes etc. I will just say that a darker color may be more practical because the one time I let my sister use this to make compote she managed to burn it (hi Layla) and though it eventually cleaned well there's a little dark patch that makes me sad whenever I see it. Worth the money though.
High speed blender - Straight out, I have a Vitamix and it's worth the hype, totally and completely. There is nothing that thing can't blend - for smoothies I put whole chunks of frozen spinach/cauli/zucchini, frozen half avos, half bananas, nuts, seeds, without too much liquid. I can also use it to make smooth soups without even waiting for the soup to cool, it smoothes out frosting etc. I do understand that it may not be in the budget for everyone and I get that (it was my 18th birthday gift), but some kind of blender is worth it. My sister has a Nutri-Bullet which is much smaller but super strong and tbh I got on fine with a $40 thing for a long time, it eventually did the job if I soaked nuts & seeds, cut frozen fruit smaller etc. But if you're serious about smoothies, in particular, a Vitamix may be worth it in the end - I've heard they last forever.
health-nut things, potions & superfoods
Maca - another adaptogen actually from the brassica family. It also apparently helps the body handle stress, can improve memory/focus, boost immunity and sort out hormones. I can't say I'm suddenly un-distractable since I started taking maca, but it actually tastes pretty pleasant on its own (kind of malty and not bitter) so is easy to add to smoothies, hot drinks, oatmeal, yogurt etc.
Marine collagen - This will probably kill my vegetarian credentials and I get that. I do only buy Vital Proteins because at least the fish is wild caught and sustainably caught (with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program) and the brand has a really good reputation. The research about collagen is mixed - it supposedly helps joints, bones, skin, hair, nails as well as digestion and heart health. Considering how active I am, my joints and bones are important and to be fair since I started taking collagen I have had almost no knee problems. My hair and nails also seem to grow like crazy, so I think there is some truth in the hype.
Tocos - Concentrated, fat soluble vitamin E from rice bran in its most bio-available form. Tocos doesn't sound like much (until you call them tocotrienols ha) but essentially a fine powder, nutty and sweet, that is intensely saturated with vitamin e. It's the ultimate skin and hair food that dissolves easily into smoothies, mixed into hot drinks or oatmeal and adds some serious creaminess. There's not a whole lot of research out there yet but my skin seems much less dry since I started the tocos thing a few times a week.
Protein powder - Since I am mainly vegetarian but I work out a lot I like adding a scoop of protein powder to my daily smoothie. There are hundreds of options but I decided to go plant based since the sourcing of whey isn't always that transparent. There are so many brands to choose from so it's worth trying a few until you find one you like. My favourite vanilla one is by Garden of Life, it's made entirely with sprouted plant protein. It also contains digestive enzymes so it's easy on the stomach and is sweet enough without that stevia taste. I like to keep a chocolate powder around too and my favourite is by Ora. Super clean, plant based and packed with probiotics. I have also heard good things about Vega, Aloha and if whey is your thing, Vital Proteins and Tera's Whey.
Ashwagandha - yeah, I know, the super trendy ayurvedic adaptogen. I jumped on this train pretty recently (so I can't tell you whether it's done much) because of its pretty impressive reputed benefits. Ashwagandha tastes pretty meh on its own but I tend to blend a small amount into smoothies. It supposedly improves mood, combats the effects of stress, can help anxiety and depression, boost the immune system... boom. Not much it can't do, other than ensure I pass university.
Pre + probiotic powder - So basically this blend by Ora contains 30 billion probiotics, all totally natural, plant based, and super easy to mix into smoothies. There is so much research about how gut health supports every part of your body (from skin to digestion, obviously, plus blood and your brain). The powder has a pleasant taste from raspberry and apple (but no sweetener) so it might be a nice one for the green-taste sensitive or maybe younger kids.
Probiotic greens powder - This may seem superfluous since I eat a lot of greens daily, but this blend really packs a punch with hugely beneficial fresh water + salt water greens (organic spirulina, chlorella, blue/green algae, dulse, kelp) which have so many benefits (complete protein profiles, liver support, high iron) and I wouldn't eat them typically. I chose this particular powder (Amazing Grass Raw Reserve) since it contains 25 billion probiotics for that happy gut. To be brutally honest, it tastes pretty disgusting but in a smoothie which a bunch of other goodies the strong flavor can be disguised, and it adds beautiful color.