Author Archives: Ed Pizzi

About Ed Pizzi

Vegan engineer with marginal cooking skills.

Getting omega-3’s: Science, texture and allergies

As I explained in a previous post, it’s important to have a reliable source of omega-3’s.

It took me some research and experimentation to find a cheap, hassle-free source of vegan omega-3’s that worked for me, so I wanted to share my findings. Since plant-based omega-3’s are in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), I’ll refer to vegan omega-3’s as ALA throughout this article.

What I was looking for

I wanted an easy source of ALA that I could add to my diet without a lot of change. I wanted to stick to a form that was fairly cheap, reasonably shelf stable, and which research supported as containing absorbable ALA. The ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s may be important, so I wanted a food that had few omega-6’s along with the omega-3’s. Finally, I have oral allergies which, while not life threatening, make many raw foods very unpleasant to eat, and possibly unsafe. I’d have to stick to a form of ALA-containing food that did not aggravate my allergies.

The contenders

I wanted a minimal dietary intervention, so while walnuts contain ALA, the ALA in walnuts is not very concentrated. You’d have to eat a lot of nuts to meaningfully boost your omega-3 levels, which would be a substantial dietary change. Similarly, tofu and soy products have ALA, soy ALA is also not very concentrated, and soy contains 10 times as much omega-6’s as omega-3’s.

The most concentrated sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flax seeds. About two teaspoons of flax seeds gives the American Heart Association’s recommended daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids.[4] Chia seeds are also a concentrated source. These are both promising candidates, so I focused on these.

ALA availability

The first challenge is that ALA from whole flax seeds is not absorbed in digestion. This means that even though there is a lot of ALA in flax seeds, your body will get very little ALA from them. Generally I found that nutrition information on the internet to be in agreement with the research here — to get ALA from flax seeds, you have to grind them or process them into flaxseed oil.

Interestingly, I found internet nutrition information to disagree with the research I could find on chia. Internet nutrition advice suggested that chia seeds, unlike flax, do not have to be ground for their ALA to be absorbable. However the only human study I found disagreed with this, and found that ALA was only absorbed from ground chia seeds, just like flax.

Ok, so we’ll have to grind them. No problem. A coffee grinder or a Vitamix will do the trick.

Texture

I wanted to incorporate flax or chia seeds into foods that I was already eating. Since it’s recommended to take flax and chia with lots of water, I wanted to use wet foods that I already eat frequently — oatmeal and lentil soup.

The problem is that when exposed to water, flax and chia seeds form a gel-like texture that I’ve heard compared poetically to pudding, or less poetically to mucous. While I find the texture of whole chia seeds pleasant when added to oatmeal or soup (although it took some getting used to), I find the texture of ground chia or ground flax much less appealing when added to wet foods. Unlike whole chia, there are no crunchy bits to break up the gel mush.

I’m curious if I’m alone here, because I couldn’t find much discussion online about avoiding gross textures with these seeds in their recommended wet form.

(I’ll note that some people suggest using flax meal as an egg replacer in baked goods, which avoids the texture issue. I don’t do much baking, I don’t want my daily omega-3 regimen to be so labor-intensive, so I didn’t find this to be a realistic strategy for me. If you bake a lot anyway, this could be a great strategy!)

Oral allergies

One last constraint, although one that only affects 1% of people: I have an oral allergy to raw flax seeds. (I have a similar sensitivity to chia, but I haven’t looked into it in as much depth.) This means that I can only consume flax and chia seeds that have been heated.

Roasted ground flax

I decided to try roasting flax seeds to solve the allergy problems, then grinding the roasted seeds to improve ALA digestibility. This was delicious, and surprisingly, did not have any effect on the texture of oatmeal or lentil soup. It adds a pleasant roasted flavor to these foods. So far so good. So does the research support this as a source of ALA?

Since ground flax seed is already established as an effective source of ALA, I was mostly concerned with whether or not roasting the flax seeds, grinding them, and then reheating them (in my case, adding them to oatmeal or soup) would compromise the ALA. Flaxseed oil is said to degrade when exposed to heat, so I was curious if the same would happen to my roasted flax seeds.

I found a great paper on roasted ground flax! The researchers roasted and ground flax seeds, then baked cookies with the roasted ground flax seeds. They then analyzed the cookies for ALA content, and found them to contain ALA as expected. (I’m in favor of any research paper that has a “Evaluation of cookies” section.) They even tested cookies that were stored at room temperature for 90 days to measure shelf stability. They found that the ALA degraded only slightly over 90 days at room temperature.[1]

Another study tested heating whole and ground flax seeds, as well as flaxseed oil at 178°C (350°F) for 90 minutes, and found the ALA in whole flax seeds to decrease by 3.4%, while the ALA in ground flax seeds and flaxseed oil lost 6-7% of ALA.[2] This is much better than I expected, especially considering that typical flaxseed roasting times are on the order of 15 minutes — 1/6th of the time used in the study. This study arguably supports cooking whole flax seeds and then grinding them, rather than grinding them first, although since we’re talking about a 3% difference, it doesn’t really matter.

These studies did not measure absorption, but a third study demonstrated that ALA from baked goods made from milled flax is absorbed in digestion.[3]

Considering all of this, I think there is good evidence that roasted ground flax seed is an effective source of ALA.

Recipe

Spread 1 cup of flax seeds on a baking sheet, then bake for 10-15 minutes at 350°F, or until fragrant.

Flax seeds hot from the oven.

Grind the roasted seeds in a coffee grinder or high-speed blender.

The ground roasted flax seeds take about 30% more space than the seeds did before blending.

Ground flax.

The roasted flax should be shelf-stable at room temperature, either whole or ground.

You could also grind the flax first, and then roast it. Both should be effective sources of ALA, but note that ground (raw) flax is annoying to work with. It tends to clump together in the presence of any moisture, and its tendency to form a gel when wet makes it difficult to clean out of blenders, etc. If you have a strainer on your sink drain, the flax gel will stop it up. When possible, roast first.

Add 1 tsp to foods, twice a day (so 2 tsp / day total).

Flax-enriched oatmeal

Here are some pictures of roasted ground flax in oatmeal. I may have used 2-3 tsp of flax here to illustrate how it disappears.

Now you see it ...

Now you see it …

… now you don’t. (The same, after stirring.)

There you have it!

Super easy, and cheap. I roasted 2 cups of flax a while ago, and it’s lasted me months.

Epilogue

Spreadsheet

Just for kicks, I made a spreadsheet illustrating the various omega-3 approaches I considered.

You’re welcome.

References

[1] Rajiv J et al. Rheology, fatty acid profile and storage characteristics of cookies as influenced by flax seed (Linum usitatissimum). J Food Sci Technol. Oct 2012; 49(5): 587–593. doi: 10.1007/s13197-011-0307-2 (via Pubmed)

[2] Chen ZY et al. Oxidative stability of flaxseed lipids during bakingJ Am Oil Chem Soc. 1994; 71:629–632. doi: 10.1007/BF02540591 (via DeepDyve)

[3] Austria JA et al. Bioavailability of alpha-linolenic acid in subjects after ingestion of three different forms of flaxseedJ Am Coll Nutr. 2008 Apr; 27(2):214-21.

[4] There is no RDA for omega-3’s, so I have to use 3rd party recommendations here — in this case, from the American Heart Association. In fairness, the AHA recommends fish, which contain DHA and EPA, rather than ALA, which plant-based sources of omega-3’s provide. I think an algae-based DHA supplement may be wise for vegans, or arguably oysters, if that is consistent with your ethics.

Can flax seeds cause oral allergy syndrome?

While researching a post on vegan sources of omega-3’s, I noticed that there is almost no information on the internet about whether flax seeds can cause of oral allergy syndrome.

Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) occurs when an allergy (typically a pollen allergy) causes an allergic response to a similar protein in a plant food. Oral allergies vary in severity, although in my case they are just a cause of irritation — itching around the mouth and throat, and indigestion. Oral allergies are typically only triggered by raw foods, as heating often denatures the allergen, resolving the allergy.

Oral allergies are often diagnosed by having reactions to well-known common oral allergy foods (such as those on this list) that is resolved by cooking the foods. I have been diagnosed with oral allergy syndrome, and I react to bananas, almonds, melons, carrots, and occasionally pears or apples — these are all common OAS foods.

However I have identical symptoms to raw flax seeds, which I’ve never seen mentioned in lists of oral allergy foods. Is this really the same thing? If so, am I the only one? I wanted to research this to see if my flax sensitivity could be an oral allergy.

The research

I was able to identify only one study of flax seed allergic sensitivity that tried to distinguish true flax allergies from crossover oral allergy syndrome.[1] This was a French study made up of a mix of allergic (one food or respiratory allergy) and non-allergic people.

The study found only two cases of true flax allergy in the 1317 people, compared with 75 people who were sensitive due to cross-reaction (more or less equivalent to oral allergies). Since allergic people were overrepresented in this study, the rate in the general population would be even lower. The authors project that about 1 in 6000 people (in France) are allergic to flax seeds, whereas 0.5% to 1% of the population have cross-reactive sensitivity only to raw flax seeds.[1]

That is, not only can flax seeds cause oral allergy syndrome, but the vast majority of flax seed sensitivity is caused by OAS-like crossover allergies.

The takeaway

First, some caveats: Since so few cases of flax seed allergies have been studied, it’s hard to definitively say how that allergy presents. We could also expect the rate of flax allergies to vary between regions because of different levels of environmental and dietary allergens. This study was conducted in France, and I’m not aware of another study taking place elsewhere. Finally, while rare, there have been cases of life-threatening anaphylaxis caused by flax seeds, so please talk to a doctor if you might be allergic to flax seeds!

That said, this study suggests that flax seed sensitivity can be caused by oral allergy syndrome, and in fact the vast majority of people with flax seed sensitivity — 97% — have OAS-like crossover allergic reactions, rather than a true allergy.[2]

If you react to raw flax seeds, but can eat cooked flax without irritation, you’re not crazy. You are probably among the estimated 1% of people who have an oral allergy syndrome sensitivity to uncooked flax seeds.

Citations

[1] Fremont S, et al. Prospective study of sensitization and food allergy to flaxseed in 1317 subjects. Eur Ann Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010 Jun;42(3):103-11. PMID: 20648772.

[2] Authors project a 1 in 6000 rate of flax allergies compared to a 0.5 to 1% rate of flax cross-sensitivity.[1] Ratio = (0.5 / 100) / (1/6000) = 0.5 / (1 / 60) = 0.5 * 60 = 30. Percentage = 100 / 30 = 3.33% (96.66%). If we use the 1% rate, we get 1.66% (98.33%). 97% is a conservative intermediate.

Why vegans should care about omega 3’s

There’s some confusion about the importance of omega-3’s in a vegan diet. On the one hand, vegans tend to eat fewer omega-3’s than diets that include animal foods, and have higher ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. On the other hand, vegans tend to have lower levels of the diseases that omega-3’s are often cited as preventing (heart disease, cancer, blood pressure, inflammation).

I think that vegans (and vegetarians) should make an effort to include omega-3’s in their diet for a few reasons:

  • This is a conservative choice, as vegan omega-3 levels are lower than that of other healthy diets, and omega-3’s may have protective effects.
  • Pescetarians sometimes outperform vegans in epidemiological studies. Omega-3’s are usually proposed as an explanation. (Some of this effect may be caused by B12 deficiency among vegans who do not supplement B12.)
  • High ALA intake (the omega-3 fatty acid found in plants) is associated with over a 50% reduction in heart disease rates in multiple studies.
  • There are (inconsistent) studies that suggest that LDL-lowering diets (but not LDL-lowering drugs) may be associated with higher levels of mental health problems. Some researchers suspect that lower levels of omega-3’s may explain this.
  • Ex-vegans sometimes cite mental health issues as reasons they changed their diet. Even though some may be playing this up, we should take their claims seriously, and look out for ways to improve mood-altering aspects of our diet.

It’s worth noting that plant foods do not contain DHA or EPA, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. There is good evidence that ALA (the common vegan omega-3 fatty acid, found in flax seeds, chia seeds, canola oil, walnuts, etc.) is converted efficiently to EPA, so I’m not convinced that vegans need to be concerned about EPA specifically, and I’ll focus on DHA.

DHA is important in neurological development, especially in prenatal and early childhood development, and in old age. Breast milk from vegan mothers contains less than half the DHA than that of omnivore mothers. Difference in DHA intake may explain some of the subtle ways in which breastfed children tend to outperform formula-fed children. (Note: some formulas contain DHA now, and you can always add supplemental DHA if breastfeeding is not an option.)

Higher DHA levels also correlate with lower rates of neurodegenerative disease like dementia, and vegetarians have less DHA than non-vegetarians. I think we should pay attention to this, even though vegetarians have less dementia than non-vegetarians. The rate could be even lower for DHA-supplementing vegans.

Recommendations

For comprehensive recommendations about omega-3’s, see VeganHealth.org.

The summary is this — until we know more, it would be wise for vegans to take a vegan DHA supplement a few times a week. If you’re an elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding vegan, then a daily supplement is probably best. I’d also recommend supplementing infants, especially if they are not breastfed.

It is also probably wise to include some dietary source of omega 3’s (which will be ALA for plant foods) on a daily basis.

I’ll follow up with more about how I’ve gone about doing the latter myself.

The Art of Vegan Coffee

Vegan Coffee Guide

Coffee drinks with steamed milk were among my favorite foods when I went vegan. The first vegan coffee drinks I tried were pretty terrible, and it bummed me out to think that I would never enjoy a cappuccino again.

It turns out that my fears were unfounded. A year later, I still enjoy cappuccinos just as much as I did before I went vegan.

This is the guide to vegan coffee that I wish I’d had when I went vegan.

The problem

The first vegan coffee drinks I tried used whatever non-dairy milks were available where I work (Soy Dream, or Silk, or something). They weren’t nearly as good as the dairy coffee drinks I was used to.

Here’s the thing — in general, you can’t just throw together any vegan milk with coffee. Some vegan milks will have a flavor that overpowers or clashes with coffee. Others disintegrate in coffee, making a mess. This doesn’t affect the taste, but it’s not very appetizing.

Gross.

Gross.

Another issue is sweetness. Many non-dairy milks are sweet, or have weird flavors (vanilla, etc.) that don’t really belong in coffee. While dairy milk has a similar amount of sugar as the sweeter vegan milks, the dairy sugar is mostly lactose, which doesn’t taste sweet, and doesn’t have a sticky texture.

Finally, for steamed milk drinks, the milk has to foam.

So the bad news: you have to be a bit more strategic with vegan milk. The good news is that there is truly excellent vegan coffee, and that many good coffee places understand this, and have good vegan coffee offerings.

Your options

Soy milk

Soy milk is the most widely available vegan milk, and is the category of milk I recommend for coffee. I find that the flavor of soy milks intended for coffee to be mild, letting the coffee stand out, and the flavor is compatible with coffee.

Best in class

There’s one vegan milk that I recommend above all others, especially for steamed milk drinks: Pacific Barista Series Soy Original (formerly known as Pacific Barista Series Soy Blenders Plain). Here it is in its new and old packaging:

Pacific Barista Series SoyPacific Barista Series Soy Blenders

This milk foams well, has a taste that is subtle, and more or less disappears behind the taste of coffee, at least once you make the adjustment to soy milk in coffee. It isn’t unsweetened, but I don’t perceive it as sweet at all. And in the hands of a good barista, it looks great!

Soy cappuccino from Timeless Coffee Roasters in Oakland (using Barista Series Soy)

You can tell a lot about a cafe from their choice of soy milk. Barista Series Soy is pretty much ubiquitous at quality cafes where I live in San Francisco — Ritual, Blue Bottle, Cafe Sophie, Reveille, etc. I’ve even found it while traveling internationally — Caffè Strada in Amman, Jordan.

I haven’t found this soy milk in grocery stores (even the very well stocked Rainbow Grocery Coop), but it is available in bulk from Amazon. I’ve made a few Amazon bulk orders for my workplace.

Other soy milks

You should definitely try other soy milks and find out what you like. (Especially if you like sweetened coffee — there’s a lot more selection in that case.)

That said, I haven’t found anything that comes close to Barista Series Soy. When a cafe has a weird vegan milk (especially a supermarket brand), it’s reasonable to suspect that they don’t know what they’re doing.

Making the adjustment

Give yourself time to adjust to soy milk, or any non-dairy milk. At first, you may think that soy milk in coffee is gross. That’s just fine. There’s a good chance it will change after an adjustment period. I was amazed at how completely I adjusted once I found a good soy milk.

I’d recommend starting out with less milk than you’re used to. If your favorite dairy drink was a latte, I’d recommend starting with a macchiatto, then work your way up to cappuccinos and lattes. Some cafes may offer a gibraltar or cortado, even if it’s not on the menu. These are cappuccino-like drinks using less milk.

After a month or two, I no longer noticed that soy cappuccinos tasted different from the dairy drinks I had been used to, and I had to double-check with the barista to make sure that my order hadn’t gotten mixed up with a dairy order. I never imagined that this would be possible when I started.

Almond milk

Almond milk has been gaining popularity as a vegan milk for coffee, and some cafes offer almond milk as their only vegan milk — eg. The Mill, Linea.

Almond milk is a great option for people who have soy allergies or who can’t tolerate soy for one reason or another. However I find the almond milk flavor to be overpowering and unpleasant in coffee, so I don’t recommend almond milk in coffee.

That said, some people seem to like it, so here are some almond milks that are worth mentioning —

Califia Farms

Califia Farms almond milk seems to be the most popular almond milk for coffee. Califia Farms almond milk comes in funky shaped bottles, and must be kept refrigerated (unlike most vegan milks).

Califia Farms almond milk cappuccino from Linea. Didn't care for it.

Almond milk cappuccino from Linea (using Califia Farms almond milk)

I think these milks are popular partly because they foam well. Beyond that, I don’t think they’re particularly well suited to coffee. (They do make a mean hot chocolate though!)

Barista Series Almond

This is brand new, and I haven’t had the chance to try it yet. This is an almond milk made by the company that makes Barista Series Soy (discussed above).

Timeless Coffee Roasters, a vegan cafe that knows what they’re doing, recently switched over to it for most of their almond-milk drinks (in addition to Barista Series Soy, and Califia Farms almond milk for a few drinks). I take that as high praise.

Black

The most basic vegan coffee is black coffee. This may not sound like the most appealing option, but you’d be surprised how good a simple coffee can be if it’s made with good beans, and hasn’t been over sitting on a burner all morning.

So when your preferred options aren’t available, try black coffee. Sometimes it’s terrible, but it may surprise you, and you may develop a taste for it.

I usually get black coffee or tea whenever a soy milk that I like isn’t available.

Starbucks

And then there’s Starbucks. Starbucks gets a mention here because it’s ubiquitous, and because they do have a lot of vegan offerings, even though most of their drinks stretch the boundaries of what can be considered coffee.

On the upside, Starbucks uses my favorite brand of soy milk. However they use the vanilla flavor, which is very sweet. This means that vegan drinks are sweeter than the (already quite sweet) non-vegan drinks. I’d recommend ordering less sweet drinks, in the smallest size available. Otherwise it’s kind of a sweet kick in the face.

Where to get excellent vegan coffee

These are some cafes that I can attest to. If you’re new to vegan coffee, try one of these out if you have the option. These are just cafes that I have been to personally, so this list is hopelessly incomplete.

If you know of a cafe with excellent vegan coffee offerings, leave a comment, and I’ll try to get there next time I’m in town.

San Francisco area

  • Timeless Coffee Roasters (oakland) – fully vegan cafe!
  • Ritual (mission, hayes valley)
  • Blue Bottle (east mission, hayes valley, downtown, embarcadero)
  • Four Barrel (mission)
  • Cafe Sophie (castro) – verve beans
  • Reveille (castro) – apparently rebranded four barrel beans

Seattle

  • Millstead (fremont) – no decaf
  • Cafe Vita (everywhere)

New York

  • 9th st (chelsea) – in the chelsea market (9th ave, confusingly)
  • Blue Bottle (chelsea)

Gallery

Vegan coffee from some of my favorite cafes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So there you have it. A much longer post than I intended, and I may come back and try to condense all of this, but I hope the information is helpful.

Have other coffee tips, or quality vegan milks that I missed? Please let me know in the comments! Thanks!

FIN

Restaurant Review: Sutra (Seattle)

On a recent trip to Seattle, I had the opportunity to eat at Sutra.

Sutra is a vegan restaurant with a set menu and one seating per evening. As people arrive and are seated, they are given a menu that lists today’s meal and offers drink options. Dinner begins when the chef rings a bell to get everyone’s attention, and goes through the menu, explaining each dish. Then food preparation begins, and each course is prepared in batches.

We sat at the bar, where we could watch the dishes being assembled. I highly recommend sitting at the bar. Watching the kitchen was engaging, and added anticipation and curiosity to the experience.

Soup and salad course

First course: Salad with tangelo and candied sunflower seeds, and stinging nettle soup with miso

The food was amazing. I don’t think I’d ever had stinging nettle soup before, and it was absolutely delicious. It had a thick, almost creamy texture, and a salty, savory taste. The salad complemented the soup nicely, with sweet components.

Second course

Second course, mid-preparation: Fermented quinoa-cashew cheese being removed from a mold.

Second course

Second course: Lentils, fermented quinoa-cashew cheese, beets, chard, and jerusalem artichoke chips.

Another great dish. A lot going on, but it worked well together. The fermented quinoa-cashew cheese had a much lighter texture than fermented cashew cheese. It has a mild taste, which works with the stronger tastes of the lentils and beets.

Third course

Third course: A rice and mung bean crepe with cauliflower, mushrooms, and a soy and mirin sauce.

Also great. The rice and mung bean crepe had a slightly chewy texture, a little bit like an omelette. The sauce was great, although dipping was not really an option given the small cup, so you have to flood the plate.

Dessert

Dessert: Chocolate flan with a spelt and pumpkin seed cracker.

And finally, a chocolate agar-agar based flan with a spelt and pumpkin seed cracker.

I don’t have photos of the drinks, but we split one non-alcoholic flight between the two of us. A drink came with each course, plus one before food was served. The drinks were creative, and I didn’t feel that I was missing out at all by ordering the non-alcoholic flight.

Especially great is the CommuniTea kombucha, a local Seattle kombucha, which they have on tap. It’s worth a try if you’re visiting Seattle, since CommuniTea can’t be found outside the city.

Sutra was a great experience. I can’t remember a meal that I enjoyed more thoroughly. Very highly recommended.

Homemade Vegan Butter

I’ve been looking into vegan butter alternatives that don’t involve palm oil.

Butter, vegan or otherwise, should be solid at room temperature. This means that it must have saturated fat.

Unfortunately, the cheapest sources of saturated vegetable fat are hydrogenated vegetable oils (which have trans fats, which are banned in California due to health concerns) and palm oil (which is a major cause of rainforest destruction). Virtually all store-bought margarines are based on one of these ingredients.

Luckily, we can make homemade vegan butter from refined coconut oil!

I’ve tried two vegan butter recipes so far. The first I found on Luminous Vegans, and is based on a recipe by Miyoko Schinner. It worked great, although I didn’t take photos.

The second, which I’ll discuss here, is the basic coconut oil butter recipe by Mattie at Veganbaking.net. The two recipes are very similar, with the same ingredients in slightly different proportions (with the exception of xanthan gum, which is only in the Veganbaking recipe).

See the original recipe for details, but the gist is as follows:

  • Combine soy milk and apple cider vinegar, and let it sit for 10 minutes or so to curdle.
  • Warm refined coconut oil until liquid, but close to room temperature.
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender.
  • Pour into a freezer-safe container or silicone mold, and place in the freezer to rapidly cool.
  • Remove from mold and enjoy!

I doubled the recipe for easier mixing in my blender, and to match the batch size for Miyoko Schinner’s recipe. I also used a bit more salt than called for — 1 tsp versus 3/4 tsp; the original 3/4 tsp is probably about right.

Vegan butter mixed and poured into a mold.

I took Veganbaking’s recommendation and got a silicone mold. They recommend the Tovolo King Cube mold. I wanted a rectangular shape, so I got this Allforhome rectangular mold. This mold makes nice butter shapes, although they are smaller than real sticks of butter.

I pre-chilled the mold to help the butter cool rapidly, since it’s important to solidify the butter shortly after it’s mixed, or it will begin to separate. However I took some photos between mixing the butter and freezing it in the mold, so this did cause some separation.

Pro tip: You really want the butter to be level in the freezer, or you’ll get some slanted butter sticks. If your freezer looks anything like mine, that will require some planning in advance. I planned this imperfectly, and got some slightly crooked butter.

The finished product!

I wrapped the sticks of butter in wax paper for storage in the freezer. They didn’t quite stay wrapped as well as I’d have liked, but they look nice anyway.

Wrapped and ready to go.

So enjoy! I’ll update with some pictures of the butter in action.

Strawberry Ginger Lemonade

So far, making a smoothie without a recipe is as easy as I’d hoped. Throw in some fruit, some combination of ice and water, blend, then sweeten to taste. So here’s the first drink I made with the Vitamix:

Strawberry Ginger Lemonade

  • Three whole lemons, peeled
  • Five strawberries, hulled
  • About an inch of ginger, grated
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cups (a little more than a tray) ice
  • 1/2 cup sugar

First, blend fruit, ginger and water, to be sure the lemon seeds are pulverized. Then add ice, blend again. Then sweeten to taste. About a 1/2 cup of sugar worked for me. This made about 4 tall glasses for us.

strawberry-ginger-lemonade

To make this in a conventional blender, slice the lemon into eighths, and remove the seeds. Also consider slicing the strawberries.

I’ve heard people suggest throwing a piece of ginger into a high-powered blender, rather than grating it. I tried this once, but found that it added a stringy texture that I didn’t like. Maybe I just didn’t blend it enough.

Vitamix!

Vitamix!

I recently spent several years of American Express points on a Vitamix Pro 750!

I’ve been curious about high powered blenders (eg. Vitamix, Blendtec) since I started working with cashew purees and cultured vegan cheese. The recipes call for blenders, and my food processor wasn’t quite cutting it.

I’ve also noticed that people rave about high powered blenders on vegan forums. High powered blenders made the PPK 100 list a year ago, and at the first vegan event I went to (a Grubwithus dinner), 5 of the 6 people I asked had one and recommended them.

High-powered blenders process harder substances more effectively than normal blenders. You can make flour from whole grains, for instance, and you don’t have to chop or remove seeds from fruit. They can also make hot soup, using friction from blending alone to heat the ingredients.

I chose a new style Vitamix (versus Blendtec or other Vitamix models) for the following reasons:

  • The new containers are much easier to get stuff out of, compared to classic Vitamix models. They are wide, shorter, and don’t narrow substantially at the base.
  • Most reviewers prefer the manual control offered by Vitamix, compared to Blendtec’s manual control options. Blendtec’s programs are great, but users often report having to repeat programs to completely blend.
  • It’s nice to have a tamper for when you need it (eg. making almond butter).
  • It’s nice to have program options, in case those wind up being useful.

That said, both Vitamix and Blendtec users rave about their mixers, so I don’t think there’s a wrong choice here.

I splurged on the Pro 750 since I was using points. Having used it, I think that the program settings are probably not too important. You really want to be nearby when using it anyway. There are pros and cons to the new style containers. One drawback is that they work best when blending a large amount of food, since smaller amounts may hide under the blades. Since the old style containers are narrow at the base, this is likely less of a problem.

I’ve heard only positive reviews of the reconditioned models, so a refurbished 7500 or Pro 300 might be a good choice for the (somewhat) budget conscious.

Anyway, new toy!

Vegan Halloween candy

It’s Halloween! This was my first year looking for vegan Halloween candy. Here’s what I learned:

First, don’t stress over it. There are really a lot of options. For a fairly comprehensive guide, see this Big Fat Vegan Radio episode. The show notes list the candy that they recommend (near the bottom of the page). Examples of widely available vegan candy are Skittles, Twizzlers, Swedish Fish and Oreos.

There’s also some really great higher-end vegan candy available if you’re interested (and don’t get too many trick-or-treaters; otherwise these might be a little steep).

Here’s what I wound up getting for this year:

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Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups won Our Hen House’s Facebook poll about favorite vegan candy. (Note: only the dark chocolate variety are vegan.) I got them partly because I wanted to try them myself. I also got a few small Alter Eco dark chocolate bars in case we run out of peanut butter cups.

Alter Eco and Justin’s are both on the Food Empowerment Project Chocolate List, a list of producers of vegan chocolate products that do not source chocolate from regions where slavery is rampant. (Note: the list includes Justin’s nut butters; it’s not entirely clear that this includes Justin’s dark chocolate. I’m following up with Justin’s.) I got both at Whole Foods.

I also learned (from Big Fat Vegan Radio) about Go Max Go, which makes vegan translations of a number of popular candy bars. It’s a little pricey for Halloween, but is a great idea for candy nonetheless. They are not Food Empowerment Project recommended, but their site takes slavery in the chocolate trade seriously, as well as palm oil environmental concerns. I’m following up with them about how they source cocoa.

Not directly Halloween related, but speaking of vegan chocolate — I’ve become a huge fan of this stuff:

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I came across this while looking for slavery-free alternatives to a favorite chocolate protein bar of mine.

Alter Eco’s Quinoa Dark Chocolate is Food Empowerment Project approved, is delicious chocolate in its own right, and the toasted quinoa gives it a satisfying crunch, similar to Nestle Crunch. It’s also fairly cheap for single-origin fair-trade (non-West African) chocolate at $4 / bar. It can be found at Whole Foods or online. Try some!

That’s all for now, Happy Halloween! What’s your favorite Halloween candy?

Is Benecol vegan?

I happened across Benecol Spread and Benecol Light Spread in a grocery store recently, and wondered if it was vegan. On the one hand, the ingredients appeared to be vegan at first glance. On the other, I’d never heard it mentioned on vegan cooking forums.

It took several emails with McNeil Nutritionals LLC, the makers of Benecol, to establish any clarity on the issue. I’m posting what I learned here, in case others have the same question.

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