7 Exciting Ingredients to Liven Up Your Cooking
As the world seemingly becomes smaller, more and more resources and product goods are at our fingertips every year. Fortunately, that truth applies to our diets too! So, if you’re looking to diversify the foods and nutrients you consume, or simply want to experiment with some new recipes and flavors, now is a great time. Consider adding some items from this list of seven exciting and unusual ingredients—all of which are packed with nutrients—into your next meal.
Used in traditional Chinese medicine, cordyceps is a type of medicinal mushroom that is believed to be an antioxidant that helps fight inflammation. It has not been widely studied, but proponents suggest it treats a range of other symptoms, and some research has even suggested it could be protective against cancer. Choose full-spectrum powder when shopping for cordyceps, and consider it another option to add to smoothies, lattes and other rich beverages.
2. Goji Berries
Originating from the Himalayas, goji berries (or wolfberries as they are also known) have become more popular in the West in recent years, and with good reason. These berries have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years and are loaded with nutrients—including vitamins and amino acids—along with being high in fiber. Add goji berries to yogurt, cereal and smoothies, or steep them to create a delicious caffeine-free tea.
This cruciferous root vegetable comes to us from Peru, typically in powder form. Colloquially known as Peruvian ginseng, maca has an earthy taste that many people find to be slightly nutty with a tinge of butterscotch. Maca may help to balance hormones and, like goji berries, is a great addition to smoothies, oatmeal, other drinks and sweets. It’s worth noting that some people find that maca is easier to digest when it is lightly heated.
Charcoal—it’s not just for grilling anymore! For one, charcoal has become an increasingly popular ingredient in medicine cabinets, appearing in everything from toothpaste to face wash. However, charcoal has long been used in Chinese medicine to help naturally reduce cholesterol and enhance kidney function, as well as aid in removing toxins and poisons. Charcoal usually isn’t added to foods, rather, it can be taken on its own with water and/or lemon.
Like charcoal, mesquite is another ingredient we typically associate with grilling and barbeque, but it can serve other purposes too. Namely, the bark and pods of the mesquite plant are useful as a natural sweetener and have been used in this capacity across the Americas for millennia. Not only is mesquite well-stocked in fiber and protein, but it has a low glycemic index rating that may help balance blood sugar levels. Mesquite has an earthy-vanilla flavor, making it a great addition to hot drinks like coffee and hot chocolate, as well as a useful addition in baking recipes.
Kudzu—also known as kuzu—is yet another root of Asian origin with a long history in Chinese medicine, although it originates from Japan. Like maca, kudzu is a root that is typically bought in a dry powder form and is yet another nice addition to smoothies, as well as pudding and a variety of milk types. Kudzu has a thick consistency and, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, may help improve digestive and circulatory systems, making it good for an upset stomach as well as headaches.
There’s been a lot of buzz around ashwagandha recently, and it’s no wonder given that it has traditionally been used to treat a wide range of behavioral health conditions, including depression, anxiety and stress. Furthermore, there is speculation that it improves brain function and lowers blood sugar, and it’s even being evaluated as a protective ingredient against cancer. Ashwagandha can have an intense taste in large doses (which may not be surprising given that it means “smell of the horse” in Sanskrit), so adding a small amount to a smoothie is the perfect place to start.
Incorporating These Ingredients into Your Diet
As you have surely noticed in reading this article, all of these ingredients are primarily used as complements to a variety of different beverages and creamy foods. As such, be careful that you are using appropriate amounts and take your time in seeing which of them appeal to you. Moreover, if you have any medical concerns, talk to your physician about these ingredients. While they are safe for most people when taken properly, it’s a good idea to be mindful of how they make you feel. With those caveats noted, give some of these ingredients a try and add some new and exciting flavors to your day.
Derek Noland, MPH Contributing Writer
Derek is a researcher, trainer, and community liaison at the Behavioral Health & Wellness Program at the University of Colorado, specializing in promoting health systems change and combating health disparities. Including his background as a technical writer and editor, he has over 15 years of experience working in the health care field. His past experience includes serving as a contributing author on several textbooks in the medical field, running a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and writing a variety of didactic pieces ranging from online training courses to medical software manuals. Personally, Derek pursues his passion for health and wellness by playing multiple sports, hiking, and running marathons, and through extensive travel, having visited or lived in over 60 countries.