A particularly interesting challenge comes from attempting low carbohydrate baked products, but this can also be the most rewarding. By experimenting with ingredients that you would often not associate with a baked treat you can sometimes come up with some surprising results.
But before you start, in order to make a success of your low carbohydrate recipes and experiments, you need the right ingredients.
So, here are my top ten ingredients that any low carbohydrate chef should have in their pantry...
WheyThis first ingredient is of particular importance to athletes and comes right at the top of my list. It’s important to use unflavoured whey as you don’t want the flavouring or sweetener to affect the recipe. Also a concentrate is great as it’s cheaper and you’re not going to be drinking this as a post workout shake, then you will not need an isolate.
Whey can replace flour in baked recipes, although it can have a plastic texture when baked. You can counter this by mixing with nut flour, fats or by reducing the baking time. It’s also useful for adding a mild dairy taste without using milk.
SteviaA sugar replacer is next on our list. You can make great improvements to any dessert recipe simply by replacing the sugar with a calorie free sweetener.
I chose stevia over other sweeteners as many people dislike the use of artificial sweeteners, especially to the quantity that a low carbohydrate diet often contains. Stevia is actually a natural sweetener from the stevia plant, and is refined in a similar process to that of granulated sugar.
SoyaSoya is a great product, particularly to vegetarian and vegan athletes due to its high protein content. Soya mince is usually used in place of meat mince, but it can be used equally well in any recipe including sweets and desserts.
As the soya has very little taste, it mixes well with any ingredients. It’s it absorbs fluids to produce bulk in a similar fashion to oats but without the carbohydrate.
QuarkIf you have not yet come across quark then you really should try this incredible dairy product.
Quark is a form of form of fresh acid-set cheese, commonly eaten in Germany. It’s low in calories, low in fat and has most of the lactose removed. What you’re left with is mainly casein protein in a form that can be used to replace cream, cheese or provide a thickener to dishes such as curries, soups or dessert toppings.
Over recent years quark consumption has increased by 40%, due to it’s reported ‘super food’ status, but in reality you can substitute quark using strained greek yogurt or low fat cream cheese. The latter two offer a similar macronutrient profile, but provide different textures.
Almond FlourAlmond flour comes in two main varieties. Natural and fat reduced. The fat reduced variety is actually very high in protein, so much so that it rivals whey protein concentrate in protein content although to as good. A great flour replacer for use in baking, but like whey, you may need to reduce the baking time due to its natural fluid absorption.
Almond MilkThere are currently several popular types of lactose free dairy milk replacements available from most supermarket shelves, but my favourite is almond milk.
Almond milk adds a very mild, sweet, nutty taste. The nut taste is milder than you may think. It’s also much lower in calories than even skimmed milk and soya milk.
Xanthan GumSomething you may never have heard of, this plant extract has been used for decades as a supplement to improve digestion. It’s mainly a soluble plant fibre which can assist digestion.
When added to liquids it forms a gelling agent, and when added to dry matter it can improve the texture of baked products, especially those created with whey.
Gelatin PowderAlthough we already have Xanthan gum on this list, I still think gelatin has its place. Unlike Xanthan gum, gelatin will set fluids to a more solid state (Xanthan gum will only thicken). I prefer to use gelatin powder so you have better control over the quantity.
I would also like to mention sugar free jelly here, as it’s pretty much flavoured gelatin and also comes in handy with carb free dessert making.
Peanut ButterWhat list would be complete with mentioning the body builders favourite, peanut butter. Natural peanut butter provides a great source of good fats for your cooking experiments, but ensure you use natural as most other brands contain a lot of added sugar (definitely not what you want in a low carbohydrate recipe).
Good natural peanut butter will have nothing else in the ingredient list other than peanuts. You should also see a pool of oil at the top which can be stirred in, or separated from the solids to leave you with a lower fat nut butter.