Agave Nectar: A Natural Sweetener

14 Nov


Agave nectar (pronounced ah-GAH-vay) is a natural sweetener that is produced from several species of the agave plant, most commonly the Blue Agave (interesting fact: the Blue Agave is the same plant responsible for the production of tequila). The Blue Agave is used most often because of its higher carbohydrate content which results in a higher fructose content in the resulting nectar. The sweetener is typically made in Jalisco, Mexico.  

Agave nectar has a consistency that is comparable to honey. It can be used to replace other liquid or granular sweeteners in a recipe (i.e. honey, maple syrup, sugar); however, the ratios required may not be 1:1. One source states that agave nectar is 40% sweeter than brown or white sugar, so when swapping out sugar for agave nectar, be sure to use less in your recipe!


Agave is touted as a vegan product. This was surprising to me, as I thought most sugars and sweeteners were vegan. However, one source states that some sugars are filtered using bone char from animals, so agave nectar may be one appropriate alternative in a vegan diet.

This sweetener can be purchased in two varieties: light or dark. The lighter syrups are also lighter in colour. They have a more mild taste and can be used in a large variety of recipes. The darker syrups are filtered less which results in a stronger flavour. Darker agave nectars can be purchased in the store for purposes such as pancake/waffle toppings.

These nectars haves been deemed as healthy sweeteners in the media. Recently, however, its health claims have been scrutinized and reports are stating that this sweetener can actually be as bad for us as high fructose corn syrup. There is a lot of conflicting information about agave nectar, so you may have to decide for yourself if agave nectar is for you.

Healthy Rice Crispy Treats



slightly adapted from: Vanilla and Lace


  •  1/3 cup xagave
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups rice crisp cereal
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips


  •  Heat agave and peanut butter over medium heat until it looks like a thick syrup, about 2-3 minutes. 
  • Add vanilla.
  • Spray a medium sized bowl with oil and add the rice cereal, pour syrup mixture on top, and mix until evenly coated and chocolate is melted in.
  • Press into oiled 9×9 dish. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

For other recipe ideas, try these:

Whole Wheat Oatmeal, Raisin and Chocolate Chip Cookies 
Strawberry Banana Ice Pops 
Toasted Sesame Tofu Caramelized with Agave Nectar, Wasabi and Soy Sauce 
Agave Nectar Ketchup 
Healthy Vanilla Bean Cherry Chocolate Granola Bars  


Goji Berries

13 Nov


Goji berries (pronounced GO-JEE) have garnered a lot of media attention over the past couple of years based on its alleged health benefits. These berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but have only recently become a food of interest for people in North America. These berries are also known as wolfberries and lyceum barbarum and are grown in China, Mongolia and in the Himalayans in Tibet. When purchased here, they are typically found in dried form or in a goji berry juice.

Nutritionally, these little berries are low in calories, fat-free and rich in fibre, antioxidants and vitamin C. However, health claims concerning its use in treating diabetes, hypertension, fever and cancer are based on few studies and more evidence is needed before these correlations can be confirmed.

Per 1 oz (28 grams) of dried goji berries:

Calories 100 kcal
Total Fat 0 grams
Protein 4 grams
Carbohydrate 21 grams
Sugars 13 grams
Fibre 3 grams
Sodium 75 milligrams
Vitamin A 140% DV
Vitamin C 20% DV
Calcium 4% DV
Iron 10% DV


The taste of these berries has been compared to a cross between cherries, cranberries and raisins with a slightly bitter taste. Its texture is similar to that of raisins. So how exactly can you incorporate these berries into your diet? Try adding them into a smoothie or juice (you can even rehydrate them by soaking them in water), sprinkling on oatmeal or cereal, adding it to salads or a stir fry and more!

The dried berries can be found at your local Bulk Barn, while goji berry juices will typically be found in health food stores. However, the juices can be very pricey!

I tested these berries out by soaking them in water overnight and adding them to a smoothie!

With no exact measurements, I added the rehydrated berries, orange juice, pomegranate juice, frozen strawberries and cranberries, and chia seeds. Any combination will do!


Goji Berry Granola
Oatmeal Spice Cookies with Goji Berries
Goji Nibby Nuggets
Goji Berry Smoothie/Goji Berry Trail Mix/Oatmeal with Goji Berries

Agar: A Vegan Gelatin Substitute

10 Nov


Agar is also known as agar agar, kanten or Japanese gelatin. So what is it exactly? I found this unusual ingredient while perusing a health food store and thought I’d give it a try! I was surprised to find out that agar is a combination of sea vegetables that is used as a clear and tasteless alternative to animal-based gelatin. It is often used in Asian cultures to thicken soups and jellies. Other recipes that may use agar for its thickening properties include: pies, puddings, jell-o, marshmallows, custards and more. If you’ve ever taken a science course, agar may sound familiar, that’s because it is used in petri dishes in science labs!


The seaweed used to make agar is harvested in the Pacific Ocean and is then boiled, cooled, purified and dried. After this process, agar can be purchased in the form of a bar, granules, flakes, or powder. Sources say the flakes and powders are easiest to use, but different ratios are required in recipes:









Nutritionally, agar is low in calories and carbohydrates and contains no sugar and no fat. It is composed of 80% fibre and contains calcium, iodine, phosphorus and iron.  If you’re interested in using agar in a recipe, it can be pretty pricey depending on where you buy it. Check out a health food store or Asian grocery store and compare prices!

Pecan Pie

* apologies for the terrible picture! 
source: Eden Foods


Pecan Filling


Preheat oven to 350°.

CRUST: Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add oil and mix until consistency of cornmeal and add EdenBlend. Form into a ball of dough. Roll out the dough, and place in a 9″ pie plate. Crimp edges of the dough with your fingers and trim excess dough.

PECAN FILLING: Place malt, Edensoy, oil and agar flakes in a saucepan. Cook over a low flame, stirring frequently, until the agar dissolves, about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn flame to high and cook until mixture foams. Remove from flame, whisk in the vanilla and stir in the pecans. Pour into the pie shell.

TO BAKE: Bake pie for 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for 1 hour. As it cools the filling will set.

* I cheated and used a store-bought pie crust! Still delicious, but a lot quicker 😉


Blackberry Ice
Vegan Marshmallows
Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream
Vegan Peppermint Chocolate Chip Dessert
Eggless No Bake Pumpkin Pie
Raw, Vegan Chocolate Pudding
Mango Cheesecake

Eggless Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate Mocha Pie

Basic Agar Pudding

Chia Seeds: Fibre & Antioxidant Rich

7 Nov


The first thing that probably comes to your mind when you hear “chia,” might be those Chia Pets often seen on television that sprout when you water them. Chia seeds as a nutritional ingredient, however, haven’t gained enough attention to become widespread, making this an unusual ingredient!

Chia is the common name for Salvia hispanica, and is a member of the mint family. It has been estimated that chia has been cultivated since 3400 BCE in Mesoamerica. In the 16th century, chia seeds were valued for many uses: a staple food, medicine and oil source. Many of the local recipes are still popular in Mexico and Guatemala today, such as chia seeds soaked in water to make a drink called pinolillo in Nicaragua or chia fresco in Mexico.

Nutritionally, chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, antioxidants and dietary fibre. They are also a good source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and other vitamins/minerals. There is potential for chia seeds to aid in weight loss and diabetes control, but more research is needed in this area.

Want to give chia seeds a try? They can be found on the shelves at some health food stores or in bulk food stores. They have a mild, nutty flavor which makes them great as a topping for yogurt or oatmeal, added into a smoothie or used as a binder in baked goods. When chia seeds are added to water they form a gel, often called a ‘chia egg’ which is commonly used as an egg replacer in vegan recipes.

Blueberry Lemon Chia Seed Muffins 

source: Fabulous Food Finds


  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour (use half whole wheat if desired)
  • 3 Tbsp Tru Roots Chia Seeds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • the zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • ½ cup reduced fat sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla
  • 3/4 cup washed fresh blueberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 12 cup muffin tin with cooking spray . Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.

3. In another bowl, combine the flour, chia seeds, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest and salt.

4. Mix together the sour cream, lemon juice and vanilla in another bowl. Add the flour and sour cream mixture alternately to the sugar butter egg mixture and mix just until blended. Fold in the blueberries.

 Other recipe suggestions:

Almond  Blueberry Chia Smoothie
Vegan Chocolate Sweet Potato Chia Seed Pudding  
Healthy Cookie with Chia Seeds 
Homemade Maple Cinnamon Almond Butter with Hemp, Flax and Chia Seeds
Chia Vegetable Stir Fry

Nutritional Yeast: A Vegan Cheese Substitute

28 Oct


You might be wondering, “What exactly is nutritional yeast?” and “how can this flakey substance be used as an alternative to cheese?” At least, those were my thoughts when I first heard of nutritional yeast. This ingredient is common among vegans who are looking to replace dairy-rich cheese in their diets.

Nutritional yeast is grown from yeast, which is a tiny form of fungi. It is produced by culturing the yeast with sugarcane and beet molasses for seven days. After the seven days have passed, the yeast is then harvested, washed, dried and packaged.

Nutritionally, this yeast contains many essential nutrients. It is a great source of the B-complex vitamins, including vitamin B12. This makes it a great alternative for vegans as vitamin B12 is typically found only in animal byproducts. Nutritional yeast is also very rich in protein (a complete source containing all of the essential amino acids!), iron and folic acid. Additionally, it contains 15 minerals, specifically chromium. Chromium has been recognized in helping to regulate blood sugar, making this yeast great for diabetics and people with low blood sugar. It is also appropriate for those following gluten-free diets!

It can often be found in the health food section of your grocery store or even at bulk food stores. If you’re able to find it, give it a try! It can be used in many ways, such as: sprinkled on popcorn, added to gravies and sauces to add creaminess or used as a cheesy topping on pizza.If you’re looking for a simple and quick snack, this popcorn is perfect for you 🙂

Emily’s Famous Popcorn

Source: All Recipes


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup unpopped popcorn
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted (optional)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add popcorn, and place the lid on the pan. Shake to coat kernels with oil. When the corn starts to pop, shake the pan constantly until the popping stops. Remove from heat, and pour popped corn into a large bowl.
  2. Drizzle the melted butter over the corn if using, and sprinkle with yeast, chili powder, cumin and salt. I like to give it a little stir before serving.

Other recipe suggestions:

Healthy Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip 
Vegan Easy Creamy Tomato Barley Risotto
Vegan “Cheese” Breadsticks
Vegetarian Gravy
Not So Queso Dip
Vegan Mac and Cheese 

Tempeh: A Meat Alternative

25 Oct


Tempeh (pronounced TEM-pay) may be a familiar ingredient among vegetarians, as it is a great source of vegetable protein (before cooking, it contains 19.5% protein) for those who do not consume meat or animal products. For many others, tempeh may just be an unfamiliar ingredient that is emerging in grocery stores.

Tempeh originated from Indonesia where it has been a staple for 1000 years or more. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans but it has different nutritional characteristics as well as a different texture. It is formed by the fermentation of cooked soybeans which results in a compact white cake. Different varieties include soy tempeh or tempeh fermented with grains, such as rice, sunflower seeds, etc.  The flavour of tempeh has been described as nutty, meaty and mushroom-like. 

Soy products have been linked to reduced risks of: breast cancer, prostate cancer, coronary heart disease and bone fractures. There is almost no reliable evidence indicating that soy consumption leads to adverse health effects. However, more research is needed to support these nutritional findings.

Nutritionally, tempeh is a great source of: protein, unsaturated fatty acids, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium and more. For an extensive nutrient analysis visit The World’s Healthiest Foods!

There are many ways to prepare tempeh. It can be used as an ingredient in items like chili, soups, salads, pasta sauces, tacos and sandwiches. It can be purchased in grocery stores in its natural form (solid cakelike slab) or pre-marinated strips, often taking only a couple minutes of cooking to prepare.  


An easy recipe for those first trying tempeh is a barbecue tempeh sandwich!

Barbecue Tempeh Sandwiches

Source: All Recipes

Serves 4


  • 1 cup barbecue sauce, your choice
  • 1 (8 ounce) package tempeh, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 kaiser rolls, split and toasted


  1. Pour the barbeque sauce into a medium bowl. Crumble the tempeh into the sauce, and let it marinate a little, about 10 minutes.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the red and green peppers, and the onion. Cook, stirring frequently until tender. Stir in the tempeh and barbeque sauce, and heat through.
  3. Spoon the tempeh mixture onto kaiser rolls, and serve.

Other recipe suggestions:

Tempeh Chili
Tempeh Bacon
Tempeh Crab-Free Cakes
Sweet Potato and Tempeh Stew
Vegetarian Tempeh Taco
Sweet and Sour Vegetarian Tempeh

Quinoa: The Ancient Superfood

21 Oct

Have you ever heard of quinoa? These nutrient-dense seeds are starting to gain popularity in grocery stores, and while some of you may have heard of it, there is still some confusion on how it can be incorporated into the diet.

Let’s start from the beginning! What exactly is quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah)? Quinoa is native to the Andes and has been around for over 5000 years!  It is often confused as a grain, but it is actually the seed of a leafy plant that is related to spinach.


Quinoa is a complete protein which means, unlike most other plant-based protein sources, it contains all of the essential amino acids required in the diet. It is also a great source of vitamins and minerals, including: iron, potassium, B vitamins and zinc. In addition to these nutritional benefits, it is also gluten-free and safe for people with celiac disease to consume.

The seeds are small and circular and come in different colours, including white, red and black. Quinoa has a bitter-tasting coating, called saponin, which is mostly removed before sold. However, it is still important to rinse the seeds prior to cooking in order to remove any potential trace of the saponin.

How do you cook quinoa? After rinsing the seeds, you can toast them in a dry skillet to give them a roasted flavour (this step is not necessary!). Quinoa is then combined with liquid in a pan (two parts liquid to one part quinoa), brought to a boil, and then reduced to simmer and covered until the grains become translucent.  After cooking, the seeds will increase a great deal in volume, so it isn’t necessary to cook a whole bunch!

One of the great things about quinoa is its versatility! It can be purchased in different forms, such as seeds, flour, flakes, and even pasta. It can also be used in a variety of different recipes, anything from pancakes to side salads to milk. To get an idea of its many uses, check out the cookbook Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood


A great starter recipe for those who want to try quinoa is stuffed peppers. Switching out the rice for quinoa and the meat for beans and vegetables, this recipe is both nutritious and vegetarian.

Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers

Source: Vegetarian Times

Serves 8


  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 Tbs. ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
  • 1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 cup quinoa
  • 3 large carrots, grated (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups grated reduced-fat pepper Jack cheese, divided
  • 4 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs removed


  1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery, and cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Add cumin and garlic, and sauté 1 minute. Stir in spinach and drained tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated.
  2. Stir in black beans, quinoa, carrots, and 2 cups water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender. Stir in 1 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour liquid from tomatoes in bottom of baking dish.
  4. Fill each bell pepper half with heaping 3/4-cup quinoa mixture, and place in baking dish. Cover with foil, and bake 1 hour. Uncover, and sprinkle each pepper with 1 Tbs. remaining cheese. Bake 15 minutes more, or until tops of stuffed peppers are browned. Let stand 5 minutes. Transfer stuffed peppers to serving plates, and drizzle each with pan juices before serving.

For other recipe ideas:

– Gluten-Free Quinoa Buttermilk Pancakes
Quinoa Porridge
Homemade Quinoa Milk
Southwest Quinoa Salad
Red Quinoa Mediterranean Salad