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Seven Must-have Pantry Staples


By: Candice Kumai

When it comes to the basics, I’ve found that these seven incredibly versatile ingredients are must-haves for any well and good pantry. Here’s how to utilize each ingredient! Not only will they add deep, rich flavors to your meals, but each ingredient also provides tons of amazing health benefits.

1. The ultimate pantry must-have, extra virgin olive oil benefits both your cooking and your health. Research shows that a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil (approximately four tablespoons per day) can reduce your risk of heart disease. Plus, it’s high in monounsaturated fats, which are the “good fats” that can help lower cholesterol and insulin levels in your body. Secret bonus: I use it to remove eye makeup, or rub a drop through my hair to ditch frizz and add shine!

This versatile oil can be used in dressings, marinades, soups, sauces, and to sauté fish, poultry, and vegetable dishes. It can also be used as a butter substitute when baking to enhance the taste of baked goods!

2. Balsamic vinegar is the perfect low-calorie (just about 14 per tablespoon!) pantry staple to add a touch of acidity to salads, marinades, pasta sauces, and more. Vinegar contains polyphenols, antioxidants that can help lower cholesterol levels and improve your body’s immune system. Your digestive system can also benefit from a dash or two of balsamic: Vinegar has been shown to boost the activity of pepsin, an enzyme that breaks down protein, regulates metabolism, and controls your blood sugar, which can increase the satiety of a meal.

Here’s a secret tip I learned from a colleague: Finish off your marinara or red sauce with a little balsamic vinegar to amp up the flavor. Just a tablespoon or two will do the trick!

3. Dijon Mustard: With only five calories per teaspoon, this pantry staple helps keep dressings, sauces, and sandwiches low-calorie yet still flavorful. Made from mustard seed and white wine, Dijon has a strong acidic flavor. It also works as an excellent binding ingredient, meaning it can help to hold and emulsify dressings, marinades, and sauces.

4. You already know honey is an excellent natural sweetener for your cup of tea, but did you know it also packs a ton of health benefits into each tablespoon? It’s chock full of antioxidants and boasts topical antibiotic properties, thanks to its ability to produce small amounts of hydrogen peroxide. So this pantry staple can even be used to treat cuts and scrapes! Drizzle honey in coffee, tea, and granola, use it when baking, or mix it into dressings and marinades.

5. Used for centuries by the Japanese to enhance flavor, tamari is a wheat-free variety of soy sauce made from fermented soybeans. It’s a great alternative to standard soy sauce for anyone with a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Even if you’re not affected by these health issues, try using tamari in place of regular soy sauce in Asian dishes—it’s higher in protein, smoother, and more flavorful than regular soy sauce. Tamari also contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your body produce niacin and serotonin, which can improve your sleep and mood.

Tamari is great in marinades, dressings, sauces, and soups, or to drizzle on some roasted vegetables. My favorite way to use tamari is to top off Asian noodle dishes, such as somen or soba noodles, with a few dashes

6. Declared the best tasting hot sauce in the market by Cooks Illustrated, Sriracha hot sauce is gaining popularity with its simple blend of jalapeños, vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic. This authentic Vietnamese sauce adds a hot and spicy flavor that seriously boosts the taste of any dish with just a few drops. Plus, the capsaicin from the hot peppers can help boost your metabolism and rev your fat-burning engine!

From soups to tacos to eggs, you name it—you can put Sriracha on it! I especially love it on French fries or baked potatoes.

7. Flaxseed Meal is legit. Full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseeds also contain fiber for better digestion. What’s more, the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s help your skin look radiant. To ensure your body absorbs all these amazing benefits, consume flaxseed in ground or “meal” form.

Flax can be used in so many ways! Toss them in cereal, granola, or eggs, add them to recipes for baked goods, sprinkle them on yogurt or ice cream, or used them to coat fish or chicken.

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