Coconut is one of our favorite foods. It’s incredibly nutritious and has properties to help heal the gut. While coconut does have a distinct flavor, we assure you it’s not overpowering. With time, for us dairy-free folks, coconut flavor becomes a base flavor we hardly notice. After all, no one says that food cooked in butter tastes buttery!
Coconut milk is the meat of a coconut grated and squeezed to produce a thick milky substance. It has become such a staple in our house that we buy it by the case. It’s perfect for generally replacing milk and cream in your diet as well as for use in specialty items like curries. We have made a faux béchamel sauce out of it with no problem and have even made a creamy tomato soup. Please note, for best results in all of our recipes calling for it we recommend only full-fat and guar gum–free coconut milk. Some brands out there will have a layer of oil that forms at the top of the can and are hard to work with. Here are the brands we have used and recommend:
Coconut Cream Concentrate, Coconut Butter and Creamed Coconut are all the same thing, as far as we can figure out. It is the dried and ground coconut meat with coconut oil. Reconstituting this with water will give you control over the thickness of your coconut milk, or you can just add it in directly for a hint of sweetness and added coconut flavor. Here are the brands we have used and recommend:
Tropical Traditions Coconut Cream Concentrate
Artisana Organic Coconut Butter
Let’s Do Organic Organic Creamed Coconut
Fats and Oils
One of the hardest adaptations for us to replace was cooking and baking oils. “Normal” cooking oils such as vegetable oil, canola oil, and soybean oil are highly processed, extracted with chemicals, bleached and oxidized “foods” coming from grains or legumes, so we had to switch. Finding a replacement for flavorless and easy to work with oils was difficult, but it can be done!
Our oils are almost always coconut oil (liquified), but we use olive and macadamia oil too.. We often use fats now instead: palm shortening, coconut oil (at room temp it hardens), lard, and bacon fat.
If you’re still not gung-ho about unprocessed fats being healthy, there are tons of resources available online to help you understand how dietary cholesterol is a requirement in your body for brain growth, hormone regulation, and proper absorption of Vitamin D. Our kids no longer need sun block unless they’re out for an entire day in direct sunlight, and our cholesterol blood tests amaze our physicians. Read this post with links to to more educated people than us on the topic and then look into it yourself. We hope you find that the sources we’ve chosen are right for your family, too. If not, substitute according to your desires—just choose a solid (fat) or liquid (oil) accordingly.
Lard is probably our favorite of all cooking fats. In fact without lard, we could not have made Beyond Bacon the book that it is! We definitely recommend that you gets some lard of your own, but there are several things to consider. First, do not buy the shelf stable hydrogenated lard you’ll likely find on the grocery shelves. This products has added unhealthy transfats and is certainly not going to be as tasty as the real thing. Go to your butcher or local farm and see if they have any lard that has already been rendered. If they do not, then it is a simple task to render your own. We get pork fat, grind it in our meat grinder, and then just cook it slow and watch the fat liquify out. Be careful not to let it go too long and burn, as burnt lard is bitter and unappetizing. You’ll find that there are two kinds of fat: backfat, the fat just under the skin, and leaf fat, fat from inside the abdomen. While both make fantastic lard, leaf lard is less porky-tasting, and thus prized for use in baking. For information on how to make your own, check our tutorial here. Hopefully, you’ll take our word for it that it is delicious, but if you want a second opinion, how about Diane Sanfilippo of Balanced Bites.
Coconut oil has all the wonderful gut-healing and healthy fat (repeat after me, saturated fat is not scary) properties of coconut milk, but in a very flavorful oil for baking or sauteing. It is a solid at room temperature, so when using it keep in mind it will return to that state if given the chance. Coconut oil should be available at most stores these days, just look for a brand that has been pressed instead of solvent extracted, so as to minimize the chemical processing. We also love using coconut oil spray, available at our local Whole Foods, the same way we used to use Pam for oiling baking sheets. Of course you could always do what your grandmother did and grease it with a towel and some solid coconut oil or lard. Here are the brands we have used and recommend:
For baking in recipes that would normally require butter or shortening, we have replaced seed oil shortening (your Crisco, for example) with palm shortening. Unlike vegetable oil shortenings, there are no trans fatty acids with palm shortening. We buy ours from a bulk discount co-op at Tropical Traditions, an online store, but this should be widely available at your local health food store or Whole Foods by the brand Spectrum.
One of the most common questions we get on the site is Can I replace Palm Shortening with ___? Our answer is that you can do a swap with butter if you eat it. However, coconut oil or any other product we’ve tried does (unfortunately) not have the same result. You could whip coconut oil until it’s airy then use the volume in our recipe from that whipped coconut oil, but it’s not the same. We know palm shortening isn’t easily accessible, but we hope you can at least get it online. Here are the brands we have used and recommend:
Tropical Traditions Palm Shortening
Spectrum Palm Shortening (also called Vegan Shortening)
Avocado Oil has become a favorite go-to cooking fat ever since we discovered the Chosen Foods brand. This fat is light, slightly buttery, and has a hint of nuttiness that goes well with foods when used raw as a topping, or fat base to a salad dressing. However, it is extremely mild when used in cooked and baked foods as well, and with a high smoke point of over 500 degrees, the ways to incorporate this nutrient-dense fat are limitless!
This oil is high in monounsaturated fat, whereas most oils with high smoke points are high poly fats. Chosen Foods uses a refining process that eliminates the free-fatty-acids, waxes, gums and chlorophyll that cause low smoke point, but because they use a low heat steam vaporization process they’re able to maintain the high levels of beta sitisterol and vitamin E found in its virgin counterpart.
Chosen Foods Avocado Oil
Chosen Foods Avocado Oil Spray
Ghee (rhymes with knee) is something we use almost daily. It’s simply butter that’s been simmered until three things happen: all of the water evaporates, the milk solids separate out, and it takes on a caramelized nutty flavor. Why do we love it? The casein and lactose separate out, making this product perfect for those of us who don’t tolerate dairy very well. The Tin Star brand is even certified lactose and casein free! Plus, ghee has a very high smoke point, so it is great to cook with. And it tastes like a caramelized butter (think the liquid gold you are offered when order crab legs), so there’s that…
Tin Star Ghee
Almond & Coconut Flours (Wheat Replacements)
The site does a lot of what we call Paleo(ish) baked goods. None of this would be possible without a replacement for the standard American flour, made with wheat. We’ve tried quite a few flours, including a variety of nuts, root veggies and seeds. For the most part we prefer almond and coconut flour. When these heavy flours are too thick for something to rise, we also add tapioca flour. Just as you might expect, these are ground almonds, coconut, and cassava root, respectively. Not only do almond and coconut flours have protein and healthy fats, but they are also much more flavorful than wheat.
Unfortunately, they can be hard to find and expensive compared to the cost to wheat flour (which is subsidized enormously to keep it cheap). Also, watch out for “blends” which can often contain rice, potato or other starches. Keep in mind, these are “treats,” and you’ll use much less quantity. If you can’t afford or find them, you can make your own almond or coconut “meal,” which is a bit more course but still does the trick, with either a food processor or a powerful blender. If you want a replacement for nut flours (cost or allergy) see our post on how to make your own Sunflower Seed Flour. Here are the brands we have used and recommend:
Honeyville Blanched Almond Flour (sign up for their newsletter on Honeyville.com to receive occasional coupons)
It’s not the best, but we’ve used JK Gourmet Blanched Almond Flour and Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour with success too
Tropical Traditions Coconut Flour
We tried and do not like the Let’s Do Organic Coconut Flour but Bob’s Red Mill Coconut Flour is OK
Bob’s Red Mill Tapioca Flour
Almond and Sunflower Butter
We use almond butter in quite a few recipes, because it’s easy to cook with. Honestly, it’s our way of cheating when we bake. When you see almond butter in recipes, just think of it as almond flour and oil combined.
MaraNatha and Trader Joe’s almond butters are our favorites, but any brand would do. Roasted or raw, crunchy or creamy – it’s all your preference. Just don’t get the “no stir” because it’s got filler ingredients. We suggest raw creamy for baking and roasted crunchy for eating.
If you have a nut allergy or don’t like almonds, you can easily make this nut-free by using MaraNatha brand sunflower butter (we suggest adding a bit more oil or fat than is called for too). Beware: the chlorogenic acid (chlorophyll) in sunflower seeds reacts with baking soda when baked, causing the your baked goods to turn green (what fun)!
Sunbutter is a different animal all together, usually slightly sweetened and extremely smooth this is rarely used in our recipes. We use it in ice creams for a ripple or with fruit to dip – it’s Stacy’s favorite with a honeycrisp apple in autumn!
Because nut flours don’t have the binding proteins that wheat or rice flours do, we use arrowroot as a thickening agent. It works similarly to cornstarch except it is not a grain; it is made from the tuber of the arrowroot plant. It can be found in most health foods stores and Asian markets, or Bob’s Red Mill brand is available online. We’ve tried several off-brand powders and had good success with all, no need to worry – just use what you find. For the volume you need it is an affordable product that will last a long time.
Cassava Flour is the newest kid on the Paleo block. Another root that has been dried and powdered, we’ve found this new Paleo flour to be one of the most versatile yet! We love that it is a whole food (meaning it’s the whole root, not just the isolated starch). Not all cassava flour is created equal, and we definitely recommend Otto’s brand. We’ve used it as a coating on fried foods, and found that it makes some of the BEST Paleo bread products we’ve had… especially this Banana Bread recipe (our all-time fave!)
Chocolate is made from the fat of the cocoa plant, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder. You might be thinking, but cocoa is a bean – that’s a legume! Actually, no. They’re the seed from pods– yeah! In fact, good quality chocolates have been shown to offer excellent health benefits, since they’re high in antioxidants—yippee!
Our recommendation is to find the darkest (over 70% is best) chocolate you can (our kids even like 90% when we use it in things like our Nut Butter Cups) and try for a brand that’s soy and dairy free. Read labels, soy lecithin and other odd ingredients often find their way into chocolate. We use the following:
85% Alter Eco Dark BLACKOUT Organic Chocolate (this is my favorite to eat and available at local stores)
70% Rapunzel Organic Extra Dark Swiss Bars (melt or chop into chunks, perfectly sweetened)
82% Scharffen Berger Extra Dark Chocolate (melt or chop into chunks, perfectly sweetened)
100% Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate Squares (we melt and sweeten it ourselves)
100% Ghirardelli Unsweetened Chocolate Bars (we melt and sweeten them ourselves)
100% Domori Blend Il and Criollo Il (21 day sugar-detox compliant and the best dark chocolate I’ve ever eaten)
Equal Exchange Organic Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (our preferred chocolate chips)
Dagoba 73% Dark Chocolate Chocodrops
You can also find vegan, soy-free chocolate chips at Whole Foods and Unsweetened melted chocolate at Trader Joe’s if the above don’t work for you. Any brand of cocoa powder will do, but these are the gluten-fee ones we personally recommend:
Just don’t overdo it. Once sugar and starch are no longer a big part of your diet a tiny amount of chocolate will go a long way for you!
Sugar isn’t paleo. I mean, it is. Because apples are OK. So if we make sugar from dates, is that OK? What about honey and maple syrup, that Grok could’ve had? Who knows. The point is, sweeteners change your taste buds. They cause hormonal changes and trigger insulin, which is what made Matt and I need to lose 200lbs to begin with. However! We live in the real world. And I don’t know about you, but my kids like to have cupcakes when they go to birthday parties. And they like to make cookies for their teachers at the holidays. So, we use sweetners in our treats. We make the best choices we can, but use your judgement over your own health and what works for you and your family’s bodies.
Palm sugar is an unrefined sweetener with a low glycemic index made from the nectar of the coconut palm, so it even has vitamins and minerals. We use it because it comes granulated and is much more familiar and easier to adapt to traditional recipes. We suggest putting it in a coffee grinder to make a superfine sugar for frostings and meringues. It may or may not be sustainable; we’re not coconut farmers. But I do notice our kids reacting better to it than Sucanant, so it’s what we prefer. We like the Sweet Tree and Nativas brand.
We like to use local honey when it’s available at our farmer’s market, but when it’s winter we like Tropical Traditions Raw Honey.
We LOVE Tropical Traditions Grade B Maple Syrup. Learn about why to use Grade B here. I’m not going to lie though. It’s insanely expensive. Sign up to be notified of TT deals and stock-up when it goes on sale. Otherwise, just get 100% from whatever local source has the best price. Maple granulated sugar is also wonderful when a non-liquid version is needed.
Dates… use fresh medjool when you can. If not, soak whatever dates you get in boiling water for 10 minutes then strain to get a better replicate for recipes. You can also use granulated date sugar as an alternative to palm or cane sugars.
When we bake for ourselves, we prefer maple syrup, honey, ripe bananas, or dates for natural unprocessed sweeteners that offer a depth of flavor not found in standard American sweeteners. Each offer not just unique flavor profiles; but, they also include different sucrose and fructose ratios, as well as vitamins and minerals – so, you’ll find that most of our recipes include a variety.
Coconut Aminos, Tamari and Fish Sauce
We love to cool flavorful food. Ususally that includes at least one Asian-inspired dish a week. Since the number 1 ingredient in most soy sauce’s is wheat, it’s absolutely out.
Tamari is soy sauce without wheat, it’s cheap and easy to find at any Asian market. However, it is made with (fermented) soy, and we really try to keep all legumes out of our diet. So we use Coconut Aminos, which is fermented coconut that replicates a sweet and similar flavor. It’s not cheap but should be available at your health food store or Whole Foods.
Fish sauce is made of awesome. Don’t be afraid. Well, be afraid of the ones with labels you can’t read and hydrolyzed wheat protein as an ingredient. Other than that… get over the fact that you think it smells bad and seems gross – but when you add it to the dishes where we call for it, it’ll give your dish that “pop” you’ve been missing. Stacy likes to joke that it’s the paleo version of MSG. It’s THAT good.