Ginger and sesame mini cheesecakes (no refined carbohydrates)

Ginger sesame mini cheesecakesI have been experimenting with sesame flour lately. Sesame flour is very simple to make, not too expensive and is low in carbohydrates To make sesame flour I simply process sesame seeds into a coarse flour texture. Sesame flour has a nutty taste. I have not done a lot of baking with sesame flour but I have found that the texture works well in bases of cheesecakes and slices.

Sesame flour was the perfect ingredient to use for the base of these Asian inspired Ginger and sesame mini cheesecakes. I used a combination of sesame flour and coconut flour for the bases, along with erythritol, ground ginger, tahini and coconut oil. I used more ground ginger, tahini and sesame seeds in the cheesecakes, as well as low fat cream cheese, low fat coconut milk and 1 egg.

Ginger sesame cheesecakes 3The ground ginger adds spiciness while the sesame seeds and tahini add a delicious nutty flavour. Very tasty, low in carbohydrates and high in dietary fibre. The sesame seeds are quite nutritious too, as they are rich in a range of minerals, including copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1 and zinc. So eat up!

Ginger and sesame mini cheesecakes

Makes 6 mini cheesecakes

Ingredients

Base

½ cup sesame seeds

½ cup coconut flour

1 tablespoon erythritol

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon tahini

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

Cheesecakes

2 x 250 gram tubs of low fat cream cheese

1/3 cup low fat coconut milk

2 teaspoons ground ginger

¼ cup erythritol

1 tablespoon tahini

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 egg

Utensils

Measuring cups and spoons

Food processor

Mixing bowl

Spoon

6 pan muffin tray

Baking paper

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven to 150°C.
  • To make the base firstly add the sesame seeds to a food processor and process until they resemble the texture of coarse crumbs. Tip the sesame flour into the mixing bowl.
  • Add in the coconut flour, erythritol and ground ginger and mix well to combine.
  • Add the tahini and coconut oil to the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
  • Line the pans of a muffin tray with baking paper. Divide the base mixture between the lined muffin tray pans and press down with wet hands until it is firm and even.
  • Bake the bases for 15 minutes at 150°C.
  • While the bases are baking prepare the cheesecake mixture by adding the low fat cream cheese, coconut milk, ground ginger, erythritol and tahini to the food processor.
  • Process until the mixture is even and smooth.
  • Add in the sesame seeds and egg and process until combined.
  • Remove the bases from the oven and although them to cool.
  • Pour the cheesecake mixture over the bases and smooth them out with the back of a spoon.
  • Bake the cheesecakes for about 40 minutes at 150°C.
  • Remove the cheesecakes from the oven and allow them to cool to room temperature before removing them from the muffin tray using the excess baking paper.
  • Chill the mini cheesecakes completely in the fridge before serving.Ginger sesame mini cheesecake 2

My experiments with mindfulness meditation and how I am using this to get through tough training sessions

I recently started experimenting with mindfulness meditation to help me de-stress before work and start my day with a clear mind. I was finding that I was heading into work with all of these non-productive thoughts racing through my mind such as “What am I truly passionate about?”, “Is this the career that I truly want?”, “I am not good enough at my job”, “What about my financial situation?” “Am I happy with my life?”, etc. Although these are important questions to be asking yourself, it can become overwhelming and exhausting when you are repeating these questions over and over in your head when you should be focusing on the task at hand. So I started practicing what is known as mindfulness meditation for 5 – 10 minutes before I go into work. Mindfulness meditation is described as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on a dynamic and automatic stimulation, such as breathing, while allowing one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations to be acknowledged and accepted (1). I have been doing this through the use of a meditation podcast that talks you through a basic meditation session. Practicing mindfulness is actually extremely difficult. However, if I can accomplish this for even a few minutes I have found that it helps me get through my day in a more focused and clear state, and to enjoy the present moment for what it is.

The added bonus to my dabbling in meditation is that I have found that mindfulness is an effective strategy to get me through hard training sessions. In the past I have used a lot of self-talk during races or particularly hard training sessions, such as “How badly do you want this?” and “Come on you can do this”. But I am finding that focusing on the present moment, and acknowledging that I am feeling some pain and discomfort, is allowing me to perform quite well and enjoy the sessions more. By eliminating thoughts of when a particular set will be over, be that running, swimming, paddling or weights, or by preventing my mind from wandering to when I get home or what I am going to eat, I am dealing with these harder sessions better. For example this morning I did a 1:45 run consisting of about a 20 minute warm up, 10 x hill sprints on a very steep hill (22° incline) on a 3 minute cycle, followed by a hilly run back home. The hill sprints were hard and I do every 3rd one a bit harder. So this morning I focused on being present in the moment as I was sprinting up that hill and not letting my mind wander to when it would be over, but rather just trying to enjoy the moment. I felt as though I got through these sprints more easily and my times were decent too.

I like to think of training as my time; a time that I do not have to think or worry about anything else in the world – not work, not money, not dishes that need to be cleaned, not clothes that need to be washed or not errands that need to be run. By focusing on the present moment and letting go of the past and the future, I can really embrace the training session and enjoy it. Also, by focusing on the present moment I feel that I can achieve a more peaceful state of mind.

My interest in meditation was sparked by the book by neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris – Waking up: A guide to spirituality without religion http://www.samharris.org/waking-up. This is a very fascinating book that made me look at my own mind and thoughts in a different way. I suggest that if you are interested in meditation then read or listen to Sam Harris’s work.

I had a brief look at the research that has been conducted into mindfulness meditation and there has been a ton of studies. These studies look at the effects of mindfulness meditation on pain tolerance, distress, anxiety, depression and distraction. Most studies seem to report positive outcomes (2).

While I am still an extreme novice to the world of mindfulness meditation, I can clearly see the benefits it provides in today’s world of stress and deadlines and worries about career and personal finances. Perhaps you should give it a try.

  1. Zeidan F, Gordon NS, Merchant J, & Goolkasian P (2010) The effects of brief mindfulness meditation training on experimentally induced pain. The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society 11(3):199-209.
  2. Gu J, Strauss C, Bond R, & Cavanagh K (2015) How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies. Clinical psychology review 37:1-12.

My experiments with ‘aquafaba’

Aquafaba chocolate mousseHave you tried cooking with ‘aquafaba’? Wait, have you heard of aquafaba? It is the liquid from a can of chickpeas and it can be used as an egg replacement, more specifically an egg white replacement, in vegan cooking (find out all about it here http://aquafaba.com/index.html). Amazingly, you can whip this chickpea brine, or ‘aquafaba’ as it has been named, and it becomes light and fluffy like egg whites. Although I now eat meat after 10 years of being vegetarian, I would say that I eat a predominantly plant-based diet and I like to experiment with healthier, low calorie versions of desserts. So when I saw recipes popping up on vegan food blogs that I follow, I was intrigued and had to give it a try.

Aquafaba

I experimented with aquafaba in a chocolate mousse and in a Mocha orange bean brownie. It really does become light and fluffy when you beat it. It can be used to make vegan meringue, however, I have no desire to make a meringue as it seems like a lot of effort. I decided to go with a simple, no added sugar chocolate mousse made with coconut butter. Most recipes will instruct you to whip the aquafaba with an electric mixer but I do not own one so I just used my food processor. While I don’t think I quite achieved the soft peaks I should have, I was still quite impressed with the final texture of the mousse. I used the remainder of the aquafaba from a can of chickpeas in a Mocha orange bean brownie made with cannellini beans. It was good too; moist without being overly rich and made without any refined carbohydrates or butter. I served the mousse with a big slice of brownie for a tasty, no refined carbohydrate dessert.

Mocha orange brownie 2So what about the science behind this amazing substance? I would assume that the ability of aquafaba to form a foam is due to the proteins in the brine from the chickpeas, which act the same way as the proteins in egg whites. As you beat the chickpea brine, the proteins from the chickpeas become denatured or unfolded. This exposes both hydrophobic (water repelling) and hydrophilic (water attracting) amino acids. Also as you beat the brine, air is introduced. The denatured proteins gather together where the air and water meet and bonds form between the denatured proteins creating a foam and holding the incorporated air in place.

Mocha orange brownieIf you are curious about aquafaba then I encourage you to give it a go. It is such a cheap ingredient that it doesn’t matter if you screw it up the first time; think about how many times you have poured chickpea brine down the sink. My first attempt at using aquafaba was in a banana and coconut loaf. I used way too much and the loaf fell apart.

Do I have any suggestions on how to use the chickpeas themselves? Yes I do. I like to oven roast or pan roast chickpeas for a nice addition to a salad. I oven roasted the chickpeas from this particular can by spreading them out on a baking tray lined with baking paper and covering them with a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of tomato paste, chopped garlic, salt and pepper. I added the roasted chickpeas to a salad made with rocket, baby cos lettuce, tomato, mushrooms roasted with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper (I put them on the same tray as the chickpeas) and pan fried halloumi cheese. It was a delicious whole food dinner and dessert with plenty of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Chickpea halloumi salad 2Chocolate mousse made with ‘aquafaba’

Ingredients

½ cup of aquafaba

2 tablespoons coconut butter, melted but cooled

2 tablespoons coconut milk

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon granulated erythritol/stevia blend (I like Natvia brand)

Utensils

Measuring cups and spoons

Food processor

Small bowl

Spoon

Method

  • Add the aquafaba to the food processor and process until it is light and fluffy. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and process until well combined. Scoop the mousse into a bowl and refrigerate until the mousse is firm.

 Mocha orange bean brownie made with ‘aquafaba’

Ingredients

¼ cup of aqua faba

½ cup of cannellini beans

2 tablespoons of coconut butter or oil, melted

2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I think 3 would have been better)

1 orange, peeled and chopped into quarters

2 tablespoons stevia

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 heaped teaspoon of instant coffee

½ cup coconut milk

½ cup coconut flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

Utensils

Measuring cups and spoons

Food processor

Mixing bowl

Spoon

20cm x 20cm baking tray

Baking paper

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C. Firstly, add the aquafaba to the food processor and process until it is light and fluffy. Add in the cannellini beans, coconut butter or oil, cocoa powder, orange, stevia, vanilla extract, instant coffee and coconut milk and process until the mixture is smooth.
  • Mix together the coconut flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Add the mixture from the food processor to the flour and mix well to combine. Scoop the brownie mixture into a 20cm x 20cm baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 40 minutes or until the brownie is firm. Allow the brownie to cool before removing it from the tray using the baking paper. Allow it to cool completely before slicing.

My experiments with low calorie, low carb noodles – shirataki and agar noodles

I have been experimenting with two varieties of low calorie, low carb noodles at the moment – shirataki noodles and agar noodles. Both of these noodles have virtually no calories, no carbs, no fat and are essentially composed of soluble dietary fibre.

Shirataki or konjac noodles

Shirataki noodles are made from konjac, a plant of the genus Amorphophallus. I found this name interesting as ‘amorpho’ means formless or without a clearly defined shape and ‘phallus’ means penis, particularly an erect penis. It is an unusual looking plant with a single umbrella-shaped leaf up to 1.3m across growing from a large underground storage organ, known as a corm, and a dark purple spadix, which is a type of spike with small flowers, that is up to 55cm long, so I guess that is where the genus name is derived from. Konjac is native to warm subtropical to tropical eastern Asia, where it has been used as a food source and as a traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. (1).

Amorphophallus_konjac_(Flower_Factory)The Chinese were the first to use konjac during the Western Han Dynasty between 206BC – 08AD. Traditionally, konjac corms are washed, peeled, sliced, dried and ground to produce konjac flour, which is consumed in the form of noodles, snacks or konjac curds. Konjac was introduced into Japan in the sixth century AD as a valuable medicine. In Japanese cuisine, konjac flour is pounded with lime and water into gelatinous grey cake, a key ingredient in Japanese noodles, known as shirataki (2).

Konjac glucomannan (KGM)

The current usage of konjac in the West is in the food and nutraceutical industry, where soluble fibre from the corms, knows as konjac glucomannan (KGM) is used as a food additive or as a dietary supplement. KGM has generated interest lately due to its use as a source of dietary fibre. KGM is water-soluble and has a very high water-absorbing capacity. The β1-4 linkages between the D-glucose and D-mannose units that make up KGM cannot be broken down by salivary and pancreatic amylase, hence, KGM, passes into the colon unchanged and is fermented by the colonic bacteria (3).

The corms of A. konjac contain 49 – 60% (w/w) glucomannan, 10 – 30% (w/w) starch, 2.6 – 7% (w/w) inorganic elements including aluminium, calcium, chromium, cobalt, iron and magnesium, 5 – 14% (w/w) crude protein, 3 – 5% (w/w) soluble sugars and 3.4 – 5.3% (w/w) ash (4). When a food is said to contain ash this actually refers to any inorganic material, such as minerals. It is called ash because it is the residue remaining after heating, which removes water and all organic material, such as proteins and fats (5). Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is believed to be responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness, has also been identified in konjac corm tissue (6). Food grade konjac flour is produced by removing the impurities, such as starch, protein, cellulose and smaller sugars from the crude flour, which has an unpleasant pungent taste and a fish-like smell (7).

The potential health benefits of KGM

The potential health benefits of KGM include anti-obesity activity, anti-hypercholesterolemia activities, prebiotic activity and anti-inflammatory activity (8). The anti-obesity activity of KGM may be attributed to the promotion of satiety by delayed gastric emptying and slowed bowel transit time and a reduced rate of food absorption in the small intestine (3). This makes sense due to the water-absorbing properties of KGM and that it is resistant to digestion until it reaches the colon. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth and/or activity of certain health-promoting bacteria of the gut microbiota (9).The prebiotic effect of KGM has been supported by studies in both mice and humans. These studies have shown that dietary supplementation with KGM significantly increased the faecal concentrations of Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, which are considered to be ‘healthy’ bacteria of the human gut, while reducing the faecal content of the potential foodborne pathogens Clostridium perfringens and Escherichia coli (10-12).

Interestingly, the latest research involving KGM is exploring the use of this polymer as a colon-targeting drug-delivery system because it can only be degraded by colonic bacterial enzymes and cannot be degraded in the stomach or small intestine (13).

Cooking with shirataki

I first came across shirataki or konjac noodles in the health food section of a major supermarket a few years ago. I really enjoyed them. They were extremely easy to prepare, the texture was similar to rice vermicelli, and they absorbed the flavour of the sauce added to them. However, they were not cheap. I had not purchased konjac noodles for ages and recently picked up a 350 gram packet for $4 at the supermarket. The next day I was in one of the Asian supermarkets that I frequent and found 300 gram packets of ribbon konjac noodles for only $1.79! I was happy and bought two packets. These noodles contain only 8 calories per 100 grams and less than 0.1 grams of carbohydrates. Use them as you would any noodle and they do not require cooking. Ensure that you rinse these noodles thoroughly as they have a somewhat unpleasant smell (do not let that turn you off), however, the taste is almost completely neutral. Below are two recipes for cold noodle salads made with shirataki.

Shirataki noodle salad 1Agar noodles

The other type of low calorie, low carb noodles that I have been experimenting with are agar noodles. I never thought I would be eating agar because agar is actually the substance that we grow bacteria on in the lab!

Agar noodlesWhat is agar?

Agar is a natural polysaccharide produced from red algae (seaweed) with a very high content of water-soluble fibre. Agar, known as kanten in Japan, has been a part of the traditional Japanese diet for over 350 years. Agar is dissolved in heated water and returns to a firm gel upon cooling (14). Agar, one of the main sources of fibre in seaweed, is not digested to any great extent in the gut and essentially passes through the gastrointestinal tract with minimal digestion (15).

The potential health benefits of agar

Studies have shown that supplementing the diet with agar can slow gastric emptying (16), which reduces the rise in blood glucose levels following a meal. This may be due to a slowing in the movement of glucose from the stomach to the small intestine or by obstructing digestion and absorption of glucose in the small intestine. It was also shown that the addition of agar to the diet can enhance weight loss in obese patients and can reduce total cholesterol levels. The enhanced weight loss may be attributed to the water absorbing properties of agar producing feelings of fullness or satiety. The mechanism by which agar reduces cholesterol is unclear, but dietary fibre has been associated with lowering cholesterol (14).

Cooking with agar noodles

This was the first time I had used agar noodles in cooking. A 1kg bag cost $4.99 at an Asian supermarket. I had some difficulties finding these noodles and actually had to get a friend to purchase them for me. It is not clearly labeled on the packet (see photo above). You can find them in the refridgerated section. These noodles have more of a chewy texture and although I soaked them in boiling water for over 10 minutes, they were still chewy, hence I used them in a stir-fry (recipe below). The noodles were no longer chewy once stir-fried and resembled the texture of any other soft noodle. Similar to shirataki, these noodles absorbed the flavour of the sauce in which they were cooked and also the colour.

In summary it would appear that both KGM and agar have some health benefits due to the extremely high fibre content. Both these substances also promote feelings of satiety due to their water-absorbing properties. I am also a huge advocate of harbouring a ‘healthy’ and diverse microbiome (the research is still relatively new in this area but we are starting to grasp some understanding of what a ‘healthy’ microbiome is), so I like the prebiotic effect of KGM. Due to the high fibre content I would not be eating these noodles too frequently as you may experience some gastrointestinal discomfort. In my opinion, if you are craving some noodles or pasta but do not want to consume the carbohydrates and calories that come with these items, try these low calorie noodles in a cold salad or in a stir-fry.

Shirataki noodle salad 2Cold shirataki or konjac noodle salads

Ingredients

Makes 2 large serves

Cold noodle salad 1

1 packet of shirataki or konjac noodles, rinsed thoroughly, soaked in hot water for about a minute then rinsed again

1/3 red capsicum

1 carrot

1 shallot, finely chopped (green part only)

1 cup wombok, finely shredded

½ cup cucumber,

½ tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Dressing

¼ cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

½ tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon honey (replace honey with another sweetner for a vegan dressing)

¼ teaspoon red pepper powder (I just happen to have quite a bit of red pepper powder remaining after making kimchi – instructions to come) or chilli flakes

Cold noodle salad 2

1 300 gram packet ribbon konjac noodles (I untied the ribbons to create long, thin noodles), rinsed thoroughly, soaked in hot water for about a minute then rinsed again

1/3 red capsicum, diced

1 carrot, grated into ribbons

1 cup bean sprouts

½ cup cucumber, diced

½ tin chickpeas

2 shallots, finely sliced (white part)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Juice from ½ a lemon

1 tablespoon soy sauce

¼ teaspoon red pepper powder or chilli flakes

Dressing

2 tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons hot water

Juice of a lemon

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 – 2 teaspoons honey (add 2 if you would like the dressing sweeter, repace with another sweetner for a vegan version)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Utensils

Large strainer or colander

Sharp knife

Chopping board

Measuring cups and spoons

Small mixing bowl

Spoon

Large salad bowl

Non-stick fry pan for cold salad 2

Wooden spoon

Tongs to mix and serve

Method

  • For cold noodle salad 1 combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and mix well.
  • Combine all the ingredients for the salad in a large salad bowl and mix to combine. Pour the dressing over the top and mix it through the salad.
  • For cold noodle salad 2 add the shallots, garlic and ginger to a non-stick fry pan with about ¼ cup of water. Cook until the garlic starts to soften. Add the chickpeas, lemon juice, soy sauce and red pepper powder and continue cooking until the chickpeas are slightly crunchy.
  • Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a small mixing bowl and mix well. Combine the ingredients for the cold noodle salad, as well as the cooked chickpeas, into a large salad bowl and mix to combine. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix it through.Stir fry with agar noodles

Vegetable and chickpea stir-fry with agar noodles

Makes 2 large serves plus some remaining for lunch

Ingredients

1 vegetable stock cube

2 cloves garlic, mined

3 cm fresh ginger, finely grated

1 brown onion, finely sliced

½ a 400 gram tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 carrots, julienned

½ a red capsicum, cut into thin strips

½ head of broccoli, cut into small florets

¼ head of cauliflower, cut into small florets

1 cup frozen edamame

250 grams agar noodles soaked in hot water for about 10 minutes then rinsed

Sauce

½ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon tahini

¼ teaspoon red pepper powder or chilli flakes

1 teaspoon honey (replace with another sweetner for a vegan version)

1/4 cup hot water

Utensils

Large bowl to soak noodles

Sharp knife

Cutting board

Large strainer or colander

Measuring cups and spoons

Small mixing bowl

Spoon

Non-stick fry pan

Wooden spoon

Method

  • Crumble the vegetable stock cube into a non-stick frying pan along with ½ cup of water, the garlic, ginger and onion. Cook over a medium heat until the onion begins to go transparent. Add in the chickpeas and additional water to prevent sticking and continue cooking.
  • Add in the carrots and capsicum and continue cooking until the vegetables begin to soften. Add in the broccoli, cauliflower and edamame, adding more water as necessary to prevent sticking. Continue cooking until all the vegetables are tender but are still slightly crunchy.
  • Turn the heat down to low and add in the agar noodles. Stir well to mix the noodles through and cook until the noodles are heated and have absorbed the sauce.
  1. Hetterscheild WLA & Ittenbach S (1996) Everything you always wanted to know about Amorphophallus but were afraid to stick your nose into. Aroideana 19:7-129.
  2. Brown D (2000) Aroids, Plants of the Arum Family. (Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.).
  3. Keithley J & Swanson B (2005) Glucomannan and obesity: a critical review. Alternative therapies in health and medicine 11(6):30-34.
  4. Li B, Xia J, Wang Y, & Xie B (2005) Grain-size effect on the structure and antiobesity activity of konjac flour. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 53(19):7404-7407.
  5. Baker M (2015) What is ash in food?
  6. Niwa T, Etoh H, Shimizu A, & Shimizu Y (2000) Cis-N-(p-Coumaroyl)serotonin from Konnyaku, Amorphophallus konjac K. Koch. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry 64(10):2269-2271.
  7. Liu PY, Lin ZS, & Guo ZX (1998) Research and Utilization of Amorphophallus in China. Acta Botanica Yunnanica Suppl. X:48-61.
  8. Chua M, Baldwin TC, Hocking TJ, & Chan K (2010) Traditional uses and potential health benefits of Amorphophallus konjac K. Koch ex N.E.Br. Journal of ethnopharmacology 128(2):268-278.
  9. Bindels LB, Delzenne NM, Cani PD, & Walter J (2015) Towards a more comprehensive concept for prebiotics. Nature reviews. Gastroenterology & hepatology 12(5):303-310.
  10. Chen HL, Cheng HC, Liu YJ, Liu SY, & Wu WT (2006) Konjac acts as a natural laxative by increasing stool bulk and improving colonic ecology in healthy adults. Nutrition 22(11-12):1112-1119.
  11. Chen HL, Cheng HC, Wu WT, Liu YJ, & Liu SY (2008) Supplementation of konjac glucomannan into a low-fiber Chinese diet promoted bowel movement and improved colonic ecology in constipated adults: a placebo-controlled, diet-controlled trial. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 27(1):102-108.
  12. Chen HL, Fan YH, Chen ME, & Chan Y (2005) Unhydrolyzed and hydrolyzed konjac glucomannans modulated cecal and fecal microflora in Balb/c mice. Nutrition 21(10):1059-1064.
  13. Liu J, et al. (2012) Preparation of konjac glucomannan-based pulsatile capsule for colonic drug delivery system and its evaluation in vitro and in vivo. Carbohydrate Polymers), Vol 87, pp 377-382.
  14. Maeda H, Yamamoto R, Hirao K, & Tochikubo O (2005) Effects of agar (kanten) diet on obese patients with impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes, obesity & metabolism 7(1):40-46.
  15. MacArtain P, Gill CI, Brooks M, Campbell R, & Rowland IR (2007) Nutritional value of edible seaweeds. Nutrition reviews 65(12 Pt 1):535-543.
  16. Sanaka M, Yamamoto T, Anjiki H, Nagasawa K, & Kuyama Y (2007) Effects of agar and pectin on gastric emptying and post-prandial glycaemic profiles in healthy human volunteers. Clinical and experimental pharmacology & physiology 34(11):1151-1155.

“Amorphophallus konjac (Flower Factory)” by James Steakley – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amorphophallus_konjac_(Flower_Factory).jpg#/media/File:Amorphophallus_konjac_(Flower_Factory).jpg

My experiments with coconut flour

Coconut flourI typically try to use everyday ingredients in my cooking that are readily available and affordable, however, now and then I enjoy experimenting with new ingredients, if these ingredients allow me to expand my range of healthy, nutritious meals.

I was very pleased to see that Woolworths now sells coconut flour. I have done a little bit of cooking with coconut flour and have only been able to purchase it from my local bulk food health store. I have currently banned myself from the bulk food health store as we are trying to save money and every time I go in there I end up spending way more than I anticipated on a range of ingredients that I had not intended to buy. But when I saw 300 grams of Sunbeam Coconut Meal, also known as coconut flour, for $4.00 in Woolworths I could not resist. While this may seem expensive for a baking flour, keep in mind that coconut flour/meal is highly absorbent, therefore you actually use less than regular wheat flour.

I like coconut flour for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is far lower in carbohydrates than regular flour. Coconut flour contains 14.7 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams compared to 70.7 grams for traditional wheat flour. Secondly, coconut flour is a good source of dietary fibre, with 37.4 grams per 100 grams. Also, coconut flour is gluten free, so for those with a gluten-related disorder (GRD) (1), which is now the accepted term to encompass the whole spectrum of these disorders, it is a great alternative to use in baking and it is lower in calories compared to almond flour. Almond flour typically has around 160 calories per 28 gram or ¼ cup serving while Sunbeam Coconut Meal has only 118 calories per 28 grams. Furthermore, coconut flour or meal is actually a source of protein with 5.3 grams of protein per 30 grams.

I tried two different recipes with coconut flour, a Spicy carrot and apple slice with Ricotta lemon icing and Chocolate and beetroot cupcakes with Chocolate ricotta icing. Both were made without highly refined carbohydrates and turned out quite moist with a subtle sweetness (after multiple attempts). They were also approved by the boyfriend, which is always a good sign. So whether you have a GRD or not, try coconut flour for a lower carbohydrate alternative to wheat flour.

 Spicy carrot and apple sliceSpicy carrot and apple slice with Ricotta lemon icing

Ingredients

Spicy carrot and apple slice

2 medium carrots, roughly chopped

1 apple, peeled and roughly chopped

½ cup dates or prunes, packed down

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup walnuts

10 drops vanilla flavour liquid stevia (I like Nirvana Organic – $15.95 for 50ml, which seems expensive but you do not need to use a lot to achieve a mild sweetness)

1 egg

1/3 cup desiccated coconut

1/3 cup coconut flour

Ricotta lemon icing

1/3 cup low fat ricotta cheese

1/3 cup Greek yoghurt (use full fat for the creaminess and texture)

Juice from half a small lemon

Rind from half a small lemon, finely grated

1 tablespoon granulated stevia (I like Natvia – $7.75 for a 200 gram canister)

1 teaspoon gelatin dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water (see Note below regarding gelatin)

Method

  • Add the chopped carrot, apple and dates or prunes to a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
  • Add the spices, baking powder, walnuts, stevia and egg to the food processor and continue processing until a thick paste forms.
  • Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the desiccated coconut and coconut flour and mix well to combine.
  • Spoon the mixture into a 20cm x 20cm baking tray lined with baking paper. Use wet hands to press down the mixture.
  • Bake for 30 minutes in the oven at 180°C.
  • For the icing add the ricotta cheese, Greek yoghurt, lemon juice, lemon rind and stevia to a small mixing bowl and mix well.
  • Place the gelatin into a separate small bowl. Add the boiling water and mix until dissolved.
  • Add the dissolved gelatin to the ricotta mixture and mix well.
  • Place the icing in the fridge and periodically stir the mixture as the gelatin sets. This will stop it from becoming gluggy and lumpy.
  • Allow the slice to cool completely before covering with icing.

Note: Some people, obviously vegetarians, may choose not to use gelatin as it is produced by the partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs, and fish. If so, it can be left out of the Ricotta lemon icing, however, the icing will not be as firm.

  1. Sapone, A., Bai, J. C., Ciacci, C., Dolinsek, J., Green, P. H., Hadjivassiliou, M., … Fasano, A. (2012). Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Medicine, 10, 13. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-13.

After 3 attempts I was finally happy with these Chocolate and beetroot cupcakes. They turned out moist and not too sweet with just a hint of the beetroot flavour. I like the colour too.

Chocolate beetroot cupcakesChocolate and beetroot cupcakes

Makes 6 cupcakes

Ingredients

1 medium beetroot, peeled and roughly chopped

1 cup reduced fat coconut cream or coconut milk

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ cup granulated stevia

15 drops vanilla flavour liquid stevia

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

½ cup coconut flour

Chocolate beetroot cupcakes prepChocolate beetroot cupcakes mix

Method

  • Place the peeled, chopped beetroot and coconut cream or milk into a food processor. Process until the beetroot is pulverized.
  • Add the cocoa powder, stevia, cinnamon and baking powder and continue processing until well combined and the mixture has a fairly smooth consistency.
  • Pour the beetroot mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the egg and mix to combine.
  • Add the coconut flour and mix to combine.
  • Line a 6 cup muffin tray with baking paper. Carefully spoon the mixture into each of the 6 cups.
  • Bake in the oven at 180°C for 40 minutes.
  • Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before topping with the Chocolate ricotta icing.Chocolate beetroot cupcakes uncooked

 Chocolate ricotta icing

This icing has a light and creamy texture. Compared to a traditional buttercream icing it is much lower in calories and has no added sugar.

Ingredients

½ cup low fat ricotta cheese

1/3 cup Greek yoghurt (use full fat for a creamy texture)

2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted (sifting is important to prevent lumps of cocoa in your icing)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon granulated stevia

Method

Mix all the ingredients well until no lumps remain and an even, smooth texture is achieved.