Here at Up To Gnu Good, all our products are gluten free and low carb, which means that, inherently, they do not contain any cereals or grains, be it wheat, rice, quinoa, millet, or corn. We also do not use any soy based products, nor any palm oil or hydrogenated fats, vegetable oils, or any refined sugars. So what are the magical ingredients we use in our bakes?
- Nuts and Seeds
- Coconut and Coconut Products
- Dairy and Eggs
- Natural Sweeteners
- Cacao and Cacao Products
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Leavening Agents and Thickeners
- Spices and Natural Extracts
This is one of the most commonly used ingredients in low carb baking. Almond flour is made by first blanching almonds to remove their skins, and then finely grinding them. Almonds are rich in vitamins and minerals and provide the most calcium compared to any other nut. Almond flour is high in protein (21% by weight), manganese, vitamin E and monounsaturated fats, and naturally low in carbohydrates.
* Almonds are, however, tree nuts, so those with nut allergies should avoid consuming products made with almond flour. Fortunately, here at Up To Gnu Good, we offer several alternatives and a large number of our products can be made nut free, so please just ask!
This is another gluten free flour that is rich in minerals, and, as the name implies, is made from sesame seeds. Similar to peanut flour, it is high in protein (over 45% by weight) and fibre and low in carbohydrates. Its mild and nutty aroma make it a wonderful flavour addition to bakes, especially for those with tree nut and peanut allergies.
* Sesame can also be an allergen for some people, so in this case, like peanut flour, sesame flour too can easily be substituted in most of our products.
This unusual ingredient is used in some of our bakes to give them that lovely peanut flavour (Snickers bars, anyone?) that pairs so well with chocolate! Peanuts are technically legumes and not nuts, but share several properties with nuts, especially in the culinary sense, and are therefore often grouped with them. Peanut flour is made by roasting peanuts, grinding them into natural peanut butter (100% peanuts – no added oils, sugars, or salt), and then pressing out the oil. The flour is then made from refining the peanut mass that is left behind after the fat has been pressed out. It is therefore naturally high in protein (over 50% by weight) and fibre, and low enough in carbs to be a very useful ingredient in low carb cooking.
* Those with peanut allergies should of course avoid products made using peanut flour, but this can easily be replaced by a more suitable ingredient in most of our products.
Nut butters are one of the most versatile ingredients used in low carb cooking. All the nut butters we use contain, at the most, two ingredients – nuts (e.g. almonds, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, cashew nuts, pistachios), and, sometimes, salt. We do not use any nut butters that have added oils or sugars, and several of our nut butters are made from scratch – we roast the nuts, shell them, and grind them ourselves!
* Those with tree nut and peanut allergies should avoid products made with nut butters. However, here at Up To Gnu Good we are able to offer several alternatives, so please just ask.
Nut Milks (Almond Milk, Cashew Milk)
Nut milks are very popular for those following a low carb lifestyle, not only because of their high protein and low carb content, but also because they are naturally dairy and lactose free and therefore suitable for those with dairy allergies, and for vegans. We use nut milks in some of our cakes, muffins, and brownies, but these can be substituted with suitable alternatives if required.
The use of nuts in sweet treats of any kind has been popular worldwide for centuries, and are considered to be a natural, delicious addition to both sweet and savoury products. Nuts are nutritional powerhouses, and are rich in vitamins, minerals, Omega-3 fats, protein, and fibre. We use a variety of nuts in several of our recipes, for both taste and texture, including almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, cashew nuts, pecans, walnuts, and brazil nuts, but these can easily be excluded to suit those with nut allergies.
This flour is the next most popular ingredient in low carb baking, and is especially favoured by those with nut allergies. Contrary to the name, which contains the word “nut”, coconuts are not nuts and are safe for people with nut allergies. Coconuts are classified as a fibrous one-seeded drupe. A drupe is a fruit with a hard stony covering enclosing the seed (like a peach or olive) and comes from the word drupa meaning overripe olive. A coconut, and all drupes, have three layers: the exocarp (outer layer), the mesocarp (fleshy middle layer), and the endocarp (hard, woody layer that surrounds the seed). Coconut flour is made from the mesocarp or pulp of coconuts, and is a by-product of the process to make coconut milk. It is low in carbs, very high in fibre, lower in fat than almond flour, and has a higher Omega-3 content.
Contrary to the title, coconut meat is 100% vegan! What it refers to is that delicious, fleshy mesocarp or white inner layer in coconuts. We use coconut meat mostly as shredded coconut and desiccated coconut, and these add a wonderful tropical flavour to some of our bars, blondies, and muffins.
Coconut milk is extracted by grating and pressing the white flesh of coconuts and mixing it with a small amount of water. Coconut milk is a traditional food ingredient that has been used in Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Caribbean, and northern South America for centuries. It is rich in healthy fats and several vitamins and minerals. As it is lactose free, it is an essential ingredient in dairy free and vegan low carb cooking, and imparts a delicious, creamy flavour to food.
Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the meat of mature coconuts, and has historically been used in several South Asian countries for cooking. Coconut oil contains a high proportion of a type of fat called Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs), most notably in the form of lauric acid. MCFAs reputably have various health benefits including being less likely to be stored in the body as fat and more readily used as a source of energy. Similar to coconut milk, coconut oil is a valuable ingredient in dairy free and vegan low carb baking as it can be used as a substitute for butter in several recipes.
Not all dairy is low carb friendly, and you will not find milk used in most of our products. However, other forms of dairy and milk products such as butter, double cream, cream cheese, ricotta cheese, sour cream, and cottage cheese are a crucial element to several of our low carb products, and provide that wonderful, rich flavour we associate with cheesecakes and pound cakes. In some of our cakes, we use pure whey protein isolate to add structure to our bakes in a similar manner to how gluten provides structure to conventional bakes. We can of course offer a variety of dairy-free alternatives for vegans and for those following a Paleo lifestyle, so fear not!
Given the complete lack of gluten in our products, eggs play a crucial role in keeping our baked goodies together, and therefore several of our products contain eggs. However, egg-free and vegan options are certainly available, and we are continuously working towards making new vegan products, so please do ask!
An important note: None of our low carb products contain any form of refined sugar, be it white sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, maltose, dextrose, or fruit juice concentrates.
We also do not use honey, molasses, dates, maple syrup or products such as agave syrup, coconut nectar, and coconut sugar. This might come as a surprise, but although these are natural sugars, they contain high amounts of carbohydrates and are high in sugars that raise insulin levels, and are therefore unsuitable for those following a low carbohydrate lifestyle, or for those who are diabetic or insulin resistant.
We also do not use any artificial sweeteners, such as those found in diet sodas and packaged “sugar-free” products, such as aspartame and sucralose, and neither do we use sugar alcohols like maltitol, xylitol, and sorbitol. Although these sweeteners are mostly zero calorie and have no digestible carbohydrates, they often have adverse side effects, such as disturbing gut bacteria and causing digestive distress, and many have an unpleasant aftertaste. Additionally, xylitol is toxic to animals, so any treats with xylitol should not be shared with your pets!
So what do we use then? Read on…
Despite its chemical-sounding name, Erythritol has natural origins and belongs to a class of compounds as sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are found in small amounts in nature, especially fruit and vegetables. Erythritol is 70% as sweet as sugar and contains 95% less calories found in the same amount of sugar. Unlike other sugar alcohols, most of the erythritol ingested is absorbed in the bloodstream before it reaches the colon, and therefore it does not cause the digestive distress associated with other sugar alcohols like xylitol and maltitol. Most crucially, it does not spike blood sugar nor does it raise the level of insulin in the body, and is therefore entirely suitable for diabetics and for those following a low carbohydrate lifestyle. It also has no effect on cholesterol, triglycerides, or any other health markers.
Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana, which is part of the sunflower family, and is native to Brazil and Paraguay. Indigenous people of these countries used the intensely sweet stevia leaves in teas, medicines, and to chew as a treat. It is 200-350 times as sweet as sugar, and is therefore used in very small amounts in low carb cooking. It contains no carbohydrates and no calories, and does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels in the body, and is therefore a very useful ingredient for those following a low carbohydrate lifestyle.
Monk Fruit Sweetener
Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, is a small round fruit grown in Southeast Asia. It has been safely used for centuries in Eastern medicine as a cold and digestive aid, and now it is also being used to sweeten foods and beverages. Monk fruit sweetener is created by removing the seeds and skin of the fruit, crushing the fruit, and collecting the juice. The fruit extract, or juice, is around 150-200 times sweeter than sugar and contains zero calories per serving – meaning a very small amount provides a lot of sweetness. Similarly to stevia, when used in small amounts, monk fruit sweetener serves as a very useful low carb ingredient.
Allulose is a low calorie, low carbohydrate sugar that occurs naturally in small quantities in foods like figs, raisins, kiwis and maple syrup. It is also known as D-psicose. It is classified as a “rare sugar” because it is naturally present in only a few foods. However, in recent years, manufacturers have used enzymes to convert fructose from corn and other plants into allulose. Like glucose and fructose, allulose is a monosaccharide, or simple sugar. In contrast, table sugar, also known as sucrose, is a disaccharide made of glucose and fructose joined together. Allulose is absorbed by the body, but not metabolised, so it is nearly calorie-free. Allulose is not recognised by the body as a carbohydrate, does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels, and, like erythritol, is about 70% as sweet as sugar.
Yacon syrup is a sweetening agent extracted from the tuberous roots of the yacón plant (Smallanthus sonchifolius) indigenous to the Andes mountains, and was used by the Incas. In Peru, people eat yacón because of its nutritional properties, i.e. few calories and low sugar levels. In Bolivia, yacón roots are eaten by people with diabetes or other digestive and renal disorders. In Brazil, the dried leaves are used to make yacón tea, said to be antidiabetic. Yacon syrup tastes similar to caramel, molasses or caramelised sugar, and is about half as sweet as honey. The syrup contains up to 50% of fructooligosaccharides (FOS). The consumption of FOS does not increase blood glucose; however, the root contains free fructose at about 35%. Sydney University’s Glycemic Index Research Service (SUGiR) conducted a glycemic index study on a New Zealand-made yacon concentrate syrup, the result shows the GI value of the syrup is 40 ± 4, it is categorized as Low GI food.
Cacao and Cocoa Powder
Although cacao powder and cocoa powder are often used interchangeably, raw cacao powder is made by cold pressing raw cacao beans, which retains the living enzymes contained within the beans. Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is made from roasted cacao beans, which changes its molecular structure and taste, and also its nutritional profile. Food made using cacao powder tends to taste milder and less intense than food made with cocoa powder, which delivers the strong, chocolatey flavour we associate with rich chocolate cakes. Both cacao powder and cocoa powder are fantastic ingredients to use in low carb baking, as they are naturally low in carbohydrates and high in fibre.
Cacao nibs are minimally processed pieces of the cacao bean. They add an intensely chocolate flavour to brownies and biscuits, and a delightful crunch akin to nuts, and are therefore ideal for those with nut allergies. They are high in fibre and protein and contain very low amounts of carbohydrates.
None of the products we make here at Up To Gnu Good contain added sugar in any form, and therefore the only chocolate we use to make our goodies is 100% chocolate – unsweetened, pure cocoa mass, which, like the cocoa bean, contains approximately equal amounts of cocoa solids and cacao butter. We use a variety of brands, including 100% chocolate from Hotel Chocolat, Montezuma’s, Be Chocolat, Callebaut, and Willie’s Cacao. We do not use compound chocolate of any sort, which is made from a combination of cocoa, vegetable fat, and sweeteners.
Cacao butter is an edible vegetable fat obtained from whole cacao beans by cold-pressing them to extract theobroma oil. This oil solidifies at room temperature, similar to coconut oil, and this solid form is called cacao butter. Cacao butter can be used as a substitute for butter in dairy-free or vegan baking, and is a wonderful addition to the low carb pantry. Unlike cocoa butter, which is processed at a high heat, killing off any nutrients or vitamins, cacao butter retains the healthy fats, antioxidants, and nutrients present in the raw material.
Fruits are nature’s desserts, and are high in fibre, vitamins, and water. However, most fruits are also very high in sugar, which, although natural, can be excessive for those that are insulin resistant or diabetic. Fruits are therefore sparingly used in low carb cooking, but when used in the right amounts in their natural state (fresh, not dried, whole, not concentrated), they add wonderful natural sweetness and flavour to food. The skin of fruits is usually very rich in antioxidants and fiber. This is the reason that berries, which have greater amounts of skin, gram for gram, are often considered healthier than larger fruits. Berries, therefore, are a fantastic choice for those following a low carbohydrate lifestyle, due to their high nutrient content and low sugar content when compared to fruits such as peaches, bananas, pineapples and plums. In our recipes, we frequently use raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries for their sweetness, avocados for their healthy fats, creamy texture, and soluble fibre, and lemons and limes for their tartness and fresh flavour.
Here at Up To Gnu Good we occasionally use some vegetables in our sweet treats, including courgettes (zucchini), carrots, pumpkin, and even butternut squash. When used in the right amounts, they add just the right amount of moisture, texture, and flavour to what are traditionally thought to be sweet foods, so the next time you pick up one of our chocolate muffins, you might be in for a pleasant surprise!
Baking Powder and Baking Soda
These are common ingredients in most kitchens and are used as raising agents in baking. Baking powder is in fact made from baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), which is an alkali, and cream of tartar, which is an acid. It is mixed with a gluten-free filler such as rice flour or cornflour and is used in a majority of bakes. Baking soda, on the other hand, is used when a bake contains acidic ingredients such as lemons and limes.
Chia seeds are a valuable ingredient in any low carb kitchen. Not only are these tiny seeds packed with essential nutrients, they are also wonderful natural thickeners, especially when ground to a powder. Chia seeds, when in contact with any liquid, swell up and double in size, which makes them a fantastic ingredient in puddings and low carb porridges. Their high level of liquid absorbency is due to their high fibre content, which is nearly 30% by weight. They are also a plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for human health.
This is a thickener that is a healthy alternative to cornstarch, and is used in small quantities to improve the flavour and texture of low carbohydrate foods. It comes from a plant similar to cassava, and is made by cutting the root into small pieces, mashing it to a pulp, and then pushing it through a small sieve to only extract the fine starch.
Gelatine, most commonly seen in manufactured jelly, is a setting agent of animal origin. It enhances the texture of low carbohydrate foods and is an essential ingredient in desserts like panna cotta, no-bake cheesecakes, some types of mousses, and certain puddings.
Agar-agar is a natural vegetable gelatine counterpart made from seaweed, and is therefore perfect for vegetarians and vegans. It is white and semi-translucent when sold in packages as washed and dried strips or in powdered form. It’s also known by its Japanese name, Kanten. Agar-agar has no flavor, odor or color so it’s helpful as a culinary ingredient. As a setting agent it is stronger than gelatine and helps give structure to a variety of baked goods and puddings. Agar has no calories, no sugar, no carbs, and no fat. It is free from soy, corn, gluten, yeast, wheat, starch, milk, egg, and preservatives. It is a good source of fibre, calcium, and iron.
This is a common natural food additive and thickener that is used in a variety of products, both regular and low carbohydrate. It grows from the fermentation of plant bacteria, and has a similar texture to cornflour. Commercially, it is most commonly used in sauces and salad dressings as a stabilisers, but is also used in some brands of ice creams. Due to its stabilising and binding properties, it is a very useful ingredient in low carb cooking.
All the herbs and spices used at Up To Gnu Good are entirely natural, often made from scratch, and are entirely gluten and grain free. Our favourites include natural vanilla powder and extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and we do not use any artificial flavourings and colours.