Raw Thickeners and Emulsifiers

With so much fresh local produce available to us in the summer, it is a great time to experiment with raw foods. Being healthy has never tasted so good…and I promise you’ll never look at seaweed the same again!

One of the greatest challenges you may encounter while preparing raw foods is creating the texture you desire. I have tried to create a diverse list of foods that can be used to thicken, set or emulsify your creation while adding nutritional benefits. Some of them are 100% raw while others may have been or need to be heated before using.

One of my favorite products to use in desserts is cold-pressed coconut oil. Not only is it delicious and excellent for your skin and hair, it also burns fat! Coconut oil is found in extra virgin, virgin, or unscented (3rd pressing). If you are making a dish that you want to taste like coconut, use the extra virgin or virgin. The unscented coconut oil creates the same texture without any flavour. Coconut oil will melt at 76 degrees F and re-solidify once refrigerated, giving your dessert a firm consistency.

Seaweed is another excellent choice for setting desserts and creating different textures and consistencies. Irish moss is a great raw product for a lighter, fluffier feel, while agar agar, which needs to be boiled, is great for a jelly like consistency. Because agar agar is 80% fibre it triples in size when ingested and keeps you feeling full longer and is often used as a weight loss supplement. It is available in powder, flakes and sheets.

Soy lecithin, as a powder or granules, protects nerves, lowers cholesterol and improves memory. It acts as an emulsifier in dressings and desserts, creating a creamy texture. When using soy lecithin be sure to find a non-GMO variety.

When making soups and mousse, I like to use avocado as a thickener because its high monounsaturated fat content creates a soft smooth texture. The longer you blend avocado the thicker it becomes, so make sure to add it last. I also like to use avocado in tortillas and wraps that are dehydrated because it never goes totally crispy and you are left with a firm but flexible product.

Psyllium husk and flax seeds, both of which are high in soluble fibre, are a great choice when making products with a high water content like crackers and breads. They absorb the water quickly and provide bulk. The psyllium husk is ground while the flax seeds can be used either whole or ground.

When I am preparing foods, I like to use a combination of ingredients to achieve a desired texture. For example, irish moss and agar agar both give a seaweed flavour when used in larger amounts. By using smaller amounts of both together, neither flavour comes through. Another benefit of using more than one ingredient at a time is that you can soften the consistency. Agar agar creates a stiff jelly-like consistency, irish moss is fluffy, and lecithin is creamy, so when you use small amounts of each of them you have a much more subtle texture.

Don’t be afraid to experiment! Even if it doesn’t turn out how you were expecting texture wise, the flavour will be the same. Maybe instead of black forest cake you could call it a chocolate cherry parfait…and yes, I am speaking from experience!