If we want to make something taste good, most of us go for some type of seasoning salt, perhaps a marinade, while others love a good sauce. These are all easy and convenient ways we can flavor our foods without much hassle at all. And while these options aren’t necessarily bad, food companies now sneak lots of little nasty ingredients into our flavoring choices without us even knowing it.

few that come to mind include: MSG, GMO sourced soy and corn, refined sugars listed as dextrose or sugar, or cheap fillers like cornstarch, xanthan gum, or worse — preservatives. Artificial colors, excess sodium, nitrates and more are others you might have heard of. Most condiments on the market today are absolutely loaded with things your body doesn’t particularly enjoy digesting with your food. Many of these ingredients can raise blood sugar, blood pressure, and might give your tummy a fit too. Others can cause allergies, intolerances, and some have been linked to serious health conditions such as cancer and ADHD.


Smoked Cashew Cheese Spread [Vegan, Gluten-Free]Recipe by Julie Van den Kerchove 


But the good news is, we have a simple way to flavor our food without the need for chemical, overly processed options. And the answer, friends, are plain old real foods that are the healthiest ingredients we can use. Certain foods are incredibly rich in complex flavors and many even contain different levels of flavor to satisfy the palate that processed foods just can’t provide.

For instance, chocolate. Chocolate contains notes of sweet, bitter, acid, and others depending on the region the chocolate is from. Lemons are another food that adds brightness, sweetness, and acidity to any dish they are included in or added to. Using foods like these is a great way to up the flavor of dishes without the need for shelf-stable products. It can also teach you to love real food again and make you an excellent cook with little effort.


Here are a few favorites that add stellar flavor to any meal, sans the chemical side effects:

Cocoa Powder

Devil's Food Cake (Vegan)Recipe by Clémence Moulaert 


As mentioned, chocolate is full of different flavors and one of the best ways to use it to flavor your foods it to use it anywhere you want a rich, “what is that?” flavor to your foods. Desserts are a given, but what about others? Add cocoa powder to a rich sauce for a mole flavor or perhaps add a pinch to your next coffee recipe for a natural mocha flavor without the need for mocha sauce. Add some cocoa powder to a smoothie with vanilla instead of a processed sweetener. See how simple (and delicious) this option is?


So, which cocoa should you use you ask?

Use raw cacao powder for smoothies and recipes you won’t be baking with to retain all the rich chocolate flavors while still benefiting from the raw nutrients in cacao beans. It will add richness, sweetness and depth to smoothies and baked goods without the need for sweeteners (or at least less of them). Use Dutch-processed cocoa (alkalized) in recipes or sauces where you’d like an extra depth of chocolate flavor. This is nice in tomato-based or barbecue dishes or sauces where you need that extra “something special” and is really nice in Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake or a mean batch of brownies! Use regular cocoa powder which is a bit more bitter and less sweet than Dutch in regular baking recipes; its acidity also works well as a baking agent.

Pepper Blends

Mushrooms-with-Red-Onions-Black-Peppers-and-ChivesRecipe by Rinku Bhattacharya


Pepper blends (such as black, red, and white pepper blends) are a great alternative to processed hot sauces or peppery stir-fry sauces. This eliminates the sugar in hot sauce as well as the excess sodium, but you still get a huge pungent flavor with plenty of spice. The blend of peppers is a great way to add more flavor than simple black pepper and also a dose of nutrition to your foods. Pepper is also nice added to a homemade salad dressing to give it a punch of flavor without lots of salt. Or, try blends with variety of peppers included such as chili powder, garam masala, and Chinese five spice just to name a few. Peppers are great sources of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and also increase the metabolism naturally. 

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potato Gingerbread [Vegan, Gluten-Free]Recipe by Laura Peill 


Sweet potatoes are naturally rich, sweet, and very hearty. They’re the perfect replacement to sugar in muffin recipes and you can also use them as an egg substitute if you wish. Try using 2 cups mashed sweet potato in place of sugar and eggs in your next brownie recipe, but do be sure to add a little vanilla extract to up the sweetness a little more too. Sweet potatoes are also nice served at dinner as a side in place of processed pastas and will give your body a nice dose of complex carbs without the blood sugar spike pasta dishes may cause. 

Unsweetened Applesauce

Homemade-ApplesauceRecipe by Sondi Bruner: Blogger, The Copycat Cook 


A timeless way to add natural sweetness to recipes in place of sugar, applesauce is a great option. Apple butter is nice too, but look for those without added sugars. They will be listed as unsweetened or no sugar added. Apples contain plenty of sweetness all on their own; see some tips for how to make healthy muffins with applesauce to get you started!


Caramel Fudge Brownies [Vegan]Recipe by Laura Ryan 

Pumpkin lends a really beautiful color and taste to a variety of things — it’s even an egg replacer like sweet potatoes! You can also use pumpkin as a smoothie sweetener or use it in place of processed oils in items like cookies, brownies, and cakes. One of the most unique ways to use pumpkin is as a replacement to eggs, oil, and cornstarch in waffle and pancake recipes. It’s a natural binder, moisturizer, and will help items stay together quite well. Pumpkin is also a great source of fiber, vitamin C, is low in sugar, and is a great source of beta-carotene that converts to vitamin A in the body. 

Olive Oil and ACV

6935865370_28e5f2eef5_zCandace Stone/Flickr


Extra-virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar (ACV) are the perfect pair to keep on hand for unprocessed flavor options. Use this simple mix as a go-to salad dressing, marinade, or drizzling agent over veggies; they pair well together in equal parts, and you can also add in herbs and black pepper to up the flavor factor even more. Your taste buds will come to love the simplicity of this option, and both of these ingredients are excellent sources of nutrition for your body. 

Remember to get creative with whole foods in the kitchen; they can be excellent vehicles of flavor when blended into items, baked into dishes, or used as a topping, sweetener replacement, or in replacement to processed fats. Because while cauliflower is quite the trendy, sneaky little veggie, it’s not the only option out there!

Do you have a secret weapon for using whole foods to flavor your meals?

Lead Image Source: Sweet Potato Chickpea Burger