Real Food in a Box
Why is it so hard to find real food in a box? I get some things are not made to stay fresh for long periods of time without some sort of preservatives. Meats will spoil. Vegetables will go bad. Fruits will rot. But what about baking products? Doesn't it seem like these types of boxed foods don't need to be filled with ingredients we don't recognize and can barely pronounce?
Think about the ingredients necessary to bake a cake. A basic vanilla cake recipe requires eight ingredients:
- Baking powder
- Vanilla extract
- Heavy cream
I'm not a chef, but if I had to guess I would think that I could mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together and keep it sealed for quite some time before it goes bad. Then all I'd have to do when I'm ready to make my cake is add the flour, eggs, vanilla extract and heavy cream. Simple and easy. Why then do most boxed cake mixes include things like xanthan gum, guar gum, soy lecithin, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, and leavening?
The answer, I fear, is that we are trying to reduce the number of additional wet ingredients we have to add to the cake mix from four down to three. In the basic vanilla cake recipe above there are four wet ingredients (butter, eggs, vanilla extract, and heavy cream). The boxed cake mix that contains the esters of fatty acids (because we all know what those are) and leavening (whatever that is) has three wet ingredients (water, vegetable oil, and egg whites). Have we become so lazy as a culture that we are willing to include an abundance of unnecessary ingredients into a cake mix just so we don't have to add milk?
Thankfully help is on the way. In a recent article in the USA Today, I learned of a fairly new baking line that is hoping to remove all the extra, unnecessary ingredients to provide us with an all-natural cake mix. Miss Jones Baking Company offers an organic cake mix with six ingredients:
- Organic evaporated cane juice
- Organic wheat flour
- Organic wheat starch
- Baking powder
- Sea salt
On top of the minimal ingredients necessary for the cake mix, the product touts a one-year shelf life. I don't know about you but I don't need more than one-year to make a cake. Sure, there are some people that keep box after box after box of cake mix on hand just in case they have the need to whip up a few quick cakes for the entire starting offense of the Carolina Panthers. However, I think most of us purchase cake mixes on an as-needed basis. To me it seems like a healthier decision to purchase the boxed cake mix with the natural ingredients than the boxed cake mix with more ingredients than the human genome.
"But Sir," you ask politely not wanting to offend my hippy sensibilities, "what about those baking products we do keep on hand all the time?" Well, that is even better because you don't need as much of the extra "stuff" in your products to keep them fresh because you are going to use them. Let us consider pancake mix, for example. I make pancakes for the family every Sunday morning. I use Bob's Red Mill Pancake mix because it is easier than mixing my own pancakes and it contains what one might expect if you were to mix your own pancakes; flour, buttermilk, baking powder, oats, salt, and baking soda. Compare that to a Hungry Jack Pancake mix that contains those ingredients plus added sugar, dextrose, leavening, potassium bicarbonate, yellow 5 and red 40 coloring, and other added ingredients. I've never had a bag of Bob's Red Mill Pancake mix go bad in my pantry and it makes a delicious and fluffy pancake.
The point is that cooking for ourselves doesn't have to be complicated. Simple doesn't have to mean unnatural. Take the time to look at what is going into your food. A packaged meal doesn't have to contain tons of artificial ingredients and added sugar. It can be just a simple as mixing up 1 TBSP of oil, 1 cup of milk, 1 egg, and 1 cup of Bob's Red Mill pancake mix. K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid.