News and inspiration from culinary nutrition experts and the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. The Academy of Culinary Nutrition, home to Meghan Telpner's Culinary Nutrition Expert Program offers online nutrition training and culinary skills with nutrition training for life.
At the Academy of Culinary Nutrition, we love our naturally sweetened treats – and there are few things we enjoy more than a healthy dose of chocolatey desserts. Culinary nutrition isn’t just about kale salads or smoothies. When made with quality ingredients, chocolate can be a nutritious addition to your diet. This culinary nutrition chocolate guide breaks down the different chocolate ingredients you’ll find at the grocery store, and what you can do with a whole cocoa bean.
Health Benefits of Chocolate
Chocolate has a number of beneficial properties. It contains:
You will mainly find the following types of chocolate.
Milk Chocolate: Has a lower amount of cacao or cocoa, and a higher amount of sugar and dairy
Dark Chocolate: Has a high amount of cacao, usually no dairy (but check labels) and lower amount of sugar; dark chocolate is rich in a type of flavonoid called flavanols or flavan-3-ols that are responsible for its stronger, more bitter flavour
White Chocolate: A mix of cocoa butter, milk and sugar – it’s not technically considered chocolate because it doesn’t include cocoa powder
As the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program is completely dairy-free, we eschew milk and white chocolate due to the dairy (and also the refined white sugar). Dark chocolate is our go-to, both for the nutritional value and the taste. We find the flavour of dark chocolate is more, for lack of a better word, chocolatey, than the other varieties where the primary taste is sweetness.
What to Do With A Whole Cocoa Bean
Chocolate is made from the cacao bean, which is the seed from the cacao pod that grows on trees. Yep, chocolate grows on trees. Then the beans are processed in a number of different ways, resulting in several different cacao products.
After growers remove the seeds from the cacao pods, the seeds are fermented and dried before the fat is separated, and the rest is ground into cacao powder. This is typically the way a lot of us tend to use chocolate in our desserts, baking and cooking.
How to Use It: In chocolate desserts, dairy-free ice cream, smoothies, gluten-free granola, hot chocolate elixirs, pudding, chili and mole sauce
Raw Cacao Powder vs. Cocoa Powder: What’s the Difference?
Raw cacao powder is typically dried and not roasted, while cocoa powder is from beans that have been roasted. You’ll also find dutch processed cocoa powder, which has been processed with an alkali to make it milder in flavour and less acidic. Unfortunately, this process also strips away many of the nutrients.
Cacao nibs are simply crushed cacao beans.
How to Use Them: They are basically all-natural chocolate chips! Use them in any recipe that calls for chocolate chips – you can swap cacao nibs for chocolate chips 1:1. They’re great for gluten-free baking and Paleo baking, smoothie bowls, rolling truffles and other raw bites, and more.
Cacao butter is the fat extracted from the cocoa bean. It’s pale, a whitish-yellow, and has a very pleasant aroma.
How to Use It: Cacao butter is wonderful in homemade chocolate, raw desserts, dairy-free elixirs, and baking. It’s also commonly used in beauty care recipes as it’s wonderfully moisturizing to our skin, like in this homemade skin salve.
How to Use Them: Yes, you can eat the whole cacao beans on their own! They are crunchy, bitter and delicious. You can eat them on their own, dip them in chocolate or cinnamon, or crumble them for a crunchy topping on dairy-free yogurt, granola or smoothie bowls
Cast iron cooking is experiencing a renaissance. Once the domain of great-grandparents or thrift stores, cast iron – like other homesteading projects such as fermenting pickles, sprouting, growing your own food or making your own cleaning products – has re-emerged in many household kitchens to become an essential cooking tool.
Known for its sturdiness and ability to handle high heats, cast iron cookware was widely used throughout North America and Europe until the middle of the 20th century, when non-stick Teflon pans became the norm. Unfortunately, Teflon cookware contains the chemicals polytetrafluoroethylene (PFTE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which can be ingested and inhaled when cooking. They are potential cancer-causing substances, may give you flu-like symptoms and can even be found in human breast milk.
Many people are intimidated by cooking with cast iron, but with these care and cooking tips you’ll be a ‘seasoned’ cast iron pro in no time.
Why Cook With Cast Iron?
Cast iron is an alloy of iron with a small percentage of carbon, silicon and manganese. Cast iron skillets are well loved because they’re:
Affordable (especially if you snag one that’s been passed down in your family)
Able to retain heat well
Able to handle high heats
Free of chemicals such as PFTE and PFOA
Easy to transition from stovetop to oven to table (they’re great for one-pot meals!)
Cast iron must be properly seasoned before you use it. The process of heating oil in your pan, called fat polymerization, helps to create a layer that is non-stick and protects the pan from food and air. Some brands will come pre-seasoned; however, we’ve found that pans and skillets will still need seasoning or else you’ll end up with bits of food stuck to the pan.
To season your cast iron pan:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Wash the pan and then dry it well.
Coat the skillet or pan with oil. Many cooks and experts recommend vegetable oil or flaxseed oil. However, vegetable oils like canola aren’t beneficial to our health, and flaxseed is very susceptible to heat, light and air, meaning it will oxidize and create free radicals in the body. You can read more about the best cooking oils and what temperatures to use them at here. We prefer to use a stable high-heat oil like avocado oil or an animal fat for seasoning.
Put the pan upside down on the rack in the oven. Put a baking sheet underneath to catch any drips.
Bake for 1 hour, then allow the pan to cool in the oven.
Wash the pan and then dry it well.
Coat the skillet or pan with oil. (See above for oil suggestions.)
Bring the burner up to high heat – this will probably take several minutes. Once the pan is hot, turn the heat down to medium and let it sit on the burner for 10 minutes. Turn on your oven fan or open a few windows, as it may get smoky!
Allow the pan to cool, then wipe off any excess oil.
You may need to repeat this process a couple of times.
Cast Iron Cooking Tips
Cast iron can take some adjustment at first, especially if you are accustomed to using Teflon-coated non-stick pans. However, after a few uses you’ll get the hang of it.
Some things to keep in mind:
It will become more non-stick over time. Cast iron skillets aren’t the same as traditional non-stick surfaces; however, the non-stickiness (a very technical term) will increase with repeated use and seasoning. The first time you use it, perhaps try something simpler like a stir-fry rather than your favourite pancake recipe and test the waters.
The entire pan gets hot! With most pans or skillets, the handle is cast iron too and it will get very hot if you touch it. Either use an oven mitt, or purchase a handle cover.
Re-season after every use. If you want to maintain and build the effectiveness of cast iron, you’ll need to re-season it after every use. More on that in the section below!
Have fun and experiment. You can cook a variety of foods in cast iron skillets – meats, tofu, tempeh, burgers, vegetables, eggs and beans. It’s also great for toasting spices or nuts and seeds and you can even make gluten-free baked goods in it, too.
Avoid cooking with acidic foods for long periods of time. The acidity of tomatoes, citrus fruits and vinegars break down the seasoning coating you create every time you use your pan. If you need to add a squeeze of lemon at the end of cooking or throw in a few tomatoes, that’s fine, but something like a slow-cooked chili or tomato sauce is probably better off in another type of pan or your slow cooker.
Caring For Cast Iron
Keep your cast iron in good shape by cleaning it properly after every use.
There is some debate about the best method to clean a cast iron skillet, but we’ve always had success using a natural, non-toxic dish soap and warm water. If there are any stubborn bits of food stuck, a scrub brush will usually do the trick.
As cast iron rusts easily, this is not the type of pan you can leave to soak for hours on end. Once the pan has cooled completely (this can take an hour or two, depending on what temperature you cooked it at), wash it thoroughly.
Air-drying can lead to rust, so dry your skillet well after washing with a kitchen towel.
Cast iron needs re-seasoning after every use. You don’t need to bake it in the oven or on the stovetop like with the first seasoning – simply add a little bit of oil into the pan and rub it in, either using a paper towel or a reusable oil brush. Put the pan away and it’s ready for your next meal!
What to Make In Your Cast Iron
The seasoning and re-seasoning process might seem complicated, but it’s actually very easy. And with delicious recipes like these, you’ll be inspired to get cooking with cast iron!
Cauliflower Steaks with Rosemary Roasted Grape Chutney
We’re just past the halfway mark in the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program and the recipe assignments are even more complex, fun and delicious. In our latest recipe roundup, we shine the spotlight on some of our favourite creations from our students.
In the last few weeks, our students have been exploring using plants in a variety of ways and creating healthified versions of their favourite comfort foods and snacks. They’ve also played with cultural cuisines, sea vegetables, and the beauty of raw food.
Recipe Roundup #2
Michele-Marie Beer, Toronto ON, Canada
“Homework! Yummy yummy homework!”
Renee Mackey-Burson, Woodstock ON, Canada
“It’s pretty awesome and convenient that doing recipe assignments for @culinarynutrition also turns into easy meal prep!”
Anna Behman, Sydney NSW, Australia
“Since I’ve taken the #CNEprogram, I’ve started to include even more vegan, plant-based meals into our diet.”
Anna Marszalkowska, Toronto ON, Canada
“I’ve never made homemade crackers and here we are – they’re fairly easy, quick and delicious! They disappeared within 24 hours!”
Elba Ramirez, Doral FL, United States
“Aquí mis kimchi maki rolls, parte de las recetas de mi #cneprogram Les cuento: quedaron DELICIOSOS!!!!!”
“Here are my kimchi maki rolls, part of the recipes from the #cneprogram. I tell you: They were delicious!!!!!”
Nadhrah Mohd Maidin, Taman Melawati Indah KL, Malaysia
“I’m learning to get more adventurous with my food choices in the #cneprogram! The whole idea of eating raw is fairly new to me.”
Lisa Lio, Toronto ON, Canada
“Kale is not usually my go-to for salad greens, but when you add sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts and avocado to the mix – all of a sudden I’m looking at kale a little differently!”
Amanda Kovatchev, Prince Edward County ON, Canada
“I have an organized kitchen. I’m learning about ingredients. I’m prepping. I’m cooking from scratch. And look at that…. I am even getting better at food photography!”
Meagan Lindquist, Seattle WA, United States
“As I’m on my dharma of becoming a Culinary Nutrition Expert, I pretty much have a smile plastered on my face 97% of the time. I’m developing recipes, using nutrition as therapy, expanding my skills in the lab, and cementing even more that food can be our best medicine.”
María Cecilia Vélez Londoño, Madellin, ANT Colombia
“So surprised with these delicious and healthy raw recipes!”
Today is the day! What’s cooking in your kitchen?
Want to learn how you can become a Culinary Nutrition Expert? Click here to learn more about the program!
Pumpkins are inextricably linked to the autumn season – but these lovely winter squashes can definitely pull their weight in the kitchen beyond pumpkin pie or decorations throughout the fall and winter. If you’ve always found pumpkins unwieldy and difficult to use, this guide for what to do with a whole pumpkin will help!
The flesh is rich in fibre, an important nutrient for good digestion, blood sugar balance and cardiovascular health, while the seeds are high in an array of minerals like energy-boosting iron, zinc, plus manganese and copper to support bone production and prevent free radical damage. The seeds are also a good source of protein.
Why Not Use Canned Purée?
There may be times when canned pumpkin is the simple and convenient choice. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing canned pumpkins:
Pumpkin pie purée vs pumpkin purée: Be careful when buying canned versions to ensure you are getting the one you want. Pumpkin pie purée or mix is typically sweetened and has additional spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
What are you getting? Aside from chemicals, preservatives or additives that may be in the canned stuff, the US cans that say ‘100% pumpkin’ may also contain other varieties of squash. This is to help make the canned purée more thick and starchy in consistency, as sometimes pumpkins can be stringy. While we’re absolutely down with winter squash, it’s good to know exactly what we’re getting whenever we are buying or eating something! When you cook a pumpkin, you know for sure that what you’re getting is the real thing.
Price/Quantity: Store-bought pumpkin that comes in a BPA-free can is typically pricey, and you only get a small amount – maybe 2 cups worth. When you bake and use your own, you can batch prep for a variety of recipes, or freeze it for later.
What to Do With a Whole Pumpkin
Choosing a Good Pumpkin
If you’re not planning to carve it, there really isn’t need for a gigantic 50-pound pumpkin. While you’ll certainly get a lot of flesh and seeds from it, that size is much more difficult to work with!
Choose pumpkins that feel heavy for their size, have firm skins and doesn’t have any soft or moldy brown spots. We like to use pumpkins that are smaller, especially if you’re new to cooking and eating pumpkins! Three to five pounds is a good place to start, and then you can choose larger pumpkins when you’re more comfortable with handling them.
If the pumpkin is on the smaller side, cut a small slice at the bottom so you have a flat surface to keep it from rolling and rocking.
If your pumpkin is very tough and difficult to cut, pierce the flesh in several spots on a baking sheet and roast it in the oven whole. If you’re making purée (see below) you can roast for longer, or if you just want to soften it, then bake for 10 minutes or so, until the skin can yield to your knife.
To cut and cook into purée:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut your pumpkin in halves or quarters, depending on the size.
Scoop out the seeds and save them to roast as a snack (see below).
Place the pieces cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment. You can brush a bit of heat-safe oil onto the halves if you’d like.
Roast for 45 minutes or so, until the flesh is soft and tender and can be easily pierced with a fork.
When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and mash it, or toss it into your food processor if you don’t feel like mashing it by hand.
To cut and cook into whole cubes for recipes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut your pumpkin into quarters.
Scoop out the seeds and save them to roast as a snack (see below).
Slice the skin off if desired (we like to do this!).
Cut the quarters into smaller chunks. Smaller cubes will cook or roast faster than larger chunks. The size you choose will depend on the recipe – you may want larger wedges to serve as a side dish, or smaller ones to steam or roast for smoothies. You can grab a visual of chopping pumpkin in this video.
Either use right away for the recipe you’re cooking, or stash in the fridge or freezer to cook later.
Saving and Roasting the Seeds
Roasted pumpkin seeds make an amazing snack, and are often a good alternative to nuts for those with nut allergies or for school lunches. Here’s how to do it:
Follow steps 1 or 2 above, scooping the seeds from the flesh.
The flesh will be stringy and likely cling to the seeds. We like to soak the seeds for 30 minutes to an hour or so in cold water, then pull any remaining flesh from the seeds.
Spread the seeds on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or a bit longer if needed, until the seeds are dry. Watch them carefully starting at the 10-minute mark so they don’t burn.
To make pumpkin seed butter: skip the herbs and spices and dry the seeds plain. You’ll need at least 2-3 cups of seeds, so you may need to store and save your seeds to make the butter when you have enough of them! Then whirl them in your food processor until they break down and become smooth and creamy.
The Pumpkin as a Vessel
You can toss your pumpkin skin into the compost once you hew the flesh and the seeds; however, you can also use it as a cooking vessel! Use it as a tureen for soups and stews, cut it in half and stuff it with grains, veggies, nuts, seeds or dried fruit, or fill it with dips and spreads instead of using a serving bowl. For the latter, smaller pumpkins tend to work better!
Feeling inspired to cook with a whole pumpkin from scratch? Try some of these ideas:
French fries are a guilty pleasure for many – and a balanced culinary nutrition lifestyle doesn’t mean you need to go without them! What’s key is learning how to create healthy French fries that offer us a range of nutrients to help support our health goals.
For us at the Academy of Culinary Nutrition, healthy French fry recipes are ones that are:
Made with a variety of vegetables, not just white potatoes
We’ve included a mix of classic recipes using white potatoes and more adventurous ingredients like root vegetables, winter squash and even beans and legumes. If you’re on the fence about sweet potato or carrot fries, these 20 Best Healthy French Fry Recipes will give you the boost you need to hop over to our side!
20 Best Healthy French Fry Recipes
The Best Crispy Oven Baked Fries