With the start of a new year I am trying to eat healthier foods. I would like to reduce the amount of butter I use in cooking, but I am worried that I will lose lots of flavor. How can I make food taste great, like a baked sweet potato or creamy polenta, without using butter?
Butter, being 80% fat, is a wonderful carrier for flavor. That’s why we love it on foods like baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, and hot toast, biscuits, toast or polenta.
One way to maximize flavor while minimizing fat is to caramelize the food in some way. Rather than baking sweet potatoes whole, try tossing peeled, cubed sweet potatoes in a small amount of olive or melted coconut oil and roasting them. The natural sugars in the sweet potatoes will brown and enhance their taste. Herbs and spices can be added too. Try sage, parsley, or rosemary, cinnamon, ginger or the tiniest amount of cloves for flavoring.
Another idea is to bake some apples together with your sweet potatoes and mash them together. (Apples take less time to cook, so add them about halfway through the cooking.)
Polenta is actually cooked without butter. Cornmeal is cooked in a large amount of lightly salted water until it thickens. Then it’s either served hot (when it’s delicious with butter and perhaps cheese), or turned out onto a board or platter and allowed to cool. It gets firmer as it cools, and can then be fried, broiled, or sliced and baked. Used as a bed for serving roasted meats or birds, grilled sausages, savory vegetable stews, or with a Bolognese meat sauce, it needs no butter.
However, I’m concerned that you think cutting back on or eliminating butter will make your diet healthier. Besides making so many foods tastier, butter ensures proper assimilation of their vitamins and minerals. Let me sing its praises:
- Butter itself is a good source of fat-soluble vitamins; it has many trace minerals including manganese, zinc, chromium and iodine; and it’s rich in selenium. The small amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in butter are in almost perfect balance, something you hear a lot about these days because our diets are heavy in omega-6’s.
- Butter contains about 12-15% short- and medium-chain fatty acids. This type of saturated fat does not need to be emulsified by bile salts but is absorbed directly from the small intestine to the liver, where it is converted into quick energy. These fatty acids also have antimicrobial, antitumor and immune-system-supporting properties.
- All butter is better than the man-made alternatives, although the very best butter is the deep yellow one which grass-fed cows produce. In addition to the above benefits, butter from pasture-fed cows contains CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has anti-cancer properties, encourages build-up of muscles, and prevents weight gain.
Please don’t eliminate butter from your diet – it’s a wholesome, delicious food that is good and good for you!