Friday, January 9, 2009

Homemade goodness

I do most of the baking in our home: cookies (every other week, thereabouts) cakes for special occasions and just-because, and bread. Actually, the bread machine makes the bread, but it still means I have to decide when and what to add to it. There’s a windmill nearby that carries all kinds of interesting flours, nuts and seeds (and pet food)—it’s always a fun trip, and I never come back empty-handed.

I don’t know why people say homemade is healthier. I suppose that’s mostly true, but then again you don’t see that many morbidly obese folks wandering the too-narrow aisles of Whole Foods all that often (come to think on it, you don’t see too many people at all wandering through WF these days). People who have that kind of money usually eat right to begin with, exercise, and if they prefer fancy gourmet breads because it’s “healthier”, then it’s a small wonder that people who eat all-natural things are healthier. I haven’t heard of any studies about this, so I doubt these two are causal.

So it’s not for any reasons of health that I bake and the boyfriend cooks, but because it’s tastier. Even after factoring out the cost of the bread machine, we’ve made up for it by the “exotic” breads that I regularly make with it—flaxseeds appear regularly in our loaves, as do whole wheat flours. But that doesn’t mean our homemade things are necessarily any healthier—yes, you miss out on lots of chemical preservatives and gain a ton of taste. But you also gain tons of fat. The cookies I make usually require 125-250 g of butter (that’s ~4-8 oz), and untold amounts of sugar (this gets cut back—I don’t like sweets to be too sweet).

The moral of the story is that homemade is only as healthy as the stuff you use to make it. One of the complaints against jarred tomato sauce is that it contains (gasp!) sugar. Well, if you make your own (and it’s not that hard), adding a modest lump of dark brown sugar greatly improves the flavor. Whining about the amount of salt in prepackaged chicken soup? Make your own, and you’ll find that you need a surprising amount of salt to get it to taste the way we’ve come to expect chicken soup to taste—I’m not sure how much, as it’s been eons since I’ve made it, but I remember being surprised at how much I had to dump in. Granted, if your tastes run towards the mild end of the spectrum you’ll probably need less sugar and salt than the amount going into prepackaged foods. Although you probably won’t have access to food-grade tocopherol or any of the other additives and preservatives added to prepackaged foods, just because you make it yourself doesn’t mean it’s any healthier than something out of the freezer aisle.

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