One of the hacks frequently mentioned by the no waste fraternity is to make things from scratch to avoid plastic packaging and so you know what’s in your food. While some things are definitely worth making from scratch in your own kitchen, others are not both from an economic and waste point of view.
Cooking is an enjoyable activity for me, as much for entertainment as it is for nutrition. Nearly everything I eat is made from raw unprocessed ingredients. I have the time and the means which gives me an advantage. Cooking whole foods with few if any additives is part of my life plan.
The list of things I frequently make from scratch is pretty long and includes
- ricotta cheese
- preserved salted lemons
- kombucha vinegar (when I leave the kombucha for too long!)
- breadcrumbs (fresh and toasted)
- tortilla chips from stale tortillas
- energy balls (aka bliss balls)
- bircher muesli mix
- pickled veggies of various kinds like beetroot and roasted capsicum
- baked goods like cakes/biscuits/pies etc.
- spouted alfalfa, mung beans and lentils
- passata when tomatoes are cheap
- soda water! LOL
I have had a go at making my own pasta, feta cheese, apple cider, rapidly followed by apple cider vinegar and sauerkraut. Although I can make jam and marmalade, I don’t eat them much any more, so no longer bother with them.
Is it worth it?
The no list
The foods which are not worth it from a financial (time and money) and waste point of view in my opinion are:
- Ricotta cheese: 1.5L of unhomogenised milk gives you about 300 g of cheese and the whey goes down the sink. The whey is acidified when you add vinegar as part of the coagulation process. Unlike the sweet whey you get from straining yogurt, there is little use for this ricotta whey. You can use it for pig feed apparently but I don’t have any pigs. In a large facility they could collect huge quantities of whey that would be commercially viable to on-sell. The milk costs me $3.70 and 300g of shop ricotta is $2:40. The milk is in a plastic bottle so in terms of reducing plastic waste it’s a fail too. My ricotta is very fresh I guess!
- Pasta: I have written about making your own pasta before. Unless you want an afternoon’s entertainment and a good excuse to drink wine ( a lot of wine!) while you cook, it’s not worth it. You can’t taste the difference and you can get pasta in cardboard boxes, so waste disposal is not an issue.
- Feta cheese: Similar to reasons to ricotta cheese. I didn’t like the flavour of the soft feta I could make in my kitchen. Either I need lots more practice or a different recipe.
- Sauerkraut: Let’s start off with a few confessions here. Although I have a science degree in Food Technology and worked in the food industry, I’m always a bit nervous about my homemade sauerkraut. Every time I’ve made sauerkraut, it sits in the fridge until I throw it out. My sauerkraut does not taste as good as the ones you can buy. The lovely colourful beetroot and carrot ones from the supermarket are excellent. I might need some professional tuition in this area.
The maybe list
- Bread: The case for bread could go either way. I make my own wholemeal, wholegrain bread but frankly, it does not taste as good as shop-bought and the economies of scale mean my single loaf is about twice the cost of the mass-produced bread. The flavour is ok, but the texture is too dense and I don’t get a good “crumb”. I ditched the bread machine on the advice of a baker friend, and now hand knead. This has made a big improvement but it’s still not “amazing”. Bread is easily available in paper bags so the waste saving for DYI is minimal. The final frontier for my bread making journey is to try the sourdough experience. Bread making is very satisfying from a sensual point of view. Kneading is like an active meditation and the scientific fussing with the proofing and the smell of cooking bread overrides the economics. (A notable exception on the flavour/texture front is Samin Nosrat’s Ligurian Focaccia which is AMAAAAZING!!)
Things I could (easily) make but don’t
There are several items which I could easily make but don’t; including
- corn relish
- vanilla essence
- cleaning and cosmetic items
- and many, many others
I’m dedicated to the cause but I not a magic unicorn! 🙂
Making things from scratch is more than just a matter of economics or waste reduction. It’s more about a state of mind and an enjoyment of being self-sufficient. About knowing exactly what’s in the food you are about to put in your mouth. For food nerds like me it’s also about the entertainment value.
Am I missing out on any home made fun? What do you make from scratch? Please add a comment below.