5 Thickeners Raw Food Chefs Use

Culinary Applications from a Certified Raw Food Chef

One of the challenges switching over from cooked to raw is knowing what to do to thicken dishes. We need thickeners and binders to create proper consistency to imitate specific dishes. For many new raw chef’s one of the biggest initial hurdles is figuring out what you can use to have everything you just threw into the food processor bind together somehow.

It becomes clear in the raw world wether your making something from scratch or mimicking a cooked recipe it’s the consistency and texture that make or break the recipe; but many of us are unfamiliar of the tools we can use that are raw that will help us get the perfect consistency. Here are some Culinary Applications for Thickening Recipes I have learned over the last few years and some awesome culinary tips.

#1 Irish Moss:

Carrageen mossThe powerful gelling agent inside Irish moss, polysaccharide (a natural form of sugar) make it a superb choice for many raw recipes and desserts. When it is thoroughly blended or incorporated into a recipe, it disperses throughout a liquid to create a semi-solid structure. This semi-solid structure holds well and acts as a great emulsifier that binds the dish together. The desired consistency can be easy to obtain so long as you have the right ratio of Irish moss to liquid/ingredients in the recipe; so depending on the type of recipe you’re working with its a good idea to start with less and add more. Irish moss is usually made into a gel and then incorporated into recipes, it makes liquids “fluffy” and is used in smoothies and diet drinks, dips and sauces, salad dressings, creams, jellies, puddings, nut cheeses, nut yogurts, and desserts, etc. It is often used as the critical binder in many raw desserts from pies to mousses, ice creams, frostings, parfaits, and tarts to an exhaustive longer list. You can even add a teaspoon or tablespoon of it in your nut milks to help it keep from separating and bind together! It will thicken the nut milk and make it feel creamier, plus it keeps in the fridge longer as well. Simply use your blender to blend it in to your freshly made nut milk and just shake/stir before use.

Irish Moss has many talents from creating a mousse like texture in some desserts to a gel like or even firmer texture to other desserts, to thickening a sauce, to reducing the amounts of ingredients used in recipes; such as reducing the amount of oil in a salad dressing, or reducing the amount of nuts in a seed cheese. Many raw fooders are conscious of how dense certain nut and seed dishes can be, and look to an alternative to make their dishes still have body but not feel so dense. Irish moss can thicken your recipes and give the gel like texture that you would get from adding a bunch of fat and nuts. So you really can make guilt free raw desserts and dressings! Because Irish moss is so powerful at binding a recipe together, less nuts and seeds will be needed in certain recipes, thus reducing the fat and caloric count without hurting the nutritional content, resulting in a lighter recipe. The high nutritious content of Irish moss alone is worth adding in small amounts to a variety of dishes in your daily diet, and the powerful gelling agent inside of it makes it a crucial component for many raw dishes.

Please Note: There is SO much information on Irish moss and so many culinary applications that A blog on how to make Irish Moss Gel and more is coming!


#2 Flax Seeds and Chia Seeds:

Flax Seed:

flax-seedThe mucilaginous quality of the flax seed acts as an incredible binder; aka if you are looking for a culinary “glue” to bring your recipe together; flax seed is probably the most powerful option. I have used it as the base for countless raw food experiments I have made throughout my culinary career; specifically for experimental baking recipes like pie crust, bread, bagels, muffins, cookies and crackers. In fact, all of my cracker recipes now use just flax seed as its base. If I am making something that starts falling apart and I want to bring everything back together quickly adding a little ground flax is like adding a miracle glue that will bring everything together.

As soon as it’s shell comes into contact with moisture it absorbs it quickly and expands into a glutinous liquid known as mucilage. To give you an idea of how fast and strong its mucilaginous properties are; if you stirred in 1-2 tablespoons of flax seed into a glass of water it will thicken up and have a consistency of pudding; making it Perfect for raw food recipes! You can use the flax seed whole or grind it up and put it into just about any raw food dish you are making and it will instantly absorb the excess liquid in the mixture and thicken it up. To use; I recommend grinding the flax seed using a coffee grinder and slowly adding small amounts into whatever recipe you are trying to thicken. Sprinkle a small amount over your recipe and stir it in; then wait a few moments and watch it thicken in front of your eyes before you add more in. You don’t want to add too much and make it too firm! If you do, don’t sweat it, just slowly add a little more water till it reaches the perfect consistency.

Chia Seeds:

chia-seedsChia Seeds are right next to flax seeds as a binder; they are the other seed that also thickens when added to water due to its mucilaginous properties. The difference is you don’t need to grind these seeds up; you can use them whole in whatever recipe you are using to thicken up the recipe just like flax seeds.

#3 Nuts and Seeds:

cashews-raw-large_1I put these two together because I feel like they are obvious. It is recommended that you soak the nuts or seeds overnight before you use them for nutritional purposes as well as culinary applications to your recipe. Soaking the nuts or seeds not only lends the nutritional qualities to be more readily digested but also is an important aspect in the binding property when adding this into your recipes. Many chefs will soak the nuts or seeds overnight and then add them to the dish in their food processor and blend.

Time Saving Culinary Tip: To be honest, I will often just use a nut butter as opposed to soaking a large amount overnight and processing it myself in a food processor. Some nut butters are too thick to put into your recipes, but the stone ground creamy properties of Dastony nut butters and Rawmio nut butters make it a perfect consistency to add to almost all raw food recipes. You may think I am being biased but you’ll know the truth when you try it yourself; I made this one popular recipe for a party I always make using a different nut butter than Dastony and the recipe didn’t turn out because the nut butter wasn’t the same smooth and creamy consistency as Dastony’s nut butter and I had to throw the whole expensive recipe away! It was one of those culinary lessons I had to remind myself as a chef, quality ingredients not only mean a quality product, it can also make or break your recipe; and sometimes if you skimp on the ingredients of your recipe it just wont turn out. Quality ingredients really means something; especially with raw food! For a link to the nut butters I am talking about, click here: Whats fun as well is the company has already created gourmet dessert nut butters flavors that have already done the work for you that are easy and quick for dessert recipes. For example, they can make a fast and easy truffle that takes such little work you’ll really feel like you didn’t do anything to make it happen.

#4 Coconut Oil/Butter and Cacao (Cocoa Butter):

coconut butterCoconut Oil / Butter can be used as a thickener in certain recipes, it works well with desserts when the oil is warmed enough to be incorporated and then once mixed into the recipe solidifies at room temperature. It is perfect in crusts, cookies, many desserts from raw cheesecakes to macaroons, and can be incorporated into a large variety of recipes. It can be a great emulsifier and add a delicate coconut flavor. Because it is an oil it will generate moisture but at the same time it can be heavy especially when used in large amounts so it is important to use the right amount and to use it in the appropriate recipes.

Cacao (Cocoa) Butter is thicker at room temperature, is also used in many similar types of desserts and recipes and is often used as an emulsifier in raw chocolates and other plated desserts. Cacao butter is the cream-colored fat extracted from the cacao seeds, is dairy free which makes it an excellent vegan fat source. Its creamy texture and smooth consistency embody the melt-in-your-mouth quality of chocolate that is superb for specific recipes; coupled with an unmistakable pleasant aroma that will be infused into the dish. This raw vegan fat source will really add body to the recipe, because it is so dense. It will add a thick, smooth and creamy texture to your recipe, it can be very heavy, so again it is important to use the right amount , you don’t want to add too much and have an oily and heavy dish.

One of the benefits of always having coconut oil/butter and cacao butter on hand is that it is one of the most stable oils: it does not deteriorate like polyunsaturated oils so it has long shelf life, coconut oil if stored properly can last in your cupboard past two years.

#5 Dates:

datesDates are so common as a thickener in raw food desserts I put them last. They are easy to find in grocery stores; i prefer purchasing them in bulk at local ethnic grocery stores. It is recommended that you soak the dates overnight before you use them. In fact I know several raw food chefs that keep a Tupperware of dates soaking in their fridge all the time so that they can quickly grab out of the fridge as they are making things throughout the day.

Here is a culinary tip: If you need to use some dates right away and you haven’t soaked them overnight and want to use them right away you can boil some water and put a tiny amount (like 1/4 to 1/2 measured cup boiling water) over chopped dates and stir and it will loosen them up quickly enough to be put into your recipe.

Another Culinary Tip: if you decide to keep some dates soaking in the fridge and know that they have been in the fridge for a week and need to get used throw the water and the dates in your green smoothie for a sweet kick.

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