Wondering how to feed your family better while also saving money at the grocery store? Skip the store and start making your favorite pantry basics from scratch. Here are eleven real food versions of pantry staples like ketchup, mayonnaise, coconut milk, bread, crackers, and more that you can stop buying and start making.
While making your own ketchup may seem daunting, it's actually relatively easy (there are about 5 minutes to mix and up to 5 days to ferment). Ketchup, like many other condiments, finds its roots in the dark and bubbly past of fermentation. It wasn't the last few hundred years that ketchup that home cooks skipped fermentation in favor of vinegar and water-bath canning. Further, in that time, ketchup also lost some of its unique flavor profiles. Where it was once flavored by spices like clove and allspice, it mellowed into a puree of tomato, vinegar, salt, and corn syrup.
What you need: Tomato paste, unrefined sea salt, vinegar, raw honey or other sweetener, and organic spices like allspice and cloves.
Recipes to Get Started: My basic spiced ketchup recipe includes both honey and apple cider vinegar.
Organic coconut milk can be super expensive, plus you have to either contend with cans (that often contain the endocrine-disrupting chemical BPA) or cartons of refrigerated coconut milk which are likewise loaded with synthetic vitamins, emulsifiers and additives. You can make your own from fresh or dry coconut in just a few minutes, and it tastes so much better.
What you need: Fresh coconut or desiccated coconut and water. You'll also need a blender.
There's a distinct pleasure that comes from making your own bread - the feeling of the dough on the palms of your hands as you knead a wet mass of flour and water into a manageable loaf, the comforting perfume a loaf of just out of the oven. While sourdough bread offers benefits far beyond that of the regular, whole-grain variety, a loaf of artisan-quality sourdough bread can set you back $6 to $7, but you can make it at home for about $0.65.
What you need: A good loaf of bread requires nothing but flour, salt and a source of yeast. This yeast might be packaged baker's yeast you find in the grocery store, but a natural sourdough starter will offer a more complex flavor coupled with greater health benefits.
Making crackers is one of my favorite activities. Though it's a bit more labor-intensive than the other foods included in this list, the buttery goodness of a fresh cracker still warm from the oven is an unparalleled joy. Many commercial crackers are dry, flavorless and even natural crackers can contain a slew of additives that are better left out. Plus, when you make crackers at home, you can flavor them as you like it: a bit of cinnamon and honey for a sweet cracker, dill, and yogurt for a savory cracker.
What you need: To make crackers you need flour, salt, and a source of good-quality fat like olive oil, coconut oil, butter, or ghee.
Recipes to Get Started: Yogurt and Spelt Crackers.
Most store-bought salad dressings (even organic salad dressings) are loaded with unhealthy fats and additives. Plus making your own is incredibly easy - usually taking only about five minutes.
What you need: Unrefined extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed nut oils, and vinegar or citrus juice can make a super simple dressing, but you can also add onion, shallot, garlic, herbs, and enrichments like tahini, egg yolks, buttermilk, miso, or homemade yogurt. Whisk these together and store your dressing in the fridge or on the kitchen counter if it's a simple vinaigrette.
Similar to salad dressing, most store-bought mayonnaises are prepared using vegetable oils that have a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and whose fragile polyunsaturated fatty acids do not stand up well to the modern high-heat extraction process required to make them. For this reason, it's wise to make your own - and it comes together almost instantly.
What you need: I typically make my mayonnaise with olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, egg yolks, and a pinch of salt.
Broth and Stock
As long-time readers know, I'm a big advocate for bone broth. Further, broths and stocks are some of the most cost-saving foods you can prepare at home. Commercially prepared stocks at your local health foods store can cost upwards of $6/qt, but made at home they're almost free.
What you need: Bones, the frame of a roast chicken, a fresh chicken, and water make the easiest stock. You might also add vinegar or wine to better extract minerals from the bones, or vegetables and herbs to flavor your stock. You'll also need a large stockpot or a slow cooker.
As with ketchup, traditionally pickles were prepared through fermentation and it is only when water-bath canning took hold as a food preservation method that home cooks began to favor vinegar pickles rather than pickles that acquired their sourness through fermentation. Fortunately, making pickles is relatively easy.
What you need: At its most basic, a fermented pickle requires little more than cucumbers, salt, water, and time. You might also add pickling spices, garlic, horseradish, hot peppers, or dill to the mix. Some cooks prefer to add a starter culture to their pickles, but it is not typically necessary.
Recipes to Get Started: This is my standby recipe for sour pickles.
Yogurt and Kefir
Yogurt and kefir are easy to make at home, requiring only a few minutes of mixing (some heating in the case of yogurt) and up to 24 hours to culture. As a result, you can prepare yogurt at home and save about $4 to $5 / quart over purchasing store-bought varieties. Moreover, many store-bought yogurts are made with low-fat or skim milk and, to make up for the lack of texture and flavor provided by wholesome fat, manufacturers substitute additives to give the illusion of real yogurt. Make it at home and you can skip the additives, and mix in the flavors that suit you.
What you need: To make yogurt at home you simply need milk and starter culture and a yogurt maker or other piece of equipment that can keep an even, steady heat of about 110F.
My husband and son pour hot sauce over just about anything, but I prefer to make it at home. Hot sauce is a traditionally fermented food and many commercial hot sauces are still fermented before being mixed with vinegar and pasteurized. If you have a glut of hot peppers in your garden, take the time to make your own hot sauce (and hot chili paste).
What you need: At its most basic, a fermented hot sauce recipe requires little more than salt and hot peppers; however, I've had better success with recipes that also use a bit of starter culture to speed up fermentation, a bit of sugar to feed the microbes (this is metabolized by the bacteria and very little if any is left in the final product), and a bit of garlic to deepen the flavor.
Recipes to Get Started: We make this fermented hot chili sauce quite often.