Culinary Nutrition Swaps for
Asian-inspired cooking - Part 1!

I go over 3 pantry items to be mindful of, and their swaps for more healthier dishes!

January 31st, 2021

There's something really comforting about the food you eat growing up. When I think back to my childhood and youth, I have fond memories of eating dinner with my parents and little brother while watching TV. While I wouldn't be able to list or name all that she's made over the decades, I will always remember the love and intent put into each and every dish. My mom is a very talented and versatile cook who is able to cook up a storm, but my top faves are: potstickers, Jamaican-Chinese chicken stew, oxtail, chow mein, and jerk chicken. You may recall that I grew up in Jamaica, so many of my mom's dishes have a Chinese-Jamaican flare to it.

In an attempt to capture the essence of my mom's cooking, I shadowed her several times to learn her recipes. What I learned was that 1) she never uses measuring cups or spoons, 2) the quantities are always 'some of this' or 'a little bit of that' and 3) most of her cooking uses some type of soy sauce, chicken powder or hoisin sauce (or a combination of them all).

While I've recorded down the original ingredients that my mom uses in her cooking, I've sought to source healthier ingredients when possible. This is not to say that my mom's cooking is unhealthy; home cooked meals will always be far healthier than what you buy at a restaurant. However, I want to make my foods even more healthy and nourishing (while also tasting good too!).

Although my food will never taste as good as mom's, I'm confident that it tastes "good enough" while paying homage to my mom's cooking. These 3 swaps will re-train your tastebuds and brain to enjoy food without all the flavour enhancers that are commonly lurking in these pantry items!

1. Sneaky Soy Sauce

Photo by Rachel Claire from Pexels

Soy sauce (and its many types) is undoubtedly one of the most commonly used ingredients in Chinese or Asian-inspired cooking.

The traditional method of making soy sauce was to combine soy and wheat and allowing it to naturally gather spores (fungi) from the environment to brew and ferment. After it has been brewed and fermented for several months, it is then pasteurized and sold as soy sauce.

With the rise of industrialization and modern technology, many soy sauces are now made by boiling the soy and grain mixture in hydrochloric acid for 3 days which results in a hydrolyzed soy protein. This replaces the lengthy process of brewing and fermentation. They have a different flavor, aroma, and texture when compared to brewed soy sauces. However, they can be produced more quickly and cheaply. To enhance its taste and appearance, salt, sugar, monosodium glutamate (MSG), caramel, and other ingredients may be added as opposed to its traditional counterpart.

If you have a bottle of soy sauce lying around, take a quick look at its ingredients. The ingredients listed on my mom's bottle of soy sauce include: Water, Soybean (which may or may not be non-GMO), Wheat Flour (contains gluten) , Salt, Flavour Enhancer (E621, E635), White Sugar, Monosodium glutamate, Colour (E150c), Yeast Extract (used as a food additive to boost umami flavouring), Preservative (E202).

On the other hand, my San-J Tamari Sauce ingredient list includes: Water, Soybeans (non-GMO, as per bottle), Salt, Alcohol (to preserve freshness), Aspergillus Oryzae, Bacterial Culture. There are no added flavour enhancers, MSG, sugar, or colouring. San-J Tamari sauce is also wheat-free (thus gluten-free), kosher, vegan, and non-GMO Project verified.

Coconut aminos is another healthier substitute in place of soy sauce. It is made from the fermented sap of coconut palm. It is not as rich or salty as soy sauce. It may be a suitable option for those who want to lower salt intake or are trying to avoid or reduce their soy intake. It is soy-free, wheat-free, and gluten-free. The Bragg Live Food Coconut Nectar All Purpose Seasoning (Canada Labeling) contains distilled water, organic coconut nectar, sea salt, and organic apple vinegar.

If you decide that you want to use soy sauce, choose one that's:

  1. traditionally or naturally brewed
  2. uses non-GMO soybeans (your best bet is to choose organic)
  3. one that uses minimal ingredients and does not contain MSG, flavour enhancers or colouring

You can consider Pearl River Bridge Organic Soy Sauce or Kikkoman Organic Soy Sauce .


Vegetable oil isn't actually made from vegetables. If you think about it, your broccoli or cauliflower has zero fat in its natural state. Vegetable oils are actually made from the fruits or seeds of plants. Most canola crops are genetically modified (GMO) to improve oil quality and increase plant tolerance to herbicides. Over 90% of the canola crops grown in the United States are GMO.

These oils are:

  1. highly processed in order to extract the oil
  2. devoid of nutrients due to high heat and chemical processing
  3. made using GMO crops, unless it's organic
  4. high in omega-9 or omega-6 fatty acids

On the other hand, avocado (which is a fruit by the way) oil is made from the flesh of the avocado surrounding the seed. It is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and has a high smoke point, which makes it a great oil for frying. Avocado oil is very versatile as it can also be used for baking, cooking, searing, roasting, etc. When choosing avocado oil, choose one that is cold-pressed, unrefined, and stored in a glass container. We use Chosen Avocado Oil in my household.


Similar to soy sauce, chicken base (also known as chicken broth, chicken powder) is a staple in many Asian households. My mom would put that sh*t on everything because it made everything taste so good!

However, let's take a look at its ingredients: salt, monosodium glutamate, corn syrup solids (highly processed), hydrolyzed soy/corn/wheat protein (remember, this is made by boiling the soy, corn, or wheat in hydrochloric acid then neutralizing it), dehydrated mechanically separated cooked chicken, corn starch (likely GMO corn), chicken fat, sugar, calcium silicate, natural & artificial flavour (what?!), yeast extract (another flavour enhancer), disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate (the last 2 ingredients are flavour enhancers that enhance the umami flavour when used with MSG), spices, modified milk ingredients, cysteine hydrochloride (to prolong shelf life), colour (chicken powder is not naturally yellow), citric acid, onion powder, succinic acid (acidity regulator, flavouring agent) Contains: Barley, egg, milk, soy, wheat.

WHOA. Who knew that the main ingredients for CHICKEN broth mix would be salt and MSG? Mechanically separated cooked chicken is 5th on that ingredient list.

If you're interested in making your own, check out I Heart Umami's Chicken Bouillon recipe or Nom Nom Paleo's magic mushroom powder. While the magic mushroom powder isn't the same as chicken broth, it does provide a boost of umami flavouring to my food. It's hard to find a chicken bouillon or base with better ingredients. However, if you really want to purchase one, GoBio Organic Chicken Bouillon Cubes have better quality ingredients that you can consider.

Remember, the food industry is a business and does not have our best interests at heart. They have scientists that are constantly working to make their product tastier and more addictive.

When we know better, we should aspire to consume better. There are those that don’t mind what’s in their soy sauce, and that’s okay. We can still be friends! For myself and my household, we try to reduce our use of highly processed pantry items and choose to spend our money on better quality ingredients.

Does this mean I never eat out? Of course not. Does this mean I don’t enjoy my mom’s cooking? No. I will always love and cherish each dish that she makes with love. But it’s because of this that I choose to use the best that I can in my own kitchen.

What other swaps are you interested in knowing more about? Contact me and let me know!

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- Janet

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