How to Use Flavor Powders to Hack Your Meals
Cheese powder is useful for more than just boxed mac and cheese.
As a kid who grew up on powdered candy like Pixy Stix, the idea of a flavorful powder has never exactly been anathema to me. But as a cook, I always was dismissive of “flavor powders” as being artificial or chemical in nature. Anyone who has ever made movie theater style popcorn in a commercial popper knows about the bright yellow Fla-vo-col that gives the corn its color and buttery flavor. Can they be delicious? Sure. Good for you? Probably not.
But today things are different. A lot of spice houses figured out that using the same technologies that they use on fresh items like turmeric and ginger to develop dried ground spices could be used on everything from vegetables to fruits to cheeses. The result? All natural, deeply flavored powdered versions of some of your most beloved flavors. Once I discovered these treasures, it had an immediate impact on my cooking and baking. Suddenly I could add both flavor and natural color to baked items without adding liquid or chunks. Things like horseradish, which is hard to keep around fresh, can be stored in powdered form to amp up a Bloody Mary or give a little kick to a dip.
Many spice merchants carry a wide variety of these cooking secret weapons, and you can source many others online. Read your labels and be sure that you are buying all-natural dehydrated powdered real things and not things labeled “flavoring.” Most of these do better stored in the fridge to prevent clumping, but a pass through a sieve or a blitz in a clean spice mill or coffee grinder will return them to proper powder stage. Whichever you choose, my guess is that once you start experimenting with the available food powders, you’ll find all sorts of uses for them. And if you happen to own a dehydrator, a lot of them can be made easily at home!
Here are some of the powders I currently have in my stash, and how to use them.
These powders range from dehydrated citrus zests to actual powdered fruit. They are wonderful additions to baked goods of all kinds, and many of them can also be used as natural coloring agents. I particularly love them for things like meringues, where moisture is your enemy. They can also be used to dust over cooked items for a punch of flavor. A vanilla macaron becomes a strawberries and cream macaron with just a shake of strawberry powder on top. You can also use them to make fruit milks, like your very own, easy strawberry milk.
Tomato powder was the thing that got me first. This deep red powder packs a wallop of tomato flavor without having to reach for a can of tomato paste. I have used it to make everything from a homemade version of Doritos to pizza flavored pancakes, which is great fun, but I also use it to bump up tomato flavor in sauces or dressings. Beetroot powder can make a great food color, but also garnish, try deviled eggs with it instead of paprika sprinkled on top. And intensely flavored powders like seaweed and porcini can really add umami to sauces and dressings, or become an interesting seasoning for everything from rice to pasta dishes.
Essentially more natural versions of the packets that come in the Kraft Mac and Cheese box, powdered cheeses and blends are a killer way to top your popcorn or baked potato. I love a dash on broccoli. You can put them anywhere a sprinkle of parmesan would go. (And yes, you can totally hack your mac if you are a blue box fan.)
Flavors like horseradish, wasabi, even malt vinegar are available in powder form, and are an instantaneous way to add flavor. They are particularly terrific in things like mayonnaise or salad dressings to make them feel special. Malt vinegar powder on your roasted potatoes takes them to a salt and vinegar chip place, and a dash of wasabi stirred into a combo of rice wine vinegar and soy with a drizzle of sesame oil will make that lone cucumber in your crisper into an instant Japanese cucumber salad.
Powders for Baking
Espresso powder is a natural, and no one needs to learn about cocoa powder. But vanilla powder is your next fruit salad’s best friend, and licorice powder has become my favorite things for everything from making homemade pumpernickel to a killer licorice ice cream. Everyone knows about the health benefits of matcha green tea powder as a beverage, but it is also the darling of pastry chefs everywhere, and the musky notes make for really wonderful desserts, from crepes to crème brulée.
The two powders I do buy from the grocery store are peanut butter powder and ranch powder. Ranch because, well, ranch, you don’t really need me for that. But peanut butter powder for adding some great roasted peanut flavor to things where the actual peanut butter either would negatively affect texture or cooking, or if I am trying to get peanut flavor without all the fat. So go invest in some powders and see how easily you can hack your way into tasty meals.