DI-do’s and DI-don’ts: Snacks & Staples Edition

Published: October 29, 2020

by Irene Kaloyannis, Science & Policy Exchange (SPE)

For more zero-waste ideas, save the date for Montreal’s virtual Zero-Waste Festival this year, from October 30th to November 5th.

I’ve always wanted to create at-home versions of my favorite snacks and staples, as this would not only save me on plastic waste (from the containers) but would also save me a pretty penny! Not to mention I would know exactly what is going into my food and help me avoid some of my processed faves.

I previously wrote a blog post on DIY cleaning products and on DIY personal hygiene products, making this the third and final installment in this series. In this article, like the previous two, I’ll list the recipes of some homemade products that I’ve tested in the last few months and rate them while explaining why they worked (or didn’t) for me. For each recipe, I tried to only use accessible, common household items — things you may already have at home! Without further ado, here are some DIY recipes I’ve tried in the last couples of months:

1. Chocolate-nut spread (+ nut butter!)

  • 1/2 cup almond butter, or other nut or seed butter of choice
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons water, or as needed to make the mixture spreadable

This one is a double-whammy because, as the chocolate-nut spread recipe I was using called for almond butter, I decided to make that ingredient from scratch! I don’t have a recipe for how I made the almond butter, I pretty much winged it. In fact, I didn’t even know most people toast their almonds in the oven! I simply put around a cup of almonds in a pan, with no oil, on medium heat, and stirred occasionally to make sure they were toasted equally. Then, I put them in a food processor until it became thick and creamy, and voila — almond butter! Even though I had burnt some of the almonds, it still tasted exactly like the store-bought kind. Sadly, however, the chocolate-nut spread did not taste like the store-bought kind. This might be due to a lot of things: using dark chocolate powder rather than milk chocolate, the fact that there was no palm oil or granulated sugar in the recipe. It came out tasting pretty good, but nothing like the original one I buy in stores. I added a bit of sugar, however, and that helped!

Rating: 3.5/5. Pretty good, but not a perfect replacement for store-bought.

2. Candied orange peels

  • 2 large oranges, 1/4 inch of top and bottom cut off
  • 4 cups sugar, divided — though if coconut sugar or something similar is available to you, that may be more sustainable than cane sugar
  • 3 cups of water

While this one is a smidge time-consuming, it’s great if you have a sweet tooth but one, don’t want to go out and buy candy, and two, would rather make use of some kitchen scraps. Essentially, you take some citrus peels (I used orange peels but for a more sour taste you could go for lemon or lime), scrape off the pith, cut it into little strips, boil in hot water for 15 minutes, drain, rinse and boil in simple syrup before draining again and coating in sugar.

The orange peel strips in the boiling simple syrup.

I kept the orange-flavored syrup once I had taken out the candy strips and I highly recommend you do the same! It was delicious and an excellent addition to tea or yogurt. The slight orange fragrance will give anything a bit of Middle Eastern twist, and in fact, when poured into tea, reminded me of one of my favorite beverages at a local Persian cafe.

The orange-flavored syrup on the left, and the finished orange candy strips on the right.

Rating: 4.5/5. A delicious candy and great use of kitchen scraps. Don’t leave them in the sugar for too long, however — just a quick dip is enough. Otherwise, it can be too sweet. Can’t wait to try this with my lemon and lime peels!

3. Potato skins

  • The peels of 2 potatoes (any kind)
  • Enough olive oil to coat (the recipe recommends two teaspoons)
  • Salt (to your liking — recipe recommends a pinch)
  • Any seasoning you’d like! I’ve tried garlic powder, cayenne & oregano

This one is a total gamechanger. Since I first discovered this recipe in May, I have made it countless times, sometimes even two or three times in one week. It’s easy-peasy lemon-squeezy, really. Just take potato peel scraps from the last time you made potatoes (make sure you scrubbed those potatoes well to assure they’re clean!), rub ’em around in some olive oil and seasonings, and put ’em in the oven for 15–20 minutes on 425F (stirring around halfway through).

Before and After shots: the only downside to this recipe is how much the peels shrink with cooking.

Rating: 5.5/5. Tasty, low-waste alternative to chips, and easy to dress to your liking. Between this and the candied peels, you may never need to stop at the nearest dépanneur for snacks again!

4. Bonus: Tofu

  • 3 cups of dry soy beans
  • 2 TBSP of Epsom Salt (or 75ml of lemon juice) — to curdle

Unfortunately, this one did not work out so well, although I really wanted to have a bonus for you, readers. I tried this recipe twice, once with Epsom salt and once with lemon juice, but alas, it didn’t seem to work. I will still include some pictures of what I did, however, in case anybody knows where I may have gone wrong (I did try to follow the recipe to a T):

A story of failure, part 1: soaking the soybeans.
Part 2: preparing two batches of soy milk (which itself was delicious), one which will be combined with Epsom salts and another with lemon juice.
Part 3: curdling (this is the lemon juice batch). It did not cohere more than this!

If anyone knows what might have gone wrong, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments! The tofu turned out crumbly, a little bitter and grainy. However, I know a co-worker of mine has successfully made tofu at home with lemon juice in the past, so I know it’s possible! If you’d like to try your hand at it, feel free to give it a go.

All in all, I think most of the DIY recipes (both in the two past installments and this one) have been a great success. I know I will be making a lot of these (looking at you, crispy potato skins) for a long, long time, and am always looking to add more and more DIY recipes to my repertoire.