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Pretentious Ingredients and When To Ignore Them

It takes time, energy, and effort to even make the decision to attempt a new, gourmet meal. You’re not just boiling some pasta and throwing some ready-made sauce on it – there’s going to be a long ingredient list and a very precise set of instructions. And there is nothing more disheartening than looking at that ingredient list and seeing some really pretentious ingredients on it. Seriously – when am I going to have the time (or money) to find some Mauritian vanilla pods? Do I really have the energy to make the trip to the specialty food store across town and sell a kidney just so that I can add those two tablespoons worth of aged balsamic to my salad dressing? What salad is worth that?

Pretentious or rare ingredients are far too expensive for the rest of us mere mortals and, really, nobody can taste the difference anyway. Here are a couple of examples. 

Vanilla Pods

When I think of a pretentious ingredient, my mind immediately goes to vanilla pods. I’ve lost count of how many times people have described vanilla beans as more “authentic” and “magical” compared to vanilla essence. Look, I’m not saying that getting the taste from the source is a bad thing, I’m just saying that I’d rather pay R 21 ($1.45) for a 100ml bottle of vanilla extract that can be used for dozens of recipes instead of R 280 ($19) for 2 fresh vanilla beans that can be used in exactly one recipe. Plus, the vanilla essence tastes like the soft-serve vanilla ice cream I ate as a child, and I’m trying desperately to ignore the present and eat something that reminds me of simpler times – so there. 

70% Dark Chocolate

I’ve always considered dark chocolate to be a bit of an ‘adult’ food – it’s something classy that older, distinguished people nibbled on with their snifters of brandy. I suppose I’m not that good of an adult because I still consider dark chocolate to be gross. So when I’m trying out a new brownie recipe and the food blogger whose recipe I’ve chosen extols the virtues of how I must “only use Lindt 70% dark chocolate, or higher… you simply can’t compare that pure cocoa taste,” I tend to ignore it. The cheaper Cadbury Bourneville dark chocolate is more than acceptable in my opinion – plus it has a little bit of added sugar so you can actually stomach it. Yeah, I’m not about to default on my rent payment because some recipe blogger insists I use Lindt dark chocolate. 

Wagyu Beef

Each recipe that mentions Wagyu seems to kind of get that it is the most delicious and expensive type of beef on the entire planet, but they only ever qualify it with “if you can get your hands on it”… really? It really should go without saying – if there’s a steak recipe, it is going to automatically be better with deliciously marbled beef from cows that have been fed beer and massaged their entire lives. But the fact that this chef throws Wagyu beef in for a recipe that’s readily accessible for plebs like me to cook might just mean that they’re pretentious.  

Legitimate Parmesan Cheese

Like sparkling wine that doesn’t come from Champagne can’t use the regional title, any hard granular cheese that purports to be Parmesan cheese that isn’t marked “Parmigiano-Reggiano” on the rind can’t hold the title of Parmesan cheese. Here is where I’m going to be a hypocrite here for a second – I’d actually go out of my way to get a good wedge of legitimate Parmesan cheese to add to my pasta dishes. Maybe it’s my affinity for Italian food, but I can taste a big difference between stuff from the region and knock-offs. 

Anyway, that’s my list – are there any you think I missed? 


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Tayla Blaire

Tayla Blaire is a South African writer, teacher, epicurean, and (most importantly) mother to all cats. Tayla has been thinking (and subsequently writing) about food since she was a tiny tot after her mother taught her that measuring ingredients was for the weak. If you’re interested to see what Tayla has whipped up recently, check out her Instagram profile @tayla.blaire to see the recipes that she has lovingly filmed in her very own too-small kitchen.

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