When I’m cooking, I make almost everything from scratch using good quality ingredients. Often (but not always) it’s more work than something from a store-bought package or jar, but since I actually like to cook that is not a big problem and there are many advantages:
- Food cooked from scratch usually tastes better
- If you cook food from scratch, you actually know what you’re eating and it’s healthier
- Food cooked from scratch is often cheaper
And the most important one: cooking food from scratch is fun and rewarding! It’s not really difficult, and practice will make it even easier. I’ve been cooking for myself, my husband and guests for 15 years now. And over that time, I’ve been cooking more and more from scratch. Nowadays, I hardly use anything store-bought. I’ve just checked in my pantry, and the only thing I could find was a bottle of ketchup (which I don’t use often) and a jar of mayonnaise. Perhaps I’ll have to try making my own ketchup from scratch as well. I do make my own mayonnaise if I need a larger quantity, but home-made mayonnaise doesn’t keep very long so for smaller amounts I use store-bought from a good brand.
Food cooked from scratch usually tastes better
This is the most important reason for me to cook from scratch. If it is more work, it better be worth it!
A striking example of this is making your own stock (examples: fish stock, pheasant stock). This is not a lot of work (you just throw some stuff into a pot with water and let it simmer for some time, then strain) and it is very sensible because it’s the perfect way to use scraps, bones, and other stuff you have left after cooking anyway. A sauce, soup or risotto made with your own stock will taste so much better than a sauce, soup or risotto made with bouillon cubes (aka stock cubes). The taste of bouillon cubes is strongly affected by the dehydration process, a high salt content, and added flavor enhancers such as yeast extract or monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Another good reason for making something yourself is that you can serve it very fresh. Unless you are lucky and have a baker nearby where fresh bread comes out of the oven every hour or so, baking your own bread is the only way to serve bread at its best, and that’s when it’s been out of the oven for only an hour or so and is still slightly warm. This is one of the reasons why I haven’t bought bread in years, I always bake my own. Same goes for cakes (examples: pound cake, apple, chocolate, almond, black forest) and cookies.
Something similar applies to roasted peppers. If you buy them in a jar, vinegar has been added as a preservative, which for me completely destroys the lovely taste they have if you roast them yourself.
If you own a pasta roller, making your own stuffed pasta such as ravioli is not that hard if you practice a little and a lot better than the ‘fresh’ ravioli you can buy at the supermarket. Just check the ingredients: the ‘prosciutto’ ravioli usually have less than 10% prosciutto in them! So the ones you can buy at the supermarket are just no substitute for home-made.
For other pasta such as spaghetti, tagliatelle or fettuccine it’s a bit more complicated. I don’t think that fresh home-made fresh egg pasta is always better than store-bought dry pasta made from durum wheat (semolina). It actually depends on the sauce whether fresh pasta or good-quality dry pasta (DeCecco, Barilla, Delverde) is preferred. Dry pasta is more smooth on the outside and has more ‘bite’ than fresh pasta. There are also sauces that go well with both, even though they are quite different. For instance, ragù bolognese is traditionally served over fresh (spinach) tagliatelle, but it’s also good on dry pasta. As a rule of thumb, delicate sauces go well with fresh pasta and stronger sauces go well with dry pasta. To go back to the main topic: home-made fresh pasta is always better than store-bought ‘fresh’ pasta, because home-made pasta has a much more delicate texture and that was the reason for choosing fresh pasta in the first place! Dry pasta is also much cheaper than store-bought fresh pasta.
Home-made pesto is better than pesto from a jar, in many cases much better because pesto in a jar often has ingredients that don’t belong in pesto such as cashew nuts, parsley or potato.
One of the exceptions for me is puff pastry. It’s a lot of work to make it yourself, and difficult to get it better than what you can buy in a store. Just make sure that it was made with actual butter because puff pastry made with margarine is just not the same.
On a related note, fresh fruits and vegetables are usually better than canned or frozen. There are some exceptions:
- when tomatoes are not in season, canned tomatoes are better than fresh tomatoes;
- really fresh peas are a treat, but almost impossible to get and very expensive; frozen peas are a good substitute and often better than not-really-fresh peas.
If you cook food from scratch, you actually know what you’re eating and it’s healthier
Processed food you buy in a store needs to have a long shelf-life and everyone needs to like it. So it often has preservatives, too much salt, sugar, artificial flavors, and other artificial ingredients that you don’t need or are even bad for you. If you do buy processed food, always check the label and ask yourself whether you would use the same ingredients. In some cases, sauce in a jar has a ‘normal’ list of ingredients and if you like the taste, I don’t see anything wrong with buying it. But in many cases, there are all kinds of ingredients that you don’t need or want. If you cook from scratch, you know exactly what’s going in. And it also means you can control exactly what it will taste like.
Food cooked from scratch is often cheaper
If you buy a head of lettuce and clean and cut it yourself, it’s much cheaper than a bag with pre-cut and pre-washed salad, and it also tastes better. The same goes for many vegetables including mushrooms. It is a bit more work to clean and cut it yourself, but it’s cheaper and has a better taste.
Home-made fresh pasta is definitely cheaper than store-bought.
Home-made stock is cheaper than stock from a jar or can (but more expensive than cubes — however stock from a jar tastes a whole lot better than from a cube!).
There are many other examples, also some examples of the opposite.