A drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt can turn the blandest slice of avocado toast into something truly special. Throw on some homegrown herbs and a sprinkling of roasted sesame seeds and you’ve got yourself a restaurant-quality meal.
Most of the flavour in our food comes from a handful of humble pantry staples. A quality olive oil naturally enhances taste and is the base for most savoury meals, spices bring complexity and heat, sauces add umami (AKA savoury) deliciousness and salt is, well, salty. These are the things you always have on hand at home and restock on autopilot, without much thought given to why you’ve been opting for that same brand of curry powder your whole life.
When reaching for your favourite supermarket spices, another thing you might not give much thought to is what they are sold in. That’s why for this edition of Swaps we’re bringing you a range of alternatives to single-use products and excess packaging. From everything bagel seasoning to hand-picked olive oil from southern Greece, these swaps will have you saying “bye forever” to those trusty old supermarket staples.
High-quality olive oil is a game changer in the kitchen. Bright golden-green and fragrant, it even holds its own as a delicious standalone snack (just add fresh bread and dunk away).
Traditional olive oil farms can act as carbon sinks (removing and storing CO₂), protect biodiversity, improve soil health and require very little water to grow. This means, when grown correctly, olive oil can help combat climate change. How good.
On the flip side, industrial olive oil farms contribute to biodiversity loss and soil erosion, have higher CO₂ emissions due to mechanical harvesting and produce large quantities of wastewater. The nitrogen and phosphate fertilisers used on these farms can also pollute groundwater and soil.
An easy way to avoid these negative impacts is to swap generic olive oil for organic alternatives grown and harvested using traditional techniques. Our recommendation is Golden Groves, a family business founded by food content creator Katianna Velos and her sister Yianna. The Veloses have been growing olives the old-fashioned way on the Mani Peninsula in southern Greece for generations. Their bright, peppery oil is made from organically grown olives that are hand-picked in the family groves and cold-pressed at a local mill.
Refills are another good way to go if you’re looking to cut down kitchen waste. Many local bulk foods stores offer olive oil top-ups, as do select supermarkets.
Researchers have discovered alarming levels of plastic in sea salt, with one study finding up to 90 per cent of table salt contains microplastics. Most salt, and pepper for that matter, also comes packaged in single-use plastic grinders that are no bueno for the planet. These grinders can be difficult to disassemble for reuse and, when bought and made cheaply, break easily. They also contain multiple material components that can’t be recycled.
Luckily, there are alternatives for those who prefer their food without a side of plastic. Only Salt is one product we can’t stop thinking about. Sourced from a spring in the Andes, this salt is 100 per cent microplastic-, toxin- and additive-free. The salt comes from family-owned ponds in Maras, Peru, that date back to Incan times. The purity of spring water that flows from deep underground aquifers gives this salt its microplastic-free status and distinctive earthy taste. Only Salt also comes with wooden pinch pots that are perfect for storage and serving.
There’s nothing quite like a well-organised (read: alphabetised) spice rack. With specialty spice markets popping up in most cities, it’s time to ditch single-use spice bottles for endlessly refillable jars. Our pick is Gewürzhaus, a spice and herb company with scoop-and-go stores across Australia. Its stores are seasoning heaven with shelves of salts, teas, single-origin spices and divine house-made blends including an everything bagel spice mix and an apple cake spice that will change your desserts forever. Spices come loose, with paper bags and glass jars provided. Gewürzhaus also offers a 10 per cent discount on refills for Spice Club members who bring their own jars.
Storebought herbs have to travel to reach you, consume energy through refrigeration and are usually sheathed in plastic. Growing your own herbs is a simple way to reduce packaging waste and carbon miles in your pantry. It’s also one of the few homegrown options that is accessible for apartment dwellers.
If you have a sunny windowsill or a small balcony you can grow herbs at home: all they need is a pot with good drainage, sunlight and regular watering. As well as filling your house with a wonderful scent, fresh basil and parsley taste so much better when plucked straight off the plant. Farmers’ markets are also an option for anyone with a black thumb.
Do you find yourself googling things like “what to do with soft plastics” or “how to recycle pasta boxes with little plastic windows” on the reg? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone.
Food packaging can be a minefield, with studies showing 80 per cent of it can’t go in your home recycling bin. Avoid this problem altogether by switching from bagged staples to naked alternatives. Pasta, grains, rice and pretty much every other pantry mainstay, as well as all the fun treats, can be found at your local bulk food store. Simply bring your own clean containers and fill ’em up in-store. Gram Sustainable in Melbourne is our pick for fans of zero-waste living and minimalist aesthetics.
If you don’t have access to an IRL store, there are plenty of online bulk food options. If you are based in the US, Thrive Market is an amazing option for organic groceries and home and beauty products, with zero-waste warehouses and carbon-neutral shipping. Another favourite is The Source, shoppable from Australia, Canada and the UK. Though ordered online, ingredients are still delivered in sustainable packaging. Dry ingredients come in biodegradable, compostable bags lined with plant-based film and liquids in reusable glass bottles and jars. In the past year, The Source has helped customers avoid an estimated 102,900 kilograms of packaging waste and prevented over 10 million plastic bags from entering the environment.
At the risk of ruining bread, we are obliged to tell you that most loaves stocked on the supermarket shelf are not great for the planet. A study of the lifecycle impacts of bread found the process is energy-hungry and emissions-heavy. The research showed a single loaf of bread emits half a kilo of CO₂ with a massive 43 per cent of bread’s total greenhouse gas emissions coming from chemical fertilisers used to grow wheat.
Switching to organic bread is one of the most effective ways to reduce the impact of your avo toast. Local bakeries also prefer to brown-bag their bread, which will help avoid plastic packaging and those pesky bread tags used on store-bought loaves (which are too small to go in the recycling bin).
Cooking sauces from scratch could be a hard no for the time-poor and culinarily challenged. But for those with a spare Sunday afternoon up their sleeve and a penchant for creativity in the kitchen, the possibilities are truly endless. Homemade chilli oil is a good entry-level option that will make literally any meal taste amazing. If you want to try something more advanced, TikTok is an endless well of knowledge and inspiration. Joshua Weissman, AKA @flakeysalt, is a must-follow for sauce recipe ideas, with a back catalogue that includes classic tomato sauce, fresh wasabi and McDonald’s honey mustard.