Why is Sofrito Healthy? The Best Secrets Exposed
The secret ingredient to my healthy recipes.
Have you ever tried a Mediterranean diet?
It wouldn’t surprise me if you had. It was pretty trendy around the turn of the century.
But unlike most fad diets, this one is something worth sticking to.
It involves little (if any) red meat, quality olive oils over animal fats and plenty of plants. It also includes lots of ripe, vitamin-packed tomatoes as a foundation.
...we’re going to explore cultural variations on this saucy Catalan staple.
It’s best known today as sofrito.
Sofrito is a vegetable sauté that serves as the base for traditional dishes all over the world.
As it turns out...
...sofrito may be the healthiest way to start any meal.
But you're probably wondering:
But stay with me.
And you’ll learn all the secrets surrounding this tasty base.
What Is Sofrito?
Sofrito’s recorded origins begin in the 14th century, as sofregit.
The Catalan mainstay’s name means “to lightly fry”.
Today, sofrito is a starter to soups, stews, and sauces the world over.
In the 1324 cookbook, Libre de Sent Sovi, sofregit makes its instructional debut as essential to Catalan cooking.
It was often the base of another recipe that has endured the passage of time: picada.
Variations of sofregit, or sofrito, are now indispensable in Cuban, Mexican, and Puerto Rican cooking.
Lest we think the sofrito we make at home is totally medieval, the recipe has evolved a lot.
All things considered, the first sofrito was sautéed onions with a little fat and salt.
...tomatoes are crucial to traditional Latin sofrito.
Allegedly, they were added in after Columbus introduced them to Spain from the Americas.
But here’s the kicker:
Europe could have received tomatoes from Mexico or Central America before Columbus’ infamous travels.
Want to know the best part?
In any country, sofrito is a combination of aromatics and fats.
Aromatics decide the flavor of a dish.
Ever start your meal by sautéing onions and garlic in olive oil?
That’s a very basic sofrito.
French cooking... a sofrito is called a mirepoix and includes carrots and celery.
Since it often forms the base of a roux, the fat here is butter.
In Italy, a soffrito (with two f’s) is a mirepoix, but with olive oil.
Indian and Chinese cuisine... a sofrito would often begin with ginger.
Cajun cooking begins with onion, bell pepper, and celery.
From there, your base can be enhanced with other ingredients like chili peppers, fresh herbs and even meat.
Thus, we see that a sofrito can be any herb/vegetable blend used in a meal.
It’s not as exotic as it sounds, huh?
Actually, you have been making a sofrito for decades now, without even thinking about it.
...I’m going to share recipes for a few different styles of sofrito.
But I bet you’re wondering: why is this basic cooking technique so healthy?
Why is it worth putting under the microscope?
Sofrito Secrets for Health
Bold promise? Definitely.
But stay with me.
To be clear...
...the health benefits described here are associated with a specific kind of sofrito. It combines garlic, onion, tomato, and olive oil - very Mediterranean.
These ingredients, on their own, have many health benefits that we know of.
Eating any one of these can be part of a healthy diet. But combining them, as you’ll find, is even better.
In 2013, a study published in Food Chemistry stated that sofrito is a polyphenol powerhouse.
Altogether, a sofrito including the above ingredients delivers more than 40 polyphenols.
Polyphenols are nutritious, active plant compounds that deliver so many of the health benefits we read about.
Increasing consumption of polyphenols can support metabolism, slow aging and act as a preventative for many diseases.
They reduce inflammation, discourage the growth of cancer cells and protect us from free radicals.
That sounds like a lot.
Yet, ‘polyphenol’ is a blanket term. It includes many kinds of compounds that we’re familiar with, like flavonoids.
As researchers state, this might be the first study of its kind.
Finally, a study that unlocks the true secrets of a healthy Mediterranean diet.
It isn’t the fish or the olives.
It’s the sofrito!
This is important.
Because in our culture, we actually elect to skip polyphenols in favor of convenience.
Instead of knowing exactly what’s in our food, we eat what we like, when we have time.
Why do We Choose a Can or a Jar?
Presently, people in the United States do sauté aromatics and fats frequently.
Still, it’s not as integral to the preparation of our food as it is in other countries.
The foodies and dedicated home cooks among us feel a sofrito is old hat.
But, many reserve this healthy base for special occasions or when they’re really dedicating time to a dish.
Americans also don’t eat together as much as other cultures do. Thus, cooking isn’t as much a part of daily life.
Unfortunately, studies show that we’re cooking less and less.
We like to eat out, eat packaged foods and brag about skipping meals because we work so hard.
As a result...
...over half of all dinners prepared by Americans in 2014 were made at home.
Just over half.
These days, when we want soup, we start with a can or carton.
Want a tomato sauce?
By and large, we buy a glass jar of it.
In fact, here is precisely where we miss out on the benefits of a polyphenol-laden sofrito.
Clearly, manufacturers aren’t packaging a health tonic here.
...they are creating a product that tastes good to you and makes you want to eat more of it.
Additionally, you have to do nothing but heat it up and they consider that a winner.
You, on the other hand, lose.
Regrettably, you miss the health benefits of common flavorful foods that just require a little bit more time to prepare.
Jars of pasta sauce are loaded with excess sodium and sugar.
As if that weren’t bad enough, they don’t always stick to olive oil.
And I’d be remiss not to mention that they often have more calories.
It’s easy to create a basic tomato sofrito and then just add plain, no-sugar added tomato sauce for your pasta.
Alternatively, you can use fresh tomatoes when they’re plentiful and freeze for colder months!
Sofrito, Five Healthy Ways
I love the flavor profile of tomatoes, garlic, onions, and olive oil.
But that doesn’t mean that I’ll eat it twice a day, every day!
Other types of sofrito may lack specific study, but they still combine the awesome benefits of all kinds of polyphenols.
And anyway, you want to create different bases for different types of cuisine.
After all, classic tomato sofrito probably wouldn’t work with a lot of Asian dishes, no?
1. Classic Tomato Sofrito - Fresh Tomatoes
This basic fresh tomato sofrito is perfect for tomato harvest. It’s perfect as a base for your pasta sauces.
To make it, you’ll need:
To start, chop your tomatoes and onions into relatively uniform pieces.
Next up, you have a choice here. You can either dice them very small or chop roughly and throw it all into a food processor together.
If blending or processing, add in the herbs and garlic as well prior to pulsing. Otherwise, dice these and mix them with the tomatoes and onions.
Next, heat your olive oil in a large pan over medium.
Add your vegetables and herbs and cook for 30 minutes, stirring constantly. When it begins to reduce and get thicker, remove from heat.
You can freeze any unused portions for six months!
2. Classic Spanish Sofrito - Canned Tomatoes
This is very similar to the pasta-friendly sofrito above, but uses convenient canned tomatoes instead.
Also, it gets some Spanish styling apropos to its Catalan roots.
For this, gather up:
To begin, finely chop your peppers, onion, and garlic.
Sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent.
Add the peppers and garlic and continue to sauté while stirring; do not leave unattended.
Next, add the crushed tomatoes and paprika.
Cook while stirring for approximately 20 minutes. This makes a great base for your paella or Spanish beans and rice.
3. Puerto Rican Sofrito
Puerto Rican style sofrito is unbelievably versatile.
Use it as you would a condiment or stick to using it as a base for rice dishes, soups and more.
It uses a few regional ingredients you might need to hunt for, but it’s well worth it.
To try it, you’ll need:
Wait, did I forget to mention that this recipe is fat free?
Additionally, it’s super easy.
Like, ‘no excuses’ easy.
Simply chop everything up and add it to a food processor or blender.
You may need to add a little water if your blender isn’t tough enough to break everything down.
Secret: I love using this as a veggie dip. For the calorie-conscious, it’s much lower in calories than traditional hummus.
4. Cuban Sofrito
With this, we see peppers, tomatoes and bay leaves come together for a Cuban delicacy.
Commonly, it’s served with fish, beans and rice, potatoes and more.
Here is another little secret:
Personally, I happen to like it chilled.
Just add a few dashes of lime juice and you have salsa!
To make Cuban-style sofrito, you’ll need:
First, dice your whole tomatoes, garlic, onion and bell pepper.
Over medium heat, sauté your onion in the EVOO.
Next, after five minutes, add the bell pepper, garlic and all of your seasonings, including the bay leaves.
You may want to reduce the heat just slightly as you continue to cook and stir for another few minutes.
Then, add your diced tomatoes and kick the heat back up to medium.
After 10-15 minutes, it should start getting thicker.
Next, slowly pour your blended tomatoes or tomato juice in, stirring constantly.
Simmer for a few more minutes.
To finish, you should fish out the bay leaves.
5. Asian Sofrito
I usually leave great Asian cooking to the experts.
However, I’ve found that this base is perfect for the ramen dishes and vegetable stir-fry I make at home.
If you want Thai flavors, you can add some lime, basil, or lemongrass.
Indian bases would likely include chili peppers.
I also understand that canola or peanut oil is more frequently used in Asian cuisine, but I still prefer using EVOO!
Simply gather up:
This “sofrito” also cooks up much quicker, as there are no meat to deal with. (Tomatoes are optional. 2 would be plenty.)
First, chop your green onions, discarding the rooty tips. Sauté for a few minutes in your olive oil.
Next, add the garlic and ginger, stirring briskly so nothing scorches.
Carefully, when it begins to soften (shouldn’t be more than a few minutes), remove from heat.
We’re really just trying to release the aroma, so when it becomes very fragrant, it’s time.
Final Word for: Why is Sofrito Healthy? The Best Secrets Exposed
Obviously, the big deal about sofrito is that it encourages home cooking. It negates the need for nutrient-deficient jar sauces and cans of sodium and sugar.
Moreover, it’s a human tradition!
As we learned, we’ve been making some variation of sofrito for centuries.
Best of all, preliminary studies say this is a great way to eat, as we have learned sofrito is crammed with polyphenols.
For this reason, we should consider slowing down and making a sofrito.
To be sure, it’s way healthier and comes naturally to us.
Finally, it’s your turn.
Do you have any sofrito secrets?
Are you inspired to cook at home more often?
How many meals would you say you prepare at home per week?
Let us know in the comments and I’ll catch up soon.