The story of how I ended up developing my Keto Cranberry Sauce is not one where I set out to create a keto-fied cranberry sauce. I have an instinctual skepticism of “substitute” foods on low carb diets. It’s not really a matter of dogma, I think they can occasionally be good. It’s just difficult to do. Copies of iconic originals are generally doomed to failure.
You only have to look at the amount of “fathead pizza dough” recipes to see that there is a bit of an obsession in the keto community with recreating iconic dishes from the full carb world. It’s really hard to argue with its utility as a gateway food and a crutch to keep reformed carb addicts on the diet. I just don’t think it’s that good. True confession: In this case, I’d rather eat the real thing and suffer the carb hangover. And believe me, I do suffer. Badly.
When I was about to sit down and write this, an article in the NY Post about ketogenic diets crossed my feed on Facebook. I care deeply about growing the adoption base of the low carbohydrate lifestyle, so I am always a sucker for clickbait that might give me a clue as to what “civilians” think and are being told in mainstream media outlets.
Needless to say it was full of myths and half truths of all sorts. All the normal scare stuff was there, and you know what — it’s our fault. We do it to ourselves. The obsession with butter, bacon, and fat, fat, fat. Sometimes we read our own headlines and get angry when we feel like we are misunderstood, but other times it just makes us uncomfortable because it is a mirror in our faces. It’s not always pretty.
So, what is the line? When is a dish just indulging our carb cravings and when can it stand on its own? What I am really after is the experience. If I feel like a re-imaging captures much the same overall experience as the original, it is fair game. I need it to be good in the same way that the original is good.
I do sometimes go there, like I did with my Keto Heinz-Style Ketchup and Keto Kohlrabi French Fries, but I think long and hard before I do it. I want to make things that are delicious and not just “crutch food”.
So, where does the Keto Cranberry Sauce fall in this? Sometimes dishes end up coming from weird places, like this one, which actually doesn’t have any cranberry or fruit in it at all. In this case, it is super-concentrated, sweetened, gelled hibiscus tea augmented with some complementary flavors.
So, what is hibiscus tea? Hibiscus tea (often known as “jamaica”) is a herbal infusion of the crimson sepals of the hibiscus flower that is so common to the tropics. Historically, there are many uses in traditional folk medicine and it pops up frequently in world food culture under various names.
I’ve been a hibiscus tea drinker for a long time. Originally, it was in an attempt to utilize its reputation for various medicinal qualities, but I came to enjoy it for its own sake and have consumed it off and on ever since. High in Vitamin C, other antioxidants, and minerals, it has a lot going for it even if you aren’t into self-experimentation with its rumored medicinal benefits.
At any rate, I generally brew it really strongly in the interest of time efficiency and then dilute it with water when I drink it. I did a few things differently this time. I had some ginger and oranges in the house, so I added them. I also sweetened it with erythritol, which I had never done before. I love sour foods and don’t mind the unadorned sourness of the unsweetened drink.
…and you know what? It tasted just like cranberry sauce. Best of all it was a fully keto cranberry sauce.
It dropped a solution in my lap that I did not expect. Keto cranberry sauce is a tough nut to crack when it comes to the keto diet. Cranberries as berries would be more reasonable if you actually could stand to eat them raw. The problem is that we don’t because they are much too sour, even for someone like me.
They’re cooked down, concentrated, and eaten at a portion size in excess of what a keto dieter should eat of any fruit, even berries. The normal trick of just substituting a natural sweetener blend doesn’t work very well in this case.
The only thing I really had to do was gel the liquid. Normally fruit pectin would be used in making jelly or jam, but in this case we don’t want the carbohydrate that pectin adds. We utilize gelatin instead at a slightly increased concentration than we would normally use to make it more dense than typical gelatin and closer to how we typically experience cranberry sauce.
A final note: Do you remember the canned cranberry sauce that your parents used to serve you as a kid? You’re lucky if you don’t. I sure do, though. Just for a little bit of nostalgia and fun, I molded my Keto Cranberry Sauce in a clean BPA-free can. I had a little trouble dislodging it, so be gentle trying to jiggle it out if you follow suit. You don’t have to run it under hot water for too long to get it to release. It will start to melt very rapidly if you do.