Healthy holiday food baskets

Instead of the same old fruit basket, consider these healthy, thoughtful food items

Say ‘healthy holiday food gift’ and the knee-jerk response is probably ‘fruit basket’. Although an arrangement of whole fruit is a perfectly serviceable choice, it is not known to elicit the gasps of surprise and delight that a thoughtful giver aims for.

Happily, there are plenty of healthy gifts that will. These ideas will not only bring a welcome respite from the flood of candy boxes and sausage-and-cheese sets this season, they are treats that pay tribute to the well-being of your friends and family in more personal and unexpected ways.

Matcha
The specially grown and processed green tea, traditionally used in Japanese ceremonies, provides drinkers with a wealth of healthy compounds – polyphenols which may offer protection from many diseases and signs of aging, among other benefits.

In part, that is because the leaves are consumed rather than steeped and discarded. Matcha leaves are ground into a fine powder, and the tea is prepared by whisking that powder into hot water. The tea can also be used as an ingredient in cooking, in which it imparts a glorious verdant colour to baked goods and confections.

A container of premium-grade matcha is a compelling present in itself, but you can build on that to create a gorgeous gift set by including a traditional wooden whisk and an artful ceramic drinking bowl.

Spices
A gift of spices is a sensory delight – full of flavour and aroma – with health benefits including potent anti-inflammatory properties, in some cases. It’s also one that is practical and easily personalised.

If you know someone who loves to bake, for example, you could create a gift box filled with warming, sweet spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, plus extracts such as vanilla and peppermint. If you have a friend who has expressed the desire to venture into, say, Indian cooking, you could get her a starter kit with cumin and coriander seed, turmeric, and some fun curry blends.

Aged balsamic vinegar
Receiving a bottle of 25-year aged balsamic vinegar makes a lasting impact. Traditional aged balsamic vinegar is not the acidic liquid you use in an everyday salad dressing. Rather, this ‘black gold’ is used as a punctuating finishing drizzle. It lends a touch of sweetness without any added sugar, and makes healthy foods such as salads, roasted vegetables and fruit all the more compelling.

Balsamic vinegar is thick, like a syrup, with a nuanced, sweet-tangy taste that rings of its origins in the Modena or Reggio Emila region of Italy (to officially be considered a traditional balsamic vinegar, it must hail from one of those areas) and at least 12 years of aging in a sequence of barrels made of different woods. Real aged balsamic will say DOP (Designated Protection of Origin) on the label and will have only one ingredient: grape must.

As with fine wine, the longer the vinegar is aged, the more expensive it will be. You can also buy a well-produced, beautifully bottled, aged balsamic from Italy that will approximate the real deal. Those are labeled IGP.

Local honey
Giving a jar of local honey as a holiday gift is a thoughtful treat. Despite the hype, honey is only marginally healthier – with a trace amount of nutrients, antioxidants and a slightly lower glycemic index – than regular sugar. But because it is made by bees, pollinators that are important to the environment, supporting local honey producers benefits a region as a whole.

Avocados
Avocado is a fruit not typically found in holiday collections. They are packed with nutrition – rich in healthy fats, potassium, folate, fibre and more.

For the avocado adorer in your life, pull together a basket with several fresh avocados, some fun tools such as an avocado saver and slicer, and maybe even a cute avocado-themed T-shirt.