A popular form of cooking is the 5-ingredient (or 4-ingredient or 6-ingredient) recipe. Many cookbooks cater to this need. And no wonder—5-ingredient cooking is fun and easy!
The principle behind a 5-ingredient recipe is simple. Each recipe has 5 ingredients, usually with a few exceptions:
- Water does not count.
- Nonstick cooking spray does not count.
- Salt and pepper generally count as one ingredient.
- Optional ingredients do not count.
Are there any downsides to 5-ingredient cooking? Let’s find out.
- Fast meal preparation. This is probably the single most important benefit of 5-ingredient cooking. Most of these recipes require minimal preparation. Put your meal in the oven or slow cooker and walk away.
- Budget savings. Fewer ingredients means fewer groceries.
- Easy entry point. New to cooking? A good 5-ingredient recipe is an excellent starting point due to its simplicity.
- Flavor showcases. Simple recipes are often excellent ways to really highlight the flavor of quality meat or produce.
- A fun challenge. Need we say more?
- Reliance on processed ingredients. To make a meal without compromising on flavor, most 5-ingredient cookbooks rely heavily on prepackaged ingredients, such as refrigerated dough or meal kits. Many of these foods in turn contain processed ingredients that are not the best for your health.
- Fewer nutrients. A well-balanced diet high in vitamins and minerals relies on variety, including grains, meats, and multiple colors of fruits and vegetables, obviously a problem if you are trying to save on ingredients. Even the seasonings and spices so frequently omitted in 5-ingredient recipes play a role in good health, as they often contain compounds that boost your immune system.
- Shameless cheating. Unfortunately, too many 5-ingredient cookbooks catering to this popular topic resort to cheating by overuse of the optional ingredient category. While it is certainly fair to put flavorful embellishments or items that add variety within the optional category, a recipe that depends on “optional” ingredients to have any hope of being edible is arguably not a 5-ingredient recipe.
There is definitely a beneficial role that 5-ingredient cooking plays in the lives of today’s busy cooks, and that is saving time and effort. Also, for those who are still learning how to cook, whether young or old, 5-ingredient cooking is a great entry point due to its simplicity.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the 5-ingredient cookbooks out there rely heavily on processed foods to pull it all together. Cookbooks that rely on real foods are fairly few and far between.
So while 5-ingredient recipes are a great idea, be sure to choose your cookbook carefully to avoid relying on heavily processed foods.