As a sort of mini-project around the house, Carrie and I have been going through everything we have and asking a simple question: do we need this item? The first section we tackled was the pantry because, believe it or not, it needed the most work. Whether it was the overwhelming number of free primal/paleo products I get sent to try and never finish, or the odd bit of non-Primal food that manages to creep in (I found a box of Fig Newtons, and, strangest of all, a sack of white flour!), or even the food that got buried in the back corner of some pantry shelf and was forgotten, the pantry was seriously overflowing with food that didn’t need to be there. So I tossed a bunch of stuff and started fresh. That was the easy part, but now I had to restock it.
You may think of me as Mark Sisson, the guy who’s got it all figured out, the one whose pantry is the envy of all who behold it and houses every primal staple known to humanity. But really? I’m a regular guy who keeps the basics and little else on hand. Since I was starting more or less from scratch, I decided to construct the definitive primal pantry as a model for all of you and a kick-in-the-pants for myself. And I’ll admit, once I got my Thrive Market membership, I went a little crazy on this project. The preponderance of inexpensive paleo-friendly groceries at Thrive Market made this super easy. (If you don’t know about Thrive Market yet, these are the folks I introduced a couple months back who are also regularly selling out of Primal Kitchen™ Mayo. If you’ve ever hoped for a fusion of Whole Foods, Costco, and Amazon, Thrive Market is as close as you’re gonna get.)
Anyway, restocking the purged pantry is a fundamental step toward going Primal — or strengthening your resolve. It’s one of the 5 Action Items in the 21-Day Challenge, and for my money it’s probably the most important because it can be a real springboard for the rest of your Challenge (and life). So you really want to get this right.
So, without further delay, I present the definitive list of Primal pantry staples, complete with links, justifications, and suggested uses. I hope you find it helpful.
1. Tamari sauce: For those of you who don’t worry about a little (fermented) soy, tamari sauce is a great way to season your meats, soups, and stir-fries without incurring the wrath of the gluten gods. Treat it like soy sauce, only better. Since soy gets hit pretty hard with pesticides, I spring for the organic stuff.
2. Coconut aminos: Coconut aminos are often used interchangeably with soy sauce, but they confer an altogether different flavor profile to your food. That’s why the tamari sauce isn’t enough, and why I have both coconut aminos and tamari in my pantry.
3. Salt: Salt’s salt, right? No. Real salt contains a diverse array of 60 trace minerals that you don’t get from typical sodium chloride. And even if those trace minerals don’t affect our health in any substantial way, they improve the taste of the food we cook. Nothing like a couple soft-boiled eggs rolled in real salt and pepper.
6. Olive oil: California EVOOs have been killing the competition, as far as I’m concerned. Maybe I’m biased, but you absolutely need a good bottle of olive oil on hand at all times for sautéing and dressing salads, and this is a worthy choice.
7. Red palm oil: We all love orangutans, and we’ve probably heard how the Southeast Asian palm oil industry has devastated the great red ape’s homelands. Well, red palm oil from sustainable West African or South American sources has zero impact on the orangutan, sports an impressive micronutrient profile (including the most vitamin E density of any food), and tastes great with sautéed sweet potatoes and/or butternut squash.
8. Coconut oil: Increases ketone production even in the face of carbohydrate. Blends seamlessly into coffee. Lends a subtle sweetness to roasted roots. Yeah, coconut oil’s good.
9. Coconut milk: Make curries, smoothies, and desserts with it. Drink it straight up, turn it into turmeric tea, or pour it over frozen berries. Coconut milk is pretty handy to keep around.
10. Coconut cream: When milk just won’t do and you need more of that silky creamy goodness, reach for coconut cream. The secret of great Thai curries isn’t coconut milk, but coconut cream.
11. Avocado oil: I’ve really grown fond of avocado oil of late, and not just in my mayo. It’s an extremely versatile cooking and dipping oil with nutritional benefits rivaling EVOO.
13. Tomato paste: Crushed tomatoes are fine and all, but all that extra liquid can dilute dishes, especially when I don’t have time to reduce the volume. Tomato paste is concentrated tomato-ness and I really do prefer it.
21. Turmeric: Everybody’s on the turmeric bandwagon, and for good reason: the stuff is tasty and really, really good for you. Just be sure to combine with black pepper and a fat to extract the most benefits.
22. Garlic powder: Let’s face it: garlic can be annoying (and sticky) to work with when it’s the end of a long day and you just want to cook something good. For those times, it’s helpful to have some garlic powder around.
23. Italian herb blend: A good all-purpose blend of oregano, marjoram, sage, rosemary, thyme, and basil is good to keep around. Plus, if you need the individual spices for a dish, you can simply use tweezers to separate them without having to buy extra!
You don’t need many baking supplies on this way of eating, but it’s nice to have a few on hand when the need or desire arises.
28. Honey: Yes, it’s sugar, but it’s also not sugar. Honey has a different metabolic effect than refined white sugar, and you really can’t compare the two. I’m not saying you should guzzle honey (although some hunter gatherer groups ate incredible amounts at certain times of the year). Just don’t lump it in with the rest.
33. Macadamia nuts: My favorite nut, macs are full of MUFAs, taste like butter, are low in toxins, and display no pesticide residue even when conventionally grown.
34. Brazil nuts: Although everyone focuses on their selenium content — and Brazil nuts are the best source of selenium around, with just a couple providing the RDI — Brazil nuts also taste really, really good.
35. Seaweed snacks: Iodine, a crisp texture, the briny remembrance of that unforgettable summer aboard a whaling schooner — seaweed snacks are more than just a tasty treat.
36. Dates: Pit and split a date in half. Insert a salted macadamia nut. Consume. Smile. Thank me. Don’t go too crazy on these on account of the high sugar content.
37. Beef jerky: Humans have been eating dried meat for hundreds of thousands of years, so why stop now?
38. Bison bars: Bison jerky, cranberry, and bacon. These are incredible, and incredibly convenient.
39. Coconut butter: If you haven’t tried this, do it now. It’s awe-inspiring: puréed coconut flesh, meat, fat and all. There’s nothing else added. Put a dollop of this in a pan sauce to thicken it.
47. Yerba mate: As a nice alternative to coffee or traditional teas, yerba mate works well and has some health benefits. Plus, it features upwards of three different stimulants, which is always a good time.
48. Raw potato starch: You can use raw potato starch as a gluten-free sauce thickener or baking agent, but it’s most useful in its raw, unmodified, unheated state as a potent source of prebiotic resistant starch. I enjoy mixing a tablespoon or two into smoothies or sparkling water
49. Collagen Peptides: Do you desire the benefits of gelatin without having to dissolve it in hot liquid? Try Collagen Peptides, which blends seamlessly into any liquid regardless of temperature.
50. Fermented cod liver oil/butter oil blend: High in omega-3s, vitamin A, and vitamin D, fermented cod liver oil has remarkable nutritional benefits but admittedly tastes terrible. And combined with grass-fed butter oil, the texture gets kinda funny. That’s why you take it in gel caps.
There you have it: the 50 items you need in your Primal pantry. Now, there’s absolutely plenty of wiggle room for personal preferences. I like macadamia nuts; you may prefer walnuts. That’s fine. The point is that this gives you a strong framework for establishing a shelf-stable pantry that will stand the test of time, dozens of recipes, and, perhaps, the apocalypse.
Now, let’s hear from you. What’s in your perfect Primal pantry?
Update: The team at Thrive Market saw this article, and offered to create a really handy gallery page that contains most of the paleo food items in the list. Saves a lot of clicking. Take a look.
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About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.