Cesta Básica

For several years I lived in the amazing country of Brasil (yes, that’s how to spell it right :) ).

Stack of Cesta Básica's ready be sold
Stack of Cesta Básica's ready to be sold

One of the many things I learned while living there was about a product called the Cesta Básica (Basket of Basics).  This product is the lifeblood of many Brasilian families, making up the core of their grocery shopping.  What it is, is simple.  It is a package containing an assortment of basic food items, designed to meet the basic needs for a given amount of time.  Which products it contains, and how much would vary by store, but largely were the same.  This was an extremely common item for several reasons.  The first of which is the basic brasileiro’s diet, which starts with beans and rice, and almost anything else is extra.  Which type of beans was largely a regional choice as the default, but alternative ‘versions’ of the packages could easily be found if you preferred another regions flavor.

Background

The Cesta Básica was so important, because it was priced to fit most Brasilians economic situation.  There was no paying for anything fancy here, it was the most simple, common means to meet the nutritional needs of a person.  In many areas, the “standard” kit is actually subsidized to help meet the needs of the poorer classes.

The concept of the Cesta is so built in to Brasilian society now, that you will often hear of it as part of wage negotiations.  As one friend quoted:

“How much do you earn?”
“Two minimum salaries and a cesta básica.”

The Cesta Básica is a fundamental part of Brasilian society, and an amazing resource for anybody interested in Preparedness, Food Storage, or just cooking a little more healthy.  By covering what it contains, and why it exists, I think we can come up with ideas for improving our storage.

Contents

Contents of an Example Brasilian Cesta Básica
Contents of an Example Brasilian Cesta Básica

I’ll start by reviewing some of the contents of a Brasilian kit, to get an idea of what would be in here. This example kit is a larger one, designed for a month of basic sustenance for a family.

  • 10 kilos of Rice
  • 5 kilos of Beans
  • 4 Cans of Oil (standard vegetable oil, used heavily in Brasilian recipes)
  • 10 Kilos of Sugar
  • 2 Kilos Flour
  • 1 Kilo Corn Flour
  • 1 Kilo Fine Corn Flour (a native style)
  • 2 cans sardines (often switched with other canned meats, such as Vienna Sausages)
  • 1 can chocolate breakfast drink
  • 1 Kilo Spagetti noodles
  • 1 Kilo Macaroni noodles
  • 1 Tomato Paste
  • 2 Kilos of Salt
  • 1 Kilo Coffee
  • 1 Can … Jam, well, it’s actually candied Guava, very tasty stuff :)
  • 5 Bars of washing soap

Once again, the contents are designed for a Brasilian diet, but they still expose us to several very important aspect of what is needed in a food supply.  Beans and rice make up the main part of their diet, and for good reasons.  They grow readily in Brasil, are very cheap to produce, they store extremely well, and combined, form a very powerful set of protiens, carbs, ammino acids, and complex nutrients.  The oil is a necessary element of many types of cooking, especially in using the varoius forms of flour provided in the kit.  Very little protein in the form of meat is provided, based on the cost, yet the kit is designed to be usable with any meat that is added via external purchases.  There is actually a rather high salt amount for most Americans, but given Brasilian cooking, and their temperatures, it actually is quite normal.

Translating

For me, sure, I could use that kit with good success, but my diet would change a bit.  I do know how to use it though.  What is most important is that you look to building up kits like this that fit a diet that you can a) enjoy b) actually cook with.

One of the main reasons I make this post is to understand the concept of dividing out much of your bulk storage items into usable quantities, that are grouped together for a given timeline.  You should be looking at this and realizing that you can use buckets, boxes, or other storage containers of weekly or monthly supplies.  These then become easy to rotate as part of your standard diet keeping your food fresh, and natural.

If you refer to our recent post on Mylar Bagging, you’ll have an even better way of setting up kits such as these.  you can easily take large amounts of bulk items and create bags of specific quantities for your needs, and your chosen term.  I really like 1-week supply boxes (or 5 gallon buckets).  They are of a size easily carried, they easily fit under a bed, or in a closet, and are quick to pack.

Kit Ideas

Some possible contents for kits in your house:

  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Wheat
  • Flour
  • Corn Meal
  • Yeast
  • Potato Flakes
  • Pasta
  • Canned Veggies
  • Canned Meat (Tuna, Salmon, Beef, Chicken, Spam)
  • Tomato Products (Sauce, Paste, etc)
  • Powdered Milk
  • Crackers
  • Salt
  • Spices/herbs
  • Peanut Butter
  • Jelly
  • Buillion
  • Powdered gravy, or other mixes

What you need to remember is to always start the kit with the real basics.  Think of actually from-scratch cooking, covering basic dietary needs. Don’t think about lots of packaged, pre-made foods.  You can make kits with some of those, but always remember to think of those as luxuries, or extensions to the basics.  By doing this, you will be automatically creating kits that will be more stable on the shelf for long-term storage, they will be more nutritious for you overall, and you will probably save a huge amount of money in creating these meals.

By choosing your packaging well, it becomes very easy to stack boxes of these kits in out of the way places for long term storage, or in a pantry for quicker rotation.  Just remember to keep a good label on with a date so you know when you should have this box rotated.  Then you can feel the great comfort that comes to you when you can look at a stack of boxes and just count the number of weeks that you have covered.  If you are keeping these kits in your regular storage you will have no fear that their quality is top notch, and that your family will have no problems eating what they contain.

Brasilians base their diet on this pattern for good reasons.  It works because it is nutritious, it is inexpensive, and it does cover their needs.

And besides, what a great Preparedness Christmas Present for families you know!

4 Replies to “Cesta Básica”

  1. Having lived off beans and rice for two years with the Brazilians, I can vouch for its health and nutritious value. there are so many ways to prepare beans and several types of bean to choose from. It may be beneficial to include some recipes (whether brazilian or not probably doesn’t matter) or some links to websites that have recipes. Naturally, my personal favorite is black beans which I prepare with garlic, kosher salt (much more flavoful), some kind of sausage, and other spices depending on what I’m in the mood for. Cook the beans until soft in salt and garlic water (makes a great base for the beans); then, add some kind of meat to the beans and soup and serve over rice. A good vinagrette (tomatoes, onions, and green pepper mix in vinager and water) is good with it as well. I could live off it every day and be content.

  2. Having lived off beans and rice for two years with the Brazilians, I can vouch for its health and nutritious value. there are so many ways to prepare beans and several types of bean to choose from. It may be beneficial to include some recipes (whether brazilian or not probably doesn’t matter) or some links to websites that have recipes. Naturally, my personal favorite is black beans which I prepare with garlic, kosher salt (much more flavoful), some kind of sausage, and other spices depending on what I’m in the mood for. Cook the beans until soft in salt and garlic water (makes a great base for the beans); then, add some kind of meat to the beans and soup and serve over rice. A good vinagrette (tomatoes, onions, and green pepper mix in vinager and water) is good with it as well. I could live off it every day and be content.

  3. The rice and beans make perfect sence, but the amount of salt and sugar is surprising, especially when compared to the amount of flour. Sadly, that is still probably quite a bit healthier than a typical american diet. Thanks for sharing, I had never heard of the Cesta Básica.

  4. The rice and beans make perfect sence, but the amount of salt and sugar is surprising, especially when compared to the amount of flour. Sadly, that is still probably quite a bit healthier than a typical american diet. Thanks for sharing, I had never heard of the Cesta Básica.

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