Over the last few decades, globalization, immigration, and other factors have allowed a worldwide exchange of culinary traditions like never before seen in history. Restaurants in Mexico City now serve Japanese Sushi, Nigerian fufu is served in Los Angeles establishments, and Vietnamese pho can be found in Paris bistros. More than ever, people’s exposure to unfamiliar tastes and flavors has increased interest in experimenting with new world cuisines. As a result, exotic spices have become more common in household kitchens everywhere, and spice companies rise to meet the demand.
One company that began as a small spice shop in Lisora, India, has since become the largest supplier of certified organic herbs and spices in North America. Since 1980, Sunil Kumar and his family have sourced the highest quality ingredients for their line of products, Spicy Organic. Through dedication and hard work, they have established relationships with over 10,000 farmers and growers around the world and continue to respond to the growing demand for spices in North America.
After the initial success of their spice shop in their small town in the region of Uttar Pradesh, India, they decided to move to Texas in 1984 and continue growing their business, traveling back and forth between India and the United States. They arrived in the USA at the ideal time to launch their business, as the market was hungry for Indian spices with few suppliers to meet the need. Since then, they have become a USDA-certified organic company supplying herbs, spices, and aromatherapy oils to the North American market.
They source ingredients such as cardamom, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and many other spices that are fundamental to Indian cooking, but are extremely versatile and staples in other world cuisines as well.
Different regions and cultures have distinct styles of flavoring food based on products available in their environment, dietary needs, climate, historical exchange with other cultures, religion, medicinal beliefs, and many other factors. Adding in a small amount of a particular spice can sometimes completely transform a dish. Spices impart flavor, aroma, and complexity.
But how does one incorporate spices into their cooking? It may appear intimidating. However, once the basics are learned, it’s surprisingly easy. Let’s start from the beginning.
Where Do Spices Come From?
Spices and herbs both derived from plants. The difference is that herbs are from the leafy part of the plant (cilantro, parsley, basil, mint, etc.), while spices are derived from other parts such as the root, stem, bark, or seed (cloves, coriander, cinnamon). If we look at coriander and cilantro, they both come from the same plant. Cilantro is the leaf and stem of the plant, and coriander is the seed.
Let’s look at some herbs and spices that are an excellent addition to any pantry and common in many recipes.
Spices Every Cook Should Have in Their Cupboard
Spicy Organic delivers a wide array of spices and herbs that are not only fundamental to Indian cuisine, other world cuisines as well. Cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, and turmeric are excellent starting points when looking to experiment with different recipes. These form the base of many dishes and work well in soups, stews, meat, vegetable, and rice dishes.
In the middle East, sumac, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, and saffron are very common. Latin American cuisine favors cumin, achiote, and chili peppers. Indian dishes often contain ingredients like curry leaves, garam masala, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg.
Certain spices and herbs complement each other very well. As a result, different regions worldwide have developed spice blends comprised of ingredients that form the foundation of many dishes.
Spice Blends Around the World
Za’atar: Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that combines sumac, sesame seeds, and thyme. A popular dish made with za’atar is manakeesh, a flatbread baked in an oven topped with a layer of ground meat and sprinkled with za’atar. Za’atar also combines well with eggplants, carrots, meat, and fish. It’s often eaten with bread, oil, and cheese in the Middle East.
Sazón: This spice blend is a staple in Latin America, and can be easily found in stores in North America. It usually includes cumin, oregano, coriander, and ground annatto.
Garam Masala: Garam masala recipes can vary based on region and household but typically include cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and coriander. It works well in soups and stews, curries, stir-fries, and meat dishes. It also complements cauliflower, broccoli, and potatoes very well.
Chinese 5-Spice: This blend includes Szechuan peppers, cassia cinnamon, cloves, fennel, and star anise. If you’ve ever had chili oil at a Chinese restaurant, it typically includes these ingredients.
Ras el Hanout: Ras el hanout is a spice blend common in North Africa and is used similarly to garam masala. It’s added to rice, meat, pasta, couscous, and other savory dishes. Common components in ras el hanout blends are spices like cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger, chili pepper, coriander seeds, fenugreek, cloves, and turmeric.
Chili Powder: Made with Ancho chiles, cumin, paprika, and Mexican oregano, chili powder imparts a smoky and spicy flavor into food. It combines well with meat and beans, corn, and tomatoes.
Once you learn your way around spices and herbs, you’ll easily be able to make your own blends instead of buying premade ones such as steak seasoning, barbecue rubs, taco seasoning, or garam masala.
Cooking with Spices
A spice grinder or a mortar and pestle is a great investment. When using whole spices, flavors remain intact for longer periods of time as less of the surface area is exposed to oxygen, which also gives them a longer shelf life.
Some spices such as cumin seeds need to be toasted in a dry skillet on medium heat to draw out their flavor. It may seem unimportant but makes a huge difference. A similar process, “blooming” is cooking spices in oil or ghee to bring out their flavors.
Try experimenting with cumin, coriander, and cinnamon as a starting point. You’ll find they are very versatile and will enhance soups, stews, rice, and meat dishes.
Spices can make bland dishes pop, which is nice if you are sticking to a diet low in fat or sodium. An added benefit is that many spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, and cloves contain anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Read on for a few ways to experiment with different flavors:
- Sprinkle cumin, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and paprika on roasted potatoes.
- Add a few cardamom pods to basmati rice for a sweet and robust flavor and aroma.
- Instead of going out for chai tea, try making it at home with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and star anise.
- Combine chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, oregano, onion powder, salt, and pepper to make taco seasoning at home.
- Marinate chicken in curry powder, turmeric, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper before roasting.
Storage and Shelf Life of Spices
Store spices in a dark and cool environment to preserve their shelf life. Make sure they are in airtight containers, so the flavor does not dull. If the aroma or taste of spices is bland, chances are it is no longer flesh. The color of spices also loses vibrancy with time.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of dried and ground herbs and spices and their shelf life:
No expiration date: Salt
1-3 years: Mint and rosemary.
2-3 years: Thyme, cayenne pepper, chili powder, ground cilantro, dill, mustard, nutmeg, onion powder, oregano, paprika, parsley, cinnamon, allspice, bay leaves, black pepper, cloves, coriander, cumin, and garlic powder.
2-4 years: Basil.
3-4 years: Sage and turmeric.
4-5 years: Whole cloves (ground cloves last 2-3 years).
5-6 years: Whole peppercorns (ground pepper last 2-3 years).
Most spices and herbs last two to three years when stored correctly, so to be safe, toss them after a couple of years.
Spices are often available in larger quantities in Indian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, and Asian stores. However, if they are only used sparsely, it’s best to buy them in smaller quantities as they tend to lose their flavor and aroma with time.
Incorporating just several basic spices such as cumin, coriander, and cinnamon into a cooking routine will transform even the most simple dishes and impress family and friends. Visit www.spicyorganic.com to shop for spices and herbs!