How NOT to Season Foods – Common Seasoning Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
Spices and seasonings are our passport to a whole world of flavor possibilities. We are very lucky that we live in a time when a host of spices are readily available for our use and experimentation.
In the past, wars have been fought over spices. Great voyages were funded by royalty to find ways to get to the spice-rich countries of South and Southeast Asia (The “East Indies”).
Why do you think Columbus was bumbling around in the Atlantic Ocean? He was trying to find the Western Route to the “East Indies,” and happened to run into this big old country instead. But that’s another story.
The point is that spices have always been important. The word salary comes from the Latin word for salt, and while the relationship between salt and pay is unclear today, it is true that salt was precious to the Romans.
Somewhere along the line, American housewives’ pantry supply of spices dwindled down to some salt, pepper and maybe some seasoned salt. Since the rekindling of America’s love affair with all things culinary, started by Julia Child back in the 60’s, more and more herbs have begun making an appearance in pantries across the country.
This is an exciting state of affairs, and I have slowly begun experimenting with different herbs, spices and seasoning blends. It can be a little intimidating at first. After all, there are so many spices available, and it can be daunting to find the right ones or combinations of spices to give the flavor profile we’re after.
Part of the problem is that spices can be expensive. As home cooks, we are also somewhat limited by space and occasions to use spices.
For example, it seems a bit silly to buy spices in bulk to save some money if we’ll ever only use a fraction of them. And, if we do buy in bulk, where do we store all that stuff?
So, what’s a home cook to do? This chapter is a good place to start.
We’ll look at the difference between herbs and spices, the right way – and for how long – to store them, the ones to look for and how to use them. But first, let’s look at the difference between herbs and spices.
In a nutshell, herbs come from the leafy parts of plants while spices come from everything else: roots, bark, seeds, fruits, etc.
In general, herbs are green and can be purchased fresh or dried. Spices, again in general, can be almost any other color except green and leafy: brown, yellow, red, russet. Spices can be purchased whole or ground.
That seems like a pretty simplistic definition, but it is a true definition. Besides, isn’t nice to have something about cooking be simple for a change?!
These next few chapters will look at some of the more common mistakes home cooks make when it comes to spices and at the end I’ll offer you a table of spices, their flavor profile, associated cuisines, used in sweet or savory dishes and what they go well with.
Mistake #1 Storing Herbs and Spices Improperly
Most of us have fallen for the siren song of the beautiful spice rack display. They are very popular wedding shower gifts, so it seems as though we all know that herbs and spices are necessary even if we don’t know how to take care of them.
As a result of having your spices and herbs proudly displayed on your countertop, most of them fade and lose potency very quickly due to exposure to light.
The Fix–Store in a Cool, Dry Place
That sounds like the instructions on most of our vitamins and medicines, doesn’t it?
Well, historically, many spices and herbs have been used for medicinal purposes, so it stands to reason. The advice is sound. Light and heat break down the essential and volatile oils that give dried herbs and spices their characteristic flavors.
Store your spices away from your oven and stove–just a cabinet away will do and keep them in airtight, lightproof containers. If you don’t want to repackage all of your spices and herbs that you bought in glass bottles, just keep them in a dark place.
When you need to use them, take them out, get what you need, and then put the rest away.