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Good Spice... Better Spice... Excellent Spice

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Old 10-05-2008, 11:23 PM   #1
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Default Good Spice... Better Spice... Excellent Spice

Hi...
I'm easing into the Mediterranean diet and planning to buy 'all new' spices..
In the past I wasn't much of a spice user, wasn't one to try new ones, I've even bought some for .99cents

So my question is... How do I know a quality spice from a not-so-good one. Does the more expensive must be better rule apply ?
I have the same tough time buying vitamins and supplements..

I plan to buy a lot of dried spices. I'll buy fresh when budget permits...
There are so many sites out there... I'm so confused... (as usual)

What brand do you use ?

Thanks so much...
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Old 10-05-2008, 11:46 PM   #2
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Quality spices don't need to be expensive. There's a trick to buying spices and still being able to afford the rest of your groceries!

First of all shop at a reputable store that sells spices in bulk. Frontier is the most common brand I've seen (they're organic too~a plus.) Second, make sure the store has a fast turn around in spices. The important thing with spices is you don't want them to be old. When they're old they don't have as much flavor. This means you can't buy them at the 99-cent store anymore, those spices are beyond old.

When you buy them in bulk they are so much cheaper then those little bottles. For example, I bought cardamom pods today for a curry I was making. Those little suckers were $44.00 per lb. Sounds like a lot right? Well, I bought a couple of little scoops worth (the equivalent of one of those little jars) and it came out to $1.98. Yep, super cheap. A jar would've cost at least $5.00.

I store my spices in short mason jars in a drawer, but you can easily leave them in the little bags you buy them in. Most health food stores, Whole Foods, and some other grocery stores sell spices in bulk. Trust me, it's so worth it.

As far as fresh, do you have a sunny spot in your house? You can grow fresh herbs in little pots on a windowsill easily. Seeds are just pennies compared to the bunches you buy in the store.

Last edited by zenor77 : 10-05-2008 at 11:48 PM. Reason: more info
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Old 10-05-2008, 11:50 PM   #3
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Oh, I almost forgot, for the ultimate spice experience... buy your spices whole and grind them (in a coffee grinder) just before using. You'll be amazed at how flavorful spices can be when you grind them fresh.
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Old 10-05-2008, 11:50 PM   #4
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They so don't have to be expensive.

I buy all my spices from Penzey's (http://www.penzeys.com) and buy fresh about once every 6 months or so. It took me a while to figure out what exact volumes I'd go through in a 6 month period so as not to waste much, by now I'm pretty good at judging.

The thing about buying them from a wholesaler is making sure that you're getting FRESH spices. Spices that have been stored for a while degrade and lose their potency. I NEVER buy spices from a grocery store, becuase you have no idea how long they've been sitting on the shelf.

As far as fresh vs. dried, most recipes call for dried anyway. Don't worry about buying "fresh" for the most part. There are recipes where having fresh basil or fresh rosemary makes a difference (I prefer fresh basil on my pizza, for example) but a quality dried spice will do a great job for you.

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Old 10-06-2008, 03:08 AM   #5
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I buy dried in bulk too. As for fresh, I often freeze what I don't use (usually cilantro, basil, chives, parsley). Often, the herbs will turn black but don't seem to affect the taste much. As long as you are not going for aesthetics with the fresh herbs, freezing should be okay. I freeze fresh garlic and ginger too, keeping them in a plastic tub. The garlic goes a bit mushy but still tastes great when cooked, and the ginger softens around the edges which is easily peeled away giving access to the firm core. Much better than buying it, then tossing it out if it doesn't all get used up. You can chop garlic up and keep it in oil for a short time in the fridge too, which gives a nice flavour to the oil, and keeps the garlic usable for a bit longer. Actually, you can store fresh and dried herbs in oil. However, I don't know much about that so you would have to do a search online.

I hope you enjoy your foray into herbs and spices!
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Old 10-06-2008, 03:20 AM   #6
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Quote:
You can chop garlic up and keep it in oil for a short time in the fridge too, which gives a nice flavour to the oil, and keeps the garlic usable for a bit longer.
I would STRONGLY advise against this. Garlic is a low-acid food and will easily harbour the botulism toxin. Garlic infused oil that hasn't been properly processed can be deadly.

More info (bolding mine):
http://cecalaveras.ucdavis.edu/garlic.htm
Quote:
BOTULISM WARNING
Regardless of its flavor potency, garlic is a low-acid vegetable. The pH of a clove of garlic typically ranges from 5.3 to 6.3. As with all low-acid vegetables, garlic will support the growth and subsequent toxin production of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum when given the right conditions. These conditions include improper home canning and improper preparation and storage of fresh herb and garlic-in-oil mixtures. Moisture, room temperature, lack of oxygen, and low-acid conditions all favor the growth of Clostridium botulinum. When growing, this bacterium produces an extremely potent toxin that causes the illness botulism. If untreated, death can result within a few days of consuming the toxic food.
Seriously - I'm probably the most laid back person in the world about food, but there are two things I don't mess around with: chicken and garlic. I'll even eat raw eggs, but I'm always scrupulous and overly careful about working with those two items.

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Last edited by PhotoChick : 10-06-2008 at 03:21 AM. Reason: to add link and reference
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Old 10-06-2008, 03:40 AM   #7
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Gosh! I had no idea! I never would have suggested storing garlic in oil if I knew about the potential dangers of botulism. Guess I have just been lucky so far to have never gotten sick from storing garlic in oil. Thanks for the correction!
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Old 10-06-2008, 03:47 AM   #8
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Glad I could help!

Many years ago I had this great idea that I'd roast some garlic and make my own roasted garlic oil. I kept that oil in my fridge for at least a year and cooked with it all the time.

It wasn't until much later, after I'd moved and thrown it away, and moved again and so on, that I was looking online for recipe for garlic oil and found the info about botulism. Scared the ever living crap out of me, to be honest. I consider that I was very very lucky that I didn't get sick or make someone sick.

I'd been working with herbs and spices for years before that and never had a clue. So ... don't feel too bad. It's not generally well publicized information, unfortunately.

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Last edited by PhotoChick : 10-06-2008 at 03:48 AM.
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Old 10-06-2008, 07:43 PM   #9
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Thank you very much Spice Chicks !! I can't wait to experiment.. I have to do some searching about growing herbs in my house as I have a kitty with allergies and asthma... I'm sure he'll be fine, but vet always says "watch what plants you bring in around him"... so I will !! CIO..
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~Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change~

~If it is important to you, you'll find a way. If not, you'll find an excuse~

~Progress Not Perfection~

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Last edited by Sweetcaroline : 10-06-2008 at 07:43 PM.
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