The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

On The Table

June 26, 2013

Supportive spices: Healthy food tastier with right seasonings

CARTHAGE, Mo. — I get pretty excited about spices. They're instrumental in healthy eating. Spices are what make lots of healthy foods taste good. There are differences between herbs and spices, but generally we lump them all in the spice category.

The spice bazaar in Istanbul is where my spice obsession began. I was young, na•ve and completely overwhelmed by the sensory explosion I experienced at the spice market. There was a rainbow of bulk spices as far as the eye could see, and I wanted to try them all. Looking back, I wish I had bought a scoop of each. Unfortunately, I wasn't much of a cook back then, so I smelled everything instead -- much to the chagrin of the shopkeepers, I'm sure.

Thank goodness I learned to love cooking. Spices are what keep cooking healthy food fun. There are a few staple spices that I always have on hand. Celery seed, thyme and marjoram are soup essentials for me. I use cumin and curry like they're going out of style. Although I prefer them fresh, I like to keep dried basil, oregano, dill and fennel on hand, just in case. Cinnamon is a must at breakfast; oatmeal, granola and yogurt would be blah without it.

I was given the gift of spice recently in the form of a Penzeys Spices gift card. I chose to splurge on spices that aren't essentials.

With my kid-in-a-candy-store mentality, I took the Overland Park, Kan., Penzeys by storm. I came away with a small bag packed with pure, concentrated flavor. I bought Vietnamese extra-fancy cinnamon that comes with specific instructions to use a third of the amount of cinnamon you would normally use. I also purchased high-quality Maharajah curry, which is packed with saffron and adds glorious flavor and color to dishes; natural high-fat cocoa powder, which promises to be twice as rich as the stuff from the grocery store; and a little something called Turkish seasoning, just for old time's sake.

Try making your own seasoning packets with some of the spices collecting dust on your spice rack. Taco seasoning, chili seasoning and those other premade rectangles of flavor are full of sugar, salt and artificial junk. Mix your spices and portion them into zip-close bags so they'll be just as easy to use as the packets from the store.


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