For cooking, fresh herbs are usually better for more flavour, although you can buy organic dried herbs in a pinch. But for curries, dried spices are not only just as good (as long as you don’t leave them too long) but are likely more practical if you live in England. You can grow basil, but likely not a turmeric plant!
When you think about, spices are fab. Think of Moroccan spice markets tumbling with brightly-coloured powders from bright pink to dark yellow, all to make food taste delicious. What is a wonder of nature has of course, been turned into another high-profit plastic-wrapped commodity for supermarkets. Do you get excited when you visit the spice rack in Tesco? You should be getting excited, at the incredible flavours, but everything is just made boring and homogenized, when spices are something to be celebrated!
Most people go for supermarket brands on a budget, and the upmarket brands of choice for most are Barts and Schwartz. Like most corporate brands, they are making waves to reduce packaging by making the glasses smaller etc. But it can get so boring doing tiny things then saying how many aeroplanes worth of fuel this saves, it all sounds a bit greenwash. Far better to do something else. Here are some ideas:
Schwartz is owned by the US food giant McCormick & Company, which is not exactly local and artisan. It owns many other food brands including ones that make stocks, broths and bouillons. Barts does have an easy-to-recycle lid but again is a big brand,
A Quick Guide to Spices
Spices are used to add flavour and depth and colour to dishes. A mix is usually better than single spices, but it’s up to you .The main ones used in cooking are:
- Cumin is good for Mexican, Indian and North African dishes, dry-roast in the pan before using in chili and curry.
- Paprika is the national spice of Hungary and used in goulash, and great with potatoes and baked beans.
- Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory yellow spice from India (a tiny pinch can turn vegan omlettes and scrambles yellow) and it’s also used to make the Indian drink golden milk. It’s less expensive than saffron, the most expensive spice in the world.
- Cardamom is a spice for Middle Eastern dishes, and often used in desserts and cakes.
- Nutmeg is often used on eggless custard and in eggnogs. Also as mace, nutmeg and mace are very toxic to pets, so keep them away.
- Ginger is a nice warming spice for gingerbread and drinks. Ginger supplements and too much should be avoided for pregnancy, as it can contract the uterus and cause early labour. Experts say a little is fine for nausea, but to be safe you may wish to avoid.
- Cinnamon is another sweet spice, often used in cookies and nice with coffee. It’s widely used in Mexican cuisine, especially with chocolate.
- Cayenne pepper is (along with all types) the world’s most traded spice. Peppercorns are harvested from a flowering vine, and best finely ground from a mill.
- Allspice has a zesty flavour and is made by combining pepper with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. It’s often used in pot roasts and cakes and bakes.
- Cardamom is similar to ginger and comes from India. The sweet spicy taste with a little mint-lemon is often used for bakes, and it’s said to be good for people with asthma.
- Cloves are good if you have toothache! This aromatic plant grows in the Wes Indies, and is good for beans, stews, curry and baking cakes.
- Coriander (called cilantro in the US) is an ancient spice that can be brought fresh, but also dried for Thai cuisine and curries.
Where possible, buy whole spices and grind them yourself. You can also use them to infuse vinegar and oil, or rub and marinate with oils.
Where to Buy Organic Spices
- The Teaspoon Club offers organic spices in compostable packaging, Started by a brother and sister, the spices are sent in pre-measured kits with all the packaging easy to recycle or compost. The range includes vegan dinner spices, curry spices, ethnic spice kits and mulled drinks spices.
- Steenbergs make nice organic spices, all in cute little glass jars. The range includes plant-based American-style blends like ‘chicken’ or ‘Texas’ style blends ideal for BBQs or veggie meats.
- Forrist is an online zero waste store, where you can order your herbs and spices. Everything is in reusable packaging and you can send items back for refills using their ‘back to the forrist’ scheme.
Make Your Own Spice Mixes
This recipe for Homemade Pumpkin Spice (Planted and Picked) is ideal if you prefer homemade (or in the UK, where it’s difficult to buy). Ideal for pumpkin pie or oatmeal, this warming blend is made mostly from cinnamon alongside ginger, all-spice, cardamom and nutmeg, with optional cloves.
Homemade Blackened Seasoning (Shane & Simple) is ideal for Creole and Cajun cooking. Cover tofu with this and grill or cook in a cast iron skillet, for an amazing supper. Also good to simply season food, after cooking.
Holy Lama Spice Drops
Holy Lama Naturals make little bottles of Spice Drops, in concentrated extracts, to include the health benefits of the raw spice (or herb). Mix with juice, water, fat or oil to blend in your cooking. One little bottle of cardamam gives the equivalent of 600 cardamom pods and unlike fresh spices, will retain flavour up to 2 years later. The range includes curry, cocktails, and baking spices. Over 80% of the Indian workforce are women from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the company recycles and uses by-products for an impressive low level of waste.
To use, just use in the final stages of cooking, or for drinks, add the drops into the container and pour the drink on top. Shake well before use. Guaranteed 6 months shelf life, may stay fresh up to 3 years, if stored correctly.