I can remember being fascinated with my mother’s idea of a spice rack as a child. It wasn’t exactly a rack that was hanging up by the oven, but rather an old cookie tin with lots of little jars. Some even had home made labels on them. It always looked liked she was a scientist when she took out her tin of spices. I wonder today if she really used all those spices?  Like many of us, I am sure she had her favorites. 

The variety of spices has grown over the years. According to McCormack, the company who has been selling spices since 1889, today’s home cook is likely to have over 40 spices on their rack. In my mothers time, the 1950’s and 60’s it was more likely to be on average 10 spices.  The top three spices then and now are the same, vanilla extract, cinnamon and black pepper.

 Many spices came to the U.S. through the generations of immigrants bringing with them a rich culinary tradition.  Lucky for us we live in New York and have the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of not only spices, but also to culinary diversity. American cooks became more adventurous and sophisticated with different flavors and the intensity of marring flavors and spices.  The Epicurious website claims there is an increase in searches for Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.

Indian food is notorious for marrying many spices that wouldn’t be normally paired here in the states, such as pairing vanilla, onions, and cinnamon and basmati rice.

Some spices have been thought to have a medicinal purpose.  Ginger, for example, can help lessen vomiting and nausea in pregnant women.  Turmeric, a key ingredient in curries has been shown to reduce inflammation and even symptoms of indigestion.  Cinnamon is thought to help with controlling blooding sugar. Although, there are studies that show there is no benefit. Garlic, another common spice, is thought to reduce blood pressure.  According to the Journal of Food Science, adding rosemary or turmeric to a burger can reduce the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCP) a chemical formed when cooking meat at high temperatures by up to 40 percent.  HCP’s have been found to cause cancer in animals, but the affect on humans is still being studied. (National Cancer Institute). For all the Barbeque lovers the American Journal of Nutrition found that adding a mixture of cinnamon, ground cloves, garlic, ginger, rosemary, black pepper and paprika reduces the formation of carcinogenic and atherogenic compounds by 70 percent.  See what spices can do?

 Using spices can be fun, but also necessary. As we age, we lose the sense of taste making it necessary to add more spices to create a full flavor.  If the doctor orders a low salt diet, spices can be great way to add back some of the flavor. Experiment with your favorite ones and make your own rubs or spice mixes.

 The downside to having many spices is that we may not use them too often. When possible, try to buy a small amount so that it gets used up and not stay in your cabinet. To keep spices at their nutritional peak and flavor they should be stored away from the heat, moisture and the light. Place them in airtight containers in a cool, dark cabinet.  

Where to buy the unusual and usual spices:

Kalustyan 123 Lexington Avenue, NY 10016 or visit their website at www.kalustyan.com . They offer over 105 varieties of natural herbs, 30 varieties dried chili peppers, and chili powders. They carry a full line of spices from all over the world and many ingredients not always available in the regular supermarket. Here you can buy small of amounts of the spice you want, so you don’t have to store more than you need.

 Penzeys Spices at www.penzeys.com and/ or visit the recently opened store in the Palisades Mall. They also carry small jars of spices.

Try this Moroccan Spice Mixture on grilled or roasted meats, rice or couscous 

 Makes 2 tablespoons By Monica Reinagel

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ginger

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground pepper

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon allspic teaspoon ground cloves