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Spice brands, make a difference?

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
Well, I have boxes of spices (you know how many garlic powders I have?) that I need to get through before I replenish...but just curious if any of you prefer a specific brand for certain things over others and why.
post #2 of 25
1. I try to buy the same spices in small amounts so that I use them up before they grow old.

2. I try to use the same spices that I've used to develop my favorite recipes.

3. Occasionally, I will try different spices when making dishes that I'm not used to, if they are suggested in the recipe. Sometimes, I find that I really like something, like 20+ years ago, the wife brought home some "Jamaican Black Peppercorns". Best tasting black pepper I ever had. Unfortunately, have never seen the brand available again. Even a friend who spent his 50th birthday for 2 weeks in Jamaica, brought home for me some "Jamaican Black Peppercorns", only to find that they were grown and bottled in America. They weren't much different than your typical large bottles of whole peppercorns from Sam's or Cub Foods.

I rarely use garlic powder, preferring to use fresh spices and herbs whenever possible. For this purpose, I have two ( a small and a large) indoor Klimagro Greenhouses that provide their own lights, timers, seedbed temperature control, built-in fans, and sliding auto glass type doors (on the sides and the tops). They do a fabulous job of providing fresh herbs all year long. Pests are easier to control too!

doc
post #3 of 25
The main issue is age though some brands do have better quality than others as a generalization.

You want to buy from a place with a high turnover in their spices to ensure your spices are fresh. This is a good reason to buy from Penzeys besides the good quality of their ingredients.

For mainstream store brands, The Spice Hunter has been pretty good in my experience. But There are things I would go to McCormicks for such as chili powder if I'm not making my own.

Paprika, Saffron and probably some others I can't think of at the moment are spices I recommend getting through a more boutique brand.

Target's house brand of spices is decent in the mainstream spices and herbs. i'm not impressed with their blends, but single ingredient herbs and spices have been worthwhile at decent prices. And I like their jars which I re-use with my own blends or dried herbs. Spice Hunter has a nice jar too but their lids are fragile.
post #4 of 25
For Indian spice mixes (curry mixes) I use Penzey's. I haven't found any other as fresh and authentic.
post #5 of 25
I like to try other brands of the spices that I like until I find one that fits my taste. But when I do find the one I like best I stick with it. I have been using the same brand for certain spices for a long time. I should probably test some of them again to see if their isn't one I like better now :rolleyes:...
post #6 of 25
Unless you buy in quantities that you use up fairly quickly, it doesn't really matter which brand you buy if you're buying already ground spices.

Light, heat, and age degrade ground spices pretty quickly. You're almost always better off buying the whole spices and grinding them yourself. This applies to blends as well as single-spices.

If you want to make curry, for instance, assemble the whole spices you'll need, and grind them yourself, in the quantities you'll need. It really doesn't take that much time. And you will notice the difference in taste.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #7 of 25
I agree. I blend my own whenever possible. Some of the blended spices contain silica and various other anti -caking products which I feel affect the dish you are making(example silica burns quick).
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post #8 of 25
there's a huge difference between Penzey's granulated garlic and garlic powder or salt from most companies. Penzey's, is used far more in my kitchen than fresh,......it's that good.
fortunately there's a Penzey's less than a mile away.
cooking with all your senses.....
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post #9 of 25
What others have you tried? How "unfresh" were they? Why would you buy premade curry mixes when you can so easily make your own from fresh spices? Is it for convenience or that it's difficult to get good quality, fresh spices where you live?
post #10 of 25
I'd have to disagree, at least as far as the few preground spices I've purchased over the last few years. I've noticed a difference between the two jars of ground cumin I bought, the two jars of cayenne pepper, and, while technically not a spice, there have been substantial taste and freshness differences with dried oregano.

In almost all instances I buy fresh spices and grind them as needed using a Krups blade-type coffee grinder dedicated to spices. The problen I had was finding good sources locally for quality, fresh spices. One of these days I'll try mail order from Penzey's or Spice House, or wherever.
post #11 of 25
Usually, I get the best prices and quality on preserved herbs and spices from ethnic markets -- preferably in ethnic neighborhoods. Four ethnicities covers most of the spread. Let's see... Mexican, Chinese/Vietnamese, Eastern European, and Indian.

Since everything's so convenient around here, I buy cheap sizes and replace as needed. Sometimes cheaper is larger and means throwing out -- which hurts on several levels, but there you go.

There are exceptions though, like for saffron and vanilla. Saffron I buy once a year on the net. Spanish, Iranian or Indian -- I try to find the best relative value. Vanilla depends. Sometimes I can get pods really cheap from Mexico and sometimes not. That's a yearly purchase too, though. I've got a great Saffron/Vanilla source on the web, called Golden Gate.

Some others I can't find cheap are fines herbes de provence; smoked paprika; and there are probably some others. Since I can usually do better than Penzeys locally, I imagine you can too in NYC. Italian delis are often have very good prices on the "exotic," western-European stuff. Ask Chef Ed to explain why.

BDL
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post #12 of 25
I often make my own spice blends, especially when it comes to BBQing and grilling, but at other times I buy premade blends. It's not because I can't find the products or want to take the time to make them. It's because I've found a product that I like and feel it is of good quality. Not everything needs to be made from scratch all the time. And if you find an herb blend, seasoning mix, or curry that you like then why not use it? While people often say you should make your own curry blend rarely do you hear people say that you should mix your own Herbs d'Provence, Fines Herbs, Cajun Seasoning, etc. Penzey's does a great job and I love most of their Indian spice blends so why take the time to make my own if I feel their product is good to begin with?
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http://www.onceachef.com/ is my personal blog where I share many recipes, my passion for cooking, and all things food.
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post #13 of 25
Why would you buy premade curry mixes when you can so easily make your own from fresh spices? Is it for convenience or that it's difficult to get good quality, fresh spices where you live?

The only reason I grind my own is that if I make the dish only once in a while that calls for that herb or spice, I may not have it on the menu for another 3 monthes. So why should I let it sit, and it may not be called for in another item. I woud sooner buy it made because it is less work for me.
Hey BDL the exotic herbs and spices in the Italian Delis and Markets in NY Give You Offers You Can't Refuse.
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post #14 of 25
>hear people say that you should mix your own Herbs d'Provence, Fines Herbs, Cajun Seasoning, etc. <

Well, just for the record, you've now heard at least one person say it. I mix all my own blends.

>Penzey's does a great job and I love most of their Indian spice blends so why take the time to make my own if I feel their product is good to begin with? <

The question is, Pete, how long does that bottle or can (I have no idea how Penzey's packages) sit around after you use it the first time? A week? A month? Half a year?

If you're using it fairly quickly, and if it hasn't sat around in Penzey's warehouse and local outlet for two days longer than forever, there's no reason at all not to use it if that's you're preference.

BTW, don't confuse whole spices (that's whole, Shel, not fresh) with dried herbs, whose shelf lives are considerably different. With dried herbs, in particular, quality degenerates rapidly---particularly if they are not stored in the dark.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #15 of 25
lolol.....exotic European spices?

We've got several global ethnic/Asian/Mexican markets in the area.....the only thing I've bought in quantity from them (and still have copious amounts of) is cloves. They were way cheaper than Penzeys......I needed them for something last year.....think think think.....whatever it was, just did not put any size dent in the container.

Most of Penzey's blends are good or better than good.....Parisian Herb mix, buttermilk herb dressing mix, shallot salt, Northwest BBQ rub (I make my own but use theirs in a pinch or for pc clients).....
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #16 of 25
Forgive my less than precise choice of word. For me fresh = whole, whole = fresh. When I bought dried oregano, it was whole leaf, likewise other herbs. However, it's been a while since I've done so as there are now many sources for good, fresh herbs available here in several local markets and venues.

.
post #17 of 25
Whoa, dude! Hey, I'm lazy, ok? Plus they make really good stuff. I go through what I order (yes, order, which takes a few days off its freshness) pretty quick, and I keep it in the freezer in those ziploc baggies or little plastic containers. Their mixes that I've tried are "right on", plus the prices are very reasonable. And get this, I can't even get jars of Patak's curry paste here in Bend. Those are another great thing for a lazy cook.

Bottom line is, I'm way better off than the average lazy dude when it comes to East Indian spices :D
post #18 of 25
There's not even ONE Asian grocer within 100 miles of me, as far as I know. Sad, isn't it?
post #19 of 25
Please don't call me "dude." I hate that.

And please forgive me for asking a simple, straightforward question. I'll not do that again.
post #20 of 25
>Forgive my less than precise choice of word.<

I wasn't being nit-picky, Shel. There's a major difference between fresh and dried; even more so than the difference between fresh and dried herbs. Among other things, dry herbs degrade whereas whole spices do not.

The entire spice trade, from time out of mind, has been based on the simple fact that dried (and sometimes cured) whole spices maintain their quality for two days longer than forever. Spice caravans were often on the road for two years or longer. And yet, at the end of their journey, even volatile spices like cloves were still top quality.

Unlike herbs, fresh spices are very rarely used. Indeed, in many cases they are next to useless as flavoring agents.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #21 of 25
I usually buy from Penzey's or SpiceHouse. The paprika is fabulous :lips:


Would anyone like to share some whole spice blends that they use? I'd like to give it a try.

thanks,
dan
post #22 of 25
Dan, one thing to keep in mind, is that heat degrades spices. So if you're using a spice grinder or coffee mill it's better to work by pulsing, so the spices don't heat up.

Here are a few blends to get you started.

Suvir Saran, who is a member here (and chef/owner of the Michelin-stared Devi), has a great recipe for Garam Masala in his American Masala cookbook:

Garam Masala

1 tbsl dried miniature rosebuds (optional)
A 1-inch piece cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup cumin seeds
1/3 cup corieander seeds
1 tbls green cardamom pods
1 tbls whole black peppercorns
2 tsp whole cloves
1 dried red chile
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground mace

If the roses have stems, break them off and discard. Heat the roses with the cinnamon, bay leaves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, whole peppercorns, cloves and chile in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the cumin becomes brown, 2 1/2-3 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder or coffee mill, add the nutmeg and mace, and grind until powder fine. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 months.

Ras el Hanout is a Morrocan spice blend with as many as 30 ingredients. Unless you're really into North African food, it's not something you're likely to mix up. But here's a simplified version:

Morrocan Spice Mixture

1 1/2 tsp toasted coriander seeds
1/2 tbls toasted caraway seess
3 inch stick cinnamon
1 tbls toasted cumin seeds
3 tbls dried mint leaves

Place all the ingredients together in a spice mill or a mortar and pulvierzie until coarsely ground. This mixture will keep for several weeks in a tightly closed container.

Throughout the Mid-east there's a spice mix called Baharat that's used to flavor everything from lamb to dips. There are literally hundreds of versions. Here's one:

Baharat

2 tbls black peppercorns
1 tbls toasted coriander
1 tbls broken cinnamon bark
1 tbls toasted cumin seeds
1/2 tbls cloves
1/2 tbls cardamom seeds
1 whole nutmeg
2 tbls bround paprika

Grind all the whole spices together and mix with the paprika. Store in an airtight container.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #23 of 25
Well, maybe a certain degree of heat this is true, but many's the time that a recipe has called for heating a whole spice before grinding (let alone heating it up while grinding) to bring out the natural oils.

This is especially true with whole black peppercorn, mustard seeds, and sesame seeds (when making tahini-not that I think sesame seeds are really a spice, but the theory is the same kind of).

All in all, herbs I like to use fresh, so I grow them myself all year long if I can. Spices, I almost always buy the whole spice and grind it myself in a little coffee bean grinder. Last time though, part of the plastic lid to the grinder broke off and got pulverized in my dry spice marinade that I used on the $800+ in tenderloins we got on sale 2 weeks ago.

I guess with all the other stuff in our food today, a little bit of ground plastic isn't going to hurt much. Hey, maybe I'll have discovered a new and exciting nouvelle spice mixture! :) It must be biocompatible to some degree or they wouldn't allow it to come in contact with food. But, then again, with that said, think of all the plastic baggies that are nothing more than phthalate matrices leaching into our food! ):

doc

doc
post #24 of 25
Thanks KYHeirloomer!


I can't wait to give the Garam Masala a try. My 6 year old daughter said I could use four rose buds off of her miniature rose bush, but certainly not five.

This may be a silly question. Is there anything special I need to do when I dry the rose buds?

thanks again,
dan
post #25 of 25
Can't really help you there, Dan. I buy mine in an Indian market, already dried.

If you're using a dehydrator my best guess is to work at a low temperature. If air drying, spread them on screens, and turn frequently; at least once a day.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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