Whether you make your own in advance, buy them pre-mixed or just throw them together as you cook, herb and spice blends are an essential ingredient in my kitchen today – thanks to so many traditions and cuisines from around the world. Bringing these blends into your own kitchen can lend authenticity to international dishes and provide creative inspiration for your everyday cooking. Here we go a little in-depth as to why I won’t cook without them.
But before we start, let’s get one thing straight. The terms Herb & Spice Blends and Seasoning are often used interchangeably – however they do have different applications. Here is how Wikipedia defines them:
Spice mixes are blended spices or herbs. When a certain combination of herbs or spices is called for in many different recipes (or in one recipe that is used frequently), it is convenient to blend these ingredients beforehand.
Seasoning is the process of adding salt, herbs, or spices to food to enhance the flavor.
Did you spot the difference? Seasonings usually include SALT. Herb & Spice Blends – or Spic Mixes – not necessarily. If you dig a little deeper it’s interesting to see that Wikipedia also include infused olive oils as a type of seasoning!
WHY HERB AND SPICE BLENDS?
Here are a few points to get you thinking…
- CONVENIENCE – So why buy herb and spice blends pre-made? Why not just make your own? Great point. Absolutely make your own – I’ve done it myself and it’s a deliciously satisfying experience. But for me right now, there always seems to be another priority. Pre-blended herbs are my flavour life saver! If you do want to make your own though, have a good read of this article to get an idea on how to correctly dry your ingredients.
- FRESH, TASTY INGREDIENTS – Have you ever compared a box of dried spice from the supermarket to a little packet from your Indian Market? If you can smell the difference – boy, can you taste it! This has a lot to do with how long that box has been sitting on the shelf, but there are many other factors to consider which I outline briefly below, as they affect both the taste and health properties of the herb. But there’s another point to consider here. I love how when I’m using a blend – I’m using up all the ingredients at the same rate. Do you have your favourite herbs and spices? And others you’ve bought for a recipe, and never used again? Remember how we covered quality earlier? Herbs and spices keep forever – but their flavour doesn’t. I mean, I have a jar of paprika I inherited from my Grandma which is labelled – caution HOT!!! I admit there’s a bit of a smell to the spice – but it’s anything but hot. In the long run, purchasing a blend where you’re using all the flavours at once ensures the best quality and works out cheaper overall.
- HEALTH PROPERTIES – There’s a heck of a lot to be said for the goodness of herbs and spices. But if you take a plant that grew up smothered in pesticides, was not harvested at peak season, dried correctly or stored in the best environment – there are a lot of steps to loose that all important goodness. If you’re making your own blend you’ll want to consider all of these aspects when sourcing the ingredients, but the same goes for buying pre-mixed blends. You can learn more about sourcing quality herbs here.
- PROFESSIONAL CURATION – 100% faith in google? Hmm. Some things are amazing first pop – others are a bit hit and miss. I really love to make the most of the professional curation of ingredients in the herb and spice blends that I buy.
- GLOBAL INSPIRATION – Before I had my blends, I would stand and stare blankly at my 40 plus range of individual herbs and spices. What should I try tonight? Some rosemary maybe, a touch of turmeric, will cumin go nicely? How about sage? Uh, I really don’t know. It seemed a blank canvas every time. Now when I can’t decide what flavour I want – I just pick a country. I really love the inspiration I get when I look in my cupboard now!
- TIME SAVING – Do you ever turn up a delicious looking recipe, only to put it right back when you see that long list of ingredients? Now I just pick out the main ingredients on that list and grab a herb and spice blends that matches well enough – often cutting that ingredient list in half. Now, instead of: one onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1cm ginger, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon sumac and the juice of 1/2 lemon – I’m simply going to use 3 teaspoons of Peri Peri Spice Blend. So peeling, chopping and sauteing onion, garlic and ginger. No measuring out bits of this and that. And guess what – it tastes amazing!
- DIET FRIENDLY – Gluten free? Dairy free? Watching your weight? Herbs and spices can be tolerated by most people and they’re full of amazing health properties to boot (more on this in posts to come…). Herb and spice blends are a perfect way to add delicious flavour to all your meals – 100% guilt free. In fact – you should actually be a tad guilty if you DON’T use them! The only diet I know of that excludes ingredients such as onion and garlic that are often in herb and spice blends is the low fodmap diet. However my Mum goes by the low fodmap diet, and hasn’t had any problems after using our blends. I guess it’s all a case of sensitivity, so you’d need to check it out for yourself.
Here are some of my all-time favourite: Meze Dip Mix. Exotic flavours of Turkey combined for a unique fresh dip made with sour cream or substitute with yoghurt or labne for an authentic meal. Use in soups and stews. Ingredients: carrots, garlic, sumac, paprika, black pepper, Persian lime, caraway seeds.
Bay of Bengal Curry Dip Mix. A unique, sweet curry without heat but packed with flavour and perfect for dips, sauces and – obviously – curries. This is a real family favourite. Ingredients: onion, garlic, curry powder, parsley, celery seed, cumin, chives, turmeric, mustard, cinnamon, nutmeg.
Beetroot Dip Mix. Premium beetroot powder paired with a blend of zingy herbs and warming spices brings about flavour that you can’t get enough of. The stunning crimson colour will draw interest from your guests right away. Ingredients: beetroot powder, garlic, onion, sumac, parsley, cumin, chives, paprika, coriander seed, cinnamon, pepper.
Canadian Steak Meat Rub. This rub is unbelievably simple, and equally unbelievably flavoursome. Perfection on steak – but you’ll find so many more reasons to use it! Ingredients: Australian sea salt, black pepper, chilli flakes, dill seed.
Greek Taverna Spice Blend. Although part of the ‘Spice Blends’ range, this one is mostly herbs. It’s a fresh Mediterranean flavour with subtle garlic, onion and a hint of mint. Perfect partner for lamb, with falafel, as a salad topper or sprinkled on hummus. Ingredients: Onion, garlic, oregano, thyme, mint, basil, marjoram.
What are your thoughts on Herb and Spice Blends? Do you use them? Do you make your own? What are your favourites and how to you use them? Did you find this article helpful? Please join the conversation in the comments section below.