Even before I started cooking from scratch, I started making my own homemade spice mixes.
The advantages of homemade spice blends are Numerous.
- Many store bought herb and spice blends can be very expensive, especially if you enjoy some of the international flavors. From ras el hanout to herbes de provence, herb and spice mixes are essential to many cuisines around the world. Bringing these blends into your own kitchen can lend authenticity to international dishes and provide creative inspiration for your everyday cooking.
- A lot of them contain additives, anti-caking agents or MSG.
- You have the option of customizing your blends as you wish. Allergic to a specific herb? On a salt-free diet? Creating your own spice blends from scratch allows you the freedom to customize each recipe to suit your health needs.
- There’s no telling how long a mix has been sitting in that jar on store shelves, and it certainly can’t beat the fresh flavor of a homemade spice blend. Ever hear about that slow boat from China? Well, when you open up your homemade spice blends for the first time, you will know by the intense aroma that they are fresh!
What do those ingredient labels on store-bought blends really say?
The food labels on the bulk of store-bought seasoning mixes are full of fillers, preservatives and other unwanted fake flavor enhancers. These ingredients include:
- Modified food starch (a thickener, often derived from GMO sources but not always),
- Large amounts of salt and sugar,
- Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fat and often made from a GMO oil sources, such as cottonseed, canola or soybean),
- MSG (including “hidden” MSG under other names),
- Hidden gluten (dangerous for those with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease),
- Natural flavorings (products such as castoreum extract, a natural product prepared by direct hot-alcohol extraction of castoreum, the dried and macerated castor sac scent glands and their secretions from the beaver. It has been used extensively in perfumery and has been added to food as a flavor ingredient for at least 80 years),
- Silicon dioxide (to prevent caking),
- AND the mysteriously listed “added spices” (what exactly are these anonymous spices that you may, or may not, be allergic to?).
After learning that store-bought spice mixes aren’t always so wholesome, I committed to making my seasonings at home, for both convenience and health reasons.
I enjoy making my DIY Blends.
On days when I’m mixing my own spice blends, the smell of spice is particularly intoxicating. I prefer to make them myself, not only because I can ensure that the spices are super fresh, but also because it allows me to customize my mixes.
Fortunately, most are very easy to make, and if you order your ingredients in bulk, you can make many different spice blends using herbs and spices you may already have on hand. You’ll be able to eat the cuisine of a different country every night for two weeks. Additionally, quality spice blends can make even plain meat and vegetables exciting.
If you’ve never made your own spice blends, I’d encourage you to try it! It’s simple, saves money, and you avoid the chemical additives that are in most spice blends. You can use recipes I will provide in future articles or you can invent your own. There are also many great “spice mixologists” on the internet. If you are looking for other mixes, I encourage you to join the Facebook group Cooking with Herbs, Spices, Seasonings, and Homemade Mixes where we can help find a blend(s) that you may be looking for.
If you have a dehydrator, you can also make your own garlic powder, onion powder, lemon pepper powder, chili powder, and more.to save extra money. Making a blend out of your powders elevates your blends to a whole new realm of flavors. Try Kiwi Powder, Papaya Powder, or Pineapple Powder to give your rubs some great tenderizing properties. Or add mushroom powder to get that delicious umami (Japanese word for “pleasant savory taste”) taste to replace MSG. Growing and drying your own herbs and spices makes your blends practically free!
These recipes make lovely gifts in personalized spice jar bottles, or in baggies with cute toppers. I have given small gift baskets with spice blends centered on the cooking of the receiver (with the recipes to refill) for years. This past year for Christmas I did not make my usual gifts. Boy did I hear about it! Turns out people enjoyed them more than I thought and missed their yearly “treats”.
How to Make Your Own Blends
Making your own spice mixes is one of the easiest kitchen tasks you will accomplish. I have sometimes gotten in the rut of making just what I needed at the time I am cooking. This is inconvenient and tags extra time onto dinner prep. I now mix up a whole batch at once; label the top with the ingredients needed to fill the jar as well as with the amounts needed in recipes I make frequently. I have a “Blend Day” once a month or so and fill up all my jars, re-stocking my drawers and allowing me the freedom to create my meals at will. This is my procedure for re-stocking my blends.
- Single ingredient herbs and spices. (Purchase fresh, whole herbs and spices for a more tantalizing blend of flavor and/or grow your own and dry them.)
- Measuring spoons. I use stainless steel because plastic may alter the taste and aluminum can react with the volatile oils, giving a funny taste and changing the color of your ingredients.
- Glass jars. (Depending on how much you want to mix up, anything from an your herb/spice bottles or an old baby food jar to a canning jar will work great.)
- Small frying pan.
- Grinder. Mortar and pestle, grain mill, coffee grinder, NulltriBullet or other high-powered blender.
- When making a number of blends, it is best to either pull out the ingredients needed for each blend separately or use a tray to contain the herbs and spices you are using for the current recipe. This allows for no mistakes in ingredients. Above is a snapshot of my mixing tray setup.
- Use measuring spoons by filling and then leveling with the straight edge of a spatula or knife. Add measurements if you don’t have a measure that size. (For instance, 1-3/4 teaspoons is 1 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon.)
- Add any non-ground spices (seeds, root slices, barks) to a frying pan and toast gently, stirring often, until the fragrance of the spices starts to waft up and they darken slightly in color. This process usually takes no more than 5 minutes at the most. If you are using ground spices skip to Step 6.
- Cool the toasted spices. Combine with your pre-ground spices and herbs.
- Using the grinder you have chosen, grind the toasted spices together with any herbs and pre-ground spices in the recipe into a fine powder. OR you can put your spices into a spice mill and grind it at cooking time.
- When you make a blend yourself, be sure to label it clearly with the date. Store them in your jar in a cool, dark place away from any appliance that will produce steam or heat of any kind (dishwasher, stove, etc.). You can also store them in a small airtight container in the freezer to maintain maximum freshness.
Use to taste in recipes.
Add to your cooking, dust over dishes as an accent, add heavily to sauces, or use as a rub to create a singularly strong and aromatic main flavor component. Your new blends can be added to any food you wish and can also be used as a table seasoning. Enjoy!
A word about your fresh spice blends. As Jason Pitcher of Spice-Mixes.com (click here for this great site) says,
“Have you ever opened up a jar of a commercial spice mix or herb blend and been overwhelmed by the intense aromas of the herbs and spices within? No, me neither!”
If you have used herbs and spices that were not as you usually use—that is, from a grocery store—you need to use a lighter hand of measurement at first until you get used to using your blends because they will taste stronger (which means you save more money by using less!).
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