This week's easy tweak is a fairly simple thing you can do in your kitchen, in order to bring down the list of additives and other nefarious ingredients in your meals. We're looking to simplify here, friends. We're looking to eliminate food additives. We're looking to eliminate hidden sugars and genetically modified trickster ingredients. We're looking to keeping it real food, mes ami(e)s. In the spirit of the DIY, I present to you the idea of making your own seasoning mixes.
I love spices. I love flavours. I am a big fan of savoury things. Oh sure, I also love salty things, and find I crave them. I am also a fan of quick meals, and making the daily evening task of making supper an easier and tastier bet. (Have you seen this one? I bust a gut because IT'S TRUE.)
Today's post is about veering from the prepared, and relying on something you can make yourself in advance. Think of this as a mini batch cook session, ditching the pre-made spice mixes for something that will not only taste better, but be more supportive to overall health.
The problems with pre-made spice packages
Those little packages you get in some of those 'box-o-tacos' contain some suspicious ingredients in some cases. Were you to investigate, you could find that the packet you are holding in your hand is packed with monosodium glutamate, aka MSG. This is not something you want to consume; the research shows this additive can wreak havoc on your nervous system, bringing on the dreaded inflammation. If you're not sure about the status of MSG or why it isn't something you'd want to consume, I urge you to go read this article. Kristen Michaelis does a bang up job sifting through the science and traditional food ideas on why MSG should not be in your grocery cart.
Search the list of ingredients on the package in your hand, and chances are it may also list maltodextrin fairly high up in the list of ingredients. Maltodextrin is added to mixes to add a sweetness to the finished product. This is a super processed food 'product' that is a straight sugar, quickly entering your bloodstream and sending your levels through the roof in no time flat. This sweetener is derived from some type of grain, usually corn or rice. Most of these grains are genetically modified (unless marked from organic sources I suppose), and GMO foods have been shown to wipe out the gut flora you are trying to cultivate. These two facts alone make this food additive a super inflammation-builder; it's best to avoid it altogether.
Some spice mixes also use certain additives that prevent the mixes from clumping together. These additives are not a part of the flavour profile, nor will they be there if you mix your own blends yourself, thus reducing yet more “food-like” additives. One of the biggest culprits is listed as 'cellulose'; it's essentially wood pulp. Mmm. Delicious.
Do we need to talk about the amounts of salt and sodium typically found in these packets? They're the main driver of the flavours you will get when you use some of these pre-made mixes in your home. They're also quite high in sodium content; I encourage you to read your labels to learn just how much salt is included. But making your own mixes? Well now, you get to control the amount of salt in the final product. Your heart will be pretty glad of that.
The benefits of spices
Using spices in cooking brings so many benefits. Of course, boosting flavours is one. Traditionally, spices were seen as carrying medicinal benefits, and the science now backs this up. Ensuring your spices are freshest will mean these beneficial properties will remain higher, providing the very best health support to you.
I know someone who swears by regularly drinking peppermint tea and carrying peppermint tablets in order to best mititgate the effects of her IBS.
It is well documented that turmeric (a yellow-hued root in the same family as ginger) provides anti-inflammatory support to the body, protecting the liver.
These are a just a few examples of benefits, follow through to this post to get the low down on even more superstar spices.
Many spices provide good amounts of important vitamins and minerals, those all-important micronutrients we need to manufacture so many important things in our body's functioning. In fact, spices are notably quite high in some of these micronutrients, packing quite a punch in a small amount.
Make your own seasoning packets
I am a diehard recipe follower when it comes to seasoning mixes. I don't need to re-invent the wheel, see? It's already out there. In spades. And so I provide you with a link to my favourite mixes, my go-to spots online when I'm preparing one of my favourite blends. Simply click on the title, and you will be redirected.
- You can always add salt after cooking, but can never take away the salt if you've added too much. It's also a completely subjective thing for each person at the table. Hold back or use half the amount in the recipes, and allow everyone to salt their food to their liking at the table instead.
- Make a double or triple batch of your favourites, and store in old jam jars or mason jars; these jars retain the freshness. Keep them out of direct sunlight too, in order to keep those flavours and antioxidants vibrant.
- Use these spice mixes as inspiration for a meal: imagine the Zaatar spice blend in homemade meatballs say, and now you can picture a delicious parsley-tomato-cucumber salad to accompany it. A lot of these links also offer suggestions as to how to use these mixes when preparing meals.
Montreal Spice Mix, homemade
Pickling Spice Mix, for those who can and ferment
Tandoori Seasoning, nightshade-free
Zaatar, a brilliant Middle Eastern flavour profile