If you were to visit my apartment, you’d find quite the array of spices crammed into my spice drawer. If you were to take a peek in my pantry, you’d find quite a bit of overflow there too. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a spice hoarder, but I’m willing to bet I have more spice jars than the average person.
You see, I like to consider myself a bit of a mixologist when it comes to making spice blends. Perhaps it has to do with my upbringing in the Middle East where buying fresh, whole spices at the market and making curry from scratch is the norm. I wasn’t as into cooking back then as I am now, but ever since I discovered how easy it was to grind whole spices in my coffee grinder (sorry, mortar and pestle), I’ve been making my own curry powder, pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, fajita seasoning, Thai 7-spice seasoning, taco seasoning .. you know, all the seasonings.
Of course, it would be much easier to just buy whatever spices I need pre-mixed from the grocery store. In a pinch, I do. But here’s a few reasons why I love DIY blends so much more:
They have the best flavour
It’s the primary reason we add spices to our food after all, right?! If you try a store-bought curry powder next to a homemade or freshly ground one, I promise you’ll never go back. Grinding spices helps to release both nutrients and their natural fragrance, and the closer this can be done to the time you’re going to be cooking, the better.
Small batches preserve freshness and nutrition
Also related to flavour, spice blends produced in bulk for grocery stores are often left sitting on shelves for weeks and months at a time, during which they lose their flavour and nutrition. In order to reap the best of both, it’s a good idea to only mix up as much as you know you’ll use in a month or two. (That 1-litre tub of oregano from Costco? It probably won’t taste like much when you finally get to the last shake!)
A good test to determine the freshness of new spices and ones hanging out in your kitchen is to smell them. If they don’t smell like anything, sadly they won’t do much to flavour your food.
You can create recipes customized to meet your taste preferences
Is standard fajita seasoning not spicy enough? Are the cloves a bit too overpowering in your pumpkin spice mix? Does garlic give you an upset stomach? Love all-purpose seasoning but wish you could sift out the salt to reduce bloating? One of my favourite parts of making my own spices is tweaking them to be exactly the way I like them. Sometimes I’ll adjust quantities, toast some spices and not others, swap ingredients in and out… it’s kind of like an art project crossed with a science experiment.
Custom pairings can provide a serious boost to nutrition profile
Watch out – the nutrition nerd in me is about to emerge. Spices and herbs offer tons of functional health benefits, from anti-oxidant, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory compounds to vitamins and trace minerals. They’ve been used for years for natural healing of everything from digestive issues and nausea to blood sugar control and metabolism support. The thing is however, than sometimes the active components of spices and herbs aren’t readily absorbed during digestion. Sometimes they need to be combined with fats or other naturally-occurring compounds in order for our bodies to make use of them.
Some of my favourite recent DIY spice blends have been put together with this knowledge in mind, and since I use them so often, I wanted to share in case you’d like to give them a whirl.
Turmeric + Black Pepper
The mix: 2 parts ground turmeric to 1 part freshly ground black peppercorns
The reason: Black pepper contains piperine, a naturally-occurring alkaloid that gives black pepper its pungency. Research shows(1) that it can substantially increase the bioavailability of nutrients in our food (in other words, makes them easier for our bodies to absorb) – especially vitamins B and C, selenium, and beta carotene. As I’ve mentioned before, curcumin (the active component of turmeric) is one that’s tough for our bodies to absorb. With turmeric being such a buzz-worthy, anti-inflammatory superfood recently, a lot of recent research has found that pairing curcumin with piperine significantly boost absorption.
How to use it: This mixture is one I regularly sprinkle into my scrambled eggs and omelettes (either before or after cooking). You can also use it for putting an Indian-inspired twist on any dish, or use it to season homemade roasted chickpeas like these ones. If you really want to ensure you’re getting the most from your turmeric, be sure to include a fat source in whatever meal you’re making as its compounds are fat-soluble.
Ginger + Matcha
The mix: 1 part ground ginger to 1 part high-quality matcha powder
The reason: Unlike turmeric and black pepper, consuming these two together doesn’t increase the absorption of the other – or at least not that I’m aware of. However, the flavours of ginger and matcha just compliment each other really well! Together they make an awesome duo because ginger is a great anti-inflammatory and matcha is loaded with antioxidants. Both of these are important if your body could use a little help recovering from any kind of stress, and let’s face it – I think we all could!
How to use it: My favourite way to use this one is in my oatmeal, mixed with some additional cinnamon and a scoop of collagen. You can also sprinkle it on top of lattes, blend it into pancake batter, or stir it into smoothies or yogurt for an extra boost of antioxidants and flavour.
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So tell me… do you make your own spice mixes? What are some of your favourites? Another one I’m loving right now is a mixture I made with ground star anise, cloves, cardamom, ginger and cinnamon. It’s amazing on oatmeal, sprinkled on apples – basically anywhere you’d use cinnamon or apple pie spice.