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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

8 Hidden Truths About Additives in (Organic) Spices

When you go to buy eggs in the grocery store, you do not expect to read the ingredients label to find anything other than eggs listed in it so why should it be any different for spices and seasonings?

If there is one thing in the spice industry that both frustrates and saddens me the most, it has to be the amount of non-spice ingredients companies feel they have to add into spices and blends in the name of "preservatives" when it is probably just another profit enhancing move.

I was perhaps quite naive when I started my company, Spice Sanctuary, as it did not even occur to me to include any non spice ingredients into the blends that I created. Yet this is common practice across North America and something many consumers may not even be aware of.

Before I go into the nasties present in so many spices, it is worth noting that for organic spices and even non-GMO spices, only 95% of the ingredients need to be certified organic or non-GMO and so the other 5% can be non organic or GMO leaving room for the nasties to creep in yet the product is still considered an organic product or non-GMO as the case may be.

I have taken a sample of Canadian and US companies offering both conventional and organic spices and blends within Canada to seek out the hidden truths everyone should know.

1. Silicon Dioxide

Silicon Dioxide is usually synthetically produced and is an additive in spices to act as an anti-caking agent to absorb moisture and prevent clumping. There should be no need to add this in at all because if the quality of spices is high and they are fresh and meet all Health Canada requirements, there will be no clumping. 

2. Citric Acid

When you think of citric acid you might think of lemon or lime acting as a preservative but no, this is far from a derivative of something so natural. Citric acid is in fact produced synthetically using ingredients such as sugar, beets, corn - in other words the most common offenders of genetically modified foods. The rationale for adding it to spices is to act as a preservative but again I bring the Devil's Advocate out of the closet and ask why is this needed if you are getting the freshest best spices? Even the Globe & Mail had something to say about its unsavoury production!

3. Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil

Essentially an oil extracted from the seeds of the cotton plant (a common GMO), it is yet another additive found in spices such as cinnamon to extend shelf life. Cinnamon is one of the most used spices in North America yet companies feel the need to extend its shelf life? 

4. Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin is yet another synthetically produced additive, this time to act as a thickening agent or some sort of sugar substitute. Ironically, it is made from starches and contains glucose in its composition and results in a high glycemic index of 85-105. The starches used to make it are usually corn based (a common GMO).  Healthwise, it is said to deplete the body of vitamins and cause other issues too.

5. Sugar

Spices and herbs are so often marketed as healthy alternatives to flavouring food with sugar and salt yet there are many seasonings (organic and not) that go on to contain sugar. The convenience that blends and seasonings bring may mean that consumers then don't have to think about adding sugar and salt when using it but in reality I wonder if they still go on to season it further?

6. Salt

Admittedly sea salt is better than table salt but again the contradictions in marketing spices and herbs as healthier alternatives to high sodium intake sends confusing messages to the consumer. If the blends and seasonings are well balanced and developed, there should be no need to add in salt and probably better to leave it to the consumer to manage their own intake.

7. Natural Smoke Flavour & Spice Extractive

I have to admit, as resourceful as I may be, even I don't know what exactly this means, how these are produced, whether they have any adverse effects and what they really add to any spice seasoning. Again, I go back to my fundamental belief that spices and herbs are natural food ingredients and if they are the best quality then their flavour should not require any further modifications or additions.

8. Ethoxyquin

I think this extract from Wikipedia says it all about this E324 additive/preservative:
"Ethoxyquin has been shown to be slightly toxic to fish.
Ethoxyquin is not permitted for use in Australian foods nor is it approved for use within in the European Union. It is an approved food additive in the United States."

As sad as it is, I encourage you to read the labels and ingredient lists of the spices you buy as it is clear not all spices are created equal and organic is definitely not enough when it comes to flavouring your food with the beautiful spices and herbs our planet has been blessed with.

Monday, 20 October 2014

7 Amazing Warming Spices to Use This Winter!

Last Saturday, I made my second TV appearance on Canadian television which was very exciting!

This time, the theme was winter warming spices. I am all about versatility when it comes to everything, especially food and so what better way to showcase 7 amazing warming spices in a dish that  can then be deconstructed and made into at least 3 other dishes too! I have included the recipe below.

Here are the 7 spices I used and a brief description of why they will help you get through winter!

1. Cinnamon
This beautiful spice is known to create internal heat, improve blood circulation as well as lower blood sugar levels. Make sure it is True Cinnamon you are using though!
2. Cumin Seeds
Naturally high in Vitamin C, this earthy aromatic spice has been long used to help ward off colds and coughs. Cumin Seeds are also high in iron so helping to improve energy too.
3. Cardamom
My favourite spice of all time can be used in savory and sweet dishes. Excellent as a digestive aid and also helps to open up the respiratory channels. Add crushed pods to rice or grind the seeds and add to desserts, fruit salads, nut butters.
4. Red Chili
Chili, as you might expect, raises body heat but also helps with increasing metabolism and acts as an anti bacterial. Chilis are also naturally high in Vitamin A and C so another great winter spice!
5. Cloves
Cloves are known to improve blood circulation and ease digestion too. Great to steep in a tea or infuse into a rice or dessert dish. Remember my tip for good quality: because the volatile oils are predominantly in the heads, make sure the heads are intact and they should float vertically in warm or hot water.
6. Nutmeg
Nutmeg is extremely warming but needs to be used in small quantities and it should be tested for aflatoxin and ochratoxin at source if possible.
7. Nigella Seeds
Nigella seeds (aka Kalonji seeds) are universally versatile. Add into salad dressings, yogurt dishes, rice, roasted veggies or onto lean meats and into stews and curries and dips. It has the most powerful plant based antioxidant compound in it so one to have in your spice cupboard for sure!

Why not grind a little bit of each of the above spices for a unique winter Garam Masala!!

Warm Apple & Butternut Squash Salad

(serves 2) (Gluten Free)(Vegan) 


2 cups  Butternut squash, cut into 1” cubes 
1/4 tsp Spice Sanctuary Red Chili Ground
1 tsp     Spice Sanctuary Cumin Seeds
1/2 tsp Spice Sanctuary Nigella Seeds
1 Tbsp  Grapeseed or olive oil
2 Tbsp  Coconut Oil
Spice Sanctuary Cloves      
1     Golden Delicious Apple, skin on but cut into small 1” cubes 
1 tsp    Spice Sanctuary True Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Spice Sanctuary Nutmeg Ground
1/2 tsp Spice Sanctuary Cardamom Seeds, Ground
1 Tbsp  Hemp Seeds
Pomegranate arils and parsley to garnish (optional)
1.     Preheat the oven to 400F. In a bowl, coat the squash with the red chili ground, cumin seeds and nigella seeds first before adding in the oil and mixing it all well. Season with a little sea salt before transferring onto a baking sheet and roasting in the oven for about 30 minutes until you can put a skewer through them with little effort. Make sure you turn them over every 10 minutes to ensure they do not brown too much.
2.     Meanwhile, in a pan, heat the coconut oil on a medium heat. Add in the cloves and allow them to simmer in the oil for a minute or so to allow the volatile oils to release. You should be able to smell the cloves at this point.
3.     Then add in the apple cubes and gently cook for a couple more minutes.
4.     Next, add in the remaining spices and continue to cook down until they just begin to soften, usually only another couple of minutes. There should be some residual spiced sauce left.
5.     Transfer the butternut squash and cooked apples into serving bowl. Sprinkle in the hemp seeds for a protein boost and toss well so that the sweetness of the apples melds with the heat in the squash. Drizzle over any remaining spiced coconut oil and garnish with some chopped parsley and pomegranate arils and enjoy immediately.

Other Deconstructed Dishes:
1.     To make a delicious heartwarming soup, add 1/2 cup of coconut milk and 1 cup of water into a blender together with the cooked apples, squash and hemp seed and blend until smooth. Heat again prior to serving.
2.     Use just the cooked apples for a smoothie or breakfast dish or cook down further to make a spiced apple pie filling or reduce even further for a sugar free applesauce.
3.     Add just the cooked squash to curries or stir fries. Or serve the squash as a side to any dinner.

Bon Appetit!