Real food spices in a market

Spice control for real cooking

Real food spices in a marketYou can’t make real food without spices. Period! Real food ingredients come in a naked state. That’s what makes them perfect. A blank canvas to paint your next meal, reflect your mood and custom-tease your senses. But you need a good method to store and use spices to unlock the full potential of spices in your cooking.

After years of struggling with three bottles of one spice (assume I mean herbs and spices), and none of the one I needed, I started looking for a better way to handle spices. Since I like food from many different cultures, my needs were not simple. I also like a lot of flavor, and old, stale spices never measured up to the task.

The bulk store was the first step. If you don’t go to to bulk store for any other reason (and I do hope to convert you on that subject), go for spices. I buy about a tablespoon of each spice at a time. The cost is laughably low — like 17 cents — for each one. I will buy double that amount for a few favorites, but my rule is generally: less is more. Make sure you label each bag as you fill it, not only with the bin code, but the name of the spice.

Real food spice management
Here is my battered and bruised container. It no longer has a lid, and the sides are "enhanced" with packing tape. I still travel with it, however. Two elastics keep the containers in place.

I had my supply, but storage was still a problem. Cooking was not fun when I had to undo a bunch of twist ties, and the bottles I had were far too big for my tiny supplies of each spice. The answer came when I started cooking on the road (another subject for another … book, actually). I needed to carry my spices with me. Finding that solution changed my kitchen cooking as well.

I found a plastic container that holds 24 individual containers with a pop-lid. The mother container is only about the size of a paperback book, with each little container holding about 1 tablespoon of spice. I found mine in a bead shop, and it is intended to hold seed beads. It’s perfect for throwing in my cooking bag for travel, but even better, it is a treat to use at home. I simply place the whole container on the counter when I am cooking, and a world of taste is right at my fingertips.

Real food storage container photo
Individual container with the spout open. For filling, or using large, whole spices, the entire top lifts off.

The individual containers have a pop top that is perfect for letting my spices out. The entire top also comes off, which makes filling the containers easy, as well as allowing me to store large whole spices, like cardamom. Spices last much longer in whole form, so I use them when I can. I’ll write a post on that subject, and one of my favorite tools, a mortar and pestle, later.

There are many different ways to contain spices. Spend a little time to find one that works for you. Generally, you want a system that holds small amounts of many spices in a compact container. Magnetic spice containers may work if you have the space. Most important, however, is that you can use your spices without thinking. If your container is hard to find, hard to open, hard to put away, you will not make full use of the wonderful spices we have available to us.

This article was shared as part of Real Food Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Check it out for even more ideas about preparing real food.

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2 thoughts on “Spice control for real cooking

    • Christy — maybe the first time was strange. I don’t remember because I have been doing it so long. It’s amazing how strong the flavor is when you always use fresh spices. I do my part and make sure that the bin numbers are clearly marked, and the checkout goes quickly. Let’s face it, cooking all real food is not exactly the norm, anyway. What’s a bit more weirdness. 🙂

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