May 30, 2010

Avoiding the Bland Foods

Complaints about tasteless and bland food by other people with diabetes leaves me wondering how I got so lucky to have wonderful tasting food. No, not really, as I knew about herbs and spices. I was lucky to learn from some great cooks and what caused these foods to taste so wonderful. Spices and herbs can really create a royal taste for the palate.

The problem is many people pan fry their foods and dry them out, do not use spices or herbs, and thus they have bland, tasteless food. Many people forget about the crock pot or slow cooker, pressure cooker (the ones available today are very safe and useable and not like your grandmother's), and steam cookers. All, if used properly, can really make foods taste delicious.

Granted, some foods (but not many) are best fried. There are other ways of cooking some foods, including poached foods, stews and soups, and casseroles, some can be very low carb and loaded with flavor and nutrition. Then there are other ways of preparing foods, stir-frying, roasting, barbecuing, broiling, and baking.

There are a lot of ways, methods, and techniques that can be used to add flavor to foods. Spices and herbs are just two ingredients in the arsenal used by good cooks.

Storage, shelf-life, and refrigeration are part of what you need to know about the individual herbs and spices. Then you need to know which type(s) to use and with which foods. Here I am talking about dried, crushed, diced, ground, or other forms.

First, do not run out and buy a lot of different herbs and spices. Fresh herbs will not last but for a short time, about a week. Shelf-life of dried herbs and most spices varies from about six months to one year. Some spices like garlic vary with storage requirements. Crushed, diced, and minced garlic require refrigeration after opening, while garlic cloves and powdered garlic can be stored in a cool dry place.

Herbs and spices definitely lose their potency with age, and seeds such as poppy and sesame will get rancid. Most whole herbs and spices will retain their flavor about 1 year, dried and ground versions are best used within 6 months.

In many home kitchens, herbs and spices are stored on shelves above the stove or along side the stove. These locations are not good for shelf-life and the heat and humidity will shorten the life to a matter of days for some herbs and spices. Spices and herbs not requiring refrigeration should be stored in a cool, dark, and dry area away from the stove or oven. I strongly suggest only having those that you use regularly available near the stove and that will not be affected by heat and humidity.

For complete information, you should check out books about herbs and spices. You do not need books containing recipes using spices unless this is your way of learning.

Mainly, you should check your local library first, or for one of the following books.

Book one, is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Spices and Herbs [Paperback]. This is a straight forward book with no pictures. This is very similar (looking at the table of contents) to one that I had ten years ago, but have lost.

Book two, is The Spice and Herb Bible [Paperback]. This book is written by Ian "Herbie" Hemphill, an Australian with over four decades of working in the spice and herb business. This colorful 608-page book (with photographs) is a comprehensive book of information about virtually any spice and herb. He has traveled all over the world to identify and introduce the most unique and exotic herbs and spices. He serves his customers at his popular Herbie's Spices store in Sydney, Australia.

Book three, is Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference [Hardcover]. This book has appeal for home and professional cooks, and for gardeners. It is filled with photographic illustrations. Each herb and spice lists what parts are utilized, where it can be purchased, how to grow it and how to harvested it. The book has a flavor profile of the herbs and spices, a history, common cooking techniques, recipes, herb blends, and food pairings.

Before investing in any of the books, check your local library. I also suggest going to and finding the books. Then on each book, find the “click to look inside” and move the cursor over this area, then select table of contents to click on. Explore other areas you desire and read the reviews. Except for the last one, there are normally good and bad reviews.

Some articles for reading one by Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, and this one. All have excellent tips for spices and herbs.

And please do not forget ethnic spices and ethnic cooking!