Without spices and herbs our foods would be very bland. How much should you use? How do you rehydrate them? When should they be added to food when cooking? You’ll learn the answer to all these questions and more.
Because spices are a natural food rather than a chemical, they can be added to any recipe without changing the time of cooking. Also they can be used freely according to individual taste, because they don’t have any effect on the other ingredients in the recipe. Most any dish tastes better with some kind of herbs or spices, and it’s a matter of experimenting to see what your family likes best.
No hard and fast rules can be made about the amount to use, because the strength of each spice differs, and individual taste varies greatly. The rule in most cases is to maintain subtlety in flavoring. Since it is easy to add more spice, it’s a good idea to start with very small amounts. At first use ¼ teaspoon spice per pound of meat, or a pint of soup or sauce. Use just one-eighth teaspoon of hot, sharp-tasting spices, such as garlic powder or red pepper. It’s always best to taste liquid dishes before serving, so that corrections in the seasoning can be made if necessary.
Spices come in several different forms – whole, broken, chopped, minced, powdered, or with salt. The way they are used depends on the recipe. When a spice is used whole the cell walls containing the flavor-giving oil are unbroken. It therefore takes longer cooking to release the flavor. When spices are ground it breaks up the cell walls and the oil is exposed to the air. For that reason the flavor releases more quickly and requires less cooking time. This is also the reason ground spices lose their oils quickly if they are not stored properly.
Spices are added at the beginning of cooking time in most dishes – about the same time as salt, so the flavor can blend with the foods. Whole spices go best in long cooking dishes, such as beef stew or baked beans, or when using a crockpot. If ground spices are used in these dishes, they should be added near the end of the cooking period. The seasoning salts should be added just before or just after taking the food from the stove.
When using whole spices, it’s a good idea to put them in a cheesecloth or muslin bag. This makes it easy to remove them when the flavor has developed, and prevents small pieces of the spice from remaining in the food.
Seeds, like poppy and sesame, should be toasted before being used. Unless otherwise stated in the recipe, whole or leaf herbs should be crumbled finely just before using, in order to release their best flavor.
The use of dehydrated vegetable seasonings will save a lot of time and bother. You won’t have to weep over onions, or fuss over celery or parsley. If the dish contains a lot of liquid and the flakes will simmer in it for a few minutes, you probably won’t have to rehydrate them. Instant minced onion and parsley flakes rehydrate in five minutes. Sweet pepper flakes, celery flakes and mixed vegetable flakes take twenty minutes.
When it’s necessary to rehydrate them, use equal parts of flakes and water for onion and parsley. For celery and sweet pepper, use twice as much water and flakes, then when rehydrated, pour off the extra water.
Remember that one part of instant minced onion or parsley flakes is equal to about four parts of the raw vegetable in its seasoning strength. One part of the celery or sweet pepper flakes is equivalent to about two parts of the raw vegetable.
With proper care, your spices will last a long time and enhance the flavor of your cooking. Though some of them may seem to be expensive, they pay for themselves by making foods more delicious and appetizing, especially in low salt diets.