During one of my first cooking experiences, I remember looking at the back of a taco seasoning packet and realizing that I already owned the spices it contained. And I didn’t know the purpose of the other ingredients. The packet only cost a dollar, but I understood right away that I didn’t need it.
I experimented the next couple of times I made tacos and came up with a simple “recipe” of chili powder, paprika, garlic, cumin, and oregano. I use the word “recipe” lightly. It’s more like a dash of this and a dash of that, sprinkle with salt until it tastes good.
Spice blends seem like the secret ingredient in other people’s cooking, but they are no more than a combination of salt, pepper, herbs, and spices.
By knowing what is in your food, you can make your own spice blends. Either in advance or when you put together a meal, save money, and cook better food.
Spice blends have huge time rewards.
There are not many recipes where you can mix ingredients and then let them sit on the shelf for six months.
Taking a few minutes to prepare a spice mixture now will give you time repeatedly when you use it in the future.
Avoid the fillers in the seasoning packet.
Reading the labels will open your eyes to the ingredients in your favorite blends. Many contain salt and sugar because these are simple ways to boost flavor. In reality, these additives take the place of the expensive herbs and spices you want to buy.
Besides the sugar and salt, manufacturers add cornstarch and calcium silicate to make sure they don’t cake up. When the bottles are open, water from the air will get inside and cause the seasoning to stick together.
Monosodium glutamate is also often on the ingredient list. Glutamates aren’t an evil villain, but there is no need to buy it in the form of a spice blend.
Quality ingredients will improve your spice blends.
Spices can be expensive, but you don’t need a lot. Look for the best quality that you can afford.
Freshness is also essential. Spices aren’t something to pick up from a corner market where many food items sit on the shelf for a while.
Try to find them available in bulk, so that you only buy what you need.
My favorite place to find low prices and high quality are ethnic markets. I’m always excited to see their spice shelves.
As a non-perishable food, the internet will help to source items that you can’t easily find in nearby stores.
Taco Seasoning is Easy
For standard Mexican fare, as soon as your meat is separated and starting to cook, season it with salt, about a half teaspoon per pound. Then add ½ teaspoon each of chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, ground cumin, and oregano. Mix in the spices while the meat is cooking. This allows the heat and oil from the meat to bring out the aromas in the spices. Heat your tortillas, and you are ready to make a taco.
Put together your own spice blends.
Once you learn how to put spices together to make your favorite dish, you will be closer to understanding where your food comes from.
There are no secret recipes. Make your own spice blends. You will save time and money in the future.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food and understand where it comes from. She lives in the middle of California, where she’s learning to landscape with fruits and vegetables. Find her on her blog Food Demystified, Twitter @juliehouse, and Facebook @fooddemystified