Penzey’s 6 Spices

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The secret of happiness is variety, but the secret of variety, like the secret of all spices, is knowing when to use it. — Daniel Gilbert

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1. ~*~ EPAZOTE ~*~

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BASIC INFO

Names: pazote • pazoli • hierba hedionda (“stinky weed”) • goosefoot • skunk weed • wormseed • Mexican tea

About: Epazote is an herb used in Latin-American cuisine. Give it a wiff and you’ll notice hints of oregano, citrus, and mint. Once added to your favorite Mexican dish, it tastes grassy and earthy. Many say fresh epazote is better, but it can be difficult to find. Its dried form is said to be less intense but still imparts plenty of flavor.  When substituting dry Epazote for fresh, use half the amount of fresh leaves called for. Add to dishes near the end of cooking as it doesn’t stand up to heat very well.

Country of Origin: Mexico

Plant of Origin: Dysphania ambrosioides

Replaces: cilantro • oregano

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WHERE TO FIND

Store: Mexican grocery stores • farmer’s market • spice merchants

Online: Amazon

Grow you own: Seed Savers

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USES

soups • stews • chili • mushrooms dishes • corn dishes • quesadillas • tamales • egg dishes • potato dishes • enchiladas • green salsa • cooked with rice • black bean dishes

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FUN FACTS

  • Epazote spreads like a weed throughout North & South America (even into Europe and Asia!) where no one is aware of its uses.
  • Epazote has gas-relieving properties, which is why it’s often added to bean dishes.
  • For medicinal use, epazote tea is made from the plant’s fresh leaves and flowers.
  • Translated into English, epazote means “stinky sweat”—definitely not what it tastes like!

 

2. ~*~ GUMBO FILÉ ~*~

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BASIC INFO

About: A staple ingredient in Creole cuisine, gumbo filé is the dried and powdered leaves of the sassafras tree. It’s sprinkled over gumbo as a seasoning or thickening agent. Generally added as a finishing garnish, filé adds a sweet, cooling smell and earthy flavor to dishes. It’s that little something extra that takes gumbo to the next level.

Country of Origin: Louisiana

Plant of Origin: Sassafras albidum

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WHERE TO FIND

Store: Local grocery store • spice merchants

Online: Amazon • The Spice House

Make your Own: The Spruce

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USES

gumbo • other Creole soups & stews

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FUN FACTS

  • Native Americans from Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana were the first to use powered sassafras as a seasoning.
  • Filé comes from the French verb filer, meaning “to turn into threads” or “to become ropy”.
  • “Filé gumbo” is mentioned in the famous country song, Jambalaya (On the Bayou). Can you find it?

 

3. ~*~ JUNIPER BERRIES ~*~

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BASIC INFO

About: These hard, dried orbs (called cones) are used as a spice in European and Scandinavian cooking. Its tart, bitter and piney flavor is ideal for reducing the wild taste of game meats. It’s soft (not dried) variety can be sprinkled on food or added to drinks, smoothies, and desserts. CAUTION: Pregnant women should avoid juniper berries because it can cause uterine contractions.

Country of Origin: Albania

Plant of Origin: Juniperus communis

Replaces: rosemary

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WHERE TO FIND

Store: local grocery • health food store

Online: Amazon • Spice Jungle

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USES

season game meats • season wild birds • add to sauces & marinades • rubbed over meat and vegetables prior to roasting or grilling • cabbage dishes • stews & soups •

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FUN FACTS

  • Juniper berries are used to make gin!
  • There are 8 different species of juniper berry.
  • Juniper berries have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.
  • In ancient Greece, juniper berries were used as a medicine, not a food. They also used them in their Olympics events because they believed the berries increased physical stamina in athletes.

 

4. ~*~ SUMAC ~*~

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BASIC INFO

About: Sumac berries are bright red fruits used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine. You may have unknowingly tried it in Za’atar Seasoning. Once dried and ground, the berries add tart and fruity flavor to any dish.

Country of Origin: Turkey

Plant of Origin: Rhus coriaria

Replaces: lemon zest or juice

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WHERE TO FIND

Store: health food stores • spice merchants • Middle Eastern market

Online: Amazon • The Spice House

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USES

salad • garnish for hummus • add to rice, yogurt or potatoes • a rub or seasoning for meat, fish, or vegetables • syrup in desserts, jellies or drinks

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FUN FACTS

  • Because it’s so similar to lemon in flavor, sumac is sometimes used to make “sumac-ade”.
  • Native Americans use sumac and tobacco as a smoking mixture.
  • Sumac is sometimes used to dye leather, making the material more flexible and lighter in weight and color.

 

 

 

5. ~*~ TELLICHERRY PEPPER ~*~

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BASIC INFO

About: Tellicherry Peppercorn is the holy grail of Indian pepper. It’s a larger, more mature black peppercorn. As a result, it looses heat and gains aroma. They are SPICY, so use liberally. Some woodsy aromas and pops of citrus creep in after the heat subsides. Because of their complex flavor profile, they’ll improve any dish that uses black pepper. Just note that Tellicherry is more expensive than regular pepper, so you may want to save it for dishes where it will shine. If possible, buy whole so they retain potency and flavor.

Country of Origin: India

Plant of Origin: Piper nigrum

Replaces: black pepper

 

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WHERE TO FIND

Store: spice merchants; Indian market; some local grocery stores

Online: Amazon • Zingermans • Williams Sonoma

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USES

eggs • rice • steaks • fish • vegetables • add to spice blends • pasta dishes

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FUN FACTS

  • Christopher Columbus traveled through uncharted seas to try to find a better way to get Tellicherry Peppercorn (among other things).

6. ~*~ VINDALOO SEASONING ~*~

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BASIC INFO

About: Vindaloo is an Indian curry dish from the region of Goa, but the Portuguese were the true originators. Introduced as “carne de vine d’altos”, Vindaloo evolved over the years to accommodate Indian ingredients and tastes. It’s popularity has spread to Europe, The Middle East, Australia and The United States. While many vindaloo spice blends vary, this one is spicy but not overpowering.

Ingredients: coriander, garlic, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, crushed brown mustard, cayenne, jalapeño pepper, cardamom, turmeric, black pepper and cloves.

Country of Origin: India

Replaces: curry powder

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WHERE TO FIND

Store: Indian markets

Online: Amazon • Spice Jungle

Make you own: The View from Great Island

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USES

Chicken Vindaloo • Beef Vindaloo • Pork Vindaloo • Vegetable Vindaloo • soups & stews • garnish greek yogurt • winter squash • chip and potato seasoning • meat rubs • popcorn

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