Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Spice Is Right

When I moved into my first apartment, I brought with me the belongings most twenty-year-olds would bring: books, records, clothes and--this will come as no surprise to those that know me-- pots, pans, dishes and wine glasses.

After I moved in and unpacked, my major focus was on the one thing I could not live without. I believed that the only thing that would make my cozy little nest feel like home was my very own spice rack. So I set out on a crusade to find the dried herbs and spices that I was most familiar with and a few of the more exotic with which to experiment. Pleased to have found all that I was looking for, I headed back to my humble abode, carrying packages filled with my prized seasonings.

It was quite a shock to learn how much money I had to spend that day to fill my spice rack. I could not stop myself from buying; I wanted everything and I bought it all! While I treasured having a large inventory to choose from, I disliked that I had to buy a full bottle of each. I would turn to many of these seasonings time and time again, but others I would use only occasionally. How long would they remain fresh? I had spent a lot of money stocking my new spice cabinet, what would I do if they grew stale? I thought, “If only they would package herbs and spices in smaller containers I could use them up before they become worthless.” Smaller portions would be the perfect solution, but there was only one problem--where would I find them?

Fast forward 35 years and my dilemma has been solved. Gee, I waited a very long time! Little did I know that the answer was waiting for me in my own neighborhood.

The Lexington Co-op carries Frontier Natural Products brand of dried herbs and spices as well as a collection of their teas in bulk. Many of these are Fair Trade Certified Organic. On a recent visit to the Co-op, I spoke with Kevin who provided a good deal of information about this line of products. Joann Tomasulo, currently the Marketing & Membership Manager for the Lexington Co-op, joined the conversation, providing me with even more information. She is no stranger to food and cooking. She is the author of the book “The 28 Day Cleansing Program,” co-authored with Scott Ohlgren. The book, available at the Co-op, is a source for health and nutrition which offers quick, easy, healthful and delicious recipes designed to cleanse the body, nourish the soul and feed the appetite.

The advantage of purchasing your dried herbs and spices from the Co-op’s bulk department is that it allows you to buy the amount that suits your needs. The fact that so many of them are Certified Organic is a bonus.

Let’s say that you want to try a new recipe which calls for 1 teaspoon of garam masala, (an Indian spice mixture comprised of ground coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, kalonji, cloves, ginger and nutmeg). Because you don't know whether or not you will like garam masala, you may not want to buy a full bottle. At the Co-op, you can buy the single teaspoon portion that you need for your recipe. Plastic bags and spoons are provided; measure a spoonful or a jar full. Joann tells me that regular visitors to the bulk spice department bring their own bottles to fill with their favorite herbs and spices. The empty bottle is weighed, filled, and then weighed again to ensure that you are only paying for the amount of product you chose.

Within the vast array of dried herbs and spices at the Co-op you will find many common items like basil, thyme, rosemary and oregano. You will also be pleased to discover exotic and aromatic spices such as green cardamom (found here ground or in pods), star anise, fenugreek seeds, lavender flowers, ground turmeric, goji berries, brown or yellow mustard seeds, and beet powder. If you enjoy cooking with chilies, you will be pleased to find whole dried chilies as well as many chili powders like anaheim, ancho and chipotle.

The bulk section also offers a selection of vegetable, chicken and beef stock powders, and there is a fine assortment of “Fair Trade Certified Teas”. Also available are several natural herbal supplements (like goldenseal, psyllium seed husk and spirulina) and the empty capsules that are used to concoct your own herbal supplements. The capsules are vegetable-based, all natural and contain no animal products, gelatin, starch or pesticides.

It is most impressive to find this kind of collection of products in one place. Whenever I am in the bulk spice department at the Co-op, I find something new to try or an old favorite with which to restock my spice cabinet. I think you may be pleasantly surprised to find all that there is in this great department. Oh, and don't forget to bring along your empty spice bottles.

Lexington Co-Operative Market
807 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, 14222

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