Spicing Up, Sugar-ing Down

Humans have been finding tidbits of leaf, stem, flower, fruit, seed, bark and root to add flavor to food (and for other uses) for thousands of years.  Wandering through a Google search on the topic gives different dates, but I’m guessing that it was the dawn of agriculture, around 10,000 years ago, that also saw the dawn of this conversation…

“What’s for dinner?”
(Fill in your favorite ancient cultivar porridge here)

One does get tired of the same flavor after awhile doesn’t one?  The only alternative to different flavor is more of the same flavor.  (Here comes another not-so-grand theory of mine,) The long and wonderful list of herbs and spices known in the world has been reduced to 2 main ‘flavorings’ in our culture.  Sugar and salt.  If you want flavor in your food just add more.  It’s the American Way.  It’s also the way that has led us to a health crisis that could grow to “Fall of Rome” proportions if we don’t do something.

Cutting down on sugar (we’ll worry about salt another time as it is not as universal a problem for people), is a great idea, but as evidenced by it’s omnipresence in processed foods, it ain’t easy.  We are hooked!  Although replacing one dangerous addiction with another is not a great idea, replacing an unhealthy addiction to sugar with a healthy palate that recognizes and enjoys a variety of flavors is a great idea.  I have found in my journey to feed myself and my family more healthy food that spices do indeed spice things up and expand the list of foods that everyone, including my child, will eat.

Yes, but how to get them to try the new, different, spicy foods?

Introduce them.  Get to know them.  Involve them.  Sample them.  Have a Spice Party!

Introduce your family to spices with a spice party.  Assemble some spices from your shelf and/or garden.  If you have any spices that are not ground such as seeds like cumin, coriander, or sesame – or cinnamon sticks which are an inner layer of bark, include them for variety and to emphasize where the spices come from.  If you do not have any herbs in the garden, you can purchase an example at the grocery store.  Cilantro and dill are both very fragrant herbs that are usually available at the store.

If you are thinking about trying some new recipes buy any new spices you will need for those recipes and include them in your party.
There are recipes in our blogs that include cumin, marjoram (in my comment on this post), ginger, nutmeg,  lemon zest, oregano, and paprika.

Gather round a table for your party with some herb tea (hot or iced) if you have it.  Introduce each spice or herb by having each person smell it while you tell something about how it is used in cooking – what  you use it in, or others use it in.  If your family has some familiarity with spices have people smell and then guess what it is.

If safe, let them sample a few things.  My son used to eat small bits of rosemary, basil and oregano right out of the garden.  Let everyone re-smell, or play the smell and guess game the second time around.  Don’t forget things like fresh garlic, lemon and ginger root!

Ask everyone to pick a few herbs and/or spices that they think would taste good together just based on the smell.  You might try some of their suggestions.  Brown rice or plain veggies can be a great place to try new flavors.

If you can, make something ahead of time that includes some different spices than you usually use.  Let them all taste it after once again, smelling the herb and/or spice involved.

Then…. and here’s where it all comes together.  The next time you cook, ask someone to help you with the herbs and spices.  They can do the measuring and adding but have them smell it first.  Build up some interest in the product, and of course, kids get a little more invested in eating something they help produce.

Expand your family’s palate with spices and you may find it easier to decrease the sugar (and salt) that constitutes an unhealthy and large portion of the modern, Western perception of good flavor.

Tell us what unusual recipes or concoctions your family enjoys!

6 responses

  1. I love the inspiration here to be creative in the garden & kitchen! Getting the whole family involved is a fantastic way to approach taste appreciation, and eventual palete diversity! Thanks sis!

  2. This is an excellent idea! I love the idea of a spice party. (Does that mean I can be a spice girl?) Great approach to getting away from sugar and too much salt by adding herbs and spices. I recently was introduced to cardamon and have been experimenting with that. Thanks for the insight!

    • LOL! I’ve been to your blog and you definitely ARE a spice girl : ) I don’t use cardamon much in my kitchen. I’ll be looking forward to cardamon stories and tips from you!

  3. Both of my little ones love to pick fresh sage from the garden and just stand there and smell it. Now that summer is upon us (judging be the temperature here today), we’ll get busy with some basil and see if fetching that from the garden will bring my daughter to the wonderful pesto-y place my son already enjoys. I’ve not tried this approach with my reluctant eater, but she’s scientifically minded enough that it just might work. Then maybe she’ll eat curry like her brother. 🙂

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