Home made or store bought? Decisions (decisions) about spice mixes.
Have you ever read a recipe (perhaps even here) and thought, “Hmmmm…do I go all natural/authentic and make the spice mix myself or do I go the easy way and buy the mix? I wonder…”
Well, I have gone, and continue to go, through this dilemma on almost a daily basis, given all the exotic foods I love to eat/make. It’s become especially important now that I have a person from another culture in my house. The “authentic” idea is of course very important as I attempt to make his favorite foods (and not butcher them) here in my own house.
But here’s the thing: spices are expensive. No kidding, in the regular grocery store, you can spend $17(!) for a small bottle of some spices. So imagine if you are making an Indian dish that requires sometimes 20 spices, and only a handful of them are common in your own kitchen…do you spend the $50-60 for those spices when you can spend $2.50 on a pre-made box of the same? And there are a LOT of dishes that use spice mixes. I’ve been using Cajun spice mix for about 20 years.
Here’s my way of deciding what to do. Maybe it will be as helpful to you as it is for me:
1. First off, do you eat this food a lot, or is this an experimental food? If I don’t know if I’m going to like the dish a lot, I will buy the spice mix at the store first, try it out, and then make my own mix.
2. Are the spices in the mix expensive or inexpensive? Many of the mixes are far cheaper in the pre-mixed form than buying the lot of ingredients and mixing it yourself. For instance, the Tandoori spice mix in a box, which we can then make 4-6 batches of my favorite chicken, costs about $2.50/box.
3. Are the spices in the mix common spices that you’ll use in other dishes, or are you buying a bunch of spices that are only for this mix? Do you have room to store all those additional bottles?
4. Are there a lot of unnatural things in the spice mix from the store that you don’t want to ingest, or is it all natural? This one’s important for me, since I’m really sensitive to chemicals and my goal is to keep them out of my diet. I’m not willing to poison myself to save some bucks. So this is a deal breaker for me. 🙂
5. Is there a spice in the mix that maybe you or someone you love is sensitive to, or you want to be able to control the heat/salt content? I customize my spice mixes for people in my family. For instance, mom’s allergic to garlic and turmeric. I have high blood pressure and need to monitor the salt content. Mixing my own spice mixes makes it possible for me to substitute the offending spices for something else that won’t cause a visit to the emergency room, or to remove the salt where needed.
One word on “authenticity” of spice mixes. I’d say that “authentic” is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. Why? If there’s anything I’ve learned from living overseas, it’s that – while (for example) Tandoori is Tandoori, depending on from what region you and/or your family comes from, the Tandoori mixture will vary. While Cajun spice is Cajun, is that what Emmanuel’s grandmother used? They’re going to vary, sometimes drastically. This is true for every recipe in the world really. Is the sauce “my momma makes” in Naples the same as the sauce “momma makes” in Cicily? Doubtful. But you can rest assured that generally, if you find a recognized name of a spice mix for Tandoori spice in an Asian store, it’ll be pretty good and until you’re ready to invest in all the ingredient spices, your recipe will be yummy.