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spicefully simple

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i love indian and pakistani food, but in so many of the recipes there are too many spices, many of which i really have no other reason to have around. consequently, i've turned to spice mixes, which i find quite good and which don't require me to devote tons of shelf space to (for me) obscure spices such as mango powder. am i missing out by not cooking totally from scratch, or are spice mixes for indian and pakistani dishes generally not all that bad?

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  1. The most important thing is whether the spices are fresh. A fresher mix will be much better than stale individual spices. Many spices begin to lose their freshness as soon as they are ground from the whole seed, so in that sense the mix is likely to be less fresh than buying individual whole spices and grinding yourself. But you are right that there is a trade-off: convenience versus freshness, and you shouldn't feel bad for choosing convenience.

    Having said that, many places now sell individual spices in bulk, which means you can buy as little or much as you need. You might check out places like The Spice House (thespicehouse.com), Penzy's, and Whole Foods (among many other places). THe former two are on-line and have retail shops; Whole Foods of course is just a retail store. But look in your area for places that sell spices in bulk.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Darren72

      I recently saw a great solution to the freshness-space trade-off. In an Indian market near me, they were selling small (or mongo!) bags of the spice mixes but with whole seeds rather than pre-ground. Just spoon some into the coffee/spice grinder, and voila! Also no nasty salt or anti-caking additives.
      (I didn't buy it, however, because I cook enough to justify lots of jars of individual whole spices -- I never buy anything ground. I consider it space well taken-up. I'm also too picky to be satisfied with someone else's choice of blend proportions.)

      1. re: GoaterieOaterie

        Nice idea. That reminds me, if the OP lives in an area with an Indian or Pakistani population, look for an Indian grocery store. I've never been to an Indian grocery store that didn't sell bulk spices and decent mixes. If that's not available, look for an "international grocery store".

    2. If you like the mixes, it can't be that bad. I used pre-blended pastes and powders a while ago for exactly the same reasons as you - didn't want more spices on my overcrowded shelves. But I found the blends were very high in sodium and didn't have the intensity I wanted, I suspect because everything was ground and no longer fresh. Now I grind my own spices and enjoy getting exactly the flavors I want.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cheryl_h

        Good point about the sodium. There are spice mixes and then there are spice mixes. Some are simply a mixture of the same spices you would have used anyways. Others contain a lot of salt or chemicals. If you decide to stick with spice mixes, be sure to read the labels carefully. You might also consider buying a jar of pre-mixed spice from The Spice House or Penzy's, since you know you'll be getting fresher spices in the mix and also won't be getting added chemicals or preservatives.