Tricks You Must Know When Using Seasonings

How do seasonings contribute to positive food experiences?

There are so many different seasonings and their origins. Did you know, for example, that there are at least 12 different kinds of salt? It’s exciting to think of all the flavors, textures, substances, and intensities thereof. Each type of seasoning or combination thereof can conjure up memories of meals past, family recipes, or meal ideas yet to come. They can bring in new experiences as you try different things.

Loud and Soft Seasonings

Perhaps you are trying a family recipe. For example, we recently made my Mom’s brisket recipe, which contains rosemary and thyme – among other ingredients. Those rich, loud, and bold flavors were one factor that made the meal great. Different flavors and spices have different intensities. For example, there are herbs considered to be LOUD such as rosemary, thyme, and tarragon that have greater flavor intensity to begin with. That intensity lasts or enhances as you cook with it. There are also soft flavors, such as basil or dill that are more suited for adding to a dish immediately before serving. You don’t want several loud flavors in a meal. Aim for a loud and a soft flavor in the meal.

For example, we recently made a Northern Italian Caponata recipe that called for a basil chiffonade to be added when serving the dish. The basil enhanced the flavor of the dish, but because we added it at the end of the cooking process, using it in the dish did not render the herb ineffective. The basil gave the dish a soft flavor.

Seasoning Guidelines

Positive food experiences are about creating memorable experiences with food. Working with seasonings contributes to positive food experiences in several ways. Some things to take into account when working with seasonings are the following:

Determine Shelf Life

A general rule about herbs and spices is that if you cannot smell it BEFORE you add it to a dish, you are certainly not going to smell it AFTERWARD. If you have had a container of spice mix on the pantry shelf for a while, make sure you check it before using it in a dish. Open the container and smell it. It should smell like the spice it claims to be. If it smells like plastic or like the container, then you may want to think twice before adding that spice to a dish.

Dried ground spices are generally good for 1-3 years. Whole spices are good for about 4 years. Fresh herbs are good for about 2 weeks depending on how you store them. If you have an herb garden, you can have fresh herbs available on a regular basis.

fresh cilantro on a cutting board representing seasonings

Fresh herbs are good for about 2 weeks depending on how you store them.

Decide How Much Seasoning To Use

A general rule for using fresh vs. dry herbs and spices is 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs equals about a teaspoon of dried herbs. It may not seem like much. Depending on the spice, however, that small amount can make a big difference in the flavor and intensity of the dish. When using saffron, for example, you only use literally a few threads in a dish. Yet you get huge flavor intensity. Saffron is used in European, Indian, and Middle Eastern cooking.

Do Your Food Research

What options are there? There are literally hundreds of different flavor and spice combinations. The very nature of herbs and spices often prompts your curiosity. You can incorporate that new food knowledge into your menu planning.

Watch Out for Food Allergies

Do you or those with whom you eat have any food allergies? Food allergies can be just as present with herbs and spices as they are with other types of food, additives, or ingredients (wheat, nuts, etc.). Be sure to check for allergies before you cook.

Determine the End Result

What types of flavors and intensities are you looking for? If you decide you want to cook with rosemary, for example. How do you want the flavor to complement the meal? You don’t want any one spice or any combination of spices to dominate or overpower the meal. If your food has so much seasoning in it that you cannot even taste what food it was that you seasoned, you have too much. You can always add more seasoning to a dish, but you cannot remove it once it’s in there (in a small number of cases, you can scape off some seasoning depending on the circumstances). Start with small increments and work your way up.

spices on a plate representing seasonings

Add seasonings a little bit at a time.

Seasonings in Action

All of these things contribute to positive food experiences. They help you define what flavor and intensity to use, and can help you complement ingredients. The following story illustrates how seasonings contribute to a positive food experience.

Focus on the Food

During a recent coaching session, the person I worked with wanted to focus on seasonings and oils in terms of creating positive food experiences. Her focus was particularly on seasonings and oils for meat and vegetables.

She already does a lot to focus on food in healthy ways. She buys a lot of the infused oils and vinegars at a local specialty store. She also works with different salts. She is most excited about using Celtic salt, for example, which she feels is more flavorful than other salts. She plans her menu well in serving a variety of food. She focuses on enjoying the food. She finds that if she enjoys the food, the meal is more filling. Color, flavor, and variety are important factors in her food choices.

Set Realistic Goals

She wanted to kick it up a notch in using different seasonings, spice rubs, and oils.  We discussed seasoning techniques and she formulated a plan. After several weeks of expanding her knowledge of seasonings, I caught up with her to learn about the outcome.

Understand What Works

Her energy and enthusiasm was contagious! She really expanded her eating options. In addition to using the resources and information I sent her, she also created her own seasonings that she uses for dishes like burgers or tacos or salads. She also uses Pinterest to identify different seasoning mixture ideas.

For her, positive food experiences are about flavor. The right flavor combinations help to cut down cravings and get her excited about food. One of her favorite dishes, for example, is a garlic mashed potato dish using cauliflower instead of potato. Another favorite recipe in her home is roasted carrots with dill dip. The flavor and seasoning combinations are endless for her.

The people factor is huge. Family members are active contributors to the meal and are supportive of her efforts. She also formed an eating support group where a group of friends share recipes and other eating ideas. They all motivate and encourage one another.

She is motivated to continue to try new combinations of seasonings and oils. For example, one of the items on her menu quest is to create a dipping sauce for pot roast.

The combination of these factors help to build memories with food and to have a good experience that you want to come back to. You look forward to those meals.

As you take a “seasoned” approach to food, you can begin your journey toward positive food experiences.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: How can YOU work with seasonings to create a positive food experience?

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