Our daughter has gone a little mad for spices.
When she saw that I was standing on the porch with the camera, trying to chase some good light for this photograph, she raced toward me. She left her drawing — and that’s saying something with this kid — with blue ink stains trailing on her palms, and said, “Spices, Mama. Spices!”
(Of course I let her be in the photograph.)
When we make pies together, I let Lu tip the Saigon cinnamon into the bowl of pitted cherries. (“Not too much, honey. That stuff’s strong!”) When we’re cooking together, and I grab some smoked paprika for our sauteed zucchini, I put the jar under her nose and say “Smell. It smells like that campfire we had with Carol. Remember when we roasted hot dogs?” She sniffs in, then says, “Bonnie and Tom there too?” Yep, Lu. They were.
I love that she’s connecting memories with smell, food with friends, and learning the difference between fennel and cumin seeds by looking at them in the palm of her hand.
So much good food is plain and simple. A steak cooked rare. A peach perfectly in season. Slivered cabbage with jicama and sunflower seeds. If you want to make those fresh ingredients even more startling, you don’t need expensive olive oil or rare truffles. Most of the time, when we want to take food from good but bland to the meal you remember sitting around the table with good friends (hands reaching, people talking, bread dipping into hummus or white bean dip, bowls quickly emptying with forks moving leisurely)? We use spices.
That steak? Without good and salt and pepper, it’s tasteless. The peach is great on its own, but try a tiny bit of cardamom in a peach pie and everyone will be wondering why it’s just so good. And that cabbage with jicama and sunflower seeds? Those would sure be good with homemade ranch dressing, which is surprisingly better when made with dried herbs.
Try to live a life without any spices at all. No thanks.
You might have noticed that we have been using spices from McCormick Gourmet in our posts in the past few months. As we have explained, we were paid by McCormick Gourmet to try their spices — they sent us two big boxes full of some of the world’s most interesting spices and dried herbs — and write about the recipes we felt benefitted from their product. I was also flown back to Baltimore, in January, to do a two-day tour of the world of McCormick spices with Jaden at Steamy Kitchen, Nicole at Pinch My Salt, and Jenny at Picky Palate, three lovely ladies. It was a truly wonderful experience. I was impressed by the level of care the folks at McCormick took in making sure I was fed gluten-free. And wonderfully. Those folks know good food and they fed us well. One of my favorite hours there was listening to the adventures of McCormick’s leading spice hunter, a man who has spent decades traveling through countries where vanilla beans grow on trees and hundreds of laborers put cinnamon sticks on blankets in the sun to dry, rolling up the blankets every night to protect them.
Do you know where all your spices come from?
Danny and I thought long and hard about whether or not we wanted to take on this project. On the one hand, there’s the money. We paid for our own book tour. We are trying to adopt this year. It made sense. However, we turn down about 25 offers of work for every 1 we accept. We believe deeply that we want to work with companies that do good work in the world and make good gluten-free food. We like McCormick.
There’s a free-floating fear in the gluten-free world: are spices gluten-free?
I believe that most of them are. However, it’s always best to use food that you can trust.
One of the main reasons we decided to work with McCormick these past few months is because of the care they took in letting us know their spices are gluten-free.
Before we began, I wrote to the woman who was in charge of the McCormick campaign, with this specific question: are you absolutely sure that your spices are gluten-free?
Here is what she wrote back:
“Please know that together with McCormick we hand-selected you and Danny as partners in this effort knowing that your blog is devoted to gluten free solutions, lifestyles, etc. With that said, we revisited the gluten questions with McCormick this morning and they were happy to provide some feedback.
ALL of the single ingredient herbs and spices (including Gourmet, core or “red cap” spices) are gluten-free, along with all of our extracts, including Pure Vanilla.
None of the products in the Gourmet Collection line contain gluten. In addition, none of the bottled blends (Perfect Pinch, Gourmet, etc.) contain gluten.
Wheat is an ingredient in some of our Dry Seasoning Mixes and Zatarain’s products, as well as Worcestershire Pepper. If gluten is in the product, it is called out in bold letters, within the ingredient statement.
We follow good manufacturing practices at our plants. McCormick employees are trained in the importance of correct labeling and the necessity of performing thorough equipment wash-downs to eliminate cross-contact of ingredients.”
That made me feel better.
When I asked this question of their spice hunter (who has been finding the farms to supply their brand for nearly 30 years), he assured me, quite forcefully, that there is no gluten anywhere where the spices are packed. The single-ingredient herbs and spices are combed through and carefully cleaned of anything that is not the herb or spice. McCormick runs a tight ship, and the herbs and spices are packed in plants within countries like Indonesia, India, and Vietnam, where gluten is not that common. Because of peanut allergies, all the workers have strict orders to not eat anything in the plant. Then, the herbs and spices are sent to McCormick headquarters, where they are put through sterilized tubes into bottles and vacuum sealed.
I don’t see any way there could be any cross-contamination.
The dry seasoning mixes they are talking about are made in a separate part of the facility. Again, the herbs and spices are sent through tubes after being unpacked from boxes. So there’s no way a human touches them.
So I feel really confident that the McCormick line is gluten-free. Particularly because I have been using them for months now and have not grown sick from them.
In the end, this is why Danny and I paired up with McCormick. We want you to know there are gluten-free spices out there. Good ones.
Sometimes Danny and I buy spices from a local company here in Seattle, one with their own spice hunter. That tiny store near Pike Place Market smells fantastic: whiffs of cinnamon, dukka, and nutmeg waft around your nose as you walk in. However, the last time I bought some spices there, a small, hand-written sign suggested that the company was not responsible for any possibly cross-contamination with potential allergens. Suddenly those spices didn’t smell so wonderful.
It’s good to have a company with great spices that we trust. And one that has spices in nearly every grocery store in this country.
This is our last post with McCormick Gourmet. We have truly enjoyed this dabbling with spices and playing with herbs. And I can tell you this: tomorrow our spices cupboards will still be filled with their bottles of cardamom, celery seed, and cloves.
What are your favorite spices? How do you like to play with them? What are some spices you have not yet tried that you’d like to find in your kitchen soon? Let’s talk about how you spice up your life.