Outfitting an organic spice rack can be a fun way to give your favorite foods seasonings that weren't produced with pesticides or other chemicals.
Herbs and Spices
Most people use the terms herbs and spices interchangeably, but there really is a difference. Herbs are the stems, leaves and flowers of a plant such as parsley, sage, thyme, oregano and rosemary.
Spices, on the other hand, come from dried seeds, fruits, roots and bark of plants, such as cinnamon (bark), coriander (seeds), pepper, cardamom and saffron, the most expensive spice in the world.
One of the most common seasonings, salt, is technically neither an herb nor a spice; it's a mineral. For our purposes, however, we will consider both herbs and spices on our organic seasoning shelf.
Good Basic Spices
The spices you will want when you are building your organic spice rack will vary widely depending on what type of cooking you like to do. For example, someone who likes to make curry will need different spices than someone who mostly cooks Italian.
Still, there are some spices that are important for just about every cook to have on hand, even if you don't do a whole lot of cooking:
- Garlic powder
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Oregano or an Italian seasoning blend
- Chili powder
- Onion powder
Additions for your favorite kind of cooking, such as curry powder and turmeric for Indian cooking, ginger and lemongrass for Asian cooking, or epazote and coriander for Mexican cooking. The more organic spices you buy, the more you will want to cook for yourself.
Sources for the Organic Spice Rack
The bulk bins at your local natural food store likely are filled with all sorts of organic wonders, including spices. A huge plus for buying from the bulk bins is that you're saving a lot of money and saving resources because there is no packaging.
Spices are sold in plastic bags by weight. You can also bring in your own containers, weigh the container empty and then add your spices and weigh again so you won't get charged for the weight of your container.
One potential negative of buying spices from the bulk bin is that they might not be that fresh if your store doesn't have good turnover. The bins used to hold bulk spices often aren't air-tight and they may let in light as well, so if people aren't regularly buying spices at your favorite store, the bulk bin might not be the best option. A sniff test will tell you if the spices are still good-if they don't smell great, don't buy them.
Organics on the Shelves
Many larger organic food markets also stock organic spices on the baking aisle. Always check the labels to make sure the items you are buying are certified organic. Just because something is sold in a natural food store does not mean it is organic.
Buying Spices Online
There are many choices for organic herbs and spices if you're willing to shop online. One downside to shopping online is you don't get to see or smell the spices before you purchase them, but you are likely to find a wider variety of spices online than you would in your local store.
Here are some great websites to check out for organic spices:
- Mountain Rose Herbs sells herbs, spices, organic tea and essential oils.
- Frontier Co-op has its own label of organic herbs and spices and also sells the Simply Organic brand.
- Organic Spices just sells spices and donates a portion of its proceeds to charity.
- Oregon Spice Company offers more than 500 herbs, spices and seasonings, with a good selection of organics.
- The Great Spice Company is a good choice for wholesalers and organic retailers.