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The Spice Is Right

Spices have become so popular, you can easily buy them anywhere you buy groceries. So why do prices vary so much for what looks like the same product? John Cartselos, the owner of Mr. Spiceman, Inc. explains how spice quality is determined.

Even one conversation with John Cartselos, the owner of Mr. Spiceman, Inc., is a gift of welcome wisdom in the use of herbs and spices. Selling his gourmet seasonings to specialty food stores, restaurants, and professional chefs for the past 30 years, John has has a wealth of hands-on experience and answers. The wide variety of ethnic neighborhoods in the tri-state area are the general back drop for his clientele. He truly understands the value of using the best spices in preparing everything from pastrami to pastis. So when I asked him what the difference might be between a jar of spice that I buy at the dollar store compared to the spices I buy from a gourmet shop, here is what I learned:

Spice quality varies as widely as what they cost. For example, the quality of spices that are used in preparing foods in prisons (something I never really thought about), is quite different than the highest quality spices used in gourmet establishments. These are two extremes, but it's likely that bargain price spices include fillers to increase quantity, and anti-caking agents, coloring or chemical preservatives to extend their shelf-life. Those added ingredients also dilute flavor, but reduce cost. Typically,the fragrance of the spice is a good gauge of potency, flavor and quality. When you open the lid on a jar of herbs or spices, the aroma should be intensely pleasant. And with the finest quality, hand-packed herbs and spices, you will easily taste the difference as well. This is the gourmet quality used by professional chefs everywhere. The truth is, it's not worth compromising the flavor of your fresh foods, high quality fish, expensive cuts of meat and poultry, or your well-loved family recipes, with anything less than gourmet quality herbs and spices.

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