It’s really quite simple to make your own spices, but why should you? With that little $5 bottle available at the store and a huge collection already on your shelf why go through the effort?
Because this can change your culinary life.
This project started out easily enough. I ran out of onion powder and asked Adam to pick some up for me. He grabbed a large bottle at Sam’s Club and it was down right awful. It smelled, looked, and tasted like onion flavor chalk.
Now this might sound a little silly, but it had never consciously occurred to me that there could be that big of a quality difference between dried spices. I had unthinkingly assumed that buying dried spices from my local co-op would be better then buying them from Walmart but I’d never confronted that assumption. I’ve bought spices from my co-op, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, McCormick, and some of the best rated brands on Amazon when I could use bulk. I can honestly say I’d never noticed much of a difference until this Sam’s Club onion powder.
I’m not sure why this flipped a switch but it did. I had onions, I had a dehydrator, why not make my own organic onion powder? I’d know what was in the powder, it wouldn’t be that hard, and it might be kind of interesting.
The first batch I dehydrated ginger, garlic, and onion. With the beautiful, rich, vibrant powders standing on my counter I called Adam over and we first smelled the Sam’s Club onion powder and then my homemade onion powder. I was floored. Not only were these two powders completely different, but my beautiful homemade onion powder smelled more rich and savory than any powder I’d ever used. I was experiencing the vibrant, earthy smell of fresh cut onions multiplied with the bitter, eye-stinging part removed. Oh my god it was incredible!
We tried the garlic next, my homemade spice side-by-side with a store bought (CostCo). The Costco stuff honestly wasn’t that bad. It smelled like garlic. But the homemade garlic powder was an entirely different animal. I was overwhelmed with the memory of fresh baked bread slathered with roasted garlic that I’d loved since I was a child. This was what spices were meant to be, all the best elements of the fresh herb or root concentrated into a deep, sensual smell.
Next the ginger. This was were a revelation started. We held mine side-by-side with a great quality ginger and smelled each. No comparison. None, what-so-ever. The spice I had made was complex and aromatic, layered with different flavors encapsulating everything I loved about the plant. The spice I had purchased powdered echoed it with a weak, flat scent. How could a relatively “quality” spice fall so flat?
The final, life changing herb was turmeric. (Hey, cooking makes up a lot of my life!) I’d been frustrated with turmeric. I bought a few different qualities ground turmeric, convinced that the “golden goddess” of India cuisine would soon become a staple in my dishes. However, I was disappointed. I smelled it, dipped my finger in to try it, read descriptions of what on earth I was supposed to experience. Nothing. I simply could not understand the flavor well enough to cook with it. “Fruity and earthy” was a common description. It had a weak and vaguely curry-like flavor but I couldn’t see the fruitiness and earthiness the writers insisted was there. I’d even worked with fresh turmeric. I guess I “got it” a bit more then but still couldn’t grasp its flavor.
Finally, I understood. I ground up my freshly dehydrated turmeric, opened the jar and inhaled. Suddenly I could envision it pairing smoothly with coconut milk, creating a sweet, fruity, earth indulgent golden milk. I caught the uplifting flavor that it imparted to a real Indian curry. And I finally understood how this spice would play out in a dish.
There’s something magical about the aroma of dried herbs and spices. The process not only intensifies their flavors, but also unlocks hidden elements such as the roasted flavor of the garlic. The bottles we buy from the shelves or bulk bins are a faint echo of what the spices once were. I was sad to find out that, by the time we purchase these spices, they could have been in storage for years, loosing much of their original flavor complexities. Making your own spices isn’t simply economical or healthy, it’s part of a culinary journey that we have forgotten in an age of fast food and plastic bottles. It’s about understanding the flavors to their core and intuiting the ancient combinations rather than blindly mixing them “because it’s traditional”. I encourage you to try a few, experiment, and take the time to create these rich, complex flavors that bring back memories of a grandmother or great grandmother’s cooking.
My 5 “Make Your Own” Spices
This had to be my favorite, I’ve thrown so many lemon peels away now and I feel wasteful! Use a peeler to remove the yellow part. Try to avoid getting the white, it’s quite bitter. Spread the peels on the dehydrator and let it go! I set it to 125 but check your dehydrator’s suggestions. You can also use the oven just set it as low as possible and keep it cracked to release moisture. You can keep it cracked by closing something non-flammable, like a silicon pot holder, in the door. Check about every half hour to make sure they aren’t burning. Then grind with the food processor’s S-blade, coffee grinder, or a blender.
You can do this with any citrus peel, lime, orange, etc.
I love ginger, it is absolutely incredible! The taste is really magical but it’s use for gastrointestinal pain relief has saved my butt while working with Adam through Crohn’s and SIBO. When literally nothing else worked, ginger tea would help stop the pain he was experiencing. I keep some dried on hand now for any time one of us are feeling a bit off. It’s extremely easy to make, just wash fresh ginger, run it through the mandolin (slicing) attachment on the food processor and then set it on the dehydrator or the oven, same method as above. My dehydrator recommends 95 degrees, I used 125 and didn’t see any negative effects.
This was my “ah ha” moment. As I mention in the video, I just had not been able to figure out how to work with turmeric, it was so frustrating! The second I opened the jar after making my own, however, I could finally understand the spice. The issue is that the little plastic jars sitting on a shelf have virtually none of the flavor of the freshly dried spice. Plus with all the potent nutrients in this spice, I think it’s worth taking the 5 minutes it takes to make. Wash the roots, throw them through the food processor’s slicing attachment, then dehydrate at 95 degrees for 6-8 hours. Then run them back through the food processor with the S-blade or a blender. (Coffee grinder or the Nutribullent works well. I found that the blender attachment worked better than the spice grinder attachment.)
This one was quick and easy save for one thing…I should have put the onions in the freezer first. I highly recommend it in order to cut down on the fumes that make you cry. I think it took a solid 10 minutes for my eyes to get back to normal. Overall though, they were easy to dehydrate and didn’t loose a lot of volume. Just run them through the mandolin attachment on your food processor or thinly slice then lay out on the dehydrator. I set it for 125 degrees F but I saw such variation while researching different dehydrating recipes that I would recommend checking the suggestion in your users manual. I always set up my dehydrator in the bathroom so I can close the door and turn on the fan to manage the heat. If it’s a nice day maybe even use it outdoors.
If you are using you oven, set it to the lowest temperature you can and leave it cracked so that moisture can escape. You could use a silicon pot holder to keep it barley cracked, just shut the pot holder in the door. Check every 30 to 60 minutes to avoid burning.
This one was annoying but worth the effort. Peeling is such a pain in the butt but I suppose you have to peel garlic whether you’re using it fresh or drying it anyways. I used the glass jar method and my peeler. Ultimately it seemed the fastest way was to cut the ends off, throw a handful in a large glass jar and shake hard. It removed or loosened all the skins. I then ran the garlic through the slicer attachment on the food processor and dehydrated at 125 degrees. When it was dry I ground it with my Nutribullet. It’s reminiscent of roasted garlic which I found very appealing.
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Bonus! It’s not a spice but it is SO EASY. Just slice the tomatoes, trim out the tough part attached to the stem and then dehydrate at 125 until they are nice and dry. About 6-8 hours. You can do this with any tomatoes, I just picked up some inexpensive organic ones.
I didn’t manage to dehydrate the lemon fruit. I thought it would be really cool to dry out the fruit and then powder it to have powdered lemon juice but I couldn’t get it to stop being sticky. If you have any advice, any spice you like making I left off, or tips for peeling garlic, definitely let me know below!