By —Adeena Sussman in the Wall Street Journal
Think of vadouvan as the sports car of curry powders. Like its better-known cousins, this French-influenced upstart is a favorite of Daniel Boulud and other chefs. Powered by a gutsy wallop of cumin, cardamom, mustard and turmeric, this blend is built for speed. Yet its torque is gentler than that of traditional curry, thanks to the addition of dried onions, garlic and often shallots. The effect is a mellow, balanced blend that finds a natural home in recipes from roasted butternut squash soup to buttery shortbread cookies.
A sweet and savory combination often found in Arabic kitchens and used to enhance meats, lentils and grain dishes, baharat feels exotic and familiar at the same time. Look for a blend that combines an assertive kick of black pepper with the soothing warmth of nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. As chef Michael Solomonov often does at Zahav in Philadelphia, rub baharat on meat before grilling—or add a bit to your favorite brownie batter.
Tangy dried sumac is this versatile blend’s key player. There are many variations, but two of the best are Israeli, which typically includes sesame seeds, oregano, thyme and salt; and Syrian, which often brings cumin and coriander into the mix. Sprinkle Syrian za’atar on labneh (strained tart yogurt) with a drizzle of olive oil and serve with pita. Add the Israeli version to ripe pineapple before grilling or roasting.
Cajun seasoning channels Bayou cooking with a heady mix that includes several types of pepper, onion and garlic powder and often dried celery. Every Cajun mix is a little different, but they all pack salt and heat. Use in traditional “blackened” recipes, stir into soups or blend into unsalted butter to finish simply steamed vegetables.
Though not technically a spice blend, this Japanese seasoning earns its keep in the cabinet. Made from black and white sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, salt and sometimes dried bonito flakes, this staple is a classic white-rice topper. It’s also great sprinkled on salads or for crusting tuna or salmon fillets before pan-searing. Vegetarians can opt for pared-down gomasio, which consists simply of sesame seeds and sea salt. Furikake: $4 for 1.9 ounces, mishima.com; gomasio:
Herbes de Provence
Don’t feel limited by its Gallic provenance—this blend boosts much more than French food. Fennel and lavender stand out among basil, marjoram, rosemary and thyme. Larger pieces of dried herbs—rather than finely ground spices—mean you’ll want to cook or marinate with these spices to soften them. Sprinkle onto tomato halves before roasting, rub into chicken with lemon and garlic before cooking, or mix into ground beef for herb-forward hamburgers.
Quick-change agents of the first order, spice blends can elevate dinner from edible to exquisite. Think about the way the introduction of even one new element, such as lemon juice or a fresh herb, can enliven a dish—then multiply the result exponentially. Za’atar’s citrus-like punch brightens anything it touches, while a pinch of herbes de Provence adds floral and piney accents. A few things to keep in mind: Freshness counts, so buy in small quantities from stores that have high turnover. Since many blends contain salt, season food with the blend first, then add salt as needed. Lastly, use in moderation, said Lior Lev Sercarz, owner of La Boîte à Epice, a New York-based spice purveyor to both restaurants and consumers. “Let the flavor of your recipe’s ingredients shine,” added Mr. Sercarz. “The spice blend is the accessory that ties the whole ensemble together.”
Mighty Spice Mixes
A version of this article appeared September 8, 2012, on page D5 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Mighty Spice Mixes.
More Evidence that Government Should Halt War on Salt
WASHINGTON, May 3, 2011 â€“ Medical research has again confirmed that cutting back on salt is hazardous to your health.Â A new, government-funded study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that even modest reductions in salt intake are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
The study debunks claims by the Food and Drug Administration and others pushing for population-wide reductions in salt consumption. In addition, the increased risk of death was evident within the range recommended by the U.S. governmentâ€™s Dietary Guidelines on sodium, which means U.S. citizens who follow the dietary guidelines on sodium will be at risk.
â€œWe now know conclusively that the U.S. governmentâ€™s war on salt consumption will cause harm,â€ said Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute.Â â€œThis study confirms previous research indicating that reductions in sodium lead to an increased risk of disease and death. Therefore, we call on government agencies to stop their population-wide sodium reduction agenda and amend the Dietary Guidelines on sodium.Â We simply ask them to â€˜First, do no harm.â€™ â€œ
The study in the May 4 edition of JAMA concludes that lower sodium is associated with higher mortality. â€œTaken together, our current findings refute the estimates of computer models of lives saved and health care costs reduced with lower salt intake. They do also not support the current recommendations of a generalized and indiscriminate reduction of salt intake at the population level,â€ wrote the authors.
This is not the first study challenging the conventional wisdom of the anti-salt movement. Other studies show:
Low-Salt Diet Leads to Higher Mortality
An examination of the largest US federal database of nutrition and health (NHANES), published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found a higher rate of cardiac events and death with patients put on low-salt diets — a result perfectly consistent with the late study.
Risk of Diabetes
A 2010 Harvard study linked low-salt diets to an increase in insulin resistance, the condition that is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes. Recent studies out of Australia show that individuals with type I or type II diabetes die in much greater numbers when placed on a salt restricted diet.
Falls, Cognitive Problems, Among Elderly
Because of declining renal function in the aging body, the kidneys retain less sodium. Recent studies have shown that elderly people with hyponatremia have more falls and broken hips and a decrease in cognitive abilities.
Low Birth Weights, Poor Brain Development
A 2007 study found that babies with low birth weight are also born with low sodium in their blood serum because their mothers were on low-salt intakes. Another study found that infants with low sodium may be predisposed to poor neurodevelopmental function between the ages of 10 and 13.
No Link Between Hypertension, Salt, in U.S. Population
If salt consumption and hypertension were linked, both would be rising. But a 2010 paper by two Harvard researchers shows that while hypertension has increased among Americans over the last 40 years, sodium consumption has remained flat.
About the Salt Institute:The Salt Institute is the world’s foremost source of authoritative information about salt (sodium chloride). Based in Alexandria, Virginia, the Salt Institute is a trade association dedicated to advocating responsible uses of salt, particularly to ensure winter roadway safety, water quality and nutrition.