Benevolent chefs: Banish bland and power up your food with eco-spices. We at Sierra magazine got five experts to name their favorite piquant powders.
Chef and chemist PETER MOLLETT owns Smokin' Texas Gourmet, a company that makes sauces, condiments, and rubs. His test kitchen features a 100-flavor spice rack.
"The certified-organic yellow-mustard powder from EDEN FOODS has a mild, sweet flavor that can liven up any dish. It doesn't have the traditional brown-mustard bite, making it an exemplary addition to marinades, vinaigrettes, sauces, and pickling recipes. To control the thickness of sauces, mustard powder works better than mustard seed, and Eden's version has a flavor that's complex enough to evolve almost any cuisine. It comes packaged in dark-amber glass to protect it from the light." $5 for 1.7 ounces
Chef RICK GRESH, of David Burke's Primehouse in Chicago, is trying to redefine the term "steak house" by using seasonal, local, and organic ingredients. His modern cuisine focuses on meats that have been dry-aged in his restaurant's salt-tiled aging room.
"Pink Himalayan salt (available at mountainroseherbs.com) is natural, renewable, and ethically sourced—and the best salt for you because it's composed of the same 84 trace minerals found in the human body. It comes in many forms, from ground to slabs, which you can cook and serve on. The taste is clean and oceany. I use pink Himalayan salt crystals instead of white salt on every table and also use bricks of it for service—it's the 'plate' for several of my tartare and sashimi dishes and is part of the tableside preparation routine, acting as a hot rock." About $5 for 4.5 ounces
"Turmeric is much more than a spice: It aids in digestion, has anti-inflammatory properties, and is used in traditional medicine to prevent a wide variety of ailments, including cancer and arthritis. To start benefiting from this multipurpose spice, add a pinch of the certified-organic turmeric root powder from BANYAN BOTANICALS to impart an earthy, mustardy, slightly ginger-like taste to any dish. Use turmeric sparingly, however, as it is very strong. Banyan Botanicals is an excellent source for quality spices made from sustainably sourced, fairly traded organic herbs." $6.50 for 3.4 ounces
CHRIS YEO is the chef and owner of Straits Restaurant Group, which runs five Asian-fusion eateries in California and Texas. He co-wrote The Cooking of Singapore and has been a guest chef at the Smithsonian Institute, the James Beard House, and the U.S. Singaporean embassy.
"I love taking modern twists on traditional foods by infusing unexpected spices. The coriander—also known as Chinese parsley—from SIMPLY ORGANIC is made of cilantro-plant seeds and has a fragrant flavor reminiscent of both lemon peel and sage. Warm and citrusy, it adds a sharp element to a variety of dishes and blends perfectly into my yellow curry sauce. Simply Organic doesn't use any fillers or artificial colors or flavors, and its glass bottles are BPA-free." $5.19 for 2.3 ounces
DANIELLE SHARGORODSKY is a nutrition manager at Sodexo. A registered dietitian, she develops new spice blends, many of which in are currently in the testing stages.
"The organic no-salt seasoning from Costco's KIRKLAND SIGNATURE brand is my go-to product for crowd-pleasing dishes. This savory blend of 21 organic spices and ingredients provides a fantastic flavor combination without any salt, and adds a kick without bringing on the heat. My favorite use for this versatile, gluten-free blend is to sprinkle it on roasted vegetables. I also use it as a tasty topping for popcorn. As an added bonus, the bottle is recyclable." $8 for 14.5 ounces
--reported by Avital Andrews / photos by Lori Eanes