The spice and seasoning market is huge. Sometimes when you're faced with the many bottles lining supermarket shelves, it's hard to know what to look for, and even harder to differentiate between similar-seeming products. Here are Stan's tips for shopping smart in the spice and seasoning aisle:
1) Get to know a producer and what they're providing. If you like one or two spices from one producer, you're developing a trust level. Don't stock your entire spice cabinet with a new producer before you've tried a few products out first.
2) Look for color: it should be robust, and a deeper color often indicates more soluble volatile oil, which drives the taste of the spice. We looked at two dried parsleys: one from California and one from Egypt. The California parsley is a deeper green and contains more of that parsley essence, but it's also more expensive. You'll want to use that where you're looking for more intensity of flavor, but the Egyptian parsley works well for culinary applications where you're looking for a more subtle parsley essence.
3) Packaging matters: a nice glass jar does sometimes indicate a superior product. Not always, though-- some fresh and excellent spices are sold in simple plastic bags or in bulk.
4) Don't buy on clearance: Stan has worked in both spice and fish distribution, and he says those are two products you probably don't want to grab off the clearance rack. Less fresh spices closer to their expiration dates won't do nearly as much for your meals as fresh, good quality spices.
5) We see the most issues with mislabeling and with additional matter in spices with black pepper, the spice that takes up the largest part of the spice market, and leafy greens like oregano or basil. Buy those from producers you trust.
6) When buying spice or seasoning blends, check the labels. Look at the sodium content to see how much of the mixture is salt. A heavier container also indicates more salt.
Photo caption: a view of Mt. Korintje, Pandang, Sumatra, Indonesia. The land of Cassia (cinnamon)! Takes 12+ hours up a winding road to reach to top.