26 August, 2008

Seasonings Part One: Seasoned Salts

I'm right in the middle of designing a new spice cupboard for our kitchen. When we bought our old 1920's house, it had never been updated - seriously, never, as in the hot water heater was still in its original place in the kitchen - and we have a walk-in pantry but no cabinets at all.

At any rate, the first thing to do before designing a storage area is determine how much stuff you need to store. And as I took inventory of my herbs and spices and seasonings, I was amazed at how many interesting flavors I've bought and (for the most part) used over the years. Some of them were delicious and became part of my regular repertoire. Others were more nasty and got abandoned. But I thought a review of various seasonings would make for an interesting series of articles and perhaps start some discussion about what we like and dislike in the way of flavorings.

Special note: All of the seasonings in these reviews are ones I've actually used. I'm not a spokesman for any company, and I'm not famous enough to get free review samples of anything, so everything I review on this blog I buy in retail stores just like anyone else. Also, some people are sensitive to MSG, so I will mention it in my notes when any of the seasonings contains glutamates.

And so today, I start out my "Seasonings" arc with a type of product we're all familiar with: Seasoned Salts.

My daughter has enjoyed Spike since she was five years old, and I always have some on hand - a shaker bottle of it on the table, and a bulk box in the pantry ready to refill the shaker. It has a rich and complex savory flavor that is quite unlike anything else on the market, and when you see the list of ingredients you'll know why:
Salt and sea salt crystals, special high flavor yeast, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, mellow toasted onion, onion powder, orange powder, soy flour, celery leaf powder, celery root powder, garlic powder, dill, kelp, Indian curry, horseradish, ripe white pepper, orange and lemon peel, summer savory, mustard flower, sweet green and red peppers, parsley flakes, tarragon, rosehips, saffron, mushroom powder, parsley powder, spinach powder, tomato powder, sweet Hungarian paprika, celery powder, cayenne pepper, plus a delightful herbal bouquet of the best Greek oregano, French sweet basil, French marjoram, French rosemary, and Spanish thyme.
That's quite a number of herbs and seasonings for a table sprinkle, but it is much more flavorful than salt and pepper alone, and does wonderful things to very bland foods like scrambled eggs. Special note: although Spike contains no MSG, it does include "hydrolyzed vegetable protein" which is a glutamate.

Link: Modern Products Inc., the maker of Spike and other "nutritional" items.

Cavender's All Purpose Greek Seasoning is perhaps the best-tasting seasoned salt I have ever used. It's a blend of salt and twelve other ingredients made for the past 37 years by S-C Seasoning Company, a small family-owned business in Arkansas. I love the stuff, and I have never had any seasoning I like better on grilled/broiled/oven roasted/pan roasted chicken. Don't get me wrong, it's delicious on beef and pork too, but Cavender's is absolute magic on chicken.

Note: The label makes me laugh: "An Ancient Greek Formula." Which contains MSG, because we all know how much the ancient Greeks liked their umami.

Link: S-C's website.

Koniko Chipotle All Purpose Seasoning - Ah, yes, the most overused and overrated of all the current foodie buzzwords: "Chipotle." Sometimes it seems like companies are using the word "chipotle" do describe anything spicy regardless of how it gets that way. But Konriko has developed a chipotle-seasoned salt that is so good, it is one of the newest favorites in the spice rack. Nicely smoky with a decent burn, the salt level is properly proportioned so that adding more of the seasoning brings the chipotle character forward without making the salt unbearable. Konriko did such a good job with this blend that I'm keeping my eye out for some of their other products. I'd like to give more of them a try.

Link: The Konriko website - Conrad Rice Mill, the oldest working rice mill in the U.S.

Knorr Aromat Seasoning is very savory. It's made in Switzerland and can be difficult to find at retail stores in the US (though it is widely available through online stores.) The ingredients list reveals why it is so delicious:
Salt, flavour enhancer, monosodium glutamate, lactose, wheat starch, yeast extract, hydrogenated vegetable oil, onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric, spices.
MSG and yeast extract are high in umami.

Just flipping the top open and giving it a smell can make my mouth water; Aromat has an aroma that is reminiscent of roasting chicken. I find it excellent on steamed vegetables, very good on braised meats, okay on chicken and fish (I like Cavender's better though) and not good at all on eggs.

Link: Knorr's website entrance. Aromat does not appear on the American homepage; in fact, users of Knorr's international products may find their website rather frustrating.

Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt was one of the first seasoned salts I ever bought when first I was learning how to cook. It is a coarsely-ground salt blended with dehydrated herb flakes as well as onion and garlic powder, and is especially good with beef (burgers and steaks) and strong fish like bluefish and swordfish. It's also excellent on salad: Toss the salad with oil and vinegar and then sprinkle with Jane's for great justice. It contains no MSG.

One thing to remember about Jane's: Because it contains flaked herbs, it can lose its flavor if stored for too long. So unless you really like it and plan to use it up quickly, get the smaller container for best taste.

Link: Jane's Krazy website.

McCormick's Season-All is an all-purpose seasoning salt which includes a small amount of chile pepper in the blend. Even with the pepper in the mix, though, it has a quite generic flavor - not surprising considering the very standard ingredients:
My tolerance for chile-fueled spiciness has grown considerably beyond the levels provided by Season-All, so I barely notice the chile in it any more. And although it's not my favorite seasoning, it is an inexpensive and tasty blend which is exceptionally good when used as the seasoning in a batch of Chex Mix.

Link: McCormick's website.

Lawry's Seasoned Salt has a devoted following, and I'm probably going to attract some negative comments when I say that it is the only seasoned salt I ever threw away because I hated it.
Ingredients: salt, sugar, spices (including paprika and turmeric), onion, cornstarch, garlic, tricalcium phosphate (prevents caking), paprika oleoresin (for color), natural flavor, soy lecithin

I don't know - maybe since I've been trying to eliminate refined sugars from my diet I've become more sensitive to them in processed foods, but Lawry's just tastes too sweet to me now. Whenever I used it, it just tasted like a low-quality generic sprinkle that did nothing exceptional for the flavor of my food. So out it went.

Link: Lawry's website.

Tomorrow: Bacon Salt without the Hype.


Michele said...

I love, love Cavenders! I'm always sharing a link to this wonderful spice combination on my site. You are so very right...the stuff is absolute magic on chicken. Spike is one of the spices that I haven't used in ages. I'll have to go pick some up this weekend. I used to love it sprinkled on cottage cheese. Great post!

Just Cook It said...

What a great collection. I'm getting spice rack envy!

Anonymous said...

Someone I just met mentioned how much they love Krazy salt and have used it repeatedly on chicken. I was wondering if it had MSG in it and you answered my question. Thanks so much for all the valuable info you posted for everyone!

Furijen23 said...

Does anyone happen to know if James salt contains sugar?

bandit said...

On Spikes seasonings it contains high flavor yeast which is a glutamic acid which is MSG. My hubby is allergic to MSG so that is one item out of many that I have to look out for.

Mr herbsnspice said...

Most of those you say you love contain and are based on msg or free glutamic acid creating ingredients. Thats truly generic. At least lawrys flavor is based on true spices. But cheers anyways brotha.