Ask the Food Dude

Mar 8, 2006 at 12:00 am

Q: Dude, I've decided to start grinding my own spices, not only because it's cheaper, but mainly because I noticed that cracked or freshly ground black pepper has it all over the stuff you buy in those expensive little jars. I read somewhere that the easiest way to handle most of them is in an electric coffee grinder, but I can't see how my spices won't end up tasting like coffee and vice versa. Any thoughts?

A:Yeah, a few. First, what you noticed about freshly ground pepper is true for all spices. When you crush or grind whole peppercorns, allspice berries, cardamom, cinnamon, aniseed or the others, their essential oils are released with aroma and flavor in full bloom. The stuff sold in jars has long given up its most potent oils, and the longer you store it, the weaker it gets, even if sealed. You also don't know what other powders have found their way into the mix, like sawdust, insect bits and just plain dirt, for which you're paying the same price by weight as the ground spice they're mixed in. (Some packagers have been caught adding such free adulterants to boost their profits.) A coffee mill is the best thing I've found to grind whole spices, and since you can get a simple one for around $10, it's worth the investment to have one each for coffee and spices. But this trick works great if you want to switch off: Half fill the grinder bowl with pieces of fresh bread, whir it up for a minute or two, toss it out, repeat, and you'll have a fresh start. The bread soaks up the oils and carries off the dust.


Spit or swallow?

Tipmuck: Judging by the culinary habits of the Yup'ik Eskimos in Alaska's Bristol Bay Kuskokwim region, the rest of America is wasting a whole lot of seafood, and a whole lot of breath on fancy names for delicacies. Their tipmuck translates as "stinking heads," and that's exactly what it is. Traditionally made, salmon heads — and their gills and livers for an extra taste sensation — are tossed into a grass-lined hole, covered with wet moss and more grass and some dirt, left to sit for the summer, then dug up, rinsed off and chowed. It's been described as both chewy and gooey, and is used to weed out tourists who think they want to "eat native." Some say it's hallucinogenic (how could it not be?), and was devised because no raw ingredients for booze grow in the northern reaches of our 49th state. Alas, modernity is endangering stinkheads. If those who now make it in plastic buckets snap a lid on, botulism gets first dibs.

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