Spices Bring Zest to Local Food Flavor

Local chefs turn to spices to make food sing with flavor. “Cinnamon, garlic and ginger are on the top of our list because they are inviting and can be both subtle or robust,” notes Michele Reber, owner of Healthy You Café, with locations in Enola and Mechanicsburg. “Spices have been around forever, and they enrich the aroma and flavor of food,” notes Executive Chef Chuck LaPorta, of Cornerstone Culinary Kitchen, in Camp Hill.

“Our cooking classes highlight the nutritional value and flavor of spices because people are, afraid they’ll make a wrong choice, so they shy away from using anything except for salt and pepper,” says Reber. “But their enthusiasm is elevated when they taste the dish and realize one of the benefits of spices is added flavor, not calories.”

Because spices are an intricate part of a making a healthy diet taste delicious, they are featured in Healthy You Café’s snacks, meals, desserts, smoothies and pukka teas, flavored with ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper and cardamom. “We serve the tea and sell packages to take home,” says Reber. “Adding Manuka honey creates a naturally sweet, nutritionally rich, warm beverage that customers enjoy making at home, too.”

Freshness is important. “Once the seal on a spice or herb container is broken, it loses its flavor in four to six months,” explains LaPorta. “While teaching classes and conversing with guests during culinary events, I recommend keeping spice collections current, and using fresh spices whenever possible.”

He points out that spices complement and enhance the flavors of dishes, especially for low-sodium lifestyles. “I like to think that garlic is its own food group and paprika is the unsung hero of the spice world, especially Hungarian smoked paprika,” enthuses LaPorta. “My favorite black pepper comes from South India, which has a strong flavor with floral overtones, and freshly ground, boasts the most intense taste.” According to LaPorta, a little turmeric goes a long way. Cinnamon lends itself to many applications in both cooking and baking, and ginger can add fragrance, as well as heat, to recipes.

Mincing and dicing garlic and ginger bring out their rich flavors. Caramelizing garlic draws out its creamy sweetness. Fresh ginger and cinnamon tea has both nutritional and comforting benefits. Adding turmeric to broth or water for cooking rice turns the rice a beautiful golden color. Steeping vegetables such as chilies in paprika-infused oil gives a more distinct flavor.

Both Reber and LaPorta urge home cooks to involve everyone, especially kids, in meal prep and cooking, and just go for it. “Taste, taste, taste throughout, and season as you go for a great meal that you made," encourages LaPorta. Reber concurs, “People are pleasantly surprised by how different and good, food tastes when spices are viewed as ingredients, rather than just garnishes.”

Healthy You Cafè is located inside the Capital Blue store, at 4500 Marketplace Way, in Enola, and inside SPAtacular Escapes, at 200 Technology Dr., in Mechanicsburg. For more information, visit HealthyYouCafe.com.

Cornerstone Culinary Kitchen is located at 2133 Market St., in Camp Hill. For more information, visit CornerstoneCulinary.com.

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