The Wonderful World of Spice Substitutes

In the expanding universe of culinary science, you may have heard about spice and herb substitutes. Until not that long ago, spice substitutes were not very common, but food experimentation and the integration of world cuisine has presented people with a whole new universe of flavor. Enter the wonderful world of spice substitution!

Why would you substitute a spice or herb?

There are three main reasons why you would wish to replace a well-known spice or herb with a lesser known (or even downright unusual) alternative.

First of all is experimentation. Like any other science, culinary also develops and discovers by going down new avenues. Subbing a popular seasoning in favor of an unknown counterpart can be a little unnerving, but with the right knowledge and a more open-minded approach toward cooking, you are bound to be successful in your experiment.

Another reason you would consider substitution of common flavors in your spice rack would be lack of regional availability (and cost). Herbs and spices come from various parts of the world; some are inherently scarce, others come from faraway places, and yet others may be experiencing a bad crop year. All of these factors tend to increase the price of certain herbs and spices, so opting for a locally grown or widely popular alternative might leave you with some extra cash in your pocket.

Last but not least, many herbs and spices contain specific chemicals that may or may not be suitable for your particular diet or body requirements. In such cases, the most logical step would be to seek an alternative to the herb or spice in question.

Can you substitute every spice or herb?

The more you look around and learn about spice and herb replacements the more you will come to realize that you can replace pretty much any herb or spice in your kitchen with a suitable alternative. Keep in mind that particular substitutes may be pricier or unavailable in your region altogether, so do your homework before tossing out the old black pepper mill and dried basil!

When is substitution not a good idea?

There are many instances where subbing one spice or herb for another is not advisable. This could be due to dietary or allergy reasons; people are different and react differently to certain flavors, chemicals, and substances found in food. In some other cases, like cosmetics and dietary supplementation, products are manufactured to specific regulations. So replacing your best turmeric supplement with black pepper with a product that doesn’t contain turmeric or black pepper at all would simply not work. The advice coming from Seattle-based Bodymune is to always consult with your dietitian before committing to any food supplement intake, including organic turmeric supplement and its varieties.

Is it okay to substitute foods, not just spices?

When it comes to food, you can generally search around and find suitable alternatives to common food groups like meat, grain, dairy, poultry, etc. Food substitution though means your daily intake of nutrients will change as you will be eating substitutes rather than ‘originals.’ This is not necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes it could improve your health through faster metabolism, reduced cholesterol, etc. Having said that, a well-balanced diet is essential for maintaining good health, so any changes to your normal dietary pattern should be approved by a doctor or dietitian.

There are many reliable sources (online and offline) that can provide good guidance on spice and food substitutes. Given the nature of food/spice substitution though, it pays to do it right, so take the time and effort to research planned dietary changes carefully.