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Revised: 2/24/05 - kj
Adding Spice to Life
"Can you imagine a world without spices?... Imagine life without Worcestershire sauce, mustard, pickles, chili sauce, seeded breads, tacos, or the myriad of tasty, convenient ready-made meals."
Ian Hemphill, an Australian spice dealer, asks us to imagine such a scenario in the opening pages of his book, The Spice and Herb Bible (Robert Rose, Inc, 2002). Clearly for him, not having these items in his life would be unthinkable. Unthinkable?.... Hey fella, wake up and smell the non-caffeinated low-acid herbal tea-- life without mustard and chili sauce is a challenge we deal with every day! And a challenge it is, to make food tasty and appetizing while not antagonizing a finicky IC bladder. Tens of thousands of us not only mange to do just that every day, we do it darn well.
One of the keys to enjoying flavorful foods while keeping a calm bladder is confronting the popular myth that "spicy" food means "hot" food. Sure, there are hot tasting spices like chili powder, mustard, and horseradish which reliably provoke bladder trouble. And less obvious spices such as cumin, cloves or paprika also have substances that may irritate some IC bladders. Yet many other herbs and spices are mild and bladder-safe even in relatively large amounts. Basil and mint for example are culinary herbs that most of us don't have trouble with. But such common spices are not the end-all of bladder friendly flavors. The world is full of spices, many hard to find in grocery stores here but well known to famous chefs and five-star restaurants. Some herbs, like dandelion for instance, are simply not that popular in the foods on America's tables today, but were common in the daily fare of centuries past. Other herbs, such as alexanders, are not well known in America, but are commonly found in households in other parts of the world. Trying uncommon spices is one way to add variety to mundane dishes and menus.
Mild bladder friendly flavors
Without going into detail about the many foreign spices available mostly in specialty shops and online, here are a few relatively bladder safe spices that are readily available in most grocery stores. If you are in the process of doing an elimination diet to find your unique bladder triggers, these mild but tasty flavors would be some of the first ones to try adding back into your diet.
Here are two other herbs that are considered pungent because they have a fairly strong taste, but are still not "hot" and bladder-burning. Most IC patients don't have problems with these even when they are used generously.
Over the past several years a trend has developed in food marketing that is expected to continue: people want more convenience and are willing to sacrifice some creativity in cooking to get it. In terms of the spice market, that means spice blends will become more common. Some spice importers are already pushing aside some of the less popular individual spices in their product lines in order to accommodate the blends. On grocery shelves you will see more bottles labeled "Cajun Spice Blend", "Taco Seasoning" or "Italian Herbs". This is bound to make life a bit tougher for those of us with IC. Often a spice blend will have several bladder friendly spices but one "killer" component that rules it out of our diet.
Another problem with buying spice blends is that you wind up having more bottles in your spice cabinet (a fact not lost on the spice merchants). Rather than combining and recombining a handful of spices to get dozens of flavor variations, merchants want you to buy dozens of bottles of specialty blends, one for each recipe you cook. This not only makes for a lot of clutter and expense, but little-used blends become flavorless when they get pushed to the back of the shelf and forgotten. (Mark each bottle with a date when you purchase it. Most spices won't last more than three years, tops.) And lastly, there's the problem of flavor enhancers and preservatives that are put in some of these blends.... some of them can be real bladder burners.
The solution? Make your own blends in small batches for the ones that you use often, and for rarely-used blends, mix your own on the spot when you cook the recipe. For convenience, you might print the recipes for your spice blends on 3x5 cards and tape them inside the door to your spice cabinet.
Bladder friendly spice blends
Fines Herbes is a
traditional and easy-to make French spice blend that especially
2 Tbsp. dried chervil
Note: Parsley is fairly high in oxalates so if you have vulvodynia as well as IC, you may want to avoid it try substituting another tablespoon of chervil for the parsley.
Herbes de Provence is another herb blend from the south of France. It traditionally contains thyme and often also contains French lavender. French lavender is a milder version of the English lavender used so much in cosmetics and perfumes. While today we don't think of it as useful for cooking, in past centuries lavender flowers were commonly used in European cooking. In North Africa and the Middle East lavender is today used as a popular culinary flavoring. Herbes de Provence is a stonger flavored blend than the fines herbes. But the robust flavor can perk up spring salads, steamed carrots, or mixed cooked vegetables. Try topping a hot baked potato with butter and a generous dusting of ground herbes de Provence. Commercially prepared versions of the blend often substitute cheap anise for the more complex flavor of tarragon. Again, recipes vary from family to family, but here is my favorite:
Herbes de Provence Blend
4 tsp. dried thyme
Note: You can substitute
dried chervil for the parsley if you want a lower-oxalate version. To
use, figure about 1/2 tsp. to 3/4 tsp. of the blend per person or serving.
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