Baking Tip When To Use Flavoring Oils Vs Extracts Kitchn Stocking a Non-Toxic Spice Rack

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Stocking a Non-Toxic Spice Rack

I recently had someone ask me what was wrong with sassafras–I did not include this item in the main spice section of my book. My answer was that if you bought it in a store, it was probably fine. The FDA banned its use because it contained safrole, which causes liver damage and some kinds of cancer, if taken over a long period of time. Root extracts from the plant do not contain this substance and are, thus, still used in making tea and root beer. I would not use it in the wild, because the leaves may contain safrole.

When I was deciding which spices and herbs to include in the book, items that I felt were of concern were placed in the back of the spice section and defined. Licorice, MSG (monosodium glutamate), rue and sumac were also defined as flavorings to avoid, regardless of the fact that they may have some positive uses. Even common herbs and spices, such as juniper, lovage and nutmeg may cause problems.

You would think that as common and popular as black licorice is, that it would be perfectly safe to eat. The twirled sticks that you may find irresistible are made from the juice of the root and concentrated by boiling. It is also available as a capsule, extract, tincture, tea, lozenge, ointment, as a whole root and as a juice. The side effects and list of people, who should not use this substance is lengthy, from pregnant women to diabetics to people with high blood pressure or eye problems. If you have any disorders or are taking any medication make sure you tell your doctor before you use or take licorice in any format.

Having said that, it is important to note that licorice is second only to ginseng in the Chinese stock of natural medicines. It seems to have as many benefits as drawbacks. It loosens mucus and thus is good for coughs, sore throats, food poisoning, and liver and stomach disorders. It boosts your immune system and fights herpes, cold sores, yeast infections, digestive ulcers and viral hepatitis. It is considered an antioxidant.

I have had people tell me that MSG (monosodium glutamate) is good for people. Of all the studies done, it still appears that, although some people have reactions to MSG, it remains an acceptable ingredient for use by food companies throughout the world. That is hard to explain to someone like my husband, who reacts to it with severe headaches. It does occur naturally in meats and in fermented foods, such as cheese or soy sauce and the FDA does not require labeling anything that is naturally occurring. All you can do is read the labels and try to avoid it if you have a reaction to it.

Rue leaves smells bad, so bad that it repels cats. Its bitter taste has all but stopped its use as a culinary herb. Its bitter taste has all but stopped its use as a culinary herb. It can be dangerous in large amounts, but acceptable if using only a leaf or two. It can cause abortions in pregnant women and can cause severe burning and blistering upon skin contact. In fact, it contains a substance that is used as an abortive in horses. No longer available in grocery stores, it is an easy one to avoid. Ethiopians and Mediterranean countries are the major culinary users.

Sumac berries have an acidic, sour fruity taste. You may have heard of poison sumac, which makes you break out like poison oak or ivy. For this reason sumac is not available in most stores. In cooking the berries can be used in everything and blend well with onion and olive oil. It is used mostly as a replacement for lemon juice or vinegar.

Juniper berries are the source of gin. Three to four crushed, dried berries are used to flavor roasts and stews. Extensive use can cause kidney damage. Never eat raw berries. Ask your nursery whether you can use the berries off the juniper bush you buy from them for drying and for culinary purposes. When in doubt, do without. Berries are high in natural insulin, decrease fertility and should not be taken by pregnant women. On the plus side, it has been used for gastrointestinal complaints and urinary infections.

Lovage is a culinary herb that has a strong, lemony, celery-like taste. It can overwhelm other flavors and in large quantities can harm kidneys. Pregnant women should not use it. It is also known as smallage and is used to flavor eggs, soups, stews and salads. Its seeds are used in breads and cakes.

Although high doses of nutmeg may be poisonous, our typical use in baking has no effect. Animals seem to be more sensitive to it and you should, therefore, not feed eggnog to dogs. In high doses it can cause long periods of sleep and dehydration. To be on the safe side, I would avoid letting small children drink large amounts of eggnog.

Like everything else, moderation is the key to happiness and well-being. If you don’t read labels and don’t understand the components of what you eat, excesses can unwittingly bring about problems. Knowledge is power. Read more about whatever you eat and remember that most spices in your spice rack will not only tantalize your taste buds, but they are full of vitamins and nutrients that are good for you.

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