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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Spice World, With Lior Lev Sercarz

Sercarz sources spices from all over the world and sells custom blends to chefs and home cooks. He describes what fresh means when it comes to spices.

A distillery in Indiana, making gin using spices that came anywhere from Israel to a few islands in Indonesia, processed in New York.

Lior Lev Sercarz, owner of La Boîte Biscuits and Spices in New York City, sources spices from all over the world and sells them to chefs, home cooks and local distilleries.

He’s also the author of The Spice Companion, a hefty tome that illustrates the flavor profiles and uses for 102 spices.

He has a broad definition of “spice” that that includes anything dry that you season food with — from herbs and grains, to barks and berries, and even dehydrated cheese and meat.

Sercarz lived in Israel and then expanded his culinary career in South America and France. Then it was to restaurants in New York. He decided to focus his craft on spices in 2006 when he opened La Boîte.

A couple years ago, he partnered with Cardinal Spirits (Bloomington, Indiana) to come up with a spice blend for their Terra Gin. One of his special touches in this spice blend was zuta, a wild, prolific mint that grows on his father’s olive grove in Israel’s Upper Galilee. “I think the beauty of this project is showcasing how the world is one small tiny place,” he says.

It’s Not Fresh, And That’s Okay

Sercarz says the ideas of “fresh and local” are very different when it comes to spices. Take the two most ubiquitous spices:

Most of us have embraced the fact that we have a salt shaker and a pepper grinder in our kitchen, because we realize they’re essential to season our food. However, very few people live near a salt harvest facility or a pepper farm, and so they grow in other countries that are usually far away from you. The good thing about spices is they are better when they are dried. So, in order to use a peppercorn for the most part, you first need to dry it and wash it and store it. In some cases like vanilla, you even have to age it for a while before they’re ready to be used. Talking about fresh is just a bit different than lettuce or fish or meat.

But because spices stay good for a long time, we can also make the mistake of holding onto them for too long. After a while, they lose their color and their taste and that’s when it’s time to replace them.

When you’re shopping for new spices at the grocery store, Sercarz suggests looking for as much description as possible. And, keep an eye out for a ‘best before’ label on spice jars.

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Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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