It's in the Genes: the Biology of Food Preference

There might be a reason you love a good curry and can’t stomach spinach. A group of European scientists have begun work on a project that could eventually explain everything from your insatiable sweet tooth to your superhuman tolerance for spicy foods. New research on the “genetics of food preferences” suggests our tastes and distastes for certain foods may have their origins in our evolutionary histories, and that our genetic makeup may actually dictate which foods we find attractive, and which ones we abhor. The project – officially called Marco Polo (after the explorer who famously travelled the trade route centuries ago) – examines DNA from a number of cultures and communities along Eurasia’s historic Silk Road in an effort to determine how genetic variation translates to palatal differences within and across cultures. And while Marco Polo’s orchestrators still have significant work to do before the project sees its conclusion, early research has already turned up some interesting results which could, given time, lead to advancements in food science and changes in the direction of food industry research.

The Silk Road is home to ongoing research on the genetics of food preference.

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Parchment Baked Salmon with Ayurvedic Spices

Parchment Baked Salmon

Healthy and aromatic, parchment baked salmon

The pungent mixture of curative spices, served as delectable fine dining.

Throughout history, many herbalists, doctors, and chefs have touted the health benefits of spices in the kitchen. Nearly every individual spice and herb we carry has at some point been used as a holistic remedy. Cultures the world over have long turned to the healing properties of spices to ease pains, fight deseases, and slow aging. Even now, every few months we hear about a new study proving the long known health benefits of a particular spice. Here, at the Spice House, we are far from doctors or herbalist healers, we are but humble spice merchants. It is from this perspective that I've noticed that there is one thing that isn't always mentioned in these modern medical studies of spices or holistic herbalist books. Cooking with spices isn't just healthy, it is also delicious. Continue reading

You can definitely pickle that

Pickles.  Without a doubt my favorite food group. This briny treat is an excellent  accent to sandwiches, salads, bloody mary’s and (in my house) midnight snacking. The perfect pickle balances sourness, sweetness and spice in a way that makes them a truly addictive snack sensation. Typically I get my pickle fix from fine vendors across Chicago. But this fall I decided to try my hand at homemade refrigerator pickles.

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Not Cooking for Summer

Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, and great relaxers. At the end of a long day nothing feels better to me than getting in the kitchen and throwing together some food. However, after Chicago’s long stretch of hundred degree plus weather, I discovered a new favorite for summer: not cooking. Instead I turned to fresh and tasty summer staples that almost never required me to turn on the stove. These dishes are some of my summer favorites, that really pop with a couple of small additions.  Continue reading

Welcome to the Neighborhood, La Fournette!

Make way for Wells Street’s newest culinary juggernaut. Some new neighbors moved in on our block, and we couldn’t be happier about it. La Fournette, Chicago’s newest French bakery, is a welcome addition to our already food-centric Old Town neighborhood.  The bakery is owned by Pierre Zimmerman, master pastry chef and two-time World Baking Cup champion of the French team in 1996 and 2008, and his family. They are fourth generation bakers, and our friends Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sebastien Canonne, of the French Pastry School, are serving as advisers in this delicious project. La Fournette opened its doors last Monday, following a weekend-long, pre-opening event that saw a lot of the shop’s signature goodies exchanged for some last-minute feedback on their many offerings. And, believe me, they are many.

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Harissa and Preserved Lemon Grilled Shrimp

Perfect fare for hot summer grilling with friends.

Shrimp are often treated as the frozen boneless chicken breast of the sea. The natural sweet flavor of these tasty crustaceans are often masked in complex sauces and over seasoned breading, or worse to be lost completely as an overcooked and flavorless seafood in a poorly made fried rice. When grilling with friends in the summer, I all to often see the sad offering of over seasoned grilled shrimp skewers, it is a sad fate for the lowly shrimp to be reserved as an appetizer. “Bland” needn't be the last word on our lovely decapod friends, a simple marinade of Harissa and Preserved Lemons can change shrimp from the surf and turf sideline to an addicting grilled main coarse. Continue reading

Edible Souvenirs: A SH Old Town Tradition

There is a tasty tradition at the Spice House (at least in our Old Town store), which we typically celebrate with the return of a manager or another from vacation or travel.  Many of us spend a good amount of time taking food very seriously, and our connections as spice retailers often bring about opportunities to sample a lot of seriously high quality food and treats from kitchens around the city.  So, from time to time it is refreshing, as a change of pace, to lower our standards a bit and indulge in something that is not overtly culinary, but still very delicious:  snack chips.

What is your favorite, oddly-flavored variety of snack chip?

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Spice House Sling

Cocktail hour at the Spice House Oldtown

Last week, a kind gentleman representing the fine spiced liqueur, Bénédictine, stopped by the shop. He was looking to procure a wide variety of herbs and spices, each representing  prime flavor notes in Bénédictine's closely guarded secret recipe. Using these, he would create an aroma kit, like those used by wine tasters, to demonstrate his liqueur's depth to costumers. With the aid of Bridget, Old Town's manager, the gentleman was so pleased with the Spice House that he offered a bottle for us to enjoy. So the question was posed, “how best to honor such a fine gift?” With a custom cocktail, that's how! This is how the “Spice House Sling” was born. Continue reading

Top It With a Fried Egg

For as long as I can remember, which isn't long, the focus of American cuisine has trended in two decipherable and opposite directions: (1) cooking and eating more healthily, and (2) extreme flavor indulgence at, sometimes, the expense of good health. It could be the lack of necessity (I haven’t yet eclipsed the quarter-century mark), or maybe it is the way I was raised (my dad served many a bacon-wrapped bratwurst for brunch), but I’ve found over the years that food trends rooted wholly in maximizing flavor and deliciousness have held my attention far better than the ones that purport to keep my cholesterol down.

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Food Films, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

Food has been the subject of many films, easily becoming a genre onto itself. From grand documentaries to humble narratives, the subject of food has been explored with infinite detail at the cinema. I know from personal experience that a film can make me laugh, cry, or even leave a theatre feeling the desperate craving for a piece of egg sushi. Food films can do more than just awaken our appetites though, as food is as complex a subject as humanity itself. Filmakers take to food as a subject so often because the craft and intricacy of food is something people take to as a defining passion. This past Memorial day, which also happened to be my birthday, I was treated to the screening of a documentary about a tenacious perfectionist and the food he toils over. David Gelb's new documentary film, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“, adresses the maxim that the food that we eat and the care we put into making it, makes us who we are.  Continue reading