Question: I have two great recipes that call for savor salt, but I can no longer find this product. Can you help me locate it?
Answer: We contacted McCormick/Schilling Division and learned they no longer produce savor salt. However, their Seasonall is essentially the same product and can be used as a substitute. It is widely available in Southern California supermarkets.
Q: At the request of friends and relatives, I purchased several bottles of liquid extract of vanilla on a recent vacation in Mexico. Now I read that Mexican vanilla may be toxic. I have not yet used any of the product, nor will I until I know if it is safe. I will appreciate any information you can provide.
A: Yours is typical of many inquiries we receive regarding Mexican vanilla. The key question is whether you purchased genuine or imitation vanilla.
Genuine vanilla beans from Mexico are produced from delicate orchid flowers, which are either naturally pollinated (using bees and hummingbirds) or hand pollinated. The rarity of the plant and the intricate process of cultivating, curing and drying make the price of the true vanilla bean and its extract expensive.
Genuine Mexican vanilla is stronger than the vanilla extract sold in our supermarkets, so less should be used in recipes. Since brands differ in strength, it may require some experimentation to determine equivalents.
Imitation Mexican vanilla is inexpensive, but many brands contain coumarin, banned as a food additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for more than 30 years. In the early 1950s, researchers found that coumarin caused liver damage when fed to rats.
Coumarin is a dark substance produced by the tonka bean, indigenous to Mexico and a member of the pea family. The FDA warns that the long-term effect of ingesting coumarin is toxic; however, to date, no toxicity levels have been established. According to the local FDA office, "nothing short of laboratory analysis will tell if imitation Mexican vanilla contains coumarin".
Q: What are the differences between black, white and green peppercorns?
A: In "The Von Welanetz Guide to Ethnic Ingredients" (Warner Books: 1982) authors Diana and Paul Von Welanetz explain: "Black peppercorns and white peppercorns are the same basic berry, most of which are grown in the far East. The black one is picked when it is red and underripe, and is then allowed to dry and shrivel and turn black. It has more bite than the white peppercorn, which is simply the mature berry from which the outer coating has been removed. Both white and black are sold on supermarket spice shelves, whole or ground, and the more exotic varieties are sold in gourmet specialty shops. White is generally more expensive, and the whole berries are harder to find."
They go on to say: "Fresh green peppercorns are simply that--undried peppercorns. They have become very popular in French cooking in recent years and are available in this country in cans or jars, packed in water or vinegar, or freeze-dried. They have an intriguing, fresh and rather pungent flavor. We especially like the freeze-dried ones, sold by the ounce in specialty shops."