Thursday, December 5, 2013

Oil & Spice Kit Systems

I think that spices are essential on trips. I discovered about a year ago that one reason I sometimes don't feel satisfied with food on trips is not for lack of quantity, but for lack of flavor. I found this out because I really craved mustard all the time while on a Pacific Coast bike tour. Mustard in itself is not a very substantial food source, but it adds a ton of flavor. I used to not bother with spices because it seemed like more of a hassle and took up extra weight and space but I definitely have come to appreciate the value of it. And of course when eating paleo, fats are essential as well. Here are some recommendations for creating an oil & spice kit. I'm not saying you should use everything listed here (I definitely don't). If you did assemble everything from this list, your spice kit might take up half your food bag, so pick and choose the flavors that you crave most on the trail.


I like to use the GSI Outdoors salt & pepper shaker to store spices because you can put two spices in one little bottle. The also have a spice rack that looks pretty convenient, and cheaper than buying 3 separate salt and pepper shakers. Or a spice missile. Anything called a "missile" has to be worth it.

If I had to choose the top spices to have in a spice kit, these would be it:

  • Sea salt
  • Pepper (actually I don't really like pepper but I know most people do)
  • Chili powder - make anything taste like chili in a second
  • Curry powder - ditto for curry
  • Garlic powder or garlic salt
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground cumin
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Red chili flakes
  • Cayenne pepper

Additional spices that are nice to have if you really like going fancy on the trail:

  • Dill
  • Paprika - smoked or sweet
  • Ground Coriander
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Herbs de provence
  • Cardamom
  • Ground cloves
  • Ground ginger

Pre-packaged spice blends:

These work well if you want to flavor a dish quickly and easily. Simply Organic makes a bunch of different spice packets, although most of them have stuff like maltodextrin, tapioca starch, and/or silicon dioxide. They are tasty and easy but you could also come up with a similar flavor if you have a good spice kit.


The most convenient thing I've found for oils are Nalgene's travel bottles because they are leak proof. The size you get will depend on how much you want to carry based on the length of your trip and how many people you're feeding.  

Coconut Oil
I carry an 8-oz round, widemouth bottle for coconut oil. The wide mouth allows me to chip it out with my knife because coconut oil is solid below 76 degrees F. The 8-oz size easily lasts me for my 8-day shifts with some leftover, even if I'm cooking for other people. They also make 1-, 2-, 4-, 16-, and 32-oz sizes of the wide-mouth, although since the smaller volume bottles are smaller in general, I don't know if the mouths are big enough to get a knife into. Nalgene doesn't actually sell these on their website, but REI carries them or you can order them on The Container Store website. BPA-free. 

Olive Oil
I use Nalgene bottles for olive oil as well. Olive oil stays liquid at lower temperatures than coconut oil so the wide-mouth bottles aren't as essential, but if you're camping at sub-freezing temperatures it's handy to be able to scoop out the solidified olive gel. It does warm up really fast though, so sometimes I'll stick the bottle in my jacket close to my body while I'm doing other stuff and it liquifies pretty quickly. I currently have a 2-oz bottle I use for the olive oil and it's not nearly enough to last me a week, so I might have to get a bigger one soon.

Butter or Ghee
If you're traveling in butter-melting temperatures, you can either melt the butter or ghee and pour it into a wide-mouthed Nalgene travel bottle like the coconut oil, or use one of those snaplock tupperware containers (the plastic not the glass...unless you want to carry the extra weight). You can get small ones that fit a good amount of butter and won't leak if the butter melts. GSI makes a version that holds half a liter and is 3.8"x1.7"x4.9". Snapware makes one that is a little smaller (.3 L). Both of these are BPA-free. There's also a million other brands, so just go look at the store to find one that works for you. If you're traveling in solid-butter temperatures, just throw a stick in a Ziploc. 

Additional Flavors:

Soy Sauce:
Great for making teriyaki-flavored meals, or added to curries for a little extra flavor. Store in a small leak-proof flip-top bottle, or narrow-mouthed leak-proof bottle.

Hot Sauce:
Tapatío, Cholula's, Valentina's! Store the same as soy sauce. Also included in this category as Tabasco sauce (or "Tabby" as the kids affectionately call it as they argue over it). My favorite is the green Tabby, red is too strong for me. 

Curry Paste:
You can get individual curry paste packets at Asian food markets, or just bring the whole little bottle with you. 

Oh man, I don't go anywhere without mustard! I bring the whole bottle too! I go through about one 9-oz. bottle a week of Annie's Organic Dijon Mustard. If you don't want as much as that, you can always rebottle it in a smaller Nalgene. 

I don't use vinegar much (or ever) on the trail, and hadn't actually thought about it until writing this post. If you're a vinegar fiend though, it might be worth it. I might try it...I do love balsamic. 

Toasted Sesame Oil:
A good addition for Asian-flavored dishes. 

Raw Local Honey:
Good for sweetening tea. In colder temperatures it solidifies, so warm in your jacket. 

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