Live Blog: Spices4Health Offsite Experience with McCormick

Fitbloggin sponsor McCormick brought two chartered busloads of Fitbloggin attendees to their headquarters in Hunt Valley, Md., for a half-day experience to learn about the benefits of spices for healthy everyday cooking from the experts and sample tasty dishes developed by members of the McCormick Kitchens. This also marked the launch of McCormick’s presence on Twitter, using the handle Spices4Health and hashtag #GenFresh.


On arrival, the bloggers are greeted by McCormick corporate staff and ushered into the McCormick cafeteria, where bloggers are served  four choices of salads and sides (including Squash Ribbon Salad with Greek or Red Curry Vinaigrette and Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower and Tomatoes) and two entrees, Roasted Citrus Chicken with Ginger Orange Relish and Pan Seared Citrus Herb Tilapia with Fennel and Toasted Farro Risotto. Each dish features multiple McCormick spices.

Beverages offered emphasize flavorful spices and herbs and include Honey Ginger Iced Tea, Citrus Infused Water, and Dill, Mint, and Cucumber Infused Water.


With lunch, the bloggers are served a presentation on topics ranging from the science behind the health benefits of spices and herbs, to the key components of McCormick’s R&D and Product Development goals.

The presentation is introduced by Laurie Harrsen, Director, Consumer Communications and PR for McCormick. Laurie explains that the Fitbloggin group will be divided into smaller groups and will rotate throughout the McCormick headquarters, engaging in sensory and culinary experiences.

Laurie turns the presentation over to Chef Kevan and Chef Mark, who explain the lunch menu in more detail. Certain ingredients were selected for their seasonality and ability to be enhanced by the spices and herbs. The two entree dishes will be demoed by both chefs for the bloggers. Chef Kevan says that they aim to create dishes that are both creative and tasty.

Dr. Hamed Faridi, Chief Science Officer at McCormick, speaks about the”future of flavor,” and describes the work of over 400 McCormick innovators developing products on-trend with the public’s growing interest in health and wellness. Focuses of the development team include the “rising demand for flavor” and the naturalness and goodness of spices and herbs and the noticeable benefits of them.

The McCormick Science Institute aims to advance consumer knowledge of the health benefits of spices & herbs, pinpointing certain properties as particular components of “Spices for Health”:

  • antioxidant properties
  • anti-inflammatory properties
  • cardiovascular health
  • weight management
  • diet quality

Dr. Wendy Bazilian, a dietitian and McCormick spokeswoman, discusses personal aspects of the modern world’s food choices, changes in approaches to health and wellness, and new dietary and culinary preferences of consumers.

Current food choices for consumers can be overwhelming, but there is new and growing interest in  “stripped-down” food (whole foods), heavily spiced ethnic cuisine, and “extreme DIY” (cooking from scratch), all of which can help to reverse the trend of increasing obesity percentages in the U.S.

There is a push from”medicalized eating” (eating to suit a medical condition) to a quality food experience and a balanced approach that includes fresh and authentic foods.

63% of adults want to know what TO eat, rather than what NOT to eat.

Dr. Bazilian emphasizes key points of reducing sugars and  lowering sodium (especially added sodium in the form of processed foods).

Sodium percentages are the #1 item consumers look at on a nutrition label.

Especially among Millennials, there is a drive to return to cooking at home, exploring flavor in meals and entering a “Generation Fresh,” where “good flavor can support great health.”

Teri Mascuch, Vice President of Product Development for McCormick, says that, among children, studies show that if you increase the flavor of veggies, you increase veggie consumption. Spice and herb infused dips and sauces (especially ranch and pizza themed) make veggies “flavorful and fun.”

80% of adults fall short on daily recommendations for fruits and veggies, but 80% take some action to reduce dietary sodium.

38% of people use herbs, spices, and salt alternatives for flavor, which McCormick supports with its products.

Dr. Wendy says, “Taste is still the #1 factor in influencing food purchases,” but increasing globalization has raised awareness and demand for authentic, flavorful, and healthful food. There is consumer desire for bolder flavors, especially among younger people.

Generation Fresh, or GenFresh, is about exploring flavor, being healthier, and having fun together. Dialing up flavor while dialing down sugar, salt, and fat.

Use ginger on fruit salad and cinnamon in smoothies as creative ways to increase the flavor and health profile of your favorite foods and snacks.

Sensory Test #1: Interplay of Taste, Smell, and Color

Bloggers are divided into smaller groups and one begins with a sensory test. The background of taste physiology and taste theory is given before the test begins.

Taste Exercises range from determining the saltiness of two different potato chips to identifying the flavor and differences between three numbered, but unnamed, cups of liquid.

It is explained that a finer grind of salt can give a stronger taste, which means that a home cook or product can use a smaller amount of salt with a bigger flavor impact.

All of the 3 mystery cups of liquid are strawberry flavor, which no one guessed. Only one is colored, with a slight purple tint. Some bloggers guessed a grape flavor, but it is explained that color can easily deceive our sense of taste.

Bloggers hold their nose to chew cinnamon gum to demonstrate the impact that the sense of smell has on taste. 80% of what we taste is actually due to its smell. It takes 5-20 seconds before we can taste a new flavor.

Sensory Test #2: Enhancing the Flavor Experience

Silvia King leads the bloggers on a consumer science experiment, using a computer generated survey. The tasting experience takes place in McCormick’s industrial kitchen. At each blogger’s station is a tray with two types of cinnamon applesauce. Bloggers evaluate and answer survey questions about the flavor profile of each one.

Silvia explains that, though both are cinnamon applesauce, each one contains a different type of cinnamon. One is McCormick’s Saigon Cinnamon, and the other is its “red cap” ground cinnamon, from Indonesia. Each one highlights a different aspect of flavor: one is more “fruity,” and one is more “earthy.” Silvia passes around perfumers papers containing the flavors/scents to demonstrate their differences.

Bloggers also choose adjectives to describe their feelings when eating a cinnamon-containing food. The most popular survey answers to these types of questions, among the general public, are that cinnamon encourages feelings of comfort and calm.

Dessert Break

The bloggers are led back into the McCormick cafeteria for a dessert break. Mini desserts in shot-glass sizes include Mini Coconut Mousses, each with a different bottom layer: one is fudge brownie, one is strawberry shortcake, and one is called tropical colada. All of the desserts contain McCormick’s Ground Cinnamon.

McCormick also provides dessert beverages: Hazelnut Coffee, with McCormick’s Imitation Hazelnut Extract and McCormick teas.

Culinary Experience #1: Layering Flavors

Chef Len and Dietitian Annette demo the Roasted Citrus Chicken entree from lunchtime in the McCormick kitchen. Chef Len talks through the process of marinading the chicken, grilling it, and topping it with a fruit-based relish. He also emphasizes the easy way to boost flavor and nutrition, while managing calories, by using  baked tortilla chips, crackers, or high fiber cereal as a coating for the chicken.

Chef Len describes how McCormick’s recipes are home cook friendly, take 30 minutes or less to prepare, and use ingredients readily available in the average grocery store.

Culinary Experience #2 : Cooking with Veggies

Chef Mark and Dr. Wendy demo ways to use fruits and veggies in unusual, yet simple ways.

Chef Mark prepares a pomegranate vinaigrette and Dr. Wendy describes a “spa vinaigrette,” or a vinaigrette with a decreased ratio of oil to juice or vinegar.

They also suggest diluting salad dressings with water to reduce calories and fat or diluting with juice to accomplish the same but boost flavor.

Roasted veggies of all types are displayed and the simple cooking process is explained. Roasted zucchini, mushrooms, and tomatoes can replace a tomato sauce in a pasta dish for increased nutrition and reduced salt and sugar intake.

Veggies can be sweet too: roasted butternut squash with cinnamon smells like a plate of cinnamon-sugar cookies, according to Chef Mark.

Chef Mark and Dr. Wendy explain how the olive oil used in roasting enhances the ability for the body to absorb the vitamins contained in all the veggies. Dr. Wendy recommends the bloggers to “cook once, eat twice,” or use one prepared veggie two ways. You could eat the roasted veggies, then make the tomato sauce replacement for your pasta. Chef Mark suggests using roasted carrots in a simple soup.

Juicing is also mentioned– you can use carrot juice to marinade fish or chicken, and also use it in a vinaigrette.

Culinary Experience #3: Restaurant-Inspired Dishes at Home

This culinary experience demos the fish and farro risotto dish from lunchtime, this time using halibut rather than tilapia, Chef explains that this is not a dish you make spur of the moment for dinner one night–it’s a nice, special occasion dish. He toasts the dry farro in a pan to give it a nutty flavor. It’s cooked al dente and strained. He reserves the stock to use in the sauce in later preparation of the dish. The starch in the stock thickens as it cools and adds to the texture of the sauce.

Herbs and spices again act as salt reducers/replacers and flavor enhancers, with this dish containing McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Salt Free Garlic Pepper and Perfect Pinch Fiesta Citrus products.

Flavor is again proclaimed to be king–it allows you to bring flavors to your plate in a healthful way.

The Spices4Health half-day experience ends at McCormick headquarters and the bloggers are driven back to the Fitbloggin hotel, the Hyatt Regency Baltimore.

This session was captured by Lindsey of Goldilocks and the 3 Bodies.