Latino cuisine is definitely known for being packed with
Many homecooks, especially in the Latino community, grew up with cabinets full of sazon, adobo and other spices. As more Americans aim to hone their cooking skills at home during COVID-19 lockdowns across the country, getting experimental with seasoning is a must.
In Puerto Rican cookery, also known as Concinando Criollo or Creole cooking, a rich flavor base is everything. This is usually achieved by simmering cooking bases like sofrito or recaito with added spice blends, such as sazon and adobo.
When my mother married my father, whose family hails from Moca and Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, one of the first things she set out to do was master the art of arroz con gandules. Sazon, sofrito, recaito and plenty of fresh garlic were never in short supply in our house. Over the years, my mom started experimenting with her own recipes, like sofrito.
With the help of friends, family and a bit of googling, she came up with her own take on the classic Puerto Rican flavor base. She opted to swap traditional tomatoes for green and red bell peppers, which add robust freshness to every bite.
Store-bought versions of sofrito, sazon and adobo from brands like Goya are common, but loaded with sodium, preservatives and other potentially harmful additives. And spices have even entered the political arena.
Last week’s controversy concerning Goya CEO Bob Unanue saw a mixed response from Latinos around the world. Unanue praised President Donald Trump’s leadership at an event at the White House. Sazon has since gotten some overdue limelight, with fans either praising Goya or seeking out an alternative to the brand.
Sazón is a thing beyond its association with Goya brand, isn't it? #sazon #goya— ChiliCult (@ChiliCult) July 14, 2020
YESSSSSSSSSS #Sazon is where it’s at!!!!#Goya #adobo #latinLife— Mercedes (@FamilyArtLove) July 13, 2020
Eric Rivera, chef-owner at Addo Seattle, ships handcrafted spice blends like sazon nationwide from his kitchen’s pantry in Washington state.
Rivera took to social media after the controversy over Goya went viral, urging homecooks to give his handcrafted spice products a try.
"I've been waiting for this moment my entire life." Rivera tweeted.
A moment like this
If you’re not into getting down and dirty with spices yourself, you’ve got options.
Rivera’s pantry features numerous Latin cooking staples such as sazon (in multiple varieties) adobo and even mojo (a garlic sauce.) Prices on pantry items start at $6.
Rivera, who started off in finance before going to culinary school, grew up watching Puerto Rican cuisine get sidelined in Seattle. This drove him to start building his business in an apartment. Since then, Rivera has built Addo to be a "nimble and to be a multi-concept" restaurant. Addo holds its own, whether it’s fine dining, burgers or Puerto Rican food.
Now, Addo is the only restaurant in Seattle with Boricua flavors on the menu. And perhaps, the only one selling handcrafted spice blends for foodies who love to cook.
I've been waiting for this moment my entire life. I make sazón and I'm not a Trump supporter. If you support Goya you support Trump. We have sazón, spicy sazón, and saffron sazón. We sell in bulk as well as these four ounce tins. https://t.co/q355Ll21YI https://t.co/XNnAYAs64k pic.twitter.com/QQM3T8Isyo— Eric Rivera (@ericriveracooks) July 9, 2020
"I make sazón and I'm not a Trump supporter. If you support Goya you support Trump." Rivera wrote. "We have sazón, spicy sazón, and saffron sazón. We sell in bulk as well as these four ounce tins."
Trump has been known to make inflammatory remarks regarding issues affecting Latinos in the past, specifically targeting undocumented South and Central American refugees and migrants as well as Puerto Rican survivors of Hurricane Maria.
In Puerto Rico, the mythical birthplace of sazon, Trump was filmed throwing rolls of paper towels into a crowd of hurricane survivors.
Rivera says Addo is busier than ever, thanks in part to the restaurant’s Stay-at-Home Pantry service. In addition to his line of Lechoncito Puerto Rican spices and condiments, Rivera offers customers cooking staples such as flour, meat and seafood.
Sazon is definitely Addo’s best seller, Rivera said. Rivera has also made multiple varieties of the blend available so customers could experience everything sazon has to offer.
"I made my own so there can be something different and to show people that there are different points of view to Puerto Rican cuisine." Rivera said.
"Puerto Rican food is rad."
For more information, go to ericriveracooks.com.
Spice up your life
For Spices Inc., flavor comes first. The company, which is headquartered in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, focuses on "achieving maximum flavor" over profits.
Spices Inc. manufactures its own wholesale sazon, for sale on its website SpicesInc.com.
"When creating or modifying blends from existing recipes we always try to make these without MSG, additives, colorings, or anti-caking agents and with either no salt or limited salt." President and CEO Greg Patterson said.
"We’ve always felt that the big companies use these other ingredients to either drive down the cost of the product or to increase the shelf life of the product." He said. "Our philosophy is to get closer to the true essence of the blend and the sazon seasoning is a perfect example."
Patterson said that rather than rely on traditional or online advertising to drive sales, Spices Inc. was determined to let the "individual story" of the spices do the talking.
The company’s sazon page includes the history of the spice blend, as well as a brief history on Puerto Rican cuisine.
When embarking on researching the history of sazon, Patterson turned to the book "Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture and Identity’’ by Cruz Miguel Ortiz Cuadra.
"Mr. Cuadra, who at the time was a senior lecturer at the University of Puerto Rico, was kind enough to share some great insight into the history of sazon that allowed us to tell the story," Patterson said.
Spices Inc. products are available at select stores or direct to consumer at SpicesInc.com.
Time of the sazon
Sazon, or "seasoning salt,’’ is an everyday must in Latino kitchens and has its roots in Puerto Rico. The iconic, orangey-red powder often is used as a flavor booster in rice, meat and fish recipes throughout the world.
Commercial sazon comes in several varieties, including "con azafran" (with saffron) or "sin achiote" (without achiote, or annato) among others. Most commercial brands lump in a hefty load of Monosodium Glutamate, better known as the notorious MSG. Numerous studies have linked MSG to various health issues.
The popular Sazon Goya, a seasoning created by the famous brand now facing political controversy, even adds Red 40 dye to the mix.
Youtuber Ida Dickenson has been teaching viewers how to make their own spice blends free of harsh chemicals for years.
Dickenson’s channel, Sweets and Beyond, features a number of Puerto Rican recipes for savory favorites and delectable sweets. Her recipe for homemade sazon has garnered more than 78,000 views. That video was posted in 2014.
Dickenson, who says she is a "mom who likes to cook,’’ was inspired to post her first video after her husband tried following a Youtube tutorial for cooking white rice, and failed.
"Years ago, my husband tried to follow a video on how to make white rice, and it was a disaster." She said. "He showed me the video, and it was so complicated, so many steps!"
Dickenson felt compelled to film her own cooking videos with "simple instructions and basic ingredients" after watching other Puerto Rican cooking videos that were "so complicated and long."
Her first recipe ever posted to the platform was a recipe for sofrito, a Puerto Rican cooking base used as the foundation for numerous dishes. Since then, she’s amassed 230,000 followers and over 17.5 million views on her videos, which are posted in both English and Spanish.
In the Puerto Rican household, food is home.
"It's very important for me to keep our Puerto Rican cooking traditions alive." Dickenson said.
According to Dickenson, Puerto Ricans can connect to their roots through the dishes.
"I love the fact that I can connect viewers to childhood memories, memories of a passed love one. I even get emotional when I prepare a dish that my grandma used to make,’’ she said.
Classic Sazon (seasoning salt)
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro flakes
1 Tablespoon of ground achiote (annatto)
Lay out spices on a piece of wax paper. Pulse in a food processor for 60-90 seconds. Makes about 7 Tablespoons. Store in an empty spice container or jar.
— Ida Dickenson/Sweets and Beyond
Adobo spice blend
1 peppercorn (whole black pepper) or just a pinch of ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon vinegar or fresh lime juice
Crush and mix the peppercorn, oregano and garlic together with a mortar and pestle. Add in the salt, oil and liquid ingredients. Add more of any ingredient to suit your taste. Use homemade adobo to liven up any meat as a seasoning rub.
—From Puerto Rican Cookery by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli
Sofrito is a premade cooking base typically used in Puerto Rican cooking. Use to flavor classic rice and beans, or get creative and experiment! It can be made ahead of time and in bulk for ease in cooking. It can be tweaked to your tastes and typically evolves over time with each batch.
The following recipe is an amalgamation of shared family recipes over the years.
2 bags of onions (3 lbs. each)
1 small can tomato paste or 6 tomatoes, chopped
– or –
6 green or red bell peppers
5 heads of garlic
1 or 2 bunches of fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Add hot or sweet peppers or hot pepper flakes for a sweet or spicy boost.
Peel the garlic and onions. Chop and add to a food processor or blender. Chop tomatoes or bell peppers and add to a processor or blender. The original family recipe uses bell peppers instead of the traditional tomatoes. Break apart heads of cilantro bunches. Add spices to taste. Blend together until desired consistency. Use fresh for cooking and freeze the rest in reusable container(s). Tip: Store in an ice cube tray for easy access.
— Fontones family recipe
Ashley Catherine Fontones is Managing Editor at the Pocono Record and a foodie at heart. Reach her at email@example.com. The Pocono Record is part of the USA TODAY network.