So, here I am, several weeks into my experiment of saving virtual water by adopting a near-vegetarian diet.  I’ve tried all sorts of new recipes: a really tasty roasted cauliflower soup, a hearty vegetable-fried rice, and a surprisingly complex chickpea salad.  What do all of these recipes have in common, besides their lack of meat and other high-virtual-water content ingredients?  Their success lies all in the spices. I love cooking.  My spice cupboard has seen plenty of action in the past, but now that I’m trying to be more mindful of the amount of virtual water I’m using, I was forced to ask myself, are the spices that flavor my dishes as conservation-friendly as the ingredients?  After all, the difference between fried rice and plain white rice, or agio & olio and plain pasta, or French toast and regular toast, mostly lies in the spices that flavor the dish.  Dinner would be pretty bland without spices, but is my love of cumin, garlic, basil, and those other tasty powders undermining my conservation efforts?

So, I did a bit of research, and here’s what I found.  The good news is that most spices are made of plants.  Cumin, mustard, garlic, basil, and oregano are all made from parts of plants, as are many, many more spices.  The bad news is that most of these spices are grown in other continents, meaning a lot of virtual water must be used for the transportation of these spices (remember my last post, about gasoline?)

On the upside, you can grow a spice garden.  Basil, garlic, oregano, cilantro (which also is used to make coriander), and plenty of other spice plants do very well in window boxes or small corners of your garden.  Sure, growing your own plants is labor-intensive, particularly when you add in the work for drying the spices.  On the other hand, plenty of these spices, like basil, do very well fresh from the plant, and when you grow your own plants, you can control all of your watering: even using some of those grey water techniques I mentioned earlier.  You could literally grow some spices without using any more water than you would if you didn’t have spices at all.

I like my dishes infused with some Indian, east-Asian, and Mexican-inspired flavors.  While I don’t have a yard, and as such, don’t have a garden where I can grow extensively, I’m happy to do my part however I can.  Maybe I’ll throw some garden-fresh basil leaves into my pasta, or toss some cilantro into my veggie quesadillas.  At least I can incorporate spices relatively guilt-free.