What Did We Do Before There Was Adobo and Packaged ​Sazón​?

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Within this cooking journey, I’ve made a concerted effort to make “Puerto Rican Soul Food.” To take my time in the kitchen and create a down­home, back-to-the-basics, slow cooking pot of something my ancestors would be proud of. Waiting for the bay leaf to spread its flavor, allowing the dry beans to soften, enabling the salt to boil out of the bacalao while savoring the beautiful smells of home cooking that fill the air, connecting some of the most memorable senses of my childhood.

I am grateful for these memories and for working parents with little time but immense love and determination to provide quality food for their families. Especially those who throughout the years have struggled and necessity being the mother of invention, creating something from nothing. Thank you for showing your family your abundance of love through food. Thank you for following these cooking traditions and giving us paths to follow in the kitchen.

I understand there’s little time with the hustle and bustle of life and we want to create short cuts. We may even need to as we have hungry kids who don’t want to wait to eat. Many times those shortcuts are created using an all­-in-­one container or package. The seasonings which are staples in our kitchen, we are now realizing are detrimental to our health. Our primary offenders are Adobo and packaged S​azón. Not ​to mention Maggi and Bouillon cubes which are also universal flavor enhancers, but mostly found in communities of color. On the labels we will find ingredients we can’t pronounce, fake food coloring and artificial flavors. I hope I don’t need to tell you, this is not what I mean by Puerto Rican Soul Food.

The purpose of ​Sazón​ is generally to give flavor and food coloring to our food. It is an artificial replacement of the annatto/achiote seed. Historically, it is said that the achiote seed was used for body paint and lipstick amongst the our ancestors of the Caribbean islands and the Americas, therefore it was given the name ”lipstick tree.” The achiote seed was later used for food coloring and has become a staple of the Puerto Rican kitchen. In addition to its flavoring, achiote also carries health benefits such as carotenoids for eye-sight and is even linked to anti-­aging agents. We are almost certain that this natural food coloring was utilized and given great importance amongst our African ancestors because of its parallels to dengdeng oil used in Afro-­Brazilian cooking, and palm oil of tropical Africa. Below I will give a recipe for achiote oil, which is utilized for beans, soups, stews and rice. The use of ​Sazón​ is redundant especially when using adobo seasoning because the ingredients are repeated and your food can quickly become unhealthy especially since both are heavy in salt.

Seriously! Don’t feed into the pressures of you not being Latina/o enough because you don’t use the orange short-cut package. These products have been impactful, but have not been on the market that long. Packaged ​Sazón​ was created in the 1960’s. Companies, like Goya, continue to grow and the products are reaching other markets. According to the Washington Post, Goya made $1.3 billion dollars in 2012, making it one of the most profitable companies in the U.S. I believe we should demand better. We should demand healthier options.

Goya Sazón​ Natural y Completo has MSG, FD&C Yellow 5 and RED 40, and Tricalcium Phosphate. What a freaking joke!!!! What did we do before these packaged seasonings were created? The answer is, we simply cooked!

Adobo ingredients are: MSG, tricalcium phosphate, salt, garlic, oregano, pepper and turmeric.
Sazón ingredients are: ​Monosodium Glutamate, Salt, Dehydrated Garlic, Cumin, Yellow 5, Tricalcium Phosphate(Anti­Caking Agent), Coriander, Annatto (Color), Red 40​. ​The only 3 ingredients I can make out are salt, garlic powder and onion powder.
So here’s my bright idea. Why not use real fresh onions, real fresh garlic, aceite de achiote, paprika and turmeric for food coloring? Use large grain salt like kosher or himalayan salt to better measure your salt intake. I know that your food will taste better and you will cook healthier.
Enclosed I will share some options for adobo, aceite de achiote, and​ sazón​:

Adobo Recipe Ingredients:
● 2 TBSP salt (I use Kosher salt) or use 1-1 1/2 for lower sodium intake.
● 1 TBSP ground black pepper
● 1 TBSP garlic powder
● 1 TBSP dried oregano
● 1⁄2 TBSP turmeric
● 1⁄2 TBSP cumin (optional)
● 1⁄2 TBSP cayenne pepper (optional)

This will make enough for 1 week if you are cooking daily for a family. If you want to use less salt you can simply use 1 tbsp and not 2 tbsp. This can be stored normally as your other dry ingredients. Seasoning blend shelf life is normally 1 to 2 years. If you go over this time period, you may not become ill, but it will be less potent.

Aceite de Achiote (Achiote oil)
Recipe Ingredients
● 1 cup olive oil
● 2 1/2 tablespoons achiote (annatto) seeds
Prep Time: 1 minutes, Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 11 minutes

1. Heat the oil and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat just until the seeds begin a steady bubble.
2. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let stand for a minute.
3. Strain the oil.
Tip: Do not overheat the oil and seeds. Overheating will turn the seeds black and bitter. The oil will be ruined.
Achiote seeds

Sazón Recipe Ingredients (Note: many ingredients are shared with Adobo. If you decide to include both Adobo and ​Sazón then you will double salt intake)​:
● 1 TBSP salt (I use Kosher salt)
● 1 TBSP ground black pepper
● 1 TBSP garlic powder
● 1 TBSP dried oregano
● 1 TBSP ground coriander
● 1 TBSP ground cumin
● 1 TBSP ground annatto (or grind your own annatto seeds)
Side notes: Cumin, used in ancient Egypt, India and the Middle East. Cumin was even used as an ingredient for Egyptian mummification.

Coriander, also known as cilantro in Spanish. All of the plant is edible. Seeds are dried and used in spices.

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Roberto Pérez

Cooking Philosophy: People have always looked to the colonizers like Spain, Italy, Portugal and France as culinary leaders that we should follow. But we have so much we can draw from as Puerto Ricans. I'd rather look within, look to my family, look to our Taino past, look to our African roots, look to the Caribbean links, and not allow these traditions to fade away. I'd rather cook funche than polenta, caldo santo than paella, guingambo than broccoli, and so on. Unfortunately Chicago has not one Caribbean food blogger and I hope to bring attention to our wonderful culinary experience