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Where I live, supermarkets sell all sorts of "spice mixes" for specific dishes, like "taco mix" or "spaghetti mix". I used to buy these, but then at some point started experimenting myself and stopped buying them.

Occasionally when I'm lazy, I still use these mixes to prepare food. But on reading the packet ingredients, I notice that most of the spice mix seems to be made up of things that I normally never add to my food, but I don't taste much difference for it.

Why are these ingredients added to the mix, and what are the effects on the flavor, taste and/or texture of the dish?

The ingredients include:

  • A considerable amount of salt (at least 5 or 10 times what I would put in myself)
  • Dextrose or other forms of sugar
  • corn- or potatostarch
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Salt:

Added as a preservative and taste maker. And usually indeed lots of it. Very broad and coarsely put, salty is usually perceived as tasty.

Corn / Potato starch:

Added as a thickening agent. They also thicken sauces while keeping them more translucent than regular flour does, although I'm not sure if that's the reason they use those starches over flour, but I think it might.

As GdD mentioned, starch is also added as an anti caking agent: It absorbs moist to prevent lumps from forming.

Dextrose / Sugar:

Not sure, but I would guess mostly for taste, and partly to balance out any acidic ingredients. Again, very broad, and very coarsely put, humans like sweet. Sugar equals tasty.

  • Starch is also added as an anti-caking agent. – GdD Jun 30 '15 at 11:44
  • @GdD: Indeed, I'll update the answer to include it. – Willem van Rumpt Jun 30 '15 at 11:53
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    Starch and dextrose are also added to get the volume of the spice package up to a point where consumers feel they're getting something for their money. Four cubic centimeters of spices in a package the size of a McDonald's ketchup packet will not sell for $1.69 or $2.49, or whatever they're getting for those mixes nowadays. – Wayfaring Stranger Jun 30 '15 at 13:09
  • @WayfaringStranger: LOL :) True probably. I will leave it out of the answer though, as I can't prove it. Maybe it's something for the people over at skeptics ;) – Willem van Rumpt Jun 30 '15 at 13:58

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