9 tips for using baking flavors and extracts

By Tom Havran

Liquid flavors and extracts are essential ingredients for successful cooking and baking. For example, the whipped cream topping on your pie or the icing on your sugar cookies wouldn’t go over so well if all you had to flavor them with were great chunks of diced vanilla beans. But how does all of that intense vanilla essence get into the vanilla extract that you do use in your whipped cream?

Extracts have greater flavor than the sum of the plants that are used to make them and flavors are a slightly different ingredient altogether. To use them properly, learn where they come from and how they’re made in our Baking Flavors and Extracts 101. Once you’ve grasped the basics, keep these important tips in mind. Continue reading

6 ideas for a smaller travel footprint

FR WEB Cayenne Room - Sustainable Travel

By Alan Miles

It’s hard to do much traveling without having a negative effect on the environment. After all, moving so many people and so much stuff around on the planet’s surface is a big part of our environmental problems to begin with.

But there are some ways to keep our traveling footprint under control. If we’re working on living more sustainably in our everyday activities, why not make it a part of special activities, like travel, as well?

My wife, Karen, and I aren’t exactly world travelers, but we enjoy the occasional getaway, and we have enough family and friends spread around the country to warrant trips away from home. In the course of our travels, we’ve come up with a few ideas about traveling sustainably — tips that, happily for our limited-budget lifestyle, coincide well with traveling inexpensively.

Embrace public transportation. When we took our five-year-old grandson to Chicago for a birthday present, we took Amtrak to Union Station, and walked to and from a downtown hotel. From there, we walked to the Field Museum to see Sue (the famous T. rex), Buckingham Fountain, Memorial Park and other downtown attractions. When Karen and I went to Washington, D.C., to visit our daughter, we stayed at a hotel right across the street from a Metro station. We got everywhere we wanted to go without contributing to automobile emissions or D.C. traffic congestion. When we visit New York, we stay with Karen’s relatives on Long Island and take the trains into and around the city.


It was no trouble getting five-year-old Trice to ride the train. In fact, the trains became a source of entertainment for him during our trip to Chicago this summer.

When we fly, we always use electronic ticketing for airplane flights, which avoids paper waste as well as being convenient. Enduring layovers is usually unavoidable when flying economically out of rural Iowa, but, if you can, flying direct is more sustainable since airplane emissions are greatest during takeoff and landing. Continue reading

My organic living “Aha!” moment: Learning the benefits of eating well and sustainably

By Liz Hopkins

My organic living “Aha!” moment was when I was hired as the chef at Frontier’s employee cafe.

I didn’t really have a sudden moment of revelation when I fully realized the value of eating organically. Instead, I gradually learned about the benefits of eating well and eating sustainably. I converted over a period of years from a meat-eater to a vegetarian committed to buying organic whenever I can.

But even though there wasn’t a moment of sudden realization in my progression, there was that definite turning point — when I was hired to run the employee café at Frontier. I’d worked in hotel kitchens for many years, but when I started at Frontier Co-op, I found for the first time a sizable group of people who appreciated natural food and preferred to eat organically.


Learning on the job

The new job was definitely a learning experience — natural ingredients replaced the highly processed ones I was used to, and the nutritional value and wholesomeness of the food moved front and center. Efficiency was still important, but it didn’t trump food quality in the Frontier Café.

My outlook — and my skills — changed. I enjoyed the experience of learning to cook with whole grains, dried beans, seasonal produce and the like. It was easy converting familiar recipes to more natural versions, and it was fun to experiment with the almost unlimited seasoning palette of the spices Frontier sells. I felt great about the food I was making at work, and soon I was cooking the same way at home. Continue reading

How to eat consciously with gratitude


By Tom Havran

Feasting. Throughout history, humans have enjoyed transitory moments of bliss induced by the sensual enjoyment of superlative food. The food might be humble and rustic or sophisticated and composed, but when it’s beautiful and delicious, something remarkable occurs. Our eyes, noses, taste buds and minds elevate the base experience of merely eating to rapturous and rare heights of joy where gratitude finds the space to flow in.

This phenomenon creates the mental space necessary for our minds to open to the whole story of the food we’re eating and the path it took to give us such pleasure. Eating good food consciously with a sense of gratitude not only turns mere gratuitous consumption into a grateful repast, it gives us profound insight into ourselves and how our minds work in relation to food.

Hunger and faith

I was raised by a father who is a skilled butcher and a mother who is a skilled cook. They both marshaled their talents to nurture a large family, all of whom participated in the raising, killing, cooking and eating of all kinds of animal and vegetable life. On the farm, I raised pigs, cows and chickens from their births on, growing fond of them in the process. I cared for and even loved these animals, then participated in the horrors of their deaths at slaughter and subsequently savored their flavor at the table. Experiencing the whole process, I learned where food comes from, but more profoundly, I understood that getting it to the table involved a continuum of tenderness and caring through pain and death, to tenderness and caring again during shared meals. How was my mind able to hold this? Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Fenugreek

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning capabilities of fenugreek — and get tips for using it to enhance your next cooking endeavor.

Frontier fenugreek

By Tom Havran

What it tastes like: Fenugreek seed has a raw, nutty, moderately bitter flavor and a pungent aroma. Dry-roasting the seeds in a hot pan helps decrease the bitterness and transforms the raw, nutty flavor into a mellow, maple syrup-like sweetness.

What it looks like: The yellowish-to-tan seeds of fenugreek are small (1/8-inch) irregular rectangles. They are in fact little beans, as fenugreek is a legume. Continue reading

Why we switched to biodegradable packing peanuts

Frontier Co-op customers are smart people, and it’s not uncommon for us to hear questions that start with, “Why do you …?” This first post in our new “Why We” series explains a simple but important topic: Why we use biodegradable packing peanuts in our shipments.

By Alan Miles

We’ve answered a lot of questions from our customers about our packing peanuts — both before and after our switch to biodegradable ones in 2008. The switch itself answered most of the questions we had gotten before, which were basically variations on “How can you keep sending us polystyrene packing peanuts that are a mess to deal with, pollute our planet and take hundreds of years to decompose?”

The answer then was that it was very difficult to find something truly sustainable to do the job of protecting the wide variety of packaging (including glass) that we ship. We tried various biodegradable materials with mixed responses from customers and discouraging shipping costs.


The compact, starch-based pellets we bring in are 1/28 the volume of the biodegradable packing peanuts we puff them into for use in shipments.

Problem solved

We’re as happy as our greenest customers to have finally found the right solution — and to have accomplished one of our major sustainability objectives. We enjoy answering the questions that we’re getting now, which are basically variations on “What’s the deal with the new packing peanuts?”

The peanuts we’ve found not only do a great job of protecting our products and quickly biodegrade — they reduce shipping emissions and save us money, too.

Each pallet of pre-puffed starch pellets (made from corn or potatoes) we bring in produces enough biodegradable peanuts to fill a 53-foot trailer. Here in the Midwest, manufacturers typically haul that truck from Minneapolis, Minn. With our shipping volume, we’d need a full-truck shipment at least once a week. Instead, we bring in four pallets of compact, starch-based pellets twelve times a year to make all the packing peanuts we need on-site.  (We’ve purchased a machine which takes the compact starch pellets and puffs them up into the fluffy peanuts that protect your orders.) We ship in about 1/28 the volume of the puffed peanuts and eliminate the emissions from 40 truck hauls — each burning about 42 gallons of diesel. With a savings of roughly $78,000 in shipping costs per year, our switch to more sustainable packing peanuts paid for itself in less than a year. Continue reading

An inspiring trip to Sri Lanka

Ravin Donald Frontier Co-op

During the trip, I helped plant a coconut tree outside the second Organic Training Center Frontier Co-op has funded in Sri Lanka.

By Ravin Donald, PhD, Frontier Co-op VP of Technical Services

It was a bit of an adventure — a trip to Sri Lanka from Iowa. And, it was certainly a long journey for me as I had taken a detour through India to see my parents before I with met up with Tony Bedard, our CEO, in Sri Lanka earlier this year. This was my first trip to personally visit a Well Earth® supplier. Our Well Earth sustainable sourcing program promotes the sustainable farming practices and production that our customers have come to rely on from us. As head of Quality at Frontier Co-op, I consider the connection to source a very important aspect in driving transparency from farm to table, and improving quality on a continual basis.

Frontier Co-op CEO Tony Bedard (left) reviews the layout of homesteads provided by Sri Lankan government.

Frontier Co-op CEO Tony Bedard (left) reviews the layout of homesteads provided by Sri Lankan government.

Sustainable sourcing in action

Our time on this trip was spent with Dr. Sarath Ranaweera, the founder of Bio Foods in Sri Lanka, a company that provides us with important spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric. Bio Foods is a pivotal partner in Frontier’s commitment to organics and Fair Trade. (Dr. Ranaweera, in fact, was given Fairtrade International’s “Fairest Fair Trader” award this year.) Our trip was focused on two key main areas — visiting Bio Foods facilities and visiting northeastern Sri Lanka, where people are being resettled in farming communities after the country’s civil war. Continue reading

Homemade lip balms, lotion bars and body butters

homemade lip balm, lotion bar, body butter

By Charlynn Avery

I look around myself in the kitchen. Pots, pans, glass measuring cups, a digital scale, essential oils, beeswax and a whole lot of oil take up all of the available counter space. The music flows and the aroma of cocoa butter fills the room as I am immersed in one of my favorite activities — experimenting with new DIY body care recipes.

A simple solution to dry skin

My goal on this particular occasion was to create my own lotion bar to travel with. As a frequent traveler who doesn’t like to check a bag, I have my liquids all under control with the exception of lotion. Prone to dry skin, I have been moisturizing my skin since I was a child, and lotion or a skin care oil is something I cannot live without. Natural oil is my preferred method of moisture these days, but flying with the quantity that I need is a hassle and (can be) messy. A simple solution was introduced to me several years ago by a dear friend. We were traveling for a month out of the country and didn’t want to check bags, so she made lotion bars — whoa! What a perfect solution.

I spent a few years after that purchasing others’ lotion bars, and finally made it a priority to make my own. I found the process to be so easy and, in addition to making body butter and lip balm for several years, I now have a new item to add to my bag of natural skin care tricks. Continue reading

Trade out the take-out: Spaghetti squash pad Thai recipe

spaghetti squash pad thai recipe

By Sara Mallicoat

One recent evening with the kids in tow after a few errands, my husband convinced me to go out for dinner. We chose a place that was fast and, of course, had something my toddler-aged boys would eat. I was the last to order and after realizing my husband got something my boys would enjoy as well, I got a meal I crave, but rarely eat (especially now with a less spicy menu to accommodate the toddlers at home) — spicy pad Thai. It was tasty, but I felt so guilty eating it — I did not want to know how many calories I had just ingested!

I’m always trying to introduce my boys to new cuisines that let the vegetables shine — some go over well, others flop! One night I was inspired to develop this tasty spaghetti squash “pad” Thai recipe while chowing down on another spaghetti squash pasta dish. The squash replaces the rice noodles traditionally used, but we kept the name kid-friendly and called it “Peanut Butter Noodles.” It was a hit!

This meal comes together quickly if the spaghetti squash is already cooked, but if it’s not, I use the roasting time to play with the boys before making dinner!

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai (or Peanut Butter Noodles) Continue reading

5 ways Fair Trade supports communities


Ceylon cinnamon, which is sought after for its lighter, brighter taste, comes from the bark of an evergreen tree that is native to Sri Lanka. Frontier Co-op Ceylon cinnamon is Fair Trade Certified. Here, workers sort sticks for quality.

By Alan Miles

The basic idea of Fair Trade certification isn’t difficult to grasp — guaranteed minimum prices, decent work conditions, and fair wages prevent the exploitation of poor farmers and farm workers. I know that without Fair Trade, farmers often have no other alternative but to take whatever, often small amount is offered for their products while farm workers – some of the most exploited in the supply chain – are often subject to harsh working conditions, discrimination, and other abuses. Fair Trade certification means farmers and farm workers can earn living wages for the crops they grow which in turn helps them support their families. The certification also demands humane work conditions, encourages sustainable farming practices and supports direct trade to eliminate exploitive middlemen.

But for some time, I didn’t really understand the full impact of Frontier Co-op’s support of Fair Trade.  Hearing stories from our purchasers who have visited communities that grow our Fair Trade Certified™ spices, herbs and teas, I learned five areas where Fair Trade premiums impact overall communities: Continue reading