SUMMIT, NJ — Born into a long line of Syrian Christian spice merchants, one Summit woman is transforming the way average Americans eat, cook and think about food.
May Fridel is the founder of Passion for Spices, a company that sells and educates people on cooking with organic spices. She is also the author of “Indian Cuisine Diabetes Cookbook,” which brings the health benefits of basic and exotic subcontinent spices to the kitchen.
Through classes, showcases and partnering with medical agencies such as Atlantic Health System, Passion for Spices makes healthy living accessible to busy people.
Fridel was born in the Indian state of Kerala and moved to America to pursue her career. Before coming to the United States, she studied mathematics and computer science and ultimately earned a master’s degree in both fields and was later hired as an executive in the financial industry.
While Fridel was promoted to a high-ranking position within her company, her hours were long, and she found herself unable to prepare home-cooked meals. This impacted her son, who at the time, was suffering from immune system deficiencies and allergies, she said.
“I became caught up in the American way and was buying processed food. But my son made me stop and think, and go back to my roots,” she said. “Growing up in India, my family home cooked and prepared everything. All the food was healthy and fresh, and they cooked with spices and herbs.
“I never had to think about taking antibiotics, and every day my son was taking them,” Fridel recalled. “I knew something was wrong, so I stopped and quit my job.”
Introducing healthy cooking to her son has allowed him to live an active lifestyle without relying on antibiotics and medication, Fridel told LocalSource. It was her son’s improved health that sparked a new career path that promotes the spices of cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, mint, ginger and tumeric, and teaches people simple ways to implement the seasonings in their everyday meals.
The herbs, grown in her backyard garden, are sold wholesale on her website, PassionforSpices.com.
“They are not only flavorful, but are good for you,” she said. “Many of these spices have anti- inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds that prevent illness.”
In addition to educating people about what to do with spices, the company hosts a monthly cooking class at the Calvary Episcopal Church in Summit, where attendees prepare a three-course meal with the guidance of a professional chef.
“The mission is very simple. It is to use moderation with sugar, fat, oil and replace those ingredients with more flavor. We also teach steaming and grilling techniques,” she said.
For people that work full time and are too busy to cook homemade meals, Fridel suggests they spend a little extra money to buy fresh meat and seafood.
She also recommends that people buy kitchen gadgets, such as a slow cooker or an Instant Pot, a combination pressure cooker and slow cooker, to simplify meal preparation.
“Instead of going out to eat, invest in those items,” she said.