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The Spice Page

08 Oct

The strange thing about spices is they all taste terrible by themselves but when mixed in minute quantities with food, out of nowhere they produce new depth, and make dishes more wholesome. I’ve only put in spices that I use regularly and this by no mean a comprehensive list. Hopefully, there’ll be new additions from time to time. This page is only a starting point, so don’t be afriad to experiment with different spices and foods, you’ll discover your own ‘killer combos’.

Spice 500

  1. Cardamon (also cardamom) is a spice from the Indian subcontinent, belonging to the ginger family. Cardamon has a unique bitter smoky flavour and being from India, they are naturally used in a lot of curried dishes, like biryani. In western cuisine, they are typically used to enhance the flavour of meat fillings, especially in savoury pies and pastries. They come either in whole seeds or ground seeds. I recommend using ground cardamom, because no one enjoys biting into a cardamom seed. Did I mention they are bitter? Use only a pinch at a time.
  2. Cinnamon is a tree bark that is dried and sold as sticks or as a powder. As a stick, it is used as a fancy way of flavouring Italian style cappuccino but more often than not, it is used in powder form. The ‘warmness’ of cinnamon makes it partner well with many hot desserts and pastries, especially those which contain cooked fruits like apple pie. Cinnamon is also used in baked savoury dishes, but less frequently.
  3. Cloves are the dried flower buds of a tree found in the former Dutch Indies. Its strong peppery bittersweet flavour makes it perfect for gamey red meat roasts (lamb, venison etc.). Its pointed shape and hardness allows it to be planted directly into the meat before baking. When used for soups, it is often planted into an onion for easy retrieval after it has surrendered its flavour. Cloves are a versatile spice, and they are also used in many hot alcoholic drinks like hot toddy and mulled wine.
  4. Coriander Seed powder, unlike cilantro, only has a mild citrus smell and also a relatively mild taste. This mildness makes it a good all-purpose spice and coriander is used with everything from coffee, to meat seasoning, to soups. It is also used as a base to be mixed with other stronger spices, such as in the case of curry powder. When you wish to add body to your soup or stew without substantially adjusting the taste, you can’t go wrong with coriander seed.
  5. Cumin seeds are usually ground up and used as the active ingredient in curry powder. It is used for specific dishes in a large number of different cultures but it is not used much in traditional western cuisine except for making creamy vegetable soups, especially cream of carrot soup. If your recipe calls for curry powder, you can more often than not simply substitute in cumin.
  6. Fennel Seed has been described as a mild anise, which themselves are described to have the taste of licorice. It is traditionally considered one of the best spices for fish dishes in old world cuisine. Nowadays many modern bouillabaisse recipes have substituted fennel seeds for fennel bulbs. Fennel seeds are also used in Italian sausages and Chinese five spices powder.
  7. Nutmeg is a brown powder ground from the seed of a tree by the same name. It has the appearance of an unrefined brown sugar like muscovado. You’d usually use it if you want to give a spicy kick to a egg dessert,  like custard or sabayon. It is also be used to marinate gamey meat and as an ingredient in hot alcoholic drinks like mulled wine. Mace is made from the outer cover of the nutmeg seed  and can be thought of as a milder form of nutmeg.
  8. Paprika is the bright red powder ground from dried sweet and hot peppers. It is however not as spicy as it looks. It is used most in Eastern European cuisine, in dishes such as Hungarian goulash. Paprika is also used to make chorizo, a type of sausage from the Iberian peninsula. That’s why they are so red. I don’t know why, but I usually use paprika when I am marinating lamb or chicken.
  9. Pepper – what’s there to say? Use it (black) all the time. Also try the japanese pepper powder, called Sansyo.
  10. Saffron is reputedly the most expensive spice in the world. Luckily you only use a little at a time or you end up with a cough mixture taste. Saffron can be bought in powdered form or in threads, which should be then crushed into powder. Saffron is a standard ingredient in French bouillabaisse and Spanish paella and certain yellow risottos.
  11. Shichimi Togarashi, translated as seven spices powder, is a japanese mix of pepper and chilli, with other ingredients such as tangerine zest and sesame seeds. Whenver a recipe calls for pepper or paprika, you can try using this instead to get that extra kick.
  12. Turmeric is a bright yellow spice of the ginger family that actually tastes like, well dried ground up ginger. It is used in many far-eastern dishes where the rice is dyed yellow. Turmeric also gives chutneys their distinctive yellow tinge. There is a misconception that turmeric can be substituted for saffron, but all they share is the ability to make things yellow.
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1 Comment

Posted by on October 8, 2009 in Ingredients

 

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One response to “The Spice Page

  1. Jennifer

    November 4, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    This page was just fabulous! I’ve never read such a nice extensive page on some common spices. It was very enjoyable to read, thank you for writing it.

     

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