The Power of Spice. A Foodies Guide.
If you were to pop into your local supermarket today, finding cinnamon would be an easy task but for foodies there is a power in using the right spices. Cinnamon was one of the first spices to be used in global trade as a hot commodity 50 years ago. Spices were bitcoin of yesteryear the spice trade sometimes tipped world power.
Trading in spices can goes back thousands of years. Many European countries were the first to start distributing spices all over the world. At first, exotic spices were only available to the elite class of people. Today, you can walk into a traditional store and purchase any spice at an affordable price. Spices are from the bud in fruits and seeds of a plant. Herbs, on the other hand, are the leafy parts of the plant. When I think back to my earlier years, salt and pepper were fundamental in what I ate. Today, we are all familiar with turmeric, nutmeg, and paprika, to name a few.
There are hundreds of spices around the world, but we seem to only use a few regularly. I have been experimenting with some untraditional spices, just to see what we are missing out on. Every spice has a unique flavor and tone to it. Also, depending on how you use a particular spice, can result in a different taste. Let’s take the Jeera seeds for example. If you toast it before use, it brings out a real smokiness to it. When I use a spice I am unfamiliar with, I would usually find out about different methods to incorporate it into my dishes. This can range from toasting it, frying in a little oil to bring out the flavor or grinding it into a powder. I thought we should explore some exotic spices together.
Here are some of my favorite ones from around the world.
The more interesting a spice is, the more tempted I am to use it. Sumac is mostly used in Middle Eastern cuisine, but its popularity within the rest of the world has is steadily increasing. Sumac berries are native to the Middle East and produce a red powdered spice. If you are looking to add some tartness to a dish, you found your spice. Europeans used this spice for many years until lemons were brought over by the Romans. You can also sprinkle it on hummus, salads, and soups. This spice is an important ingredient on what we know as the fattoush salad.
2. Grains of Paradise
Nothing can ever replace peppercorns, but this one might be a strong contender. Grains of Paradise are shiny little seeds with pepper, butter and coriander undertones. This spice comes all the way from West Africa and is a great addition in fermented foods.
You can use this spice in your roasted vegetables, fish dishes and on salads. It is one of the most diverse spice out there. Some people use this spice overbaked dessert pies as well. Think about apple pie and peach cobbler. It does not take away from the flavors too much, but rather enhance it even more.
Once very popular because of it flavor the use of mace has declined over time. Nutmeg and mace come from the same fruit. This spice is really part of the fruit that gives us nutmeg dried into a spice.
If you combined the tones of coriander, nutmeg, citrus and a sprinkle of cinnamon, you have Mace. I would suggest staying away from the powdered versions as it just tastes like a milder nutmeg. You want to go for the whole blade spice and then just grind it yourself. Using mace is famous for using in fruity deserts as it enriches the aromas found in such dishes.
Timur is considered a peppercorn, but the flavors are completely different from black peppercorns. This spice has more of a grapefruit or citrus tone to it. You can easily incorporate this into your salty and sweet dishes. From fish to chocolate desserts Timur can be used to enhance the flavors.
Also known as Sichuan spice, this is a popular choice in Chinese cuisine. Timur is indigenous to Nepal. It is an important ingredient in some of the Nepali curry spice you find there. In its natural form, this spice is very popular with fish dishes. It has to do with the citrus tones produced when heated.
The St. Lucy’s cherry has a seed inside, as most cherries do. This particular cherry seed has huge amounts of flavor. The Mediterranean locals then decided to use this seed as a spice. It’s genius, to say the least. Mahlab tastes like cherries, flowers, and almonds. When you cook this spice, the entire flavor tone changes to something more fruity, yet subtle. Use this spice in a savory dishes for a bit of unami. This includes anything from pastries to bread. Use one teaspoon per cup of flowers the next time you make your secret cookie recipe.
Spices can change an entire dish from ordinary to exquisite. When you read anything about culinary and medicine, dating back to the first written work, spices are an integral part. China, Egypt, and India were the first to produce written evidence of spices. Traditionally, we use spices to enhance dishes, but each one also comes packed with health benefits. Could you imagine a world without spices? If there any exotic and interesting spices you discovered, I’d love to hear about it.
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