What is a spice?
A spice is a dried fruit, seed, vegetable, bark or root used not only to transform the flavour os a dish, but also the colour.
Some plants have both a herb and a spice element – the herb being the leafy green or the green stem, the spice being the flower, seed or root.
Sometimes spices are used to disguise the taste of food or hide other flavours.
I almost feel as if I should be careful what I eat if someone else has made it – with spices masking flavours anything could be in there!
Of course, technically, the point of adding a spice is to enhance a foods natural flavour, not obscure it.
Where do spices come from?
Spices come from all over the world. It is generally believed that many spices come from Asia, particularly India and although this is true for a lot of spices it is not true for all. Take a look at this map to discover for yourself.
I like to have a variety of spices in my kitchen, but grounding spices can mean they lose flavour quickly, so I usually buy fresh as and when I need them.
How much spice should you add?
If you like a lot of flavour then you are most likely going to want to use more than someone who is looking for a light spicy taste. Try out recipes starting with smaller amounts and then adjust the recipe to your taste.
Just remember that whole seeds release flavour more slowly than ground spices so are ideal to add to food which can take time to prepare in order to the let the full flavour out.
List of Spices:
This is the dried, unripe berry of the Pimenta tree, native to the Carribbean. The berries are picked when they are still green and traditionally dried in the sun. Although often mistaken to be it is not a mixture of all spices. It also has a very pungent flavour.
This sap from plant root is dried into a hard resin. It has a pungent, unpleasant aroma, but when added to hot oil the smell all but disappears. It originates from Iran and is usually cultivated in India. It tastes more like leek than a fiery spice and is best used ground for a pleasant taste.
You will either love or hate this distinctive spice. It adds a lovely zest to breads; you can even add it to potatoes or vegetables to bring out its flavour. It is native to Asia, Europe and Northern Africa.
There are two different types of cardamom seed pods; green and black. The green are used a lot in cooking, going well with vegetables, meat, rice and even some desserts. The black seeds have a bold flavour, they are bigger than the green ones and not used as often for desserts. They are however, great for braising, as part of a curry mix and for stews.
These sticks are the dried bark of a tree. They are used a lot in Indian cooking for savoury dishes. In Western cultures cinnamon is very popular for desserts, especially during the festive season.
These dried flower buds are picked when the buds are unopened and then dried in the sun. They are used extensively in Indian cuisine because they have a wonderful strong, warm flavour.
With its complex flavour of not quite sweet and not quite savoury this spice is used as one of the main components of curry mixes. The seeds are crunchy with a nutty flavour and are generally ground when used in food. However, they do lose their flavour quickly once ground, so it is advised that you buy them whole.
Native from the Mediterranean to India which when used in its raw form has a lovely earthy flavour. Yet when roasted a smoky flavour is produced.
This is a flowering plant from the celery family. It is known for their digestive properties, fennel seeds are often dry roasted with sugar to refresh the palette after a meal.
These seeds have a slightly bitter taste, but when the unripe raw seeds are cooked the bitter taste leaves them.
Garlic can be used in many different forms when in the kitchen. They can be slow roasted whole, finely diced or mixed to make a paste. Garlic has been known to aid the heart and strangely ward off fleas, so in the summer you are less likely to get bit!
This is a very popular spice in Indian cooking. It has a peppery taste but is also slightly sweet. Fresh ginger and ground ginger have very different flavours so do be careful when using in the kitchen because you might get more of a ginger kick than you wanted.
This is the red outer layer around a nutmeg kernel. When dried it is used as a spice. It has a similar taste to nutmeg, but is milder. It makes a great nutmeg substitute.
Di you know that there are over 40 different kinds of mustard? The three principal types are black, white (usually yellow in colour) and brown and all three can be used in cooking.
Generally associated with sweet dishes such as puddings, custard and cakes, nutmeg can also be used for other kitchen cuisine, such as sprinkled over vegetables and mixed with cheese and cheese sauces.
Not only does this delicious spice add colour to any recipe, but it also packs a great flavour which can be added to any food, be it meats, vegetables or sauces.
There are so many different uses for pepper, so much so that it is thought to be the most popular spice in terms of usage worldwide. Not only can it be added to stews and soups but it can be used for braising meats or just to add a spicy flavour to a salad dressing.
With its unique aroma and vibrant colour you would be hard pressed to find a substitute for this in your kitchen. It is a spice of great worth in Indian cooking and is added to many sweet dishes and special savoury meals.
This spice has a lovely smell of liquorice and the fantastic fruit grown in the five points of the star, is great for adding to meat dishes. This spice has been used in tea to aid rheumatism and is also thought to promote healthy digestion.
This bright yellow-orange spice has quite a bitter taste and is added to many types of Indian cooking. Originating in India it needs a mixture of hot weather and plentiful rainfall to survive. Strangely it is also thought to have antiseptic properties.
It is one of the most expensive spices due to the cultivating process that can take up to 6 months. 75% of the cultivation of vanilla comes from its native land of Madagascar. Due to the sweetness of its taste it is used in many desserts.
What is great about spices is that mixing them together produces a whole different taste sensation; meaning you can play around with quantities and spices for one specific meal and produce a multitude of flavours. It’s like creating two or more recipes from one dish.
So there we have it. Of course there are many spices and some are traditionally used with specific meals in mind. However, in my kitchen I tend to mix and match for myself and although this has led to some interesting meals which after one bite has had me throwing the recipe in the bin, other experiments will remain on my shelf forever.
I realise that there are a lot of spices I have not included, but this article could have gone on forever. Yet, as always I ask you to comment below about some of the spices that you use, telling my whyGoogle+