Spices- The cornerstones of cuisines - III

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Posted by Dee

This is the final article of this series and yet I feel there is so much more to write!

Nigella , Ground Nutmeg , Peppercorns and Vanilla bean

Nigella : This is commonly known as nutmeg flower, black cumin, roman coriander and fennel flower. Its a popular spice in Tunisia , Turkey , India, Greece and Egypt.They are known as Kalonji in India and are used as a pickling spice. The flavor is said to be nutty and acrid with a faint flavor of oregano. The seeds are said to benefit digestion and are usually dry roasted to enhance the flavor and aroma. They are commonly added to vegetable curries, pulse dishes and sprinkled over rice pilafs.

Nutmeg: The inner seed of the nutmeg tree lying inside the filigree covering of mace is the nutmeg that is widely used to flavor everything from ice cream to cookies. The flavor is sweeter than that of mace and has a fresh warming after taste. Nutmeg is used in treating the digestive system. The oil of small or damaged nutmeg seeds is extracted and used in the cosmetic industry. Nutmeg is its own best storage container and whole spices will keep 3-4 years. Small quantities can be shredded from the whole when needed.

Paprika: Bright red paprika is made from red bell peppers and has more flavor and less heat that cayenne pepper. Its bitterness depends on how much seed is used. Ideally only the dried fruit should be used to make good paprika. The lighter in color the red peppers used, the hotter the spice. It is a common ingredient in cajun seasoning, and can also be used to add a dash of color while garnishing. Paprika doesn't keep very well. It quickly loses color and flavor and should be bought in small quantities. It is also available smoked.

Pepper: Peppercorns don't have to be black. They are available in several colors and all have a slightly different flavor making them indispensable in the kitchen. The white, green and pink peppercorns all come from the same plant. Berries that are picked unripe and green are allowed to dry in the sun to turn them into black pepper. It has a strong and pungent flavor. Berries that ripen on the vine turn red and are sold as pink pepper pickled in brine or freeze dried. They are more aromatic than pungent. If the ripe berries are picked and soaked to get rid of the outer red husk, the inner skinless peppercorn can be dried and sold as white pepper. They are milder in flavor and less aromatic. Peppers contain an oil that helps stimulate the digestion of meat and high protein foods.

Poppy: Poppy seeds are an invaluable extra proving a nutty topping for various pastries and cakes. They can even be tossed on classic Italian dishes like pastas. The Indian poppy is cream in color, brown in Turkey and Slate Gray in Europe. They have been used for their pain relieving properties in ancient Greece, Egypt, Italy, India and the middle east.

Saffron: At various times, Saffron has been more expensive than gold, and it still is the most expensive spice in the world. It is highly rated in the kitchen, where fortunately a little goes a long long way. It is native to Turkey. You can infuse saffron to make a herbal tea that is taken as a warming soothing drink to clear the head. In India, Saffron threads are broken and infused in a little hot water or milk, the strained liquid is the added to the dish to get the required color and flavor.

Sesame: It is a native of India, Indonesia, Africa and China. It is one of the earliest spices known to have been used for both its seed as well as oil. The seeds have a sweet nutty flavor when lightly dry roasted. The oil is extracted and bottled as a flavoring. Black sesame seed and oil are used widely in Chinese cooking.

Star Anise: One of the most instantly recognizable spices, it is easy to see how Star Anise gets its name. The fruit is shaped like a star and tastes like anise seed though it is unrelated to anise seed. Its essential oil also known as oil of anise seed is used to flavor liqueurs such as pastis in Italy, Germany and France. The seed of star anise can be chewed to sweeten the breath. It is a natural diuretic and appetite stimulant. It can be used whole or ground.

Sumac: Not well known in the west, but Sumac is worth tracking down, to give recipes an extra flash of tangy seasoning. When ground it is deep rusty red in color. Sumac is valued for its high tannin content and its astringent flavor. It gives a fruity sour flavor to a dish in the same way as lemon or vinegar. It is taken as a sour drink to relieve mild stomach complaints.

Szechuan pepper: This is a stimulant that works on the spleen and the stomach. It is very warming and is good for relieving the symptoms of cold and flu. It can be used in the same way as pepper, but is much hotter, aromatic and woody. It should be used in smaller quantities. It is an essential ingredient in five spice powder.

Tamarind: If you like lemon or limes, try tamarind. Slightly sharp, it gives an extra edge to a wide range of meals and refreshing drinks. It is also called as an Indian date. The taste can be described as sweet, sour, aromatic and fruity. You can also purchase the sticky pulp as tamarind paste which is the husk without the seeds. It has a souring action greater than either lemon or lime juice. It is also available in a dried and ground form.

Vanilla: Real vanilla is very expensive and the cheaper imitations have been developed. The imitations are far inferior in flavor. True vanilla has a rich mellow sweet aroma with a flavor to match. Indonesia produces around 80% of the worlds supply of Vanilla.

Wasabi: A spice from the creeping root of a Japanese plant, whose name means "mountain hollyhock", it has a strong pungent aroma and strong acrid cleansing flavor. Wasabi belongs to the same family as horseradish, radishes and mustard, all which contain pungent sulphur glycosides. The fresh root is seldom available outside of Japan. However the wasabi powder or paste is available. It is used as a digestive stimulant. It is used as a condiment to go with raw fish and rice sushi, with pickled ginger and dark soy sauce.

Zedoary: Similar to ginger and often combined with pepper, cinnamon and honey, it is highly rated in the perfume industry for its musky undertones and in the kitchen for its flavor. It is a rhizome and is dried to provide a spice resembling ginger. It has a resinous and slightly pungent flavor reminiscent of rosemary. Where the spice is grown, it is used to flavor condiments as an alternative to ginger or turmeric. It is called as Sonthi in India.

Check out my previous posts here and here

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This Post was written by Dee from Ammalu's Kitchen


Fantastic final write up! This is a treasure for sure. Thank you dear Dee!

Meeta K. Wolff said...
September 2, 2008 at 8:46:00 AM GMT+2  

Awesome. Wow such a informative post.

lubnakarim06 said...
September 2, 2008 at 1:43:00 PM GMT+2  

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