Spice up your life!

Before I begin let me tell you now, this is going to be a long one, but, it is a really good one! I’ve learned that understanding food, really makes you a better cook. Nowadays, it seems we all want to cook to be good cooks, isn’t that why you’re reading an article on food blog instead of watching that episode of the new netflix series? The trend of cooking more at home and cooking healthier has really taken the world by storm and rightfully so. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself! In an attempt to help you understand food a little more, I am about to educate you on something that makes food, food! Without these food would be bland, boring, and simply tastless!

You guessed it… Spices!! These are very key elements in any dish, sweet or savoury. Food is enhanced by spices. They make eating a whole enjoyable experience rather than just a deterant of starvation. So are you ready to learn a thing or too?

First, a little background

Spices have been around for years. Many years ago, spices had to be imported in from the far east on ships among other exotic things. The simple possession of spices meant you had great wealth to be able to afford such a precious and limited comodity. Nowadays, we only have to make a trip to our local grocery store, arrive at the spice aisle, grab a small bottle or bottles from the shelf and put them in our trolleys…. how boring! To make matters worse we choose the same ones everytime! What about all those other spices on the shelves, the ones you’ve never tried before? Is it that we’re naturally afraid of the unknown, even if it’s something as basic as spices?

Don’t get me wrong, salt, pepper and garlic are great but if we use them for everything, our food can ultimately end up having a similar taste. Have you ever asked yourself why we enjoy eating out so much? 9 times out of 10 the food tastes great right? It’s all because of seasoning!! It’s what makes chicken in a curry taste different from roasted or fried chicken. This gives us options and variety. Can I be cheesy and say variety is the spice of life? As cliche as it sounds, you know it’s true!

Let’s play a little game!

By the end of this blog post you should choose at least one spices listed below to try out this week! Comment down below the one you are going to try out and see how it makes a difference in your life, whether good or bad. Let’s rememeber, one of the best parts of cooking is experimenting!

Anyway, lets get to the most important part of this post… THE SPICES!

The different ways in which whole spices can be prepared before cooking!

Grind them (crushing to release flavour):

  • Only grind small amounts at a time
  • Don’t grind more than 2 days in advance

Grate them:

  • Fresh root spices e.g ginger or spices like nutmeg can be grated.

Infuse them (infusing in warm liuids to release flavours):

  • This works well for saffron and tamarind
  • You sieve the liquid and discard the pulp to keep and use the beautifully flavoured liquid

Frying in oil

  • This can be done before adding other ingredients e.g frying whole mustard seeds for a curry bfore you add everything else.
  • The toasting of the spices in this way creates a great base for many dishes.
  • You can even sieve the oil afterwards, discard the spices and keep your flavoured oil for later use!

Storing spices

Fresh Spices

  • Keep them wrapped in kitchen paper, chilled in the salad drawer of your fridge.
  • You can pound them into pastes too and freeze for up to 6 months.

Dried Spices

  • Ground and whole- should be stored in airtight containers for up to 6 months

Pastes and purees

  • Bottled or tubed pastes and purees are to be consumed within 6 weeks of opening.
  • These can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge, always check the labelling.

Get to know some spices

Common Spices

Common everyday spices for us here in the western world can be seen in the table below:

SpiceCulinary Uses
Allspice/ Mixed SpiceDiffers from country to country, but generally it is a combination of cinnmon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves in similar proportions. Used in sweet cookery e.e carrot cakes, christmas puddings etc. to give a warm, cosy spice feel to the product.
ChilliAdd heat and flavour to mostly savoury dishes/goods e.g red meat dishes, poultry dishes, curries, chilli con carne, potato dishes, pasta dishes, crisps, crackers etc.
Sometimes chilli may be added to sweet goods e.g chocolate.
CinnamonWarm flavour to baked goods, breakfast meals and chocolate e.g breads, cakes, frostings, cinnamon buns, oatmeal, waffles and pancakes etc.
Curry Leaves & Curry PowderUsed mostly for currys. These two are actually not the same.
Curry powder is a mix of coriander, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne.
Curry leaves are a herb grown on the curry leaf tree.
When used the powdered form you can add it and stir it straight into your dish.
When using curry leaves you can fry them in oil and remove them after the have released the flavour and use the oil elsewhere. Similarly you can make a bouquet and allow if to flavour our curry them remove the bouquet after some time.
GarlicUsed in a variety of dishes: Italian, oriental and asian cuisine just to name a few. Fresh garlic is best to use, it delivers the best authentic flavour!
Garlic is best prepared by chopping it finely and mincing with a knife. Using a garlic crusher may be fast and convienient, but generally a lot of juice and pulp get let behind in the crusher which is a shame because the juice contains most of the flavour.
GingerPopular in western baking and vegetarian/ vegan cooking but Asian cuisine wouldn’t be the same without it.
It can be added to a variety of savoury dishes, why not try it in ramen bowls, congee, chicken wings, kebabs, salmon, curries and stir-fries.
PaprikaPaprika doesn’t add much flavour on its own, however, it does add great colour! If you want a paprika that adds more flavour to your savoury dishes, try smoked paprika or Spanish paprika (it is dried slowly over a wooden fire giving it a unique warm and woody taste).
Use paprika for most meat, poultry, fish dishes, soups goulash and anything else you like!
PepperProbably the most common spice, you can use pepper in just about anything savoury.
Black pepper is the berry of the pepper plant, and white pepper is the seed. After sun-drying, black pepper retains it’s heat, but white pepper becomes milder.
Use black pepper in dishes that need a lift in heat and flavour.
Use white pepper for lighter, dishes to add a mild heat.
TumericUsed mostly to cook indian food and to colour food aswell. It has strong flavour that goes well with a select number of dishes e.g curries and rice dishes. Tumeric has a number of health benefits and is worth using wherever you can.
VanillaOne of everyones favourites! Used in sweet cookery: pastries, cakes, pies, puddings, icecreams and chocolates.
Vanilla pods are expensive but provide the best vanilla flavour you can get.
Vanilla pod alternatives you can get are:
Vanilla bean paste-A rich, thick paste that contains a blend of vanilla pod seeds and vanilla extract, you still get the classic, rich vanilla flavor that the pod offers and it’s cheaper.
Vanilla extract- Vanilla beans steeped in alcohol and water. Look for ‘pure’ on the label, the imitation kinds have a bitter aftertaste.
Vanilla essence- Generally chemically created flavouring to replicate the vanilla flavor. It is the cheapest in price, but the poorest in flavour profile.

Exotic Spices

These may be common to people in other parts of the world, but here in the UK where I am, and most certainly in other western counries, these are the more interesting spices we see in the supermarkets but don’t know how to even go about using! Most of these spices are available ground, however, I have displayed them whole so you can see how the look before processing.

Ajowan

  • Used mostly in savoury indian cuisine.
  • It is aromatic and has a slightly bitter and pungent taste, like thyme, but stronger. Too much of an amount will over power the flavor of a dish, so becareful when using it.

Bay Leaves

  • Used in sauces, meat and fish dishes. Great addition to spicy rice dishes e.g jollof or paella.

Cardamom

  • Remove seeds from pods before using.
  • Good with curries, vegetables, fruit pies and meat dishes
  • Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intense fragrance. Black cardamoms has a more smoky flavour than green.

Cloves

  • Mostly used for baked goods. Generally in combination with other warm spices like cinnamon or ginger to add a cosy spice feel to baked products e.g cakes or apple tarts/ pies/ crumbles.
  • They can also be used for marinated fish and meat dishes.

Coriander

  • For Asian inspired dishes. Works very well with lime juice in many Asian recipes e.g noodle dishes, curry and korma dishes.
  • Widely available fresh and ground.

Cumin

  • This is what makes, any middle eastern or latin amerian dish.
  • You will always find it in curries too. it’s a great one to have!

Dill

  • Try this one out fresh to make great soups, salad dressings and fish dishes!

Kaffir Lime Leaves

  • If you ever thought your home made thai green curry was missing something, it’s these! A tgc cannot be a tgc without these leaves, next time you make one, remember them!

Nutmeg

  • It’s best to buy whole and grate as needed!
  • It’s used to flavour soups, vegetables, breads and cakes.
  • An authentic bolognese sauce is not complete without grated nutmeg!

Mace

  • Can be used to flavour, soups, curry mixtures, pickles and sausages.
  • It’s used as a flavouring for corned beef too.

Saffron

  • A costly one, but great for paella, bouillabaisse, risottos and saffron cakes.
  • Be sure to keep this one refridgerated

Star Anise

  • Use in Asian dished, such as stir-fries and biryani rice.

I hope you learned something new there, this is ona handful of the many spices available in the world. If there are some you would like me to cover leave a comment!

Disclaimer: *Some of these images are not mine, they have been obtained from other sources*

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