One may be wondering….
What is all the spice about?
Well, the FDA (Food and Drug Agency) defines spice as “aromatic vegetable substances, in the whole, broken, or ground form, whose significant function in food is seasoning rather than nutrition”. In other words make eating pleasurable, exciting to the organoleptic senses.
Why do we need to spice up our food?
The old saying, “Variety is the spice of life” is equally applicable to your diet. Life certainly becomes more interesting when there is variety in your meals, with foods that carry the delicate flavors and aromas of different herbs and spices.
Any cook will tell you that the secret to great food is great flavor, which usually results from using spices in correct portions and combinations. Below are commonly used spices available around the world.
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Many healing powers have been attributed to garlic. It is popular in Chinese dishes and it’s used quite lavishly in Mediterranean dishes. Much of its popularity can be attributed to the ease and availability of the prepared garlics, including powders, salts and oil.
Garlic has a pungent, aromatic, and mild to biting taste when raw. The flavor mellows when it’s cooked. Use garlic in tomato dishes, breads, soups, dips, sauces, and marinades, or with meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables.
It is the most popular spice in Asian cookery, it’s hot, spicy and pungent. Its affinity for fruit dishes inspires European baked goods, while Asian cookery takes advantage of its ability to enhance a wide variety of meat, fish and vegetable dishes through stir-frying. For quick-cooking dishes, use powdered ginger to release flavor quickly.
Try ginger in marinades of citrus fruit (lemon, lime or orange), garlic, soy sauce and onion for use in meat and poultry. Ginger is one of the best known of all spices, and is now grown all over the tropics, yes Nigeria too. Ginger is available in both fresh and dried forms. The dried is more spicy and intense in flavoring, and the fresh is more subtle. Ginger is used in numerous foods including beverages, biscuits, cakes, fish, sauces, and spice mixtures. It is used mostly in sweet preparations in European and North American cooking, but the Orient uses it extensively for chutney, fish, meat, and pickles.
Key nutrients: iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, manganese, vitamins B6 and E, and dietary fiber. The ginger root also contains vitamin C and traces of copper.
A spice typically found in curry powder. The spice is derived from the rhizome of the plant. Has been used as a spice for nearly 4,000 years and also has a long history of use in traditional medicine. Curcumin is the main phytochemical found in turmeric. It is most often used in small amounts to add a saffron-like color to foods.
It is one of the primary ingredients in curry powder and prepared mustard. Turmeric flavors African dishes such as a peppery beef in sauce, and also Nigerian dishes such as the savory catfish peppery soup or stew.
Mustard, a member of the cabbage family, is grown for its leaves, which are used in salads and consumed as greens, and its pungent seeds. Mustard seeds when dry are odorless and flavorless. When it is mixed with water, a chemical reaction produces an essential oil that accounts for the hot taste of mustard. This essential oil is easily destroyed during cooking, so it is best to add mustard at the last minute. Whole mustard seeds are used as flavoring during pickling and to add pungency to many foods, including pickles, meats, and salads.
Powdered dry mustard produces a sharp, hot flavor when it is moistened. Make sure to use the resulting paste immediately. This is used for roast beef, mustard pickles, sauces, and gravies. Prepared mustard is a mixture of powdered mustard with salt, spices, and lemon juice, with wine or vinegar to preserve the mustard’s pungency.
Mustard leaves are harvested while tender and eaten as greens. Mustard greens are an excellent source of vitamins A, B, and C. Key nutrients (powdered mustard): calcium, iron, magnesium phosphorus, manganese, and significant amounts of selenium, and dietary fiber.
It’s with its warm flavor, is the perfect addition to cakes, custards etc. It also enhances vegetables, especially spinach, and gives pasta stuffing a subtle richness. Nutmeg blends well with most spices like cinnamon, cloves and ginger. It should always be added at the end of cooking time, as heat diminishes the flavor.
Nutmeg comes from an evergreen tree that produces a yellow plum-like fruit, inside of which is the seed that is known as nutmeg. A membrane covering the kernel provides mace, another spice.
Ground nutmeg is highly suitable for sweet foods and goes very well with meat, spinach, sweet potatoes, and vegetables.
Key nutrients: significant manganese content, and dietary fiber, but it is high in saturated fat.
It is the lacy covering of the nutmeg seed, but its flavor is unique and much more delicate than nutmeg. Always purchase from a reliable source, as this expensive spice is easily adulterated.
Mace is delicious when sprinkled on cooked spinach. The English use it liberally in potted meats and cheeses, and the French enjoy it in stuffing. Mace is always good in delicate cream sauces.
There is no curry plant used to produce curry powder. Actually, curry powder is a combination of many aromatic spices including coriander seed, cumin seed, nutmeg, mace, cardamom seed, white mustard seed, black mustard seed, turmeric, fenugreek seed, chilli, ginger, peppercorns (white or black), garlic, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, and fennel seed. These are all ground into powder.
To enliven its exceptional aroma, curry powder should always be heated before eating.
It is a combination of ground spices and herbs that always contain dried chilli plus a selection of garlic powder, oregano, allspice, cloves, cumin seed, coriander seed, cayenne, black pepper, turmeric, mustard seed, and paprika. As with all dried spice and herb combinations, chilli powder is best when ground as needed and heated before eating. If you must make chilli powder ahead, store it in a tightly covered glass jar kept in a cool, dark place.
It may come as a surprise that a single teaspoon of chilli powder or paprika has enough vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) to fulfill 16% of your daily requirement. Many culinary spice also possess distinct antibacterial properties, while three of them — garlic, oregano and allspice — are powerful enough to fight virtually all microbes.
Scientific studies have shown that these antibacterial properties become most effective when several herbs and spices are combined. The various combinations developed by many cultures reflect this antibacterial synergy. Researchers have observed that the herbs and spices with the most potent antioxidant properties originate from warmer climates. This reconciles with the fact that microbes and pests that spoil foods thrive faster in higher temperatures.
Strength, flavor and color are indicative of quality. Always insist upon rich, fresh color when purchasing spices, particularly when purchasing herbs and paprika. The aroma should be bold, nearly pungent in its strength, but always fresh. Mustard, sesame and poppy are non-aromatic seeds.
• Spices enhance the natural flavor of food and a delicate hand is a good rule. When trying a new recipe or flavor combination, a general guideline is 1/4 teaspoon of spice to each pound of meat, fish or poultry or to each pint of sauce or soup.
• Health-conscious cooking often demands the elimination or reduction of salt, fat and sugar, and can consequently reduce palatability. A reduction in salt may call for the use of a stronger spice such as garlic or pepper.
• When reducing sugar in fruit dishes, simply increase the use of sweet spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves or ginger. Fat enriches food and the lack of it can be difficult to compensate for. Experiment with an increase in the use of spices just prior to cooking and again at the end of cooking.
• Ground spices give up their flavor quickly and should be used at the end of the cooking period. Salad dressings, fruit juices and uncooked cold foods will do well to have spices added early and then left for a period of time to absorb the flavor. Whole spices are best suited to longer cooking recipes.
• When storing spices, be sure that containers are airtight. Moisture can cause ground spices to lump. Store spices in a cool, dark place. Ground spices will retain their best flavors for about a year. Whole spices may last for three to five years.
Spice up your cooking, spice up your life!