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The Organized CookSpices Guideline
If variety is the spice of life, then spices - from seasonings found seeds, buds, roots, stems, unopened flowers or bark of various trees and plants - and the variety of a good chef. Infuse your meals with rich flavor to enhance the aroma of any dish.
The seasoning found in the seeds, buds, roots, stems, unopened flowers or bark of various trees and plants, spices are used to enhance or infuse the flavor and aroma of dishes. Unlike herbs, spices are almost always dried.
The name suggests a mixture of spices, but it comes from a single berry of the Jamaican bayberry tree. It can be used in soups, stews, pot roasts, meat marinades, and pickling. Allspice gives cakes, cookies, jams and fruit pies a warm flavor.
Caraway is a herb grown in Holland and Egypt. The small brown crescent-shaped dried seeds have a pungent aroma, a flavor that’s sharp but faintly sweet, with an astringent aftertaste. The seeds are used whole or ground to add a subtle anise flavor to baked goods and savory dishes.
Cardamom is slightly sweet, aromatic, eucalyptus-type of spice. It imparts a very distinctive, appealing flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. The flavor is in the small hard seeds, protected by pods.
Chinese Five Spice
Chinese five spice is a delightful combination of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel seeds, and Szechwan peppercorns. Great for baked goods, rice, marinades and stir fries.
One of the world’s most versatile and beloved spices, cinnamon comes from the bark of an evergreen tree that is a member of the Laurel family and native of the Far East. The bark is peeled, dried and curled into sticks. As cinnamon loses its aromatic intensity after about 3 months, it should be purchased in small amounts. Cinnamon is a wonderful spice known for its sweet and sensual flavor.
Cloves are dried, unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree, known for their rich and pungent flavor. Used in pickling, baked hams, stocks, desserts, marinades and spiced drinks, cloves have a rich, sweet and sultry flavor with a high percentage of eugenol that will cause a numbing sensation if eaten whole.
A seed of the cilantro plant, coriander has an aftertaste of lemon. It is essential in good chili and many curry recipes. It is also used to flavor bread, cheese, fish, meat, baked goods and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
A very aromatic spice available both in a powder as seeds, cumin is one of the major ingredients in curry powders. The combination of cumin and coriander gives a characteristic smell to much of India’s food. Use it very sparingly as it can overpower most dishes.
Commercial curry powder contains as many as 12 to 15 different spices and the heat of each blend varies from relatively mild to extremely hot, accordingly to the amount of ground chilies used. There are many different curry spice blends, but they usually contain turmeric, garlic, coriander, cumin, ginger, white pepper, cardamom, cloves and red pepper in varying proportions.
The yellowish-brown crescents known as fennel seeds are the dried ripe fruits of the aromatic fennel plant. Their pungent and memorable flavor, reminiscent of licorice and anise, is familiar to most people because fennel seeds are routinely used in rye bread, sausages and tomato sauce.
Herbs of Provence
Herbs of Provence derive its name from Provence, France. It contains a wonderful combination of dried herbs including rosemary, thyme, tarragon, basil, savory, fennel and marjoram.
This fragrant shrub has long, bluish-green woody branches and blooms with beautiful purple buds. The aroma of lavender is soothing, calming and relaxing. It is used most often in desserts and teas, but also tends its smoky, floral flavor to meats, fish, seafood and roasted vegetables.
Mustard seeds come from the mustard plant and can be black, brown, white or yellow. Neither the seeds nor their crushed powder have any scent until liquid is added. They are remarkable for both their bite and their pungent aroma.
An oval seed from a tropical tree, nutmeg has a smooth texture with a strong aroma and flavor. The sweet but slightly bitter flavor of nutmeg adds character to vegetables. A little goes a long way so try 1/8 teaspoon per 4 servings to start.
Paprika comes from the dried, ground pods of the capsicum annum, a sweet red pepper that is generally mild. Some paprika mixtures also contain cayenne or chili peppers, which make them hotter. Paprika is prized for its brilliant orange-red to deep blood red color. It ranges from sweet, to mild to hot. American paprika is the blandest while Hungarian paprika has the greatest range of flavors. As with most spices, paprika should be stored in a cool dark place and kept for no more than 9 months.
Saffron has an aroma, flavor and chemical make up that cannot be duplicated. Commercial saffron comes from the bright red stigmas of the Crocus Sativus flower, which booms in the fall in various countries including Greece, Spain, Iran and India. The stigmas from the Crocus Sativus are the female offspring of the flower. Each flower contains three stigmas, which are dried to make commercial saffron. The individual stigmas are made up of chemicals that contribute to the saffron’s flavor, aroma and color.
A dried and ground bright yellow rhizome of a root plant from the ginger family, turmeric is used to spice up and color dishes. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders. Turmeric is also used to give a yellow color to some prepared mustards, canned chicken broth and other foods.