Be Hot on Spices...

It has been found clear evidence that spices have been used in food preparation and preservation for thousands of years.

They were primarily used as food flavouring then their use expanded to medicine and cosmetics;

they have always been rare, exotic and expensive and represented a symbol of wealth.


Spices can come from the following plant parts: roots, rhizomes, stems, leaves, bark, flowers, fruits, and seeds.

India is the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of spices and the trade in spices between historical civilizations started in Asia, Northeast Africa and then moved to Europe.

Spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, and pepper for example, were used in antiquity for commerce in the Eastern world.


Today I would like to consider a few spices which, personally, I have started using with my food only more recently.


Star Anise


Made from the fruit of a Chinese tree. It has a flavour similar to licorice and the shape of a star!

It’s well known for its presence in the Chinese “5 spice” and Indian “Garam Masala” blends.

It makes a great addition to sweet dishes and desserts, such as baked fruit, pies, quick bread and muffins.

Its dense supply of flavonoids and polyphenols, makes it a source of several bioactive compounds which may contribute to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.



Cardamom


Made from the seeds pods of various plants. The seeds are small and black. It has a piney and fruity aroma with hints of lemon and mint. Mainly used for stews and also for some kind of rolls and breads - ground cardamom is also used to prepare desserts.

Contains Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium and it si used to help with digestion.

It also has diuretic and antioxidant properties.



Fenugreek


It has a spicy smell and an aromatic bittersweet taste. Used as an herb and a spice in dishes like sauces, soups, vegetable dishes and curries. It is part of the blends for Indian curry powders. As it can reduce the sugar level of the blood, it is used in diabetes in conjunction with insulin. It also lowers blood pressure.

Fenugreek relieves congestion, reduces inflammation and fights infection.

It contains natural expectorant properties ideal for treating sinus and lung congestion and loosens and removes excess mucus and phlegm.

Fenugreek is also an excellent source of selenium.



Juniper Berries


They come from an evergren plant or tree. The most common culinary use is, as we all probably know, to flavour gin.

They are used with medicinal purposes, as an essential oil and also as dry fruit. They have a light piney flavour with a touch of pepperiness. The dry fruit and the oil have diuretic properties and are used to releive stomach upset.

Used as a flavouring in pickled food, candy, frozen dairy desserts, meat products, baked goods.



Mustard seeds


They are small round seeds of various mustard plants and have a sharp and hot flavour. Packed with vitamins and a mineral called selenium they are good for your bones. They also help strengthen hair, nails and teeth.

They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Can provide relief from headache and are good for digestive health and for the skin.

You can also add mustard seeds in your salad dressing, pickle or chutneys.



Saffron


It comes from the flower of Crocus Sativus, commonly known as the "saffron crocus". Used as flavouring and colouring agent in food. It is the most expensive spice in the world. Why?!! Because of its labor-intensive harvesting method, making the production very costly.

It contains a variety of compounds that act as antioxidant and one of them the 'saffranal' give the saffron its taste and aroma. It is used in small doses in dishes as paella, risotto or other rice dishes. The best way to draw out its flavour is first to soak it in hot - but not boiling water - then also add the water to your dish.



Spices Blends


Harissa

Harissa is a Tunisian aromatic, hot chili pepper paste, the main ingredients of which are roasted red peppers, spices and herbs such as garlic paste, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, cumin and olive oil to carry the oil-soluble flavors. It is used mixed with water and tomato juice, to flavour soups, stews and couscous.

It contains capsaicin which is an antioxidant that may be able to boost your metabolism, improve heart health, and reduce cancer-causing inflammation.



Garam Masala

It is a spice blend widely used in Indian cuisine, from curries and lentil dishes to soups.

Whole spices of cinnamon, mace, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and cardamon pods are toasted in a pan to release their aromatic flavors, then they are ground to a powder.

It is used to relieve indigestion, diarrhea, heartburn, intestinal gas, and bloating. It is considered a powerful anti-oxidant that helps prevent cancer, arthritis, and ulcers. It also helps in healing wounds and mosquito bites.




Sumac


Sumac is any one of about 35 species of flowering plants in the family Anacardiaceae. It grows in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, especially in East Asia, Africa, and North America.

Sumac's dominant flavour is a lemony one, though the spice has a milder fruity profile that balances the acidity.

Try using it in salads instead of lemon juice or to season grilled meat and fish. It's also delicious sprinkled over hummus.

It is used as an herbal medicine or culinary spice. Sumac is rich in a variety of nutrients and antioxidants compounds.



Zatar

It is generally a combination of dried oregano, thyme, and/or marjoram (woodsy and floral), with sumac (tangy and acidic) and toasted sesame seeds (nutty and rich). Its taste can be tangy, herbal, nutty, or toasty. It is used as seasoning for meats and vegetables or sprinkled onto hummus. It is also eaten with labneh (yogurt drained to make a tangy, creamy cheese), and bread and olive oil for breakfast, most commonly in Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as other places in the Arab world. It has lots of health benefits including its ability to improve the immune system, boost skin health, build strong bones, increase circulation, clear out the respiratory tracts, soothe inflammation, boost energy, improve mood, aid memory, and treat chronic diseases.



SPICES have become more and more famous and their use has now spread out worldwide.

Starting from the astounding colours that some of them have and considering the fact that they have various and significant beneficial effects on our health - not to mention the specific way they have to enhance or better the flavour of the food - I believe it is worth keep using them or increase their use and why not, experiment with new ones, create maybe new personal blends to...


Try different flavours!



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