What’s in a spice?
Spices play a big role in adding flavour and enjoyment to food and beverages too. They’re usually available in dried forms. Spices add a negligible amount of kilojoules to your food but lots of flavour. Keep in mind that ground spices release flavour faster than do whole spices. Use them in small amounts as spices are meant to enhance the flavour of a dish, not overwhelm it.
What spices have you got in your kitchen pantry on the shelf?
Some of my favourite spices … perhaps if you try these ideas, they’ll become a favourite of yours too?!
Be very careful when you are handling and cooking fresh chilli peppers. One of their most pungent compounds, capsaicin, can cause a severe burning sensation if it touches your skin or lips, or comes in contact with your eyes. If you find you can’t take the heat, cool off with milk or plain yoghurt. The protein in milk called casein can help douse capsaicin’s fire.
Try something exotic with your chilli for a comforting warm milky drink:
Simmer 1 cup fat-free milk in a saucepan with ½ vanilla pod or a few drops of vanilla essence, 1 cinnamon stick and 1 small red chilli pepper. Heat through for a few minutes but don’t allow the milk to boil. Strain. Sweeten to taste with honey, sugar or sweetener.
Great taste and flavour makes it a popular spice in most kitchens. Its flavour is earthy and nutty. Cumin is the most important spice in garam masala. Its distinctive, powerful and pungent flavour makes it a regular ingredient in many curry and Indian dishes. It helps to add an earthy and warming feeling to cooking. Cumin is commonly used in curries and to season chickpeas, stews and vegetable dishes.
• To bring out the fullness of their aroma and flavour, lightly roast whole cumin seeds before using them.
• As the taste of cumin is a great complement to the hearty flavour of legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and black beans, add this spice when preparing these foods.
• Take plain brown rice and give it special pizzazz by adding cumin seeds.
Cumin is made from the dried seeds of a plant in the parsley family. Cumin may be one of the most popular spices in the world after black pepper. The very smell of it, which comes from an aromatic organic compound called cuminaldehyde, may activate salivary glands in the mouth, facilitating the digestion of food.
Ginger produces a hot, fragrant kitchen spice. Fresh ginger root may be peeled before eating. Powdered dry ginger root is typically used as a flavouring in recipes for gingerbread, cookies, crackers and cakes, ginger ale and ginger beer. In China, sliced or whole ginger root is often paired with savoury dishes such as fish, and chopped ginger root is commonly paired with meat, when it is cooked.
Refreshing drink: Add the following to hot water and allow to infuse. Choose amounts according to taste but try to make the tea as strongly flavoured as possible. Enjoy warm or even cold as a refreshing iced tea.
• A piece of fresh ginger root, finely chopped/sliced
• Cinnamon stick
• Fresh mint leaves or mint tea bag
• Fresh lemon, a few slices
• Cayenne pepper, a dash
Optional: Honey to taste
Turmeric is an important ingredient in curry mixes, chutney and mustard pickles. It also goes well with chicken, duck, turkey, vegetables, rice and salad dressing. Turmeric is extremely pungent, and actually gets stronger when cooked. A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly when experimenting.
Interesting facts: Turmeric is sometimes referred to as “poor man’s saffron”, because its bright yellow-orange colour resembles the more expensive condiment. Studies have shown the active ingredient in turmeric to be curcumin which acts as an antioxidant.
Add these spices to your food preparation and beverages and I assure you that you will do more than just spice up your life, you will spice up your health too!