Know Your Spices ~ Cooking with Spices

Spices are the dried flavoring elements produced from the buds, flower, fruit, bark and the root of the plant. Many are sold already blended as curry powder, chili powder, pumpkin pie spice, etc. Although sometimes sold in the whole form, most of them are preground before they reach the market. Unless you use a particular spice in huge quantities, buy the smallest jars available; the flavor diminishes whit age and exposure to the air. Store tightly covered in a cool, dry place as you do herbs.

When the characteristic odor of your spices and herbs is no longer pungent it is time to replace them. Most spices are unadulterated (although they may be sprayed with fumigants to prevent bug habitation at he processing plant.) any tampering should be on the label.

Some of the more common spices are discussed below. Included are seeds as well. Seeds come from the dried fruit or seed of the plant and differ from spices in that the seeds usually refer to the aromatic product of plants of temperate zones, while spices come from plants of tropical origin.

Allspice is the product of one plant only, although its name might imply that it is a mixture of more than one spice. The flavor resembles a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. The whole form is used in pickling; when ground it adds flavor to baked goods and puddings. Try placing the powdered form in stored clothing as a moth preventive.

Caraway seed
This is the flavor so many of us associate with rye bread. These seed are delicious in sauerkraut, cooked cabbage dishes, and on potatoes. We add them to cottage cheese for flavoring dips and are also wonderful in scrambled eggs.

Cardamom is sold both whole and ground and is often quite costly. It is a common ingredient in Indian dishes and the Danish add the ground seeds to pastry. Chewing cardamom seeds is a good cover-up for liquor on the breath.

This fiery red powder from small red peppers can be used to spark anything. A pinch even helps sweet dishes. Use sparingly though, it’s very hot.

Celery Seed
Use just as you would celery leaves. When stuffing vegetables with cream cheese, mix in some celery seeds and you’ll have a more flavorful spread. A teaspoon can be added to salad dressing for a fresh flavor, particularly fruit dressings.

Chili Powder
This spice is made from chili peppers blended with other spices and can be either mild or hot. Use it in Mexican dishes and bean stew.

The best way to buy cinnamon is in stick form. A 1-inch stick of cinnamon equals 1 teaspoon of ground. Use with whole sticks as stirrers or straws in hot-spiced punch, tea, coffee, and milk. Ground cinnamon, of course, goes into cakes, pies, and puddings. You needn’t save it for sweet dishes though. Add some to rice to give it an arousing aroma.

Cloves are highly fragrant nail-shaped buds, which again are used in pickling (mostly fruits). Meat is often studded with cloves t o add flavor in roasting. Ground, it is frequently used in baking. We find cloves go especially well in dishes that include lentils.

Curry Powder
Curry powder is another spice blend and can be added to white sauce in flavor leftover meat, vegetables and eggs. Curry, however, is more than just curry powder and for most effective use of curry spices consult an Indian cookbook. Improper use of curry powder is one sure way to turn people off to Indian food, which is delicious.

Although this spice is not among the most popular, it is mentioned because it an add variety to some of your favorite dishes by imparting a licorice-like flavor. It’s quite interesting in apple pie. Also in boiled fish dishes. Highly recommended for those who like licorice, to be brewed like tea and served as a hot drink.

In addition to the fresh root, ginger is available dried and ground. This is a spice with a real bite, so taste your dish as you proceed. Use ground ginger in baking (for gingerbread), particularly in combination with fruit fillings.

Dried mustard powder is the base for prepared mustards, gradually beat water into the powder to creamy consistency and you’ve made your own hot mustard. It is a favorite flavoring ingredient in salad dressing. Add ¼ teaspoon along with the other seasonings for a sharp (but favorably so) taste. Add to cheese dishes as well.

When Columbus set sail for the East Indies, nutmeg was one of the spies he was searching for. Nutmeg should always be used in the ground form, alone on vegetables like cauliflower, spinach and broccoli, combined with cinnamon and berries, banana, eggnog and custard.

Sweet red peppers are the source of this popular spice, famed more for its use in coloring rather than flavoring flood. It’s mild flavor recommends it for use in egg salad, cream cheese, and sweet corn for color contrast. Also makes tomatoes sauces redder. If fresh, paprika is an excellent source of vitamin C.

Pepper goes with everything-in small amounts. Too much (and this is true of all “hot” spices) an damage the stomach lining, invest in a pepper mil and season meat, fish, poultry, egg and vegetable dishes with the freshly ground peppercorns before serving. Pepper that is purchased ready-ground is flat and lifeless. By the way, a lavish sprinkling of ground pepper is another moth repellent used throughout the world.

The best way to judge the right amount of seasoning is by taste. By all means, taste as you go along. A pot that has not been sampled during cooking reflects this neglect.

Discover more about Seasonings Here!

Successful Gardening!
Kali S. Winters