Spices come from the buds, bark, stems, roots, berries and seeds of plants. Any part except for the leaf is termed a spice, the leaves are classified as herbs.
Spices are generally grouped into five categories based on flavor – sweet; tangy; pungent; hot and amalgamating. Today we will delve further into the tangy, hot and amalgamating spices and discover their secrets.
Tangy spices tend to have a distinctly acidic flavor thus the tangy name. When using these spices you can reduce the amount of lemon juice or vinegar in the recipe due to their own acidic flavor.
Each of the tangy spices have a distinct flavor which is unique and combines well to produce exotic flavors.
Sumac is made from the outer flesh of the ripe, crimson berry from a Middle Eastern plant. It is high in malic acid, which is what gives green apples their tang.
This dark purple powder is a relatively new ingredient in main stream cooking but has been used by kebab shops for flavoring onion rings for years.
Sumac works well with tomatoes and salads and is fantastic on avocado. It is also great as a meat rub.
Tamarind comes from the pods of trees native to east Africa and possibly south Asia. As the pulp inside the pods oxidizes it turns a black color and becomes extremely sticky. This sticky, black mass called tamarind is very high in tartaric acid and is used as a souring agent in many Indian recipes.
Recipes often ask for tamarind water. This is made by soaking a walnut sized piece of tamarind in half a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the liquid and discard the pulp. The water can then be used to flavor soups and curries.
It is often the hot spice that causes a dish to be termed “spicy”. These should be used sparingly so that the heat does not dominate the flavor of the meal.
The best known of the hot spices. It is definitely a personal taste as to how much chili to use.
Different varieties of chilies provide a different level of heat. The membrane and seeds inside are the hottest part and can burn the skin, so be careful when preparing not to rub the eyes.
Dried chili has a different flavor because of the caramelized sugars and have a more robust taste. Use in a variety of savory dishes, but start sparingly until you discover your heat tolerance.
The searing heat of the horseradish is created by the cutting or scraping of the root of the plant. The cutting of the root causes sinigrin (a glucoside) and myrosin (an enzyme) to combine and form a oil. This oil is what produces those head clearing, tear inducing fumes.
Horseradish is generally served in a raw state with roasted meats and ham.
Mustard is very versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. The mustard seeds only become hot when they come in contact with liquid. The liquid activates enzymes within the seed that create the heat. Water makes mustard hottest whereas vinegar inhibits the enzyme producing a milder flavor.
When brown mustard seeds are fried, as used in some Indian recipes, the enzyme is broken down and instead the seeds impart a nutty taste without the heat.
Mustard is often served with roast meats and vegetables. Add to stews and casseroles for an extra ‘bite’.
Pepper is universally accepted and probably the only spice which is put on the table for dinners to add to their own taste.
Pepper comes from peppercorns harvested from a tropical, native southern Indian, vine. Picked green the peppercorns are dried in the sun, this causes an enzyme to turn them black and creates a volatile oil called piperine. This is what gives freshly ground black pepper its distinct flavor.
White pepper, which is hotter, is made by soaking the peppercorns in water for a few days and then rubbing off the black skin. Green and pink peppercorns are the same peppercorns that are soaked in brine instead of being dried. However, dried pink peppercorns come from a different tree native to South America.
These perform a special role in uniting the flavors of other spices in spice blends. They are generally mild tasting and is why they combine well with most other spices.
A native to northern Australia and parts of South-East Asia, the nuts look similar to macadamia nuts but slightly heart shaped. The candle nut is so called because the native Australians used to burn them and due to their high oil content they keep burning for a long time.
They have a mild toxicity that is destroyed by cooking. Used as a thickener in many Asian dishes.
The coriander leaf is a herb that has a distinct flavor that you either love or hate. While the coriander seed is mild and very agreeable to the palate.
Used in many Asian foods.
The fennel bulb is eaten as a vegetable and the seeds are dried as a spice. It is indigenous to southern Europe and the Mediterranean. While it tastes mildly of aniseed it is also sweet and complements savory dishes of Europe and Asia.
Dry roasting the fennel seeds, causes them to develop a caramel like taste.
Paprika is a name give to a wide range of red powders made from the fruit of the paprika plant, which is a member of the chili family.
Sweet paprika is full bodied and capsicum like, with no heat or lingering bitterness. Often used to add color to dishes is blends well with other spices.
These come in two varieties – blue and white. Both come from the opium poppy, which originated in the Middle East.
Poppy seeds have a nutty flavor that is popular in baked goods. White poppy seeds are used to thicken curries while the blue seeds are great on pasta and in baked goods.
Sesame seeds come from ripe pods which shatter and send the seeds flying in all directions at the slightest touch. The white sesame seeds we are used to seeing have had the husk removed whereas black sesame seeds still have the husk intact.
White sesame seeds are used in baked goods and some Asian dishes. The black sesame seeds are predominately used in Japanese cuisine.
Related to the ginger plant, turmeric is a tropical plant and we harvest the rhizome to make the spice. Turmeric has an earthy flavor that combines well with cumin, coriander, cardamom and chili.
It works particularly well in curries, in Middle Eastern seafood recipes and Moroccan spice blends
Well, there you have it, a brief introduction into the world of tangy, hot and amalgamating spices. Enjoy cooking and use spices with confidence.