How to improve your meal with spices
For thousands of years spices have been used to add a slight kick to plain or exotic dishes. Spices were introduced to the west by the Romans through trade with the east. Spices were picked up and dropped until the Middle Ages when they were reintroduced and are now used in all cooking cultures.
Spices have various uses. They are fantastic for flavouring, can act as preservatives for foods and some spices are known to enhance the flavour of certain ingredients. Some foods contain spices and you wouldn’t have a clue. For example, custard has nutmeg and paella contains saffron.
So how can you make your dish unique by adding some spice to it?
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Herb or spice?
Many people find it hard to differentiate between a herb and a spice, either because they assume they mean the same thing or because defining either is a task in itself. A spice is usually indentified as the part of a plant. This can be the seed, pod, flower, stigma, fruits, roots and stems.
On the other hand a herb is usually defined as the aromatic leaf of a plant, although the green stem of a plant can also constitute a herb.
Some plants can contain both spices and herbs. A perfect example of this is coriander as its leaf is a herb but the plants stem, seeds, roots or flowers are referred to as a spice. Coriander is used in a variety of recipes put those concerned about using the wrong part of the plant can invest in pre-packaged herbs and spices from companies such as Schwartz.
Get to know your spices
It is important to understand the different flavours different spices produce and how to blend them with other ingredients to enhance the overall taste of a dish.
Some spices are earthy, such as turmeric which is a strong agent for colouring yet also has a distinct taste as well as rumoured medicinal purposes.
Other spices are fiery, such as ginger and chillies- which are often used in various Slow cooker recipes. These often provide a warming sensation and can act as an anti-inflammatory.
Other spices, such as vanilla are sweet and are often present in puddings. As there are so many different spices available there is always one to complement your meal, regardless of what you are cooking.
Match spices with your ingredients
There are different spices that are perfect for certain ingredients. For instance, sweet spices such as nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves are often used in sweet foods such as cakes and cookies.
However, as tastes develop and change, sweet spices can often accompany more savoury ingredients such as stews or roast vegetables. Therefore, adding a spice to a gravy recipe could give the standard Sunday roast a bit of edge.
Sweet spices can work very well in sweet foods and savoury dishes because there is no added sugar. Taking the time to familiarise yourself with how spices can be added with different foods means you can take or leave them as you please.