What are spices, and where do they come from?

What are spices, and where do they come from?

Open your spice cupboard, and the undeniable amalgamation of aromas will tantalise your nostrils. Maybe it will trigger memories of a time travelled far away, or the last restaurant you dined at.

No matter what the next teaspoon will be filled with, a touch of spice will always bring that depth of flavour and gentle warmth to your cooking.

What are spices and how are they used? We all know that they have been treasured for centuries in many cultures and used in cuisine, to preserve and as  natural remedies, but how much do we know about them? A quick search in the dictionary and they are defined as “an aromatic substance of vegetable origin used as flavouring” and if we refer to thesaurus, "spice"  is a synonym of gusto and excitement.

But how can we define these powerful seasoning in the culinary arts?  

They derive from any part of the plants, rather than the leaves, which we would classify as herbs. Some of the most common spices we use are:

  • Cinnamon, which is bark of a tree from Sri Lanka. When this dries, it acquires the curly shape we are all familiar with.
  • Cardamom which are seeds from plants in the ginger family.
  • Cloves which are dried unopen flowers of the clove tree.
  • Allspice is a dried berry from the myrtle family originated in Jamaica.

One of my favourites is star anise. It reminds me of the candies I used to buy growing up in Italy or the smell of Sambuca. Their delicate appearance mustn’t fool you; they have a slight liquorice-like note and although small they are sure to puck a flavour punch. It marries beautifully with squash, but also with red meat.

Top three tips when using spices

  • Spices are best used freshly ground. They don’t generally expire, but you will find that using already ground spices, will diminish their flavour over time, plus will reduce your waste.
  • Toast your spices. Much like tea leaves are steeped in water to strengthen a tea, the flavours and aromas of spices will be strengthened by toasting them to release their oils.
  • Store spices properly. They will last longer in a dry and cool space, away from source of heat for their flavours to last longer.

Deciding which spices to use is easy when you have a Cole & Mason Spice Rack Carousel at your disposal. Available in 8, 16 and 20 jar sizes,  you will find the right size for you. SHOP NOW

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