A herb that loves to lend its crimson colour to everything. Ever wonder where the red in a lipstick, a bottle of port wine or even a wood stain comes from? Now you know. Originating from Pakistan and native to the Mediterranean region, it is also best known as a colouring agent in Rogan Josh, a North Indian mutton curry. Tisane from the leaves and roots are said to relieve persistent coughs, able to lift depression and banish melancholia..
Only a delicate green plant with beautiful white flowers can give us a spice as flavourful as aniseed. Known as the true taste of licorice, it is used the world over in cakes, cookies, breads, candy, fish dishes and also hot or cold spice beverages, cheese, salad dressings, sausages and appetizers. Drink it first thing in the morning with honey to cure indigestion and stomach pain. Or at night for insomnia. Use it as a mouth freshener. It is said that its oil can even help improve the production of breast milk.
The spelling isn’t the most unusual thing about this spice. It’s the smell. Known as the world’s smelliest spice, it gives out a surprisingly rich, savory scent, reminiscent of sautéed onions when heated in oil. It’s a main ingredient in Egyptian and Indian recipes, and is used as a home remedy for menstrual pains, indigestion, blemishes and bee stings.
The hotter the spice, the greater the concentration of naturally occurring chemical compounds called phytochemicals that fight high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And what’s hotter than the red chilli? Among its many uses to spice up food, it makes a very good Aperitivo De Passata, an Italian-style virgin cocktail.
Meet the smoky, brash and bold cousin of the green cardamom. An intense spice used in long-cooked Indian and Chinese dishes. Of course, it also makes a great pot roast. Or just dry rub it on any meat for a minty, smoky flavour. It can also give you strong, thick and shiny tresses of hair, a younger skin, and works as a sedative for immediate relief from pain.
Coming from the same pepper vine, it is the fairer sibling of black pepper, but with a sharper taste and a more pungent aroma. For aesthetic reasons, white pepper is used in light-coloured dishes such as white sauces and mashed potatoes. It is said that capsaicin in the pepper can kill cancer cells and treat headaches. Crush some and make a scrub, great for removing dead skin and eliminating toxins.
Often referred to as ‘black gold’, today it is used as more than a form of commodity money. Besides spicing up your curry or pasta with a woody, piney flavour, it is known to help prevent breast cancer, especially when paired with turmeric. It can also protect the colour of your clothes from fading – just add a teaspoon into the washing machine.
The most revered medicinal seeds in history, it is said that black cumin is the cure for all diseases except death itself. They taste like a combination of onions, black pepper and oregano with a pungent bitter taste and smell, and are used to flavour curries, vegetables and pulses. You can also make a nice cup of tea with it (add a few seeds to hot water and let the brew sit for 10 minutes), sprinkle some on your bread or mix with lemon, cilantro and tahini for stir fry dishes.
The caper is the un-opened flower bud, which adds a salty tang to meats, salads, pasta and other foods. The small buds are handpicked in the early hours of the day and sold in jars, covered with salt, vinegar, brine or olive oil. They are a high source of quercetin, an anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent.
Love making pickles? Or potato salad? Celery seeds are your best friend. Where celery stalks leave a stringy quality and taste in a dish, the seeds come to the rescue. They taste exactly like celery and are equally good for your health, as they help fight cancer, promote good blood pressure levels and flush out toxins from your body.
Commonly found in the regions of India, Nepal and Burma, Charoli grows on trees that can go up to 50 metres. These lentil-sized seeds taste like almonds and hazelnut, and when toasted, add a nutty flavour to Indian puddings. You can also grind them into powder to thicken sauces and flavour batters. Charoli is used in Ayurveda for purifying blood, alleviating cold and respiratory disorders, and treating wounds.
You may ask what’s point of bay leaves if you don’t eat them. Well, you add them to soups, stews, biryani and countless other dishes for a menthol and eucalyptus-like flavour. Just make sure they are dried as fresh bay leaves can an extremely strong flavour. The leaves are known to aid in digestion, treat a nosebleed and induce sleep.
One of the world’s most expensive spices, cinnamon was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs. And with good reason. Besides lending a spicy aroma to your coffee, it’s great when added to cakes, biscuits and desserts. Sprinkled a little over baked fruit and custards. Or added whole to casseroles, mulled wine and punch. Have a stomach bug? Make some cinnamon tea. Its oil is great for a relaxing massage and even neutralising odours.
From ginger bread to pumpkin pie to baked beans and soups, cloves are a favourite around the world. They say that if you wish to ‘Indianise’ a dish, add a bit of clove into it, which gives an intense, sweet and warm flavour to everything. Have a toothache? Dabbing the tooth with clove oil will give temporary relief. It also works as a natural insect repellant, an aphrodisiac and one of the best sources of antioxidants.
Not exactly a replacement for fresh coriander leaves, but these delicious seeds give dishes a warm, aromatic and slightly citrus flavour. They are commonly used in Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food as an aromatic spice. Not to forget, as a flavoring agent in confectionary, stews, sausages, sweet breads and cakes. The Russian dark rye Borodinsky bread for instance, uses coriander seeds. The seeds are used as a carminative and digestive items in variety of gripe water preparations. And chewed as a remedy to prevent halitosis (unpleasant breath).
This ‘tailed’ pepper mostly comes from Java, Indonesia, and is sometimes also called the Java pepper. Love your gin? Look for spicy hints of cubeb the next time, as it’s one of the flavouring agents in gin, besides cigarettes. Used widely in Indonesian curries, it has a peppery, aromatic and slightly bitter flavour, and goes well with meat, cheese and vegetable dishes. If you run out of allspice, cubeb makes a great replacement. Its berry is considered a carminative, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant and antiseptic.
This unassuming spice adds a peppery, nutty kick to Indian curries, Mexican tex mex and Middle Eastern dishes. Love tacos or mutton curry? Start with cumin seeds. A good source of iron, manganese, and other vitamins and minerals, the seeds have many medicinal benefits. It helps in improving memory and fighting cancer, to name just a few.
A staple of South Indian cooking, curry tree (or curry leaves) releases a deliciously nutty aroma when fried in hot oil. Usually sautéed with onions before adding other spices, they are used widely in dals, rasams, sambhar, chutneys, etc. The leaves are used in ayurvedic medicine for their antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti inflammatory properties. Chewing them can help relieve a tummy ache, and if taken with black pepper, it can reduce blood sugar levels.
A tiny seed that is a giant when it comes to what it can do. Often confused with aniseed and cumin, fennel adds a minty and licorice flavour to dishes. It is an essential ingredient in Italian sausages, Chinese Five Spice, in many Indian curries, and as a wonderful complement in cooking fish. Known as Marathon by the Greeks, it is hung over doors to ward off evil spirits. No oranges at home? Take your daily dose of Vitamin C with a pinch of fennel. Better still, eat the young shoot as a vegetable for longevity, strength and courage.
Imagine the smell of maple syrup or caramel from a spice. When heated, fenugreek seeds infuse a similar aroma in Mediterranean and Indian cooking, particularly curries. The leaves from the plant (often sold as methi) can be used in salads. It is also a rich reservoir of medicinal properties and should be added to the diet often. For instance, lowers blood cholesterol, aids digestion, and even induces and eases child birth.
© 1580 (2017). All Rights Reserved.