Spices are the main flavor source of the world's greatest cookery. Used imaginatively and judiciously, they can transform the most pedestrian dish into a triumph or haute cuisine.
Now to answer to the question; Are there differences between spices and herbs? There is a difference, of course, but in the vernacular of cooking"spice" has comes to mean a substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for flavor, color, or as a preservative that kills harmful bacteria or prevents their growth, and it is in a form that is either a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance. Simple enough?
Now do not confuse the word spice with the word hot. Very few spices are hot. In fact, the majority is quite mild and used sparing will add only the most subtle flavor to your dish.
When you spices be really careful not to use to much spice flavoring or even too little. If the recipe calls for a certain amount, start with that measurement. When you start using spices, do not expect flavor miracles in direct proportions to the amount used. Miraculous cooking is the results of delicacy and restraint.
Feel free to experiment. Remember that spices do not changethe chemistry of cooking. You may use spices according to the dictates of your own imaginations by altering the quantities called for in an existing recipe--so long as you do not tamper with the basic ingredients.
Finally, become familiar with the flavors of numerous spices, just as an artist knows his pigments. The top ten spices, according to their popularity in American cooking are: black pepper; cinnamon; nutmeg; garlic (minced, salt, or powder); paprika; chili powder; oregano; celery (salt or seeds); onion (minced, flakes, salt, or powder) and parsley flakes. Start with these when building up your spice shelf.
To list some of the botanical basis for definition purposes:
* Arils, such as mace.
* Barks, such as cassia and cinnamon,
* Dried flowers bud, such as cloves.
* Stigmas, such as saffron.
* Roots and rhizomes, such as turmeric, ginger and galingale.
* Resins, such as asafetida.
To confuse things even more, now mix some of the different spices and you get these:
* Old Bay Seasoning (US), Pumpkin pie spice (US),
Mixed spice (UK), Chili powder, Curry powder, five-spice powder (China), Garam Masala (South Asia), Chaat Masala (India and Pakistan), Jerk spice (Jamaica).
Then, buy a different spice each week and familiarize yourself with it particular aroma and flavor. Once you have acquired a well-stocked spice shelf, take pride in keeping your spices at their best. Store them in the coolest part of the kitchen-sway from either direct sunlight or the heat of the stove. After using, always close the spice containers carefully. (The aroma of spices can rise from an opened container just as easily as from some well-seasoned concoction.) Check your spices every season and discard those that have lost their verve. The best thing to do, of course, is to make constant use of them, brightening every meal with their heady scents.
Have a Happy
Larry Eiker is a Kennett resident who enjoys traveling all over the world and experiencing great food, while bringing some of those ideas back home to the Bootheel to share with others.