Are you more of a “salt and pepper” person, or do you like to pep up your dishes with different spices?
The spice world has an incredible range of flavours to offer – from typical ones like oregano, basil or thyme to more exotic varieties like coriander, cumin, star anise and more. With the right spice, food can be perfectly seasoned without overpowering the taste of individual ingredients. Read on to find out which herbs and spices are a must in the kitchen, especially during the colder months.
Spice - the definition
Spices serve as flavouring ingredients in the preparation of food and drinks. They are plant substances that influence the aroma and taste of food because of their special components.
The aroma of spices is due to the essential oils, which consist mainly of phytochemicals. “Terpenes” and “phenols” are very common. The aroma carriers are released by heat, but overheating can destroy them.
While capsicum, fennel and pepper are fruits, juniper is a ripe, dried berry, cinnamon is a tree bark, and turmeric and ginger are roots. Nutmeg, in turn, is a kernel, and the flower of the plant (mace) is also used as a spice.
Spices do not only have a flavouring function.
The essential oils can have different effects in the human body:
Stimulation of appetite by bitter substances: burnet, anise
Avoiding flatulence: caraway, fennel
Stimulation of digestion: juniper, lovage
Anti-inflammatory effect: turmeric, black cumin
Relaxing action: sage, nutmeg
Warming effect: ginger, cinnamon
Spices for the colder months
You can make good use of warming spices during the cold season. The phytochemicals may also have preventive effects on one’s health.
CINNAMON: is a bark spice i.e. it comes from the bark of the Ceylon cinnamon or genuine cinnamon tree. The phytochemicals in cinnamon (polyphenols) have an antioxidant effect, thus protecting the body from free radicals. Cinnamon contains the fragrance “coumarin”, which has antispasmodic and antibacterial effects, but can damage the liver if ingested in excessive quantities. It is completely harmless when taken in conventional quantities.
Studies show that Austrian elementary school children receive on average 0.32 g of cinnamon per day, which amounts to approx. 1 mg of coumarin. This is clearly below the recommended daily allowance (0.1 mg per kg body weight per day).
Cinnamon is mostly used in desserts and sweet dishes. But the spice can also be used in savoury food, especially in oriental dishes like lamb tagine, moussaka or chicken curry.
TURMERIC: is another warming spice that is well suited to curries, stews or “golden milk” (turmeric latte). The colour substance curcumin is responsible for the intense orange-yellow colour. Also known as kurkuma or Indian saffron, turmeric stimulates the appetite, supports the production of bile and also burns fat. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory effects. Turmeric can be bought in powdered form or fresh, as a whole root. The fresh root has an even more intense taste.
CARDAMON: this precious spice not only refines stews or meat and fish dishes, but is also excellent in bread, cake, biscuits or gingerbread. Cardamom is a bushy-herbaceous plant that belongs to the ginger family. The seeds are found in pods.
Tip: if you buy whole pods, the flavours evaporate slower. Cardamom pods can be kept for up to one year.
The essential oils are said to stimulate the metabolism and promote digestion. So, cardamom is a great ingredient in hearty, hard to digest stews.
When you are feeling full, it can help to chew a few cardamom seeds.
Grinding your own spices
Freshly ground spices have more flavour and are of a higher quality. Most spices are easy to grind using a conventional mortar and pestle.
Tip: when the spices are briefly dry-roasted in a frying pan before they are ground, they develop even more flavour.
Cinnamon, turmeric and cardamom go well together and can be combined in making curry powder or garam masala – the perfect spice mixture for stews and curries on cold days!
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