Spices are the eternal temptresses. It was the lure of the spice that brought the Europeans to India, first as traders and then as conquerors. Right down to the present day, any chef/cook worth his salt knows that it’s the judicious use of spices that gives a dish its ‘signature’ touch; it is the combination of garam masala, chilli, garlic and ginger that makes Masala Chicken different from Honey Glazed Roasted Chicken, which uses a combination of honey, anise and Chinese five-spice. We bring you a selection of spices that are used extensively in gourmet food, each with its distinguishable flavour and fragrance that teases and tickles the palate and leads you through the nose to the table.
These quills of sweet comfort come from the inner barks of the cinnamomum trees. Native to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Malabar Coast of India and Burma, the spice was once so expensive that it was considered a gift fit for the king and even God. So the next time you dig into that perfect cinnamon dusted apple pie and feel like you’re in heaven, you’ll probably know why. It is used in both savoury and dessert food.
2. Star Anise
The star anise has a very strong, sweet flavour that cannot be masked. It is often used in desserts because of its sweet aroma and in savoury foods to enhance the other spices used with it. Gordon Ramsay’s Clementine, Star anise and Ricotta cake recipe from ‘Christmas with Gordon’ is one in which the flavour of this spice is at its subtle best bringing out the flavour of the moist cake.
3. Vanilla Beans
The second most expensive spice and the most sought after in the food industry, the vanilla bean is extensively used in desserts. Vanilla beans give the dish a deeper, more intense flavour than the extract and you can always make out the flecks of vanilla in the end result, which makes it even more appealing. It is what marks the difference between a Vanilla Sponge Cake and a Vanilla bean Blueberry Cheesecake.
A pinch of this spice is all it takes to give your food that nutty scent. It is so versatile that it can be used in desserts and savoury dishes equally well. American Chef Mario Batali’s Froggers recipe uses spices such as nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger. Froggers are a traditional American cookie made from molasses and spices. The nutmeg gives the cookie its nutty side and the allspice gives it the sweet notes while the cloves and ginger give a pungent kick to the cookies’ flavouring.
It is also called Jamaica pepper, English pepper or newspice. Allspice has notes of clove, mace and cinnamon making it a very resourceful addition to the dish without overpowering any one spice. Allspice is used extensively in Caribbean cuisine. It is paired with nutmeg for many recipes, such as the Roast turkey with cranberry and walnut stuffing.
6. Cumin seed
A common household spice in India. It’s unique, warm, earthy and slightly pungent flavour is used in meat preparations before a barbeque or roast, as a dry rub or to simply marinate the meat. Jamie Oliver’s Roasted Cauliflower with cumin, coriander and almonds changes the way you see cauliflower as a gourmet dish. It may sound prosaic, but the toasted flavour of cumin and almonds transforms even the dull cauliflower into a divine delicacy.
Paprika is about the intensity of the flavour which is lacking in regular chilli powder. Chilli powder gives you heat whereas paprika gives you not only flavour but also the colour. After all, you eat food with your eyes before your mouth. You’ll know if you have had the chance to try the BBQ Chicken recipe by Jamie Oliver.