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A – Z Spices

Allspice

Allspice is the dried, unripe berry of Pimenta dioica, an evergreen tree in the myrtle family. It is not a blend of “all spices”. After drying, the berries are small, dark brown balls just a little larger than peppercorns.  It is not frequently used in Indian Cuisine. Allspice is pungent and its taste and aroma does remind many people of a mix of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Do not grind allspice in a grinder with plastic parts, because the oil in the spice can cloud the plastic which cannot be restored.

Black Cardamom

Black Cardamom pods are the larger brown pods. Essential to Indian cooking and native to southwestern India. This spice is coarser in flavor and larger in size than the green cardamom. It is used in flavoring meat, poultry and rice dishes. When using the whole cardamom for flavoring dishes, remove the cardamom before serving as it does not taste good when bitten into.

Black Pepper

Black pepper adds a different kind of hotness to any recipe. Fresh green peppercorns in bunches are used in pickles and for milder flavoring. Black peppercorns are the sun dried, hard, black, brittle seeds that are commonly used in many western and Indian recipes. This is perhaps the most popular & universally used spice, used whole or ground. Freshly ground pepper imparts a lot of flavor and taste.

Cardamom

Cardamom is spice used in countries throughout the world but most prominently in India and Europe.   In India, whole pods, green or brown are fried to extract the flavor and added to curries.  In Europe the seed is used to flavor breads and pastries.

Cinnamon

Native to Sri lanka, Cinnamon sticks which are the aromatic brown bark of the cinnamon tree and are made from long pieces of the bark that are rolled, pressed, and dried. Ground cinnamon is perhaps the most common baking spice. The Cinnamon sticks are used for flavoring Pulaos, Biryanis and Meat dishes but are removed at the time of eating. Cinnamon has a sweet, woody fragrance.

Cloves

Dried flower buds of the clove tree. Cloves are strong, pungent, and sweet. Cloves are used in many meat dishes, marinades, pickles and in many “garam masalas”. It is used whole or in powder form. When making your own clove powder take caution, clove oil can cloud some plastics. Clove oil can be has a lot of medicinal value. Many Indians chew on cloves to relieve toothaches and it is used also as a mouth freshener after a meal.

Coriander Seeds

Coriander is a memeber of the parsley family. The seeds are used as a seasoning. When sprouted the leaves are referred to as cilantro or Chinese parsley. Coriander is available ground or whole.

Cumin Seeds

Cumin has a distinctive, slightly bitter yet flavors any dish with a sweet aroma. These brown aromatic small seeds give out more aroma when roasted or added to hot oil. Cumin seeds whole or in powdered form are very commonly used in Indian cooking. They are used more in the North of India

Fennel Seeds

These light green oval shaped seeds have been known to posses digestive qualities. In India, they are  roasted, sometimes lightly coated with sugar and eaten after meals as a mouth freshener and to stimulate digestion. They are also recommended for nursing mothers, as they have been known to increase the milk supply. Used successfully in many curries and “indian pickles”. Today you will find sugar coated “green supari” mixtures containing “saunf” in Indian Grocery stores. Try it!

Garlic

Sometimes whole garlic cloves are used and sometimes a recipe will call for chopped or minced or for garlic paste. Most stores or warehouses do have chopped garlic or garlic paste available.

Ginger

It is a very popular spice used in Indian cooking. It has a tan skin and a flesh that ranges in color from pale greenish yellow to ivory. The flavor is peppery and slightly sweet, while the aroma is pungent and spicy. If you feel a cold coming on a fresh piece of ginger in a hot cup of Indian tea usually does the trick. Fresh unpeeled ginger root, tightly wrapped, can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks and frozen for up to 6 months. Please do not use dried ground ginger for dishes specifying fresh ginger as the flavors differ greatly.

Saffron

Saffron threads as they are also called are orange-red dried stigmas of a small purple flower called the Crocus Sativus.  Saffron’s aroma is unique and there is no substitute for it. It is used in cooking to flavor and color the dish a wonderful golden yellow color. In Indian cooking it is highly prized and added to many Indian sweets and “special occasion” savory dishes like Biryani, Pulaos  and even some curries.

Mustard Seeds

These are tiny round reddish brown to black colored seeds. They are commonly used in Indian cooking. They are used whole or broken to pieces or made into a paste or even in powdered form. Its paste has a very pungent taste. In India, mustard seeds is commonly used to flavor vegetables, pulses and pickles while tempering (Tadka).  In north India, mustard plant leaves are used as a vegetable (Sarsoon).

Nutmeg

Nutmeg is usually associated with sweet, spicy dishes — pies, puddings, custards, cookies and spice cakes. It combines well with many cheeses, and is included in soufflés and cheese sauces. In soups it works with tomatoes, slit pea, chicken or black beans. It complements egg dishes and vegetables like cabbage, spinach, broccoli, beans onions and eggplant. It flavours Middle Eastern lamb dishes.

Star Anise

Star anise has the wonderful scent of licorice. It is the fruit produced by a small evergreen tree grown in Asia. As one might suspect, is star-shaped. Each of it’s eight points contains a star anise seed. Whole star anise has a long shelf life, but once ground, it should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for no more than 3 months. It is great to flavor biryani’s and other non-vegetarian Indian dishes.

Turmeric

Turmeric has a very intense, bright yellow-orange color and bitter taste. It is used in almost all vegetarian and non-vegetarian preparations in Indian cooking. It has been known to have antiseptic properties.

I hope you have found this useful. if there is anything else you would like adding, don’t forget to drop us a line!

  

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