For thousands of years, spices has served as currency, medicine and, most importantly, the geographical “flavor print” of Silk Road cuisine. Their proper alchemy can infuse ordinary ingredients with vibrant, signature flavors evocative of faraway places. A single dish may contain several exquisitely blended spices to excite the senses. Explore the many roles spices play in this delicious cuisine with its complex flavors. To maintain peak flavor, use spices within six months — but the spice police won’t come knocking at your door if you keep them longer. They like to hang out in a cool, dark place in your pantry to preserve their oils and prevent loss of pungent flavors.
Spices, spices, spices…they are the heartbeat of Silk Road cooking.
Allspice is not a combination of spices, rather it is the dried berry of the allspice tree, also known as the pimento tree (no relation to the sweet pepper pimento). The pimento tree is native to the West Indies and Central America. The allspice berry tastes like a combination of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, thus leading to the confusion that it is a melange of spices. Jamaica is the largest producer of allspice and the Jamaican product is considered superior to those from other countries such as Mexico, Honduras and Guatamala. Allspice can be purchased ground or as whole berries (preferred). It can be used in baking (best known as the “secret inredient” in pumpkin pie, savory dishes such as jerk chicken, and with vegetables, especially winter vegetables such as turnips and squash.
Cardamom is found in curries, rice dishes, herbal teas, and breads. Cardamom is the spice that gives chai tea its main flavor. In Asia, cardamom has long been valued medicinally for its ability to increase circulation and improve energy. Considered an aphrodisiac in the Middle East, cardamom may also improve digestion, asthma, bronchitis, halitosis, and even help improve a bad mood.
Cinnamon is delicious and medicinal. Add this spice to your life. In the Ancient world, cinnamon was more precious than gold and was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs. Health benefits of cinnamon: supports digestive function, relieves congestion, relieves pain and stiffness at muscles & joints, relieves menstrual discomfort, anti-inflammory compounds may relieve arthritis, may kill e-coli & other bacteria, helps regulate blood sugar, can lower LDL cholesterol, may help prevent yeast infections, has anti-clotting effect on the blood. Sprinkle cinnamon on everything. Goes well with all foods and drinks.
Cloves are a delicious addition to cooked fruit, roasts, sweet vegetable dishes, and teas, clove has been used since ancient times in India to improve digestive function. You may chew on some to alleviate toothaches, sore throats, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.
Cumin is a an excellent addition to curries, stews, vegetables, and sauces. Cumin is thought to boost the immune system and also to improve liver function, reduce flatulence, and aid in digestion.
Curry is a staple spice combo in Southeast Asian cuisine, contains turmeric, the yellow spice that gives curry its distinctive color. The active component in turmeric is called curcumin. If you are a fan of curry, you will be happy to know that this substance is associated with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumor, and anti-amyloid properties; amyloids are plaque-like proteins that build up in brain tissue, and are responsible for diseases like Alzheimer’s and rheumatoid arthritis.
Fennel Seed is often used to spice up recipes with beans, or legumes. Fennel helps digestion in two ways: It stimulates the production of gastric juices and also soothes the nervous system, regulating the action of the muscles that line the intestine.
Ginger is a perfect compliment to vegetables, marinades, and sweets. Ginger is also delicious in tea. Ginger may help relieve nausea, arthritis, headaches, menstrual cramps, and muscle soreness.
Nutmeg is the seed of an apricot-like fruit on the nutmeg tree. When the fruit is picked, it is split and the seed removed. The red membrane is scraped off and dried and turns orange-red in the process. Nutmeg is sold whole or ground. Ground nutmeg loses flavor quickly, so it should be purchased in small quantities. Whole nutmeg retains its flavor much longer and can be easily ground with a nutmeg grater or microplane.
Star Anise, as the name suggests,is indeed star-shaped. Though it is not actually related to anise, star anise shares a similar licorice flavor, due to its content of anethole. Used to bring out flavor in slow-cooked dishes and long-simmered soups, this spice frequently makes an appearance in Indian cuisine and is an ingredient of the traditional five-spice powder of Chinese cooking. Star anise has been used in a tea to remedy rheumatism, and the seeds are sometimes chewed after meals to aid digestion.