What are spices?
Spices are the berries, barks, buds, roots and aromatic seeds that are harvested for use in cooking, pharmaceutical and cosmetic use.
What about leaves versus flowers? The leaves of the coriander plant would be considered an “herb,” but when we use coriander seed, we say we are using a spice. Even the tiny filaments of saffron are referred to as a spice. Saffron is the stigma, which is hand-plucked from a small mauve crocus (Crocus sativus) and is native to Southeast Asia.
Where do spices come from?
Spices are grown in tropical regions around the globe, with some thriving in the cool misty mountainside and valleys. The majority of spices around the world are still harvested in the way they have been for centuries, by hand.
Flavor and Fragrance of Spices
Nature plays a pivotal role in the texture, taste, flavor, and aroma of spices. Interesting and varied flavors in spices are held in volatile oils that naturally occur in the spices. An example is a vanilla, which is a green tasteless bean that grows on a tropical climbing orchid. It is only after drying and curing that an enzyme reaction takes place that brings us the vanilla flavor and fragrance. Similarly, peppercorns are harvested green, and an enzyme reaction that occurs upon drying turns them black and creates the pepper flavor we all know so well.
Nirmala harvesting Cinnamon with her machete in hand...
Which Is Better?
Whole or Ground Spices
Unlike herbs, which come from the leaves of plants, highly aromatic spices are derived from the roots, seeds, bark or fruit of various plants.
Whole and ground spices are often used for different applications. While the convenience of buying ground spices can’t be beaten, we recommend purchasing whole spices whenever possible and grinding them yourself; you’ll get a superior flavor, and the spices themselves will last longer.
Spice shelf life depends on the spice and whether it’s whole or ground.
Generally, all spices will lose flavor and color over time. Whole spices can last up to two years, while ground spices lose their fragrance and potency within a year.
Caring for Spices
All of our spices are kept in our signature handsome tin. Keep your spices tightly sealed in a cool, dark place. Spices are sensitive to light, heat, and moisture, so make sure to keep them stowed away in a drawer or cupboard far away from the stove and sunlight. Be sure to measure spices with dry spoons, and always close containers tightly after use.
Old whole spices can be used to make teas.
Toasting & Roasting
Toasting whole spices lend a deep, earthy quality to each. Try the technique at the beginning of a recipe, with spices such as
fennel seeds and coriander to add character to a dish.
Dry roasting is a technique where the whole spices are heated in a dry skillet until fragrant.
Never fry ground spices in hot oil, as they will burn faster and turn bitter.
Tips and Techniques for spices.