What would a dish without spices? I am sure that the answer is ... too plain a.k.a boring......... !! And it's true that spices enrich our food and our lives, too. That's why I include assorted spices below, just to make sure that your life is not too plain or too bored to live.............

Thursday, January 31, 2008


cymbopogon citratus
Family: Grass (poaceae)

Synonyms: West Indian lemongrass
Form of use: stalks, fresh and dried, cut into pieces and ground.
Origin: lemongrass is native to tropical Southeast Asia. The plant is cultivated in India, Africa, Australia and America today.
Aroma: lemongrass is very sour, fresh and similar to lemon with a trace of rose odor.
Use: lemongrass is used mainly in Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Indian cuisines. It is used to season soups, stewed fish and poultry dishes. It goes well with coconut, chili and green coriander.
Buying/storing: dried lemongrass is available in Asian specialty stores and groceries carrying natural food. Fresh lemongrass is available in Asian markets.
Properties: up to 6 ft high tropical grass grows from a tuberous root. It is a perennial and grows in thick tufts.
The long, pointed leaves of the herbs are similar to grass. Only very young, thin leaves, finely cut, can be used for cooking. Older leaves are tasteless and tough.

Tips for cooking:
Use a saw knife to cut fresh lemongrass because the plant is very tough. Lemon grass is cooked in fondue, but is not eaten raw because it is fibrous and too tough to chew. However, you can prepare a refreshing tea using lemon grass. Let it steep for at least 10 minutes because the aroma is released very slowly.


Curcuma Longa
Family: Ginger (zingiberaceae)

Synonyms: curcuma domestica, curcuma
Form of use: Root, fresh and dried, whole or ground
Origin: the plant has been cultivated for more that 2,000 years in Southeast and southern Asia. While 80 percent of worldwide production is in India today, turmeric continues to be cultivated in Indonesia. It is also grown in South America.
Aroma: turmeric smells like ginger and tastes piquant, but its aroma is stronger than ginger.
Use: Turmeric is the most important ingredient in curry powder. It is used mainly in India dishes, but can be found in East African cuisine as well. It is used to season rice and pasta dishes, soups, sauces and mayonnaise. It goes well with fish and seafood as well as with poultry, eggs, vegetable curry and chutney.
Buying/storing: buy ground turmeric only in small quantities because it loses its aroma fast. Keep in an air-proof closed container in a dry, dark place. Treat dried roots in the same manner. And when you manage to buy fresh turmeric, store it, like ginger, in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for several weeks.
Properties: The turmeric plant can grow 3-8 ft high and its lance late leaves are very big and wide. Its blossom is yellow and similar to the flowers of lilies. Its tuberous rhizome resembles ginger. The turmeric tuber is rounder and narrower, the bark is yellow and brown and the flesh is orange. The root is boiled after being harvested and dried. Then the external layer is removed. Dried turmeric roots, which look like small branches, are ground to make curry powder.
Related species: turmeric is related to ginger and galangal.
Mythology: In the Vedic culture of India, turmeric is a holy and important spice. The cowls of Buddhist monks were dyed with turmeric until recently. In Christian cultures, turmeric is also used as a natural dye for Easter eggs.
Medicinal Use: the yellow color called curcumin promotes the emptying of the gall bladder. The essential oil stimulates bile production in the liver. You can successfully use turmeric for stomach and intestinal diseased caused by a reduced excretion of bile.

Tips for cooking:
Turmeric can be used as a cheaper substitute for saffron. Worcestershire sauce and mustard contain turmeric as well.


Alpinia galanga
Family: Ginger (zingiberaceae)

Synonyms: -
Form of use: root, fresh, dried ground into powder or pickled.
Origin: Galangal is native to the tropics, specifically Indonesia. The plant is grown in Southeast Asia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. But people in Western countries are also familiar with it.
Aroma: the taste of galangal resembles that of ginger, but it is finer. It smells like citrus fruit and pine.
Use: Galangal is a basic element of Asian cuisine. It is suitable for spicy stews and curry dishes; it goes well with poultry and lamb as well as fish and seafood.
Buying/storing: Galangal is available in Asian specialty stores in western countries. Roots stay fresh for 2-3 weeks if stored in the vegetable compartment of a refrigerator wrapped in a freezer bag to protect from drying. Galangal powder stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place lasts for months.
Properties: Galangal is a perennial plant. It has creeping cylindrical, mostly bent rhizomes (roots). The roots have characteristic, yellowish-white blossoms, which are arranged decoratively around the rhizomes. Pink or reddish side sprouts grow from rhizomes. After the roots are harvested, they are cut into 4-8 inch pieces one inch thick. The rhizome contains essential oils and resin (galangol, alpinol), which cause its very bitter taste.
Related Species: Galangal is closed related to lesser galangal (alpinia officinarum). The lesser, and spicier, galangal is probably native to southern China. Fresh galangal is not readily available.
Mythology: Galangal was regarded as a ‘magic means’ in the area of its origin for a long time. Substances contained in it were beliered to have euphoriant and aphrodisiac properties.
Medicinal Use: The healing power of galangal was celebrated outside of Asia. Doctor Mattioli wrote in the 16th century: “Galangal refreshes breath, promotes digestion and removes flatulence”. Paracelsus had a similar opinion. Hildegard von Bingen, a Benedictine abbess, describes galangal as a means of healing heart diseases: “Who suffers from heart problems and who is endangered by an attack of heart weakness should eat a sufficient amount of galangal immediately and his condition will improve.”
A concoction made from galangal powder helps to relieve itchy, irritated skin. Galangal is contained in the herbal medicine “”Schwedenbitter”. It is used to ease cramps in angina pectoris.

Tips for cooking:
Fresh galangal is peeled as ginger and cut, grated or thinly sliced. Fibrous galangal roots can be dried as well. For this purpose, peeled roots are cut into thin slices. Dunk dried galangal roots in a little water for 1-2 hours before using them. If no fresh galangal is available, you can substitute fresh ginger.

Important warning:
Galangal promotes menses and can cause earlier menses or miscarriage.


Cinnamomum Verum
Family: Laurel (Lauraceae)

Synonyms : -
Form of use : dried bark, divided into pieces or ground
Origin : Srilanka (Ceylon). It is cultivated in Indonesia, Madagaskar, the Lesser Antilles and Central America as well.
Aroma : Highly aromatic, fine and sweet. However, its taste is sometimes bitter.
Use : It is used in sweet dishes, cakes, chocolate drinks, fruit juice, mulled wine, tea and honey, and is added to rice milk in some countries. In Asian cuisine, it is common to use cinnamon to season meat and fish dishes as well as pilafs and curry. Cola drinks, lemonades, and chewing gums often contain cinnamon oil.
Buying/storing : Cinnamon powder, ground from crushed sticks, is more precious than sticks. Both cinnamon sticks and powder should be stored in airproof containers in a dark, dry place.
Remarks: Cinnamon trees are grown in plantation. In nature, cinnamon trees grow up to 66 feet high. If cultivated, they are kept smaller in order to make the annual trimming of 6 feet long sprout easier. Cinnamon sticks are made by stripping off the bark of the trees and making bundles of it. The bundles of bark are then covered and fermented for 1-2 days. Afterwards, the external and internal layers of bark are removed and the rest of the clean bark is dried in the sun. The bark curls during this process. The pieces are rolled together to form a stick of cinnamon. The best-quality cinnamon has a light color and feels like rolled, dried paper. The thinner the piece of bark, the finer the taste.
Related species: There are about 275 different types of cinnamon trees. At least five of them are use to produce cinnamon spice. Besides the Ceylon cinnamon tree, the Padang cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum burmanii) and the cassia cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum aromaticum) act as substitute spices.
Mythology: In The Arabian Nights, Scheherazade recounts the fantastical legent of the origin of cinnamon. Cinnamon, she says, grows on the floor of a secret lake.
According to another fairy tale, cinnamon is brought by cinnamonbirds who collect the spice in their nests. In order to procure the precious cinnamon sticks, they must be shot down romtheir nest in high trees with bows and arrows.
Medicinal Use : Hippocrates emphasized the importance of cinnamon in medicine in about 500 BC. Cinnamon bark oil is highly antiseptic. It promotes blood circulation in the body and is good for the heart.

Tips for cooking :
Cinnamon is the most important ingredient in gingerbread, which contains coriander, anis, Chinese anis, cloves, orange and lemon peel, cardamom, nutmeg, mace and pimento. Mulled wine spices include cinnamon sticks, Chinese anise, cloves and cardamom.
Important warning : cinnamon oil, prepared from bark, can irritate skin. Therefore, mild oil prepared from cinnamon leaves is suitable for baths and massages because of its relaxing and antispasmodic properties. It is a good way to treat gastrointestinal disorders or strained muscles.

Did you know….. that the quality is determined by the color and delicacy of the bark that is expressed in ‘Ekelle’. The best cinnamon can be extremely expensive. Industrially, cinnamon is used in perfumery and soap production. It is important ingredient in liquors as well as in medicines promoting digestion.


Armoracia rusticana
Family: Mustard ( Brassicaceae)

Synonyms: red cole, cran, cranson, meredic, rabano picante
Form of use : root, fresh, whole and grated, as a paste, dried, as powder or in flakes, ground, in powder or pickled.
Origin : Grows in the steppes of eastern Russia and Ukraine. It is cultivated all over Europe, Asia, and North America.
Aroma : Sharp and acrid. Fresh-grated horse radish fills the eyes with tears.
Use : Essensial spice in Bavarian and Austrian cuisines. Horseradish is added to beef dishes and goes well with hearty stews and soups.
Buying/storing : Horseradish roots should be used fresh immediately after digging. Should remain whole if stored. The white flesh should not be grayish. The root cannot have more than two heads and should weight at least 6 oz. Fresh horseradish is available from Oktaober to March. You can store it in cold cellar or in the refridgerator. You should use bottled horseradish during the rest of the year. Horseradish powder and flakes are rarely available.
Properties: Horseradish is a perennial plant up to 4 feet high. The horseradish herbaceous stems – rhizomes – are 12-16 inches, exceptionally even up to 24 inches long and 2-21/2 long inches thick. The end of the root has side sprouts, which are removed by horseradish growers. It is very hard manual work to dig out and replant the main root twice during its growth time. Horseradish contains twice more vitamin C than lemon. It is rich in vitamins B1, B2, and B6 as well as in mineral substances like potassium, magnesium and iron. Essential oils are responsible for its distinctive taste.
Related species: Horseradish is related to vegetable radish. Daikon radish, used mainly in Asian cuisine, belongs to the family of winter radish. Wasabi, sometimes called green horseradish, is not related.
Mythology: magic powers are attributed to horseradish.
Medicinal Use: Horseradish aids immunity and insulates against the cold. It promotes digestion and blood circulation and decreases blood pressure. Used externally, it soothes rheumatism, arthritis, sciatica and insect bites. It relieves headache and other light strains as well.

Tips for cooking
Horseradish powder and flakes must be mixed with water. The potency of horseradish roots peaks at harvest time in the fall and then gradually decreases. Pay attention to this fact when cooking with fresh horseradish.


Allium sativum
Family : Alliaceae

Synonyms : Clown’s trade
Forms of use : Bulb, fresh, whole, or in the form of a paste, dried and ground.
Origin : Native to western Asia. It is grown in temperate and subtropical climate.
Aroma : slightly savory, slightly sweetish taste. It smells like sulfur and therefore it is peculiarly penetrating.
Use : Garlic plays a big role in Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. Very dominant in tapas, antipastos or mezzos. It goes well with meat and fish, souffl├ęs, and soup. Its aroma contributes to some salad dressings and dips.
Hidden use : whether mixed into Italian pesto, Asian curry, pasta or Indian spice dishes, many cooks consider garlic an essential ingredient.
Buying/storing : available all year aroung. In spring, young garlic can be eaten whole as a vegetable. If it is stored in a dark, dry place, it will last for several months. Garlic paste, both in a jar and in a tube, should be store in a refrigerator once opened. Garlic powder as well as salt should be firmly closed and stored in a dark place.
Properties: Garlic is plant about 28 inches high. It consists of one egg-shaped central bulb and about 12 side bulbs usually called ‘cloves’. A tubular herbaceous stem and thin long leaves grow from the central bulb. Reddish-white blossoms bloom at the turn of July and August and form a globular fault umbel. Garlic contains many sulfur compounds. Allicine (diallyl disulfide oxide), generated from alliine when a clove is cut, is valued for its taste.
Related Species: Botanically, garlic is related to other members of the Alliaceae family, such as chives, wild garlic and onion.
Mythology: The Romans regarded garlic as an aphrodisiac. Eating its cloves was supposed to increase potency in men. According to certain eastern European legends, eating garlic protects people from the bites of bloodthirsty vampires.
Medicinal Use: Already around 1500 BC, garlic was used in various medicinal formulas and the ancient Greeks in particular used it to cure many diseases. During the Middles Ages, doctors prescribed garlic for bone fracture and freckles. Garlic was valued for its healing effects until today. However, it does have an antiseptic effect and releases mucus. Garlic broth can be used externally for sore throats or inflamed swellings as well as drink to soothe coryza and bronchitis. If used regularly, the sulfur compounds of garlic should help poor blood circulation.

Tips for cooking :
You can recognize fresh garlic by its hard white cloves covered with a dry peel. When buying garlic, push carefully on the bulb. Maybe you wonder why some bulbs are rose and others are white. The difference in taste is insignificant. Gourmet cooks usually prefer rose colored garlic. Garlic paste tastes very similar to bulbs. Use salt or powder only if you want to season something quickly.
Before you start peeling and cutting garlic, moisten your hands and the cutting board – they will release their smell faster.
Garlic develops its full aroma only when pressed through garlic press or sliced with a knife. When garlic is roasted in oil or cooked, it loses its piquancy.