Matching spices well is a science

Who I am
Robert Maurer

Author and references

Le spices, they are an extraordinary ingredient, but it is not always easy to combine them well with dishes. So it often happens that, after buying a bottle, we relegate it to the pantry and forget it. And it's a shame because spices, especially in mixes, are the lifeblood of every dish, capable of giving many beneficial effects. As Dr. Stuart Farrimond, English nutritionist, author of an in-depth manual on the subject, The Science of Spices.

She uses several combinations of spices. We are used to using one, at most two. What's the benefit of using more complex mixes?

Cooking with ground pepper or a spoonful of curry for me is like composing a concert for orchestra without the string section. The goal of my book is to teach everyone, according to some simple scientific principles, the richness that these combinations can offer to each dish. For this I have created a "periodic table of spices" so that everyone can create personalized combinations and unique blends.

By mixing them together, isn't there a risk of covering up the flavor of the food?

Not if you learn how to use them correctly. As with salt, it is necessary to introduce them gradually, adapting them to the selected foods and to your tastes.

Can using these blends be dangerous to health?

No, if the quantities are not exceeded. Each spice is loaded with powerful aromatic compounds - these are chemicals designed to protect the plant from disease and infestation, and therefore are naturally bitter and unsightly for repelling would-be invaders. But if we know how to dose them carefully we realize that they are endowed with wonderful qualities capable of involving our senses: whether they are floral, woody, warm, roasted, citrus, fruity or floral notes, they are a real joy for the palate!


Spices are the parts of a plant richest in aromas: they come from seeds, fruits, flowers, roots and stems. In the book La Scienza delle Spezie (Gribaudo publisher, € 24,90), Farrimond explains its origins, properties and correct combinations. 

  • Roots and bulbs. The roots and other underground reserve organs (bulbs, rhizomes, corms) contain water and nutrients. The rhizomes, such as the turmeric and ginger, are made up of 70% carbohydrates.

  • Seeds. Spices consist mostly of seeds. Just think of cumin, cardamom, mustard, Greek fennel, the nutmeg andstar anise. The seeds of this spice with a particular shape are contained in a woody casing where most of the aroma is concentrated.

  • fruits. The seeds of flowering plants are contained in the fruits. Many have evolved to form sugary structures that are highly valued by animals. In this way they can spread over a large area. The most famous spices derived from fruits are vanilla, black pepper and chilli.

  • flowers. Their scent is an irresistible attraction for pollinating insects. Few flowers, however, have such strong aromas that they can be considered spices. Among these, the best known are saffron and cloves.

  • Drums. They are the transmission belt of a plant: thanks to them, water and sugars are distributed where it is most needed. There are few spices that come from the stems, and the most famous in our kitchens is undoubtedly there cinnamon.

READ ALSO: Star anise, how to combine it and a recipe
READ ALSO: Nutmeg, how to combine it and a recipe
READ ALSO: Saffron, how to combine it and a recipe

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