Spices are sweet or spicy aromatic substances of vegetable origin, obtained from seeds, fruits, buds, flowers, berries, roots and barks. Spices are marketed in various forms. Those whole they are certainly the best because they keep their aroma until the moment of grinding, which takes place through the use of mortars, small graters or special grinders.
The spices in powder they are certainly more practical but at the same time they are also the most alterable since the flavor, color, scent and even spiciness are extremely volatile characteristics. The spices in paste they are ground with the addition of oils in order to preserve their aromatic characteristics for a long time.
Even in this case, however, there is the risk of deterioration, however due to the possible rancidity of the oil which can therefore compromise the final taste of the product.
Spices have played a fundamental role in history having always been a very rare and expensive product. To get supplies of spices, new shipping routes were discovered and Christopher Columbus himself was pushed to embark to look for an alternative route to reach the Indies.
The most popular spices
Among the most common spices are mentioned:
- l'anise, of which the seeds are used to flavor roasts and desserts;
- la cinnamon, that is the rolled bark of the homonymous tree, suitable for sweets, but also for meats such as lamb;
- il cardamom, used in fruit desserts, in the processing of chocolate, candies and pralines, as flavoring in creams, whipped cream, ice creams and in numerous liqueurs or as an accompaniment to stewed, roasted or smoked meats;
- i cloves, hard, dried buds with a very intense aroma, very useful in the kitchen for the preparation of roasts, boiled meats, braised meats and stews;
- il coriander, a plant similar to parsley, which goes well with cabbage, sauerkraut, legumes, fish, lamb, pork, baked apples;
- la turmeric or Indian saffron, a spice common in Indian and Asian gastronomy in general, often used as a dye, in canned drinks, in many baked or dairy products, in ice cream, in yogurt, etc .;
- il macis, obtained from the dry and reddish coating of the seed, used for savory dishes, in the preparation of spice mixtures (eg curry) or in spicy vinegars for preserving vegetables;
- la nutmeg, which goes well with ricotta and spinach, it is used in the fillings of ravioli and tortellini, to flavor desserts, to prepare punch and in mulled wine;
- la p, obtained by grinding the dried seeds of the chili pepper;
- il Chili pepper, available in many varieties and all spicy;
- il pepper, of which the white, red and green varieties are known (based on the ripeness of the fruit);
- la mustard, which comes from the seeds of the fruit of a plant belonging to the cruciferous and is generally used to make the sauce of the same name;
- lo ginger, obtained from the rhizome of the plant and which has various uses in pastry in bakery products, for the preparation of liqueurs, oriental dishes and pickles.
Then there are blends, consisting of different spices wisely chosen and combined with each other. The Berber, basic ingredient in Eritrean and Ethiopian cuisine, it is a mixture of chilli, ginger, cloves, coriander, pigment, rue and ajowan. The curry is a mortar-pounded spice blend of Indian origin and usually includes black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, fenugreek and chilli.
Il ras el-hanout consists of a blend of around 30 different plants including nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, anise, turmeric, pink pepper, white pepper, galangal, ginger, clove, pigment, black cardamom, green cardamom, rosebuds and lavender , is widespread throughout North Africa and is the main spice of couscous.
Lo shichimi togarashi (ie "chili pepper with seven flavors") is a mixture of spices typical of Japanese cuisine composed of seven ingredients: togarashi (a type of red pepper), mandarin peel (which gives the typical orange color), sesame, poppy, seeds of hemp, nori seaweed and Sichuan pepper.
Spices, in addition to enhancing the flavor of food, have numerous healing properties: some exert a digestive and anti-fermentative action and stimulate the appetite (anise, tarragon, nutmeg, coriander), others have diuretic properties (pepper and chilli) and antiseptics (cloves, star anise). In general, all spices stimulate salivary, gastric and biliary secretion and, by exerting a mild irritation of the mucous membranes, increase gastric motility and cause a slight vasodilation which facilitates the absorption of nutrients.