Spices are a fabulous way to enhance a dish without extra calories, salt or sugar. Adding spices can completely lift a dish, and we’re not just talking about spicy chillies. Whenever we think of spice we do tend to think spicy hot food, but, depending on the spices used, the food can be warming or cooling, smoky, aromatic or a combination.
Not only do spices flavour food, but many can contribute vitamins and minerals to the diet, including iron, magnesium, potassium, and many others. Spices may also help protect against conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, antioxidants in cinnamon have been linked to lower inflammation. Think of the added flavour and health benefits of replacing sugar with cinnamon say when cooking porridge, and so easy to do!
Spices can come from any part of a plant, for example, bark (cinnamon), roots or bulbs (ginger, garlic, turmeric), pods (vanilla) and seeds (nutmeg, black pepper, mustard). Spices are best used dry for optimum flavour and because they tend to have strong flavours, use them in small amounts.
They are usually dried straight after harvest. Once dry, the spices are best stored in airtight containers. Many spices are ground after drying. Once ground, though, they lose their flavour much more quickly, so try to use freshly ground spices if you can. To grind a whole spice, you can use a mortar and pestle or a fine grater or even a coffee grinder for larger amounts. Whole spices can be stored for up to three years, ground spices for about one year.
Some spices, whether whole or ground, are best lightly cooked before use to release the oils. Each spice has its’ own caveat as to when it should be added to the cooking process. Generally, the flavours from a whole spice take time to infuse into the food so are added early, but some ground spices can be added at the end. This is where it is worth following a recipe until you get to know your spices.
Disease preventing, health promoting, bags of flavour, couldn’t we all do with a lot of spice in our lives!