Without spices, much of our food would taste pretty bland. But while it’s easy to reach for the same few every time one gets cooking, there are more unusual varieties that can make your dishes a lot more interesting. Why not spice things up a little!
Sumac: Extracted from the berries of the sumac bush, sumac powder has a tart lemony flavour with slightly astringent overtones. Slightly aromatic. Sumac works well with fish, chicken and hummus.
- The juice extracted from sumac is popular in salad dressings and marinades and the powdered form is used in stews and vegetable and chicken casseroles.
- Sumac is a very popular condiment in Turkey and Iran, where the ground fruits are liberally sprinkled over rice.
- Mixed with freshly cut onions, it is frequently eaten as an appetizer. The well-known Turkish fast food specialty döner kebap is sometimes flavoured with sumac powder.
- Another use of sumac is recorded from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt: The fruits are cooked with water to a thick, very sour essence, which is, then, added to meat and vegetable dishes; this method was also common as early as in Roman times and finds a close parallel in the usage of tamarind in contemporary Indian and Indonesian cuisines.
- Used in Arabic cooking, as a substitute to lemon for sourness and astringency. Lemon zest with a little salt makes a reasonable stand-in for sumac.
- A mixture of yoghurt and sumac is often served with kebabs.
Anardana: is a sticky spice made from the dried seeds and pulp of wild pomegranates. Anardana refers to the dried seeds of the pomegranate fruit. A variety of wild pomegranate called daru, which grows in the southern Himalayas, is reputed to yield the best anardana. Bits of pomegranate pulp remain on the seeds as they dry, so the slightly sticky seeds with a fruity, mildly sweet and tangy taste are used as a souring agent in Indian cuisine. They are used mainly in vegetable and legume dishes, as well as a few Moghlai dishes. Roasted and ground anardana replaces lime juice in the cuisines of regions where fresh lime in not available in certain seasons.
- It is used to add tartness to dishes.
- This powder has a sweet and sour taste which makes it ideal in chutneys, relishes, and spice rubs for meat and seafood.
- Used in Indian and Persian cuisine as a souring agent, much like sumac.
- Not just a delicious addition to fruits and nuts.
- A spoonful or two stirred into fruit juices, smoothies and teas provides a nutritious and flavorful boost.
- It is also enjoyed added sparingly when mixed into desserts, added to energy bar recipes, salad dressings and marinades.
Grains of paradise: A woody West African spice, these grains are great for flavouring steaks and potato salads. Grains of paradise are a spice worth a couple minutes’ meditation. Smell a small handful and you will be hit by an intense woody, almost forest-like aroma. Then pop one in your mouth and bite down. With an initial burst of inviting, peppery warmth, full but in no way harsh. Followed by a lifting note of citrus and something almost herby. In an instant the spice’s woody character takes hold, and tree bark gives way to cloves, cinnamon, and the faintest hint of cardamom. And the finish? Some of the most pleasant, full-bodied heat. It lingers for a while, not as a tingle or a burn, but as an assertive, gentle flame.
- You can emphasize its citrus flavours by cracking some into salad dressings.
- Its slight herbiness is enhanced by herbs like thyme (lemon thyme if you can get it), rosemary, and sage.
- Curries and rich sauces are the beneficiaries of its sweet warmth, as are gingerbreads and spice cakes.
- In all of these there’s that peppery heat, but it’s so much less punchy than black pepper (though no less flavourful) that it’s rarely unwelcome.
Saffron: Hailing from the Mediterranean region and primarily imported from Spain, this spice was once used to scent the baths and hallways of imperial Rome. These days you can use its bitter-honey flavour to season rice, soup, tagines and cakes.
- Arabs use saffron for preparing a kind of tea named after it and Arabic coffee.
- Indians use saffron for the preparation of a dish called Biryani.
- Italians and the Swiss use saffron for the preparation of a dish with rice called Risotto.
- Spaniards use saffron for the preparation of a dish called Paella.
- Germans and the English use saffron for the preparation of saffron cake.
- Food products such as margarine, sausages, cake powder, and many desserts.
- Dairy products such as butter and cheese.
- Saffron is also used in other products as sweets, candy, ice cream, jelly, beverages, wine, chicken, rice, seafood, soup, bread, and cake.
- Saffron is more important in Central Asia and Northern India, where it is used extensively for rice dishes.