Our social cooking classes have a lot of fans throughout South Africa who aren’t able to make it. When i announced that the theme for our March class would be a conversation about spices and herbs, i had a lot of people reach out to me asking if i could make the teachings from the class available to them because they struggled with experimenting with spices and herbs.
When coming up with the plan for the class i made it a point to gather as many different types of spices and herbs that most people would never think to try out. The list of spices and herbs is long and can be overwhelming but the reason i opted for variety is to showcase how the options for flavour combinations can be endless and encourage experimenting with them. I’ll try and work through a crash course in spices and herbs with you.
Herbs are merely the leaves of a plant, I’d say flowers too but most would say otherwise. Popular herbs that most would know include basil, parsley, oregano, thyme and tarragon to name a few. Herbs can be found in the fresh or dried form. Some fresh herbs can have a milder taste than they do in their dried form depending on the herb. For example oregano is more pungent dried than it is fresh whereas Mint has a stronger flavour fresh than it does dried. Whether you use fresh or dried herbs can be a matter of preference but i like to have a mix of both. I like the earthiness dried herbs add to my stews but i like to finish my dishes with fresh herbs because they offer a refreshing addition to any dish. Fresh herbs also work really well in salads and of course make great additions to cocktails. Dried herbs obviously last longer in storage so it’s good to always have those as a pantry staple.
Spices are extracted from the seeds, roots and bark of the plant. Spices can be found in their raw whole form or ground into a powder. Some spices that are quite popular include paprika, coriander, cloves, turmeric, cumin and cardamon. Spices can be stronger in flavour than herbs especially when heated in oil so a lot less is used in quantity compared to herbs. Whether you should keep spices whole or ground is again a matter of preference. Buying spices already ground is far more convenient because grinding spices can be tiring but they are some spices you should consider keeping whole like cinnamon and ginger whole as they offer a milder flavour should you need it.
FLAVOUR COMBINATIONS & BLENDS
When you combine or pair several spices and herbs together, you build a flavour profile. It’s important to know and study each spice and herb to be able to know what they bring when combined with other herbs and spices. For example; coriander and cumin are described to have warm, earthy and nutty flavours. They work best in curries and stews. Cinnamon is sweet and cardamon is fruity and spicy. The two go well together and are versatile in that they work well in savoury and sweet dishes. Here are a few popular flavour combinations from around the world;
- Chinese five spice – star anise, cinnamon, cloves, szechuan peppers, and fennel seeds.
- Ras El Hanout – coriander seeds, cumin seeds, crushed chilli flakes, ground cinnamon, paprika, ground cardamom, ground ginger and ground turmeric.
- Herbs de Provence – rosemary, fennel seed, dried savory, marjoram, tarragon, thyme, oregano, and lavender
- Italian seasoning – basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme,
- Jerk Seasoning – allspice, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, and the super hot scotch bonnet peppers.
- Indian Garam Masala – coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, red chili, turmeric
How can you tell the flavour a spice or herb has? Some are extremely aromatic and very evident. Sumac has tones of citrus when you smell it and even more so when you taste it. Paprika has peppery and earthy tones. Tasting raw spices and herbs is a great way to identify flavour tones but i’d say the best way to wrap your head around flavour combinations is to experiment and cook with them. Make your own blends based on your favourite spices and herbs and see how you like them in your cooking and adjust accordingly if need be. I like to tell people how cooking is fun when you throw caution to the wind and allow yourself to experiment with flavours. It didn’t taste so good? Try again 🙂
I hope this helped some of you with unraveling the very vast and exciting world of spices and herbs.
To find out more about our Cooking With V classes visit our site www.vanillascentedkisses.com