September 6, 2014

Culinary herbs and Spices of the world by Ben-Erik Van Wyk

Culinary herbs and Spices of the world by Ben-Erik Van Wyk

[I haven’t seen a book before, covering herbs & spices of the world - a great reference book]

Key moments were 12 October 1492, when the Spanish explorer Columbus reached the Bahamas and ‘’discovered’ aji(chilli pepper) and 20 May 1498, when the Portuguese sailor Vasco de Gama stepped ashore at Calicut in India, thus establishing a sea route to the east around Cape of Good Hope. This was the age of discovery. The famous East Indies (India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia) supplied important tropical spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, and esp. pepper to satisfy the huge demand in Europe. The same is true for chocolate, vanilla, and allspice from the new World, including Mexico, and Central America. Maize, potatoes and chili peppers were distributed by Portuguese sailors from the New World to the Old World (Europe, Asia & Africa) where they quickly became important crop of many local food cultures.

The East Indian spice monopoly was eventually broken by horticultural innovations led by the French, who established plantations of pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and other valuable spices on tropical islands such as French Guiana, French Polynesia, Reunion, Seychelles and Madagascar. The use of refrigeration and other means of food preservation further reduced the central role of spices in international trade.

Regions of origin and culinary traditions:

Indigenous herbs and spices such as ajowan, buchu, coffee, geisho, Guinea pepper, Indian borage, karkade, korarima, koseret, Melegueta pepper and tamarind are widely used in many cooking traditions in Africa but, as in many other parts of the world, chilli peppers and other exotic spices have become popular or even dominant. In North Africa, Roman, Turkish, French and Italian conquerors all contributed to the local cooking traditions

Harissa is a famous chilli-based puree (tabal) used for spicing mutton and semolina dishes, as well as highly aromatic soups. Specialties include couscous with tajine or kefta followed by pastries and sweetmeats made from puff pastry, almonds, dates and honey. The extreme diversity in West African cooking ranges from bland-tasting fufu to fiery meat dishes spiced with chilli peppers or Melegueta pepper, atokiko (mango stones), Guinea pepper, tamarind,. Palm oil, peanuts and coconut are typical ingredients. West African traditions contributed to the Creole cookery of the West Indies.  Ethiopian cuisine is the best known in East Africa.

Classical herb combinations: have been developed in many parts of the world to flavor dishes and sauces or to enjoy as salads. The best known examples are from Europe but there are undoubtedly many more examples from Asian culinary traditions that are not yet well known outside their regions of origin.
Bouquet garni: refers to a bunch of aromatic herbs that is traditionally used (esp. in French cooking) to flavor a sauce or stock. The herbs (typically parsley, thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, sage and even cloves) are tied together in a bunch or wrapped in a piece of bacon or cheesecloth. This allows for the easy removal of the herbs

Fine herbs: are a mixture of chopped aromatic but mild-tasting ‘fine-herbs’ that are popular in French and Mediterranean cuisines. The classical mixture comprises fresh leaves of chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon but nowadays other herbs such as basil, bay leaf, cress, cicely, fennel, lemon balm and marjoram, rosemary and thyme are sometimes added. It is traditionally used to flavor sauces, cream cheeses, omelets sautéed vegetables and some meat dishes.

Herbs a soup: are traditionally used in France to flavor soups and stews and include the tops (leaves) of various vegetables such as carrots, celery parsley and radishes.

Herbs de Provence: are a Provencal mixture of fresh or dried thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, basil and savory that was traditionally used to flavor grilled meat. The concept originally simply referred to the herbs typical of Provence but nowadays commercial mixtures under this name are widely sold in supermarkets. These often include lavender and fennel to create mixtures that are not necessarily part of traditional French cuisine.

Herbs venitiennes: are a mixture of aromatic herbs (tarragon, chervil, parsley and sorrel) traditionally used in France to flavor butter.

Persillade: is a classic French seasoning made of chopped parsley and garlic and traditionally added at the end of the cooking time.

Pickle herbs: are a mixture of fresh leaves that is used to flavor pickled cucumbers. French dill herb is an essential ingredient, often accompanied by raspberry leaves, green onions and various other herbs depending on local preference..

Potherbs: in the French tradition included chard, lettuce, orache, purslane, sorrel, and spinach. It was used not only to flavor soups and stews, but also as garnishes, salad ingredients and vegetables. Nowadays the term is more widely used for almost any green leafy vegetable than is eaten by itself as cooked spinach or incorporated into other dishes.

Sabzi Khordan : is an Iranian mixture of fresh herbs (served with lunch and dinner) that typically includes basil, cilantro, eress, fennel, fenugreek, peppermint, radishes, za’atar, savory, tarragon and Welsh onion.

Tabbouleh is a Syrian made from chopped herbs (parsley, mint and lettuce), bulgur (cracked wheat) and other ingredients.

Some of the famous spice mixtures are:

Advieh or adwiya is a spice mixture used in traditional Persian cuisine and the surrounding regions.

Aleppo seven spices or Lebanese seven spices is a traditional Middle Eastern spice mixture.

Baharat is a spice mixture used in Arabian and Turkish cuisines.

Bengali five-spice mixture

Berbere is the well known spice power and key ingredient of Ethiopian cuisine.

Buknu masala is a North Indian spice mixture

Bumbu is the Indonesian spice mixture

Chaat masala is a spice mixture used in India and Pakistan to flavour fast food.

Chilli powder (which is not only includes chili pepper, but other five ingredients)

Chinese five-spice powder is the most famous spice mixture of China

Curry powder are western inventions for a spice mixture of Indian inspirations that was popularized throughout the British Empire during the 19th & 20th century,

Dhansak masala is an Indian (Parsi, Gujarati) spice mixture

Duqqa dukka or dukkah is an Egyptian spice mixture

French spice mixture is a classical spice mixture widely used in French cookery

Garam masala is a popular blend of ground spices commonly used in Indian and other South Asian cooking traditions.

Goda masala or kala masala is a popular Indian (Marathi) sweet-tasting spice mixture

Hawaij is a Yemenite ground spice mixture

Italian seasoning is a classical blend of dried herbs used for Italian cuisine.

Jerk spice is a very hot Jamaican spice mixture

Khmeli suneli is a blend of dried herbs and spices used in Georgia and the Caucasus region

Mitmita is a hot powdered spice traditionally used in Ethiopia

Montreal steak seasoning is a Canadian spice mixture of eastern European origin and inspiration

Mulling spices is a spice mixture used in Europe and North America

Old Bay seasoning is a branded condiment developed in USA

Panch phoron is a Bengali five spice mixture

Pumpkin pie spice is an American and Canadian spice mixture

Qalat daqqa or galat dagga is a North African five spice mixture

Quatre epices (meaning four spices) is a French spice mixture

Ras el hanout or Rass el hanout (meaning head of the shop in Arabic, implying the best of the spices on offer) is a Moroccan and North African spice mixture

Recado rojo or achiote paste is a Mexican spice mixture

Sambar masala is a dry spice powder mixture used in South Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil vegetable stew.

Shichimi or Shichimi togarashi is a common seven spice mixture used in Japan.

Tabil is a Arab cookery spice mixture

Taco seasoning is a commercial mixture of spices used for all flavoring a taco - a traditional Mexican dish

Tandoori masala is an Indian, Pakistani and Afghan spice mixture used specially with a tandoor (traditional clay oven).

Tea spice (or masala tea) is a mixture of spices used to add flavor to tea

Tikka masala is a variable mixture of spices used to season chicken tikka, a popular dish of Indian (or British) origin.

Vadouvan is a ready-to-use spice mixture, similar to Indian masala but with a French influence

Za’atar, zatar or zahter is a term that refers to spice mixture of Middle Eastern origins of the equally popular European oregano.

Seasoning and condiments:

Seasoning are added to the food while it is being prepared or especially sprinkled on afterwards to add more flavor whereas condiments are served as accompaniments with the meal.

Some of them are:

Seasoned salt is a mixture of salt and a diversity of powdered spices which many include black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, mustard, celery seeds, sometimes with cayenne pepper asafoetida and even soup powders or meat.

Sauces are liquid or semi liquid preparations that are added to food to improve flavor and appearance and to add moisture. Sauce making has been developed to a fine art in France. where the sauce chef is considered to be the solo artist in the orchestra of the kitchen.

Green sauce is a term used for various sauces made from green herbs as the main ingredients.

Dips or dipping sauces are liquid condiments used in all parts of the world to add flavor to various finger foods such as bread, crackers, pita bread, injera, dumplings, falafel, crudités, seafood, pieces of meat and cheese, potato chips and tortilla chips.

Pickles were vital in the days before refrigeration became available and were important methods of preserving food, especially in hot climate.

Chutney is a general term for a wide range of Indian condiments.

Sauerkraut (sour cabbage) is a fermented condiment made from finely sliced cabbage.

Essences are usually solutions of nature-identical flavor compounds of alcohol (e.g. vanilla essence),

Extracts on the other hand are complex mixtures of chemical compounds extracted from herbs or spices (through distillation, solvent extraction or critical fluid extraction).

Vinegar is the most important and widely used condiment and flavoring. It is a mixture of water and acetic acid, produced by the fermentation of the alcohol in wine and other alcoholic beverages by acetic acid bacteria. Vinegar is not only a popular condiment but an important ingredient of marinades, pickling mixtures, ketchup and mayonnaise.

Alcoholic beverages are widely used in cookery. Wine is not only an indispensable component of a good meal, but also an essential flavor ingredient in many dishes. Red wine is used in coq au vin, game ragouts, stews, marinades and cooked pears. It accompanies garlic, onions and mushrooms in thickened sauces. White wine (preferably dry and acidic) is used for cooking fish, seafood dishes and white meats. Mirin is a sweetened rice wine used in Japanese cooking. High alcohol beverages such as clear spirits (arrack, brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whisky and others) are not only flavor or character to a wide range of savory and sweet dishes. Malted and fermented drinks such as beer, cider, all have their special functions in the kitchen.

Non-alcoholic beverages contain water-soluble flavor compounds. Various types of tea (made from fresh or more often fermented leaves) are used in cooking.

Food coloring are used to make food more attractive or to replace colors lost during preparation.

Garnish is the term used for a decoration or embellishment of a dish or drink, mainly to improve the visual impact by adding color but often also to add extra or contrasting flavors, textures, fragrances.

The Chemistry of taste and flavor:

The ability to taste, known as gustatory perception or gustation, has an important survival value for humans and animals. A sweet taste indicates energy-rich food; an umami taste indicates the presence of important amino acids (the building blocks of proteins); a salty taste helps to regulate the electrolyte balance in the body; a sour taste may give a signal that the food is fermented and perhaps no longer safe; a bitter taste gives a warning of the presence of natural toxins - the majority of poisonous substances are intensely bitter.

Children are much better at tasting than adults, because about half of our taste buds are lost before the agent of twenty. Some foods or drinks may have an aftertaste that can be different to that of the food or drink itself. An acquired taste is a liking for a food or drink that develops over time after an initial phase of dislike, caused by some unfamiliar aspect such as strange odor, taste or appearance.

The balance between sweetness and acidity is an important aspect of cooking and the contrast is exploited by skilled chefs to create unforgettable dishes.

Bitter compounds not only stimulate the flow of saliva but the bitter taste in the mouth sends a signal to the stomach to increase the excretion of gastric juices. The ancient practice of eating bitter tonics has continued to this day and the customary gin and tonic before dinner makes perfect sense from a digestive point of view.

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