I felt this detailed overview would be very informative to both the professional Chef and the novice, respectfully. I am often experimenting with various herbs and spices, in my creative process. The world of spices and seasoning is as diverse and numerous as the Chefs/cooks that use used them and I have created a 5 part series of post to address this subject matter. I truly hope you get enjoyment out of this series and it sparks the creative Chef in you.
Chef La’ Lou
Basil, or Sweet Basil, is a common name for the culinary herb Ocimum basilicum (pronounced /ˈbæzɪl/ or, in the US, /ˈbeːzɪl/), of the family Lamiaceae (mints), sometimes known as Saint Joseph’s Wort in some English-speaking countries.
Basil, originally from India, but thoroughly familiar to Theophrastusand Dioscurides, is a half-hardy annual plant, best known as a culinary herb prominently featured in Italian cuisine, and also plays a major role in Southeast Asian cuisines of Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and the cuisine of Taiwan. Depending on the species and cultivar, the leaves may taste somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, often sweet smell.
There are many varieties of Ocimum basilicum, as well as several related species or species hybrids also called basil. The type used in Italian food is typically called sweet basil, as opposed to Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), lemon basil (O. X citriodorum) and holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), which are used in Asia. While most common varieties of basil are treated as annuals, some are perennial in warm, tropical climates, including holy basil and a cultivar known as ‘African Blue’.
Basil is originally native to India and other tropical regions of Asia, having been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years.
Basil is commonly used fresh in cooked recipes. In general, it is added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor. The fresh herb can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. The dried herb also loses most of its flavor, and what little flavor that is retained, tastes very different, with a weak coumarin flavor, like hay.
Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto—a green Italian oil-and-herb sauce. Its other main ingredients are olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts.
The most commonly used Mediterranean basil cultivars are “Genovese”, “Purple Ruffles”, “Mammoth”, “Cinnamon”, “Lemon”, “Globe”, and “African Blue“. The Chinese also use fresh or dried basils in soups and other foods. In Taiwan, people add fresh basil leaves to thick soups (Chinese: 羹湯; pinyin: gēngtāng). They also eat fried chicken with deep-fried basil leaves. Basil (most commonly Thai basil) is commonly steeped in cream or milk to create an interesting flavor in ice cream or chocolates (such as truffles). The leaves are not the only part of basil used in culinary applications, the flower buds have a more subtle flavor and they are edible.
Thai basil is also a condiment in the Vietnamese noodle soup, phở.
Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper, pepper, myrtle pepper, pimenta, pimento or newspice, is a spice that is the dried unripe fruit (“berries“) of Pimenta dioica, a mid-canopy tree native to the Greater Antilles, southern Mexico, and Central America, now cultivated in many warm parts of the world. The name allspice was coined as early as 1621 by the English, who thought it combined the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Several unrelated fragrant shrubs are called “Carolina allspice” (Calycanthus floridus), “Japanese allspice” (Chimonanthus praecox) or “wild allspice” (Lindera benzoin). Allspice is also sometimes used to refer to the herb costmary (Tanacetum balsamita).
(Whole Allspice berries)
Allspice is the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. The fruit are picked when green and unripe and are traditionally dried in the sun. When dry, the fruit are brown and resemble large brown peppercorns. The whole fruit have a longer shelf life than the powdered product and produce a more aromatic product when freshly ground before use.
Fresh leaves are used where available. They are similar in texture to bay leaves and are thus infused during cooking and then removed before serving. Unlike bay leaves, they lose most of their flavor when dried and stored, so do not figure in commerce. The leaves and wood are often used for smoking meats where allspice is a local crop. Allspice can also be found in essential oil form.
Allspice is one of the most important ingredients of Caribbean cuisine. It is used in Caribbean jerk seasoning (the wood is used to smoke jerk in Jamaica, although the spice is a good substitute), in moles, and in pickling; it is also an ingredient in commercial sausage preparations and curry powders. Allspice is also indispensable in Middle Eastern cuisine, particularly in the Levant, where it is used to flavor a variety of stews and meat dishes. In Palestinian cuisine, for example, many main dishes call for allspice as the sole spice added for flavoring. In America, it is used mostly in desserts, but it is also responsible for giving Cincinnati-style chili its distinctive aroma and flavor. Allspice is commonly used in Great Britain, and appears in many dishes, including cakes. Even in many countries where allspice is not very popular in the household, as in Germany, it is used in large amounts by commercial sausage makers. It is a main flavor used in barbecue sauces. In the West Indies, an allspice liqueur called “pimento dram” is produced, and a sweet liqueur called mirto is made in Sardinia.
Anise is sweet and very aromatic, distinguished by its characteristic flavor The seeds, whole or powdered, are used in a wide variety of regional and ethnic confectioneries, including the black jelly bean, British aniseed balls, Australian humbugs, New Zealand aniseed wheels, Italian pizzelle, German Pfeffernüsse and Springerle, Austrian Anisbögen, Netherland muisjes, Norwegian knotts, New Mexican Bizcochitos, and Peruvian picarones. It is a key ingredient in Mexican atole de anís or champurrado, which is similar to hot chocolate, and it is taken as a digestive after meals in India..
The Ancient Romans often served spiced cakes with anise seeds, called mustaceoe at the end of feasts as a digestive. This tradition of serving cake at the end of festivities is the basis for the tradition of serving cake at weddings.
Anise is used to flavor Middle Eastern arak, Colombian aguardiente, French spirits absinthe, anisette and pastis, Greek ouzo, Bulgarian mastika, Macedonian Мастика, German Jägermeister, Italian sambuca, Dutch Brokmöpke, Portuguese, Peruvian and Spanish anís, Mexican Xtabentún and Turkish rakı. In these liquors, it is clear, but on addition of water becomes cloudy, a phenomenon known as the ouzo effect. It is believed to be one of the secret ingredients in the French liqueur Chartreuse. It is also used in some root beers, such as Virgil’s in the United States.
Annatto, sometimes called roucou or achiote, is derived from the seeds of the achiote trees of tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The seeds are sourced to produce a carotenoid-based yellow to orange food coloring and flavor. Its scent is described as “slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg” and flavor as “slightly nutty, sweet and peppery”.
In commercial processing, annatto coloring is extracted from the reddish pericarp which surrounds the seed of the achiote (Bixa orellana L.). Historically, it has been used as coloring in many cheeses (e.g., Cheddar, Gloucester, Red Leicester), cheese products (e.g. American cheese, Velveeta), and dairy spreads (e.g. butter, margarine). Annatto can also be used to color a number of non-dairy foods such as rice, custard powder, baked goods, seasonings, processed potatoes, snack foods, breakfast cereals and smoked fish. It has been linked to cases of food-related allergies.
Annatto is believed to originate from Brazil It was probably not initially used as a food additive and it has long been used by indigenous Caribbean and South American cultures where both fruit and tree are popularly called achiote or bija. The ancient Aztecs called it achiotl, and it was used for Mexican manuscript painting in the sixteenth century.
In India, annatto is known as “sindoor” and is considered auspicious for married women. Applying annatto to the forehead next to the hairline indicates that a woman is married. In the Philippines, it is called atsuete and is used as food coloring in traditional dishes.
Using annatto for color has been a traditional characteristic of Gloucester cheese since the 16th century when producers of inferior cheese used a coloring agent to replicate the orange hue achieved by the best cheese makers. During the summer months the high levels of carotene in the grass would have given the milk an orangey color which was carried through into the cheese. This orange hue was regarded as an indicator of the best cheese and that is why the custom of adding annatto spread to other parts of the UK, with Cheshire and Red Leicester cheese, as well as colored cheddar made in Scotland, all using this natural dye. Many Latin American cuisines traditionally use annatto in recipes of Spanish origin that originally call for saffron; for example, in arroz con pollo, to give the rice a yellow color. In Venezuela, annatto (called locally onoto) is used in the preparation of hallacas, perico, and other traditional dishes. In Brazil, both annatto (the product) and the tree (Bixa orellana L.) are called urucum, and the product itself may also be called colorau.
In the United States, annatto extract is listed as a color additive and is informally considered to be a natural coloring. Foods colored with annatto may declare the coloring in the statement of ingredients as “colored with annatto” or “annatto color.”
The bay laurel, with the botanical name Laurus nobilis, of the plantfamilyLauraceae), is also known as sweet bay, bay tree (esp. United Kingdom), true laurel, Grecian laurel, laurel tree, or simply laurel.
It is an aromatic evergreentree or large shrub with green, glossy leaves, native to the Mediterranean region. It is one of the plants used for bay leaf seasoning in cooking. Under the simpler name “laurel,” Laurus nobilis figures prominently in classical Greek, Roman, and Biblical culture.
Worldwide, many other kinds of plants in diverse families are also called “bay” or “laurel,” generally due to similarity of foliage or aroma to Laurus nobilis, and the full name is used for the California bay laurel (Umbellularia), also in the family Lauraceae.
Black cardamom, also known as hill cardamom, Bengal cardamom, greater cardamom, Indian cardamom, Nepal cardamom, winged cardamom, or brown cardamom, comes from either of two species in the family Zingiberaceae. Its seed pods have a strong camphor-like flavor, with a smoky character derived from the method of drying.
Black cardamom is often erroneously described as an inferior substitute for green cardamom by those unfamiliar with the spice; actually it is just not well suited for the sweet/hot dishes which typically use cardamom outside the plant’s native range. Black cardamom, by contrast, is better for hearty meat stews and similar dishes. Although the flavor differs from the smaller green cardamom, black cardamom is sometimes used by large-scale commercial bakers because of its cheapness.
The spice is generally made from ground seeds of the plant, with the seed coats removed. The small (1 mm) seeds are hard and vary in color from dark brown to black. They are flavorful, although they have almost no aroma. The seeds are commonly used in Indian cuisine, for example in curry, where it is known as rai. The seeds are usually thrown into hot oil or ghee, after which they pop, releasing a characteristic nutty flavor. The seeds have a significant amount of fatty oil. This oil is used often as cooking oil in India.
Ground seeds of the plant mixed with honey are widely used in eastern Europe as cough suppressant. In Eastern Canada, the use of mouche de moutarde to treat respiratory infections was popular before the advent of modern medicine. It consisted in mixing ground mustard seeds with flour and water, and creating a cataplasm with the paste. This cataplasm was put on the chest or the back and left until the person felt a stinging sensation.
Since the 1950s, black mustard has become less popular as compared to India mustard because some cultivars of India mustard have seeds that can be mechanically harvested in a more efficient manner.
The leaves, the seeds, and the stem of this mustard variety are edible. The plant appears in some form in African, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and soul food cuisine. Cultivars of B. juncea are grown as greens, and for the production of oilseed. In Russia, this is the main variety grown for production of mustard oil, which after refining is considered[according to whom?] one of the best vegetable oils around and is widely used in canning, baking and margarine production; and the majority of table mustard there is also made from this species of mustard plant.
The leaves are used in African cooking, and leaves, seeds, and stems are used in Indian cuisine, particularly in mountain regions of Nepal, as well as in the Punjab cuisine of India and Pakistan, where a famous dish called sarson da saag (mustard greens) is prepared. B. juncea subsp. tatsai, which has a particularly thick stem, is used to make the Indian pickle called achar, and the Chinese picklezha cai. The mustard made from the seeds of the B. juncea is called brown mustard. The leaves (raai in Gujarati) are used in many Indian dishes.
The Gorkhas of Darjeeling and Sikkim prepare pork with mustard greens (also called rayo in Nepali). It is usually eaten with relish with steamed rice, but could also be eaten with chapati (griddle breads).
Brassica juncea is more pungent than the closely related Brassica oleracea greens (kale, cabbage, collard greens, et cetera), and is frequently mixed with these milder greens in a dish of “mixed greens”, which may include wild greens such as dandelion. As with other greens in soul food cooking, mustard greens are generally flavored by being cooked for a long period with ham hocks or other smoked pork products. Mustard greens are high in vitamin A and vitamin K.
( Louisiana Mustard Greens and smoked turkey)
(Fried mustard green dish from Assam, India)
(Cantonese-style braised mustard greens, with wolfberries)
Chinese and Japanese cuisines also make use of mustard greens. In Japanese cuisine it is known as Takana and is often pickled and used as filling in onigiri or as a condiment. A large variety of B. juncea cultivars are used, including zha cai, mizuna, takana (var. integlofolia), juk gai choy, and xuelihong (雪里红 or 雪里蕻; var. crispifolia）. Asian mustard greens are most often stir-fried or pickled. A Southeast Asian dish called asam gai choy or kiam chai boey is often made with leftovers from a large meal. It involves stewing mustard greens with tamarind, dried chilies and leftover meat on the bone.
Caraway is also used in desserts, liquors, casseroles, curry and other foods. It is more commonly found in European cuisine. For example, it is commonly used in British caraway seed cake and is also added to sauerkraut. In Serbia, it is commonly sprinkled over home-made salty scones (pogačice s kimom). It is also used to add flavor to cheeses such as bondost, pultost, nøkkelost and havarti. Akvavit and several liqueurs are made with caraway. In Middle Eastern cuisine, caraway pudding is a popular dessert during Ramadan. Also it is typically made and served in Levant area in winter and in the occasion of having a new baby.
Caraway also has a long tradition of medical uses, primarily for stomach complaints. Emerging and ongoing research from Arabic regional studies suggest Carum Carvi use as an endocrine function support agent, specifically related to thyroid disorders and auto immune disease (see Hashimoto’s thyroiditis)
The cayenne pepper—also known as the Guinea spice, cow-horn pepper, aleva, bird pepper, or, especially in its powdered form, red pepper—is a hot chili pepper used to flavor dishes. It is red colored when ripened to maturity, but also eaten while still green. It is a cultivar of Capsicum annuum related to bell peppers, jalapeños, paprika and others. The Capsicum genus is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae).
The fruits are generally dried and ground, or pulped and baked into cakes, which are then ground and sifted to make the powdered spice of the same name.
Cayenne is used in cooking spicy dishes, as a powder or in its whole form (such as in Korean, Sichuan and other Asian cuisine), or in a thin, vinegar-based sauce. It is generally rated at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. It is also used as an herbal supplement, and was mentioned by Nicholas Culnnepeper in his Complete Herbal, 1653, as “guinea pepper” a misnomer for “guiana pepper”
Cayenne is a popular spice in a variety of cuisines. It is employed variously in its fresh form, dried and powdered, and as dried flakes. It is also a key ingredient in a variety of hot sauces, particularly those employing vinegar as a preservative. Cayenne pepper is often spread on sandwiches or similar items to add a spicy flavor. Buffalo-wing sauce contains Cayenne pepper.
Celery is used around the world as a vegetable for the crisp petiole (leaf stalk). The leaves are strongly flavored and are used less often, either as a flavoring in soups and stews or as a dried herb.
In temperate countries, celery is also grown for its seeds. Actually very small fruit, these “seeds” yield a valuable volatile oil used in the perfume and pharmaceutical industries. They also contain an organic compound called apiol. Celery seeds can be used as flavoring or spice, either as whole seeds or ground and mixed with salt, as celery salt. Celery salt can also be made from an extract of the roots, or using dried leaves. Celery salt is used as a seasoning, in cocktails (notably to enhance the flavor of Bloody Mary cocktails), on the Chicago-style hot dog, and in Old Bay Seasoning.
Celery, onions, and bell peppers are the holy trinity of Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisine. Celery, onions, and carrots make up the French mirepoix, often used as a base for sauces and soups. Celery is a staple in many soups, such as chicken noodle soup.
Chicory, Cichorium intybus, is a somewhat woody, perennialherbaceous plant usually with bright blue flowers, rarely white or pink. Various varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, chicons (blanched buds), or for roots (var. sativum), which are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive. It is also grown as a forage crop for livestock. It lives as a wild plant on roadsides in its native Europe, and in North America and Australia, where it has become naturalized.
Root chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) has been cultivated in Europe as a coffee substitute. The roots are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive, especially in the Mediterranean region (where the plant is native), although its use as a coffee additive is also very popular in India (see Indian filter coffee), parts of Southeast Asia, South Africa and southern United States, particularly in New Orleans. It has also been popular as a coffee substitute in poorer economic areas, and has gained wider popularity during economic crises such as the Great Depression in the 1930s and during World War II in Continental Europe. Chicory, with sugar beet and rye was used as an ingredient of the East German Mischkaffee (mixed coffee), introduced during the “East German coffee crisis” of 1976-79.
Around 1970 it was found that the root contains up to 20% inulin, a polysaccharide similar to starch. Inulin is mainly found in the plant family Asteraceae as a storage carbohydrate (for example Jerusalem artichoke, dahlia, yacon etc.). It is used as a sweetener in the food industry with a sweetening power 1⁄10 that of sucrose and is sometimes added to yogurts as a prebiotic. Inulin can be converted to fructose and glucose through hydrolysis. Inulin is also gaining popularity as a source of soluble dietary fiber and functional food.