The Changing Spice Scene
In this column, Ann gets right to the flavor of the topic, so . . . . . take notes!
With no further adieu, we turn the mike to Ann. You're on Ann . . . . .
The spice scene in the U.S. is changing drastically. I started VANNS Spices in 1982 and, in my first business plan, I wrote that cooks were going to change their cooking habits in the next few years to reflect the changing sophistication of food. People were traveling more and becoming more adventurous in the area of food. I wrote that they would want to reproduce the flavors they find in other cultures and would need spices to achieve this goal.
Furthermore, I wrote that with the heightened interest in healthy-eating, cooks would be forced to use more spices. After all, if you remove the skin from chicken, you remove all the flavor. Spices would be the answer to replacing flavor. Since sauces are usually based on fat (oil, butter, eggs, and cream), I saw no other choice. That prediction has come true beyond my wildest imagination. When I wrote that first business plan, I had no sense of the wide variety of spices I am currently selling, some of which I had barely heard of at the time, others I have learned of as I continue to study different cuisine. Some of the newly available products should be of interest to the barbecue industry.
Pink peppercorns (Schinus Molle), while available for several years, may be new to some in the barbecue industry. These berries, not a true pepper, have been used in France and the Middle East for 2000 years. The French use them in pates, sausages, and desserts. This slightly sweet, pink berry has a distinct peppery flavor and is nicely aromatic. It has a brittle outer shell with a small seed inside. Beyond flavor, it has the added dimension of color, I have used Pink Peppercorns in our marinades where both the flavor and the color add to the dish. Sweet and pungent, it fits perfectly with the flavor profile for barbecue. These berries are grown on the island of Reunion, off the coast of Africa.
Sichuan pepper, or Fagara, is in no way related to our familiar black or white pepper. It is sometimes call Chinese pepper also confusingly called cooking. Sichuan is the red-brown died flower of the Chinese Ash tree. It is one of the more ancient seasonings in China and is usually on the table to be used for seasoning cooked foods just as black pepper is for us. In the U.S., the whole flower is used.
These flowers have a pronounced spicy, woody aroma so pleasant, one is tempted to dry fry a few grains for the aroma alone. The taste is tingly, rather than straight hot. The seeds are bitter. In China, one can buy the spice with the seeds removed but even there it is rare and expensive. Sichuan pepper is one of the essential ingredients of Chinese Five Spice Powder.
The Chinese make another condiment with ground roasted Sichuan pepper and sea salt (five parts spice to one part salt) to sprinkle over cooked foods. This might be an idea worth adopting.
An even lesser known spice, Nigella, is worth your attention. Nigelia is the botanical name for a plant we know as 'Love in the Mist.' The seeds are tiny and black, much like onion seed and in Europe, they are sometimes called black onion seed. In India, where they grow wild, they are often called black cumin. They are in no way related to either onions or cumin. What confusion over a name! In flavor, however, there is no confusion. The taste of Nigella is quite unique. The flavor is peppery and nutty, something like a cross between poppy and pepper. It really is a substitute for pepper and can be used as such even though, to my taste, it is slightly more bitter and the flavor is spicier.
There are at least thirty other seasonings currently available from most spice companies, which were not on anyone's list a few years ago. I will endeavor to write about them from time to time.
Copyright (c) by:
Ann D. Wilder, President
VANN Spices, Ltd.
'World of Spices
' is © by VANN Spices, Ltd.
who is solely responsible for its content.