Famous Flavours and Spices

Good evening to all you mid-weekers!

I must apologise for my sincere lack of presence over the past week and a half, I’ve been feeling a little uninspired. Not for any particular reason, other then the fact that I’m inherently lazy. But onwards. Today’s post is all about spice, cue the bells and whistles and whatnot.

I’ve been on a bit of a mission the past few days in all honestly. I’ve been a little driven to convince a few people about the importance of spice, if you will spare a moment for me; I must apologise if you – my humble reader – are the lady from Hotel Chocolat that I directed here the other day. I think I may have mildly terrified you with my rant about the need for spices in cooking. But they are important!

I can hear the faces being pulled into a sour pout as I’m typing this so i’ll clarify quickly. I don’t mean chilli, I don’t mean hot, spicy spices.  I mean everything really, every herb and spice you can find, I even mean garlic and chilli peppers and ginger, because I use them as if they were a spice. I know you guys have seen them, I know the huge spice bays in supermarkets are next to dried pasta and stock cubes, so don’t fib! I also know that you’ve probably thought that you’d never use half of them in a million years, because I used to think that too, until I started cooking my own meals. For the risk of sounding like an advert for the shopping channel I won’t waffle on too much, but I really like to impress on people that they should be a part of your general shopping list. And i’m going to give you a short list as to why I think you should consider it:

Número Uno – It reduces the need for salt in your food. If you use spices to give flavour, you won’t need to use as much, it’s pretty simple. Trust me. Your diet will be healthier, you will feel better and you won’t miss it.

Número Dos – It makes your food taste a million times better. It gives your palate more layers of taste, instead of being just a straight-up one dimensional dish. Without the running the risk of sounding like a complete tool, it helps to add more flavour instead of, say, just being able to taste tomatoes, or just being able to taste beef. There’s nothing wrong with either of these things, but sometimes it’s nice to have something with a little balls.

Número Tres – It does not mean your food is going to be spicy. This makes me sad, because the word spice to some people means spicy. It really isn’t. Chances are you’ve probably used a spice at some point in your life, cinnamon in your apple pie, oregano in marinara sauce. The range of spices is so amazing, you can’t just bung it into one palate feature. There are five parts of the flavour palate to stimulate, so do it! (I’ll talk a little more about this in a second). So don’t generalise! 

Número Cuatro – Spices are beneficial to your health. People have used them for centuries, and pills and medicines aren’t the only things to make you feel better for basic ailments. Ginger is amazing! It can help motion sickness, headaches, sore throats, congestion and normal sickness (I can testify to the latter reason after a particularly heavy night out!). Garlic can help to lower blood sugars, cholesterol and kill infections, as well as stimulate the lymph nodes in your body to help remove waste from the body. In addition to being an antibacterial substance and tasting immense. Oregano is a high antioxidant, paprika can help be anti-inflammatory, cinnamon is wonderful at regulating blood sugar levels, especially in diabetics and cumin is effective in killing Helicobacter pylori (the bacteria that can lead to stomach ulcers). If I still haven’t convinced you with just the top pick of what it a plethora of amazing-ness, Capsaicin, which is found in chilli peppers and cayenne, has found to not only mute pain by inhibiting the pain neurotransmitters, but has also found to suppress appetite and aid weight loss through exercise. Not that you lovely people need to worry about anything like that, it’s just useful to know. 

Número Cinco – It makes your food sing! It makes your food awesome! It makes your food more sophisticated! Whatever reason you want to choose, spices make your food so much more interesting, less bland.  

I know you might write me off as some other random person lecturing you to use spices, but there’s a reason there are so many celebrity chefs reiterating what I’m saying here, they’re not plugging Schwartz, they are just genuinely enthusiastic. And if I accomplish nothing else from this blog, I hope you listen to this message, your culinary life will never be the same again. 

I mentioned briefly before that I would talk about the five centres of taste before. You probably learnt about this in science at some point during your education, the whole “there are certain parts of the tongue that taste certain flavours” type…thing. Well, it’s my duty to tell to you that what you heard is a dirty rotten lie. Well, kind of. It’s not entirely a lie, only the exclusivity of “taste in certain areas” part is a lie. You can actually taste all flavours with equal intensity in all parts of your mouth containing a taste bud, there are just certain areas that pick it up first. And here’s a wonderfully useful diagram:

So you have the basic four, lets call them the Fantastic for now: Sourness, Sweetness, Saltiness and Bitterness. Those are all pretty standard. Bitter tastes are things like coffee and raw cocoa, beer, marmalade and some olives. Sour tastes are caused from high acid contents, either citric or tartaric, and these are found in lemons, limes, tamarind and sour milk, among others. Saltiness is, you know, salt, or sodium if you want to get mildly technical. Sweetness is usually the presence of some sort of sugar, glucose in cane sugar, lactose in dairy products can also be counted, fructose in fruits, even something called glycyrrhizin (nope, I’d never heard of it until today either) which is found in licorice and is thirty times sweeter then sucrose. There is one taste sensation that is left out in the cold, poor thing, and that’s something call Umami. It’s much harder to describe, so bear with me while I try to fumble through. It is, essentially, an “appetitive” kind of taste, it’s the kind of taste that makes you crave your food more, it’s usually found in meaty dishes, aged cheeses and fermented soy sauce. But it is curiously set off by MSG in the same way sugar is tasted first at the tip of the tongue. The section isn’t mapped on my little diagram but it’s basically at the centre of the tongue, in between all the others. 

The simplest way I can think to describe this is for you to look at this picture. Look at that badass burger, if you imagine what the burger itself tastes like in your mouth, that is what umami is, to me. For meat-eaters alike, an orgasm in your mouth. I think I should rename the flavours from Fantastic to Famous. Too lame? Perhaps. 

Sorry for the Science lesson, I may have gotten a little caught up