Food, and life, would be predictably the same without spices. After all, how many ways can you cook using only the same ingredients every time? With spices, you can experience the side of a dish that could easily escape you without the accents and aftertaste that spices provide.
So if you want to spice things up, in your kitchen and in your life, get adventurous with your nose and taste buds using the following aromas and flavors of these popular condiments.
The most valuable and one of the oldest documented spices in the world, saffron was recorded as early as 1700 BC in the palace walls of Knossos, Greece. Its priceless value lies in the fact that the plant producing it makes very limited quantities of raw material, and harvesting it is an exercise in manual dexterity. The dried yellow stigmas (of which the maximum yield per flower is only three) of the small purple crocus, Crocus sativus, are carefully plucked by hand, piled and dried. It would take about 225,000 stigmas to make a pound of this most expensive spice in the world, but just a tiny dusting goes a long way as a flavoring and food colorant. By itself, saffron is a combination of pungent, spicy and bitter flavors with a very penetrating odor.
When combined with other spices like crystallized honey and lemon, the mixture can be sprinkled to yogurt or fresh fruit, or used to bring out another gustatory aspect of beef and chicken.
In Argentina, sweet and hot red peppers, Capsicum annuum, are air dried before ground into powder for use as garnish and seasoning. Paprika tastes milder than cayenne pepper and imparts a hint of sweetness but creates a distinct flavor when seasoned to crab, shellfish, goulash, cauliflower, potatoes, rice and veal. When combined with bitter oregano and cayenne pepper from Mexico, the resulting mixture brings out the full flavour of gumbo and fresh crawfish.
The taste of fennel pollen has been described as, "If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it." That's a very lofty regard for pollen that grows in the wild as the flowers of anise-flavored weed. Fennel pollen is, of course, much sweeter, with notes of licorice, handmade marshmallows and citrus. The aroma is warm and pleasant. Because of the intensive labor involved in harvesting and preparing it for market, fennel pollen comes quite at a price, but well worth it. Long loved in the kitchens of Italy but for some time unknown in North America, fennel pollen has chefs swearing by it for its versatility, bringing out the best from pears to pork, chicken, vegetables, grilled meats or fish, summery soups and pasta sauces.
Even better, fennel pollen blends well with all kinds of spices and flavors. While it won't rescue mediocre cooking, it does make the tastes more pronounced and nuanced. Medicinally, fennel has a broad range of health benefits such as boosting libido, helping lose weight, and expelling mucus.
Historically used as an aid to strengthen the memory, rosemary is fittingly a memorable herb. Its appearance is reminiscent of a sprig form an evergreen tree with a richly pungent flavor and assertively pine-like fragrance, a combination of aroma and taste that brings to mind the forest and the sea. Rosemary works its magic on grilled meats, vegetables and spreads.