Who doesnít love a little extra flavor? Spices can transform dishes of all kinds into tasty eats (and just think of how good your kitchen will smell).
As the worldís largest importer of spices, the U.S. certainly likes to add a little extra flavor to their favorite foods. A healthy way to add taste to foods without adding fats, sugars and salts, itís no wonder that our nationís spice consumption is surely on the rise.
Spice or herb? Is there a difference? According to the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA), "spices" historically referred to the tropical aromatics only, while "herbs" (pronounced "urbs," not "herbs") meant specifically the leaves and seeds of certain temperate-zone plants. While those distinctions are still used, "spice" has come also to mean the whole family of dried plant seasonings, including spices, herbs, blends and dehydrated vegetables.
While there are endless ways to use spices while cooking and baking in all seasons, fall dishes are ideal for experimenting with extra flavor. Aromatic sweet spices like cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves are especially savory.
The pungent aroma of cinnamon is simply unmistakable. From hot cinnamon rolls in the oven to red cinnamon candy hearts on Valentineís Day, cinnamon evokes a sweet comforting fragrance. From the dried bark of various laurel trees in the cinnamomun family, ground cinnamon is perhaps the most common baking spice. Truly native to Sri Lanka, the cinnamon we use in the U.S. is from the cassia tree, which is grown in Vietnam, China, Indonesia and Central America.
While cinnamon may be the spice most often used in baking, allspice is one thatís used in both sweets and foods such as soups, stews and curries. As the dried, unripe berry of Pimenta dioica, allspice comes from Jamaica, Mexico and Honduras and boasts a combined flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves with a hint of juniper and peppercorn. This explains why most classic Jamaican dishes such as jerk seasoning and beef patties make generous use of this spice.
Also added to an array of food types is fragrant nutmeg. As the seed of Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree native to the Molucca Island (which also produces mace), nutmeg has a sweet flavor but is also slightly bitter. This mild spice most often comes from Indonesia and Grenada and is commonly used in meats, soups and preserves as well as eggnog, puddings and fruit pies.
Assets to many seasonal recipes, cloves are also a versatile sweet spice used in barbecue sauce, muffins, applesauce and many other dishes.
Ready to spice things up in your kitchen? Look for some exciting fall recipes online or in your cookbooks.