Spices that really hit the spot


For the novice Indian cook, the sheer variety of dishes, ingredients and techniques to master can be daunting to say the least. In a country of 1.2 billion people, each region has developed its own distinctive cuisine, from the seafood laden dishes of the Andaman Islands to the wholesome creations of Lucknow – diversity is an understatement. However, what binds this culinary kaleidoscope together is the use of spices. You may feel Indian cooks have a bit of a head start on you when it comes to knowing their way around a spice rack, after all, they have been cooking with them for more than 3,000 years, but with a bit practice and a few tricks of the trade up your sleeve, spices needn’t be scary.

The health benefits of spices are well documented, turmeric has been linked to the prevention of cancer for example, while ginger is a handy cure for an upset stomach and cayenne has been shown to improve circulation. These all sound like excellent reasons to start sprinkling spices into every meal, but before you get carried away you need to know what type of spices to buy and how to get the best out of them.

The first thing to be aware of is that the quality of the spices you use really does make a difference to the overall dish. If a cake recipe called for ‘pure vanilla extract’ or ‘at least 70% cocoa solids chocolate’, you wouldn’t chuck a Sainsbury’s basics version in the trolley and a bar of Dairy Milk – and we should be just as discerning when buying spices. A bland dish is often the result of poor quality spices, rather than a lack of skill on the chef’s part. Be wary of supermarket spices, as most of them have been ‘irradiated’. This ominous sounding process is used to extend the shelf life of a spice, reduce pathogens (nasties that cause viruses) and kill off any pests. In theory, this sounds fine but the chemicals involved inevitably impact on flavour and can reduce nutritional value. That’s why we use spices that haven’t been through this process and offer more intense, authentic flavours – when you use spices, purity is key. This is also why our spices aren’t mixed with other things unless specifically labelled as a ‘spice blend’ – like harissa paste. It may also surprise you to know that better doesn’t translate as ‘more expensive’ when it comes to spices, most of the spices we use actually come in cheaper than the supermarket equivalent, so don’t be fooled by the big brands.

Once you’ve started stockpiling spices, it’s important to know how to keep them. As lovely as a spice rack bursting with the flavours of India might look on display in your kitchen, light is a killer for spices as it destroys the essential oils. It’s best to store them in the cupboard, in air tight containers made of plastic or stainless steel, not glass. That way, they will last longer and retain their flavour.

So, the lesson of the day? Good quality goes a long way. Have a look at our range of spices and get started, they even come in eco-friendly packaging! Just don’t forget to warn any unsuspecting dinner guests the first time you experiment with a fiery new recipe, even if the results could be rather amusing, as described in this scene from William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair….

“Give Miss Sharp some curry, my dear,” said Mr Sedley, laughing.

Rebecca had never tasted the dish before.

“Do you find it as good as everything else from India?” said Mr. Sedley.

“Oh, excellent!” said Rebecca, who was suffering tortures with the cayenne pepper.

“Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp,” said Joseph, really interested.

“A chili,” said Rebecca, gasping. “Oh yes!” She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported, and was served with some. “How fresh and green they look,” she said, and put one into her mouth…

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