Spices and herbs are used in many different ways in the art of cooking. Interestingly, different cultures use different sets of spices and herbs to give the dishes their distinguishing taste and flavour.
Some commonly used herbs and spices are listed below:
- Bay Leaf
- Chili Pepper
- Curry Leaf
- Juniper Berry
- Kaffir Lime Leaf
- Star Anise
- Szechuan Pepper
Whole spices compared to ground spices
Most spices and herbs are available in either a finely ground form for cooking or in the raw form as a seed, nut, leaf, or tuber. Most of the time, the ground form is required to properly flavor the dish. Generally, whole spices keep their flavor longer than the ground spices. South Asian cuisines often use whole spices that they roast freshly before grinding for use, maximising the flavors and aromas released into the food.
Bay leaves are generally used in stews and soups and are almost always used whole.
Green spices compared to dried spices
Often, a recipe will require modifications if the fresh version is used because the flavors do change in the drying process. Fresh herbs are nearly always better than dried herbs, as some subtle aromatics are lost during drying. When substituted in recipes, one part dried herbs are approximately equal to 3 parts fresh herbs. For example, 1/3 tablespoon of dried basil is equal to about one tablespoon of chopped fresh basil.
The difference between herbs and spices is that, if a leaf of a plant can be used to add flavor or aroma to dishes, then it is an herb. If it is another part, like the seed, fruit, berry, and bark, then it is a spice.
Spice and Herb mixesEdit
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The term "curry powder" is the English equivalent of the South Asian spice mixtures known as garam masala. However in South Asian cuisine these are far more varied in their content than the generic curry powders found in Western supermarkets and grocers. The primary spices used in Indian cooking are:
- Cumin seeds, either ground or whole. They are put in the oil before cooking.
- Ground coriander seeds.
- Cardamom seeds, roasted in the oil before cooking
- Carom seeds, roasted in the oil before cooking
- Curry leaves, used in South Indian cooking (very different from curry powder, see Curry Tree)
- Ginger, aromatic, pungent and spicy, adds a special flavor and zest to Asian stir fries and many fruit and vegetable dishes.
- Hot red pepper, used to achieve hot flavor of Mexican, Creole, Cajun, Thai, and Indian cooking. Red pepper is a pungent, hot powder with a strong bite. It is advisable to use only small amounts of Red pepper as it intensifies as it is cooked.
- Garam masala, which depending on the recipe is either put in early or late in the cooking process, is a blend of roasted aromatic spices.
- Mustard seeds, which are put in the oil before cooking until they pop and release their flavour.
- Nigella (Kalonji) are small black seeds used to give naan bread its distinctive flavour.
- Panch Puran, a spice blend.
- Turmeric powder, which colors the dish.
Overall, the flavour of Indian cooking is made from a combination of these different spices, often with some of them roasted in oil at the beginning of cooking to release aromatic flavours. Whether spices are added early or late in the cooking process and cooked in oil or dry roasted can greatly affect the flavour of the resulting dish. Different recipes from the various parts of India and surrounding countries use different combinations.