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Spicing Up a Work Day

I love teaching.  One of my personal goals during my stint at Costa Rica Beer Factory is to teach my cooks something new on a regular basis.  We had aimed for a weekly get-together/class but it has turned into more of a twice a month thing due to scheduling.  The latest workshop was a spice tasting I put together.  I was quite happy with the results and have already made notes of how to make it even better for whoever may be in the next audience.

Spices are both under and over estimated…  Some people believe that spiced food is bad because spices are being used to cover up something.  Others think that spices are great if used as complementary element in a dish.  I think of spices as an ingredient, the cook can choose whether to cast them in a leading role or use them to lend supporting character to the end result.

The spice tasting covered 7 spices and a wildcard spice/seasoning/ingredient that I am fond of.  I was delighted that my cooks were unfamiliar with all of the specimens I chose.  I will share a little about each of the spices we tasted:

  • Mace: lacy outer layer that covers the nutmeg nut.  It imparts a saffron hue to dishes and has a less sweet and hardier flavor than nutmeg.
  • Mahleb: seed kernel inside a cherry stone.  Very aromatic.  Floral and fruity, its aroma and flavor is a cross between cherry and almond.
  • Long Pepper: Similar in flavor to black pepper but it packs more heat.  An old world spice that fell out of popularity when common black pepper was found to be cheaper.
  • Nigella Sativa: very triangular in shape with an aroma reminiscent of a slightly charred onion or fennel bulb.  They lend a distinct Indian style bitterness to dishes.
  • Grains of Paradise: This spice reminds me of cardamom with its initial peppery tones, but it surprisingly has a citrus bite at the end.
  • Kala Jeera: very earthy in flavor and similar to cumin.  This spice is best used whole.
  • Juniper Berries: The only spice harvested from coniferous trees and the main ingredient in my favorite spirit.  Their bright flavor and bouquet is lovely.
  • Li Hing Powder: a powder made from li hing mui, which is a salted dried Chinese plum.  Hard to explain the flavor profile, but it tastes good sprinkled on fresh fruit, as an addition to cocktails and in candies.

We infused, sniffed, tasted, crushed and touched the various spices.  Some were subtle others intense and overpowering.  It was an interesting workshop and I hope to host another one soon.

Until next time…

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