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The word "spice" conjures up images of exotic food. Since time immemorial, spices have been used to flavour and enhance the dishes of many cultures.
The Oxford Dictionary describes spice as a dried seed, fruit, root, bark or vegetative substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for the purpose of flavouring, and sometimes as a preservative by killing or preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.
Pius Abbableshe, a Ghanian chef of many years, says spices have always offered intriguing tastes, impressive incenses and delightful perfumes, and, as tools of the rich, they have always been included in food to improve sexual potency. As classic recipes evolved, so did spice blends.
Abbableshe says spices are distinguished from herbs, which are leafy, green plant parts used for flavouring purposes.
"Herbs such as basil or oregano may be used fresh and are commonly chopped into smaller pieces. But spices are dried and often ground or grated into a powder. Small seeds, such as fennel and mustard seeds, are used both whole and in powder form."
Abbableshe says spices improve the taste and appeal of dull diets or spoiled food.
"Spicy flavours stimulate salivation and promote digestion. Pungent spices can cause sweating, which may even cause a cooling sensation in tropical climates. On the other hand, they can add a sense of inner warmth in cooked foods in cold climates."
According to Abbableshe, the basic classification of spices is as follows:
l Leaves and or branches of aromatic plants; all or part of the plant can be used. Examples include basil, bay leaf, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, oregano and chervil.
l Ripened fruits or seeds of plants. Examples include dill, fennel, coriander, fenugreek, berberis, mustard and black pepper.
l Roots or bulbs of certain plants. Examples include garlic, onion, celery and ginger.
Tips for cooking with spices and herbs by www.allrecipes.com
l Ground spices release their flavour more quickly than whole spices. Ground spices such as ground thyme or ground cumin can be used in recipes with short cooking times or can be added near the end of cooking for recipes with longer cooking times.
l Whole spices need a longer time to release their flavour. They work well in longer-cooking recipes such as soups and stews.
l Robust herbs such as sage, thyme and bay leaves stand up well over long cooking times while milder herbs like basil, marjoram and parsley should be added at the last minute for best results. This is especially true for fresh herbs.
l Rub leafy herbs in the palm of your hand to release the flavour and aroma. To double a recipe, increase spices and herbs by one-and-a-half times. Taste, and then add more seasonings if you think it's necessary.
l Spices and seeds such as fennel, cumin, sesame seeds and white peppercorns may be toasted to intensify their flavours. Simply add the spice to a dry, heated skillet and toast until aromatic, stirring occasionally.
l The best way to grind whole spices and seeds is with a small electric coffee grinder or spice mill. A pepper mill or mortar and pestle may also be used.
l Avoid sprinkling spices and herbs directly from the bottle into a steaming pot. Repeated exposure to heat and moisture will hasten flavour loss and could result in caking. Instead, measure them in a cup, measuring spoon or bowl and then add them.
l Use a completely dry measuring spoon when dipping it into a spice or herb.
Mansion barbecue spice mix
IngredientsT-bone or other grilling meat
2 Tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp curry powder
1 Tbsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
Mix all ingredients together and rub on T-bone, tenderloin, top sirloin and top loin (strip). Grill or broil for 10 minutes to 13 minutes for medium rare. Enough for six servings.