An ‘Introduction to Spices’ would be an entire module in cooking school if I were the instructor. I think spices are that important to cooking.
Proper selection and addition of good quality spices to a dish can elevate the flavor of a dish with little effort and minimal cost; that alone is reason to learn how to use spices and incorporate them into daily cooking.
What is a spice? Any plant material that modifies the flavor of foods. A spice can be a root, bark, various seeds, dried fruits and plenty of fresh and dried herbs. All of these ingredients appeal to individuals in different ways and that is why the best spice is the one that makes your senses dance.
Common Spice Myths
“But I don’t like hot food.” Neither do I! Chilies and peppers aside, most spices are not hot, but aromatic. Spicy food is always pungent, but not necessarily hot.
“Spices are exotic, not for my everyday home cooking.” Tut, tut. There are few mistakes when it comes to spicing food, the greatest being under-seasoning. Often too much salt and sugar is added, and flavors are not enhanced with spices. Adding spices is one of the simplest way you can transform a forgettable dish into something memorable.
“Won’t spicy food give me indigestion?” On the contrary, spices are beneficial to your health! Many spices and herbs (rosemary, bay leaf, oregano, cloves, thyme and more) are extremely high in antioxidants which hinder bacterial activity.
Spices 101 Series
Coming up on Simple Bites, we’re going to take some time to learn all about spices including:
- Buying and Storing Spices
- Toasting and Grinding Spices
- Cooking with Spices
Feel free to put up your hand and send questions my way! Please leave them as a comment because others may have the same question as you–or the answer! I’m discovering how very savvy Simple Bites readers are and am enjoying the discussions we have after every post.
Recipe: Chai Spice Granola with Dried Apple and Almonds
Here’s a recipe that demonstrates how a few simple spices can be incorporated into a dish and transform it from ordinary to extraordinary. Let’s talk about this granola for a minute, shall we?
- It’s sugar-free!
- It is dead simple to make, despite the significantly lengthy list of ingredients.
- It is extremely well suited to inviting a child or three to pull up stools and participate in the process.
- It will perfume your house; oh are you in for a treat.
- The original recipe was created by Simple Bites contributor Cheryl Arkison of Backseat Gourmet and published in the Blog Aid: Recipes for Haiti cookbook.
Chai Spice Granola with Dried Apple and Almonds
Adapted from Blog Aid: Recipes for Haiti
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup agave syrup (or skip the agave and use 1 cup honey total, OR use 1/2 c.brown sugar)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
- 5 cups rolled oat flakes (what are rolled oats?)
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 1 cup pumpkin seeds (or sunflower)
- 1/2 cup wheat germ
- 1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup or sesame seeds
- 1 cup diced dried apples
- 1 cup golden raisins
- Preheat oven to 300°F. Prepare two large cookie sheets with a sheet of parchment or non-stick spray.
- Mix together the honey, agave, water, oil, and spices in a small saucepan.
- Heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. It’s okay if it comes to a boil, but don’t keep it at a boil.
- Stir together dry ingredients, except for the coconut, raisins and apples, which will be added later. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Split between the two sheets.
- Bake at 300°F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 275°F and rotate pans. Use a spatula to turn the granola and scrape any darkening bits off the bottom of the pan. Bake for another 15 minutes.
- Add dried fruit and coconut, turn off oven and leave granola in oven until completely cool.
- Store in an airtight container. Makes 2 quarts.
Cheryl’s Recipe Notes:
“The spices can be varied according to taste, as can the nut/seed combo. If you want to substitute different nuts and seeds, make sure you still use the 5 cups of oats and 4 cups of nuts & seeds.”
Have you got a question about spices? What would you like to see covered here?