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Julie’s Place is very excited to announce a wonderful long lunch with herb and spice guru, Ian “Herbie” Hemphill.
Ian, author of “Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition”, among other respected books, will take you on a journey through the Indian sub-continent to learn about and experience their use of spices. And while he does, Julie Goodwin will cook for you the dishes that bring the stories to life. The lunch will consist of multiple delectable courses with wines.
Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to experience a journey through the world of spice with a peerless expert. And a beautiful lunch as well!
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Herbie’s Spice Appreciation – with bonus Gin making kit
PRESENTED BY THE COOKING SCHOOL AT THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT SURRY HILLS
About the class
This is the comprehensive introduction to spices that almost needs no introduction!
In this two-hour session, Ian Hemphill, otherwise known as ‘Herbie’ will navigate through the exotic waters of the history of the spice trade. You will learn about many different spices, their origins, and how they are processed and traded. Most importantly, Herbie will de-mystify their flavours and explain the principles behind spice blending, so you will feel comfortable using them in everyday cooking.
In addition to this Herbie will show you how to use his beautiful quality botanicals to create your own Gin at home.
Included in this class: – Herbies ‘Ginspiration Kit’ so you can go home and brew up a batch (RRP $69.95) – A glass of Herbies own gin and tonic on ice – An array of delicious spicy nibbles!
Making your own bespoke gin can be fun and satisfying if you have the right botanicals. Herbie’s Spices Ginspiration Spice Kit, combined with a vodka of your choosing, is a great way to commence your gin journey.
Juniper Berries are the main ingredient that must be used to call a product Gin. However there are a number of other botanicals, which when used in the correct proportions, open an Aladdin’s cave of exotic bespoke tastes for the adventurous gin drinker.
These spices are infused in vodka for just 3 days, you then strain the liquid off and bottle for your enjoyment, over ice or with your favourite tonic water.
JUNIPER BERRIES (Juniperus communis)
There are many different species of juniper, ranging from small shrubs 1.5 to 2 m high that provide us with the juniper berry of culinary use, to 12 m tall trees. Juniper bushes are compact with grey–green, ridged, sharp needle-like leaves that protrude at right angles, making the berries painful to harvest unless one is wearing strong gloves. The greenish-yellow flowers are indistinct and are followed by small, 7–10 mm diameter berries that take three years to mature. Initially hard and pale green, juniper berries ripen to blue–black, become fleshy and contain three sticky, hard brown seeds. When dried, the berries remain soft but if broken open, one will find the pith surrounding the seeds is quite friable. The aroma of juniper is immediately reminiscent of gin, with a woody, piney, resinous smell that is somewhat flowery and contains notes of turpentine. The flavour is equally pine-like, spicy, refreshing and savory, making it an excellent foil for rich, gamey or fatty foods. Although considered harmless to most, pregnant women and people with kidney problems are advised to avoid too much juniper.
Origin and History
Juniper trees are native to the Mediterranean, Arctic Norway, Russia, the north-west Himalayas and North America. Juniper has been regarded as a valuable item for medicinal purposes since the birth of Christ and has been considered throughout the ages as a magical plant. The Greek physicians Galen and Dioscorides wrote of juniper’s virtues around 100 AD and it is also mentioned in the Bible. Because of its air-cleansing piney fragrance, the foliage was used as a strewing herb to freshen stale air, and the Swiss burnt the berries with heating fuel in winter to sanitise stale classrooms. Juniper berries were sometimes utilised as a substitute for pepper, and they have been roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Gin, the alcoholic drink that derives its unique flavour from juniper berries, is named from an adaptation of the Dutch word for juniper, jenever.
Because juniper berries take three years to mature, a tree will bear both immature fruits and ready-to-be-harvested blue–black berries at the same time. The best-quality berries are picked by hand when ripe (usually in autumn) as any form of mechanical harvesting will crush these small pulpy spheres, allowing them to dry out and lose much of their flavour. We found picking juniper berries – nestled among their treacherous, needley foliage – so painful that we resorted to removing them with chopsticks. This was an inordinately slow task, which at least had the side-benefit of greatly improving our chopstick-handling skills.
Buying and Storage
Juniper berries are at their best when they are still moist and soft to the touch, squashing relatively easily between one’s fingers without crumbling from excessive dryness. It is not unusual for some berries to have a cloudy bloom on their indented, smooth blue–black skins, and although this is a harmless mould, berries that have not been properly dried may be excessively cloudy in appearance. Always wait to crush or grind juniper berries just before you use them, as the volatile component evaporates rapidly once exposed to the air. Store in a cool place in airtight packaging.
Juniper berries perform a unique role by contributing as much to the character of food through their ‘freshening’ ability as they do by way of their specific taste profile. As well as flavouring a dish, juniper cuts the gaminess of game, reduces the fatty effect of duck and pork and removes a perception of stodginess from bread stuffing. For this reason juniper berries are included in recipes for all sorts of game, such as venison, including reindeer in Scandinavia and wild duck in Ireland. They are added to fish and lamb and blend well with other herbs and spices, especially thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram, bay leaves, allspice and onions and garlic. One application I am particularly fond of is in a simple chicken casserole, moistened with plenty of rough red wine and spiced with all the above plus a few juniper berries.
For information on hundreds of herbs, spices and spice blends, see The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill and published by Robert Rose Inc. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Comments Off on Christmas Caper at The Essential Ingredient Rozelle
This is The Essential Ingredient’s last Christmas Caper at their Rozelle store, which stocks the largest range of Herbie’s Spices in Australia. Essential Rozelle has invited the people behind some of their most loved brands, including Herbie’s Spices, so that you can experience first hand how better quality ingredients and kitchen tools can bring your festive season to life. This is a shopping event like no other with oodles of product tastings, cooking demonstrations throughout the night and their biggest ever door prize giveaways.
Herbie’s Simply Delicious Dips
Wondering what to do with your ever growing selection of Herbie’s Spice packs? Ian ‘Herbie’ Hemphill and Liz Hemphill will show you how with just a few ingredients and some Herbie’s spices and spice blends, you can create simple delicious dips and spreads that will take pride of place on those lazy summer day grazing platters.
An Essential Dips Spice Kit will be on sale for $28 which includes 6 spices and blends and 5 delicious dip recipes that you’ll taste at the event.
Comments Off on Herbie is Guest Speaker at Tramsheds on 18th November
Herbie is Guest Speaker at Tramsheds on 18th November at 11:00am
Join us inside Tramsheds every Sunday for our Growers Markets from 8am-2pm!
In collaboration with Bodega 1904, our weekly Growers Markets feature a selection of seasonal fruit and veg from a selection of our favourite growers, sustainable products from community providores and a changing schedule of workshops and masterclasses featuring winemakers, cheesemakers, chefs, authors and artists.
This Sunday 11 November our line-up includes a selection of local favourites.
DATE AND TIME
SUN, 28 OCTOBER 2018, 8:00 AM –MON, 1 JANUARY 0001, 12:00 AM
Meet our guest speaker, Ian (Herbie) Hemphill of Herbie’s Spices, for an entertaining and informative spice conversation.
In this talk Herbie will navigate through the exotic waters of the history of the spice trade. You will learn about many different spices, their origins, and how they are processed and traded. Most importantly, Herbie will answer your questions, de-mystify their flavours and explain the principles behind spice blending, so you will feel comfortable using them in everyday cooking.
Tramsheds is an all-weather undercover precinct with free parking available for the first 2 hours, and free parking after 6pm.
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Herbie’s Spice Essentials
DATE AND TIME:
Sun. 28 October 2018
10:30 am – 1:30 pm AEDT
Cooking School at The Essential Ingredient
731-735 Darling St
Rozelle, NSW 2039
Join Australia’s spice guru Ian ‘Herbie’ Hemphill and daughter Kate (authors of The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition) in this hands-on class to explore the colourful and vibrant world of spices. Learn how spices bring readily available ingredients to life, including the art of making your own spice blends.
This will be the only hands-on Herbie’s course we will be running this year due to Kate’s schedule in the U.K so book early to avoid disappointment!
Muhamurra dip with za’atar flatbread (includes making flatbread)
Herbie has long been the nickname of Ian Hemphill, one of Australia’s foremost culinary herb and spice experts. Herbie and wife Liz started Herbie’s Spices in 1997, and after Forty-Five years of working in the herb and spice industry, Herbie is a well-respected and popular figure amongst his peers, in Australia and overseas.
Kate Hemphill, Ian & Liz’s eldest daughter, is an accomplished cook, a graduate of Leith’s School of Food and Wine in London, recipe contributor to The Spice & Herb Bible, and developer of most of the inspirational recipes you will find on www.herbies.com.au website.
1. Cancellations are not refundable.
2. The Essential Ingredient reserves the right to alter or cancel a class without notice. In the event of a change, you will be contacted on the daytime phone number provided to us at time of booking.
3. Registration is from 30 minutes prior to the class start time.
4. All classes and events require closed-in shoes.
5. We cannot accommodate dietary requirements in all cases. Please contact us prior to booking on 02 9555 8300.
Comments Off on Spice Appreciation in Conversation at Bondi Junction
SPICE APPRECIATION IN CONVERSATION AN INTRODUCTION TO THE WORLD OF SPICES AT HEALTHY LIFE BONDI JUNCTION 12th August from 12:00 noon to 2:00pm
(With Ian “Herbie” Hemphill)
This is your chance to talk about spices with Australian spice guru, Ian Hemphill of Herbie’s Spices.
Herbie is the author of the award winning Spice & Herb Bible, an authoritative herb and spice treatise sold in Canada, the USA, the UK and Australia. Copies will be available for sale and signing by Ian on the day.
Some of the subjects you can discus with Ian are:
The history of the spice trade and the Hemphill family’s obsession with herbs and spices for over 50 years.
The difference between a herb and a spice.
Vanilla, how it is grown and processed.
Storage, how to store and what does shelf life actually mean?
Quality and Adulteration, what is quality, how to identify and why it is important?
Herbs and spices are key to healthy, sustainable diets.
Cinnamon and cassia, what’s the difference and why you need to know.
Pepper, once the world’s most traded spices.
Chilli and all its derivatives, unknown to India, China and Europe only 500 years ago.
Ras el Hanout the most exotic Moroccan inspired spice blend on Earth.
Fragrant Sweet Spice, is another exotic blend for everyday use.
Comments Off on Spice Appreciation with Ian (Herbie) & Liz Hemphill in WA
Spice Appreciation with Ian (Herbie) & Liz Hemphill in WA
Ian & Liz Hemphill will be visiting Matters of Taste Cooking School in Western Australia on 2nd June 2018 to entertain and inform about the world of spices.
Come to our Guest Presenter EVENT on Saturday 2nd June 2018
Ian (Herbie) and Liz Hemphill are the gracious owners of the iconic Herbies Spices based in Sydney. If you want to know anything about spices, they are the perfect people to answer your questions. With seemingly infinite knowledge, they join us for Spice Mastery.
Over forty five years of working in the industry, including face-to-face lectures to groups from the general public, industrial brokering, manufacturing and marketing, has made Herbie a well-respected and popular figure among his peers, in Australia and overseas. We use Herbies Spices in class to make our food taste exceptional.
Ian and Liz will take you on a fascinating and mind-boggling journey into the mystical world of spice. From Ian’s childhood growing up with his spice pioneering parents in the 50’s, to travels around the globe in search of stunning produce, Ian and Liz have many stories to tell.
Delight in this fabulous 3 hour class and leave with a greater knowledge of how to exquisitely spice up your cooking!
Class: Spice Appreciation Saturday Afternoon EVENT June 2nd 2.30pm to 5.00pm – 40 participants, row seating, Demonstration Style, Tastings included $89.00.
Comments Off on Herbie’s Spices in Conversation 22nd April 2018
This is the comprehensive introduction to spices that almost needs no introduction!
In this two-hour session, Ian Hemphill, otherwise known as ‘Herbie’ will navigate through the exotic waters of the history of the spice trade. You will learn about many different spices, their origins, and how they are processed and traded. Most importantly, Herbie will de-mystify their flavours and explain the principles behind spice blending, so you will feel comfortable using them in everyday cooking.
Included in this price is a glass of wine, some spicy nibbles prepared by Liz, and a pack of Herbie’s delicious ‘Balmain & Rozelle Spice Blend’
Herbie strolls in an Indian Spice Garden with a group of travellers.
A modern trend in agriculture is to focus on broad-acre cropping to achieve greater efficiencies. One may be surprised to learn that many spices are still grown on small family-owned holdings, where more than one crop is cultivated. There is a simple logic to this method, one that has served Indian spice farmers for centuries, and has a few key reasons for being sustained.
A diverse planting is less likely to be wiped out by one disease that affects only one crop
Different plants are harvested at different times, spreading the workload and averaging out the farmer’s income stream
Prices will always fluctuate, and a diversity of crops helps to stabilise a farmer’s revenue
Herbie and Liz visited India with a group of spice travellers in March 2018, and these were some of the interesting things we saw when strolling through a family-owned spice farm in Kumily, in the south western state of Kerala, India.
Spike of Green Peppercorns
This is a spike of green peppercorns ready to be harvested.
Pepper is a tropical climbing vine, and the flower raceme is fertilised by the monsoon rain running down it. After a good monsoon, the spikes will be full of plump green berries.
Remains of Pepper Vine Flower Stem
Peppercorns that are left on the vine will gradually ripen and turn yellow then red.
Ripe, Red Peppercorns on Stem
To make black pepper, the green berries are threshed to remove the stems, then put out on mats in the sun to dry. During drying, an enzyme in the skin of the peppercorn turns it black, and creates the volatile oil that gives black pepper its characteristic flavour and aroma.
Peppercorns Drying Before Sieving
After drying, the peppercorns are sieved to remove pieces of stalk, and ‘light berries’. Light berries, (often called ‘pinheads’) are empty berries. That is they don’t contain the white centre you see when you crack a peppercorn. The white ‘heart’ of a peppercorn contains most of the piperine, and it is piperine that gives pepper its heat.
Cleaning Dried Black Pepper
The waste material is usually ground and added to low grade ground black pepper.
Ripe red peppercorns are soaked in water for up to a week in a process called ‘retting’. They are then removed from the water, macerated to remove the enzyme-containing skin that makes a peppercorn turn black, and dried in the sun. The result is a white peppercorn that is hotter than a black one, and does not have a black pepper taste.
Here’s a question for you:
What do you think is hottest, very black ground black pepper or pale grey ground black pepper?
The answer is counter-intuitive. The pale grey one is the hottest, as it is made from complete black peppercorns, which have a white core and have not been adulterated with pinheads (empty berries).
The next spice we came to was one of my long time favourites, Cardamom.
Cardamom Pods and Flowers
Cardamom is a member of the ginger family, and unlike ginger it flowers at the base of the plant. After flowering the green cardamom pods form like little green peas.
Close Up Cardamom Flower
Cardamom pods are one of the few spices that are dried in the dark. This helps to retain their green colour and optimum flavour.
Cardamom is considered to be an environmentally friendly spice, because the plants like shade and are cultivated in rain forest areas that don’t have to be cleared. The shady canopy in the forest provides an ideal environment for cardamom.
The same spice garden was dotted with a number of clove trees, all in bud. Cloves are native to the Indonesian spice islands and are now grown in many tropical parts of the world, including Kerala.
These clove buds will be harvested just before they open into flowers. Like pepper, the clove buds will be put out in the sun to dry and the enzyme that naturally occurs in a clove bud will turn it black and create the volatile oil eugenol. Eugenol is a strong natural anesthetic and antiseptic.
While in the spice garden we were fortunate enough to be given an insight into one of the oldest forms of trade negotiations.
The spice trade has always been surrounded in mystery, and one of the most fascinating rituals that prevails is the method of negotiating prices!
This video starts to explain the process of secret spice negotiation
We receive many questions about the world of spices, and in particular what makes a truly wonderful spice blend. The following article answers those questions, and we hope provides much more useful information.
In spices, we are fortunate enough to have a hobby that is also our passion, our business, and our livelihood … and it’s something that other people also find interesting. While green, leafy herbs are reassuring and familiar, there is an edginess about spices, a rawness, an element of danger that fascinates and lures.
Our late friend and radio broadcaster Alan Saunders, once commented that the difference between herbs and spices is this: herbs you can grow at home in your garden and on your window sill, spices you have to go out for. And the ancient traders went out for them in spades. Out to the East Indies all the way from Holland, England and Spain. Out to the West Indies, out to China and India, out to fascinating, dangerous, foreign, exotic lands.
Two thousand years ago, most known spices were a luxury only the wealthy could afford. As new spices such as cinnamon were discovered, their origins were surrounded in mystery and fantasy by spice traders, who were keen to maintain their exclusivity and high prices. The spice trade was extremely lucrative, with single voyages yielding profits ten times the original investment, fostering a breed of swashbuckling adventurers who went on tortuous journeys of discovery to bring home these precious commodities. But had it not been for the fact that spices store well once dried, and can be readily transported and traded, there may never have been a spice trade at all.
The 15th and 16th Century explorers Bartholomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan were searching for faster and safer routes to the sources of spices when they went on their voyages of discovery. Christopher Columbus was sailing west to find a shorter way to the Indonesian Archipelago when he bumped into the Americas and discovered allspice, chillies and vanilla (as well as chocolate, tomatoes and potatoes). The spice trade was so significant by the end of the 16th Century, that The British East India Company was founded in 1600, and by 1602 The United Dutch East India Company, the largest corporation in the world in these times, was formed.
So what is it about these ancient commodities that continues to captivate the imagination, thousands of years after humans discovered that nothing quite titillates the taste buds like spices? What would those traders have thought if they could have gazed into a crystal ball and seen that all these centuries later, we are still seeking out these highly desirable prizes? How amazing and fantastic it is that, although they have remained unchanged in their own attributes and characteristics for millennia, they still relate perfectly to our modern cuisines.
In the 21st century we are all extolled by every second lifestyle magazine to ‘Spice up our lives’. Towns that aspire to being a dot on the culinary map, hold a ‘Hot and Spicy’ food festival. Star chefs base their success on an ability to amaze the taste buds with their spice craft. Spices have made their way into more and more items on the supermarket shelves – not only hiding in traditional products like pickles and Worcestershire sauce, but in mustard-seeded mayonnaise, poppy seed and cracked pepper water biscuits, lime and chilli salad dressings, ginger-spiced marmalades … the list is endless, and growing!
Arguably, the most misunderstood aspect of spices is the vast and varied range of tastes they present to us, and that is the most likely reason why we continue to find them so irresistible. Thinking of spices only in terms of ‘hot and spicy’ would be like thinking of colour as only red, and ignoring the amazing spectrum of hues that we encounter every day. It would be like thinking of music as middle C with no other notes!
When you read about each spice in The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition, you will discover that their attributes and personalities are as varied as the colours of the rainbow. They have the ability to create as many different taste sensations as all the works of the great composers have done with music. What makes spices really exciting though, is that to appreciate them fully you don’t have to be the culinary equivalent of Rembrandt or have the genius of Beethoven. Everyone can use spices in everyday cooking, and with more practice, one can only look forward to more satisfaction.
So what are spices and what makes them so different to herbs? For the purposes of a broad definition, herbs are the leafy parts of edible plants and spices are generally the buds, bark, roots, berries, aromatic seeds and any other edible part of a plant (except the leaves) that is used, mostly dried, to flavour food. All encompassing isn’t it? There’s certainly more to spices than what you find at a chilli festival!
While many uses for herbs require them to be fresh, the majority of spices are dried. This is because drying activates naturally occurring enzymes in spices that ultimately create their flavours. Vanilla beans are tasteless and odourless when harvested, black peppercorns are green and cloves are devoid of pungency when picked. Nearly all seed spices have dried naturally on the plant by the time they are gathered, and nothing enhances the incredible complexity of flavours in a chilli more effectively than simply drying it.
Spices, until a couple of centuries ago, were used only by the affluent. Just think, that a collection of ingredients, used relatively sparingly by a minority of privileged diners should spawn such an enduring industry.
There are two myths about spices that need to be dispelled, here and now.
Myth 1: Spices Mask the Taste of Rotten Food. This misconception most probably developed because it has always been desirable to enhance the flavour of very bland foods or make meats with strong flavours more palatable. An old joint of mutton with overpowering lanoline flavours, benefits greatly by slow cooking in a selection of aromatic spices. Our interpretation of events is that some journalists, who reputedly tend to never let the facts get in the way of a good story, began to refer to this use of spices in somewhat colourful terms, feeding to their readers images of yokels gnawing at rotting bones on picturesque hillsides. The fact is that anyone so poor as to try and survive on rotting food (which although it may be relished as a delicacy by our dog, will most likely kill people) would not be able to afford spices anyway. And food poisoning is food poisoning, regardless of how many spices are added between the pot and the plate.
Myth 2: Spices are Preservatives. This second myth has a stronger basis in logic, as many spices do possess anti-microbial properties, however we have never encountered a herb or spice that has preservative qualities per se. The most common forms of food preservation in ancient times were by dehydration and using salt or acid (usually vinegar) to preserve wet products. As salt and vinegar have extremely pervasive tastes of their own, the addition of spices helped to make foods preserved with them more palatable. The anti-bacterial qualities in garlic and mustard seeds were a bonus in the preserving process and even today, many manufactured food products owe their stability to the use of spices in conjunction with established preserving techniques.
Do You Like Spicy Food? Spices are now so much a part of our lives that it would be hard to imagine a world without them. And next time you hear someone say “I don’t like spicy food!” just ask them if they like cinnamon donuts or vanilla ice cream, which are both flavoured with spices. We don’t think anyone will make such a claim after using the recipes you’ll find on our website.
Buying and Storage
Spices are an agricultural commodity, and like any other food that is grown, harvested, processed, traded, blended, packaged, stored, distributed, sold and ultimately consumed, huge variations in flavour and appearance will occur. Once you have tasted food prepared with the very best quality spices, you will never again be dismissive about the importance of quality in spices.
Over the years, we’ve spent many hours in many factories and warehouses in many parts of the world, seeing what factors determine quality. Our purpose here is to pass that experience and knowledge on to you, so that you can differentiate between good and bad when you are buying.
Growing is naturally where it all begins. Soil, climatic conditions, plant varieties and harvesting techniques will all contribute to the quality of a spice; the problem is that you have almost no way of identifying any of these factors. Spices are now grown in many tropical and temperate regions around the world, and while conventional wisdom may indicate that the best spice is one grown in its country of origin, these days that is not necessarily the case. Pepper vines are native to the South of India, and Indian pepper has a distinctive flavour characteristic that many pepper lovers prefer. However black pepper from Lampong in Indonesia has light, lemon-like notes that have their own attraction while pepper grown in North Queensland, Australia has a pleasing mild fruitiness that others prefer. So just like wines, spices can give us distinct varietal differences. Where country of origin can make a significant difference to the flavour of a spice, the spice seller should make some reference to this on the label. Sweet paprika from Hungary has a different flavour profile to mild paprika from Spain. Each is equally as good in its appropriate cooking application, it is just that they are different, so it helps in some cases to know where the spice came from.
The importance of processing after harvest will vary depending upon the spice. For most seed spices the process is relatively simple, whereas with vanilla it is highly complex and if it’s not done correctly it could render the final product useless. Processing usually involves some sort of grading and cleaning. With whole spices it is very easy to see if you are getting some extra pieces of sticks and stones, all charged at the same price as the spice!
The flavours and aromas of spices are contained in the volatile oils held in their cell structure. A cinnamon quill may not have much aroma when you smell it, however when you break it, the cells are ruptured and they release these volatiles, filling the air with the sweet fragrance of warm, spicy oranges. Volatile oils are destroyed rapidly by heat, and even a slight increase in the moisture content after drying, will cause the oils in a spice to oxidise more quickly. So you can see that storage and transportation conditions also affect quality.
What has to be remembered is that all herbs and spices will deteriorate over time as the volatile oils gradually evaporate and the flavour and aroma dissipates. Don’t be tempted to just use twice the amount of a spice that is well past its best before date, as this will only double the strength of the deep, base flavours and not compensate for the loss of fragrant, volatile top notes that have been lost.
The best advice when buying spices is to look for reputable brands (eg Herbie’s Spices!) that are packed in high-barrier packaging. This may be either clear laminate plastic with a re-sealable zip seal, or glass jars. When stocking your pantry, try not to buy quantities that are too large. You should definitely try to use a spice by the “best before” date on the pack – don’t keep it any longer, even if there is a little left.
Never buy spices in cardboard, paper or low-grade packs, although the lower price might be tempting. These cheaper packs allow the volatile oils to escape and oxygen gets in to the product, so it is already deteriorating by the time you take it home, and it’s false economy. Some people like the romantic notion of scooping out their spices from bulk bins, however these spices have been exposed to a considerable amount of air, insects and possible contamination from other ingredients such as allergens stored in close proximity. Sadly, the result is an inferior flavour and shorter shelf life, so take home a photo of the charming shop full of open sacks, but buy your spices somewhere else.
For those who like to have herbs and spices on display in a spice rack, make sure they are placed so they don’t have sunshine directly on them, and use the rack for either whole spices or your favourites, which are used frequently. When you spring clean, don’t hesitate to throw away any herbs and spices that have passed their Best Before date. It’s simply not worth it to add to a meal something with hardly any flavour left. When you work out the cost of herbs and spices and the small amount used in a recipe, they are really very economical.
We are often asked if spices should be stored in the fridge or freezer. Spices do store well for long periods in the freezer, however when the spice is removed from the cold environment, condensation will form, and that introduces moisture, something that accelerates deterioration. Therefore, if you want to store a spice for a long time before you use it, the freezer is an option. But, if you will be putting it in and taking it out several times, we would not recommend fridge or freezer storage.
Another tip to make sure your spices last well is to avoid shaking or pouring the contents over a steaming saucepan. The steam will condense around the inside of the pack, and the moisture will make the spice go hard, allow the volatile oils to oxidise more rapidly, or worse still, it may go mouldy.
When you’re wondering whether your spices are still good to use, simply smell them and if you can detect some aroma and pungency in your ground spices, they should be alright. Have a little sniff of any spice you are adding, (be careful if its chilli) each time you cook with it. You will become very familiar with the aroma, and this helps you get a feel for what flavour is best to add, and at the same time you will develop an understanding of good and poor quality.
If you want to check the freshness of whole spices, you will need to either break the piece (say for cinnamon sticks or cloves) or for a spice like nutmeg, scrape it with a knife or grater to release the aroma.
Using Whole or Ground Spices
Whether spices are used in their whole form, or ground to a powder, depends on the cooking method and the most effective way to get the best flavour out of them. A whole piece of cinnamon quill may be added to fruit during stewing, so the flavour is infused and the liquid remains clear. If ground cinnamon were used, the liquid would be muddy-looking. However when making a curry, mixing spices with flour for cakes and biscuits, or rubbing spices onto meats before cooking, ground spices are always used so they mix readily with other ingredients, or impart their flavours more rapidly, having been crushed.
Some cooks say that you should always buy spices whole and grind them yourself. This is not a bad idea if you’re not sure of the quality and freshness of ground spices. And if you’re an infrequent user, whole spices have a longer shelf life than ground ones. On average, whole spices, when stored as suggested above, will last for up to three years or more, while ground spices will start losing flavour after twelve to eighteen months. Good quality, freshly ground spices are as flavoursome as those you have ground yourself, so if you use a lot of ground spice, don’t be put off by the convenience of ready ground.
Grinding spices yourself can be extremely rewarding, especially if you do them in a pestle and mortar, (the pestle is the bit you pound with and the mortar is the bowl), so the aromas waft up as you pound away. We are often asked if there are any good spice grinders as an alternative to a pestle and mortar. Sadly, spices vary so much in size, hardness, texture and oil content that it is nigh on impossible to find a domestic grinder that will handle them all. Seed spices, like pepper, can be ground in a normal pepper mill. Then again, you can use a coffee grinder, but electric grinders can generate excessive heat that can destroy some of the lighter volatiles, so don’t over-grind. And if you don’t want your coffee tasting of cumin and fenugreek, the easiest way to clean any grinder is to grind a dessertspoonful of uncooked rice in it. Rice flour is gritty and cleans the contact surfaces effectively while absorbing residual oils, leaving the mechanism quite clean. So when it comes to all those other spices, take heed of the trendy television chefs, and use the trusty pestle and mortar that has been a cook’s most useful implement of choice for thousands of years.
Some cooks may tell you that roasting spices brings out the flavour. Wrong! Roasting spices changes the flavour. So in the same way that a slice of toast tastes different to a slice of bread, so a roasted spice tastes different to an un-roasted one. Spices are roasted to create greater depth of flavour and robustness, often when used with red meats. The majority of Indian curries are enhanced when roasted spices are used, however one would never roast cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and ginger before adding them to a cake. We also prefer to use un-roasted spices in fish and vegetable dishes as the more delicate, fresh-tasting top notes are still recognisable, and compliment these foods better than robust, roasted flavours.
Spices may be dry-roasted when they are whole or ground. Heat a heavy-based pan on the top of the stove until it is almost too hot to touch. (If it is too hot the spices may burn, turning them bitter.) Then put your spices into the hot pan and keep them moving so they don’t stick or burn. When fumes begin to emanate and the colour starts to darken, they are sufficiently roasted and should be tipped out of the pan ready for use within a day or two. We do not recommend storing roasted spices for more than a few days, as after roasting the flavours deteriorate quite rapidly. Many cooks like to roast them whole for the same reason as buying spices whole. Similarly, good quality, freshly ground spices will roast perfectly well.
Spices Found in Popular Cuisines:
Thousands of books have been written on the nuances of many cuisines and the extraordinary variety of ingredients that contribute to their character. So it may seem a gross over-simplification to identify a combination of herbs and spices that represents the flavours perceived as dominant in a particular cuisine. However the fact remains that for the majority of popular foods from different cultures there are certain herbs and spices, which, with the readily available ingredients of those regions, contribute to their unique character.
Therefore when the following herbs and spices are incorporated into even the most basic of meals (stir-fries, grills, barbecues and curries to name a few) a flavour will be imparted that is distinctly reminiscent of that cuisine. The spices are shown in descending order, so the first item is the ingredient used in greatest quantity.
There is enormous pleasure to be had by combining individual flavour characteristics to create completely different tastes. Spice blends are convenient and effective, and making your own combinations is simple with just a basic understanding of how to mix a variety of spices together.
Spice blending is an art as much as a science, and every spice blender will have an individual approach to making a blend. The way of achieving a blend may vary considerably depending upon the user’s requirements. A multinational food company wanting a spice blend to use in fast food outlets will be concerned about cost, a flavour profile that does not offend anyone and uses readily available, consistent quality ingredients. In the mid-20th century, the majority of these blends were high in salt, sugar and monosodium glutamate. By the 1990’s things started to change. Still high in salt, wheat flour as a filler to keep the weight up and the price down, and free flow agents stopped the powdered blends going hard if kept for too long.
Like the people in your neighbourhood, spices all have different characteristics. Some are strong and could be even described as unpleasant when tasted in isolation, others (like one of our favourites, cinnamon), are a delight to experience even on their own. In making a spice blend, we seek to create a different taste that can only be achieved by putting a combination of spices together. Sometimes a spice blend bears little resemblance to any of the individual spices used, in other cases a few characteristic spice flavours may dominate, for example in mixed spice where cinnamon and cloves are often the first aromas one might detect. Although the following guidelines will help you make spice blends, there are really no rules as such, and you can use your own creativity and instinct to create a range of different tastes.
The art of making a good spice blend is to bring a range of different tastes and textures together so they create an ideal balance that tantalizes the taste buds. Just as when cooking a meal we balance the sweet, salty, sour and bitter taste elements, when combining spices we balance their different attributes. For this purpose, the spices are grouped into five basic categories: sweet, pungent, tangy, hot and amalgamating.
Sweet spices are those that have varying degrees of inherent sweetness and are associated mostly with sweet foods such as puddings, cakes and pastries. It is worth remembering though, that these sweet spices have a role to play in balancing savoury foods as well. Among the sweet spices are cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and vanilla.
Pungent spices are unmistakeable as they have very strong aromas that may be camphor-like and astringent. Spices such as cloves, star anise and the cardamoms fall into this category. Australian native herbs and spices such as bush tomato (akudjura) and wattleseed would be grouped here as well. The pungent spices are valuable because even in small proportions they contribute a freshness of flavour to food that may otherwise be lacking. Use all pungent spices sparingly; the chart at the end of this section indicates the proportions in which each of these spices should be used. This is only an approximate guide, as even within the pungent group, ground star anise for example is stronger than ground caraway seed, however grouping still helps one gain an instinct for the relative strengths of different spices.
Tangy spices make an important contribution to the balance of spice blends in the same way that sourness is important in balancing meals. The astringency of tamarind is usually added at the cooking stage, as it is a messy spice to handle and would not blend readily with dry spices. However sumac with its fruity lemon-like freshness makes an excellent tangy addition to a dry spice blend, as does amchur (green mango) powder.
Hot spices, when added judiciously, can make or break a dish. This collection of relatively few spices is essentially responsible for the overused reference people make to ‘spicy’ food. Hot spices such as pepper and chilli stimulate the palate, causing the release of endorphins, those chemicals produced by the body that give us a sense of wellbeing. Spicy heat in food makes it appetizing and often only needs to be used in tiny amounts to have the desired effect.
Amalgamating spices are often unsung heroes. They make a very important contribution to spice blends, which is often underestimated. There are only a few regularly used amalgamating spices, however they are found in the majority of spice blends. For example, with coriander seed it is almost impossible to use too much. Sweet paprika is similar in the amount you can use. Strangely sweet paprika is a member of the chilli family but it has no heat, and is used with gay abandon in the famous casserole ‘Hungarian Goulash’.
The following chart is a basic guide showing the most commonly used spices in the five groups just mentioned. The quantity in teaspoons at the bottom of each column gives an approximate indication of the proportion (by volume, eg. spoon or cup) that you would find in a typical blend. For example a tasty meat seasoning to sprinkle on steak before grilling may contain:
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon amchur powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground chilli
5 teaspoons ground sweet paprika
Plus salt to suit one’s personal preference. Note that although pepper and chilli are both hot spices, the relative differences in their flavour and heat strength makes some variation in quantity appropriate.
Simply remember that these proportions can be varied as you experiment and become familiar with the spices. The following suggested quantities are a good starting point, so keep this little table handy to help avoid disaster!
Some Spices and Their Five Basic Flavour Categories
Don’t panic if the spice mix or curry you made today answers to ‘harsh’ when you were hoping for ‘mellow’. Spice blends round out and become better balanced after about 24 hours. So tomorrow, the complexities will have amalgamated, smoothing off the rough edges … providing, of course, all the proportions of sweet, pungent, tangy, hot and amalgamating spices were balanced in the first place.
You can see a complete range of Herbie’s Spices spice blends at this link: https://www.herbies.com.au/product-category/herbs-and-spices/spice-herb-blends/
We hope it brings you as much enjoyment as making these has brought us.
For more information about individual herbs and spices, making spice blends, and delicious recipes see The Spice & Herrb Bible 3rd Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill, published by Robert Rose Inc. Toronto, Canada.
When studding the Christmas ham with cloves last year, in preparation for coating with our special glaze, we thought people may be interested to know some facts about this wonderful spice.
Following is an extract from Spice Notes & Recipes by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill. Although this edition is out of print it has been replaced by The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition, also by Ian & Kate.
Whole cloves (Eugenia caryophyllata) as we know them are the dried, unopened flower buds of an attractive, tropical evergreen tree which reaches about 10 m in height and has dense, dark-green foliage. The trunk of a clove tree is around 30 cm in diameter, and usually forks near the base into two or three main branches of very hard wood with grey, rough bark. The lower branches often die back, and when they are closely planted, these conical-shaped trees form a magical aromatic canopy. New leaves are bright-pink, and mature with a glossy, dark-green upper surface, the underneath being paler green and dull. Clove buds are borne in clusters of 10–15, and are picked when they have reached full size, though still green and just starting to turn pink – reminding one of the unopened eyes of baby marsupials. If the buds are not gathered, they will flower and turn into oblong, drooping fruits known as ‘mother of cloves’, which have no use in the spice trade.
Harvested Clove Buds Laid Out to Dry
Clove Buds on the Tree
Cloves Changing Colour During Drying – The Dark Green Mat Has Clove Stems on it
When dried, cloves are reddish brown to dark brown in colour, approximately 10–15 mm long, nail-shaped and tapered at one end. Interestingly, the name clove derives from the Latin clavus meaning ‘nail’. In German nelke means ‘little nails’, and the Chinese ting hsiang means ‘nail spice’. The ‘bud’ end has a friable, paler ball appearing to sit atop four engagement-ring-style clasps. The aroma of cloves is pungent, warm, aromatic, camphor-like and faintly peppery. The flavour is intensely pungent, and words like medicinal, warming, sweet, lingering and numbing come to mind. When used in moderation, cloves bring a pleasing, palate-cleansing freshness and sweet spicy flavour to food.
Origin and History:
Clove Trees on Obilatu in The Spice Islands
Cloves are native to the eastern Indonesian islands referred to as the Moluccas (including Ternate, Tidor, Motir, Makian and Batjan). In an extraordinary archaelogical discovery in Syria (ancient Mesopotamia), the remains of cloves were found in a domestic kitchen site, dating back to around 1700BC. (Source – Spice: The History of Temptation. New York:Knopf, 2004) One can scarcely imagine the journey those cloves made from the Moluccas by sea and land and the number of hands they would have passed through on their way to their final destination. Cloves are believed to have been introduced to China during the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). They were probably the first form of breath freshener, as it was recorded that courtiers held cloves in their mouths to sweeten the breath when addressing the emperor. Cloves were a caravan import known to the Romans and were brought into Alexandria in the second century AD. By the fourth century AD this spice was well known around the Mediterranean and by the eighth century throughout Europe. The Arabs, who traded cloves from centres in India and Ceylon, kept the origins of their precious cargo a closely guarded secret.
Following the Crusades in Europe, disease and plagues were commonplace and there was a constant search for spices that could sweeten the air, which must often have been full of the stench of death. Cloves were found to have a natural antiseptic effect, and the pungent oil gave quick relief from toothache. By the 13th century, people were making pomanders (apples or oranges studded with cloves) to carry on them to ward off the plague.
On his return from the Orient in 1297, Marco Polo recalled having seen plantations of cloves on East Indian islands in the China Sea. Columbus sailed west in search of these spice islands but instead found the West Indies. Five years later, Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to India on the same search, and obtained cloves in Calicut (Calcutta), a trading centre that had probably brought the cloves from the East Indies.
From 1514 the Portuguese controlled the clove trade and the search for spices in general was on in earnest. In 1522 the only surviving ship of Magellan’s circumnavigation fleet returned to Spain with 26 tonnes of cloves, more than enough to pay for the entire cost of the expedition. The captain, Sebastian del Cano, was rewarded with a pension and a coat of arms comprising three nutmegs, two sticks of cinnamon and 12 cloves. The Portuguese monopoly in the Moluccas was broken by the Dutch, who expelled them in 1605 and ruthlessly maintained control for another 200 years, using cruel and gruesome measures. Part of the Dutch strategy to maintain high prices for cloves was to restrict by law the cultivation of cloves to the island of Amboina, uprooting and burning trees growing on other islands. The death penalty was imposed on anyone cultivating or selling the spice anywhere except Amboina. Nonetheless from 1750 to the early 1800s numerous attempts were made to break this stranglehold on the clove trade. Most successful was the superintendent of Ile de France (Mauritius), an intrepid Frenchman named Pierre Poivre (the original Peter Piper of the nursery rhyme), who smuggled some ‘mother of cloves’ out of Amboina and propagated a small number of trees. With varying degrees of success, clove plantations were established on Réunion, Martinique, Haiti and in the Seychelles. With the abolition of slavery gaining momentum, Zanzibar had a surplus of slaves until an Arab by the name of Saleh bin Haramil al Abray established clove plantations for the slaves to be put to work on. What was not lost on Saleh bin Haramil al Abray was the successful breaking of the Dutch monopoly on the clove trade by Pierre Poivre. Sultan Said of Oman ruled his kingdom from Muscat, however, in 1827 he sailed to Zanzibar and made a commercial treaty with America, mostly involving the trade in ivory. He soon realised, though, that to grow Zanzibar’s wealth he would have to increase trade with America and Europe and identified the clove trade as a means to achieve his objectives. The ill-fated Saleh bin Haramil al Abray had all his plantations confiscated because Sultan Said saw him as a political threat. Sultan Said then decreed that three clove trees would have to be planted for every coconut palm on Zanzibar and Pemba, making Zanzibar one of the world’s largest producers by the time he died in 1856. Despite a major setback with ‘sudden death disease’, which attacked mature trees, Zanzibar became – along with Madagascar – one of the world’s major clove producers.
The first harvesting of cloves takes place when the trees are six to eight years of age and continues then for up to 50 years; some trees reportedly live for up to 150 years. The trees are surprisingly sensitive and will usually only deliver one bumper crop in four years, the success of following crops being largely dependent on the degree of sympathy employed in the previous harvest. Rough handling and breaking of branches will generate debilitating shock in clove trees, diminishing subsequent yields. In Sir James Frazer’s famous work, The Golden Bough, he described the attitude of the native people to their crops: ‘When the clove trees are in blossom, they are treated like pregnant women. No noise may be made near them; no light or fire may be carried past them at night; no-one may approach them with his hat on, all must uncover in their presence. These precautions are observed lest the tree should be alarmed and bear no fruit, or should drop its fruit too soon like the untimely delivery of a woman who has been frightened in her pregnancy.’ Although modern attitudes have changed, the planting and harvesting of cloves still has religious significance in some villages.
Clove clusters are picked by hand when the buds are at full size, but before any petals have fallen to expose the stamens. As they do not all reach harvesting stage at the same time, a picker must be skilled enough to know the best clusters to pick and put in baskets. The filled baskets are returned to a central area, where the flower buds are removed from the flower stems by twisting the cluster against the palm of the hand. The snapped-off buds are spread out to dry on woven mats, where the tropical sun dries them in a few days to their characteristic reddish-brown colour. During drying, enzymes create the volatile oil eugenol, which is also present in lesser concentration in dried clove stems. A traditional way to gauge correct dryness of cloves is to hold them tightly in one’s hand and if they hurt, the spiky sections are hard, an indication of being properly dried. Having lost about two-thirds of their weight, one kilogram of cloves may consist of up to 15 000 buds.
Clove leaves are also harvested to produce clove leaf oil by steam distillation. This volatile oil is used in perfumery and food and beverage manufacturing. Because the harvesting of leafy branches for this oil seriously diminishes yields of cloves and makes the trees susceptible to fungal infection, it is not a common practice among the major producing countries.
Buying and Storage:
When buying whole cloves, look for clean, well-presented buds, as this is one of the best indications of how much care has been taken in the harvesting process. Each bud should be intact, still retaining the little soft, friable ball on the top. Look out for short clove-sized sticks which are in fact clove stems. Clove stems contain about 30% of the volatile oil in a clove, and are one of the most popular ways for unscrupulous spice traders to adulterate their goods. Another ‘trick of the trade’ has been to boil cloves in water to extract some of the oil, after which the depleted cloves are dried and sold. Only buy ground cloves from a reputable establishment that can assure you they have been recently milled, as when they’re ground, cloves lose their volatile oil fairly quickly. Ground cloves should be dark brown, because light-brown powder that is somewhat fibrous and gritty is probably heavily cut with ground clove stem. Store whole and ground cloves in airtight packaging and keep away from extremes of heat, light and humidity.
In Indonesia ground cloves are mixed with tobacco to make ‘kretek’ cigarettes, which crackle as they burn, and give off a distinctive aroma. To encounter the smell of a ‘kretek’ cigarette anywhere in the world immediately transports one back to Asia. Cloves are the essential component in a clove orange, or pomander (see P. 272), a dramatic example of the antibacterial qualities of cloves.
Because of their high pungency, cloves must always be used sparingly in cooking as too much can easily overpower a meal. Even though care is to be taken in their application, it is hard to imagine a host of traditional foods, including apple pie, ham, stewed fruit and pickles, without the addition of cloves. In Denmark they are an ingredient in the popular ‘pepper cake’ and are frequently added to exotic Arabian dishes. A popular mulled wine of the Middle Ages called ‘hippocras’ was made with ginger, cloves, and other spices. Right up to the present day, the warming spiced wines of Europe and Scandinavia are flavoured in the same way. Cloves are used in Indian and Asian curries and, as a truly international spice, can be found in the kitchens of every continent of the world.
For more information about culinary herbs and spices, and interesting recipes, see The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill, published by Robert Rose Inc, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition is available in Canada, The USA, The UK and Australia.