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Couple of general recommendations for pre-Christmas shopping

03/05/2015
 

Spices

Archaeological finds found at prehistoric settlements showed that various spices were used already in that times – cumin, wild marjoram, mint and parsley. Spices were also popular in ancient times and middle ages. At present we cannot do without spices when cooking.
Elementary division
  • Single-component products
  • Mixtures. Besides given sorts of spices, no dyes are used during their preparations. As regards ground products, adding of anti-lumping additives is admissible.
  • Seasoning preparations. These products contain, besides single sorts, also salt, vegetables, mushrooms, sodium glutamate and other ingredients. Contrary to the spices, they do not bear taste, but they emphasise the their taste itself.

Rules for purchasing spices
  • Known origin is a basis – it is always better to purchase in a “stone” shop than at a herb healer. The packaging for consumers shall contain information on the producer, importer or seller.
  • Best before date – it is always useful to check it on the labelling. Spice usually could be used after expiration of this date, however its quality could be decreased despite special multi-layer films reducing leaking of essential oils. Thus, buying a large amount of spices is not right.
  • We have to distinguish between spice mixtures and seasoning preparations. The labelling should contain information whether one-component, mixture or seasoning preparation is concerned. The compositions must not be missing as regards mixtures.
  • Consumers should also be aware of the fact that weight of the product does not have to be indicated on the labelling. In certain cases, in particular as regards spices packaged in transparent bags, such as rolls of whole cinnamon, vanilla pods or star anise, indicating of number of pieces is possible.
  • Pests and undesirable mixtures must not be present in spices.
  • Spices shall be dry, with typical aroma pursuant to the type. Spices shall be appropriately stored already in the shop, thus in dry and dark environment. Inappropriate storing can contribute to occurrence of mould.

Typical features of selected spices
Anise
Originates from plant Pimpinellaanisum L. /anise/. Dried fruits are used as spices, they are groove achenes of egg shape with short stem. They are of yellow-green to grey-green colour. The smell is strongly aromatic, taste sweetish and spicy. 
Star anise
We can also encounter names such as star anise, Chinese anise, star spices. Dried infructescences are used as spice. It is sold as whole-piece or ground. The infructescences have a star shape with a short stem. The pericarp is of rough shrivelled surface with shinny flat egg-shape seeds. The pericarp must not contain fractions and free brown seeds. The aroma is strongly spicy, sweetings and similar to liquorice.
Clove
Originates from plant - Eugenia caryophyllus. Dried closed blossom buds are used as spices. They are sold both whole or ground. Closed whole buds may contain no more than 10% of “claws without heads”. Typical colours are red-brown with yellow-brown head. The aroma is strong, taste is spicy to acrid.
Nutmeg
Originates from plant Myristica fragans. You can encounter name maces, maces nut. Ripened dried kernels are used. Nutmeg is not a nut, but a hard kernel of the fruit similar to a peach. The kernel is irregularly covered by a thin red skinny tissue (case) that separates the kernel from the pulp. After drying, the colour of this blossom tissue changes into amber yellow and it is offered as maces. The bare kernel with wrinkled surface and marble structure is then nutmeg. Both nutmeg and maces are of aromatic, very spicy, bitter-sweet and spicy taste. Nutmegs are sold as whole nuts.
Cinnamon
Originates from plant  - Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Blume), C. aromaticum (Nees) C. aureirií (Nees) and C. burmanii. Barks of young branches are used. Pieces, rolls, tubes or bars are sold – peeled or unpeeled. They have smooth surface and they are hard. The bark must not contain pieces of wood or little branches of the plant. The colour can be light yellow to dark yellow or cinnamon brown to red brown. The smell is intensely aromatic, the taste is spicy, sweetish to bitterly astringent, savoury.
Vanilla
Vanilla originates from plant Vanilla planifolia Andrews. Almost grown, not entirely ripened yellow capsules, called pods or sticks evolved from blossoms are used as spices. The pods are lengthwise shrivelled, flexible. They are of dark-brown to brown-black colour. There are various quality sorts of vanilla differing in length, aroma and colour. Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar belongs to the highest quality vanilla (rich, well mellow aroma). You can also encounter Mexican vanilla (sweetish aroma), Tahiti vanilla (musk aroma) or Indoneisian vanilla (wooden, smoke aroma). Spicy sweet, fine and noticeably aromatic.
Ginger
Ginger originates from plant Zingiber officinale Rosc. Fresh or dried and ground rootstocks are used as spices. They are of irregular shape and size, however, their size shall be no smaller than 20 mm, can have branches, be rounded and flattened. Ginger is sold in ground state too. Rootstocks are of yellow colour, yellowish-brown or light-brown. Limed ginger can be grey-white. The smell is aromatic, sweetish. The taste is fresh, spicy sweetly acrid.