Best Winter Spices for Every Occasion
Best Winter Spices for Every Occasion.
There can be few more enticing sights – and smells – than a large ham studded with cloves making its stately progress towards the table. Originally from Indonesia, cloves have permeated many cuisines on their journey west, and have even established themselves as popular ingredients in Mexico and Peru.
When cloves aren’t busy adding aromatic appeal to stews and curries, they have a transformative effect on fruit desserts such as baked apple. Make sure to include them in your hot toddy, mulled cider or vin chaud.
Cinnamon has been highly prized in Europe for millennia. It was considered a gift fit for kings, and even gods, according to an inscription on the 4th century BC temple of Apollo at Didyma in modern day Turkey. The Egyptians used cinnamon as part of the embalming process and wealthy Romans are believed to have added this sweet-smelling spice to funeral pyres.
Today, cinnamon’s most likely home is the kitchen, either in powdered form or whole sticks. These add a wonderful fragrance to savoury meat dishes, especially lamb in Middle Eastern cuisine. Further west, the spice has been embraced in a host of sweet treats, from German’s Zimtsterne Christmas cookies to cinnamon buns.
The US has developed a particular affinity for cinnamon, which has worked its way into breakfast cereal, toast and towering stacks of pancakes. If just reading that list makes you crave something healthier then try an antioxidant-packed cinnamon tea, or sprinkle some on your porridge for an extra warming start to the day.
3. Star anise
No prizes for guessing how this star-shaped spice acquired its name. Star anise is the dried fruit of the illicium verum tree, native to Vietnam and south-west China, both of whose cuisines give it a major role. A staple ingredient of pho, that hearty, wholesome Vietnamese signature broth, star anise is also a component of the five-spice powder that is used as a flavour boost in so many Chinese dishes. Slow-cooked beef, Peking duck, even delicately steamed sea bass: so many Sinophile favourites carry that sweet liquorice richness.
Although less thoroughly infiltrated into European cooking, star anise can bring a warming exoticism to familiar dishes. Add some to the buttery glaze on your carrots, infuse it into a caramel sauce for your plum tart, spice up your braised red cabbage: before long you’ll even find yourself looking forward to winter.
Breathe into a jar of allspice and it’s easy to see how this ingredient acquired its name. There’s a little bit of everything here: cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Allspice may have been embraced worldwide to provide a flavour kick for everything from ketchup and jam to pickled herring; however its original home is Jamaica, where it comes from the dried, unripe berries of the pimento tree. Here allspice is indispensable as a major component of the rub or marinade used in the country’s famous jerk style of cooking.
For those spending winter somewhere rather colder than the Caribbean, allspice captures that sunshine and injects an exotic, warming element to much of our most evocative festive fare. Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, minced pies, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake just aren’t the same without a sprinkle of allspice.
Don’t be afraid to extend that Caribbean cheer to other traditional winter dishes. If your family can cope with a fiery edge to their Christmas lunch then why not shake things up this year with jerk turkey? Alternatively, warm up from that winter walk with a hot chocolate fired by allspice and, for comprehensive Caribbean cheer, a shot of rum.
It’s almost impossible to imagine culinary life without this much-loved, health-giving, versatile root. Integral to so many Indian dishes, a popular pickled companion for sushi and a stir-fry staple, ginger’s talents don’t just restrict themselves to solid food. From ginger tea to ginger ale, ginger wine and even ginger liqueur, this spice has worked its way into just about every refreshment occasion.
And then there are all those sweet treats! In powdered form, ginger lends its warmth to biscuits, not least those famous gingerbread men and ornate gingerbread houses, as well as a fabulous array of cakes. Crystallised ginger is a glorious match for tangy stewed rhubarb or adds a mouth-watering dimension to treacle tart. Dipped in chocolate, sticks of stem ginger are a perfectly luxurious gift for your host or loved one’s Christmas stocking. Just make sure to tackle temptation by buying an extra box for yourself.
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