New twists on everyday flavor enhancers make the season bright
As Americans increasingly seek healthier holiday eating habits while dealing with tighter budgets, cooking and eating at home become more attractive than ever. If you’re an at-home cook looking for an easy way to expand your culinary horizons for a holiday get-together, try creating some fresh taste sensations in familiar dishes by using new versions of your favorite spices to liven up family favorites. Here are some ideas from the spice experts at Frontier Natural Products Co-op for more flavorful and interesting versions of everyday spices.
Cinnamon is an especially popular spice that comes from the bark of a tropical Asian tree in the genus Cinnamomum. But for an even sweeter seasoning, try Vietnamese cinnamon. Compared to the more familiar Indonesian types, Vietnamese cinnamon has a distinctly sweet flavor and exceptionally high volatile oil content, the key flavor component. Gourmet cooks rate it as the highest-quality cinnamon in the world. Try using it in everything from oatmeal and baked goods to desserts, beverages and savory dishes.
If you’re a daring lover of heat in your food, you’ve learned the ways of cayenne.
Cayenne adds color and flavor to Southwestern salsas, Indian chutneys, Thai curries, Mexican enchiladas, Chinese stir-fries, Texas chili con carne, Cajun hot sauce and many other recipes. But for a smokier flavor, try chipotle peppers, which are actually dried, smoked jalapeno peppers. Their smoky-sweet flavor is often used in Southwestern and Mexican dishes. Add a dash to liven up everything from chili to barbecued fare.
Freshly ground black pepper is popular in a wide variety of foods, works well in combination with other herbs and spices and is commonly found in spice blends. To change things up, try using Sichuan (Szechuan) pepper instead of black pepper to add an exotic twist to recipes. Gourmet Sichuan pepper is grown in China and offers an unusual, pungent flavor that begins as warm and lemonlike with woodsy overtones and finishes with a more intense bite. It intensifies the flavor of fish, poultry, cheese and vegetables.
You’ve probably been using vanilla extract to flavor all kinds of desserts, beverages and other dishes. One way to ramp up the flavor is to switch to vanilla beans instead of using the liquid extract. Simply substitute one vanilla bean for each teaspoon of extract, cooking it with the liquid used in the recipe and then removing it. Bourbon vanilla beans, the most common type of vanilla, are grown in Madagascar and are very aromatic with a full, rich taste. But to bump up the flavor, try Papua New Guinea vanilla beans, cultivated in the lowlands of the Pacific Basin. They have a fruitier taste than that of the Bourbon beans, with some notes of cherry that add a deep, long-lasting flavor to ice creams, frosting and many beverages.
Nutmeg is the dried seed of the fruit of an evergreen tree, which most often comes in ground form. However, nutmeg, like many spices, loses both flavor and aroma after it is ground. Instead, buy whole nutmeg and grind it yourself using a special nutmeg grater or a fine grater, producing a more robust and fresh flavor. Warm and sweet, nutmeg adds depth to desserts, cheeses, savory dishes and a variety of vegetables. Don’t forget to sprinkle it on eggnog, mulled wines and punches. Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes are delicious with a light dusting of nutmeg, too.
With just a few simple substitutions like these, you can go beyond the everyday with your spices and create a whole new meal experience. You’ll be amazed at the difference small changes like these can make—and you’ll have fun bringing new, creative flavors into your cooking.
Look for these special spice varieties at your favorite natural foods store where you can purchase them in bulk, saving money because you only buy the amount you need. If you can’t find them at your retailer, you can purchase them online at www.frontiercoop. com. While you’re there, check out Frontier’s extensive library of creative recipes.
All things nice: holiday treats become even more tasty with the judicious use of sugar and spice.