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Tasting in colour

Knowledge by

Paloma Jones

An incalculable ocean of varying textures, aromatic notes and pigments, enough to overwhelm in astonished splendour.

Body

There is an undeniable calmness and curious excitement when experimenting with the vast assortment of spices.

In the simplest form, spices are in essence their own dialect within the language of culinary philosophy. Their enchanting splashes of lively hues accentuate an otherwise blander canvas of flavour, adding strong aromas and delivering animated sensations.

Many are well acquainted and actively partake in this passionate foxtrot; the way spices can perfectly amalgamate into each other, concluding in more than just meal but an overall enriching experience.

While for some of us this attraction is organic; a fluency we’ve grown up with or inherited from loved ones, for others it is a journey of self-exploration.

A somewhat timid introduction would articulate the following about tasting in full colour.

Definition

Spices refer to segmented natural materials such as leaves, blooms, stems, bark, berries, buds and seeds from a considerable range of diverse botanicals. The very word spice derives from the old Latin definition meaning species and aromata from a more youthful Latin interpretation. Capturing in essence the ancient admiration and bond shared between humanity and nature.

These select flora have been used to enhance daily meals, stimulate cognition, and aid in alleviating illnesses since prehistoric times, as well as attributing to spiritual connectivity within many cultures.

There exists a pacifying sentiment about embarking on a sensory journey through nature without deserting the comfort of one’s walls.

Dehydration

Spices are habitually dried to prolong their shelf life and concentrate their flavour. When dehydrated, the majority of the oils once possessed evaporate, trapping the remaining oils deeper within. They can be ground or utilised whole, with their contrasting forms harbouring the ability to create their own change, inimitable to their former form.

The distinct flavour profile produced from ground spice is more concentrated and its light, powdered texture infuses effortlessly.

In their whole state, spices retain their zest and sharpness longer than ground spices and can then be used in a wider variety; chopped, sifted, minced, diced and so on.

Geometric Science

What may appear as a technique of personal preference, rests differently within the minds of chefs and scientists alike. Botanical physiologist and agricultural researcher, Charles Forney, (particularly interested in how produce alters after harvest) explains that there is indeed a chemical reaction which occurs, and that palatability and fragrance of produce is altered by their geometric cuts.

He elaborates on the concept using the example of freshly cut tomatoes; as the tomato is sliced, so are the cell walls of the fruit, releasing enzymes. This reaction of enzymes creates the distinct aromatics we associate with freshly cut tomatoes.

Forney rationalises this distinct change in aroma as the tomato’s “green notes”. Naturally, the thinner the slices, the higher number of enzymes are released and the more prominent is the presence of “green notes”, resulting in a richer depth of the experienced flavour.

This remarkable reaction is also notable and perhaps more familiar in produce such as onions and garlic cloves; their fragrance and savour altering depending on method of preparation. From a gastronomic perspective, it is also important to note that more finely sliced elements are going to be penetrated quicker and therefore affected more within the cooking segment, making the cut important in terms of the final flavour profile.

Historic & Culture

Historically, spices have been prized for their unique versatility and benefits. Apart from their medicinal uses and spiritual connectivity, exotic spices conjured up impressions of foreign places and sparked the imagination for further exploration.

One of the world’s most renowned homes of spice infused gastronomy is of course, India, having mastered the artistry and illustrating the power of spice in cuisine.

A commonly used spice is cardamom; a dried fruit of Elettaria cardamomum, belonging to the ginger family, it provides sweet, floral notes and stands in third place of the world’s most expensive spices. Saffron is also commonly found in India, originating in Kashmir and deriving from stigma of the crocus flower. Believed to be more valuable than gold, the spice is hand-cultivated in a painstaking process that consists of 200 hours of labour per pound of dehydrated saffron.

Indonesia homes a collection of small islands in Maluku, known as the “spice islands” for their influence on the spread of their own piquant ingredients into mainstream culinary practices. Spices such as galangal, nutmeg and ginger are natives, and the fusion of various spices is referred to as bumbu.

Traceable back to the very infancy of humanity and civilization, spices were used in Ancient Egypt (3500 BC) to add their vibrancy to colour palates, fabrics, and even hair.

A cure for vanity were cosmetics made using flamboyant pigments and a cunning imagination meant that the use also extended for embalming procedures.

The expediency of spices grew into an insatiable appetite that stretched and intertwined within divergent cultures from every corner.

The trading of spices ignited a reshaping of the world map, establishing a global communicative circuit through trade and a botanical economy, one which exceeded the value of gold and jewels during the mediaeval period.

Nature has always played a generous role in shaping our world and our story.

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