Spice Terms

Benjamin Favier

ASTA: American Spice Trade Association

ASTA Color: A rating based on the official ASTA method for determining extractable color; generally applied to paprika.

Aril: An accessory appendage of certain seeds (example: mace around the nutmeg seed)

Bite: The heat factor in a spice. Bite is experienced by the tongue, flavor through the nose.

Bulbiet: A small bulb or bulblike body usually borne on a stem (example: garlic).

Bulk Index: Cubic centimeters occupied by 100 grams of spice or seasoning.

Capsule: A dry fruit that splits open at maturity (example: sesame).

Condiment: A substance used to give relish to food; a seasoning.

Custom Blend: A unique blend produced to a food manufacturer’s formula or needs.

Decorticated: To remove the outer husk (example: cardamom).

Dehydrated: Process by which fresh produce is dried and converted to various forms for ease of handling and final use.

Distillation: A purification process in which a liquid is converted to vapor by the external application of heat and the vapor is condensed to the purified liquid by some means of cooling.

Dry Solubles: Spice extractives plated on a dry soluble carrier.

Encapsulated Seasonings: Extractives blended with a solubilized gum which is spray-dried. As the spray dries, the gum forms a protective film around the flavor particles.

Essential Oils: The volatile oils of a spice, which produce most of its flavor.

Extractives: Volatile and non-volatile components which produce a spice’s total flavor.

Extractable Color: A measure of the color a spice will impart to a liquid medium.

Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938:This act and its subsequent revisions set up the standards of identity and quality for edible spices in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration enforces these regulations.

Freeze Drying: A drying technique that produces an end product, which is dry, not frozen. The term comes from the material to be dried being frozen and remaining that way during the complete drying process.

Herb: The leafy products of culinary flavoring plants of the temperate zone.

Hull: The outer covering/husk of some fruits or seeds.

Indigenous: Native to a given place.

Oleoresins: Viscous, resinous materials extracted from spices, containing both volatile and nonvolatile portions.

Pigment: Any of various coloring matters found in the cells and tissues of plants and animals.

Piperine: A colorless, crystalline alkaloid found in black and white peppers.

Pungency: A slightly sharp sensation registered by the tongue and olfactory senses.

Rhizome: A creeping, underground rootlike, often fleshy stem (example: ginger).

Scoville: A method of testing and rating the heat level of capsicums.

Seed: The ripened or matured ovule, consisting of two coats, an embryo, and reserve food.

Spice: Any dried plant product used for culinary purposes to enhance the flavor and appearance of food. Historically, “spices” meant the tropical items, such as pepper, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon.

Surface Color: The color visible to the eye which can be measured by reflectance (ex: paprika).

Vanillin: A colorless, crystalline compound which is the fragrant constituent of vanilla. It can also be produced synthetically.

Volatile Oils: Naturally occurring oils that are found in various plants, especially in the flowers and leaves, which give spices their characteristic flavor and odor.

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Spice Tips

Benjamin Favier

Spice Tips:

Learn all about the basics of using spice when cooking, such as how to buy spices and how to store them properly. Also, learn how much spice to use in a dish.

Generally Speaking …

Spices are the bark, root, fruit, or berry of a tropical, perennial plant.

Herbs are the leaves of annual and perennial shrubs that grow in the temperate zone.

Seeds are derived from annual plants and include anise, caraway, cardamom, celery, coriander, cumin (comino), dill, fennel, mustard, poppy, and sesame.

Seasonings are blends of spices, herbs, seeds and/or salt and other flavors.

Dehydrated vegetables consist of onion, bell peppers, garlic, and parsley.

… But All Are Commonly Referred To As Spices.

What to Look for When Buying Spices

The three most important factors are strength, color, and aroma. The best way to judge strength is by comparing old stock to new, for freshness. The difference is remarkable! The color, should be bright, not faded. The aroma should reach your nose before your nose reaches the container. Some attributes that buyers look for when purchasing spices are volatile oil content, heat units, ASTA color, and mesh size.

Where to Store Spices

Cool dry areas away from bright light are the best choice. Flavor is lost when spices are exposed to heat, and even the least amount of moisture can cause caking. Paprika and some herbs are light sensitive, so it’s preferable, for their appearance, to store them away from strong, direct light. And don’t forget to close the container tightly after each use. An open container promotes flavor loss.

Why Spices Need to be Replaced

Weak scented spices waste your cooking time as well as the other ingredients in the recipe. Using additional quantities of weak spices does not compare to using the correct quantity of fresh spice either in flavor or appearance. Herbs and spices that have faded in color would be undesirable when used as a garnish.

When to Replace Spices

Whole spices have a longer shelf life than ground spices and herbs. The general rule of thumb for ground spices, herbs, and seasonings is to replace them after 18 months. Or you can give them a sniff test — if you can’t smell the product when it’s a few inches away from your nose you certainly won’t be able to taste it.

How Much Spice to Use, and When

It’s always easier to add more spice than to try to remove it, so start with a pinch (approximately 1/4 teaspoon) of dried herbs per four servings. To help release the flavor it’s helpful to crush whole herbs with your fingers before adding it to a recipe. In foods with long cooking times, it’s best to add herbs during the last hour of cooking; or if whole spices are called for, add them at the beginning of cooking. (It’s helpful to place them in a small cheese-cloth so they can be removed when the desired flavor is reached. This also avoids any pieces of whole spice from remaining in the finished dish). Otherwise, add spices at the time the recipe calls for salt. In uncooked foods, herbs should be added as long as possible before serving.

Scaling Up Recipes

Restaurants and institutions often need to size up recipes for larger gatherings. Here are some suggestions for increasing spice in formulas. They are only suggestions.There’s no real substitute for testing the quantity batch.

Spices: When doubling recipes, double allspice, cloves, cinnamon, black and white pepper, etc. Nutmeg and mace are exceptions that require the herb formula.

Seasonings: Double the recipe, double the seasoning.

Herbs: For the first 100% increase in the portions, double the amount of herbs. For each multiple thereafter, add only half of the original amount of herbs.

Ground Red Pepper: This item merits special attention, as the heat intensity increases quickly. For the first 100% increase, double the amount of red pepper. For each multiple thereafter, add a fourth the original amount.

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