Knowing which spices to add to a dish (and how much) can be a minefield. Too little and you don’t get the full flavor benefits; too much and the meal can quickly become inedible.
But how do spices actually work? Why do we prefer a perfectly spiced curry over boiled chicken and rice?
There are three interesting components to help us understand the answer to this question:
1. They Add New Flavors
Spices add new flavors to a dish which increases the complexity of the dish, making it more exciting and, therefore, more appealing to us. Taste, made up of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami notes, can therefore be achieved with ‘sweet’ spices like cinnamon, ‘bitter’ spices such as turmeric and others.
2. They Complement Other Flavors
In addition to adding flavor, spices also complement other flavors in the dish. For this reason, there are so many widely used complementary pairings such as apples and cinnamon, oranges and cloves, fish and saffron. These combinations are perceived as tasting better because they add new flavor dimensions.
3. They Enhance the Saltiness of a Dish
This is an interesting one. In a recent study, researchers found that the brain perceives food with more spices as being saltier. Many of us are conscious of our salt consumption for health reasons but enjoy the way that salt improves the depth of profile of most savory dishes, so increasing the amount of spice used in a dish may be the ideal workaround.
Healthy Spices to Start Using Right Now
These spices will take your meals to the next level and offer an amazing health boost at the same time:
- Cumin, works well with root vegetables, peppers, cilantro and many Mexican dishes.
- Ginger, complements root vegetables such as carrots and butternut squash, Asian dishes and can be added to fresh juices and smoothies.
- Cinnamon, this spice is often used in desserts, although it can just as easily be stirred into oatmeal, coffee, smoothies and even pork and chicken marinades.
- Cardamom, this spice is used in everything from curries to desserts and can be added to your morning coffee.
- Turmeric, a popular spice in Middle Eastern dishes, turmeric can be added to grilled fish dishes, vegetables, soups and stews.
- Caraway seeds, high in fibre and antioxidants, carraway is a tasty addition to omelettes, salads, soups and more.