Must-have Spices

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The flavor and aroma of food being cooked in the kitchen is truly mesmerizing. One of the most important part of cooking is adding a variety or layers of flavors through spices.

In every region there’s a specific way of how people blend and prepare their spices. Here in the Philippines, I am not sure if we have as many and as aromatic spices as those found in India. I remember when I had a business trip to Malaysia, some of my female colleagues cannot stand the spiciness and aroma of ‘curry’. For me, it was the best part of that trip because I get to savor and eat Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian food whenever I want.

Yes, the spices are truly spicier in Malaysia because they have Indian and Chinese spices, and not to mention the Malay spices that are, I think, a combination of both ancestral influences. If only all Filipinos will enjoy these dried herbs that are bursting with flavor, then, we’ll have many restaurants and eateries serving dishes similar to our neighboring countries.

I guess we only have a few, being paminta [ground or whole pepper corns], atswete [annatto], kasubha [looks like saffron, but it’s actually from safflower], and sili [chili pepper – fresh or dried, still considered a spice and condiment] the most prominent in our native Filipino dishes.

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I can only imagine what spice-loving people from across the world have in their pantries and spice racks.

How I envy them for they can cook whatever they want without their mothers saying “what’s that smell!!!??” Typical Filipinos do not like the smell of aromatics such as herbs and spices that are not in typical Pinoy kitchens.

Here are some of the basic spices that, in my opinion, should be present in every kitchen spice rack:

Dried Basil – is crushed and dried basil leaves. Often used in Italian dishes, particularly pastas. Whereas fresh Thai basil is used for curries.

Pepper – preferably whole peppercorns that you can crack over pots of stews, soups, and other dishes. Freshly cracked black pepper smells and tastes better.

Cayenne Pepper – made from spicy red peppers which is usually the ‘base’ of various bottled hot sauces. Indian and Cajun dishes usually have cayenne.

Chili Powder – made of blended dried chili peppers, coriander, oregano, and cumin. It is often used in Southwestern and Mexican dishes.

Cumin – is derived from a small seed. Ground cumin is mellow and aromatic. Middle Eastern and Indian dishes, particularly curries, always have cumin in them.

Curry Powder – a combination of various ground spices including cumin, coriander, turmeric.

Dried Oregano – comes from the mint family and is quite robust. Often used in South American, Mediterranean, and Cajun dishes.

Ground Ginger – has more intense flavor than fresh ginger. Ground ginger is often used in baking.

Bay Leaves – are aromatic and taste quite woodsy. Dried bay leaves are often sold than fresh ones and can be used in soups, marinades, and stews.

Cinnamon – is warm and aromatic. You can buy them ground or in rolled stick barks. Cinnamon is great for baking as well as cooking curries, chilies, and stews.

Dried Thyme – is fragrant and delicate-flavored. Great for meat, poultry, and veggie dishes.

Dried Rosemary – has the aroma of pine and lemon. Often used in Mediterranean dishes.

Vanilla Extract – is always used for baking or for desserts. It is made by soaking the vanilla pods in alcohol. Choose only pure vanilla extract.

If you want to know more about spices, visit Spices Inc.

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