Sunday, January 18, 2009

Spice Trade

There was a time when spices were so expensive in Europe that they were more expensive than gold.  After centuries of subsisting on salt, herbs, and cheeses to flavour their food, Europeans couldn't get enough of exotic Eastern spices when these were introduced by Arab merchants.  This hunger eventually forced Europeans to find alternatives to the Arab spice monopoly, bringing in the Age of Exploration, the "discovery" of the New World and the Philippines, and eventually colonisation and all the problems it generated.

Fast-forward to today where mass production means spices are affordable by everyone and globalisation means they're potentially available everywhere.  Thanks to these economic forces of our day, here's what I got from my last Bay Area trip, and how I plan to use them:

7 Spices-- Arab spice mix, also known as bokharat; stews, rub for roasts
Berbere-- Ethiopian spice mix; stews, rub for roasts
Cayenne Pepper-- ground Mexican cayenne pepper (really a chilli powder); seasoning
Chile Arbol-- Mexican dried chile, hot; stews, sauces
Chile Chipotle-- Mexican dried chile, hot; stews, sauces
Chile Pasilla-- Mexican dried chile, mild; stews, sauces, for stuffing
Furikake-- Japanese condiment mix; rice topping
Jerk Spices-- Jamaican spice mix; rub for roasts
Kabsah Spices-- Arab spice mix; stews, stock base for rice
Ras El Hanout-- Arab spice mix, literally meaning "head of the shop"; stews, rub for roasts
Shichimi Togarashi-- Japanese seven-spice mix; seasoning, rice topping
Sumac-- ground Iranian sumac fruit; seasoning, stews, rice topping


By the way, for the English nuts out there, here's a guide on the proper usage of chile, chili, and chilli:

Chile refers to the pod of the Capsicum genus of plants; e.g., habanero chile.
Chili refers to the Latin American or Southwestern dish made with meat and beans; e.g., chili con carne.
Chilli refers to the ground spice sold as a seasoning or in a mix; e.g., chilli powder.

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