Chemistry in Kitchen: Broccoli Soup With a Twist

Article first published as Chemistry in Kitchen: Broccoli Soup With a Twist on Blogcritics.

Read my previous blog to learn the difference between baking powder and baking soda. I have listed possible other uses of baking soda, beside the commonly known one: baking. Baking soda preserves and enhances the green color of vegetables while cooking in water and also affects cellular wall structure, speeding cooking by about 25-30%.

Broccoli soup – with a twist

Broccoli soup ingredients

Broccoli soup ingredients

Ingredients for an experiment:

– 500 grams of broccoli
– 1.5 litres of water
– 3 beef stock cubes
– mashed potato powder (4 spoons)
– powdered garlic ( 2 teaspoons)
– powdered ginger (1 teaspoon)
– baking soda (half a teaspoon)


This is a chemical experiment that you will be able to eat at the end. Fill two pots with three quarters of a liter of water each and bring water to a boil. Add 1.5 beef stock cubes to each pot and wait for the cubes to dissolve completely. Now add 250 grams broccoli to each pot, add baking soda to only the left pot, and start a timer.

After five minutes take out a piece of broccoli from each of the pots. The left is broccoli cooked in beef stock with added baking soda, the right is broccoli cooked in beef stock alone. You can see that left one is greener, but also very mushy.

Broccoli after 5 minutes cooking

Broccoli after 5 minutes cooking

I used a handheld blender to puree soup in both pots, then added two spoons of mashed potato powder to each of the pots, to make it decently thick. Let’s compare the color of the two soups:

Broccoli soup

Broccoli soup

On the left is the one cooked with baking soda, on the right the one without. The difference in color is substantial. Taste-wise the left one is more potent as baking soda also enhances the tastes of ginger and garlic.

The same principle can be applied also when cooking other green vegetables, like green beans, peas, spinach, etc. I recommend soaking peas in baking soda before cooking.

A quick explanation about photos and programs: I have used a pretty old Canon D30 with an ancient lens (Canon EF 28-90) in pretty low light conditions. Photos are not edited, except for some cropping. Software used to combine the photos is good old MS Paint.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog about the effect of baking soda on cooked red vegetables.

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Chemistry in Kitchen: Little Known Uses For Baking Soda

Article first published as Chemistry in Kitchen: Little Known Uses For Baking Soda on Blogcritics.

Preparing food can be a great joy while cooking and really rewarding when serving to your family members or guests. The amusement and wonder on their faces when just looking at the food can be very captivating. Some even might envy you, thinking how on earth you managed to preserve the colors so well. When they try their first sip or bite their faces lighten up.

Crossing the boundaries

What comes to your mind when I mention baking powder and baking soda? If this were a live webinar and I would post a query asking you to answer the question, the results would probably be: 40% baking, 30% cakes, 10% chocolate chip cookies, 8% biscuits, 7% muffins and cupcakes, and 5% some nonsense not related to the question. These are expected results. I am quite sure nobody would answer “soaking beans overnight” or “preserving colors of vegetables” or even “changing the food color.”

Basic facts

Baking soda and baking powder are primarily used as leavening agents, adding them to raise dough and produce desired shapes and textures. Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate while baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate together with acidifying and drying agents. Both produce bubbles of carbon dioxide (yes, the global warming greenhouse gas) when mixed into dough. Also common to both are their alkaline properties, meaning their pH is higher than seven. I am perfectly aware that this might be too hard to understand, but please read on. For more info ask your kids what it means. 🙂

Learn, understand, and apply

Let’s add green to equation. Chlorophyll is a green pigment that makes green vegetables, well… green. When we cook green veggies in water they usually lose color and turn dull green. Why? A chemical reaction happens and some atoms get shuffled in the pigment. How can you prevent it? Add some baking soda to water when cooking. Side effects? There are two major factors you need to consider when adding baking soda to food. Be very careful regarding the amount. Too much baking soda will turn the food bitter. The second one is the effect on cellular structure. Adding baking soda to water softens the cells. This is nothing bad. On the contrary, it helps cook food faster, substantially faster. You can use this property of baking soda when soaking beans in water overnight. Give it a try and you will be amazed.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s photoblog about cooking a broccoli soup – with a twist.

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Monks, Friars, and Cheese

Article first published as Monks, Friars, and Cheese on Blogcritics.

My interest in the contributions of monks to the world of food started as a pure coincidence. I was reading about origins of cappuccino: some sources claim the name comes from the color of monks’ outfits while others attribute the drink’s name to a monk. You can read more in a linked article. Then I read further about the Trappist order of monks and found some interesting correlations to cheese, herbs, and beer. Since I have covered the latter two in my previous blogs I feel that cheese story will nicely round-up this week’s series of blogs about historical influence of Trappist monks on our daily lives.

How did monks come to be involved in food crafts?

As you have probably heard or read at some point in your life, the church was entitled to revenue from taxes. Usually it amounted to 10% of gross income and it was most often paid in goods produced as peasants rarely had enough money to pay in cash. The following is speculation, but the common sense would dictate that collected milk, grain, and other products would be put to some use and not just stored for harsh times. Monks have been known for brewing beer, making cheese and bread to feed the community in order to be self-sufficient and to make extra money to keep their property in mint condition. Nowadays some monasteries are involved in similar activities to fund their works and for charity.

Following the footsteps of trappist cheese

The Trappist order of monks originates from monastery of La Trappe, France. The birthplace of trappist cheese is also French abbey, namely Notre Dame de Port du Salut. If you read my blog about beer you know that there are only seven breweries in the world that are making authentic trappist beer. Among these magnificent seven there are only three abbeys producing authentic trappist cheese: Chimay, Orval, and Westmalle.

Trappist cheese is not only produced behind monastery walls. The above mentioned three are the crème-de-la-crème of trappist cheeses. The trappist-style (some know them as monastery-style) cheeses are produced all over the world. In the US, it is sold as Gethsemane cheese, in Belgium for example it is known as Pere Joseph, French Canadians know it as Oka, Norwegians start salivating when Riddler is mentioned, French know it as Port-Salut or Saint-Paulin.

Basic facts about trappist Cheese

Trappist cheese is made from cow’s milk. It is characterized by pale yellow colour and a mild, creamy flavour, reminiscing butter and sometimes hazelnuts. Usually it is packaged in red plastic or paraffin wax.

Pairing cheese with wine or beer

I am sure you have a favourite beer or wine. The one you tasted on that trip to brewery or wine cellar. You might even have a favourite cheese that you offer on special occasions. What about a favourite combination of cheese and wine or beer? Here are a few tips that might start watering your mouth:

  1. Bite white cheddar cheese and have a sip of Pilsner Urquell or any Pilsner style of beer.
  2. Have some six months aged gruyere together with dark, heavy bock beer.
  3. Try the gooey brie or camembert with Chardonnay barrique.
  4. In order not to stray too far away from monks, you have to pair Blue Chimay Trappist Ale with Chimay trappist cheese.
  5. Mix some goat cheese with Belgian Lambic beers.
  6. Forget about parmesan cheese on spaghetti. Combine it with some pale ale.

Don’t stop here, experiment with all possible and impossible combinations. You might discover a perfect combination. Share your (successful)  ideas in the comments below.

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Monks, Friars and Herbs

Article first published as Monks, Friars and Herbs on Blogcritics.

“Nature in our region is God blessed. When we are collecting flowers and leaves, when digging for roots and peeling bark, we’re also considering not causing destruction, but only taking a little bit from the nature, just what we need. We gather only as much as we’ll use in one year. When using these herbs we need to be meticulous and patient; healing comes slowly, but when it comes it is thorough,” are the words of Cistercian monk Simon Ašič (pronounced /See-mon Ash-itch/), who dedicated his life to herbal medicine.

Motivation for research

When writing a blog about cappuccino I came across a reference to a monk. It attracted my attention, so I started researching and I found so many references to different monk orders and their contributions to modern society. My previous blog was about trappist beers, which can be also attributed to monks. When reading about Trappist monks I found information about different orders. Today’s blog will be a fair mixture of history, achievements and legacy.

Herbalism and Hollywood

In the movie Medicine Man Sean Connery finds a cure for cancer coming from a plant. Another, perhaps a bit less known movie, about plant medicine is Juliette of the Herbs telling the story of Juliette de Bairacli Levy and her search of herbal wisdom. In order not to stray away from monastery walls too much I have to mention brother Cadfael, a monk with a difference. He’s an herbalist and a gardener with an interesting hobby – solving crimes and mysteries in the old Norman England.

Medicine men, witch doctors, charlatans

Originally pharmacology was about studying poisons (drugs). It’s the study of the interactions between an organism and chemicals. First major studies in the field were conducted only in mid-19th century.

What about earlier? How were people healed? “Doctors” were using natural substances, mainly plant extracts. Scientists worth mentioning here are Hippocrates, Abu ‘Ali al-Husayn ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Sina, commonly known as Ibn Sina or by his Latinized name Avicenna, and Paracelsus.

Hippocrates is an undisputable father of medicine as his contributions are considered the first milestone in practice of modern medicine. Avicenna wrote among other things about introduction of quarantine, experimental medicine, and even clinical trials. Another milestone was the idea of a syndrome when diagnosing diseases. Paracelsus has introduced chemicals and minerals to healing diseases. He concluded that diseases were caused by poisons. He is nicknamed the father of toxicology, because of his famous quote: “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.” Or in simple words: “The dose makes the poison.”

At this point I cannot omit the most famous druid, Getafix. He is the one responsible for the most powerful concoction that makes Asterix and Obelix who they are, the bravest Gallic warriors of all times, fear in the bones of every Roman legionary.

Modern legacy

In modern medicine the power of herbal medicine is still understated. I would say that most of the knowledge accumulated over centuries, or even millennia, is latent, dormant, or even lost to some extent. This reminds me of the world in 1950s. There are many cities where trams were replaced by buses. The move was sponsored by major car companies who wanted their buses to rule the streets. Now, when we are realizing the pollution the diesel buses are causing, the environmentally friendly electrical powered trams are returning.

Nowadays you can find herbal supplements in every pharmacy. But the natural medicine has been side-tracked in favour of pharmaceutical giants who are acting as mid-20th century car companies. On the other hand it might be wise to some extent that not everybody is collecting plants, as we tend to destroy the natural equilibrium with our modern day approach of grabbing everything and stockpiling stuff, even if we don’t need it. Maybe the forests are better off, if only the lone medicine men are wandering around and collecting flowers, buds and chasing butterflies.


I have a sort of negative attitude towards taking medicine in the form of pills, capsules, sprays, and drops, only administering them when I really have to. Drinking tea many times per day is my answer to ancient wisdom combined with the knowledge of modern medicine. Tea has many positive effects on health and wellbeing in general. Maybe replacing a cup of coffee here and there with a cup of tea will brighten your day.

I would like to close my today’s flow of thoughts the same way as I started it – with a quote.

Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary.
~Chinese Proverb

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Monks, Friars, and Beer

Article first published as Monks, Friars, and Beer on Blogcritics.

Claude was really smart for his age. Parents recognized his talents and knew they could not afford to send him to school, so they made an especially hard decision and brought him to the vast complex at the outskirts of the village Soligny, France. It was year 1098, the year the Trappist order was born.

The young boy received great education from some fine scholars of his time and further developed his skills and became a fine monk. His specialty was brewing beer. Name of the abbey was Notre-Dame de la Trappe.

Claude’s fellow monks were involved in many daily activities like sheep farming, cheese-making, collecting herbs, viticulture, and also brewing. Almost a millennium later most of the abbeys, monasteries and cloisters ceased to exist, but some of those that are still around have become famous for their products.

Duff, trappists and d’oh

Trappist orders of monks have given modern society a lot to fill one’s mouth, warm your body, heal yourself, and even wash your palate. You might have heard of trappist cheese, or maybe some special type of wool for archbishops’ clothes, or regionally well-known herb collector and medicine man from Slovenia. In today’s blog I will focus my attention to beer.

There can be many arguments about the best known beer in the world. Some would say Bud or Budweiser. Why? Well, we all know the joke about it being very close to water.

Others perhaps know Duff. It’s Homer Simpson’s beer of choice. Did you know that all three varieties of Duff (regular, light, and dry) are actually the same beer?

Beer connoisseurs on the other hand would prefer a special beer. Something that has a distinct colour, full body, exquisite taste, and comes with tradition as well as rich history is embodied only in a handful of beers.

Magnificent seven

There are seven breweries in the world that are allowed to produce beer under the term “Authentic Trappist beer.” Six of them are in Belgium and one just across the border in Holland. These are: Achel, Chimay, Koningshoeven, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Almost all trappist beers are ales.

Something special about Belgian beers is that they are always served in their special glasses. Each beer has its own glass, further enhancing the joy when dipping your upper lip in white foam and slowly enveloping your tongue in hops aroma.


My personal trappist beer favourite comes from Westmalle abbey (officially called Abdij Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van het Heilig Hart van Jezus). Their Dubbel (double) is a dark beer with dark, red-brown colour, special foam that leaves some sort of lace pattern when you are slowly emptying the glass. Beer’s flavour is rich, herbal, with touch of fruits and a very refreshing finish.

The first Tripel (triple) in the world was born in 1934 in Westmalle of course, where else. It’s a clear, golden beer, strong in alcohol (over 9%). Tripel has an exotic scent reminding me of dried fruits, a hint of apples and a balanced combination of spices. You will remember this specialty beer for its very long aftertaste.

King of pop and King of beer

Interestingly both kings, the one of pop and the beer one, share the same name. Michael Jackson, nicknamed beer hunter, gained reputation as the author of books about beer. The World Guide To Beer was published in 1977 and is still considered as one of the most knowledgeable books on beer.


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Monks, friars and coffee

Article first published as Monks, Friars, and Coffee on Blogcritics.

Rumour has it that Marco d’Aviano, a friar from Capuchin order, has blessed the Christian troops before the battle of Vienna in 1863. After Ottoman Turkish troops suffered a huge defeat they left behind lots of coffee which the victorious troops found too bitter, so they made it sweeter using honey and milk. The drink was named cappuccino after the order of monks, to which d’Aviano belonged.

Capuchin friars got their name from the clothes they were wearing. Long hooded robe is called cappuccino, which is in turn derived from cappuccio, a hood. Italian espresso coffee mixed with milk or milk froth is called cappuccino because of the colour resemblance to Capuchin friars’ outfit.

Green is in

Some of the unforgettable references to coffee can be found in Hollywood movies. In The Bucket List Jack Nicholson is enjoying the best and most expensive coffee in the world. Later in the movie Morgan Freeman explains the arrogant Jack about the origin of special coffee aroma – it comes from excrement of an Indonesian mammal.

Grimes, coffee expert from the movie Black Hawk Down, is talking about his experience: “It’s all in the grind, Sizemore. Can’t be too fine, can’t be too coarse. This, my friend, is a science. I mean you’re looking at the guy that believed all the commercials. You know, about the “be all you can be.” I made coffee through Desert Storm. I made coffee through Panama while everyone else got to fight, got to be a Ranger.”

One of the latest references to coffee can be seen in The Green Hornet. Kato uses state of the art coffee machine to prepare the best cappuccino for his master Britt. The brilliant coffee that only Kato can make could be considered a trigger for Green Hornet’s heroic actions.

When talking about coffee we cannot pass by David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Coffee serves as an inspiration for special agent Cooper.

If you really want to know more about coffee watch again Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. If you don’t remember the scenes I sincerely recommend watching the movie again. You could be surprised about the new things you will learn about coffee.

I cannot skip the George Clooney commercial for Nespresso. “You are talking about Nespresso, right? Yeah. 😦 What else?”

Cappuccino, mochaccino, frappuccino

If you are a proud owner of an espresso machine here are a few ideas what to do with it. Make a delicious espresso, pour it into the bottom third of the cup and add the same amount of hot milk. The top third of the drink is actually firm milk froth. For an artistic impression you can sculpt the foam and sprinkle with chocolate, brown sugar, cinnamon or even some hot chilli. You have just prepared the perfect cappuccino. Remember that traditionally the drink is consumed with a teaspoon.

For sweet inclined you can prepare mochaccino. The recipe is similar to cappuccino; just replace hot milk with hot chocolate milk. Ratio can be the same, but I prefer adding more chocolate milk. Remember to serve the drink in a transparent glass for an extra effect.

You don’t really have to go Starbucks to enjoy a frappuccino. Just add 2 parts of espresso, 1 part of ice cubes, and 1 part of milk together with some sugar to a blender. Blend for about a minute. Pour into a tall glass, top with whipped cream, and garnish with some chocolate syrup. Serve with a straw. You can also replace milk with chocolate milk or add some cocoa powder for some extra taste.

Why coffee is good for you?

Come on now
Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up
Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up
It’s time, smell the coffee, the coffee

If you like Cranberries you might have recognized the lyrics above. Waking up slowly, smelling the coffee in the air, you are like a zombie walking with your arms stretched in front of you until you reach the delicious cup waiting for you on the kitchen counter. Yummy!

Here are the main reasons why you should drink coffee. As for everything you do in your life, the same goes also for coffee drinking – drink in moderate quantities.

Coffee is rich in antioxidants. Drinking coffee will make you (look) younger. Coffee is a stimulant. It wakes you up and keeps you going. Also your brain will work faster. This brings us to the Alzheimer’s disease. Regular coffee consumption reduces chances of… wait, what was I talking about? 🙂

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Journey with spices – Spice mixtures

Recommended reading: Bring spices to your life, Leafy Spices, Kernels and Seeds, Cinnamon, Pepper and paprika and Root spices.

The last in my series of blogs about travelling around the world with spices is a truly unique blend of spices and cultures. When we moved to a new flat my mother got a spice rack for a present. We used all but two spices. I believe coriander seeds were never used. We simply didn’t know where to add them. Yellow curry shared a similar destiny. It was simply too exotic for us. Much later I learned that yellow curry goes very well together with chicken. It’s really important to know when to add curry to dish. If you spice the food too early the aroma will be gone and you would have to add the spice again and this way use too much of it and also risk making your food slightly bitter. Today I know a lot more about curry. I really rarely use yellow curry. Mostly I add some to cheese soups and cheese sauces, but that’s about it. The main curries I use today are green and red. We buy them in form of pastes. Food preparation is easy. Just heat a spoon of curry paste in oil, add coconut cream, chopped meat and some veggies. Cover, cook for 15 to 20 minutes, add other spices like kaffir lime leaves, palm sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce and serve with rice. Basmati if you happen to have it around. Alternative would be jasmine rice.

Did you know?

There are two finger foods that I really adore. They are both fried pastries. There exist vegetarian and meat varieties of both. First one is lumpia or Philippine type of spring role. Second one, introduced to me fairly recently, is samosa. And the latter one is the main reason for this blog. Main spice in samosas, that I know, is garam masala.

Did you know that masala is a term used in South Asian cuisines to describe a mixture of spices? A masala can be a combination of dried spices, or a paste.

I was told by a Canadian friend that name of the spice mixture Cajun comes from Acadian immigrants. Try to say “Acadian” in a southern accent and omit a leading “A.” Simple isn’t it?

Which spice mixture comes to your mind if I mention sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty? Main spices are: fennel seeds, star anise, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, and cloves. Rings a bell? What about Flavour potting technique? It’s a method of stewing foods in a highly-flavoured sauce that permeates the dish. Main spice mix used is Five spice.

Origins of curry

Curry in the form of powder was invented by British colonial forces with a simple goal – to imitate the flavour of Indian cooking and putting in as little effort as possible. The wanted taste was the aroma of curry leaves, which are nowadays rarely present in curry mixtures. Main aromatic ingredient in “modern” curry comes from cumin, coriander, black pepper, and chillies, accompanied by minor spices such as ginger, celery, and even lentils. Yellow colour comes from turmeric. There are as many curries as there are cooks. The basic mixture can be further enhanced by adding cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom. You can basically mix anything in your curry and sell it as your own special blend.


Most of us are using dried spices and already prepared mixtures. A challenge would be to use fresh herbs instead of dried ones. It adds a bit to the price of your creation but results, especially taste‑wise are so rewarding that you might never use dried herbs again. When talking about mixtures I recommend using mortar and pestle to grind spices and then roast them in a pan on low fire. After that I am quite sure you will rarely use the curry powder or garam masala you buy in a bag from local supermarket.

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Journey with spices – Root spices

Recommended reading: Bring spices to your life, Journey with spices – Leafy Spices, Journey with spices – Kernels and Seeds, Journey with spices – Cinnamon, and Journey with spices – Pepper and paprika.

Funnily most of the spices in the table above coming from Asia are yellow, brown or yellow-green, green leafy spices are mostly originating from Mediterranean Europe (Spain, France, Italy, and Greece), red spicy chillies, habaneros and Peruvian pepper come from Central and Latin America. This way we can paint parts of the world in the colours of spices. And as we all know spices are not bringing only taste to our food, they are also used as colouring agents.


As mentioned in title I will focus mostly on spices where the spice part is root or rhizome. Root spices are rare. Most notable members of the root family are celery, coriander, horseradish, and liquorice. Rhizome family spices are ginger, turmeric, and wasabi.


Recently I’ve been in Helsinki giving a lecture on Agile localization. During the lunch break we went to a nearby Japanese restaurant, tasting traditional miso soup, different kinds of sushi and sashimi, and refreshed our palate with green tea. I remember “lecturing” people that wasabi is a Japanese horseradish, the green root. Now I know I was wrong. Wasabi root is actually a rhizome. Similar is with pickled ginger. Just a brief explanation: rhizome is an underground stem.

Funny! I use celery as a vegetable. Sometimes I serve it steamed as a side dish, together with carrots and kohlrabi. Usually I grate it when making Bolognese sauce for my favourite spaghetti. I never use celery as a spice. I don’t even remember ever seeing it on the spice shelves in my local supermarket.

All about ginger

As I was growing up I first came across Ginger when watching her in a movie with Fred Astaire. Ginger Rogers has revolutionized the Hollywood musical genre.

We all know ginger ale. It’s a carbonated soft drink flavoured with ginger.

Pickled ginger or Gari is sweet, thinly sliced marinated (pickled) ginger. It’s often eaten after sushi, and is sometimes called sushi ginger. It is usually eaten between sushi bytes, because it cleanses the palate.

Most of all we use ginger as spice. It originates from China and was later spread to other parts of the world, namely India, Indonesia, Nepal, and even Nigeria. Together these countries account for total 85% of total yearly ginger production.

Tea brewed from ginger is common folk remedy for cold. In China scrambled eggs with finely diced ginger root is a common home remedy for coughing. In the United States, ginger is used to prevent motion and morning sickness.

Did you know that ginger possesses aphrodisiac powers? It is mentioned in the Kama Sutra. In Philippines it is chewed to expel evil spirits. Ginger causes one to sweat. According to historical notes Henry VIII asked the mayor of London to use ginger as a plague medicine.

Ginger Milk Tea

Serves 4

3 1/2 cups (840 mL) hot water
4 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons loose black tea leaves
1/2 cup (120 mL) milk
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar

Bring the water and ginger to a boil in a small pot. Once it is boiling, turn off the heat. Stir in tea and cover. Let stand 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in milk and sugar, and add more sugar if needed to suit your taste buds. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a large (6-cup) blender, discarding the solids. Blend the mixture until foamy (use caution when blending hot liquids), then pour into mugs. Serve immediately.

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Journey with spices – Pepper and paprika

Recommended reading: Bring spices to your life, Journey with spices – Leafy Spices, Journey with spices – Kernels and Seeds and Journey with spices – Cinnamon.

Checking the linked articles above and the table below you will see three remaining topics that are still waiting to be covered: spices made of fruits, root spices, and blends. Today I will focus on fruits and their use as spices. Mentioning fruits, the first thing coming to one’s mind would be apples, pears, strawberries, bananas, pineapples… Ones I am talking about are fruits from botanical point of view. If you want to read more check Wikipedia.

King of spices

Henry VIII was married a few times. He was the undisputed king, but for the queens, well…. there were many. If you are really keen on learning more on the Tudor history, you can check this article – your knowledge of British royalties might come in handy when the most anticipated wedding takes place at the end of April 2011. I remembered H8, because he had many wives. Type “king of spices” to Google and you will get only one result, namely pepper. But try searching for “queen of spices.” Here you will find a harem of queens. 🙂 In most cases cardamom is mentioned as THE queen, but it is not alone. There are also references to turmeric and saffron.

I wrote about spice wars in previous blogs, so there is no point of writing about the same thing from the pepper perspective. What I would like to mention here are some interesting historical facts about the most famous spice in the world. In ancient Rome the spice trade was confined to the designated market and the most important street of the spice district was Via Piperatica – Pepper Street. Black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramses II, placed there as part of the mummification rituals. Interestingly also cayenne pepper was exclusively used by Aztec kings – it was often mixed with chocolate. I will finish the facts section with PhD degree: the most famous pepper in the world is most probably Dr Pepper. 🙂

Pepper and paprika

Red spice paprika comes from a dried vegetable (botanically it is a fruit though) called bell pepper, pod pepper, or sweet pepper in English. In other languages the term paprika is more common, for example Italian paprica, Hebrew paprika [פפריקה] or even Japanese papurika [パプリカ].

When pepper is mentioned one usually thinks of black pepper. We also know white, green, and red peppers. Pink pepper is only similar in shape, but comes from a totally different plant. Its taste is somehow similar to black pepper – it is fruitier and milder.

Black pepper is produced from the still-green unripe fruit of the pepper plant. Fruits are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. Fruits are dried for several days, during which the pepper around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dried, the spice is called black peppercorn.

White pepper consists of the seed of the pepper plant alone, with the darker coloured skin and the flesh of the pepper fruit removed. The naked seed is dried.

Green pepper, like black, is made from the unripe fruits. Dried green peppercorns are treated in a way that retains the green colour.

Red pepper consists of ripe red pepper fruits preserved in brine and vinegar. Ripe red peppercorns can also be dried using the same colour-preserving techniques used to produce green pepper.

Pink pepper is a fruit of a plant from a different family, the Peruvian pepper tree, Schinus molle.

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Journey with spices – Cinnamon

Recommended reading:

Bring spices to your life, Journey with spices – Leafy Spices, and Journey with spices – Kernels and Seeds.

After writing about leaves and seeds as spices now a little bit unusual part of the plant comes into light. Bark. Isn’t stem bark something tasteless and chewy? Who would want to bite on something like that? Well, if it smells nicely and tastes beautifully, you might want to give it a try. Maybe.

Would you like some bark sir?

When reading about uses of bark I came across a myriad of different applications. Sami people living in northern Europe (parts of Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden) are eating pine bread, made of rye with addition of pine bark.

Another interesting product made from bark is quinine. This is a bitter substance that you most likely know from Schweppes. It is also a compound of tonic, a bitter refreshing drink. There exists a theory why British Empire grew so big in the past. English people like drinking tea and tonic. Tonic, or its main compound quinine, is a remedy against malaria. Quinine is also known for having antipyretic (fever-reducing), analgesic (pain killing), and anti-inflammatory properties. Now put one and one together. British soldiers did not suffer from these nuisances to such extent as their rivals (Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish) did and were able to conquer the world easier. This is a big generalization of course, but think about it.  Did you know that you can produce aspirin from the bark of willow trees?

Cinnamon – who named it?

Name in most languages comes from Latin cinnamomum. I read about Malaysian and Indonesian languages calling it kayu manis “sweet wood.” Do you remember one of my blogs about ketjap manis (sweet soy sauce)? Now you have learned another word. Manis means sweet in Indonesian and Malay. It also means sugar as I just found out in Google translate.

If you speak French or Dutch, name cinnamon won’t ring the bell. We have to go back to Roman times again. In Latin “canella” means small tube or pipe. In French it is cannelle, in Spanish canela, in Finnish kaneli, and in Dutch kaneel.

Use of cinnamon

In Western cuisine cinnamon shares the same fate as nutmeg and cardamom. It is used mainly for desserts. In Christmas time we also use it for preparing tea and mulled wine, where it’s usually combined with cloves.

The cinnamon that is used in western cuisine comes from Sri Lanka. There it is used for meat and rice dishes. In the Eastern and Arabic cuisine cinnamon is also found in many spice mixtures like garam masala (made of toasted cumin, toasted coriander, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg) and curry powder (made of toasted cumin, toasted coriander, black pepper, chilli peppers,  dried ginger, celery, salt, cinnamon, cloves… The yellowish colour comes from turmeric).

As you see the spices are best combined as their aroma is further enhanced in spice blends. The same goes for all the food ingredients (see my blog about minerals and how they are connected to each other).  Let me finish my flow of thoughts and stay tuned for next two blogs about spices: fruits, where I will write about paprika and peppers and blends, which is a sort of topic for a whole book as it includes just above every spice in the world.

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