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Stock your spice cabinet with new flavors
Just as photos remind us of past trips, using spice blends and flavors from cuisines around the world can bring back fond travel memories. There are many studies that confirm our senses of taste and scent are strongly linked to the part of the brain where memories are formed.
Even if you’ve never traveled to these places, these spices can connect you to other cultures’ culinary traditions. Here are 10 that you should keep in your spice cabinet.
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Even though this aromatic has roots in Indian cuisine, the spice has found its way into recipes around the world, primarily drinks where it gives added depth. In India, cardamom is one of the many spices usually found in masala chai, but in the Middle East, the spice is added to Arabic coffee.
Cardamom has also found its way into the teas and cocktails of Guatemala, which has become the world’s biggest producer and exporter of this delightful spice. Aside from adding warmth to teas, spice blends, coffees and cocktails, cardamom is very versatile and can add the same complexity to meats, vegetables and even baked goods.
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Native to southwest Asia and the Middle East, cumin is often found in curry blends as well as harissa. It’s a spice that adds a little heat and earthiness to whatever it’s added to.
In addition to curries, cumin can be found in lentil soups, stews and in meat rubs. For an easy dish to make and explore the culinary traditions of the Middle East, try shakshuka, which brings cumin’s potential to life.
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Just as it was in the Middle Ages, saffron continues to be one of the most expensive spices in the world. Just a few of its red strands can give an entire dish a golden hue.
Though it comes from the Middle East, saffron appears in recipes throughout the Mediterranean where it usually appears in fish stews and other seafood dishes. In Spain, saffron adds a pungent flavor to paella, while in France, it adds a mild honey-like taste to bouillabaisse.
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Because of its golden color, many spice traders in medieval markets tried to pass turmeric off as saffron. A close cousin to ginger, turmeric adds a mild bitterness to mustard blends, relishes and curries. And it complements other spices such as ginger, cumin, black pepper and even cinnamon.
Turmeric is often celebrated for its anti-inflammatory properties and other health benefits, with roots in India’s Ayurveda traditions. Golden milk, which is milk with a sprinkle of turmeric, has been in Indian kitchens for thousands of years.
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Fenugreek is an herb that can be found throughout southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia, so it appears in a lot of cuisines. Its leaves can be used as an herb and its sprouts make for delicious microgreens, but when it comes to using fenugreek as a spice, it is all about the seeds.
It has a sweet nuttiness to it and its flavor has often been described as similar to maple syrup. In Indian cuisine, fenugreek adds richness to saag paneer and can be sprinkled on naan. In Greek cooking, fenugreek makes a great meat rub, and in Ethiopian cuisine, fenugreek is among the handful of spices used in traditional berbere.
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Sumac’s red color is as vibrant as its flavor. It’s a tangy, acidic addition to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. Take a culinary trip to the Middle East by making kofta (spiced meatballs), spicing up fattoush salad and sprinkling sumac on your hummus.
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Named after the Syrian city of Aleppo, this spice is a variety of capsicum also known as the halaby pepper. Its flavor is mildly fruity with a heat that builds with every bite. Bring a little Aleppo pepper into your kitchen with Turkish kebabs and a yogurt on the side to cool down the heat.
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When it comes to discussing Chinese cuisine, there are "eight great traditions" to consider – each corresponding to regions within China. As the name hints, Sichuan pepper brings the notable peppery spice to the Sichuan cuisine which comes from southwestern China.
The pepper is so pungent that it can induce a tingly numbness sensation, but its floral acidity brings depth to a wide variety of Sichuan stir-fried dishes.
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Just as Aleppo pepper is part of the capsicum family, so is Urfa biber, which is also known as Urfa pepper. It's a Turkish chile pepper that has a kind of molasses, chocolate flavor with a bit of spicy heat.
This savory spice goes great with eggs at brunch, so treat yourself to a Turkish breakfast. But just as the Mexican ancho chile, which also has hints of chocolate, goes well in chocolatey, mocha sweets, Urfa biber added to chocolate cakes, cookies and brownies will deepen the flavors of your desserts.
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Though pink peppercorns grow along the west of the Americas, from California to as far south as Brazil, they originated in Peru where they have impacted the local cuisine. They’re a little sweet with mild hints of pepper and can be used in any dish where black pepper is used.
Pink peppercorn goes exceptionally well with seafood and pork, but can also be used to enhance chocolate. Make a cacao drink with some pink peppercorns, or make a spiced dark chocolate bark by melting dark chocolate and sprinkling crushed pink peppercorns on top.