Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spices of life

Spices are widely used especially in the cuisines of the hot weather countries such as India, Africa, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. They are sold either whole or ground. Whole spices will last longer than ground ones.

-Store in tightly sealed jars in a dark, cool and dry place.
-Store red spices- (eg. cayenne, paprika and dried red pepper flakes) in the refrigerator to preserve their strength and colour.

Toasting whole spices:
1. Put them in a heavy-based frying pan and toast over low heat.
2. Shaking and stirring gently until they are fragrant. (Be careful not to burn them).
3. Transfer to a plate to cool before grinding.

Grinding spices:
1. Make sure the spices have been cooled down before grinding.
2. Use a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder to grind the spices.
3. Keep in a tightly sealed jar and labeled.
4. Store in a dark, cool and dry place.
Making a spice bag:
We can usually find a spice bag in shops or supermarkets. However, if you want to make it on your own,
1. Wrap the whole spices in a square of muslin.
2. Pull the edge together and tie with string.
3. Leave one end long enough to tie to the handle of a cooking utensils.
Benefits and Risks of spices: 
There have not been enough studies on spices to verify their benefits and risks.

Peppercorns are available in black, white, green and pink

Black peppercorns (Piper nigrum) are the dried unripe berries. Piperine is an alkaloid found in black pepper.
White peppercorns are the dried ripened berries, with the outer casing removed. White pepper is less intense than black pepper. It is often used in cream sauces.
Green peppercorns are the unripe pepper berries which have a slightly acid taste. They used in cream sauces for steaks or with other rich meats. Green peppercorns decay quickly if not dried or preserved.
Pink peppercorns have a slightly sharp, acidic flavour and primarily used for decoration.

Benefits of pepper:
There have not been enough studies on peppers to verify their benefits or risks.


March 2010, few companies have voluntary recalled of products containing a pepper ingredient that may have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. 

Salmonella is a common food borne pathogen that can cause severe illnesses including fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. While most individuals recover in 3 to 5 days without medical intervention, the infection can be life-threatening to young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.


Star anise  is a star-shaped fruit that is harvested just before ripening. Star anise (Illicium verum) is widely used in Asian cuisines.Star anise is an ingredient of the traditional five-spice powder in Chinese cooking.

In 2003, The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an advisory warning against consuming "teas" brewed from star anise. The brewed "teas" containing star anise was believed to have been associated with illnesses affecting about 40 individuals, including approximately 15 infants. The illnesses, ranged from serious neurological effects, such as seizures to vomiting, jitteriness and rapid eye movement.

The Chinese star anise is considered safe. The Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum), contains sikimitoxin and is highly toxic. One star anise has been dried and processed, it is not possible to visually distinguish between the Chinese and Japanese forms. Some teas may actually be Japanese or a mixture of the two type.