The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

4:29 AM

Herbs and Spices of the World - Part 2

Posted by Truffle Shuffle

Herbs and Spices of the World - II


This spice is widely used in Middle Eastern and European cuisines, known for the beautiful color it adds to dishes, as well as the subtle flavor it can bring to food.  Saffron is the most expensive spices in the world, often selling for thousands of dollars per pound.  Since this is the case, it is often used in more gourmet foods, and is usually sold (and utilized) in smaller amounts.  However, a small bit of saffron can impart a nice flavor, and just a few strands have enough pigments to color a whole dish.
To make saffron, the stigmas and stigma stalks of the saffron crocus are dried.  The resulting spice is red and yellow in color (the red coming from the stigmas and the yellow coming from the styles), and may be added to a dish whole, chopped or ground, or used to infuse a dish, then removed (so as to impart their color and flavor, without adding the texture of the saffron to the dish).

Saffron is often used where an intense yellow color is desired in a dish, and is most commonly used in rice.  However, it may be used in many different savory dishes, as well as baked goods, and imparts a distinctive, somewhat bitter flavor in addition to its bright color.
Saffron has also been long though to have some medicinal value, used as an anti-oxidant, and thought to have properties recommending it for use in treating cancer, eye problems, and even in treating depression and fatigue.  In addition, due to the extremely bright yellow color it lets off, it is often used to make dyes for fabrics.
Saffron can be found in most special food stores, and is usually sold in small jars or pouches.  It should be used fairly sparingly, and I usually just add a few whole stalks to whatever dish I am preparing.  I recommend saffron for use in cooking rice (it will make your rice or risotto a beautiful bright yellow color), fish, and chicken.

Fact: saffron is picked by hand, and there can be hundreds of thousands of stems in a single pound.  This is why saffron has long been the most expensive spice in the world, by weight.
Use in combination with: sweet paprika, cumin, cinnamon, clove, and bay leaf.
Tips: use saffron very sparingly - it has a strong flavor.  Try letting the saffron steep in a little warm water before use, or toast them in a dry pan for a short while before using, to release the oils.


This herb is used across the world, from the Americas, to Europe, to Asia.  It may be found fresh or dried, and has a fairly strong anise-like flavor, and thus should be used fairly sparingly.  Fresh leaves may be chopped, and dried leaves may be crumbled or ground, and added to food.

Very popular in French cooking, tarragon is often used in many dishes, from chicken, to fish, to sauces.  Also, try adding to pasta dishes, particularly those with a white sauce.  I even use this as one of the standard herbs for my soups, though I caution you not to overdo it, as using too much tarragon can create an unpleasant and overpowering flavor. Tarragon also goes very well with the flavor of tomatoes.
Tarragon is not known for its health value, but it may sometimes be used as an aromatherapy scent, due to its strong anise smell.

Fact: some Eurasian countries make a tarragon-flavored soda called Tarhun, bright green and sweet, and flavored with tarragon.
Use in combination with: sage, thyme, parsley, chives, chervil, and mustard.


This type of mint is grown mainly in Europe and Asia, but may also be found all over the world.  It is well-known as a flavoring for many mint products, such as toothpaste, mouthwash, and gum, but may also be used in confections, drinks, desserts, jellies, and even savory dishes.  It may be used anywhere any other type of mint is required, including in tea.
Spearmint may be used in many forms, including fresh and dried leaves, frozen, or preserved in a variety of ways.  However, I definitely recommend using fresh spearmint where possible, as it will have a great, strong mint flavor.

One of the simplest and most common ways to use spearmint is in mint drinks, such as the mint julep or the mojito.  This can be used as the sole mint, or mixed with other types of mint for a tasty combination.  Also, try adding leaves of spearmint to fresh salads, or chopped into bowls of fresh berries and sprinkled with sugar.
Medicinally, spearmint has been used historically to reduce male hormone imbalances, and has been known to have some antioxidant and anti-fungal properties.  It can also help to preserve foods.

Note: spearmint pairs very well with lamb.
Fact: spearmint takes its name from its spear-shaped leaves.
Use in combination with: other types of mint, pepper, thyme, basil, rosemary, and oregano.

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