If you’re looking to put a bit of va-va-voom into your dishes, a spice rack bursting with flavours and aromas is the Holy Grail. But no matter how frequently you use herbs and spices, all chefs have their blind spots. Exactly how much do you actually know about oregano, or that cinnamon lurking on the top shelf? Glancing at the packaging won’t cut it. Maria knows herbs and spices inside out and she expects her chefs to be up to scratch too.
Take oregano, for example. Did you know that it’s is part of the mint family and is actually related to marjoram? Although it’s originally from the Mediterranean it’s now grown globally and varies widely in terms of taste and aroma, so it’s fundamental that you know where you’re getting it from. European oregano is peppery and pungent with small dark green leaves, whereas Maria’s Mexican oregano has much larger leaves and a very clean, strong and savoury yet floral flavour. Turkish oregano on the other hand is the spiciest, and is often used for its added decorative value (just a pretty face).
Similarly, there’s a boatload of different types of cinnamon to choose from – 250 in fact. The most important distinction to make, however, is between Cassia and Ceylon.
Otherwise known as Cinnamomum verum, Ceylon is often described as “true” cinnamon and is much rarer than Cassia. Cassia tends to be less sweet but a lot warmer than Ceylon. It has a broader flavour profile with slightly bitter, pepperish notes, as well as hints of black Earl Grey tea and dark cocoa, and maintains its taste throughout cooking far better than Ceylon varieties.
Our tongues have 9000 taste buds and can sense five basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. Combined with the 10,000 aromas that it’s possible to smell, these tastes form our sense of flavour. To get the most out of these flavours, it’s important to swot up and recognise that not all spices are created equal. Some of them are just that bit better.
If you think you’re up to the challenge, why not test your herbs and spices know-how at http://www.mariasintown.com/?