About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Well, the results are in for my spice survey. Thirty-two of you took the trouble to vote, there may have been more but I lost the first few votes when I had to reset the poll to take multiple votes.

As expected black pepper was way out in front with thirty votes, what surprised me about that was two people didn't list it as a favourite - to me black pepper is a universal spice that I would expect to find in any kitchen, but there you go. Next favourite with twenty-five votes was cumin, a spice with a particularly dominating flavour and much loved in Middle Eastern cookery with its smokey, pungent presence. This is one spice that has a regular turnover in my spice rack.*

Third with twenty-three votes is cinnamon, that sweet, musky spice that is at much at home in savoury dishes, particularly Moroccan, as sweet. The surprise here was that cassia which is very similar, didn't poll a single vote, but that may come down to availability, I have never seen it anywhere.

Next up were two spices from the same family, namely chile powder(19) and paprika(20). Paprika is a spice that can turn up in pretty much any cuisine you can think of, perhaps with the exception of Chinese and Japanese and chile powder is essential in any cuisine that prides itself on heat. Close to these was ground coriander(17), another spice with a dual personality.

We start to get to the spices that are mainly used in baking and sweets with vanilla (16), which can have a surprising role in meat cookery, I've seen it used with pork for instance and close behind vanilla are other baking spices such as nutmeg(12) and ginger(13) that also have a part time savoury role. Also with a similar vote was tumeric(12), that essential Indian spice that gives a gorgeous yellow hue to dishes, similar in the way the much more expensive saffron(7) also colours and flavours.

Behind these spices were a whole raft of other spices that are essential to certain dishes but aren't used much outside those such as cloves(7), allspice(7), mustard seed(10), tamarind(7), capers(9), sesame seed(9). Then come the spices that you often buy for just one dish you want to make and they then hang around your pantry for years without another use, for instance juniper berries(1), dill seed(1), fenugreek(1) and the charmingly named asafoetida(1).

What struck me most about this poll was that the majority of spices were for savoury dishes. There is an old chestnut going around that the reason spices were used in savoury food, in the bad old days before refrigeration, was to mask the taste for one reason or another, usually that the food was starting to go off is mentioned but I don't believe it. I think the reason we use spices so widely is that they bring something extra to a dish that raises it to a different plane. Also people, in some circumstances, like the flavours of food that have gone off in a sense, like yoghurt and buttermilk or even salamis which are fermented the same as cucumbers are in Eastern Europe. We use spices because we like the taste of them and they are as firmly entrenched in cookery today as they became when they were first discovered.

Thanks to everyone that took the trouble to vote.

*I'm kidding here, there is no spice rack at my place, just opened plastic bags stored in a container and random bottles scattered around the pantry.


  posted at 7:10 am

At 1:12 pm, Blogger christine said...

That was a very interesting poll, and analysis on the results. I voted for the same top 3 for savory. :)

At 3:13 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Interesting poll and analysis. So glad I didn't vote until you had it fixed so my vote counted!!
Cumin for me is in Mexican dishes.
No I no longer have the Juniper Berries, although I do remember having a hard time throwing them out because I had paid a bundle for them.
And while reading these I realize how much I really enjoy some that got fewer votes, the allspice and cloves especially. Plenty of times when a recipe calls for cinnamon I'll add a little allspice and/or cloves.

At 7:48 am, Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Interesting results. As a pantry person, I was curious. I think we use spices because we realize that we cannot achieve authentic flavor without using the authentic spices that define regional cooking. Masking the taste of ingredients? Well, our food is great, for the most part, and we don't need to do that anymore. Thanks for thinking up this poll. Much food for thought.

At 11:20 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi christine, it was all those old spices in the pantry that made me think of it. Thanks for voting.

Hi tanna, good advice about adding allspice and cloves. I do like the taste of juniper berries, especially in a gin and tonic!

Hi lydia, you are so right there, some cuisines are definitely identified with particular spices and they are so not for masking other flavours.


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