Around the Table: Spices and Scents of the Season
Ahhhh! Does anything ever smell as comforting as freshly baked cookies? The aroma can fill the whole house and can lift the spirits. It is said that 70-80 percent of a human’s taste is through the nose, and I believe it. (Fun and easy experiment: Try holding your nose when you eat or drink something and you’ll appreciate the power of your olfactory system.)
As I sit at the kitchen table nostalgically poring over my grandmother’s cookbook, much the way I do the old photograph albums, I can almost smell the spices that waft so prevalently during this season of sharing and caring. Cakes and cookies and other special treats made to offer hospitality, goodwill, and comfort. Gingerbread and ginger snaps, fruitcake and Christmas stollen, sugar cookies decorated with colored icing in holiday designs…
It continues to amaze me that some of the spices I often associate with the above-mentioned desserts also show up in sausages, stews, jerked meats, and other savory dishes from around the world and that gets me thinking.
Being the curious types, our family often wonders where foods originated. Spices have such a fascinating history. (We are still bemoaning the fact that the television show, “The Spice Trail” was cancelled. In fact, I have a family member who frequently reminds me that black pepper was once used as currency, but that is a topic for another article.)
Various sources agree that ginger (zingiber officinale) is from the rhizome of a flowering plant that comes from Southeast Asia and probably originated in India. Nutmeg is the seed from the evergreen tree Myristica fragrans, originating in the Molucca Islands of Indonesia. (The outer membrane of the seed is used to make mace.) Allspice is actually a berry from the Pimenta diaca tree in the Caribbean, an evergreen in the myrtle family, which makes it a distant cousin to bay leaf. Cinnamon comes from the bark of multiple trees in the laurel family and originated in Sri Lanka.
We tend to add spices to our recipes to enhance the aroma and flavor of our dishes rather than their nutritional value, so I was surprised to learn that 1 teaspoon (2 grams) of ginger has 0.5 mg manganese (that is 23% of the RDA, folks), Omega 3 (5 mg) & 6 (17.8), and a little Vitamin E (not much else of measurable nutritional significance). Allspice has 2.4 mg Vitamin C, almost 40 mg of Calcium, 0.2 mg Manganese (that’s 9% RDA), 4.2 mg Omega 3 and 137 mg Omega 6. Nutmeg provides 7.0 mg Omega 6 (no Omega 3 and hardly anything else other than flavor). Cinnamon offers 0.4 mg manganese (22% RDA) and very little else.
Besides the fact that a recipe specifies a certain amount of a particular spice, we find it helpful to be familiar with various spices because there are a variety of food allergies among friends and family. Also, sometimes we run out of (or short on) a spice and only discover this while we are cooking. We find it helpful to substitute 1 teaspoon of nutmeg or allspice for 1 teaspoon of cinnamon or ginger. And, of course, nutmeg or allspice can be substituted for each other in a recipe. How easy is that?
And, because this is also the season of sharing viruses and sore throats, feeling the effects of environmental allergies and indoor heating, here is our family’s Ginger tea recipe to help soothe some of the uncomfortable symptoms and to boost the immune system:
Ginger/Lemon Tea on Hand
(I often slice a little ginger and lemon into a small skillet to boil a few cups on the stove. It makes the whole house smell yummy, but we also like to keep some on hand for convenience and for giving to neighbors who complain of seasonal sore throats.)
1 – 2 Fresh ginger root, washed and peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch slices (or chunks, if you prefer)
3-4 Fresh small lemons, washed and sliced
Filtered water (provides a cleaner flavor without chemical aftertaste)
Several glass mason jars with lids, washed/sterilized
Wash and slice the fresh ginger root and lemon. Place equal amounts of ginger and lemon to fill up the glass jars. Pour water over the contents then screw the lids onto the jars. Let sit on the counter (or refrigerator, if you prefer) for several days so the juices permeate the water. The longer it sits, the stronger the tea should become. We pour the desired amount into a cup and drink it hot when soothing a scratchy throat or cough, and cool, as a refreshing lemonade. We sometimes add honey to sweeten or turmeric to boost our immune system and decrease any inflammation.
Best of health to you all!
This article is not meant to diagnose nor recommend treatments for allergies or illnesses. As always, check with your health care provider to be sure that you are eating foods that are beneficial to you and your family, especially when there are certain dietary needs in your family.
Bio: Charl enjoys allergy-free cooking, raising an herb garden, reading good books, and sketching nature. She and her family have enjoyed the opportunities to explore the parks, wildlife, and bookstores in the Tyler area for the past 10+ years that they have lived here.