Food Conversations: Passport to Global Flavors — Spice Exploration
8 Fun Facts to Tasting Spices!
On Thursday evening, I attended Yale Hospitality’s virtual Spice Exploration, the fourth event in its Global Passport series. Ori Zohar, the Co-founder of Burlap & Barrel, led the talk.
I was intrigued as I collected my spice kit from my residential college about how a spice tasting would work in comparison to the other tasting sessions. Our kit contained four spices: Royal Cinnamon, Cured Sumac, Wild Mountain Cumin, and Ea Sur Black Pepper. These were accompanied by a honey ricotta, hummus, and celery sticks.
First Things First
Exploring the spices happened in stages. First, we smelled them. Then, we tasted the spice by dipping our finger in it. Finally, we added the spice to the accompaniment. Alongside the tasting, we learnt about Burlap & Barrel’s relationship with the farmers of each spice and the intricate process of harvesting the spices in different areas around the world.
The standout spice was the Royal Cinnamon. On its own, the cinnamon tasted phenomenal, with notes of brown butter and orange peel. However, when paired with the ricotta, it was heavenly! The Cured Sumac was a pleasant surprise; it is definitely the spice I have explored the least from the tasting. Its sunny acidity worked well when paired with the hummus. I will definitely look out for recipes to incorporate the spice more.
8 Fun Facts
Outside of the tasting, I learnt a wide range of facts about spices and the industry. Below are my top 8 fun facts from the tasting session:
1. Cinnamon is made from the inner bark of the tree known as Cinnamomum. The older a cinnamon tree, the more valuable it is. Growing the trees is considered an investment; parents often plant the trees for their children.
2. Saigon cinnamon is not actually produced in Saigon (Hi Chi Minh City), but instead in the central highland regions of Vietnam.
3. Black Pepper is the most widely consumed spice in the world along with cumin.
4. The most expensive spice is Saffron. A gram of Saffron can cost around $371!
5. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world.
6. Peppercorns are actually a tiny fruit. They are the drupe of a flowering vine called piper nigrum.
7. Nutmeg and Mace are grown on the same tree.
8. Spice blends usually always have salt and garlic as ingredients. Ori recommended trying to make your own instead!
Spices are so essential to my enjoyment of food and the background knowledge acquired at the event has made me appreciate spices in a new way. The session briefly discussed the medicinal benefits of spices. I plan to explore the medicinal benefits further in the future as I incorporate more spices into my cooking!
The final take home message from Ori was to store your spices where you can see them, instead of in a dark cupboard or hidden place. The more accessible they are, the more likely you are to incorporate them into cooking and get a little more adventurous!
By: Lucy Wilkins
Burlap & Barrel is a Public Benefit Corporation that partners directly with smallholder farmers to source spices that have never been available in the US before and improve the livelihoods of their partner farmers.