Herb and Spice of the Week – Watercress

July 2, 2015 at 5:39 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,
Watercress

Watercress

Watercress, is an aquatic plant species with the botanical name Nasturtium officinale. This should not be confused with the quite different group of plants with the common name nasturtium, botanical name Tropaeolum.

Watercress is a rapidly growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plant native to Europe and Asia, and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans. It is currently a member of the family Brassicaceae, botanically related to garden cress, mustard, radish and wasabi—all noteworthy for their piquant flavor.

The hollow stems of watercress are floating, and the leaves are pinnately compound. Small, white and green flowers are produced in clusters.

 

 

Cultivation of watercress is practical on both a large-scale and a garden-scale. Being semi-aquatic, watercress is well-suited to hydroponic cultivation, thriving best in water that is slightly alkaline. It is frequently produced around the headwaters of chalk streams. In many local markets, the demand for hydroponically grown watercress exceeds supply, partly because cress leaves are unsuitable for distribution in dried form, and can only be stored fresh for a short period.

Watercress can be sold in supermarkets in sealed plastic bags, containing a little moisture and lightly pressurised to prevent crushing of contents. This has allowed national availability with a once-purchased storage life of one to two days in chilled/refrigerated storage.

Also sold as sprouts, the edible shoots are harvested days after germination. If unharvested, watercress can grow to a height of 50–120 centimetres (1.6–3.9 ft). Like many plants in this family, the foliage of watercress becomes bitter when the plants begin producing flowers.

 

Watercress beds in Warnford, Hampshire.

Watercress beds in Warnford, Hampshire.

In some regions, watercress is regarded as a weed, in other regions as an aquatic vegetable or herb. Watercress has been grown in many locations around the world.

In the United Kingdom, watercress was first commercially cultivated in 1808 by the horticulturist William Bradbery, along the River Ebbsfleet in Kent. Watercress is now grown in a number of counties of the United Kingdom, most notably Hertfordshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset. The town of Alresford, near Winchester, holds a Watercress Festival that brings in more than 15,000 visitors every year, and a preserved steam railway line has been named after the local crop. In recent years, watercress has become more widely available in the UK, at least in the southeast; it is stocked pre-packed in some supermarkets, as well as fresh by the bunch at farmers’ markets and greengrocers.

In the United States in the 1940s, Huntsville, Alabama, was locally known as the “watercress capital of the world” with Alresford in the U.K. is considered to be that nation’s watercress capital.

 

 

Watercress contains significant amounts of iron, calcium, iodine, manganese, and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A, B6, C, and K. Because it is relatively rich in vitamin C, watercress was suggested (among other plants) by English military surgeon John Woodall (1570–1643) as a remedy for scurvy. Watercress is also a significant source of omega-3 fatty acids primarily in the form of 16:3n-3(Hexadecatrienoic acid) at 45 mg/100g.

Many benefits from eating watercress are claimed, such as that it acts as a stimulant, a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a digestive aid. It also appears to have antiangiogenic cancer-suppressing properties; it is widely believed to help defend against lung cancer. The content of phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) in watercress inhibits HIF, which can inhibit angiogenesis.

 

Herb and Spice of the Week – Water Pepper (Persicaria hydropiper)

June 25, 2015 at 5:16 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,
Water-pepper

Water-pepper

Water-pepper or water pepper (Persicaria hydropiper, syn. Polygonum hydropiper) is a plant of the family Polygonaceae. It grows in damp places and shallow water. It is a cosmopolitan plant, found in Australia, New Zealand, temperate Asia, Europe, and North America. It has some use as a spice because of its pungent flavor.

 

 

Water pepper is an annual herb with an erect stem growing to a height of 20 to 70 cm (8 to 28 in). The leaves are alternate and almost stalkless. The leaf blades are narrowly ovate and have entire margins fringed by very short hairs. They are tapering with a blunt apex. Each leaf base has stipules which are fused into a stem-enclosing sheath that is loose and fringed at the upper end. The inflorescence is a nodding spike. The perianth of each tiny flower consists of four or five segments, united near its green base and white or pink at the edges. There are six stamens, three fused carpels and three styles. The fruit is a dark brown oval, flattened nut.

 

 

Water-pepper has several active ingredients. Two bicyclic sesquiterpenoids are present, polygodial (tadeonal, an unsaturated dialdehyde with a drimane backbone) and waburganal, which has been found responsible for the pungent taste (hence its edibility). The plant also contains rutin, a source of the bitter taste impression.

The plant contains an essential oil (0.5%) which consists of monoterpenoids and sesquiterpenoids: α-pinene, β-pinene, 1,4-cineol, fenchone, α-humulene, β-caryophyllene, trans-β-bergamotene. Carboxylic acids (cinnamic, valeric and caproic acid) and their esters were present in traces. The composition depends strongly on genetic factors.

 

 

In Japan this plant’s leaves are used as a vegetable – these are from the cultivar, not the wild type which has a far more pungent taste. Wild water pepper produces oils that cause skin irritation, and the many acids in its tissues, including formic acid, make the plant unpalatable to livestock. Young red sprouts are used as a sashimi garnish, and are known as beni-tade ( red water pepper). Though livestock do not eat the wild type, some insects do, giving rise to the Japanese saying “There is no accounting for taste.” or more narrowly “Some prefer nettles.”

The seeds of the water-pepper may be added to wasabi.

 

Herb and Spice of the Week – Wasabi

June 18, 2015 at 5:13 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,
Wasabi

Wasabi

Wasabi is a plant of the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbages, horseradish, and mustard. It is also called Japanese horseradish, although horseradish is a different plant (which is often used as a substitute for wasabi). Its stem is used as a condiment and has an extremely strong pungency. Its hotness is more akin to that of a hot mustard than that of the capsaicin in a chili pepper, producing vapours that stimulate the nasal passages more than the tongue. The plant grows naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. The two main cultivars in the marketplace are E. japonicum ‘Daruma’ and ‘Mazuma’, but there are many others.

 

 

Fresh wasabi stems

Fresh wasabi stems

Wasabi is generally sold either as a stem, which must be very finely grated before use, as dried powder in large quantities, or as a ready-to-use paste in tubes similar to travel toothpaste tubes. Because it grows mostly submerged, it is a common misconception to refer to the part used for wasabi as a root or sometimes even a rhizome: it is in fact the stem of the plant, with the characteristic leaf scar where old leaves fell off or were collected.

In some high-end restaurants, the paste is prepared when the customer orders, and is made using a grater to grate the stem; once the paste is prepared, it loses flavor in 15 minutes if left uncovered. In sushi preparation, sushi chefs usually put the wasabi between the fish and the rice because covering wasabi until served preserves its flavor.

Fresh wasabi leaves can be eaten, having the spicy flavor of wasabi stems.

Legumes (peanuts, soybeans, or peas) may be roasted or fried, then coated with wasabi powder mixed with sugar, salt, or oil and eaten as a crunchy snack.

 
Wasabi is difficult to cultivate, and that makes it quite expensive. Due to its high cost, a common substitute is a mixture of horseradish, mustard, starch and green food coloring. Outside of Japan, it is rare to find real wasabi plants. Often packages are labeled as wasabi, but the ingredients do not actually include wasabi plant. Although wasabi and horseradish are similar in taste, wasabi is green and hotter. In Japan, horseradish is referred to as seiyō wasabi. In the United States, true wasabi is generally found only at specialty grocers and high-end restaurants.

 

 

Wasabi on a metal oroshigane grater

Wasabi on a metal oroshigane grater

Wasabi is often grated with a metal oroshigane, but some prefer to use a more traditional tool made of dried sharkskin with fine skin on one side and coarse skin on the other. A hand-made grater with irregular teeth can also be used. If a shark-skin grater is unavailable, ceramic is usually preferred.

 

Herb and Spice of the Week – Turmeric

June 11, 2015 at 5:16 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Turmeric

Turmeric

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) /ˈtɜrmərɪk/ or /ˈtjuːmərɪk/ or /ˈtuːmərɪk/ is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is native in southwest India, and needs temperatures between 20 and 30 °C (68 and 86 °F) and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive. Plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes, and propagated from some of those rhizomes in the following season.

When not used fresh, the rhizomes are boiled for about 30–45 minutes and then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep-orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice in Indian cuisine, Pakistani cuisine and curries, for dyeing, and to impart color to mustard condiments. One active ingredient is curcumin, which has a distinctly earthy, slightly bitter, slightly hot peppery flavor and a mustardy smell.

 

 

Turmeric is a perennial herbaceous plant, which reaches up to 1 m tall. Highly branched, yellow to orange, cylindrical, aromatic rhizomes are found. The leaves are alternate and arranged in two rows . They are divided into leaf sheath, petiole, and leaf blade. From the leaf sheaths, a false stem is formed. The petiole is 50 to 115 cm long. The simple leaf blades are usually 76 to 115 cm long and rarely up to 230 cm. They have a width of 38 to 45 cm and are oblong to elliptic narrowing at the tip .

 

Processed Turmeric

Processed Turmeric

Turmeric grows wild in the forests of South and Southeast Asia. It is one of the key ingredients in many Asian dishes. Indian traditional medicine, called Siddha, has recommended turmeric for medicine. Its use as a coloring agent is not of primary value in South Asian cuisine.

Turmeric is mostly used in savory dishes, but is used in some sweet dishes, such as the cake sfouf. In India, turmeric plant leaf is used to prepare special sweet dishes, patoleo, by layering rice flour and coconut-jaggery mixture on the leaf, and then closing and steaming it in a special copper steamer (goa).

In recipes outside South Asia, turmeric is sometimes used as an agent to impart a rich, custard-like yellow color. It is used in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders.

Most turmeric is used in the form of rhizome powder; in some regions (especially in Maharashtra, Goa, Konkan and Kanara), turmeric leaves are used to wrap and cook food. Turmeric leaves are mainly used in this way in areas where turmeric is grown locally, since the leaves used are freshly picked. Turmeric leaves impart a distinctive flavor.

Although typically used in its dried, powdered form, turmeric is also used fresh, like ginger. It has numerous uses in

Turmeric powder

Turmeric powder

Far Eastern recipes, such as pickle that contains large chunks of soft turmeric, made from fresh turmeric.

* Turmeric is widely used as a spice in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. Many Persian dishes use turmeric as a starter ingredient. Almost all Iranian khoresh dishes are started using onions caramelized in oil and turmeric, followed by other ingredients.

* In India and Nepal, turmeric is widely grown and extensively used in many vegetable and meat dishes for its color, and is also used for its supposed value in traditional medicine.

* In South Africa, turmeric is used to give boiled white rice a golden color.

* In Vietnamese cuisine, turmeric powder is used to color and enhance the flavors of certain dishes, such as bánh xèo, bánh khọt, and mi quang. The powder is also used in many other Vietnamese stir-fried and soup dishes.

* In Indonesia, turmeric leaves are used for Minangese or Padangese curry base of Sumatra, such as rendang, sate padang, and many other varieties.

* In Thailand, fresh turmeric rhizomes are widely used in many dishes, in particular in the southern Thai cuisine, such as the yellow curry and turmeric soup.

* In medieval Europe, turmeric became known as Indian saffron because it was widely used as an alternative to the far more expensive saffron spice.
In India, turmeric has been used traditionally for thousands of years as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments, as well as topically to heal sores, basically for its supposed antimicrobial property. In the Siddha system (since around 1900 BCE) turmeric was a medicine for a range of diseases and conditions, including those of the skin, pulmonary, and gastrointestinal systems, aches, pains, wounds, sprains, and liver disorders. A fresh juice is commonly used in many skin conditions, including eczema, chicken pox, shingles, allergy, and scabies.

The active compound curcumin is believed to have a wide range of biological effects including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumour, antibacterial, and antiviral activities, which indicate potential in clinical medicine.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “there is little reliable evidence to

Turmeric rhizome and powder.

Turmeric rhizome and powder.

support the use of turmeric for any health condition because few clinical trials have been conducted.”

Although trials are going on for the use of turmeric to treat cancer, doses needed for any effect are difficult to establish in humans.

Some research shows compounds in turmeric to have antifungal and antibacterial properties; however, curcumin is not one of them.

As of December 2013, turmeric is being evaluated for its potential efficacy against several human diseases in clinical trials, including kidney and cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, several types of cancer, and irritable bowel disease. Turmeric is also being investigated for potential treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and other clinical disorders.
Turmeric makes a poor fabric dye, as it is not very light fast, but is commonly used in Indian and Bangladeshi clothing, such as saris and Buddhist monks’ robes. Turmeric (coded as E100 when used as a food additive) is used to protect food products from sunlight. The oleoresin is used for oil-containing products. A curcumin and polysorbate solution or curcumin powder dissolved in alcohol is used for water-containing products. Over-coloring, such as in pickles, relishes, and mustard, is sometimes used to compensate for fading.

In combination with annatto (E160b), turmeric has been used to color cheeses, yogurt, dry mixes, salad dressings, winter butter and margarine. Turmeric is also used to give a yellow color to some prepared mustards, canned chicken broths, and other foods (often as a much cheaper replacement for saffron).

Turmeric paper (paper steeped in a tincture of turmeric and allowed to dry) is used in chemical analysis as an indicator for acidity and alkalinity.

 

Herb and Spice of the Week – Thyme

June 4, 2015 at 5:12 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,
A bundle of thyme

A bundle of thyme

Thyme (/ˈtaɪm/) is an evergreen herb with culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses. Thyme is of the genus Thymus, most commonly Thymus vulgaris.

 

 

Thyme is best cultivated in a hot, sunny location with well-drained soil. It is generally planted in the spring, and thereafter grows as a perennial. It can be propagated by seed, cuttings, or by dividing rooted sections of the plant. It tolerates drought well. The plants can take deep freezes and are found growing wild on mountain highlands. Along the Riviera, it is found from sea level up to 800 m.

 
In some Levantine countries, and Assyrian, the condiment za’atar (Arabic for thyme) contains thyme as a vital ingredient. It is a common component of the bouquet garni, and of herbes de Provence.

Thyme is sold both fresh and dried. The fresh form is more flavorful, but also less convenient; storage life is rarely more than a week. While summer-seasonal, fresh greenhouse thyme is often available year round.

Fresh thyme is commonly sold in bunches of sprigs. A sprig is a single stem snipped from the plant. It is composed of a woody stem with paired leaf or flower clusters (“leaves”) spaced 1⁄2 to 1″ apart. A recipe may measure thyme by the bunch (or fraction thereof), or by the sprig, or by the tablespoon or teaspoon. Dried thyme is widely used in Armenia (called Urc) in teas.

Depending on how it is used in a dish, the whole sprig may be used (e.g. in a bouquet garni), or the leaves removed and the stems discarded. Usually when a recipe specifies “bunch” or “sprig”, it means the whole form; when it specifies spoons it means the leaves. It is perfectly acceptable to substitute dried for whole thyme.

Leaves may be removed from stems either by scraping with the back of a knife, or by pulling through the fingers or tines of a fork.

Thyme retains its flavor on drying better than many other herbs. Substitution is often more complicated than that because recipes can specify sprigs, and sprigs can vary in yield of leaves.

 
Oil of thyme, the essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), contains 20–54% thymol. Thyme essential oil also contains a range of additional compounds, such as p-cymene, myrcene, borneol and linalool. Thymol, an antiseptic, is an active ingredient in various commercially produced mouthwashes such as Listerine. Before the advent of modern antibiotics, oil of thyme was used to medicate bandages. Thymol has also been shown to be effective against various fungi that commonly infect toenails. Thymol can also be found as the active ingredient in some all-natural, alcohol-free hand sanitizers.

A tea made by infusing the herb in water can be used for coughs and bronchitis.

One study by Leeds Metropolitan University found that thyme may be beneficial in treating acne.

 

 

 

Important species and cultivars:

Variegated lemon thyme

Variegated lemon thyme

* Thymus citriodorus — various lemon thymes, orange thymes, lime thyme.
* Thymus herba-barona (caraway thyme) is used both as a culinary herb and a ground cover, and has a very strong caraway scent due to the chemical carvone.
* Thymus praecox (mother of thyme, wild thyme), cultivated as an ornamental
* Thymus pseudolanuginosus (woolly thyme) is not a culinary herb, but is grown as a ground cover.
* Thymus serpyllum (wild thyme, creeping thyme) is an important nectar source plant for honeybees. All thyme species are nectar sources, but wild thyme covers large areas of droughty, rocky soils in southern Europe (Both Greece and Malta are especially famous for wild thyme honey) and North Africa, as well as in similar landscapes in the Berkshire and Catskill Mountains of the northeastern US. The lowest-growing of the widely used thyme, it is good for walkways.
* Thymus vulgaris (common thyme, English thyme, summer thyme, winter thyme, French thyme, or garden thyme) is a commonly used culinary herb. It also has medicinal uses. Common thyme is a Mediterranean perennial which is best suited to well-drained soils and full sun.

 

Herb and Spice of the Week – Tarragon

May 28, 2015 at 5:22 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Tarragon

Tarragon

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a species of perennial herb in the sunflower family. It is widespread in the wild across much of Eurasia and North America, and is cultivated for culinary and medicinal purposes in many lands.

One sub-species, Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa, is cultivated for use of the leaves as an aromatic culinary herb. In some other sub-species, the characteristic aroma is largely absent. The species is polymorphic. Informal names for distinguishing the variations include “French tarragon” (best for culinary use), “Russian tarragon” (typically better than wild tarragon but not as good as so-called French tarragon for culinary use), and “wild tarragon” (covers various states).

Tarragon grows to 120–150 cm tall, with slender branched stems. The leaves are lanceolate, 2–8 cm long and 2–10 mm broad, glossy green, with an entire margin. The flowers are produced in small capitulae 2–4 mm diameter, each capitulum containing up to 40 yellow or greenish-yellow florets. French tarragon, however, seldom produces any flowers (or seeds). Some tarragon plants produce seeds that are generally only sterile. Others produce viable seeds. Tarragon has rhizomatous roots and it readily reproduces from the rhizomes.

The name “tarragon” is believed to have been borrowed from the Persian name for tarragon which is ترخون tarkhūn.

 

 

 

French tarragon is the variety generally considered best for the kitchen, but is never grown from seed as the flowers are sterile; instead it is propagated by root division. It is normally purchased as a plant, and some care must be taken to ensure that true French tarragon is purchased. A perennial, it normally goes dormant in winter. It likes a hot, sunny spot, without excessive watering.

Russian tarragon (A. dracunculoides L.) can be grown from seed but is much weaker in flavor when compared to the French variety. However, Russian tarragon is a far more hardy and vigorous plant, spreading at the roots and growing over a meter tall. This tarragon actually prefers poor soils and happily tolerates drought and neglect. It is not as strongly aromatic and flavorsome as its French cousin, but it produces many more leaves from early spring onwards that are mild and good in salads and cooked food. Russian tarragon loses what flavor it has as it ages and is widely considered useless as a culinary herb, though it is sometimes used in crafts. The young stems in early spring can be cooked as an asparagus substitute. Horticulturists recommend that Russian tarragon be grown indoors from seed and planted out in the summer. The spreading plants can be divided easily.

A better substitute for French tarragon is Spanish tarragon (Tagetes lucida), also known as Mexican mint marigold, Mexican tarragon, Texas tarragon, or winter tarragon. It is much more reminiscent of French tarragon, with a hint of anise. Although not in the same genus as the other tarragons, Spanish tarragon has a stronger flavor than Russian tarragon that does not diminish significantly with age.

 

 

 

Tarragon has an aromatic property reminiscent of anise, due to the presence of estragole, a known carcinogen and teratogen in mice. The European Union investigation revealed that the danger of estragole is minimal even at 100–1,000 times the typical consumption seen in humans. Estragole concentration in fresh tarragon leaves is about 2900 mg/kg.

 

 

Dried tarragon leaves

Dried tarragon leaves

Tarragon is one of the four fines herbs of French cooking, and is particularly suitable for chicken, fish and egg dishes. Tarragon is the main flavoring component of Béarnaise sauce. Fresh, lightly bruised sprigs of tarragon are steeped in vinegar to produce tarragon vinegar.

Tarragon is used to flavor a popular carbonated soft drink in the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and, by extension, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The drink, named Tarhun (Armenian pronunciation: [tɑɾˈxun] Թարխուն), is made out of sugary tarragon concentrate and colored bright green.

In Iran, tarragon is used as a side dish in sabzi khordan (fresh herbs), or in stews and in Persian style pickles, particularly ‘khiar shoor’.

In Slovenia, tarragon is used in a variation of the traditional nut roll sweet cake, called potica. In Hungary a popular kind of chicken soup is flavored with tarragon.

cis-Pellitorin, an isobutyramide eliciting a pungent taste, has been isolated from the tarragon plant.

 

Herb and Spice of the Week – Sichuan Pepper

May 21, 2015 at 5:25 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sichuan pepper, also known as Chinese coriander, a commonly used spice in Chinese, Tibetan, Nepali, and Indian

Sichuan pepper

Sichuan pepper

cuisine, is derived from at least two species of the global genus Zanthoxylum, including Z. simulans and Z. bungeanum. The botanical name comes from the Greek xanthon xylon (ξανθὸν ξύλον), meaning “blond wood”. It refers to the brightly colored sapwood possessed by several of the species. The genus Zanthoxylum belongs in the rue or citrus family, and, despite its name, is not closely related to either black pepper or chili pepper.

The husk or hull (pericarp) around the seeds may be used whole, especially in Sichuan cuisine, and the finely ground powder is one of the ingredients for five-spice powder. It is also used in traditional Chinese medicine. The pericarp is most often used, but the leaves of various species are also used in some regions of China.

Another species of Zanthoxylum native to China, Z. schinifolium, called 香椒子 (xiāng jiāo zi, “aromatic peppercorn”) or 青花椒 (qīng huā jiāo, “green flower pepper”), is used as a spice in Hebei. Yet another Zanthoxylum species provides the African spice uzazi. Because all 250 or so species of the genus seem to possess at least some of the aromatic and complex chemicals that enliven food, most Zanthoxylum species likely have been used at some time as a spice.

While the exact flavor and composition of different species from the Zanthoxylum genus vary, the same essential characteristics are present to some degree in most. So, while the terms “Sichuan pepper” and sanshō may refer specifically to Z. simulans and Z. piperitum, respectively, the two are commonly used interchangeably.

Related species are used in the cuisines of Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, and the Konkani and Toba Batak peoples. In Bhutan, this pepper is known as thingye and is used liberally in preparation of soups, gruels, and phaag sha paa (pork slices). In Nepal, timur is used in the popular foods momo, thukpa, chow mein, chicken chilli, and other meat dishes. It is also widely used in homemade pickles. People take timur as a medicine, as well for stomach or digestion problems, in a preparation with cloves of garlic and mountain salt with warm water.

 

 

A handful of Sichuan pepper

A handful of Sichuan pepper

In America, names such as “Szechwan pepper,” “Chinese pepper,” “Japanese pepper,” “aniseed pepper,” “sprice pepper,” “Chinese prickly-ash,” “fagara,” “sansho,” “Nepal pepper (Timur),” “Indonesian lemon pepper,” and others are used, sometimes referring to specific species within this group, since this plant is not well known enough in the West to have an established name. Some brands also use the English description “dehydrated prickly ash” since Sichuan pepper, and Japanese sansho, are from related plants that are sometimes called prickly ash because of their thorns (though purveyors in the US do sell native prickly ash species (Z. americanum), because it is recognized as a folk remedy. In Kachin State of Myanmar, the Jinghpaw people widely use it in traditional cuisine. It is known as ma chyang among them. Its leaves are served as one of ingredients in cooking soups.

 
Sichuan pepper’s unique aroma and flavor is not hot or pungent like black, white, or chili peppers. Instead, it has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth (caused by its 3% of hydroxy alpha sanshool) that sets the stage for hot spices. According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, they are not simply pungent; “they produce a strange, tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation that is something like the effect of carbonated drinks or of a mild electrical current (touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery to the tongue). Sanshools appear to act on several different kinds of nerve endings at once, induce sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily nonsensitive, and so perhaps cause a kind of general neurological confusion.”

Recipes often suggest lightly toasting the tiny seed pods, then crushing them before adding them to food. Only the husks are used; the shiny black seeds are discarded or ignored as they have a very gritty sand-like texture. The spice is generally added at the last moment. Star anise and ginger are often used with it in spicy Sichuan cuisine. It has an alkaline pH and a numbing effect on the lips when eaten in larger doses. Ma la sauce common in Sichuan cooking, is a combination of Sichuan pepper and chili pepper, and it is a key ingredient in má là hot pot, the Sichuan version of the traditional Chinese dish. It is also a common flavoring in Sichuan baked goods such as sweetened cakes and biscuits. Beijing microbrewery Great Leap Brewing uses Sichuan peppercorns, offset by honey, as a flavouring adjunct in its Honey Ma Blonde.

Sichuan pepper is also available as an oil. In this form, it is best used in stir-fry noodle dishes without hot spices. The recipe may include ginger oil and brown sugar cooked with a base of noodles and vegetables, then rice vinegar and Sichuan pepper oil are added after cooking.

Hua jiao yan is a mixture of salt and Sichuan pepper, toasted and browned in a wok and served as a condiment to accompany chicken, duck, and pork dishes. The peppercorns can also be lightly fried to make a spicy oil with various uses.

In Indonesian Batak cuisine, andaliman (a relative of Sichuan pepper, Z. acanthopodium) is ground and mixed with

Fruits and seeds

Fruits and seeds

chilies and seasonings into a green sambal tinombur or chili paste, to accompany grilled pork, carp, and other regional specialties. Arsik, a Batak dish from the Tapanuli region, uses andaliman as spice.

Sichuan pepper is one of the few spices important for Nepali (Gurkha), Tibetan and Bhutanese cookery of the Himalayas, because few spices can be grown there. One Himalayan specialty is the momo, a dumpling stuffed with vegetables, cottage cheese or minced yak meat, water buffalo meat, or pork and flavored with Sichuan pepper, garlic, ginger, and onion, served with tomato and Sichuan pepper-based gravy. Nepalese-style noodles are steamed and served dry, together with a fiery Sichuan pepper sauce.

In Korean cuisine, two species are used: Z. piperitum and Z. schinifolium.

 
U.S. import ban
From 1968 to 2005, the United States Food and Drug Administration banned the importation of Sichuan peppercorns because they were found to be capable of carrying citrus canker (as the tree is in the same family, Rutaceae, as the genus Citrus). This bacterial disease, which is very difficult to control, could potentially harm the foliage and fruit of citrus crops in the U.S. It was never an issue of harm in human consumption. The import ban was only loosely enforced until 2002. In 2005, the USDA and FDA lifted the ban, provided the peppercorns are heated to around 70°C (158°F) to kill any canker bacteria before import.

 

Herb and Spice of the Week – Sumac

May 14, 2015 at 5:21 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sumac (/ˈsjuːmæk/, /ˈʃuːmæk/ or /ˈsuːmæk/; also spelled sumach) is any one of about 35 species of flowering plants in the genus Rhus and related genera, in the family Anacardiaceae. Sumacs grow in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, especially in Africa and North America.

Sumacs are shrubs and small trees that can reach a height of 1–10 m (3.3–32.8 ft). The leaves are spirally arranged;

Sumac fruit in fall

Sumac fruit in fall

they are usually pinnately compound, though some species have trifoliate or simple leaves. The flowers are in dense panicles or spikes 5–30 cm (2.0–11.8 in) long, each flower very small, greenish, creamy white or red, with five petals. The fruits form dense clusters of reddish drupes called sumac bobs. The dried drupes of some species are ground to produce a tangy crimson spice.

Sumacs propagate both by seed (spread by birds and other animals through their droppings), and by new shoots from rhizomes, forming large clonal colonies.

The word ‘sumac’ traces its etymology from Old French sumac (13th century), from Mediaeval Latin sumach, from Arabic summāq (سماق), from Syriac summāq (ܣܡܘܩ)- meaning “red”.

 

 

 

Species including the fragrant sumac (R. aromatica), the littleleaf sumac (R. microphylla), the skunkbush sumac (R. trilobata), the smooth sumac, and the staghorn sumac are grown for ornament, either as the wild types or as cultivars.

The fruits (drupes) of the genus Rhus are ground into a reddish-purple powder used as a spice in Middle Eastern

Sumac spice

Sumac spice

cuisine to add a lemony taste to salads or meat. In Arab cuisine, it is used as a garnish on meze dishes such as hummus and tashi is added to salads in the Levant. In Iranian (Persian and Kurdish) cuisines, sumac is added to rice or kebab. In Jordanian and Turkish cuisines, it is added to salad-servings of kebab and lahmacun. Rhus coriaria is used in the spice mixture za’atar.

In North America, the smooth sumac (R. glabra) and the staghorn sumac (R. typhina) are sometimes used to make a beverage termed “sumac-ade”, “Indian lemonade”, or “rhus juice”. This drink is made by soaking the drupes in cool water, rubbing them to extract the essence, straining the liquid through a cotton cloth, and sweetening it. Native Americans also use the leaves and drupes of the smooth and staghorn sumacs combined with tobacco in traditional smoking mixtures.

Sumac was used as a treatment for half a dozen different ailments in medieval medicine, primarily in Middle-Eastern countries (where sumac was more readily available than in Europe). An 11th-century shipwreck off the coast of Rhodes, excavated by archeologists in the 1970s, contained commercial quantities of sumac drupes. These could have been intended for use as medicine, as a culinary spice, or as a dye. Staghorn sumac is a powerful antioxidant, with ORAC rating over 1500 μmol TE/g.

The leaves of certain sumacs yield tannin (mostly pyrogallol-type), a substance used in vegetable tanning. Notable sources include the leaves of R. coriaria, Chinese gall on R. chinensis, and wood and roots of R. pentaphylla. Leather tanned with sumac is flexible, light in weight, and light in color. One type of leather made with sumac tannins is morocco leather.

Some beekeepers use dried sumac bobs as a source of fuel for their smokers.

Sumac stems also have a soft pith in the center that is useful in traditional native American pipemaking. They were commonly used as pipe stems in the northern United States.

Dried sumac wood fluoresces under long-wave ultraviolet radiation.

 

 

 

Some species formerly recognized in Rhus, such as poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans, syn.Rhus toxicodendron), poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum, syn. Rhus diversiloba) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix, syn. Rhus vernix), have the allergen urushiol and can cause severe allergic reactions. Poison sumac may be identified by its white drupes, which are quite different from the red drupes of true Rhus species.

Mowing of sumac is not a good control measure, since the wood is springy, resulting in jagged, sharp-pointed stumps when mowed. The plant will quickly recover with new growth after mowing. Goats have long been considered an efficient and quick removal method, as they eat the bark, which helps prevent new shoots.

 

Herb and Spice of the Week – Star Anise (Illicium verum)

May 7, 2015 at 5:36 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,
Star anise

Star anise

Illicium verum, commonly called star anise, star aniseed, or Chinese star anise is a spice that closely resembles anise in flavor, obtained from the star-shaped pericarp of Illicium verum, a medium-sized native evergreen tree of northeast Vietnam and southwest China. The star-shaped fruits are harvested just before ripening. Star anise oil is a highly fragrant oil using in cooking, perfumery, soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and skin creams. 90% of the world’s star anise crop is used for extraction of a chemical intermediate used in the synthesis of oseltamivir.

 
Star anise contains anethole, the same ingredient that gives the unrelated anise its flavor. Recently, star anise has come into use in the West as a less expensive substitute for anise in baking as well as in liquor production, most distinctively in the production of the liquor Galliano. It is also used in the production of sambuca, pastis, and many types of absinthe. Star anise enhances the flavor of meat. It is used as a spice in preparation of biryani and masala chai all over the Indian subcontinent. It is widely used in Chinese cuisine, and in Indian cuisine where it is a major component of garam masala, and in Malay and Indonesian cuisines. It is widely grown for commercial use in China, India, and most other countries in Asia. Star anise is an ingredient of the traditional five-spice powder of Chinese cooking. It is also a major ingredient in the making of phở, a Vietnamese noodle soup.It is also used in the french recipe of mulled wine : called vin chaud (hot wine).

 
Star anise has been used in a tea as a traditional remedy for rheumatism, and the seeds are sometimes chewed after

Reverse side of fruit

Reverse side of fruit

meals to aid digestion. In traditional Chinese medicine, star anise is considered a warm and moving herb, and used to assist in relieving cold-stagnation in the middle jiao.

Star anise is the major source of the chemical compound shikimic acid, a primary precursor in the pharmaceutical synthesis of anti-influenza drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Shikimic acid is produced by most autotrophic organisms, and whilst it can be obtained in commercial quantities elsewhere, star anise remains the usual industrial source. In 2005, a temporary shortage of star anise was caused by its use in the production of Tamiflu. Later that year, a method for the production of shikimic acid using bacteria was discovered. Roche now derives some of the raw material it needs from the fermentation of E. coli bacteria. The 2009 swine flu outbreak led to another series of shortages as stocks of Tamiflu were built up around the world, sending prices soaring.

Star anise is grown in four provinces in China and harvested between March and May. It is also found in the south of New South Wales. The shikimic acid is extracted from the seeds in a 10-stage manufacturing process which takes a year.

Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum), a similar tree, is highly toxic and inedible; in Japan, it has instead been burned as incense. Cases of illness, including “serious neurological effects, such as seizures”, reported after using star anise tea, may be a result of using this species. Japanese star anise contains anisatin, which causes severe inflammation of the kidneys, urinary tract, and digestive organs. The toxicity of I. anisatum, also known as shikimi, is caused by its containing potent neurotoxins (anisatin, neoanisatin, and pseudoanisatin), due to their activity as noncompetitive antagonists of GABA receptors.

 

Herb and Spice of the Week – Sorrel

April 30, 2015 at 5:10 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Sorrel

Sorrel

Common sorrel or garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa), often simply called sorrel, is a perennial herb in the family Polygonaceae. Other names for sorrel include spinach dock and narrow-leaved dock. It is a common plant in grassland habitats and is cultivated as a garden herb or leaf vegetable (pot herb).

 

 

Sorrel is a slender herbaceous perennial plant about 60 cm high, with roots that run deep into the ground, as well as juicy stems and edible, arrow-shaped (sagittate) leaves. The lower leaves are 7 to 15 cm in length with long petioles and a membranous ocrea formed of fused, sheathing stipules. The upper ones are sessile, and frequently become crimson. It has whorled spikes of reddish-green flowers, which bloom in early summer, becoming purplish. The species are dioecious, with stamens and pistils on different plants.

The leaves are eaten by the larvae of several species of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) including the blood-vein moth.

 

Flowering sorrel.

Flowering sorrel.

Rumex acetosa occurs in grassland habitats throughout Europe from the northern Mediterranean coast to the north of Scandinavia and in parts of Central Asia. It occurs as an introduced species in parts of North America.

 
Common sorrel has been cultivated for centuries. The leaves may be purred in soups and sauces or added to salads; they have a flavor that is similar to kiwifruit or sour wild strawberries. The plant’s sharp taste is due to oxalic acid.

* In northern Nigeria, sorrel is known as yakuwa or sure (pronounced suuray) in Hausa or karassu in Kanuri. It is also used in stews usually in addition to spinach. In some Hausa communities, it is steamed and made into salad using kuli-kuli (traditional roasted peanut cakes with oil extracted), salt, pepper, onion and tomatoes. The recipe varies according to different levels of household income. A drink called zobo (sorrel squash) is made from a decoction of the plant calyx.

* In Romania, wild or garden sorrel, known as măcriş or ştevie, is used to make sour soups, stewed with spinach, added fresh to lettuce and spinach in salads or over open sandwiches.

* In Russia and Ukraine it is called shchavel’ (щавель) and is used to make soup called green borscht. It is used as a soup ingredient in other countries, too (e.g., Lithuania, where it is known as rūgštynė).

* In Hungary the plant and its leaves are known as sóska (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈʃɔːʃkɒ]). It is called kuzukulağı (‘lamb’s ear’) in Turkish. In Polish it is called szczaw (pronounced Polish pronunciation: [ʂʈʂaf]).

* In Croatia and Bulgaria is used for soups or with mashed potatoes, or as part of a traditional dish containing eel and other green herbs.

* In rural Greece it is used with spinach, leeks, and chard in spanakopita.

* In the Flemish speaking part of Belgium it is called “zurkel” and preserved pureed sorrel is mixed with mashed potatoes and eaten with sausages, meatballs or fried bacon, as a traditional winter dish.

* In Vietnam it is called Rau Chua and is used to added fresh to lettuce and in salads for Bánh Xēo.

* In Portugal, it is called azeda or azeda-brava (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐˈzeðɐ], [ɐˈzeðɐ ˈβɾavɐ], “sour”, “fierce

Sorrel soup with egg and croutons; Polish cuisine.

Sorrel soup with egg and croutons; Polish cuisine.

sour”), and is usually eaten raw in saladas or used to make soups. That is identical to its use in Brazil, under the name of azedinha ([ɐzeˈdʒĩɲɐ], “small/lovely tart”).

* In India, the leaves are called chukkakura in Telugu and are used in making delicious recipes. Chukkakura pappu soup made with yellow lentils which is also called toor dal in India.

* In Albania it is called lëpjeta, the leaves are simmered and served cold marinated in olive oil, it is used in soups, and even as an ingredient for filling byrek pies (byrek me lakra).

This name can be confused with the hibiscus calyces or hibiscus tea.

 

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.

The Simple Times

simple healthy living

The Tiny Potager

Self Sufficiency and Sustainable Living

The Waffle Blog

BECAUSE I JUST CAN'T SEEM TO MAKE UP MY MIND

Miami Cuisine

Simple Recipes / Recetas Simples

Trkingmomoe's Blog

Low Budget Meals for the New Normal

My Dumbo Eats

My culinary adventure

Eat-notized

There is no heartfelt love than the ardor of FOOD……

Estonian Cuisine. Eesti Toit.

Estonian Food and Cuisine. Easy and Delicious .

lynz real cooking

lynz real life

mad & delicacy

Italian food, recipes and more.....

Dishdessert

Cooking for everyone (La cuisine pour tout le monde)

Food & Zen

Life is Food

Fun Foodie Family

Where you are always allowed to play with your food!

Buying Seafood

A Resource on the Best in Fish and Shellfish

dineANDrhyme

a blog that combines food & poetry mixed with vlogging

Eating on the Grounds

Because There's Nothing Better Than a Church Potluck!