Category Archives: spices

Curry Leaves

Curry Leaves

Curry leaves, (murraya koenigii), are a fragrant herb from South East Asia, and India.  They are used in South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisines.  They are leaves of a small deciduous tree in the citrus family.    They are shiny, and look like citrus leaves.  They have a pungent, curry fragrance.  Curry leaves can also be found dried.
            Curry leaves enhance metabolism, control diabetes, and will help reduce the cholesterol in coconut oil when used together.






Garlic is a member of the lily family (alliums).  It is an edible bulb.  Garlic is an annual bulbous herb.  One head of garlic (called a bulb) is 12- 16 cloves of garlic.  The head is covered in a paper thin white membrane, as well as each clove.  The plant grows long flat leaves.

All garlic falls under the species allium sativum, which is divided into two subspecies: hardneck and softneck. These, in turn, can be divided into several varieties and sub varieties, creating more than 600 types of garlic.  There are five main varieties of garlic: Artichoke, Rocambole, Porcelain, Silverskin  and Purple Stripe.

Garlic has been very important throughout history.  It probably originated in western Asia, around the desert of the Kirghiz people.  In about 1500, it was revered as a medicine.  In ancient Egyptian tablets, there were 22 prescriptions with garlic.  Egyptian athletes believed garlic could increase strength and endurance. However, the ancient Greeks disliked garlic and thought it would bring bad luck.  But in another account, Greek athletes used garlic as a stimulant.  Medieval doctors believed garlic would help cure the whopping cough, and it could be used as a charm against witches.  On St. John’s Day, if you purchase garlic, it would keep you safe from poverty from the rest of the year.  In 1858, Louis Pasteur discovered garlic could indeed kill bacteria.  During the crusades, garlic finally reached Western Europe.  Garlic was considered the poor man’s spice.

There are over 30 varieties of garlic.  Today some of the common forms of garlic include, white garlic, pink garlic, purple garlic, giant or elephant garlic and Spanish garlic.  You can also buy ground garlic, chopped garlic, dried garlic, garlic salt, powdered garlic, roasted garlic, and garlic oil.  The longer you cook garlic, the longer the flavor will deviate.  Young garlic or garlic greens are also a delicacy.

ONION, GARLIC, ELEPHANTONION, GARLIC, ELEPHANT, CLOVEElephant Garlic.  One clove is the size of a strawberry.

When garlic is bruised, crushed, chopped, or the like, the oils in the garlic will be released, making the dish even more pungent.  Since garlic oils are known to permeate the lungs, the odor of garlic may remain with you for a time, exuding through your breath and skin odor.  Chlorophyll may help to alleviate some of the garlic’s pungency.


Garlic contains selenium when eaten in large quantities.  It is a diuretic, stomachic, tonic, antispasmodic, anti-arthritic, antiseptic, and has cleansing properties.  Garlic may also contain allicin, which is beneficial on the cardiovascular system, and contains allyl sulfide, a powerful antibiotic.

Garlic Pairings

  • beans
  • beef
  • beets
  • cabbage
  • chicken
  • eggplant
  • fish
  • lamb
  • lentils
  • mushrooms
  • pasta
  • pork
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • shellfish
  • spinach
  • tomatoes
  • zucchini

© 2014 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger All rights reserved Please contact me for permission to use or reference this work.

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Cinnamon is the second most used spice in the world, next to pepper.  Its first earliest recorded use was in China around 2500 BC.  It is found in the powder, chunk, and stick varieties.  Cinnamon is harvested during the rainy season, and then dried in the sun.  Today, there are approximately 100 species of cinnamon.        

            Cinnamon is the dried bark from the tropical evergreen tree Cinnamomum zeylanicum, commonly referred to as ceylon.  It is found in Sri Lanka, India, the Seychelles, Madagascar, Brazil, and the Caribbean.  It is the true cinnamon.    It is characterized by complex flavors, and citrusy overtones.  It became very popular for medicinal uses, so prices sky rocketed. 

            Instead, bark from a similar evergreen tree, C. cassia, replaced it.  It is also referred to as Korinth cinnamon.  There are three different varieties of Cassian cinnamon:  Chinese cassia has a stronger, sweet, spicy flavor; Indonesian cassia is spicy and bitter; Vietnamese cassia is light and sweet, and is very intense, so only 2/3 if what’s needed should be used.

            All these cinnamons share a common chemical compound, cinamaldhyde, which is its essential oil.  The oils from all species are slightly different from each other.  Powder and chunk varieties of cinnamon come from the lower bark of the tree, and the stick varieties come from the bark of the upper branches.  Cinnamon oil comes from the pods of the tree.

            Cinnamon has an affinity for sweets, lamb, and spicy dishes.


Celyon Cinnamon



Cassis Cinnamon

cA baby cinnamon tree

© 2014 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger All rights reserved
Please contact me for permission to use or reference this work.

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Cardamom is a Middle Eastern spice that is originally native to India.  It is related to ginger and is considered the “queen of spices”.   It is commonly used in such dishes such as west Indian curry, garam masala,  kulfie, German pferrernuse cookies, Russian liquors, Swedish meatballs, and gingerbread.  Cardamom has a warm, floral flavor.  Each type varies just slightly.

Cardamom come in three varieties; white, green and black.  The seeds grow with a pod or shell.  The outer shell has little flavor, where as the seed is intensely flavorful.  Black cardamom is a staple in African cooking, and has a unique smoky flavor.  Green cardamom is light pistachio and is the size of a cranberry.  There are approximately 20 seeds in a pod.  It takes roughly 3,000 seeds to make one pound of cardamom.

In the Mid East, the seeds are mixed with green coffee beans before brewing.  In Northern Europe, the white seeds are used in baked goods, such as Christmas Stollen.  The Green seeds are preferred in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines.  Indians and Arabs use the seeds to freshen their breath after spicy meals.  It is also used as a medicine, an aphrodisiac and a perfume.The Holy Hindu scriptures note the fact that warm spices increase the production of bodily heat.

Cardamom is 3rd expensive spice in the world behind saffron and vanilla.  Cardamom will stay fresh indefinitely if kept in an airtight container.  Cardamom is grown in Asia, South America, and the Pacific Islands.

Image           SPICE, CARDAMOM, BLACK

Green Cardamom Pods, seeds, and ground seeds   Black Cardamom Pods

Cardamom’s Flavors


Chef Denlinger’s Chai Tea

1.       Combine:

  • 1 tbsp. anise seeds (or fennel seeds)
  • 9 green cardamom pods
  • ¼ tsp. whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 oz. of sliced ginger root
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper corns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 7 cups water

2.       Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat, and let step for 10 minutes.
3.       Add to the pot:

  • 4 tbsp. loose black tea.  (Darjeeling)

4.       Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes.
5.       Strain through a coffee filter.
6.       Add:

  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 cup milk

Yields 6-7 cups

Originally Published 9-5-13
© 2013 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger       All rights reserved
Please contact me for permission to use or reference this work.
Please contact me if you wish to receive “Food For Thought” in your mailbox.

Annatto Seeds

Annatto Seeds

Annatto are the tiny seeds from the annatto tree, Bixa orellana.  Some times referred to as achiote, these seeds are what is used to make red dye #1.

The annatto tree is native to tropical America.  It produces small, elliptical shaped fruit that are covered in small reddish-brown spines.  They are called bixin.  The inner lining of the fruits are white and waxy.  The interior contains many small, hard red seeds.


Beside red dye #1, annatto seeds are also steeped in oil.  This oil is used for many things, and has a very musky scent.  Annatto seeds can be used whole, paste, or powder.  It gives foods a rich, golden hue.  It is often used for a body paint, since it also repels insects.  Annatto is also used to give butter, margarine, and sometimes cheese their color.

Annatto seeds are common in Cuban cooking, as well as cuisine in the Philippines, and in the Caribbean.  The early Spanish colonists would substitute annatto for saffron in their recipes.

Annatto seeds contain Vitamin A.

Foods that taste good with Annatto Seeds
white meat


Originally Published 1-24-13

© 2013 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger       All rights reserved

Please contact me for permission to use or reference this work.

Please contact me if you wish to receive “Food For Thought” in your mailbox.



Allspice is the aromatic berry of the allspice tree.  It is native to India and Mexico, and grows in the Caribbean.  It is not a combination of spices but one spice that is reminiscent of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.  It is slightly sweet and slightly piquant.

SPICE, ALLSPICE, TREE Allspice berry on tree

ALLSPICE TREE BLOSSOMS Flowering allspice treeALLSPICE TREE WITH UNRIPE BERRIESUnripe allspice berries

Jamaica is the largest producer of allspice today.  It grows on a tropical evergreen that is a member of the myrtle family.  The tree produces tiny white flowers.  The spice itself has pea size berries.  The berries are picked green and left to dry in the sun.  The Spanish explorers called the berry pimento because they thought it looked like peppercorns.  Eventually it was introduced to Europe in the 17th century.

SPICE, ALLSPICE                                          Whole Allspice and Ground Allspice

Allspice can be used both in sweet or savory dishes.  It is commonly found in jerk seasonings and ras el hanout.

Allspice’s Affinities

corned beef
fruit pies
sweet potatoes

Originally Published 3-24-11

© 2011 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger       All rights reserved

Please contact me for permission to use or reference this work.

Please contact me if you wish to receive “Food For Thought” in your mailbox.