Ever wonder why over the holidays’ something ‘smells like Christmas’? Towards the end of each year, very unique spices come out, and they are very vital in the way we experience traditional dishes at home and in restaurants. While the holidays have distinct sights and sounds, these unique spices really lead the senses to that classic spirit of the holiday.
Black pepper is a flowering plant of the Piperaceae family, cultivated as a peppercorn for its fruit, which is commonly dried and used as a spice and seasoning. The fruit is approximately 5 mm in diameter and dark red when fresh and fully ripe and contains a single seed, like all drupes.
Nutmeg, perhaps the most popular holiday spice, is the kernel of the tropical evergreen fruit trees. Due to its harmonious relationship with milk, it works wonders for a traditional holiday dish, especially cookies, pies, and eggnog. Milled or freshly grated, nutmeg is often what people sprinkle on savory dishes such as potatoes, eggs, and meat. It is earthy and nutty and with a hint of sweetness. This is an elevated-mineral spice (containing zinc, magnesium, and potassium) that has made it a perfect home remedy for sleep and relaxation.
Add cinnamon to sweet potato and curries over the holidays, and you’ll be sure to want seconds. Typically ground, cinnamon is mainly known for its warming scent and flavor, which is why it’s common as a fragrance in candles and home sprays.
For thousands of years, this ancient spice native to Indonesia has been around, including recipes that people still use today. The taste of clove is a warm, sweet, and slight bitterness, and it’s extremely versatile. You can use it to flavor meat and stews, rich sauces, and plenty of desserts such as pies. Clove is traditionally ground during the holidays to improve the taste of gingerbread and fruitcake. However, cloves are often used entirely to spice a dish such as glazed ham or basmati rice.
The warm, slightly woody flavor of ginger makes it one of the most favored spices in the world. Fresh ginger is used commonly in savory cooking, while dried or ground ginger is preferred for sweet dishes.
Old rhizomes appear to be fibrous, strong, and not so flavorful. Choose the freshest, youngest-looking ginger you can find. It will be in the refrigerator for two or three weeks. Or store whole fresh ginger in a refrigerated sherry pot, and in Asian dishes, use both ginger and sherry. Ground ginger easily loses its taste and aroma, so you should use it within two to three months.
A favorite for children and adults alike, the hallmark fragrance of Christmas is peppermint. The holiday-themed candy cane, which has had the taste of peppermint for nearly 600 years, is especially celebrated. Thanks to its primary active agent, menthol, this calming, minty, and sweet holiday spice are popularly used in teas and coffees during the wintertime. Peppermint deals with colds and sore throat, but is ever-present in almost all Christmas, particularly in sweet treats such as filling in cakes, crumbling on top of cookies, and flavoring sweet which is sweet, of course.
Originally, allspice was a mixture of several spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, which is how the name originated. It’s just spice blends: the dried berry of a pimento tree from Jamaica. Filled with vitamin C, allspice is also used in cookies, cakes, and bread, such as cinnamon and nutmeg (notably gingerbread). It also gives savory dishes such as pork loin and butternut squash soup a surprising amount of complexity and a warm taste, and it is a key ingredient in jerk seasoning.
Saffron has been the world’s most valuable spice, but to color a dish and impart an aromatic and slightly bitter flavor, you need only a few dried threads. Saffron also blends well with honey, pears, rosemary, garlic and onions, and ginger and cardamom, which is well known for its use with rice.
With most dishes, saffron is better soaked in a few tablespoons of stagnant water before adding flavor to the remaining ingredients to allow the color and flavor to grow completely. So, much can be used easily, which gives the dish an unpleasant medicinal tang.
Cardamom arises from the very same ginger and turmeric family. The finest pods have sticky black seeds inside and will be pale sage green. In sweet and savory dishes, they are highly aromatic and have an orangey taste that works well. The essential oils of cardamom are volatile, so the flavor of ground cardamom dissipates easily. Before using, bruise whole pods to allow the flavor to escape, press the blade of a knife down on them before the pod opens. If they are old, you will know if they have lost their taste and fragrance and if the seeds are dry and light brown. Scrap those pods.
Orange may not be the most obvious holiday spice, but you’d be shocked by how much it is used in holiday recipes. Its citrus flavor blends beautifully with so many other herbs and spices on this list. It is sweet and savory and a no-brainer for us to include in our holiday spice offering. Mulling spices are also made of orange peels.
Conclusion: Spices are an essential part of making sure that your house and food taste and smell delicious during the holiday season. It’s easy to pick up a replacement at the grocery store when you run out of spices.