Add a Little Spice to the Holiday Season
October 10, 2011
As the days grow shorter, nights get colder and the leaves begin to change from green to an array of harvest colors, we naturally begin to crave more comfort foods. We find refuge from the cold in a steamy bowl of soup, fragrant slice of pumpkin pie or a creamy cup of hot cocoa.
What is it about these foods that evoke such pleasure? Is it the aroma, the taste or simply the satisfying feeling you get when you eat it? It could be a variety of those things, but let’s take a closer look at some spices that put you in the cozy-kind-of-holiday mood, just by the mere scent and flavor of them: nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon.
These three spices taste delicious, are easy to find and are inexpensive, making them widely popular and a staple in most American’s spice cabinets. In preparation for the holiday season, be sure to pick up a bottle of each of these spices and cook up some memory-making comfort for your family.
The name nutmeg might suggest that it’s a nut, but it’s not. It’s the kernel of the apricot-like fruit found on the nutmeg tree, grown in Banda, the largest of the Molucca spice islands of Indonesia. The tree carries two spices, nutmeg and mace. The fragrant nutmeg grows in an egg-shaped seed and the English word nutmeg comes from the latin nux, meaning nut, and muscat, meaning musky. Nutmeg is used in ground or grated form, but tastes best when grated fresh-one whole nutmeg equals 2-3 teaspoons grated. Nutmeg is used to flavor many dishes, including egg nog, cider, sweet potatoes and holiday cookies. This sweet potato raisin bread is sure to make you feel cozy inside and this traditional Nutmeg Log cookie recipe will be a favorite this holiday season.
Cinnamon has such a sweet scent and is a spice that perfectly blends with sweet potatoes or sprinkled on toast-to create a rich recognizable flavor. It’s originally from Sri Lanka and was often used in sacred rituals since ancient times, such as Egyptian mummification. Chinese medical specialists have recommended cinnamon for influenza, parasites, skin infections, digestive problems and has been used as an antiseptic, for thousands of years. In a study at Copenhagen University, patients given half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder combined with one tablespoon of honey every morning before breakfast had significant relief in arthritis pain after one week and could walk without pain within one month. This flavorful spice also helps lower your cholesterol, so try sprinkling some into your breakfast smoothie for an added health boost this fall.
Native to India and China, ginger gets its name from the Sanskrit word stringa-vera, which means “with a body like a horn”, as in antlers. This warm, sweet and pungent root, has been associated with Chinese medicine for many centuries as a digestive aid, anti-inflammatory, cure for nausea and motion and morning sickness; and it became so popular in Europe that it was included in every table setting, like salt and pepper. Fresh ginger is pale yellow inside and the skin is a brownish color. Fresh ginger is a key component to Asian and Oriental recipes, from pickles, chutneys and curry pastes to thin slices used in salads. In America, we enjoy dried ginger in cake and biscuit recipes, in ginger snaps, ginger tea and gingerbread. Feeling ginger-ly, check out some tasty ways to enjoy ginger this fall with these recipes.