I am starting a new series on ‘Book Reviews’ on topics related to food science and cooking. Today, we will start the review with a fantastic book called ‘Spice’ by Dr. Stuart Farrimond. The tagline of the book is: “understand the science of spice, create exciting new blends, and revolutionize your cooking.”
It is a beautiful book with wonderful pictures of the spices, beautiful illustrations of the cooking processes, and explanations of the science behind the spice.
Table of Contents
The book is divided into 4 main categories:
This section explains what is a spice, how they work, their flavor compounds + the author has created a very interesting periodic table of spices.
World of Spice
This section explores the main regions of the spice world via ancient trade routes and maps – thereby discovering the key spices in each cuisine.
This is my favorite section, where the author dedicates 2 pages to each spice covering their science, how to release their flavor and blending science.
The author has interspersed the book with recipes, which I honestly haven’t paid much attention to as of yet.
5 Major Takeaways:
There is a lot of information in the book, but I have decided to break down 5 of my favorite takeaways that may be useful in your day-day cooking.
- Cinammon – Stick takes time to infuse; Fat/Alcohol/Steam to disperse flavor
If you are using whole cinammon, the taste compounds need time to escape from its woody matrix, so add early in cooking to give flavor time to infuse the dish. By the way, whole cloves also behave very similarly. (Think biryani)
The critical flavor compound for cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde, does not dissolve in water, however fat, alcohol and steam will help disperse cinnamaldehyde. (The steam makes especially sense in dishes like Bisibelebath or Dalma)
2. Toasted vs untoasted Coriander has different flavor profiles
Dr. Farrimond states that “Coriander’s most flavorful oils are deep inside the seeds and its taste profile changes greatly when the spice is toasted.”
Untoasted coriander powder apparently allows the green, floral flavors to dominate. Which makes sense – In certain Andhra and Gujrathi dishes, I can taste the cooked yet untoasted coriander powder taste and it is strangely pleasing. As a Tamilian, I am trained to roast coriander every chance I get!!
3. Low fat cooking? Use toasted Cumin
So many spices require fat to carry their aroma. However, one giant spice stands out – Cumin!!
Dr. Farrimond says that cumin is particularly responsive to toasting. Dry frying the cumin seeds produces tons of additional flavor. Think Bhuna Jeera as a topping for so many dishes – raita, chaat, etc.
4. Amchur – Can be added early or late in the cooking process
Being a South Indian, I am not that comfortable with amchur. I knew the basics, like it has the tang and it is used in chaat masala. But, I could never get a sense of what stage of cooking to add it in.
Dr. Farrimond says that while Amchur can be added early in the cooking process for acidity and sweetness; amchur’s terpene flavors quickly evaporate and it is typically added later in many dishes.
So, I am excited to try some fun dishes with Amchur, which really is a magic ingredient considering that it has less than 10% moisture, yet has the acidity of 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.
5. Anardana – Dissolve in water to release flavors
Another spice that I was not super comfortable with – was anardhana. In his book, he says that: “Anardhana’s main flavors come from sugars, acids, and tannins, all of which dissolve in water.”
He asks the viewer “to directly add anardhana to a watery sauce (no need for oil) to infuse the dish with the spice’s pleasant tang. “In hindsight, I guess it makes a lot of sense since many North Indian chutneys use anardhana that does not even require cooking.
Getting a first-principles understanding of the spices was something I always yearned for. This book ‘Spice’ by Dr. Stuart Farrimond gets me a step closer to better understanding.
There is so much information in this book. One more interesting fact, I found was that most of the flavor compounds in cardamom are insoluble in water. So, he recommends that you need to cook cardamom with fat in the dish, which instantly made me think the milk fats in kheer and payasam being a lovely carrier for cardamom.
If you are a food nerd like me, you will love to have a copy on your shelf. I have an Amazon affiliate link below for the book. Even otherwise, I hope these 5 takeaways help solidify a better understanding of some common Indian spices.
Thank you and hope you are having a lovely day!!
Post Edit – By the way, I tweeted to the author about this review and sweetly he replied back. Posting his reply @RealDoctorStu said: “SO pleased you’ve got so much out of the book! Was originally released as ‘Spice’ in N America, ‘Science of Spice’ everywhere else, although I think US has decided to use same name now! Share your recipes and discoveries!”
Thank you Dr. Stuart Farrimond!!
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Amazon Affiliate Link
While the book cover may look slightly different, it is the same book just a later edition.