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Spice up your holiday season

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By Carie Birkmeier EBS STAFF

Would the holidays be the same without the aroma of nostalgic spices wafting through your home? Research suggests that the sense of smell is strongly linked with memory; and these warm, fragrant spices are likely to make you reminisce of holidays past. Many use these spices without knowing much about the plants from which they come. Here is a little background on these common spices that you’ll be using in the coming weeks.

Cinnamon is the bark of the cinnamon tree. It is dried and then sold in both ground and tubular forms, also known as a quill. Its fragrant, sweet, warm taste is available in two varieties—cassia and Ceylon. Cassia is more common and widespread and is grown in China and Indonesia. Ceylon is a sweeter and hard-to-find variety grown in Madagascar and Sri Lanka. It is considered the most “true” variety of cinnamon in terms of its flavor.

Cloves are the tiny, unopened flower buds from the clove tree, native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. The buds are harvested when they are still pink, and then dried until they turn completely brown. They are sold in both whole and ground form. Their name comes from the Latin word clavus, which translates to nail, which cloves resemble with their tapered shape. Despite their rock-hard exterior, their interior contains a slightly softer oily compound infused with their warm and aromatic flavor.

Ginger is a versatile root that can be used in both sweet and savory applications. It is sold in fresh, dried and powdered forms, all of which have a unique and different flavor. Its pungent, spicy flavor is often used in Asian cooking, but also characteristic of holiday recipes such as gingerbread.

Cardamom, a spice often used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, comes from seed pods of plants in the same family as ginger. It has a strong and pungent flavor with hints of citrus and smoke. It is available in both whole pods and powder.

Star Anise is a seed pod from an evergreen shrub native to China. Its distinctive star-shaped pod has a licorice-like flavor. This spice is commonly used whole as an infuser, but can also be ground—it is one of the main components of Chinese five spice.

Despite its misleading name, allspice is its own spice, not a blend of several spices. It comes from the dried berries of a plant known as Pimenta dioica, a member of the pimento family. Allspice comes in whole and ground form, and is often used in pickling, and is perhaps best known for its role in Jamaican jerk chicken. It has a warm, sweet, slightly peppery flavor.

Nutmeg, like cloves, is native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, and is the seed of a tropical evergreen tree that can grow up to 65 feet tall. It has a distinctive flavor and smell, with a slightly sweet, pungent taste. Buy this spice whole and grate or grind it as needed it to ensure the freshest flavor—ground nutmeg loses its flavor quickly.

Mulling Spice

3 ounces cinnamon quills
6 whole nutmeg
peel of two oranges, dried and chopped
peel of two lemons, dried and chopped
¼ cup allspice berries
¼ cup whole cloves
2 tablespoons whole dried ginger

Place all ingredients in a large bag and pound with a meat mallet or the back of a heavy pot to break spices into smaller pieces. You can also use a food processor, but be careful not to over process into a powder.

Place 2 tablespoons of the mixture into cheesecloth and secure with a string. Makes about 14 sachets. Use these sachets to flavor apple cider, make mulled wine, or simply simmer in water on your stove to make your house smell like the holidays.

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