The Sweetest Thing: Sweet Spices from Around The Globe

Did you know sweet spices are well traveled, highly prized foodie delights that make even the most untrained palette sing?

These spices grace our favorite cakes, cookies, custards, pies and ice creams.  They are versatile and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.  The most famous sweet spices include but are not limited to cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and vanilla.  

Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka.  It is harvested from the secondary layer of bark in young cinnamon trees. This bark is then finely ground ,turning the bark a light brown, freeing up the natural mild aroma and taste.  This delicate spice is enjoyed in cakes and pies as well as curries.   It's versatility and mild flavor enhances both sweet and savory dishes.

Nutmeg is native to Banda Island, Indonesia and is made from the kernel of a the tropical tree found there. When used whole and freshly grated; the kernel should be the size of a peach stone  and firm to the touch to avoid crumbling.  Nutmeg works well with pumpkin, cream, milk and orange based desserts.  A butternut squash bisque with a hint of nutmeg is also delicious.

Allspice is native to the west indies is the most unusual of the sweet spices.  Allspice begins as unripe green berries that are allowed to sun dry.  During this process they turn a rich dark brown resembling a large peppercorn.  However it's curing process isn't the unusual factor.  It's the flavor of this spice that gives it it's name.  When smelling it the senses are led to believe this spice is a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.   Allspice is a versatile ingredient adding depth to barbeque sauces, gingerbread, chutneys and chocolate.

Cloves hail from Indonesia and  the the aromatic dried flower buds of the clove tree.  Cloves have a strong flavor and aroma and can be use either ground or whole.  While cloves are used in a number of Indian dishes, my favorite use would be in indian chai which is a spiced tea.

Vanilla, my all time favorite of the sweet spices was originally cultivated in Central America from the Central American Orchid.  However, vanilla is now cultivated is 5 areas of the world, Madagascar, the South Pacific, The West Indies and Central and South America.  The curing process for the tastiest vanilla beans can take up to 3 months. 

At the end of the curing process, we are left with a black aromatic pod filled with sticky black beans.  These beans enhance the flavor of custards, coffees, creams and ice cream.

Sweet spices add a richness to cooking that can't be matched by other ingredients.  Their versatility and depth of flavor can bring out the best in any dish whether it be sweet or savory.  The sky is the limit with this group of spices let your inner chef reign and use each one of these spices in your favorite chicken, curry, barbeque sauce, salad or dessert.  You can't go wrong with any of the sweet spices.

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