If there’s one thing guaranteed to give your cooking a kick up the backside, it’s spice. Exotic and unusual, spice can bring heat, aroma and colour to any ingredient to which it is introduced. Nothing has the power to transform like a pinch of exotic powder or a grind of fiery pepper. Food would not be where it is today without it.
For all the awesome power of the spice rack, lurid jars and pungent grains can be an intimidating sight for any cook. Given the often hefty price tag, it can be easier to stick to salt and pepper. This means missing out an a wealth of weird and wonderful flavours and cooking styles that can take your kitchen to the next level. For anyone seeking a word of friendly advice, we’ve gathered seven of the most unusual but most impressive spices you can buy.
With a rich golden hue and subtle savoury taste, turmeric has been a staple in South Asian and Indian cooking for centuries. Also renowned for its health benefits as a powerful antioxidant, turmeric can be included in a range of drinks, including turmeric tea and golden milk - both known for their restorative effects.
Famously known as an ingredient worth more than its weight in gold, saffron commands such a premium because of the labour required to obtain it. Hand picked from the stigma of a blue flowering crocus, more than 500 stigmas are needed in order to produce a single gram. The result is a mellow flavour and distinctive deep yellow colour that is highly sought after in Spanish and Italian cooking.
3. Grains of Paradise
With a name this grandiose, you know the spice is going to be something special. Used most extensively in African and Caribbean cooking, grains of paradise provide a spicy, aromatic flavour and were often used as a replacement for pepper when prices became too high.
4. Juniper Berries
Widely considered to be the only spice that comes from a cold climate, juniper berries are actually harvested from the cone of the conifer tree. Simultaneously sweet and bitter, the small berries are prized ingredients in Northern European cooking and famously form the key component in gin.
5. Fennel Pollen
If you’re looking for a silver bullet to take your cooking from ordinary to extraordinary, fennel pollen may well be what you’ve been looking for. Prized by professional chefs for being able to bring the sought after umami taste to any dish, just a pinch is enough to give your food an entirely different flavour profile and dimension.
6. Kaffir Lime Leaves
To anyone not in the know, the deep sourness of Thai cooking can seem impossible to replicate. The answer lies with kaffir lime leaves. Native to Southeast Asia, kaffir lime is what helps set traditional Thai cooking apart from pale western imitations. Stirred into soups, sauces and salads, the leaves are a great way to add an aromatic element to your food.
In India, there are several religious orders that forbid the consumption of onion and garlic. Though this might seem like a disaster for anyone interested in food, there is in fact a solution lurking at the back of the spice rack. Asafoetida is an incredibly pungent spice that is becoming increasingly popular across the world for anyone looking to follow a gluten free diet.
Of course, there are far too many amazing spices to list in one teeny article. Pop into any supermarket and the chances are that there are shelves and shelves of tiny pots all capable of taking your food places you never thought possible. But, if you fancy a taste of something a little more unusual, these seven are a great place to start.