Endeavouring to understand more about spices, I set foot to the Spice Souk located in Deira, the older part of the otherwise very developed Dubai. On my walk through the teeny-tiny alleyways, I came across a wide variety of seeds, sticks, flowers, powders and essences of all spices in different forms.
Mr Abullah is a youthful and handsome 97-year-old man who owns a spice shop at the Spice Souk, and he enlightened me on a lot of the spices available. We started a discussion about spices and realised that a few basic spices are all that are needed to cook with flavour and character – which led us to come up with a must- have spice list for any household, no matter the race, background or culture, whether a beginner in the kitchen or a pro chef.
Found in the form of seeds and powder, cardamom is commonly used in making tea and in Middle Eastern and Indian sweets. It is very good for gastrointestinal protection and cholesterol control and also makes food taste absolutely yummy! It is one of the many spices that are ground together to create garam masala.
Usually found in the form of a powder and used a lot in Indian cuisine to make traditional curries, turmeric is part of the ginger family, making it a root. It is a great source of antioxidants for the body and assists with anti-inflammatory issues. It also provides a natural sunny colour to anything with which it’s cooked.
Cloves are dried aromatic flower buds that stem from Indonesia and have no specific season to their availability. They are a versatile spice, used commonly in teas, curries and desserts. They provide a warm, sweet flavour and beautiful aroma when cooked. Cloves aid in antibacterial and antifungal issues, making them a quick home remedy for cuts and bruises.
This type of chilli comes from Kashmir in northern Indian. The chillies are dried in the sun and used whole or ground into a powder. Either way, the spice they give out is eye watering and mouth burning, so when cooking with them, one must be sensitive to diners’ palates – a little goes a long way with this spice. It provides an earthy depth of heat to any dish.
Everyone is familiar with pepper. It is available in the form of peppercorns or powder. There were a variety of peppercorns available – black, green, red and pink – when I visited the Spice Souk, each of which provides a distinct seasoning to food. They can be used whole, crushed in a pestle and mortar and as a powder.
Originating from Vietnam and China, the star anise is the fruit of an evergreen tree, Illicium verum, dried and cured for consumption. It is available in the form of seeds and powder. It’s used in teas, curries, Asian dishes like stir-fries and all sorts of desserts.
Found in the form of sticks and powder, cinnamon is the innermost bark of certain trees, making its flavour unique and pure. When used in baking, it automatically serves as the best scented candle, with its aroma filling every corner of the room. It’s often used in curries, a variety of desserts and teas.
Found in the form of seeds and powder, cumin comes from Pakistan and India. It is used in a variety of cuisines and also as a medicinal treatment for many ailments. It is very good for digestion and also helps to strengthen the immune system. It provides a burst of flavour to any food. One main Indian dish in which it is highlighted is palak paneer (spinach and cottage cheese curry).
The best way to store spices is in a steel container or, as we say in India, a masala dabba. If stored properly, they can last for years and not spoil. A little goes a long way in the cooking process with spices, so be humble and they will reward you with lots of flavour.
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