Jarret Hughes has held numerous cooking positions at cafes, diners, and family restaurants.
He takes a "keep it simple" attitude toward cooking, preferring olive oil to truffle oil.
Jarret strives to inform readers about the history of various foods while offering professional
advice regarding food purchase and preparation.
'Tis the season to throw out all of your old spices and buy new ones!
Well, at least that's what I do at the beginning of every December. By
now, I'm sure you've heard that you shouldn't keep your spices and herbs
for longer than one year. No, this isn't a clever ploy by the spice
companies. Spices really do lose much of their potency after 6 to 12
months (especially ones that are already ground). Unless you know that
you've purchased a spice within the last few months, it's a good idea
to throw the old ones out and buy new ones every year.
Why not do that right after the start of the first of the year, you ask?
There is a method to my madness. I love to do a lot of baking for the
holidays. Therefore, I want my spices to be the freshest they can possibly
be in December. Of course, I go through a lot of spices on a daily basis,
so I usually don't have to replace many each year. And the spices I don't
use often are not ones that I would use in my famous holiday sugar
cookies-although I've never tried adding curry or onion power to them.
Nonetheless, it's still a good idea to replace any old spices before the
holidays. If you find that it is too expensive to replace those 15 bottles
of spices that have been patiently waiting on your shelves since 1997,
replace half of them now (the ones you know you will use soon) and replace
the other half next month.
Let's take a closer look at five spices that really speak to the holiday
spirit — cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and clove!
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia):
When you eat cinnamon, you are eating the bark of an evergreen tree. Most
cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and China. Cinnamon can be purchased
in either stick or ground form, and is usually used in sweet dishes (although
it can also be used in savory dishes.) It has a bittersweet, warm, woody flavor.
Arabs first brought cinnamon to the West. They were so protective of this
extremely valuable spice that they fabricated stories to deter spice hunters
from finding out the true source of cinnamon.
One story that was used to mislead outsiders was that cinnamon came from the nests of bloodthirsty birds.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans):
Nutmeg comes from the fruit of the nutmeg tree and, therefore, is technically a seed.
It is found mainly in the Spice Islands of Indonesia. It offers a warm, sweet flavor
and is used primarily for baking (although it can be found in some savory soups and
side dishes as well.) You can find nutmeg either ground or whole.
To get the most flavor out of nutmeg, I would recommend buying the whole seed and grating
it yourself. Whole nutmegs and graters are now widely available at many specialty
food stores, and at some grocery stores.
Nutmeg was considered a cure-all in the 1700s. It can cause hallucinations if eaten
in very large quantities — do not try this at home!
Mace (the spice — not the blinding spray) is closely related to nutmeg. In fact, mace
comes from the reddish orange membrane that surrounds nutmeg seeds. It even tastes
similar to nutmeg, although it is far weaker in flavor. You can use mace to replace
nutmeg in recipes, but be aware that you will need to increase the amount that you
Ginger (Zingiber officinale):
Gingerroot is primarily grown in Jamaica, India, Africa, and China. The flavor of
gingerroot is peppery and slightly sweet and it has a very strong, spicy aroma. It
is used primarily in savory dishes as opposed to baked goods — several Chinese and
Japanese dishes utilize ginger as their main spice.
Dried, ground ginger is quite different from the fresh, root variety. Therefore,
it is not recommended that one substitute dried ginger when a recipe calls for
fresh ginger. Dried ginger is primarily used in baked goods, but it can also be
used in savory dishes.
Queen Elizabeth I was very fond of gingerbread. Her cook
would often cut the queen's gingerbread in the shape of people-the first gingerbread
men! The queen's taste for gingerbread is one of the reasons that, in Europe and
America, the dried variety is more popular than the fresh version.
Allspice (Pimenta dioica):
Some people think that ground allspice is simply a mixture of several different spices.
This is not the case. Allspice has flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, so it is
easy to see why confusion exists. Allspice is a tiny berry that comes from the evergreen
pimiento tree. Jamaica is the largest producer of allspice. In fact, the spice is also
known as Jamaican pepper.
Columbus is responsible for bringing allspice to Europe in the
early 1500s. Allspice is the only spice that is commercially produced exclusively in the
Here is a bit of football trivia. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got their name with the
help of allspice. The original inhabitants of Jamaica used allspice to preserve meats
(called boucan). Pirates based in Jamaica who were known for raiding ships modified the
name and they became known as buccaneers.
Clove (Syzygium aromaticum):
Cloves are the dried, unopened flower bud of a type of a specific type of evergreen
tree. Their name comes from the Latin word for "nail" due to the shape of whole cloves.
They are indigenous to Indonesia and have a sweet, pungent flavor.
Many years ago, the Chinese used cloves as a breath freshener. They were also used in
dentistry as an effective local anesthetic. The oil extracted from cloves is still
used in some toothpastes and mouthwashes today.
Holiday Spice Recipes:
Here are a couple of great low carb recipes that utilize the spices mentioned
in this article. I hope you have fun experimenting with these five holiday spices
during this festive season!
Pumpkin Angel Cake
Preheat oven to 375ºF. In medium bowl, mix first three ingredients with 1 cup of the
Splenda, cinnamon, salt, cloves, and ginger; set aside.
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup whey protein isolate
- 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
- 2 1/2 cups Splenda, divided
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 12 egg whites
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup solid-pack pumpkin
- Steel's Powdered Maltitol
In large bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until
soft peaks form; beat in vanilla. Beating at high speed, sprinkle in 1 1/2 cups Splenda,
beating until Splenda is blended in, and egg whites stand in stiff peaks.
Fold 1 cup beaten egg white mixture into pumpkin. With rubber spatula, fold flour mixture
into beaten egg whites in large bowl just until flour disappears. Then, gently fold in
pumpkin mixture. Do not over mix.
Pour batter into lightly greased 10-inch tube pan. Bake 45 minutes, or until cake springs
back when lightly touched. Turn upside down, let cool and turn out onto a platter.
Sprinkle with Steel's Powdered Maltitol.
Serves 12. 4.2 effective grams of carbohydrate per serving.
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
In a medium bowl, cream together butter, shortening, Splenda, brown "sugars", molasses,
and egg. Beat until light and fluffy.
- 1/2 stick (1/8 lb) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup non-transfat vegetable shortening or lard
- 1/2 cup Splenda
- 1/8 cup Brown Sugar Twin (preferably cyclamate based)
- 1/2 cup Steel's Brown "sugar" Maltitol
- 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
- 1 egg
- 1 cup low carb bake mix
- 1/4 cup unflavored whey protein powder
- 1 cup vital wheat gluten
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon powered ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves.
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add butter mixture to dry ingredients and
Form the dough into walnut size balls and press flat on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from cookie sheets when cool.
Store in airtight container.
Makes 48 cookies. 1.3 grams of effective carbohydrate per cookie.
Copyright © December 2003 Jarret Hughes and Low Carb Luxury
Title photo Copyright © 2003 Neil Beaty and Low Carb Luxury