Caribbean Recipes to Curry: Why Herbs and Spices Should be a Staple in Your Kitchen

From the gentle hint of coriander through to the more robust flavour of garam masala; from the humble chive to the powerful taste of cumin, herbs and spices play an integral part in every cuisine from across the globe.

Considering we now take herbs and spices somewhat for granted, it is something of a surprise to discover just how valuable and in demand these ingredients once were. Indeed, some historians believe that the modern age, if it has a definitive beginning, has a starting point some 500 years ago with the development of the spice trade.

Spices were prevalent in Middle Eastern and North African society well before the 15th century, but they were something of a closely guarded secret for merchants who traded spices and became rich due to their popularity. The scarcity of the spices in Europe ensured that their prices remained incredibly high. In the 14th century, a pound of nutmeg was more valuable than a pound of gold; it was a similar story for the likes of cinnamon, cloves and pepper.

The demand for spice led many European giants of the 15th century to undertake great voyages to set up spice trading routes to the east. The journeys of Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco De Gama led to the discovery of the ‘new world’, the establishments of trade routes around Africa and into the Far East, and sent the world on the course to the modern day.

Indeed, the real estate hotspot of the world in the 1600s was a tiny island called Run in Indonesia. England and The Netherlands were fighting a war over nutmeg and England gave the island to the Dutch in a treaty to end hostilities. In return, The Netherlands swapped a couple of its colonies in the ‘brave new world’ across the Atlantic Ocean, including what we now know as Manhattan.

As trade routes strengthened, herbs and spices became more readily available and their versatility, incredible taste and flexibility, not to mention that they were healthy and part of a rich and varied diet, ensured that they were adopted by almost every culture across the globe to add colour, texture and flavour to their dishes.

One such part of the world that adopted spices particularly well was the islands where Christopher Columbus first landed on his epic journey in 1492. Caribbean recipes are now well known for that special blend of herbs and spices that give these superb dishes a real kick.

However, there is no need to assume that these great foods are simply a one-off treat when you visit a specialist restaurant. By using the fantastic selection of herbs and spices available from companies like Schwartz, not to mention a fabulous online cooking guide to give you all the details you need, you too can make some of these incredible meals a staple of your home cooking.

For example, let’s look at one of the famous Caribbean dishes of Jamaican jerk pork. Why not try this succulent alternative to roast pork with a Sunday lunch? All you need is your rolled leg of pork, some potatoes and parsnips, some pork or chicken stock, olive oil and a blend of allspice, chilli and thyme to create this Caribbean masterpiece.

Many cooks like to experiment with the amount of spices used in the cooking and the great thing about using herbs and spices is that you can adjust the taste of any dish to your own requirements. However, if you would rather trust the experts or do not have the time to experiment with the different tastes, then Schwartz also prepares its own blend of spices. Perfect Shake Jamaican Jerk Special Blend will give you that authentic Caribbean flavour and kick with the minimum of effort and fuss.

It is entirely possible to spend a great proportion of one’s life sampling the gently spiced dishes of one geographic area alone, so varied are the tastes even in a small geographic region. As tempting as this is, if we are to consider the versatility of herbs and spices, and how they can have a significant impact on our day-to-day cooking, then we need to look at what is arguably the home of spice.

That place is India, the country that, as of 2003, exported over 86 per cent of the world’s spices across the globe.

Indian food is rightly acknowledged as being one of the most popular and well travelled. The different rice dishes, chutneys and of course, curries, make Indian food entirely distinguishable and incredibly tasty. Even within the broad term of ‘curry’ there are so many subtle local traditions, flavours and tastes that give a dish a distinct flavour depending on where you are within the country. Madras, for example, is very different to a balti and even within the area where madras is prevalent there will be many local differences in terms of how the dish is cooked and flavoured.

However, it is not just in Indian curry that spices can be used. Many can be used imaginatively in other ways. Why not spice up a boring bowl of nuts with a little garam masala and chilli pepper? Simply roast your combination of cashew, hazelnuts and almonds in oil for 15 minutes in the oven and then add a pinch or two of salt. The gentle flavour of the garam masala and the spiciness of the chilli give your bowl of nuts an incredible flavour.

It is also worth remembering that herbs and spices are ideal for people who are on a restricted diet such as vegetarians, or those on a healthy eating plan and who cannot eat lots of sugar or fatty foods. Not only are herbs and spices low in calories and fat, but they give the meals a real lift and new flavour.

For too long herbs and spices have been left at the bottom of the food cupboard, neglected and forgotten about. Why not look at the online cooking guide and see how you can turn your run of the mill home cooked meals into a veritable feast, guaranteed to spice up your life?