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FEEL THE FEAR and season it anyway

Spices are wonderful, mysterious and sometimes a bit scary, with even experienced cooks wary of using them wrongly. Dr Stuart Farrimond demystifies these colourful, potent plant products and explains why using them with a bit of sciencey know-how can transform your cooking
PHOTOGRAPHS: TOBY SCOTT

Be honest: you probably have half a dozen nearly full spice jars languishing in the back of your kitchen cupboards. A jar of nigella seeds for a moong dal recipe you cooked once? Saffron threads you’re too terrified to waste? Understanding a bit of spice science can banish the fear of getting it wrong and can bring new-found confidence – and flavour – to cooking.

A major reason for spice reluctance is historical – most spicy ingredients are native to tropical and subtropical regions, not chilly northern latitudes. In the Middle Ages, rare and exotic spices were prized for their magical and medicinal qualities and traded like currency, some more valuable than gold. So precious were these dried nuggets of flavour that throughout much of the 17th century, the Dutch and British waged a long bloody war over a group of small (now Indonesian) islands for the rights to grow nutmeg. Spices were pricey, glamorous status symbols enjoyed by the wealthy. It took a long time for their use to filter down to the cooking pots of the masses in Britain. Even then, dishes often lacked sophistication compared to the cuisines of North Africa, Central America and Asia, where cooking with spices dates back thousands of years. So it isn’t surprising if Grandma’s ginger cake was the most flavourful fare you had as a child.

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About delicious. Magazine

Join us this month at delicious. as we celebrate 20 years of River Cottage with Hugh F-W and friends. Plus, we have Peruvian-Japanese cooking from Flesh & Buns, a lamb dish that's doubly good – it’s a roast and a curry, three classic, comforting pies and Richard Bertinet’s brilliant breads. You’ll also find out how to host a successful dinner party and discover the truth about protein – why is it such a big deal? There’s also a beautiful Mother’s Day bake and all the expert know-how to take your cooking to the next level.