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  • Turkish Delight

    In Ancient times, the spice trade was a melting pot of activity with its daily bustle of merchants selling their goods to distant travelers, bringing news from across the far reaches of East Asia all the way to the markets of the Middle East and Northern Africa. To this day, spice markets still exist in some parts of the world where the tradition never wears off. The fragrant smell of spices wafting through the air still excites the senses compelling you like a magnet to follow the scent to the spice merchants stalls.

    For the past 350 years, the spice bazaar is still going strong in the high-domed ceiling of the Istanbul Spice Market in Turkey. In fact, this is a country that can boast the heaviest use of spices. Continue reading

  • The Royalty of Saffron

    Spanning an illustrious history of over 3000 years, the crimson hued saffron was once the choice of spice for kings, pharaohs and emperors. But these royal leaders were not planning to have a meal with saffron they were more interested in its alleged aphrodisiacal qualities, and because of that, they valued it more than gold.

    In today's culture, saffron is still a highly prized commodity for its medicinal properties and for its culinary applications. This beautiful spice comes from the crocus flower that produces tiny thread-like slivers called stigmas and are considered one of the most expensive spices in the world. It can command from $1,500 to $2,000 per pound. But that is for someone who is buying saffron for commercial purposes. For us home-chefs, you can buy much smaller quantities of saffron threads, and the good thing is, you only need to use a few threads at a time when cooking your specific dish. Continue reading

  • Cardamom: The Queen of Spices

    This exotic spice has an intoxicating, rich aroma with complex flavors of sweet floral notes, camphor, lemon, mint and a hint of pepper. Cardamom is the dried seed pod of an herbaceous perennial plant in the ginger family and is native to India, Bhutan and Nepal. Inside the pod, the seeds are grouped in clusters with a sticky resin-like coating; this is an indication of certain freshness.

    There are three varieties of cardamom with the two main types being the black and green pods and the white cardamom, which is simply bleached green cardamom. This process of bleaching softens the dominance of the menthol note giving the white pod a sweet and pleasant flavor. In some European countries, specifically Scandinavia, the white cardamom is the preferred style found in most of their baked goods.

    Black cardamom has a totally different flavor than the popular green pods. When the pods are dried, they turn black which gives them a prominent smoky characteristic with strong peppery overtones. It is one of the essential ingredients in North Indian curries. Black cardamom has even made its way as a primary ingredient in certain fusion cuisines like Indian-Chinese Sichuanese red-cooked dishes. It also works very well in bitter foods that require extended cooking, such as collard greens. Just by adding a few pods to rice or lentils during the cooking process can heighten the flavor of these simple dishes to something quite interesting. Sometimes I like to use cardamom when making a dry rub for meat, or as an ingredient in sauces. Continue reading

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