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Posts Tagged ‘spice’

My Oncidium orchid won first prize last Sunday at my Orchid society. A picture was requested by one of the followers of this blog so here it is:

Oncidium orchid

Now since this is a food blog I thought I would also point out that Vanilla comes from an orchid. This is what the American Orchid Society says about the species:

Vanilla belongs to a group that includes some of the most primitive orchids. The name is derived from the Spanish word vainilla meaning small pod and is characterized by vine-like plants that climb and branch. A leaf and short roots that attach to tree trunks and branches are present at each node. The flowers, produced from congested racemes opposite the leaf axils, are large and showy and short-lived, but produced in succession so that the plant is attractive for weeks or even months at a time. Vanilla is one of the few orchids, other than those grown for the cut flower trade, with widespread commercial use. V. planifolia is widely cultivated for its long, slender, fleshy pods that are essential for the manufacture of vanilla flavoring.
In addition to its commercial value, the presence of fleshy, fragrant seed pods and seed with a hard seed coat may also prove indispensible to the understanding of orchid evolution. These characteristics suggest animal-mediated seed dispersal. Recent research has established the pollinator to be a Euglossine bee (also called Orchid Bees) consistent with the pollination of many very fragrant orchids in the neotropics. However, it has also been reported that the seed capsules are eaten by bats thereby effecting seed dispersal.
The pantropical yet isolated distribution of Vanilla, coupled with the ephemeral nature of the flowers has given rise to significant confusion as to the number of species in the genus.

Vanilla Orchid

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Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), also known as Jack-by-the-hedge, flowering in spring by a roadside

Topic: Spice food

Europeans had a taste for spicy food at least 6,000 years ago, it seems.

Researchers found evidence for garlic mustard in the residues left on ancient pottery shards discovered in what is now Denmark and Germany.

The spice was found alongside fat residues from meat and fish.

Writing in the journal Plos One, the scientists make the case that garlic mustard contains little nutritional value and therefore must have been used to flavour the foods.

“This is the earliest evidence, as far as I know, of spice use in this region in the Western Baltic; something that has basically no nutritional value, but has this value in a taste sense,” said Dr Hayley Saul, who led the study from the University of York, UK.

The researchers looked at charred deposits found on the inside of pottery shards that had been dated to between 5,800 and 6,150 years ago.

These deposits contained microscopic traces of plant-based silica, known as phytoliths, which can be used to identify the plants from which they came.

It was these phytoliths that provided the evidence of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in the carbonised scrapings.

The team found more phytoliths from residues taken from the inside of pots than from the outside, which they say shows that these were the direct result of culinary practice.

The implications from these findings challenge the previously held belief that hunter-gatherers were simply concerned with searching for calorific food. Dr Saul believes these latest results point to something much more like cuisine.

“That’s quite a new idea for hunter-gatherer archaeology in Europe,” she told BBC News.

The York scientist said it was likely that prehistoric chefs would have crushed the seeds: “Actually to get the flavour out you have to crush it really. I suspect that if they hadn’t been crushing the seeds, we would probably find more intact seeds in residues.”

Although this is the first evidence of spice use in Europe, flavouring food may have been a common practice in the Middle East much earlier. “There’s a cave in Israel where coriander has been found, and that’s dated to around 23,000 years ago. But it’s very difficult to build up a picture of exactly how it’s used. It’s linking it to cooking that’s quite important,” explained Dr Saul.

It seems that while prehistoric cuisine was flavoursome, it was far from varied. The researchers found no evidence for other spices, with the phytoliths being quite consistent across the sites they investigated.

“I think it was just really creative, and we often don’t give hunter-gatherer cultures in the past credit for exactly how inventive and creative they were with things.

“It’s often seen as being a period of culinary hardship where people were really struggling, but actually, its people really knew their environments, and knew how to make the best with what they’ve got. I think they were very clever, really,” said Dr Saul.

Original article:
bbc.co.uk
August 21, 2013
By Suzi Gage
BBC News

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Ruins on the surface of Tel Dor, located about 19 miles (30 kilometers) to the south of Haifa, in Israel. Phoenician flasks from this site, dating back around 3,000 years, were among those that contained cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor. These finds indicate the existence of trade that brought cinnamon from the Far East to the area of modern-day Israel.
Credit: Photo by Lang Gito, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

Topic: Cinnamon

How far would you go to get your cinnamon fix? If you lived in the Levant 3,000 years ago (a region that includes modern day Israel), very far indeed new research indicates.

Researchers analyzing the contents of 27 flasks from five archaeological sites in Israel that date back around 3,000 years have found that 10 of the flasks contain cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, indicating that the spice was stored in these flasks.

At this time cinnamon was found in the Far East with the closest places to Israel being southern India and Sri Lanka located at least 3,000 miles (nearly 5,000 kilometers) away. A form of it was also found in the interior of Africa, but does not match the material found in these flasks.

This discovery “raises the intriguing possibility that long-range spice trade from the Far East westward may have taken place some 3,000 years ago,” researchers write in a paper to be published in the journal Mediterranean Archaeology andArchaeometry. Although cinnamon can be purchased today at any grocery or bulk food store, 3,000 years ago, people in the Levant would have needed to take part in trade that extended beyond the edge of the known world in order to acquire it, something this discovery suggests they were willing to do.

This trade may go back ever further into antiquity and involve other goods and parts of the Middle East. The researchers note, for example, that black pepper from India has been found in the mummy of Ramesses II, a pharaoh of Egypt who lived more than 3,200 years ago.

From the Far East to Israel

At the time of this trade, Israel’s coastal inhabitants included the Phoenicians, a people so renowned for their seafaring skills the ancient writer Herodotus claimed they had succeeded in sailing around Africa around 600 BC (something scholars are doubtful of today).

But, while these people were great seafarers, they probably did not sail all the way to the Far East to get these goods, perhaps instead using intermediaries along the way.

“We don’t think they sailed directly [to the Far East]; it was a very hard task even in the 16th century A.D.” Dvory Namdar, a researcher with the Weizmann Institute of Science and Tel Aviv University, told LiveScience in an interview. Her research colleague Ayelet Gilboa, of the University of Haifa, also agreed in an interview that it was very doubtful there was a direct voyage.

They explained that the flasks that contained cinnamon were made locally in northern coastal Israel which back then was part of ancient Phoenicia. They appear to have been designed to hold precious contents, featuring a narrow opening with thick walls. Flasks like these have been found in special places such as treasuries and temple storerooms, the researchers noted.

Namdar and Gilboa explained that the bark from the cinnamon tree would have been brought in from the Far East in a dry form and, when it reached Phoenicia, was mixed with some form of liquid and put in these flasks. Then, afterwards it was shipped all over Phoenicia and also to neighboring regions such as Philistia (much of which is located in modern day southwest Israel) and Cyprus.

Cinnamon mixed in wine?

A further mystery the team faces: What was the cinnamon used for? The cinnamon from these flasks would have tasted “roughly the same as today,” Namdar said.

One possibility, Namdar and Gilboa said, is that people of the time mixed the cinnamon in with wine, an idea supported by the fact that the flasks were quite small, whereas wine was stored in bigger containers. “If you mix it with a bigger [container of wine], then you get flavored wine,” they said. Indeed, cinnamon is often used in wine-based recipes today, including ones for mulled or spiced wine.

The project was supported by a European Research Council Advanced Grant.

Original article:
livescience.com
By Owen Jarus, August 20, 2013

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Bark from Cinnamomum verum, which is found naturally in southern India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar; another form of cinnamon comes from Cinnamomum cassia, found naturally in China, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. More research is needed to determine the origin of the cinnamon found in the ancient flasks.
Credit: Photo by H. Zell, CC

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