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Quatre-Epices Uncovered

Understanding Spices

What is quatre-epices?

Quatre-epices means ‘four spices’ in French, and is made up of ground black or white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and dried ginger. This traditional spice blend can be found in French cuisine, as well as some Middle Eastern kitchens, especially those that were former French colonies such as Algeria, Morocco and Lebanon. Quatre-epices is also used in Vietnam, although it has mostly been replaced by Chinese Five Spice Blend as the French influence gradually fades out.

The spice blend is made up of ground black or white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. However, some variations of the mix substitute cinnamon for ginger, as well as cubeb pepper or allspice for black/white pepper. The mix has a spicy, peppery heat coming from the pepper, with a hint of sweetness coming from the nutmeg and cloves.

It’s quite a healthy spice mix, as all four spices contain minerals like manganese, calcium and iron. They also contain trace amounts of different B vitamins and are good sources of dietary fiber. Black pepper and cloves are good sources of vitamin K, while ginger has a modest amount of vitamin E.

A brief history of quatre-epices

Although the exact history of quatre-epices is unclear, it is thought to have originated in the port city of Saint-Malo, situated in Brittany in France’s northwest. During the baroque era in the 17th century, Europe was all about extravagance when it came to architecture, art and music. Big transformations were also happening to the dining habits of European society, with important changes being led by creative French chefs. As a walled port city, spices were being brought in directly by traders. Much of the food during this time was influenced by Arab and Persian culinary traditions, with generous use of herbs and spices.

How do you use quatre-epices?

Quatre-epices is a great cold weather spice, and is typically used in hearty dishes made around the winter season.

In French cuisine, quatre-epices is typically used in soup, ragout and rich meat dishes like venison stew or beef braised in red wine. The spice blend is also used in charcuterie like pate, terrines and sausages like boudin blanc.

You can also use the spice blend as a dry rub for meat, and it pairs really well with lamb shanks or roast pork when mixed with a little sea salt and fresh rosemary.

Try spicing up your mashed potatoes with a pinch of the spice blend, or sprinkle on top of roast winter vegetables. Here is some more inspiration for winter vegetable recipes.

Quatre-epices can also be used in sweet dishes like cakes, icing, puddings and cookies. It’s the main spice blend in a traditional French spiced bread called pain d’epices, made with rye flour, honey and spices.

Recipe suggestions

Keen to try it out? You can find quatre-epices on our website here. Here are some great recipes which use the spice blend:

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