Top 10 rarest spices
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Today, it’s easier than ever to find spices. Online shops, supermarkets and speciality shops all offer the opportunity for us to try spices from around the world. Some spices like cinnamon or nutmeg are more popular than others and are easier to find. But there are numerous other spices out there which although are less common, offer richer and more interesting flavours. If you love experimenting with new flavours, then take a look at these rare spices.
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world and can cost an eye watering $500 – $5,000 per pound. The spice comes from the stigma of the saffron crocus flower and it can take up to 75,000 flowers to produce just one pound of spice. The demanding production process and the acres of land needed to grow the blossoms are what give saffron such a massive price tag. Fortunately most recipes only require a small pinch of the spice to give dishes their flavouring and colour. Saffron has a floral and sweet, yet slightly bitter taste and is most often used in seafood dishes, rice dishes, paella and sauces.
Caraway seeds are the fragrant, dried fruit (but referred to as seeds) of the caraway plant which is found in Europe and Northern Africa. The seeds have a sweet and slightly peppery smell and are often used as a flavouring base in savoury dishes like sauerkraut, cabbage soup and cheddar cheese. The seeds also lend a lovely aroma to baked goods like bread, cakes and biscuits. Caraway seeds can also be used for pickling and brining and go together well with garlic and pork. If you’re following a recipe that calls for ground cumin, you can use caraway seeds as a replacement but only use half the amount requested.
This interestingly named spice is a gum resin from a variety of giant fennel that has been powdered. Asafoetida has a strong smell and tastes similar to onion and garlic. It’s often used in Indian cooking, especially by Jain and Brahmin Indians who are forbidden from eating onion and garlic. Asafoetida powder comes in two forms. The brown powder is a very concentrated dried and ground gum, which should be used sparingly. When diluted with flour or turmeric, it comes in a yellow powder, but you should still keep an eye on how much you add. Better quality asafoetida is a mixed of asafoetida and fenugreek. The powder is used in vegetarian dishes, curries and stews to give the flavours a lift.
Sumac is one of the least known spices, yet this wine coloured powder is extremely versatile. The coarse powder comes from the ground up, dark red berries of the sumac bush, which is native to the Middle East. The spice has a tangy flavour without the tartness of a lemon, making it a fantastic addition to a variety of dishes like poultry, fish, hummus and as a dry rub for meats. You can also do as the Iranians do and have it as a condiment with salt and pepper. The bright colour is also great for making a dish stand out.
This delightfully named spice is a more fragrant and intense version of the standard black peppercorn and comes from the same family as ginger and cardamom. Native to West Africa, these small grains add heat and an elevated flavour to dishes that black peppercorns usually wouldn’t achieve. With notes of cardamom, coriander, citrus, ginger, nutmeg and juniper, grains of paradise is often used to add flavour to curries, tagines, paellas, cakes, spice rubs, braises and gingerbread. You can use grains of paradise in a regular pepper grinder.
Also known as achiote seeds, annatto is a mild spice from the seeds of the schiote tree, native to South and Central America. It has a deep red colour and is often used as a natural colouring in a variety of food, such as Red Leicester cheese. Annatto seeds have a slightly sweet and peppery taste and are used to enhance the flavours of sauces, stocks, fish dishes and tandooris. It’s a good idea to buy annatto as a pre ground spice, as the seeds are tough to grind manually.
Anardana may be more familiar than you realise – this spice is essentially dried pomegranate seeds. Anardana has a sour and somewhat fruity flavour and is often said to taste like dried cranberries. It makes an excellent pairing with dry seasoning for fish or marinades for meat. In Indian cooking, the spice is commonly used in chutneys. The seeds are quite firm and sticky. Anardana is often used in pastries and bread in the Middle East.
Unlike the other spices on this list, juniper berries actually originate from Europe. The juniper tree is an evergreen shrub that produces small, dark purple berries. These are sold dried and you should crush them before use to make sure their flavour is released. The berries have a tart, slightly bitter taste and are used to make gin. They’re also used in game and meat dishes, tofu, vegetarian dishes and in baking, cake frosting and jams.
Amchur is a powder made from dried, unripe mangoes which are sun dried and ground into a powder. Although the finished product doesn’t taste like mangoes, it still has a tangy and slightly sweet flavour. It’s largely produced in India, where it’s used as a citrus seasoning for dishes that need a little acidity like soups, stir fries, curries and chutneys. It’s a great way of adding a hint of fruitiness without adding moisture.
Galangal is a root which looks similar to ginger, except it has a whiter and shinier skin. It also has a pinier and more citrus aroma compared to ginger. Galangal is often used in Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian recipes, where it’s used in fish dishes and curries to give a zingy, fragrant and herbal flavour. Although you’ll get more flavour out of the fresh root, you can also find it in powder form as laos.