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How Origin Affects Flavor

June 2, 2016 Prepared By Chris

If spices share the same name, does that mean they share the same flavor and aroma characteristics?

No, it doesn’t.

In many cases, the location where a spice is grown and the genes result in different flavor and aroma characteristics for spices sharing the same name. In some cases, the differences are subtle; in others, they’re more pronounced. Either way, it’s beneficial to understand the differences, differences that can have an impact on your custom seasoning blend. Here are some examples!

Oregano

While they share the name, Mediterranean oregano and Mexican oregano are not of the same genus; they are two different plants. Despite similarities, they aren’t interchangeable. There is a detectable flavor difference if one is used in place of the other in a finished food product.

Mediterranean oregano is most common in food production, with the best quality material sourced from Albania and Turkey. Compared to Mexican oregano, it is lighter green in color with a milder, sweeter flavor.
Mexican oregano has stronger flavor, a darker green color, a larger leaf and typically has a higher volatile oil content.

White pepper

Chinese white pepper can be tempting because of its lower cost than white pepper from Vietnam, but the savings come with a high risk. White pepper from China is often accompanied with an unpalatable taste and aroma.

White pepper is made by soaking black pepper berries in water to remove the outer black layer of the berry, a process known as retting, Soaking too long results in excessive fermentation and enzymatic action that causes a very pronounced unpleasant taste and odor—a common problem with white pepper sourced from China.

Paprika

The varieties of peppers used for the preparation of paprika all belong to the Capsicum annum species, a native of tropical America. Peppers are cultivated in the U.S., Spain, Hungary, Serbia, Morocco, Peru, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Israel, China and Mozambique.

Sweet paprika is a spice produced by grinding only the fruit of the peppers. Spicy paprika, on the other hand, is obtained by grinding the same fruits together with the veins that contain the capsaicin or “heat,” as well as some seeds, which gives the paprika more pungency or spicy flavor.

Garlic

Garlic originated in the Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas and is now enjoyed throughout the world.

Dehydrated garlic from China, the world’s largest producer of both raw and dehydrated garlic products, is the primary material used in U.S. food manufacturing. There is also some garlic grown domestically in the U.S. (ever heard of Gilroy, Calif., the self-titled “Garlic Capital of the World” and host of the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival featuring garlicky foods?).

Domestic garlic has a milder, sweeter flavor compared to Chinese garlic, which offers a more pungent, hotter and bitter flavor. Domestic garlic is always in limited supply with much higher cost, and some garlic products labeled domestic contain non-domestic material in order to extend supply and reduce cost.

Garlic is a good example of how growing conditions (e.g. weather, soil nutrients) influence a crop. Seed garlic from California was planted in China to try to duplicate the more desirable characteristics of U.S. domestic garlic. The garlic it produced (known at one time as “California-style”) was a slight improvement over Chinese garlic, but still was more bitter and pungent than domestic U.S. garlic.

Basil

There are many species of basil (part of the mint family), with sweet basil being used most commonly in commercial food production.

Native to India and Persia, sweet basil is grown throughout the world, including the U.S. Egypt is the principal foreign source of basil used in the United States.

Sweet basil grown in the U.S. is known for its rich color and mild sweet flavor, and much higher cost. Sweet basil grown in Egypt is known for a stronger flavor profile, as well as a more minty flavor. Another characteristic worth noting: basil is not FDA-approved for sterilization with ethylene oxide gas (ETO). It must be sterilized with irradiation, propylene oxide gas (PPO) or steam.

Onion

Droughts in California’s onion growing regions in previous years brought on shortages of domestic supply and higher costs, causing food manufacturers to consider foreign sources, with Indian onion being a primary consideration. However, Indian onion offers differences in both color and flavor. Indian onion has proven to be less flavorful than U.S. domestic onion, requiring more of the product to match flavor as a replacement. Indian material also exhibits a yellow color not found with U.S. domestic onion.

You can rely on Asenzya’s knowledge of spices to insure the right questions are asked before beginning any development work. This ensures a clear understanding of your seasoning objectives, that the right raw materials are specified when sourcing and that the right ingredients are blended when producing your custom seasoning. It’s a process we have refined to make sure we get it right each and every time! Reach out to Asenzya and let’s take your taste buds to the unknown!

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