Staying Fresh On Spices
Do you know the saying “use it or lose it?” It means that if you don’t use a special skill set often enough you may lose it over time. For example, maybe you used to know where Rhode Island is located on the map of the United States, but have since lost that knowledge now that you haven’t thought about Rhode Island in 10+ years. Well, that practice can apply to your sense of taste as well, which is why Asenzya® feels it is important to stay fresh on spices.
Small Differences Can Make a Big Impact
As seasoning developers, we taste seasonings all day, every day, but we still like to freshen up our taste buds and refine our knowledge on what the individual components are. We do this to ensure we can properly identify the innumerable amount of spices that might be in a mystery blend we are matching. Of course, there are visual cues to help us out along the way. A black speck in a seasoning blend is most likely black pepper, but what about that green speck? What does that ground green spice taste like? What about that red speck, is it chili pepper or tomato powder? What type of chili pepper flavor — is it fermented, or earthy, or bitter, or is it hot?
To help us identify what spices are in a blend, Asenzya R&D Food Scientists will taste single spices on a regular basis. We prefer to taste spices in a group, like the mint family, Lamiaceae, where flavors are similar. Some of the spices in the Lamiaceae family are basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme. These green herbs can start to taste the same if you don’t know what to look for. When we taste, we think about these questions:
- “How does basil differ from marjoram?”
- “How is thyme different from oregano?”
- “Is this spice more grassy, bitter or sweet?” Small differences can make a huge difference in the end product.
I have found that I have a unique set of words I use to describe the way certain items taste — my own flavor dialect. Someone else tasting the same item might have a different word to describe the same flavor. At Asenzya®, the Food Scientists have been working together for a long time and we have learned how each scientist describes certain aspects of a spice. We have worked together long enough to the point where we have developed our own lab language. This helps us during our development process because we know what each dialect really means when we describe a specific flavor!
All in all, it is a great practice to stay fresh on spices. It helps to refine your taste buds but also helps in developing and matching blends. So, my advice is to go out, grab some spices, and get tasting! Challenge yourself to spot the differences, and enjoy the endless variety of flavors.