What's in a Spice?

  • , by Caroline Henderson

It’s no secret that African countries and India are home to distinct and flavorful foods, credited largely to the spices that come from cultural melting pots and regional influences. Though the cuisines across these vast regions and countries differ dramatically, they share many of the same spices. Cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne appear in many African varieties of grains, slow-cooked stews, curries and dairy, while India offers creamy sauces with doughy breads and tender vegetables. Both countries influence the other in part, such as Kenya cooking methods using whole spices, derived from India’s methods. 

Sabina Jules of Motherland Spices

The history and culture of these two destinations are not without their use of spices in all areas of life. Dishes around the world have been inspired by India’s and North Africa’s use of spices to define palate, taking note of blending rich flavors to incorporate in new capacities. Here in the States, few products demonstrate these varying profiles better than Motherland Spices and Masala Bling.

Typically known as Mammy Doro Seasonings, Maryland-based Motherland Spices offers bold blends made from herbs and spices from owner Sabina Jules’ childhood home in Cameroon, as well as ingredients sourced from Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Nigeria. 

Due to the climate, mineral-rich soil, and abundant rainfall in parts of Africa make for a perfect home for spices. The eastern region of Africa is warm, yielding hot, spicy, and prominent flavors that intensify cooking. African flavors are as varied as the cultural and culinary influences of the continent. Grinding and blending seasonings is traditionally done while cooking, allowing each family and each cook to modify the ingredients and ratios to suit their personal taste. Spice blends such as ras el hanout, harissa, and galat daqqa include a combination of spices like cardamom, coconut, saffron, peppercorn, cumin, turmeric and even cinnamon. 

Motherland Spices’ blends often include bush groundnut, bush onion, bush nutmeg, bush black pepper, and njangsa, along with common herbs and seasonings like parsley, clove, garlic, ginger, bay leaves, and herbs de provence.

In India, on the other hand, spices are traditionally used in different forms: chopped, ground, whole, or as toppings. From turmeric and cardamom to cloves and cassia bark, the realm of Indian spices is a world worth getting lost in. Contributing to 75 percent of the global spice production and rightfully known as the “Land of Spices,” cuisine from India does nothing short of reflecting that statistic. Some of the most prominent spices that come from India and reside in its food are cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, red chili powder, ginger, mustard seed, fenugreek, turmeric, and saffron.  

Masala Bling spices lined up in a row

“Masala” is a Hindi term that describes the combinations of spice and herb blends prevalent in India’s dishes and culture. Texas-based business Masala Bling offers a fresh variety of spice blends, such as garam masala, vindaloo masala, basil chai, and tandoori masala. There are also seasonings for more global palates, including chimichurri rub and burger seasoning. Indian spices and rubs are inspired by the regional cuisine as well as the culture: Even apart from cooking, spices have historically played a large part in their medical field and used for health purposes, revealing many healing properties. So woven into Indian history and tradition are spices that even Bollywood blockbusters are known as masala movies for their spicy mix of romance, drama, and action.

Enliven your home cooking with flavors from around the globe by adding these spices and blends from Motherland Spices and Masala Bling to your pantry, available on the Local Palate Marketplace.

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