Autumn has finally arrived! This season is one of my favorites because of the colors, the weather and flavors. Even though Mexico is not a very seasonal country (that is to say, season are far less noticeable as the northern countries) but still, temperatures begin to decrease and delicious desserts appear!
There are plenty ingredients related to this season, such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes, squash, toffee, nuts… but spices are definitely one of the most representative ingredients of this seasons. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves.. they all taste like Autumn to me! But, how do spices of autumn look like?
I’ll start with cloves because they are my favorite! Clove is actually a very curious spice, because it is the flower bud of a tree that belongs to the Myrtaceae family (same as Guayaba remember?). I find this pretty weird though! I don’t know if there is any other spice like this. Cloves are, as nutmeg, native to Indonesia. As I said before, it is a flower bud that begins green and gradually turns into bright red.. then is ready for harvest. They provide a sweet and very aromatic taste, it seems to me that in any bread or cake recipe, cloves is the spice that pops out the most in a bite, it is absolutely a flavor that never hides.
A lot of controversy on this spice! There are two main varieties of this spice: Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia) and Ceylon (Cinnamomum verum). The first one is also called “fake cinnamon”, and this is because originally, Ceylon cinnamon was cultivated in Sri Lanka, but then its cultivation spread in countries like Chine and Vietnam. Nevertheless, the variety that best adapted to China was Cinnamomum cassia. This variety of cinnamon tends to be far less expensive than Ceylon Cinnamon, which has a higher price because of the hand crafted process needed to harvest it and roll it in multiple thin layers, apart from the fact that it is not the “original” cinnamon. I believe that is unfair or confusing for consumers to call it “fake” cinnamon because there is nothing fake in it! It is just another variety. People in Europe and specifically in Mexico prefer to consume Ceylon cinnamon; actually, Mexican cinnamon is a synonym for Ceylon cinnamon! Like wise, people in the United States (and of course, China) prefer to consume Cassia cinnamon.
What are the main difference beside the cultivation countries? Well, they both have different flavors. Cassia cinnamon is really hard to break, has a reddish color and it is very sweet and spicy. In contrast, Ceylon cinnamon is easy to break into small pieces, it has multiple layers of cinnamon rolled like a cigar, its color is light brown and it has a sweet-mild and a very complex favor.
In México, we consume Ceylon cinnamon and we calle it Canela. As I told you before, people use both Ceylon cinnamon and Mexican cinnamon as synonyms. It is a very important spice in our country due to the high consumption of Te de Canela (Cinnamon tea), the favorite panacea from our grandma. We also use cinnamon in a lot of traditional Mexican desserts.. the most common example: Chocolate de Metate. This may sounds ridiculous to some of you but, we consume 2/3 of the total exportation cinnamon from Sri Lanka. We Mexicans really love cinnamon !
Nutmeg, or Nuez Moscada, is originally from Indonesia, which is the first world producer with about 73% of total production. Five years after planting the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans, a yellow fruit begins to bear. The yellow fruits split open to expose a shining dark brown nut that is surrounded by kind of a red lace called mace. Inside of the dark brown nut is the light brown nutmeg seed. I often use this spice for some creamy sauces, like bechamel, because it gives them kind of a nutty flavor. Nevertheless, is widely used in bakery or pastry shops because of its sweet and nutty flavor. Also, this spice is often combined with cinnamon, allspice and cloves. Nutmeg has chameleonic quality: it flavor blends to how it’s used.
This is also a very popular spice in Christmas. Unlike nutmeg, which is a dried fruit, Ginger is the root of a flowering plant. Despite it is native to south China, it can be easily grown in many different countries, but it do best under tropical conditions. The first world producer is India, then China. It is an annual crop, and you can find it fresh or in powder. Both have different purposes, for example fresh ginger has a lemony aroma and it is very spicy, so people often use it in soups or beverages (like Mulled Wine), rather than ginger powder, which is most commonly used in cookies or cakes because it has a spicy flavor, but less intense than fresh ginger.
Allspice, or Pimienta Gorda in Mexico, is the unripe dried fruit from a small tree called Pimenta dioica native to the Greater Antilles, Southern Mexico and Central America. It is populary called “allspice” because when the English first discovered it, they though it was the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. In order to obtain Allspice, fruits are harvested green and then dried in the sun. When dried, they are brown like pepper. This is an importan spice in Caribean Food. In México, we oftern use this spice in the traditional mole, salsa or beef stews.
So, how do you use all this spices in your Autumn recipes? 🙂
FAO 2002. Ginger Post-harvest Operation. Post-harvest compendium. http://goo.gl/PqQ28j
FAO 1994. Nutmeg and Derivates. http://goo.gl/HKWjrE
Falkowitz M. (2011). Spice Hunting: Cinnamon. Serius Eats. http://goo.gl/T7RZvM
Falkowitz M. (2011). Spice Hunting: Nutmeg. Serius Eats. http://goo.gl/XYZGmT
Cinnamon Vogue 2015. Types of Cinnamon. http://goo.gl/Hmd5mB
Red Nacional de Información Cultural 2009. La canela, popurrí de la gastronomía mexicana. http://goo.gl/K867kb
SAGARPA (ND). Pimienta Gorda. Servicio de Información Agroalimentaria y Pesquera. http://goo.gl/8sIhUj