Who impacted history more? Dinosaurs or spices?

First there were dinosaurs and spices, then there were only spices.

Camel and donkey caravans delivered spices along the ancient spice routes since time as we know it. Spices were as valuable as gold; desired for their flavours, aromas and medicinal qualities. Think of those wise old men and their gifts.

Today's so much easier with globalisation and Ocado.

In the 1500s spices drove the Age of Exploration as Magellan, da Gama, Columbus and Dias (my history’s a little fuzzy too) all set sail to find a direct route to these valuable spices. Da Gama won the race to India and returned a hero with his cargo. Columbus had travelled west to get to India (which is how the West Indies got their name) and found America, not spices. He definitely took a wrong turn but maybe his discovery was great.

Originally spices were imported to be used to disguise the poor flavours of spoiled food (I am ever thankful for refrigeration, fast travel of goods and spicy curries) . Spices' high prices and great demand, competition between European nations (years before the harmony of the EU), exorbitant Venetian tariffs (very 2021) meant the spice trade forced colonisation, empires, fortunes, piracy and greed.

In 2018 Madagascan vanilla was £445/kg, so more valuable than silver, in turn causing destruction of virgin rainforest, whilst improving the farmer’s income. Spices again changing landscapes, they are so much more than taste and smell.

Today many great ingredients create the flavours that amaze us, and the tastes that delight us. The globilisation of spices now means we can all share in more varied, tasteful and interesting food, with recipes using spices in innovative, authentic and traditional ways. Food for thought when creating our next masterpiece meal.

My chef journey started as a veg chef at The Royal Oak in Yattendon. Exceptional flavours were always demanded of the team by Head Chef Charlie Rushton. Creating dishes with the freshest locally grown vegetable and herbs, blending spices from every corner of the world and making sauces became every morning’s work, having also prepared the day’s veg.

Charlie then headed off to work with Marco Pierre White, myself to Caviar Kaspia as Head Chef. 10 years later we worked again at Longshot running the kitchens at the Admiral Codrington and The Salusbury.

10 more years on again he’s in a new role in America and I am starting the exciting journey of Zing Foods with great friend Rina. We are blending spices to create three distinct cooking oils (using coconut oil so delivering all its health benefits) so you can quickly and easily zing up (like what we did?) your cooking.

Some spicy essential background

Spices are the aromatic parts of tropical plants or the dried seeds of temperate plants. Both are used to flavour food in a multitude of ways.

Adding early in cooking delivers flavour Adding later delivers aromas

Both flavour and aroma come from spice’s essential oils

To release these essential oils you need to rupture the spice’s cell walls by grinding, pounding, grating or cooking

As often the best results come from fresh spices

We work with the excellent Just Ingredients who ethically purchase at point of supply keeping prices low, ensuring the best quality products and fair trade with producers. We follow Fairtrade’s principles for all our ingredients.

2021’s cooking

Life’s a bit of a challenge at the moment isn’t it. The kids are at home (that’s nice), they are using all the WiFi (that’s OK, at least it’s normally for good reasons) and they are beginning to ask for an expanding repertoire of menus (a challenge). All of this cooking while you are spending the mornings relearning algebra and Latin verbs.

Here are some quick ideas from us, all using our favourite herbs and spices.

Healthy School Recipies have an excellent Chipotle Chicken and Rice Bowl.

Maybe let the critters experiment themselves! Kids Cooking Activities have some great recipes.

Wishing for better things in 2021. We are hoping our spiced oils will provide a little help in the right direction.