Creating foods in the United States is becoming more than ever a global affair. Consumers are “adding spice” to their lives with meals infused with flavors of Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean. This changing marketplace presents many creative and technical challenges to food technologists. They must understand and predict market trends, create new products or improve existing ones to meet changing demands, and resolve technical issues in the process.
Emerging Cuisines in the U.S.
While many Americans enjoy traditional foods, at the same time they expect their foods to be seasoned and well-balanced with variety and exciting tastes. Ethnic foods, with their multidimensional flavor and texture profiles, are becoming the trend, especially cuisines that feature a variety of spices, seasonings, and condiments.
For most Americans, certain ethnic foods are so common that they are not thought of as ethnic anymore. Americanized versions of Italian, Mexican, and Chinese fare, such as pizzas, spaghetti, tacos, burritos, and stir fries, are served alongside more-traditional American dishes. Many chain restaurants such as Chi-Chi’s, TGIF, and Bennigan’s continue to add Asian and Hispanic flairs to their menus. Once formerly exotic ingredients and dishes are presented in a more-familiar setting and consumers enjoy these foods, they want to experience more authentic foods and flavors.
• Latino. Youths and adults alike enjoy Tex-Mex cuisine, but where there is a growing Hispanic population the “real” Mexican and other Latino fares are gaining momentum. Regional Mexican cuisine and a host of other Hispanic foods and flavors from Central and South America are appearing on menus. While tacos, salsa, burritos, and nachos have become staples of American dining, many small ethnic eateries are exposing us to authentic Mexican foods—a variety of fillings for soft tacos (carnitas, pollo asado, chorizos), chile-based sauces (salsa verde, chipotle, recados), and bebidas/drinks (horchata, tamarindo, Jamaica, mamey).
Consumers are developing a craving for the true “el sabor Latino” (Latin flavor), so Venezuelan arepas, Brazilian chimmichurri, Peruvian papas rellenas, Cuban mojos, and Puerto Rican ropa viejas are found in upscale menus. In many large cities, such as Miami, Chicago, and New York, Latino flairs are added to local flavors in fine-dining restaurants, such as sofrito-marinated chicken, arepas with tofu, and portobella mushrooms, roasted corn and pepper salsa, mango mint mojo, and coconut-crusted dulce de leche ice cream.
• Chinese. More upscale and innovative dishes with authentic cooking of Canton, Peking, Shanghai, and Szechuan are emerging from the standard Chinese American “take-out” fare, as evidenced by the popularity of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and upscale restaurants. Noodles, bowl meals, and stir fries will continue to appeal to many, but with more intense and exciting flavors. Lighter, subtle Cantonese-style sauces are supplanting heavy, starchy types. Many foods that “taste and look like” chicken, pork, or shrimp and are prepared in authentic Chinese vegetarian cooking will emerge using mushrooms, tofu, and a variety of vegetables. Braised five-spice lentils, oven-roasted gingered potatoes, sesame-scented bean curd, and pan-caramelized Chinese cabbage are appearing on upscale menus.
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• Japanese. Simplicity, freshness, taste, and presentation are paramount to Japanese cooking, which will continue to appeal to the adventurous young and mainstream consumer. Authentic flavorings such as horseradish and wasabi condiments, soba and rice bowls, vegetarian sushi, tempura, yakitori (meat on skewers), and light miso soups will become more common on mainstream and fusion menus.
• Thai. Thai food has become very popular, even crossing over to mainstream menus. Thai cuisine is a unique combination of royal Thai elaborate presentations, Indian influenced curries, and Chinese stir-fries and bowl meals, with ethnic Thai ingredients such as galangal, lemongrass, fish sauce, and aromatic basils. More authentic regional flavors are emerging, such as Mussaman curry with coconut milk and spices from the coastal south; pad Thai with fish sauce and dried shrimp from the central region; ground spicy beef (laab) with mint and basils from the Northeast, and spicy som tam (grated green papaya salad with garlic, shallots, and chilies) from the north.
• Other Southeast Asian Cuisines. Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Indonesian cuisines are becoming increasingly popular. Vietnamese cooking has fresh fragrant aromas and crispy crunchy textures involving simple preparation methods, with well-marinated grilled meats, al dente veggies, light fresh salads, and fresh spring rolls, all served with light and flavorful sauces. Malaysian cuisine is an emerging favorite, with the melting pot of flavors of its diverse ethnic mix. Chinese-style noodle bowl meals and stir fries with Malay spicy sambals, Indian curries, pungent Nonya laksas, and Portuguese-influenced fish dishes add to its unique flavors.
• Indian. Indian meals are popular with youth and many Baby Boomers. The concept of yellow, turmeric-based curry (kari) is changing. Consumers are beginning to understand that numerous curry themes based on regional preferences and cooking styles exist. Because Thai curry pastes are in vogue, a variety of curry mixtures from the Indian subcontinent are emerging. The variety offered by Indian vegetarian meals, with their numerous spices, vegetables, condiments, and breads, and preparation styles will make them an upcoming trend. Small vegetarian Indian eateries serving authentic meals in a thali-style setting and flat-breads such as dosas and chappatis, with accompanying condiments or lunch boxes, are fast becoming popular in major cities and around campuses. Naan and parathas, tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, samosas, and vegetarian dishes will soon become mainstream items. Fusion-style grab-and-go sandwiches, bowl meals, and wraps with Indian fillings (alu gobi, grilled paneer, tandoori chicken), accompanied by an assortment of condiments, are also becoming popular.
What’s Driving These Trends
A number of factors are driving these trends:
• Immigration. Fueling the drive for authentic cuisines and ingredients is an ever-increasing immigrant population. The U.S. is increasingly diverse. By 2025, ethnic minorities will make up 40% of households, according to a 2003 study by the Food Marketing Institute. Asians and Hispanics, the fastest-growing ethnic groups, are becoming a greater part of our social fabric. By 2010, the Hispanic-American population in the U.S. is expected to grow 96%, while Asian-Americans will grow by 110 %, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Also, a more diverse make-up will emerge. Hispanic bodegas and Asian supermarkets and restaurants continue to grow to meet the demands of ethnic consumers.
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• Global Travel. Also driving the new ethnic cuisine revolution is the fact that nearly 60 million Americans travel overseas each year. Most sample the cuisines of the countries they visit, and when they return home they crave those flavors.
• Media Coverage. Television is introducing a whole range of ethnic cuisines, spices, and flavors to the public who want “real” flavors or an interesting twist to everyday cooking. Media attention to ethnic cooking, growth of cookbooks, and proliferation of restaurants, celebrity chefs, and ethnic convenience meals are all creating major changes in our eating habits.
• Interest in the Environment. Many young Americans have grown up with ethnic foods and many are environmentally conscious, so ethnic-style vegetarian and organic ingredients appeal to them. Aging Baby Boomers’ growing focus on a healthier lifestyle is also bringing meatless cuisine to non-vegetarians. Bland, tasteless, texture-less, boiled vegetables are giving way to gourmet, ethnic-style vegetarian meals. Interest in more-seasoned vegetables and all-natural, environmentally friendly foods are spearheading the “true” and regional flavors of Asia and the Middle East.
• Perception of Freshness. Meals with fresh aromas and textures are becoming a significant point of purchase. Leafy greens, grains, pickled vegetables, and legumes provide fresh appeal, and fragrant whole spices add to their enhancement. Bowl meals, soups, and freshly made spring rolls with fragrant spices and Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Japanese sauces and condiments are emerging.
With consumers’ better understanding of authentic cuisines, the ingredients and spices that provide the new tastes and sensations will become part of mainstream cooking. For example, ginger was an exotic spice five years ago, but today it is added to everything—from sodas, teas, beverages, and candies to sauces and soups.
Recognizing these fast-moving trends, product developers need to join the bandwagon to create authentic products or adapt them to mainstream taste buds. But before we can do this, we must first understand spices—the basic building blocks of flavors in ethnic foods—and how they are prepared and blended.
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Creating Authentic Ethnic Products
Where do food technologists begin when they want to create authenticity or an ethnic flair? Ethnic foods are flavorful, but how do we create processed foods that retain the intensity and freshness of original recipes? To create successful products, we need to go to the basics of ethnic cooking, their ingredients and preparation styles, and apply spice and seasoning technology.
Spices and seasonings “build” flavors and set apart one cuisine from another. Today’s consumers are becoming more sophisticated about the use of spices. Thus, our knowledge of spices and their technology, their use and compatibility with other ingredients, and how they are prepared before being added to the cooking medium becomes of paramount importance.
To master the art of spice use, we should look into the art of Indian flavoring. Indians have been the masters of spice use for more than 4,000 years. The creative blending of spices is at the heart of Indian cooking. The blend of spices from each region in India gives food technologists an exotic palette of flavors, from which they can draw. Most of our familiar spices are found in Indian dishes, and each spice is selected and prepared to derive optimum flavors and sensory attributes.
Ginger, cilantro, jalapeño, habanero, and sweet basil have become everyday items in grocery aisles. More-exotic newcomers include lemongrass, chipotle, Thai basil, and green cardamom. Other emerging ones are curry leaf, galangal, star anise, fennel seed, kaffir lime leaf, nigella, and aromatic basils and other leaves from Southeast Asia. Asian and Hispanic seasonings, marinades, hot pepper sauces, curry pastes, and condiments are growing in grocery markets to help consumers prepare their favorite dishes.
Many similar spices are found in different ethnic cuisines, but each preparation has unique tastes. One reason is that ethnic cuisines use locally grown spices, and similar spices grown in different regions may possess different flavors or colors. The differences are caused by disparate climatic, soil, growing, and harvesting conditions. For example, the more-intense, bitter, and pungent Cinnamomum cassia (Chinese cinnamon) is popular with Southeast Asians, but the more-delicate, sweet Cinnomomum verum (canela or Ceylon cinnamon) is favored in Mexico and South Asia. Even in Southeast Asia, cassia differs in color and flavor among regions. In the U.S., the cinnamon that is readily available is cassia, though the Ceylon type is sold in ethnic and gourmet stores.
The same applies to many other spices—basil, turmeric, ginger, bay leaf, and coriander. Basil is not only the sweet basil from Italy that Americans know—numerous other varieties exist globally, including Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Egyptian, and Indian basils, which taste different. Even within Thailand there are many types—true Thai (or anise), lemon, and holy basils.
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The levels of spice used, their combination with other ingredients, and how they are prepared create differences as well. For example, cumin, coriander, and garlic are commonly added to Mexican and Indian dishes, but the end flavors are very different. Even within a cuisine, the same spices may be used, but by combining specific spices with different preparation techniques for different applications—fish, chicken, or vegetables—numerous flavor profiles are created.
Freshly ground spices provide more-intense aromas and flavors than pre-ground spices. For ethnic cuisines, whole spices are generally ground just before use and generally cooked before grinding. Commercially available spices are sold in pre-ground form, while whole spices are used for textural effects.
These differences in spice forms may create appreciable sensory differences in applications. Take, for example, green cardamom, the “queen of spices.” In Indian cuisine, whole or crushed green pods are used in curries and chai, while the ground seeds are favored in desserts and sweets. U.S. consumers, however, have not learned the potential of cardamom use, because they typically use the ground form. It possesses little flavor, especially when derived from the bleached white pods or adulterated with cereal flour, extracted ginger, or ground large brown cardamoms.
Chile peppers are another example. In the past, they were generally available in dried or crushed forms, and Americans used them to provide heat but not flavor. However, Mexicans and Thais have introduced us to a variety of chile peppers and taught us how to derive flavor from the whole pepper by pureeing, dry roasting, or smoking. Chipotle pepper (a smoked jalapeño) is the newest flavor craze. It has a wonderful smoky sweet flavor, which is very different flavor from the fresh jalapeño. Fresh poblano pepper and its smoked form, ancho pepper, similarly possess different sensory attributes.
Choosing the Right Form
Spices are typically available in a number of forms: fresh, dried, or frozen; whole, ground, crushed, or pureed; or as pastes, extracts, or infusions.
• Fresh spices such as ginger, cilantro, galangal, lemongrass, sweet basil, chile peppers, or curry leaves are frequently used by consumers and chefs. Their fresh taste is a result of their overall flavor, aroma, and texture. However, using fresh spices in commercial applications frequently presents significant problems, since fresh spices are often seasonal and if not processed immediately have short shelf life and poor stability.
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The flavor, color, and texture of freshly picked or bagged spices, especially leafy spices, are lost during processing and storage. The paste forms provide some aroma but are submerged in oil, which gives rise to stability and nutrition concerns. Food technologists must typically resort to dried spices and other commercially available forms to create a food product that approximates the flavor, texture, aroma, and other taste sensations of the freshly made dish. This becomes a challenge.
• Dried spices provide answers to many of the food technologists’ processing issues. They are available throughout the year, are more stable, and are lower in cost. They are easier and more economical to process, while providing uniformity and consistency in finished products. However, dried spices especially lack aroma and are quite different from their fresh counterparts. Processing changes spices’ chemical structures and their proportions to varying degrees, often giving rise to different flavor profiles. Their volatile oils are lost or oxidized during drying, curing, crushing, grinding, and other processing methods. Dried spices become more concentrated in their nonvolatiles, which can result in bitterness, increased pungency, and unbalanced flavors.
Many leaf spices, such as basils, mints, and cilantro, lose their flavor during cooking. They are tossed onto salads and added to sauces toward the end of cooking or just before serving for their aromatic effect. Since the fresh forms are not feasible for shelf-stable or frozen products, dried forms and extractives are used but sometimes don’t give the desired effect.
Dried spices also lose their flavor potency over time with improper storage conditions (high humidity and temperature). Currently, there are no sensory shelf-life requirements or expiration dates for dried spices, the only recommendation being to store them at up to 70ºF and 60% relative humidity.
For some spices, especially leaf spices, cryogenic grinding carried out at sub-zero temperatures (0 to –70ºF) results in more retention of volatiles than regular grinding. The spices are frozen with liquid nitrogen as they are being ground. This process tends to damage and alter the chemical composition of the spice. Normal grinding processes which do not use a cooling system can reach up to 200ºF, which can reduce or damage spices’ heat-sensitive volatile components.
• Freeze-dried and frozen spices, such as onion, garlic, cilantro, and hot peppers, have better flavor than dried spices but still lack the overall flavor of fresh spices. Individually quick frozen (IQF) spices cost more, but retain spices’ fresh qualities.
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• Spice extractives are produced by grinding or crushing the spices and extracting them with steam distillation, solvent extraction, enzymatic treatment, fermentation, recombinant DNA technology, or supercritical carbon dioxide. Many of the volatile, aromatic compounds may be lost or transformed during extraction. Extractives—volatile and nonvolatile components that give each spice its characteristic flavor—are concentrated forms of spices used for uniformity and consistency of flavor, color, and aroma. The volatile portions—essential oils—typify spices’ aroma, and the nonvolatiles—oleoresins and aquaresins—include fixed oils, gums, resins, antioxidants, and hydrophilic compounds that contribute to taste or bite. Since oleoresins frequently lack volatile components, both oleoresins and essential oils are needed to derive a more-complete spice profile.
In addition, spice extractives are frequently made from cheaper spice varieties or adulterated dried spices, which contribute to incomplete or inferior aroma and flavor profiles. Extractives are transformed into powders through spray drying or other encapsulation techniques. But most often, these forms are less intense and thus give incomplete and unbalanced flavor profiles. When the level of a spice extractive is increased in a seasoning formula to get a more-authentic profile, it becomes bitter and unacceptable. Less-intense flavors may be acceptable for Western applications but not to develop ethnic foods. Similarly, when the level of the oleoresin or a liquid spice flavor is increased to obtain a more-intense effect or to simulate the ethnic spice flavor, a resulting “wet” seasoning is obtained, which gives rise to clumping and caking during storage. This can be overcome with anti-caking agents, which are not desirable with today’s consumers.
In Asian meals, preparation techniques are part and parcel of spice use to bring out more aromatic and powerful flavors in a meal, while toning down unacceptable notes. To intensify flavors and colors, Indian and Southeast Asian chile sauces and sambals are tumis-ed (sautéed in oil with continuous stirring); curry leaves and mustard seeds are tarkar-ed (popped in oil); and whole cumin or coriander seeds are dry roasted.
Whether used whole or ground, roasted dry or in oil, sliced, simmered, fried, braised, pickled, smoked or boiled, spices release a broad spectrum of flavors which enhance, intensify or simply change flavors. The volatile oils in spices are released through grinding, cutting, or cooking. Some spices are more stable to heat and are added during cooking, while others are added at the end of cooking. Just as we roast garlic, sauté onions or “wet” mustard, we also need to apply appropriate cooking techniques to other spices to derive their optimal flavor sensations.
Spices that don’t give a noticeable flavor, such as sesame seeds, star anise, and bay leaf, develop intense flavors after dry roasting, braising or simmering. Star anise, popular in Chinese cooking, is added to simmering beef, braised fish, and steamed chicken. Similarly, cooking ground spices intensifies them or makes them more acceptable.
Food developers and flavorists need to become familiar with spice properties created by specific cooking techniques. Flavorists have successfully duplicated “cooked” flavors, such as roasting, grilling, stir-frying, or sautéeing, for applications that require roasted garlic, grilled tomatoes, or sautéed onions.
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Other Benefits of Spices
In addition to flavor, spices provide other benefits.
• Preservation. As early as 1500 B.C., Egyptians used spices to preserve foods. Before refrigeration, regions with hot climates used more spices, in part to preserve flavor, prevent spoilage, and kill foodborne bacteria and fungus. The compounds in essential oils, such as allicin in garlic, cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon, linalool in coriander, eugenol in clove, and carvacrol in oregano have antimicrobial activity. Cornell University studies have reported that garlic, oregano, onion, and allspice kill all bacteria; thyme, cinnamon, tarragon, and cumin kill up to 80% bacteria; chilies up to 75%; and black and white peppers, ginger, anise, and celery seed up to 25%. Kansas State University studies have reported that clove, cinnamon, oregano, and sage suppress growth of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in uncooked meats, which causes gastrointestinal disease. Other recent studies have shown that cilantro prevents animal fats from turning rancid and dodecenal, found in coriander leaves and seeds, kills Salmonella in meats.
• Color. Turmeric, paprika, annatto, and saffron are used specifically for coloring by North Americans, whereas other cultures use them to flavor and color foods. Research is continuing to explore more spices as potential natural colorants.
• Health. Western nations are beginning to study the traditional use of spices by Indian and Chinese cultures for their therapeutic effects and to promote wellness. The centuries-old Ayurvedic philosophy of eating dictates the blending and preparation of spices, as well as how foods are balanced, to achieve well-being. With greater research into their medical benefits, spices are becoming more attractive to consumers.
Many Asian and Western studies have isolated active compounds in spices that have medical benefits. Curcumin in turmeric has anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties; allicin in garlic lowers cholesterol; capsaicin in chile peppers prevents blood clotting; trigonelline in fenugreek seeds prevent rise in blood sugar; and gingerol in ginger is an effective digestive aid. Research is being conducted on many more spices.
Nutrition information is lacking for many new and emerging spices, including lemongrass, whole cloves, ajowan, brown or black mustard seeds, and dried galangal. Most times, there is no nutrition information for whole forms of spices, such as cloves or cinnamon, because Americans don’t normally use the whole form in cooking. There is some information regarding chile peppers, but on a generic basis and not for specific varieties, such as habanero, aji amarillo, malagueta, and dried whole red or fresh green cayennes. The term “curry” appears as a standard item in nutritional analyses, but there are numerous profiles of curries, which contain varying spices. These issues need to be updated and clarified.
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• Organic and Natural. Spices are becoming natural alternatives to chemical preservatives and artificial colors for consumers who prefer organic and natural ingredients. The demand for organic spices is growing rapidly in developed countries by 30% annually, compared to less than 2% for regular spices. Since organic spices are produced under eco-farming and sustainable methods free from chemical contaminants and pesticide residues, the demand for these products should steadily increase.
Organic spices contain none of the fillers (sucrose and or dextrose), synthetic anti-caking agents, artificial colors and flavors, or preservatives that may be found in conventional spices. They are also not irradiated or fumigated with chemicals, and are free from genetically modified ingredients. Steam sterilization is used to kill microbes. Leafy spices, such as cilantro or basil, are fumigated with carbon dioxide or freeze dried.
Standards and Regulations
To establish appropriate standards of quality and authenticity, we need to properly define spices. Standard definitions for spices will allow spice suppliers to write specifications on a global basis. The International Standards Organization (ISO) defines spices as “vegetable products used for flavoring, seasoning, and imparting aroma in foods.” The Food and Drug Administration defines spices as “any aromatic vegetable substance in the whole, broken, or ground form, except for those substances traditionally regarded as foods, such as onions, garlic and celery. . . .” The American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) includes tropical aromatics, herbs, spice seeds, and dehydrated vegetables in its definition. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines spice as “a vegetable condiment, or relish, in form of powder or condiments.”
These definitions are outdated, limited, and incorrect in today’s more knowledgeable and sophisticated society. Chile peppers, star anise, nutmeg, and mace, which are fruits or parts of fruits used for flavoring, are not “vegetable products.” Dehydrated onions, garlic, chives, and shallots are primarily used for flavor enhancement and should be included in the spice definition. While a spice may serve the purpose of condimenting a meal, it is not a condiment. Condiments include prepared sauces, dressings, dips, relishes, and spreads. Herbs should not be a separate category from spices, but spices should include edible herbs (leafy spices) that flavor or color foods. The definition of spice should include “all parts of a plant that provide flavor, color and even texture,” since all parts of a spice plant—seeds, root, fruits, bark, buds, rhizome, and stalks—are used.
The Indian Spice Board (ISB) definition—“in various forms; fresh, ripe, dried, broken, powdered etc. that contributes aroma, taste, flavour, colour and pungency to food . . .”—and the International Pepper Community (IPC) definition—“various parts of dried aromatic plants and relates to dried components or mixtures thereof, used in foods for flavoring, seasoning and imparting aroma”—appear more dated.
Trade barriers can affect our ability to procure spices from many regions. There are a number of reasons for these trade barriers. First, as discussed above, a global definition of spices needs to be addressed. Second, regulations differ globally; for example, certain sterilization treatments for spices, such as irradiation, are allowed in some countries but barred in others. And third, authentication and labeling issues can differ among regions; for example, turmeric oleoresin can be used as a spice not as a color in the European Union, although curcumin is. In Europe itself, there is variation among member states in applying EU-harmonized legislation.
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There are many other regulatory issues facing the spice industry today, including policies regarding FDA’s bioterrorism regulations, allergy labeling, phasing out of methyl bromide fumigation, new treatment studies for ethylene oxide as a fumigant, irradiation safety concerns, flavor regulation labeling differences for active principles that are naturally derived (e.g., by fermentation) and chemically synthesized, and the use of genetically modified spices such as mustard seed and black pepper.
The two major international standards for quality specifications are those set by the U.S. and the EU. ASTA has long been involved in setting quality standards for spice imports. The European Spice Association (ESA) sets minimum specifications for spice quality in Europe. Many growing regions have their own quality specifications, including ISB and IPC, which implements quality certifications in close association with ASTA and other international standard groups, as do importing countries, such as the British Standards Institute and the All Nippon Spice Association.
When spices are exported into the U.S., they must meet ASTA specifications. The general quality tests set by ASTA include cleanliness (foreign and extraneous matter), ash level (impurities), volatile oil (adulteration), moisture content (pricing, stability), water activity (microbial growth), pesticide levels, mycotoxin/aflatoxin levels, and particle size. Other tests include piperine levels for black and white peppers; ASTA color values; capsaicin level/Scoville Units for chile peppers; and curcumin content for turmeric color. Spices not meeting the U.S. quality standards set by ASTA and recognized by FDA and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture have to be re-treated and re-cleaned before distribution.
Several methods for treating spices for microbial contamination have been used, including ethylene oxide, methyl bromide, irradiation, and heat treatment. Ethylene oxide (EtO) has been banned in many European countries and Japan because of concerns that residues left after fumigation may be harmful to human health and cause cancer in workers who have prolonged exposure to it. EtO does affect the sensory profiles of spices. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is re-registering ethylene oxide, and ASTA, which favors use of EtO, is conducting a new treatment method study, to generate data in support of re-registration by EPA. Use of methyl bromide is being phased out by EPA by January 2005, under the Montreal Protocol for Ozone Protection.
Irradiation, first approved by FDA for use on spices in 1983, exposes spices to up to a million rads of ionizing radiation, the highest amounts allowed for any food. Approved by ASTA, this process more effectively kills microbes than EtO. Concerns have been expressed that irradiation changes the chemical composition of a spice, potentially creating toxic and carcinogenic by-products in the food. Consumers’ concerns with irradiation and chemical treatments have led to use of steam heat for sterilizing spices. High-pressure steam creates clumping of spices, dissipates aroma volatiles, and discolors spices to some extent. To help assure quality of incoming spices, spice suppliers often put in place Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems in addition to meeting ASTA standards.
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Many commercially available dried spices are adulterated with cheaper spices or other parts of the same spice plant, or even bulked with fillers and dyes for cost and availability reasons. Since saffron is the most-expensive spice, it is adulterated in many ways, including with safflower petals, marigold, coloring matter, gelatin, moisture, syrup, salt, and starch. Ground chilies and turmeric are frequently adulterated with cheap dyes, tapioca starch, cereal flour, and lead chromate, which lower their coloring principles and create health concerns. Stems and other parts of the clove plant are added to clove buds; and bark of cassia and other inferior types are added to “true” cinnamon. Dried ground cinnamon often has carriers such as nuts, sugar, rhizomes, and dyes aromatized with cinnamaldehyde.
Concerns about adulteration are not limited to ground spices but to spice extractives as well. Also, as discussed above, spices are sometimes mixed from a variety of origins or bulked with foreign materials and other undesirable parts of plants, which makes it difficult to authenticate a product unless an appropriate extractive or flavor is at hand.
When working with spices in product development, food technologists must remember the distinction between quality and authenticity. While ATSA and similar organizations set minimum quality standards for cleanliness and purity, the sensory profiles are left to the suppliers to define. Food technologists need to set minimum criteria for a spice or flavor from suppliers, with more-detailed information (including source and varieties), e.g., whether fennel seed desired is the sweet or the bitter variety, or cinnamon is Ceylon cinnamon or Vietnamese cassia.
Thus, food technologists must become familiar with not only ethnic cuisines but also the many varieties of spices, deal with quality specifications and potential adulteration, and conform to regulatory issues when developing products for local consumers with global tastes.
Spices and seasonings of new and emerging cuisines
Garlic, ginger, cumin or black pepper appeal to many ethnic groups, but each ethnic group and region also has its preferred spices and seasonings. Here are some examples of the spices and seasonings used in new and emerging cuisines:
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Latin American: garlic, cilantro, clove, cumin, canela, jalapeño, habanero, chipotle, ancho, guajillo, pasilla, chile de arbol, serrano, paprika, ginger, black pepper, oregano, sesame seeds, annato, hierba sante, parsley, aji amarillo, aji dulce, onions, allspice; adobo, blends for sofrito, salsas, moles, recados, chimmichurri, pebre, ajilimojili, xni pec, and molho malagueta.
Caribbean: Scotch Bonnet, allspice, black pepper, onion, thyme, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, ground mustard, garlic, bay leaf, turmeric, recao leaf, annatto, chives; jerk, blends for curries, hot sauces, escovitch, rouille, and Creole sauce.
East Asian (Chinese, Korean, Japanese): star anise, black pepper, Szechwan pepper, ginger, garlic, sesame, anise, fennel, shallot, ginseng, clove, cinnamon, licorice, shiso, sansho, cayenne, coriander seed and leaf, scallion, wasabi; 5 spice, shichimi togarashi, blends for hoisin, koch’ujang, plum sauce, oyster, kimchi.
Southeast Asian: lemongrass, ginger, star anise, black pepper, sesame, spearmint, sweet basil, lemon basil, holy basil, perilla leaf, turmeric, coriander seed and leaf, cumin, fennel seed, garlic, shallot, pandan leaf, zedoary, galangal, curry leaf, cayennes, bird peppers, laksa leaf, ginger flower, tamarind; 5 spice, garam masala, adobo, blends for curries, sambals, rendang, oyster, sweet sour, plum sauce, hoisin, bumbu, achars.
Indian: turmeric, coriander seed and leaf, cumin, cardamom, curry leaf, cinnamon, clove, mustard seeds, ginger, fenugreek, chile peppers, asafetida, fennel seeds, ajowan, nigella, black cumin, poppy seeds, black pepper, bay leaf, anise, dill, mint, nutmeg, mace, paprika, garlic, onion, sesame seed, saffron, tamarind, cayennes; curry powders, garam masala, chat masala, sambar podi, kala masala, panchporon, blends for rechado, tandoori, chutneys, pickles.
African: caraway, cumin, coriander, clove, anise, cubeb pepper, paprika, fenugreek, ginger, allspice, melegueta peppers, egusi seeds, grains of Paradise, mint, sesame, utazi leaf, turmeric; blends for harissa, berbere, piri piri, ras el hanout, curries, blatjang, piri-piri and atjar.
Middle Eastern: bay leaf, garlic, fenugreek, cassia, mint, dill, caraway, coriander, cumin, cayenne, anise, clove, nutmeg, paprika, sesame seeds, dill, sumac, Allepo peppers, saffron, parsley; blends for zhug, za’atar, tahini, curry, baharat, muhammara, and talia.
Mediterranean: thyme, sweet basil, garlic, parsley, cinnamon, oregano, sweet peppers, saffron, parika, mint, marjoram, sage, bay leaf, onions, myrtle, black pepper; blends for romesco, sofrito, pesto, pasta sauces.
The author, a Professional member of IFT, is President, Horizons Consulting LLC, 575 Forest Ave., New Rochelle, NY 10804, [email protected].