Rich in flavour and aroma, spices are a Christmas must-have. They can also benefit health and are perfect for warming up festive dishes.
Editor Jane Garton picks four of her favourites.
A blend of ground spices used extensively in Indian cuisine garam masala (aka warm spice) is a blend of spices which are usually first toasted to bring out flavour and aroma before being ground.
Usual ingredients include black pepper, coriander, cumin, clove, cardamom, and cinnamon although there are variations based on region and individual preferences. It adds warmth, sweetness, floral notes and a touch of heat to dishes. Rich in fibre it may help boost metabolism as well as help digestion.
Use in curries, lentils, soups, or sprinkle on scrambled eggs. Best when added at the end of cooking and can be used as a sprinkling just before serving.
Originally from Central Mexico, paprika is made by grinding dried red peppers into a fine powder. Depending on the variety of pepper used and the region it comes from, flavour and colour can vary. It can range from mild to sweet and comes smoked or unsmoked.
Use it to spice up your pre-Christmas chilli or stew and you’ll also be increasing your immunity-boosting antioxidant intake. It’s a great source of carotenoids, two of which are converted to vitamin A – essential for good eye health.
Paprika combines well with most savoury foods, including eggs, meat, poultry, stew, wild game, fish, shellfish, soup, boiled and steamed vegetables, rice, and creamy sauces. It’s best to add near the end of cooking as heat can lessen the colour and flavour.
Made from the seedpods of the cardamom plant, cardamom is a close relative to ginger and turmeric. It is native to South India and often known as the queen of spices (black pepper is the king) and is one of the most expensive spices in the world.
With a piny, fruity, and almost menthol-like flavour, it is a common ingredient in sweet and savoury dishes in global cuisines from India to the Middle East to Scandinavia and often added to winter chai lattes. It has been used for thousands of years as a digestive aid and may help to keep blood pressure levels in check.
Add it crushed to coffee grounds for Turkish coffee or use to flavour ice cream, pastries, puddings, and fruits. It is also makes a great seasoning for casseroles, meats, and marinades.
Made from the peeled, dried and rolled bark of an Asian tree, cinnamon has been prized since Egyptian times for its health-boosting compounds. These include anti-inflammatory cinnamaldehyde, cinnzelanin and cinnzelanol, which are known insecticides, and eugenol, which has pain-relieving properties.
With its fragrant sweet taste and traditionally used to treat loss of appetite, colds, flu, flatulence and indigestion, cinnamon is a perfect warming choice for December.
Take it as a tea or tincture or sprinkle it in powder form over hot buttered toast to help digestion. Add it to yoghurt, porridge or use in smoothies, curries and cakes. Alternatively, sprinkle on top of a cappuccino or latte for a feel-good festive flavour.