The spice is right

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    The spice is right

    Sinead Keegan of Trinity Comprehensive School, Ballymun, Dublin 9, talks all things herbs and spices.

    Herbs and spices can add flavour to your cooking without extra fat, salt or calories. Experiment with a variety of options to find out what you like best.

    What’s the difference?

    Spices are made from parts of plants such as the seeds, bark, flowers or roots, which are dried and sometimes ground or crushed. Spices are usually aromatic and strong in flavour, as they derive from parts of the plant rich in essential oils.

    Herbs are usually leaves that come from herbaceous plants. Herbs are available fresh or dried, and can be purchased pre-chopped or whole.

    Fresh vs. dried

    Dried herbs have had their water removed and therefore often have a stronger or altered flavour to fresh herbs. You can usually substitute fresh herbs for dried – and vice versa – using a ratio of one tablespoon of fresh herbs per one teaspoon of dried herbs. Some delicate herbs such as chives, coriander and parsley do not dry well, tending to lose their flavour, and so are best used fresh.

    Buying and storing herbs and spices

    • Store dried herbs and spices in an air tight container in a cool, dark place. Dried herbs can lose strength over time, so replace them every six months or so for maximum flavour.
    • Look for fresh herbs that have a bright, even colour and are not wilting. Store fresh herbs by placing the cut stems in a glass of cold water in the fridge.
    • Most herbs are easy t ogrow,so why not grow your own to ensure you have a constant supply?

    Tips for cooking with herbs and spices

    • Whole herb sprigs and bouquets garnis should be added at the beginning of cooking to allow enough time to draw out their flavours.
    • Freshly chopped herbs are best added when cooking is almost complete, just before serving.
    • Dried herbs should be added earlier in the cooking process to allow them time to rehydrate and release flavour. Try crushing dried herbs between your fingertips before adding them to help release as much flavour as possible.
    • Taste as you go and add spices in small quantities. If you can taste only one spice, then you’ve probably added too much.
    • Toast your spices in a pan before use to bring out flavour and aroma. Ground spices should only be toasted for a few seconds, as they are more prone to burning than whole spices.