Fashionable Flavor: Do the spices of your life match what’s en vogue?

At home, we have our dried spice and herb staples. Granted, there are some in the back of the cabinet that get less use than others; we have them on hand nonetheless for seasonal or specialty recipes.

We live in an ever-changing world with technology and resources that make information on anything ultra-accessible. The same goes for spices and herbs, their health benefits, how to use them, where they come from, and the like. Influxes of information can definitely be overwhelming and even confusing at times. People who want the best for themselves and those they care for feel the pressure to be current. Where can one start to process and apply flavor related changes? Well, when it comes to spices and herbs, I say look no further than the past for the present.

What does that mean? It means that the flavors we introduce into our kitchens have been around for a long time. When we embrace the people and their cultures which have been producing and utilizing them, we open up a newfound realm of appreciation for various spices and herbs.

Living in the U.S. affords us a plethora of cuisines. When the 2019 pandemic hit, I was nudged to recreate the foods I typically enjoyed outside of my home. I began to notice a “one off” ingredient I got for a particular recipe is actually common in other dishes from the region or even other regions. By expanding my awareness of cuisines, I accumulated new dishes to add to my meal plans.

Image from Rawpixel.com

Take turmeric for example. Many may be familiar with using it in a curry. With a little exploration, one may find traditional uses in rice or beverage recipes. Colleagues, classmates, cookbooks, neighbors, TV and the internet have brought a wealth of exposure to me and my kitchen. 

The latest research on the positive health effects of *insert spice or herb here* tends to send people (consumers and industry professionals alike) into a frenzy on how to incorporate it into our diets. By being open to a diversified palate, one adopts a lifestyle that complements the waves of science. Hopefully, we fret less about how to incorporate a spice or herb into our humdrum shakes, bakes or pancakes and use flavors as a gateway to bridge our understanding of others’ culinary cultures.

Sometimes, we put too much onus on ourselves to reinvent the wheel. Creativity is certainly an adventurous blessing, though we can consciously leverage the brilliance and benefits of generations past as continued by present cultures. Perhaps, we could view history as more than a subject; it’s a tasty way of life. Please, visit the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and FoodData Central for resources on how to “make every bite count” towards good health.

This post contributed by guest blogger Esu Obu

Food Around the World

Food is a big part of our lives. Different cultures have different traditions and rituals that involve food. It can bring people together to celebrate and mourn. There are several different types of cultural cuisines but a few of the most common are Japanese, Indian, and Greek.

Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is mostly known for sushi, but there are other popular dishes such as ramen, tempura, gyoza, and sashimi. Tempura is the deep-frying of vegetables, meat or seafood. Gyoza is typically an appetizer or a side dish of dumplings filled with meat and vegetables. Sashimi is thinly sliced raw meat or fish that is often accompanied with soy sauce. Rice and noodles are a staple food in Japanese culture and there are always side dishes that are usually fish or pickled vegetables. Seafood is also very common in this type of cuisine because of Japan’s location being surrounded by the ocean. 

Each dish is usually served in different bowls and plates which relates to Japanese food etiquette and table manners. Each individual eating will have their own bowl and plate and it is disrespectful to eat from others’ plates.

Unlike in American culture, chopsticks are primarily used to eat food. While eating, there are certain things to do and to not do. For example, it is inappropriate to burp while eating at the table because it is considered rude. Yet, it is appropriate to slurp noodles because it shows that the food is good and your appreciation.

Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine is another delicious type of food! The most popular foods from an American point of view are chicken tikka masala, biryani, naan, and samosas. While these are very yummy foods, there are many more great dishes to try. I’ve been able to try other dishes because my roommate is Indian and her family often sends her home with traditional food. One of my favorite dishes is palak paneer which consists of spinach and Indian cottage cheese. Another dish that I love is vada pav which are deep fried potato patties inside of a bread bun with a spicy chutney. 

palak paneer

In traditional Indian culture, once the meal is announced, hands must be washed and dried. People eat with their right hand because the left hand should remain clean. Some families have meals on the floor but that is typically in rural areas, and there are no “courses” like in Japanese culture – all of the food is served at one time. 

Greek Cuisine

Greek cuisine is another great option for hungry bellies! The most common Greek foods are olives and olive oil, dolmades, hummus and tzatziki, meat, fish, and spanakopita (spinach pie). Spices are a very important part of Greek cuisine. Spices such as mint, basil, coriander are most common and typically used in marinades for meats like lamb and pork. 

Greek dining etiquette is different from the other two cultures mentioned above. For example, wine is accompanied at lunch and dinner, and guests cannot eat until the host invites them to. Knives must remain in the right hand and forks in the left.

While the types of cuisines differ, there are also similarities. One of the most common similarities is that almost every culture has a dumpling. A dumpling consists of any type of starch that has a filling inside. In Japanese cuisine, gyoza is a dumpling. In Jamaican cuisine, a beef patty can be considered a dumpling. In Italian cuisine, ravioli and tortellini are dumplings. In Greek cuisine, spanakopita is an example of a dumpling. 

Food is a great way to bring people together and another commonality is that families and friends are able to share special memories with each other while enjoying a delicious meal. Knowing the basic rules of table etiquette for each culture may not be necessary for everyday life, but it could come in handy if traveling! 

Check out this site to look at more healthy and delicious recipes! Some examples of cultural cuisines from the University of Maryland Extension website are bok choy stir fry and Mexican pinwheels. 

This blog post written by Samantha Brenner, Family Science Major and Human Development Minor, Graduating May 2022