A Spicy Encounter – Part 4 of 4 – Spicy, Hot Spices and Amalgams

Spices come from the buds, bark, stems, roots, berries, and seeds of plants. Any part except the leaf is called a spice, the leaves are classified as herbs.

Spices are generally grouped into five categories based on sweet taste; spicy; puncture; hot and amalgamated. Today we will delve into hot, spicy and amalgamated spices and discover their secrets.


Hot spices tend to have a distinctly acidic flavor, hence the name hot. By using these spices, you can reduce the amount of lemon juice or vinegar in the recipe due to their own acidic flavor.

Each of the acid spices has a distinct flavor that is unique and blends well to produce exotic flavors.


Sumac is made from the outer pulp of the ripe crimson berry of a Middle Eastern plant. It is high in malic acid, which is what gives green apples their flavor.

This deep purple powder is a relatively new ingredient in traditional cooking, but kebab shops have used it for years to flavor onion rings.

Sumac works well with tomatoes and salads and is fantastic with avocado. It is also excellent as a meat marinade.


Tamarind comes from the pods of trees native to East Africa and possibly South Asia. As the flesh inside the pods oxidizes, it turns black in color and becomes extremely sticky. This sticky black mass called tamarind is high in tartaric acid and is used as a souring agent in many Indian recipes.

Recipes often call for tamarind water. This is made by soaking a walnut-sized piece of tamarind in half a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the liquid and discard the pulp. The water can be used to flavor soups and curries.


Often it is the hot spice that causes a dish to be called “hot”. These should be used sparingly so that the heat does not overpower the flavor of the food.


The best known of hot spices. It’s definitely personal taste how much chili to use.

Different varieties of chili peppers provide a different level of heat. The membrane and the seeds inside are the hottest part and can burn your skin, so be careful when preparing not to rub your eyes.

Dried chili has a different flavor due to the caramelized sugars and has a stronger flavor. Use it in a variety of savory dishes, but start sparingly until you work out your tolerance for heat.


The searing heat of horseradish is created by cutting or scraping the root of the plant. Cutting the root causes sinigrin (a glycoside) and myrosin (an enzyme) to combine and form an oil. This oil is what produces those fumes that cleanse the head and cause tears.

Horseradish is usually served raw with roast meats and ham.


Mustard is very versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. Mustard seeds only get hot when in contact with liquids. The liquid activates enzymes within the seed that create heat. The water makes the mustard more pungent, while the vinegar inhibits the enzyme and produces a milder flavor.

When brown mustard seeds are fried, as used in some Indian recipes, the enzyme breaks down and instead the seeds impart a nutty flavor without the heat.

Mustard is often served with grilled meats and vegetables. Add it to casseroles and stews to give it an extra “bite.”


Pepper is universally accepted and probably the only spice that is brought to the table for you to add to your own liking.

The pepper comes from peppercorns harvested from a tropical vine native to South India. Picked green, peppercorns are dried in the sun, this causes an enzyme to turn them black and creates a volatile oil called piperine. This is what gives freshly ground black pepper its distinctive flavor.

White pepper, which is hotter, is made by soaking peppercorns in water for a few days and then removing the black skin. Green and pink peppercorns are the same peppercorns that are soaked in brine instead of being dried. However, dried pink peppercorns come from a different tree native to South America.


These play a special role in bringing together the flavors of other spices in spice blends. They generally have a mild flavor, which is why they go well with most other spices.

candle nut

Native to northern Australia and parts of Southeast Asia, the nuts resemble macadamia nuts but are slightly heart-shaped. The candle nut is so named because Australian natives used to burn it and due to its high oil content it stays lit for a long time.

They have a slight toxicity that is destroyed by cooking. It is used as a thickener in many Asian dishes.

Coriander seed

Coriander leaf is an herb that has a distinctive flavor that you either love or hate. While the coriander seed is soft and very pleasant on the palate.

It is used in many Asian foods.

Fennel seeds

The fennel bulb is eaten as a vegetable and the seeds are dried as a spice. It is native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Although it has a slightly aniseed flavor, it is also sweet and complements savory dishes from Europe and Asia.

Dry roasting the fennel seeds causes them to develop a caramel flavor.


Paprika is the name given to a wide range of red powders made from the fruit of the paprika plant, which is a member of the chili family.

Sweet paprika is full-bodied and similar to bell pepper, without itching or lingering bitterness. It is often used to add color to dishes and pairs well with other spices.

Poppy seed

These come in two varieties: blue and white. Both come from the opium poppy, which originated in the Middle East.

Poppy seeds have a nutty flavor that is popular in baked goods. White poppy seeds are used to thicken curries, while blue seeds are great for pasta and baked goods.

Sesame seed

Sesame seeds come from ripe pods that break apart and send the seeds flying in all directions at the slightest touch. The white sesame seeds we are used to seeing have had their shells removed, while the black sesame seeds still have their shells intact.

White sesame seeds are used in baked goods and some Asian dishes. Black sesame seeds are predominantly used in Japanese cuisine.


Related to the ginger plant, turmeric is a tropical plant and we harvest the rhizome to make the spice. Turmeric has an earthy flavor that pairs well with cumin, coriander, cardamom, and chili.

It works particularly well in curries, Middle Eastern seafood recipes, and Moroccan spice mixes.

Well, there you have it, a brief introduction to the world of hot, spicy spices and amalgams. Enjoy cooking and using spices with confidence.

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