Since the art of cooking was developed, herbs and spices have played a significant role in the lives of people. In antiquity, spices were an extremely important product for man and its importance laid in the ability to change the taste of food and preserve it - before they were discovered, food was bland and monotonous - spices masked the taste of food when it was going bad, because without the possibility of cold storage during the summer, it acquired odors and flavors due to fermentation or putrefaction.
They also had an important role in natural medicine and in the elaboration of cosmetics and perfumery. Muslims and Asians used them more for their curative powers, than for their role in the kitchen. Many spices were used to embalm bodies, for dying, for the elaboration of fragrances or for their magical powers.
It is assumed that the Romans were the first people to use spices to condiment their dishes and improve their taste. In the middle Ages, the use of spices in the kitchens of wealthy people was generalized. Pepper, vanilla, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and saffron were mainly used. Commoners had to conform to those spices and condiments produced locally.
The first sauces recorded in history, appeared during the middle Ages. There was a sauce called Carmeline which was elaborated from pepper, cinnamon, clove, and mace. The first industrially produced sauces made their debut in the XIX Century, and spices played a very important role in achieving just the right flavor combination. Many sauces that are still in the market today were created then. Sauces such as Heinz, Hellman’s and Tabasco – made with a variety of peppers – considered the most famous sauce in the world.
Nowadays, the greatest dishes of the world cuisine are characterized by specific combinations of herbs, spices, and condiments. These mixtures have been perfected through centuries, and influenced by the native ingredients of each region. The ingredients used on each dish are determined by climate, soil, and local culture; that is how the same basic dishes from different cultures acquire a characteristic touch.
Herbs always go hand in hand with spices and even though their role in the kitchen is the same – to enhance the taste of food – the difference between them in easy to define. Herbs are the leaves of plants, either fresh or dry, while spices are the aromatic parts of plants: seeds, fruit, berries, roots, or bark. They are used dry, generally from plants that come from tropical climates, or fresh from home gardens or supermarkets.
The most widely used spices in the world right now are pepper, paprika, chili, cardamom, clove, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, and curry. Saffron and vanilla are also very popular, but expensive.
It is incredible to think that a few centuries ago, these spices were so difficult to obtain and also very expensive. In order to get them people had to make long journeys and face all kinds of dangers and conflict. Their commercialization involved many people which elevated their price considerably, and caused to only have access to them if you had a lot of money. Today, we just have to go down the supermarket and buy what we need. There is an assortment of herbs and spices from around the world at a fraction of the price they use to have.
Salt has been used for thousands of years for preserving food which allowed travelers to cross over long distances and conquer new worlds. However, it was very difficult to obtain, therefore very expensive. Salt has played a prominent role in determining the power and location of the world's greatest cities and it has created and destroyed empires; it has been a contributing factor in the development of civilization.
Salt was very important in the Roman Empire and it was also of high value to Hebrews, Greeks, Chinese and other peoples of antiquity. It is commonly believed but completely wrong, that Roman soldiers were paid with salt. The word salary derives from the Latin word salarium, supposedly referring to the payment in salt given to the soldiers; also the word salad literally means "salted," and comes from the ancient Roman practice of salting leaf vegetables.
Since medieval times, salt has been treasured and used around the house. Before salt was added to food, this was bland and insipid. Salt has been the best-known food preservative, especially for meat, for many thousands of years. But the importance of salt in history was much greater in the past than it is today, when salt is cheap and easily obtained. Canning and artificial refrigeration have taken over as the main means of preserving foods for the last hundred years or so, and salting foods to preserve them has lost some of its importance at least in urban communities. It has become more profitable to sell foods already salted than pure salt. Nowdays, with modern production methods, salt is the most common and readily available mineral on the planet and also the cheapest; in fact, the world’s supply of salt is inexhaustible.
There is no more versatile and useful mineral on earth. It is believed that salt has more than 14.000 uses, many of which involve helping us with our daily chores. Our grandmothers were probably familiarized with a lot of these household uses for salt, since there weren’t so many chemical products available to them. Many of these uses are still valid today and they are a lot cheaper than using more sophisticated products. Salt is indeed an amazing product and it has some unbelievable applications. So before you run off to the store to buy the latest cleaner you see advertised on TV, give good old salt a try.
Salt is an extremely important ingredient in cooking and its most common uses are in the kitchen and on the dining table. Salt is one of the four major tastes that humans can taste. The fifth is umami, which was first identified as a different taste by Kikunae Ikeda in 1908.
Salt can reduce bitterness.Adding a tiny bit of salt to tonic water can make it seem sweeter. Salt cancels out the bitterness associated with the quinine in the water.
Adding salt to all your cooking can bring out the depth that you don’t even know is missing. Salt actually enhances flavors; it makes any food taste more like what it is. It makes vanilla taste more “vanillier”, and it makes chocolate more “chocolatier”. Salt accents the flavor of meat, brings out the individuality of vegetables, puts life into soups and starches, deepens the flavor of delicate desserts and develops the flavor in certain fruits.
Besides bringing out the flavor in food, salt has many other applications in the kitchen:
Test eggs freshness
Before you crack a rotten egg into a recipe and ruin the rest of the ingredients, perform this simple test: put two teaspoons of salt in a cup of water and place an egg in it; a fresh egg will sink, an older egg will float. Because the air cell in an egg increases as it ages, an older egg is more buoyant. This doesn’t mean a floating egg is rotten, just older. Crack the egg into a bowl and examine it for any strange odor or appearance. If it’s rotten, your nose will let know you. If hard boiled eggs are difficult to peel, that means they are very fresh.
Set poached eggs
Because salt increases the temperature of boiling water, it helps to set the whites more quickly when eggs are dropped into the water for poaching.
Prevent fruits and vegetables from oxidizing
Most of us use lemon or vinegar to stop peeled apples and pears from oxidizing, but you can also drop them in lightly salted water to help them keep their color.
Add a tiny pinch of salt when beating egg whites or whipping cream for quicker, higher peaks.
Soak pecans and walnuts in salt water for several hours before shelling to make it easier to remove the meat.
Add to boiling water
It isn’t true that adding salt to water on the stove will make it boil quicker but, salt does make water boil at a lower temperature, thus reducing cooking time.
Extend cheese life
Prevent mold on cheese by wrapping it in a cloth moistened with saltwater before refrigerating.
Save the bottom of your oven
If a pie or casserole bubbles over in the oven, put a handful of salt on top of the spill. You can finish your baking and it won’t smoke and smell and it will bake into a crust that makes the baked-on mess much easier to clean when it is cooler.
Remove odors from hands
Remove onion or garlic smell from hands. You can rub your fingers with a salt and vinegar combination.
Prevent cake icing crystals
A little salt added to cake icings prevents the sugar from crystallizing.
Add a few grains of raw rice to salt shakers to stop the salt from caking.
Salt solution is a preservative
Salt is used to preserve many foods, vegetables, meats, and fish
Salt in sweet foods
To balance out the taste of extremely sweet foods, add a pinch of salt.