Pantry Engineering Pt. 5: Spices #2


Back by popular demand — another set of 12 spices organized into Top, Middle and Base notes! If you would like to learn more about the descriptors and metrics I use for each category, please head over to my last post about this topic.

If you have any particular requests on spices I haven’t covered, feel free to comment below. I do want to reiterate these are my own personal classifications, and you are very much entitled to put a spice in a different category than how I have them listed. These posts are meant to be educational so you can find your own best ways to develop flavor in the kitchen, not a strict constructionist guide!

I’d also like to extol the virtues of 2 of my favorite spices shown here: MAGNOLIA BERRY and SAND GINGER. These are somewhat obscure to the Western world, but I promise they are worth seeking out.

Magnolia berry, which is also known as “five flavor fruit” is native to N. China and E. Russia and prized for the fact that it is simultaneously salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter. They really are a complete flavor bomb. I like to add them to spice mixtures for braised meats, and almost always in my standard brine recipe. They accentuate spicy flavors really well, so I usually find myself playing with these when making hot sauces too. You can usually find them dried in Chinese grocery stores (and sometimes Korean grocery stores, where they are used for tea).

Sand ginger is one of the 4 types of galangal and found across SE Asia as well as China & Taiwan. It’s incredibly aromatic (smells like white pepper and pine) and has a very specific (not at all ginger-y) taste that is more medicinal & hoppy. I learned about sand ginger when making @thewoksoflife’s Hakka salt baked chicken — the use of sand ginger completely changed the dynamics of chicken flavor that I’m used to, and I’ve been hooked ever since. You can find it in big pieces or ground in a powder; if you’re at a Chinese grocery store make sure to match the characters (沙 姜) to make sure you aren’t buying regular ginger powder.

Happy cooking!

ETA: Thanks to Ethan Frisch of Burlap & Barrel for clarifying that the black cumin I have listed is elwendia persica, as "black cumin" is sometimes used to refer to an array of similar spices. (Important to note these are *not* nigella seeds!)

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