Spice Blends, Some Exotic Aisle: Chinese Five Spice

Chinese Five Spice, like Garam Masala and other blends I’ve covered in this series, can have varying ingredients.

The ironic thing about five spice powder is, it does not have to contain five spices, it could contain more. The “five” actually relates to the elements, or phases, in Wu Xing*, or Chinese zodiac. These are earth, fire, metal, water, and wood.   In Chinese cooking, there are also five flavors–sweet, salty, sour, pungent, and bitter. This blend has it all.

Five spice powder

Fennel seeds (red bowl), cloves (orange bowl), anise seed (yellow bowl), saigon cinnamon (green bowl), ginger (blue bowl). Some varieties include Szechuan (Sichuan) pepper (not pictured).

I think the most aromatic spices in this blend are the subtle licorice scent of anise and fennel and the sweet warmth of the cinnamon (Saigon or Vietnamese smells more aromatic to me than regular cinnamon in the US).

Used In: Roasted chicken, duck, boar and pork dishes in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Malaysia. Beancurd pork and shrimp dumplings (ngo hiang).

Other uses: Spice cake or cookies–especially autumn and winter when warming, hearth-themed foods are the focus; apple and other fruit pies; pumpkin bread; baked or mashed sweet potatoes; beef or lamb stew; marinades and dry rubs; breading for fried meat.

*=The Western world could easily think the Greek four elements and the Chinese five elements are the same thing, or at least pretty close. This is not true.

The Greek four elements–earth, air, fire, water are about material composition. Chinese elements, more aptly called ‘phases’ are agents of change. They are consecutive and dependent on each other in the balance, destructive out of sequence or out of balance. Wood nurtures fire but separates earth,  fire’s ashes make earth but fire melts metal, earth creates metal but parts water, metal carries water but cuts wood, water nurtures wood but kills fire.

Wu Xing shows up throughout Chinese culture, including traditional medicine, feng shui, and the zodiac. If you’ve ever curiously read your horoscope at Chinese new year, each of the twelve animals has five phases, so it takes 60 years to complete a cycle.

This blog discusses the recurring “fives” in Asian culture better than I could.

If you have other ideas for this spice blend, please share in the comments below.

Spice Blends, Some Exotic Aisle: Herbs de Provence

Herbs de Provence is a spice blend inspired by the agrarian region of southern France. While people in Provence use savory, rosemary, basil, thyme, and marjoram, then don’t necessarily use them all at once. The spice industry made that possible.

When you see luxurious fields of lavender growing in late summer (Northern Hemisphere), chances are those shots were taken in Provence. When you live in a place that beautiful, you can pick the herbs you want, fresh! Provence is also known for growing olives, grapes for wine, wheat, and a host of vegetables. The food is more “Mediterranean” than up north in Paris: vegetables, beans, cheese, fish, and fermented foods like anchovies and olives, make up a lot of Provençal cuisine. Sheep and beef, if they are used, are not the main focus.

HdP

Herbs de Provence blend: parsley (red bowl), thyme (orange bowl), basil (yellow bowl), marjoram (green bowl), tarragon leaves (turquoise blue bowl), savory (dark blue bowl), chervil another species of parsley (large white cup), dried crushed rosemary (small white cup). Some variations use garlic and lavender as well. [Personally I am more familiar with lavender uses in tea, desserts and bath products than main courses. But this blend is flexible and has many many versions.]

Used in: Soups, stews, sauces, and any long-cooking dishes. All those herbs need to blend together and create magic and make your house ‘smell like Grandma’s’.

Other uses: Sprinkling on all kinds of salads, livening up cream-based condensed soup, livening up mashed potatoes, adding to a bruschetta spread, dry rubs on chicken or a roast, sprinkled on fish before baking, deviled eggs, infusing olive oil for richer flavor, making a dipping sauce for crusty fresh bread.

Spice Blends, Some Exotic Aisle: Beau Monde

Beau Monde means “Beautiful World” in French; but in French cuisine, this spice blend doesn’t mean anything.

Image

Beau Monde is a blend of celery seed (red bowl), onion powder (orange bowl) and salt (yellow bowl) created by US spice brand, Spice Islands, in the 1940s.

Used in: From what I’ve read, Beau Monde, Dill, and sour cream has been a go-to party dip served with vegetables or chips since the mid 20th century. I wouldn’t be surprised if this dip was the inspiration behind Sour Cream and Onion flavored potato chips, which are very common in the United States. These were the days before Ranch was the most popular salad dressing flavor, and a household name. More on that later.

Other uses: Dairy-based Dips, condensed soup, any dairy creamy-based dish.

It’s hard not to taste Beau Monde and think it was the predecessor to Ranch. Ranch, as in Hidden Valley Ranch, was created in the 1950s by a Nebraskan couple who bought land in California.

By the late 1980s, I remember the Hidden Valley brand arriving in the supermarkets in bottles, and as a powder to be added to sour cream or plain yogurt. It wasn’t long before a ranch flavor was added to potato chips and corn chips. When Buffalo-style chicken wings became one of the most popular appetizers in bars, ranch and blue cheese became the two most popular dipping sauces to accompany them. Which do you prefer on wings? I like Blue Cheese.