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What rare spices do you know and like?
How do you use them to create uniquely tasting dishes?

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closed as not constructive by Mien, Aaronut Feb 27 '12 at 14:34

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11 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I tend to cook a lot of Indian and Asian dishes, so spice is something very close to my heart. Of the many spices available, I tend to use the relatively common ones, partly because I'm not able to obtain some of those I'd like, such as curry leaves.

In Indian cuisine a spice mix is referred to as a masala and probably the most well known masala is garam masala. This is a very important blend of spices for preparing Indian food, unfortunately, the recipe changes as one moves from North to South India. Every chef has his or her own special blend. A basic garam masala consists of:

  • Coriander seeds
  • Cinnamon bark
  • Cloves
  • Green cardamom seeds
  • Star Anise
  • Nutmeg

All of the above are ground to make a wonderful, aromatic spice mix.

In addition to garam masala, other common spice I use are:

  • Cumin seeds
  • Turmeric
  • Black cardamom
  • Asafoetida
  • Fenugreek seeds
  • Black mustard seeds

For Asian cooking the most important spice mix is 5 spice powder. This again lends a wonderful aromatic flavour to Asian dishes. typically it's comprised of:

  • Star Anise
  • Fennel Seeds
  • Cinnamon or Cassia
  • Szechwan Pepper
  • Cloves

As with garam masala, there are variations.

With other cuisines, I tend to use a lot of fresh herbs but spice does play a part. Some of the spices I use in French and Italian dishes are:

  • Juniper berries
  • Nutmeg
  • Cloves
  • Ginger

In my home cuisine we tend to use a lot of paprika, both sweet and hot as well as cloves and cinnamon.

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My favorite for a while has been smoked paprika. It adds such dimension and smokiness to foods. Great for using in vegetarian/vegan fare when you want a smoky flavor (i.e., in lieu of bacon).

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I assume this depends entirely on what you usually cook, as one persons 'rare' will be another persons common. I have recently started using za'atar and sumac in middle eastern cooking. Both of these were not common to me, but probably will be to anyone from the middle east.

Its not cheap, but fennel pollen has a unique distinct flavour, which worked well with some salmon mui-cuit we had the other day

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Sumac is amazing! I love it on chicken! –  Chad Aug 27 '10 at 20:45
    
I love fennel, and recently found fennel pollen. So glad to see it mentioned! It is a wonderful "rare spice". –  Jen Feb 27 '12 at 13:25
    
as one persons 'rare' will be another persons common. I agree, I don't consider @Pulse 's list of spices to be rare! they are very common to me. :) –  TheIndependentAquarius Feb 5 '13 at 5:30
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fresh Coriander, and if you find it with the roots, don't hesitate to go for it.

Coriander roots are often used in Thai kitchen and have more flavor than the leaves.

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It does annoy me that most supermarkets where I'm from chop those roots off, presumably to make them more "acceptable". –  Arafangion Oct 4 '10 at 14:07
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I agree that Szechuan peppercorns are quite unique and they are indispensable for cooking Szechuan dishes. Actually the dried fruit pod of a species of ash tree and not pepper at all, the spice imparts the sensation of ma la (literally, "numbing and spicy"). It is not painfully spicy or hot in the way that capsaicin can be, but does create a tingling, numbing effect that is often desired in Chinese, and especially Szechuan, cuisine.

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I wouldn't call it rare, per se, but I always use sea salt instead of table salt. I find it to be much more flavorful.

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If you are doing that, ensure you are getting enough seaweed and/or seafood in your diet to make sure you are getting enough iodine. –  daniel Jul 18 '10 at 15:57
    
@roux, is that true? Could that be enough of a switch to develop a thyroid condition? –  Mike Sherov Jul 18 '10 at 16:31
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Usually there's enough iodized salt in an average North American's diet that it's not an issue whether you use iodized salt for your cooking or not. But it certainly can be related to thyroid function: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iodine_deficiency –  Eclipse Jul 18 '10 at 16:56
    
@Eclipse: What exactly do you mean by "average North American's diet?" Is the implication that all North Americans slather their food in table salt or eat processed foods already full of it? This is a site for cooks - the assumption should be that the majority of people here are savvy enough to control their own iodized salt intake. –  Aaronut Jul 18 '10 at 17:48
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@Aarunut: It's not something that needs to be implied. Unless you are really going out of your way to prepare everything you eat from scratch with the purpose of avoiding salt, you're going to get enough salt. You don't need to resort to processed foods or added salt to get your requirement - it's already there in nearly every condiment or sauce you can buy. –  Eclipse Jul 19 '10 at 5:37
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Agreed on the szechuan pepper, and proper fleur-de-sel (which is not the same as sea salt) makes quite the difference in texture too. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleur_de_sel

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If you agree with somebody else's answer, upvote it; please don't post to say you agree. –  Aaronut Jul 18 '10 at 17:46
    
I did vote it up as well, but point taken - thanks :) –  Boetsj Jul 19 '10 at 18:33
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I really like roasting fennel seeds and adding the result to dishes that call for ground beef or ground turkey. It has the effect of making the meat taste a bit like sausage. I've really enjoyed it in a meat lasagna.

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Sichuan pepper seems to be very unique spice. But I yet have to try it.

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This says nothing about what the spice is or how it's used. Not really a helpful answer. –  Aaronut Jul 18 '10 at 17:44
    
I think instead of telling people their answers are unhelpful, it's better to direct them to leave their response as a comment rather then a separate answer. –  Ocaasi Jul 27 '10 at 18:33
    
better: just add it yourself? @Lew did add the link to a wikipedia article which includes "culinary uses". -1 doesn't seem justified; reversing course. –  zanlok Dec 9 '10 at 20:13
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long pepper, which used to be the standard "pepper" in Europe before black pepper took over, has an interesting aromatic, smoky edge in addition to the peppery hotness. It is quite powerful, a little goes a long way.

more here: http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Pipe_lon.html

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I use ground mace (the outer membrane that surrounds a nutmeg seed) in a variety of meaty italian dishes. I incorporate it in a Bechamel sauce that I layer in lasagna, and also add to my Bolognese sauce for spaghetti. It has a flavor that is more spicy than nutmeg, blends well with these tomato based foods and adds sweetness and complexity.

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