3 Fave Spices

What is Oregano?

Oregano is an aromatic shrub with branching stems that sprout with greenish-gray leaves and pink or white flowers when mature.  In warm Mediterranean climates, oregano is a perennial while in North America it grows as an annual due to the colder weather.  A favourite herb to add to a variety of dishes, oregano in Spanish translates to “mountain of joy”. In some regions of Europe it is also referred to as marjoram.

What is Medicinal Oregano?

Oregano is also a ‘healthy’ herb containing fiber, calcium, Vitamins A and C and omega-3 fatty acids. Oil of oregano is available in health food stores and may be used in numerous medicinal applications. It is considered an active oil (thymol and carvacrol) exhibiting anti-bacterial properties that prevent or inhibit infection when applied to cuts or abrasions.

Oregano is a phytonutrient possessing plant. Phytonutrients are effective antioxidants which inhibit harmful destruction of cell structures existing in the human body. Clinical studies of oregano as an antioxidant have revealed that oregano is actually better at promoting healthier cell structures than BHT or BHA, two synthetic antioxidants which are frequently included in the processing of marketed foods.

Fresh leaves of oregano used for medicinal purposes should be lightly wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in the refrigerator.

Oregano in Food

Oregano adds a zesty, hearty flavour to a variety of foods. To take advantage of this, add oregano to a dish just before it is finished cooking as too much heat from cooking tends to diminish oregano’s intense spiciness.

Some tips on how to use oregano to heighten the taste of certain foods are:

  • garnish pizza with fresh oregano
  • add oregano to sautéed onions or mushrooms
  • enhance olive oil with a sprig or two of oregano
  • sprinkle finely chopped oregano on tasted garlic bread

What is Garlic?

Cooking with garlic is one skill that every chef needs to know as it is found in nearly every type of dish and sauce in world cuisine. Garlic was first grown for culinary use in Central Asia and then traded to the Mediterranean nations where it became a staple part of the diet.  It is now grown and used worldwide.

Health Benefits of Garlic

Throughout the centuries, garlic has been used as a folk medicine for many diseases. While it may not be the proverbial magic bullet, cooking with garlic may help with:

  • Acne – Garlic has great antibiotic and blood cleansing properties. It should always be taken orally to gain the maximum benefit.
  • Antioxidants – Garlic contains the protein allicin which naturally increases antioxidants in your blood.  Antioxidants aid in purifying your liver and also break down hard fat cells.
  • Blood pressure – Garlic has been clinically proven to reduce the blood pressure of patients up to 5%. This is due to its similar properties to aspirin which is often used as a blood thinner which in turn helps reduce the chances of stroke and heart attacks.

Garlic in Food?

Garlic is sold in many different forms. There is a difference between fresh and dried garlic in terms of taste and how it ‘reacts’ with your food. Garlic is usually sold as:

  • Cloves – usually your cheapest option though you must then peel, chop, mince or crush the garlic yourself which is not the easiest job.
  • pre-crushed – offered in jars, it is easily spooned out and added to any dish in a matter of seconds.
  • powder – garlic powder is finely ground, dried garlic cloves. In this form, garlic loses some of its potency and you might therefore wish to use it only if it is specifically called for in a recipe.

There are literally hundreds of garlic recipes from around the world from which to choose. As a base for a marinara sauce or to flavour roasted meat, or cooking with garlic for the flavour or health benefits, you may eventually find you are adding a bit of garlic to just about every dish you cook.

What is Saffron?

Saffron has the distinction of being the most expensive spice in the world. Composed of the dried stigmas of the crocus sativus flower, this spice has an acrid taste and a sharp odor. Saffron is sold in two forms: the threads and as a powder. What makes saffron so valuable is the fact that only three stigmas form in each flower and more than 75,000 flowers are necessary to yield one pound of saffron threads.

History of Saffron

While originating in Asia Minor, the growing belt for saffron stretches from southern Europe into the Middle East and near Far East.  In ancient Rome and Egypt saffron was used as a spice, dye, in perfume and medicine. Purportedly, Cleopatra used the spice to add colour to her face and ladies of the English court used saffron to tint their hair. Monks have used saffron in religious ceremonies and it was allegedly grown in King Solomon’s gardens. Crusaders brought saffron to Europe where it was not only used in cooking but also as incense.

Saffron in food?

It is important to note the pungency of saffron intensifies over time and must therefore be used sparingly. It should be allowed to soak in hot water as heat releases its flavour. Saffron may be steeped directly in broths and soups for a minimum of two hours. Ground or crushed saffron imparts its spicy tang to several types of foods. An appropriate spice to use with seafood (ex. Bouillabaisse), it may also be used in marinades for fish, tomato based sauces, soups, rice dishes and beef stew. Certain baked breads and pastries also call for saffron as an ingredient. Besides imparting its intense flavour, saffron lends a yellowish-orange hue to the dishes it graces.

Using a saffron infused sauce, the following meatball recipe will provide a delicious and lively meal.

  • 1 thick slice of French bread
  • 8 ounces  each ground pork and ground veal
  • 4 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 garlic gloves, minced
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ c flour
  • ¼ c extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • ¼ onion, chopped
  • 1 c dry white wine
  • ¼ tsp saffron threads, crumbled

Remove the crust from the French bread and moisten it in water. Press excess water from the bread and crumble. Mix the pork and veal with one tablespoon of parsley, one garlic clove, egg, bread, salt and pepper. Shape the meat into balls and sauté in the oil. Remove from heat and set aside. Add the onion, to the oil with the paprika, chicken broth and wine. Add the meatballs to the oil and simmer. Add the remaining parsley, garlic and saffron. Simmer and season to taste.

Health benefits in Saffron

In Indian medicine, saffron diuretic properties were employed to treat urinary tract disorders and as a treatment for liver problems. Its antibiotic properties were used to treat skin diseases, infections and inflammations. In western medicine, saffron has been used to treat headaches and hangovers. As well as serving as a metabolic stimulant saffron has been used to regulate women’s menstrual cycles and as an abortifacient. Current medical research indicates saffron may have the ability to shrink tumors.