Thursday, June 9, 2016

Masala Dubba - Indian Spices : Nutmeg, Mace and Saffron

Spices are an integral part of Indian cuisine. Every Indian kitchen has it's own variation of spice box. The spice box is a reflection of the cuisine in that kitchen. A Bengali kitchen is not the same a Gujarati kitchen or a south Indian one. Each region has it's own unique flavors…be it the  Chettinad chicken  of Tamil Nadu or Kashundi of bengal, undhiyo of Gujrat,  Amristar Channa, tenga of Assam or Bisi-beley-bhath from Mysore. So many unique flavor profiles. Exploring spices, is a culinary journey and I don't think my blog post can ever do justice to it…it's not just a flavor enhancer, it's a slice of history. The spice trade is the first record of world trade and economic growth. I attempt to show case one of the most expensive and exotic spice - saffron and the other is nutmeg and mace : mystic and mysterious.
Usually I would stand by the school with my friends and me would chat …at least for a good half hour before I would decide to go home…! But today, as soon as the bell rang announcing the end of the school day, I leaped to the bicycle stand and was off home. "I want to show you something" Tripti screamed …"Not today" I peddled as fast as I could…

Bosky ( my pet dog) was waiting by the door…she wagged her tail and barked, announcing that there was something special going on at home. As I entered the house the aroma of saffron with cardamom hugged me and gave me a deep sense of comfort.  I embraced mom….the familiar scent of saffron from her sari ….It was a place I found refuge as a child, as a teenager and now as an adult. It's a hug full of reassurance that everything will be ok and even if no one will believe in me…there is this one person who will. Probably that is really the power of memories. From the corner of my eye I could see the basan  ladoo - huge big balls of chickpea flour roasted on a low flame with ghee….pinch of nutmeg. I sniffed …I knew it was for pooja…had to be offered to Ganapathy first before it could even reach my hands. The aroma of saffron was from the kheer (rice pudding), boiling the milk for a good hour…the aroma of milk with saffron…it's something!

Lord Ganesha was seated in the sinhāsanada (lord's throne) surrounded by flowers grown in our garden each one planted by dad, carefully pruned and nurtured. He (Ganesha) looked so handsomemom would make him with clay (chikni mitti), it would take her two week to shape the clay, cure it and paint it…

The aroma of the saffron has deep connotation for me, it stands for festivity, hope, a new beginning, a sense of gratitude and  a spiritual connection to my dad who performed every pooja with a deep study…being a scientist, he would always explore the significance of rituals and chantings. 


Saffron is know as the king of spices. Here are some interesting facts about saffron.

  • It's a 50,000 year old spice
  • Alexander used saffron as a curative for his battle wounds and he also used it in his bath water. 
  • Saffron was first used as a dye in ancient India and Persia. 
  • Persian saffron threads have been found interwoven into ancient Persian royal carpets and funeral shrouds.
  • Egyptian used saffron as a treatment for all varieties of gastrointestinal ailments.
  • The ancient Greeks and Romans also prized saffron for its use as a perfume.  When Emperor Nero entered Rome they spread saffron to welcome him, also a lot of wealthy Romans made daily use of saffron bathssoaking themselves in saffron induced water. 
  • Arabs used saffron in medicine for centuries.  Arabs introduced the cultivation of saffron in Spain. Saffron was an irreplaceable ingredient in the hispanic-arabic cooking of that age.                         
  • Saffron war : 14th century saw an increase in demand for saffron in Central and northern Europe. The sale of saffron made the merchants very rich, thus shifting the economic balance in society. The aristocracy was beginning to see a decline with the rice of the merchant class. In an attempt to regain control a group of aristocratic nobles seized a large shipment of saffron headed to Basel, Switzerland. That triggered a 14 week long war called 'saffron war" lasted till the shipment wads returned.

    Best way to use saffron is to soak it in warm milk - 30 minutes before you use it. 
    Spices pairs well with any spice, especially cardamom. It adds a sweet aroma to curries and rice. If used with lentil curry, add the other spices sparingly - it becomes overpowering. Saffron is great in desserts as well as savories. Saffron rice is probably one of the best desserts I have tasted with this spice. 
Source :

Nutmeg and Mace

Nutmeg and mace are part of the same seed. Nutmeg is the dried seed of the plant and mace is the lace like covering on the shell of the seed. First you have the mace covering the shell, if you remove the mace and crack open the shell you will see the nutmeg.

Nutmeg has a warm earthy aroma which is quite strong unlike mace - which is rather mild. Nutmeg contain hallucinogens, and can be fatally toxic if used in a large quantity. 

Nutmeg and mace are both used in savory and desserts. For centuries it was used in medicine as a digestive aid and even today is used in paan (a mouth freshener & digestive aid served after meals). 
The best way to use nutmeg is to grate it from the seed, the powder looses it's aroma and cannot be stored for long. 

Nutmeg pairs well with cinnamon. While creating a flavor profile make sure you layer spices of similar aroma and compliment it with spices that bring out the distinctive character in them. Eg : cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. cinnamon is sweet aroma, and clove is smoky and bold - nutmeg is almost in-between, not as feminine as cinnamon or as bold and sharp as clove…it literally is like the missing link between these two and together they create a warm and earthy flavor profile. If you need to build on this flavor profile, you can add green cardamom ( very little as it has a characteristic strong sweet aroma), black pepper and bay leaf…make it a bit more earthy …add coriander seeds. Adding the coriander will make the aroma less intense - it's your pick. It's like creating a perfume - making your own spice blends is a signature of a good cook/chef. Add in bouquet garni and you have a complex flavor profile. I'm not sure what will happen if you pair mint with cardamom or  basil with  nutmeg…it's a combination waiting to be explored. My favorite spice blend is the garam -masala. I love it for the versatility and complexity of the flavor. To limiting it to curry is like judging a book by the cover. I love to use it in cookies and puddings !! In desserts, less is more. If you are using 1 tbsp in your curry, a pinch or tow is perfect for dessert. Add it to mulled wine…you will love the warm swirl of flavor. 






MaceSpice-800PX-SimiJois-2016 Print Friendly and PDF


  1. This post is very much different than your regular posts - it's much more intense and filled with memories. You should stories like this more! The photographs are pretty, they are very Indian! :) Love the post.
    My post will happen probably in July or August! :D

  2. Beautiful pictures and props. Thanks Simi..

  3. Gorgeous!! All these royal spices are truly mesmerizing to look at. And the history is just as rich.


Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to browse. I appreciate all your comments, feedback and input. Hope you enjoy your stay :))


Related Posts with Thumbnails