I was reading an article and furikake was mentioned.  WHAT?  I had to look that one up!  It turns out that furikake is a Japanese seasoning made with dried, ground fish, sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, salt and sometimes shiso, egg and miso are added.  This provided a little inspiration for today’s tidbit.  There are thousands of spice blends that show up on menu’s around the globe.  Some are familiar in name but we really don’t give thought to what the ingredients are.  These blends are sometimes centuries old and can easily have as many iterations as there are grandmothers handing down the recipes.

I thought it would be interesting to dissect a couple of the more common spice blends.  Chile Powder seems to be misunderstood by many.  First of all, the nomenclature is hotly contested.  I’m going with Paul Bosland, after all if the director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University can’t be trusted for the correct spelling, who can?  According to Bosland, who is also the school’s Chief Chile Breeder, chile, with an “e” is the hot pepper and chili with an “i” is the spicy dish of meat and sometimes beans (beans or no beans, another point of contention). 

Back to the spice, chile powder indicates straight up ground, dried peppers.  For example chipotle chile powder should contain just that single ingredient.  Chili powder however is a spice mix used to flavor the so named dish.  Chili powder is usually a mix of ground, dried chiles, cumin, garlic, oregano and paprika.  Again, the ingredients will vary regionally.

Another sometimes confusing spice is curry.  Curry can refer to a dish in which the spice mixture is used.  The spice mixture itself is called curry, and sweet neem leaves are also referred to as curry leaves.  It is a popular misconception that curry is a single spice that is ground from these leaves.  Curry is a spice mix with its roots in South Asia.  Some of the most commonly found ingredients in curry are ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, fenugreek and chile pepper.  Often curry is thought of as hot, not necessarily so, it depends on how much chile was used in the mix.  To add confusion to the curry discussion garam masala is often referred to as a curry.  Garam masala is commonly found in Indian dishes.  The word “garam” refers to heat, this is a warm spice mix.  Often found in garam masala are coriander, black pepper, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.

The next time a recipe calls for curry powder and you’re out of it find a recipe online. You likely have the ingredients on hand to come up with a nice blend.  Oh, and that furikake, I think we’ll be seeing it pop up on menu’s more frequently as the year goes on.

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