…understanding the plants you like to cook with will help you appreciate the work involved in their care.
Some love to bring home trinkets and novelties when they visit another country, but for me, something to taste is my favorite souvenir. A unique flavor can give you the euphoria of discovery; enjoying something foreign and different is enticing, and food does this very well.
This was my first time at an actual spice farm; I’ve only been to farmers markets that sold spices and herbs, but never actually saw where they were cultivated. Plus, understanding the plants you like to cook with will help you appreciate the work involved in their care. With certain techniques and conditions required to get the healthiest harvest you can then understand why some spices and herbs are so prized and expensive.
I purchased a sack of spices (some for my culinary nerd friends) and some for me! I made sure to get anything whole so that they don’t oxidize as quickly and the aroma and taste stay intact. I wished I had bought everything, but to be frank, we all have budgets! At least, I hope most of us do!
The lemongrass at the farm had a powerful fragrance that was sweeter and more potent than actual lemon. Our guide Carlos let us touch and smell the fresh blades, and the aroma lingered on our fingers. I bought the dried variety to take home. It goes very well with fish, but it can also be chopped up and used in tea.
Taste Test: Even though this lemongrass is dried, the lemon flavor still comes out very strong. Throughout our voyage from Belize to Mexico, my husband and I drank a lot of ginger and lemongrass tea, so I look forward to using this dried variety in my own blend.
Cardamom is probably my absolute favorite spice. I use green cardamom pods whole when making chai and curry, and I use it grounded in baked sweets and breads. At the spice farm, I got to see this beautiful plant in all its speckled leaf glory. I bought the pods, the granules, and the grounded variety. The pods here are not the typical look you see in markets. Rather than being olive or pale green in color, these pods were golden brown with a fragrance so strong it seeped through the vacuum sealed bag. My husband enjoys the curry chicken pot pies I make at home with fenugreek and turmeric kneaded into the pie crust, so my first experiment with the spice will be in one of those dinners.
Taste Test: The usual green pods from my local market taste herbaceous and bitter in comparison to the speckled Belizean cardamom, which was far less bitter leaned on the sweet and spicy side. I very much preferred the taste of the Belizean cardamom.
Our guide Carlos showed us the fresh nutmeg that grows on the farm. The pod us neon green and yellow before harvesting. When we typically see nutmeg, the seed has a light brown and wrinkled shelled. The nutmeg from Belize, however, was chocolate brown. The smell was also smoky and bitter.
Taste Test: The usual nutmeg I get from my local market (which probably comes from India) was much more herbaceous, floral, and slightly sweet. The Beliziean nutmeg had a smokey and bitter taste with a touch more spice. After comparing the two on their own, I admittedly liked my local nutmeg more, but I look forward to experimenting with the Belizean nutmeg’s flavor profile. It tastes like it might go better with savory dishes.
4. Clitoria Ternatea
I’d never heard of this one; also known as “Asian pigeonwings”, “blue pea”, or “butterfly pea”, the petals’ color falls toward the blue side of violet. Carlos picked this silken flower for us to pass around. “Its petals can be used to make tea. When you mix it with water, it turns it blue.” The flowers themselves smelled sweet and herbaceous.
Taste Test: When I finally brewed a cup of this tea for the first time, I was caught off guard at the cloudy cornflower blue water. It smells faintly of chamomile, but reminds me of clovers and dandelions. The taste without sugar is leafy and mildly grassy, with a hint of chamomile. With sugar, the flavor lightens and becomes floral like the scent of the flower, but with its own unique flavor. You really just have to give it a try because I can’t quite put my finger on the taste.
Most importantly, though, is it good? The short answer is: yes. However, as someone who drinks tea daily, it isn’t one that I would regularly reach for. I want to see if it could be blended with another herb to enhance the taste.
Some think allspice is a blend of spices, but it is actually the name of a plant. It has broad, glossy leaves, and when you break them up, they give off a sweet smell not too unlike fresh bay leaf. I did not purchase the dried leaves, but I did purchase the whole allspice seeds to grind into a powder.
Taste Test: The Allspice in my cabinet right now is good old McCormick. It’s good and it gets the job done. It comes across to me as a slightly sweeter cinnamon, with weaker notes of clove. In comparison to the Beliziean allspice, there is no contest. I absolutely love the farm’s allspice. Its taste reminds me of a sweet compound of cinnamon and cardamom all in one. In fact, I will boldly claim that it could probably season pumpkin pie all on its own! It’s THAT good!
6. Cinnamon Bark
As we passed by cinnamon, Carlos told us about the farm’s process for harvesting both the bark and leaves. Although we do consume cinnamon leaves, the flavor we’re most familiar with comes from the bark, which gets dried and left either whole as curly rods or ground up into a spicy powder. The leaves are not as fragrant and tasty as the bark, but do still occasionally get used as a spice.
Taste Test: Cassia Cinnamon is the one most often sold in stores. Its origins are in Southern China and the flavor is sweet and spicy. The cinnamon from the spice farm is Ceylon or True Cinnamon. It isn’t as sweet, and instead tastes earthy and spicy.
These peppercorns from Belize don’t taste dramatically different from the peppercorns I can find at my local markets, but they are definitely more potent.
Taste Test: The black peppercorns are mild and smoky in flavor while the white peppercorns are sour and spicy.
This is my first time (at least to my knowledge) tasting Recado Rojo. It is a spice paste of Belizean and Mexican origins made of crushed achiote (annatto seeds), and cumin, oregano, allspice, garlic, pepper and other herbs to taste.
Taste Test: The flavor is smoky and sweet with a peppery bite. It might taste strange and bitter by itself, but once it gets cooked with anything―meat and vegetables―it gives your dish a massive boost; that essential Central American flavor typically absent from home cooking and American takeout.
Its name reminds me of Recaíto, a Puerto Rican cooking base of onions, garlic, culantro leaves, cilantro, and peppers, but the taste is different.
The first thing I used this in was stewed chicken for a burrito bowl. I want to say that this stuff was the missing ingredient in my burrito bowls for the past few years. The chicken came out succulent and flavorful, and I used the leftover juice to flavor the rice. This is a small jar, but a little bit goes a long way. I will eventually find a way to make the recipe at home since I can’t exactly hop to Mexico every time I want it!
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