A Guide to Winter Spices
Posted on 15th September 2016
The past few days have been a heatwave, bringing us the hottest September on record. In Kensington, we had something of an Indian summer, and our guests made the most of it, dining at our outdoor terrace. However, today has brought thunderstorms and autumn is truly on its way. Our chefs are busy behind the scenes, developing a fresh new menu for winter. Here are some of the flavours you can expect for the new season.
Cinnamon comes from tree bark, and its rich flavour comes from an aromatic essential oil naturally produced by the tree. Sweet and woody, cinnamon is among the world’s oldest known spices. It was highly valued in Ancient Rome, and legend has it that Emperor Nero burned a year’s supply of cinnamon at his wife Poppaea’s funeral as a sign of his remorse and grief. The warm, familiar scent of cinnamon now features in many of our favourite winter foods: Christmas pudding, eggnog, mulled wine, mince pies… It’s no wonder that recent research found 97% of people associate cinnamon with Christmas.
Ginger comes from the root of a flowering plant. Hot and fragrant, ginger has an unmistakeable warmth and is normally eaten in sweet foods in Britain. Gingerbread men were first served in the court of Elizabeth I, who had gingerbread figures made in the likeness of foreign dignitaries. Gingerbread men, houses and winter scenes decorated with icing sugar are now a Christmas staple.
Like cinnamon, nutmeg is harvested from a tree – however, nutmeg is the seed of the tree, which gives it an earthy, nutty flavour. Nutmeg was a prized and expensive spice in Medieval Europe, where it was used in food and in medicine. In Elizabethan times, it was believed to ward off the plague. It doesn’t – but it does contain antioxidants, potassium, zinc, and many vitamins essential to health. Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled wine and eggnog, giving them a pungent, deep aroma. It is a very strong spice, and although it can be used in sweet and savoury cooking all year round, its spicy warmth is well-suited to winter dishes.
Cloves are the unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree. Sweet and aromatic, they have a strong flavour that can be overpowering if it is used too liberally. Their flavour is largely caused by the compound eugenol, which occurs in the essential oil naturally found in cloves. In Britain, cloves are most commonly used to flavour apple pies. A traditional winter staple, the pungent warmth of cloves is the perfect accompaniment to sharp, sweet cooking apples. Cloves are also used in traditional Christmas foods, including mulled wine, gingerbread and mince pies.
Our new menu is coming soon, and you can expect a rich array of the season’s finest spices to feature. But before the weather turns, you can still visit Chakra to enjoy our summer menu and outdoor dining terrace. Make your reservation online or call 020 7229 2115.