Spices keep our food from tasting bland and enhance our culinary creations. They add colour, flavour and aroma to our dishes. Both professional cooks and those at home who strive to create flavourful dishes for their families have been contributing factors in an industry that is ever growing and changing. While in the past, most spices were sold without any additives, there are now many blended spices on the market, as well as spice extracts.
The process of producing spices varies. Some spices are dehydrated when picked in the fields, while others are dried using different kinds of air-drying methods. Many spices and herbs develop their flavours and fragrances when they are fermented in the sun, drying in the open air, or going through processes like roasting and grinding. Bacterial contamination is not uncommon, and to combat it, manufacturers use ethylene oxide fumigation or gamma processing, a type of irradiation processing as a means of sterilization. There are also different methods used to clean spices, using magnets, sifters, gravity separators, destoners or air separators.
With blended spices being introduced into the market, additives like anti-caking agents are not uncommon. Modern technology allows companies to create custom flavour as per the specific need of the individual client. Large flavour and spice companies have several thousand different custom products. Besides anti-caking agents, which are used to improve the flow and storage of certain spices, clients may request additives like alcohol or MSG.
The most common method used in the extraction of essential oils like lavender, lemongrass or ginger, just to name a few, is steam distillation. During steam distillation, the plant material is placed inside a tank-still, into which steam is injected. The vapour from the essential oil is then transferred to a condenser for condensation. During this process, the condensed water is separated from the immiscible oil in a separator.
Spice extracts, or oleoresins are the concentrated form of spices where you get the wholesome flavour and aroma of the spice. They are characterized by a high potency of active components, which enables them to be used in small doses. Oleoresins are obtained from spices by extraction with a non-aqueous solvent followed by removal of the solvent by evaporation.
The manufacture of spices is no longer a simple process as it was in ancient times, and as a result, a reliable kosher certification for spices is crucial. Since additives are common, it’s important for the certifying agency to ensure that every single ingredient and additive is kosher. Spice plants can be massive, and a strict control of ingredients and manufacturing processes is important. When blenders are used to mix spices, the cleaning procedure between kosher and non-kosher productions must be thorough enough to ensure that no residue of the non-kosher formulation remains on the blender.
Of course, when buying raw spices such as peppercorns or cinnamon sticks, kosher certification isn’t necessary. However, all spices that contain additives or flavours certainly do require reliable certification.
Spice it up with something kosher!