After six months of experimenting with spices, I feel like I am ready to call out my favourite. Well, maybe it’s just this week’s favourite. Until recently, this spice was an under-utilised ingredient that I didn’t always keep stocked in my pantry. At the moment, it is my go-to spice – perfect for adding a little pizzaz to roast vegetables in winter. You could say that I have been getting totally carried away by it in recent weeks. The spice is caraway. (See what I did there?)
The funny thing about caraway is that to me it feels slightly exotic. It hasn’t in the past been a staple flavour in my kitchen, so using it feels like I am being a little adventurous. Except I’m not. I’m really not. Caraway is present throughout the history of almost every cuisine.
History of Caraway
Caraway is a spice that has been used across the globe for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used the seeds in their burial rites and the Greeks and Romans used the plant in both food and medicine. It’s not one of the superstar-spices like nutmeg, cinnamon or pepper that drove the exploration of the ‘new’ world. Instead, it is a ubiquitous spice that has been used throughout history and cultivated across the world. It features prominently in the cuisines of Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. It is also a key ingredient in North African harissa and an essential flavouring for the sauerkraut and rye breads of Eastern Europe. Some Indian garam masala mixes also use caraway.
Caraway is actually a herb as well as a spice. The leaves, stem and flowers of the plant are useful (making it a herb), as well as other parts of the of plant, like the root and seeds (which also make it a spice).
This unassuming spice is also the subject of much folklore. Most of the superstitions are around loyalty and fidelity. In the past, it’s been used in love potions to keep sweethearts faithful, tucked among belongings to keep them safe from theft or fed to pigeons to keep them from straying.
Caraway has a lingering, slightly aniseed-like flavour that adds depth to vegetable dishes and cuts through the richness of meat. The seeds themselves look like cumin seeds, but are darker in colour. They are easily confused, so be sure to smell them before you add them to cooking to make sure you have chosen the right seeds. Always buy whole seeds. Grind them yourself if you need to, but they can also be used whole.
Sprinkling caraway seeds over cauliflower and carrots as they roast lifts these ordinary vegetables into something bordering on sublime.
If you are experimenting with spice for the first time, err on the side of caution with the amount that you use as the flavour can be overpowering. But it is such an interesting flavour that can be used in so many ways. To give you a little kitchen inspo, I have curated a list of caraway recipes on Pinterest that showcases different ways to use caraway in cooking. I’m also keen to show you how I combine it with other spices, so here’s the spice combination that I use in black beans burritos, lamb meatballs and subtly spiced sausage rolls.
How do you use caraway in your cooking? Let me know on the Easy Green Recipes Facebook page.