Food Profile: The Spice World – Chinese Five Spice

[1] The breakdown of the Chinese five spice – an alternative for marinating many meats. 

In this edition of Speaking Seb, I return with a Food Profile, regarding the Chinese five spice. I did say I wanted to categorise things so that it would make life easier for you, the reader. This article is another Oriental-based – I will try to revert between different regions across the world, so we get an overall view with ingredients. Traditionally, I will discuss the spice using its origin, nutritional facts and recipes as guidelines. Unlike other Food Profile posts, I decided to add a new sub-section about how we distinguish a herb from a spice. Please do comment below if you think anything can be improved! Cheers.


1) Origin

Michael McIntyre, the British comedian, did notoriously use a sketch called Spices, talked about condiments and when mentioning of five spice, jokingly said – I am not one spice, I am five spice! I am five times as good as you! I will leave the link to his sketch in the references section below – everyone needs a laugh once in a while anyway. [2]


With such an array of ingredients, let us find out the relevance of this description. It is not certain of the origin of the five spice as a whole, but it is believed that the Chinese wanted a blend of different flavours – sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty. [3] Interestingly enough, the orthodox name is five spice, but in fact, there are some companies who use other ingredients and should really name it according to the number of spices utilised. This is because they use cassia (a variant of the cinnamon stick), ginger or nutmeg. [3]


I will, however, discuss three ingredients that I have not previously discussed in my other Food Profile articles – Sichuan pepper corns, fennel seeds and Star anise. You should be able to find cinnamon and garlic articles on my left tab.


1.1) Sichuan pepper corns 

Rather blatant where Sichuan pepper corns comes from, so I will leave that as it is. For those who do not know, Sichuan is a region in the middle of China. Moreover, unlike the black peppercorns which originate from India, these peppercorns were once used extensively in the 15th century to spice dishes up. [4]


1.2) Fennel seeds

Fennel seeds are categorised as a herb and spice. I will add a little section below to help differentiate these two types of food. In Latin, the word foeniculum describes the fennel seed as little hay. It is oral shaped, in a shade of greenish yellow. Although it does originate from Europe, there are many cultivation across Asia and America. It acts as the pungent agent in the Chinese five spice. [5]


1.3) Star anise

Star anise is the English name for the Latin form illiciaceae family, where the Chinese star anise or illicere varum defines as: illicere means to attract since it has a tempting aroma, and verum means authentic. The star anise has been used as a spice and medicine for over 3000 years. Despite much confusion by English privateer Thomas Cavendish, who supposed that the star anise originated from Philippines as he discovered them there. However, they have always existed in Southern China and Indochina. [6]


1.4) Cloves

I initially thought I was writing about garlic cloves – but cloves are in fact a type of flower that originate from the Molucca Islands in Indonesia. It was perceived that the clove was first used by the Chinese to help freshen the Chinese Emperor’s breathe. Not surprising when China literally translates as the centre country. As clove was such a profitable enterprise, you had your traditional imperial competition, particularly from the Dutch imperialists against other powers. [7]


2) Nutritional facts

Evidently, as there are five spices and salt to make up the Chinese five spice – I will need to dissect each and every single one of them to explain their nutritional facts.


2.1) Sichuan pepper corns

The Sichuan pepper corn is very popular amongst Asian cuisines, and provides many different types of nutrients – as it is rich in essential oils, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It has a distinct citric flavour, which comes from terpenes like citronellal; and dipentene, which adds to the spiciness found on its outer shell. Like the fennel seeds, the peppercorn hepls with digestion as it releases intestinal juice in the gut. [8]


2.2) Cinnamon

Please do check out my full article on cinnamon – another edition of the Food Profile: The Spice World.


2.3) Fennel seeds

The fennel seed is used as a diuretic, or one that forces excess urine from the body. Throughout history, the fennel seed is known to improve vision, be an antioxidant and anti-flatulent, essentially removing stomach cramps and interestingly enough, prevents muscle spasms. [9] It is known to provide dietary fibre and helping the absorption of water. Furthermore, fennel seeds consist of many minerals like copper, iron and zinc. Copper helps with the production of red blood cells, iron aids red blood cell formation, and finally, zinc regulates growth, development and digestion. You get the idea. [9]


2.4) Star anise

Similar to the fennel seeds, the star anise helps to provide a stimulating effect in the digestive system, preventing stomach discomfort, indigestion. Furthermore, star anise, surprisingly, helps with respitory problems – particularly bronchitis and coughing. [6]


2.5) Cloves

Like other spices here, the clove is a source to aid the body with many different properties. For example, it helps with anti-inflammatory and anti-constipation. Moreover, as it has some relative amount of vitamin A, the clove is known to have antioxidant properties, and also crucial membranes for night vision in general. Furthermore, it is known to be rich in vitamin C and the essential oil eugenol, which in turn, help with the immune system and antiseptic properties, ultimately helping to improve the overall dental and skin health of one’s body. [10]


3) Recipes

With salt and Sichuan pepper corns as main components of five spice, it is very difficult to find the right balance to create a sweet dish. It is more common to make savoury plates of food consisting mainly of meats and vegetables. Below, I have provided you with two simple recipe ideas – one for meats, and the other for your greens. However, individually, you could use cinammon or star anise individually as main ingredients for desserts.


3.1) Meat recipe

There are two main ways to use the Chinese five spice – either the Chinese or the Vietnamese method. Below I have provided two meat marinades:


3.1.1) Chinese marinade – [11] 

Depending on how many people there are, I would suggest you devise the right quantity of meat.


250g beef cut – mince, brisket, loin, shoulder

3 tablespoons of dark soy sauce

1 small section of ginger

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoons of sugar

2 teapoons of Chinese five spice powder

2 teaspoons of corn starch


3.1.2) Vietnamese marinade – [12]

400g of chicken leg or breast

3 tablespoons of dark soy sauce

1 small section of ginger

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoons of sugar

2 teapoons of Chinese five spice powder

2 teaspoons of corn starch

2 shallots

A third of a stalk of coriander leaves

2 tablespoons of fish sauce


The main difference between the Chinese and Vietnamese marinades are that one includes more fish sauce – it is an alternative of incorporating more protein and flavour into the dish itself. You can switch between different types of meats and to add more five spice powder if you want more heat. Do make sure you marinate your meat for at least 30 minutes so all the flavours soak into the flesh itself. 


3.2) Vegetarian recipe – [13] 

Chinese stir-fried shrimp and broccoli noodle – a very simple recipe that only needs your traditional ingredients in a stir-fry. I would highly recommend using a wok in this procedure.



Drizzle of sunflower/vegetable oil

500g cellophane noodles/vemicelli noodles/egg noodles

1 garlic clove

2 shallots

1 whole stalk of broccoli

Half a carrot

Half a cabbage

A third of a stalk of coriander leaves

1 medium red chili pepper

Light soy sauce

Salt and pepper



200g of shrimps

3 tablespoons of dark soy sauce

2 tablespoons of sesame oil

1 small section of ginger

1 tablespoon of garlic paste

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoons of sugar

2 teapoons of Chinese five spice powder

2 teaspoons of corn starch

2 tablespoons of fish sauce


So you must marinate your shrimp as you saw above and let marinade for 30 minutes. Then wash your vegetables and cut it length-wise. In a wok, heat up on a medium high heat, some oil. After around 3 minutes, add your chopped garlic and onion. When they become sautéed, add in the shrimps and the noodles. Note that you can vary with the type of noodles you use. Add in some light soy sauce for colour and let fry for a bit. Place the vegetables into the wok and cook until a bit soft – make sure it still has a crunch, you want a mixture of textures in this dish. Finally, finish off by adding your garnish of chilies and coriander.


4) How to differentiate a herb from a spice? 

Many people use these two words interchangeably, so we must be aware of these uses specifically even though this has been an umbrella term. Herbs and spice can be different parts of the plant – which can be leaves, seeds, bark, fruits, flowers…It really depends on which plant that are considered fresh or dried. [14] Herbs are generally considered as leafy plants like basil, oregano, thyme found in temperate countries, whereas, spices are cinnamon, fennel seeds, cumin which are commonly cultivated in tropical countries. [15]


In effect, the Chinese five spice is a mixture of ancient spices, from your more traditional cinnamon, to your more exotic cloves, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel seeds and star anise. All these individual spices all have anti-inflammatory and relieving properties, and a great way to bring some variety to your best Sunday meat roast. Moreover, I thought it would be a decent idea to remember how to distinguish the interchangeable terms herb and spices, despite the close similarity in definition – do note it really depends on which type of ingredient we are observing. Finally, I have implemented some simple Oriental recipes that you could use to bring in some variety and inspiration – they are all pretty similar in terms of marinade. Thus, for my next few posts, I will try to find a more Western or foreign ingredient to analyse and dissect. Hope you enjoyed your read here, and stay tuned, because I am hoping to publish a politico-historical piece soon enough! See you next time on Speaking Seb! 🙂



















Are performance-enhancing supplements indispensable in sports nowadays?

[1] The Olympics – an ancient competition that shows the true colours of top athletes – do or can we still retain that? 

Once upon a time, there was a moment when the best male athletes of each ancient Greek city-state would compete for glory, and worship the Gods. You earned respect through your talent and hard-work. You stepped out on the podium bare naked, nothing but your body to steer or force your way to victory depending on your sport. Keeping in mind that the feminist role in sports has come a long way, is it all but different nowadays with the availability of sports-enhancing drugs and technology? Are these elements indispensable in the modern game to improve oneself? I hope to direct my article in discussing and investigating the evolution of sport – from the Olympic times to the contemporary age, the importance of technology and sports-enhancing drugs and the type of sports that impose severe regulations on those testing positive. Constructive comments are more than welcome below!


Background and evolution of the Olympic Games 

It is generally believed that the Olympic Games has started as early as 776 B.C., but eventually banned by Emperor Theodosius under harsh Roman rule. [2] Within these sport competitions, this was to showcase the physical qualities of the Greek citizen – in your typical survival of the fittest style. Moreover, by bringing many young contingents from around the Greek ‘nation’, this was to improve and encourage agreeable relations amongst city-states. The Hellanditus or referee, would be the judge of each sport, awarding each of the winners a palm branch in their hands and an olive branch crown to mark a hardly earned victory. Many red ribbons and flowers were thrown to the winners by the spectators, in order to show their appreciation of these ancient athletes. [2]


Importance of sports-enhancing drugs

Since the ancient times, many stimulants and special ingredients like wine and mushrooms, have been used so that each athlete had an advantage over others in their respective competition. According to the Olympic guidelines, it is advisory that all competitors take part, rather than winning. Many athletes nowadays are fully professional, moulding their art day in, day out, being role-models to the children watching at home. [3] Take nothing away from any athletes, they have battled throughout their lives to reach the very top of the mountain, but the doping sagas are merely a game of ‘catch me if you can‘, between the athletes and the anti-doping agencies across the whole spectrum of sports. Obviously, it begs to be asked whether it is relevant that the Olympic board keep making smaller limits to how much athletes can intake, or do we let it go because we want to watch the event for its enticing factor, as a spectator sport? Surely we need to meditate what is our priority – the art of participation or spectating in general, because this would turn out to be an endless and painful cycle.


Let us take the sprinting and cycling as the main examples. On the athletics track, you are bound to see many runners, but which one can we distinguish amongst all of them of whom are clean or not? Recently, from modern times to now, Canada’s Ben Johnson, Britain’s Dwain Chambers, Jamaica’s Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, America’s Tyson Gay and many more have broken countless records. [3] The idea of sprinting approximately 100 metres in less than 10 seconds is one that has been a dream amongst the world’s population. That is approximately 10 steps every tenth of a second. Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong are the reputed men to have won the Tour de France the most times – and getting their titles stripped because of the strict regulations imposed by the Olympic executive body and International Cycling Union (ICU). Hold on a minute. How does a person, let alone a cyclist manage to climb mountains and maintain speed for 150 to 200 kilometres? How about the high and low altitudes that riders need to get accustomed to, don’t their blood levels need to be tweaked in such a way to pass these gruelling episodes? In the US alone, it is researched that $1.4 billion US dollars has been injected to create more and more compounds and solutions are on our shelves. [3] The problem of sports-enhancement has grown from professional athletes to health clubs, with people using it to improve their aesthetics one way or another. True, the media does promote the idea of a slim and cut beauty look to males and females in our society, but is it truly necessary? Moreover and personally, it is superhuman to be able to break these records and trials, without the use of some sort of enhancement product. And until this is understood, sports-enhancement is truly indispensable nowadays.


Importance of technology 

Video technology is definitely one that comes under this heading. According to Sir Clive Woodward, the World Cup winning coach of England in 2003 and the current British Olympics Association (BOA) administrator, highlights the importance of how athletes must think about what to do with the information they compile. [4] Take for example, football and boxing as examples, where national teams and clubs or boxers themselves, study their counterparts’ styles and take an upper-hand, ultimately outfoxing their opponents before even entering the ring. This is key, as this is an example of how sports-enhancing supplements are not completely indispensable nowadays, but is it sufficient enough to conclude here?


Apart from observing your opponents, it can certainly improve one’s personal performance as well. Take swimming as an example, where the shark’s skin was used by the celebrity swimmers Michael Phelps and Alain Bernard. As time in the 21st century progresses, many scientists have found ways to improve our performance. However, with all these limitations and regulations that purists and fundamentalists are trying to impose – we are going back to the basics. How far can we allow these things to happen? Equally, when can we make these exceptions?


What next for sports in general?

I am using this section as more of a conclusion or area for deep thinking for you, the reader. In my own perspective, I believe that sports-enhancing supplements are definitely indispensable. Certainly, purists and fundamentalists would tell me that even with a lot of sports-enhancing drugs, athletes must work as hard. Indeed, the use of video technology is definitely an option to take an advantage, but to what extent does this lead top athletes to? Should we not embrace the development of technology to improve the main component in our sport?


After all, it is the performance that matters as well, and with increasing demand for great fitness, this hangs in the balance. It isn’t like Popeye just took some spinach and instantly puffed up to save Olivia again. I also wanted to emphasise that a lot of people watch sports, where athletes take the supplements – football, cricket, cycling…regardless of the strict regulations. We need to understand and consider this point profoundly: do we, as a general public continue to watch these sports for our love for them per se and their excitement factor, or sway away from it because of its corrupted athletes? Quite paradoxical, right? Especially when people are inspired to become another great, when a lot of merchandise is generated from these athletes. So, until then, we will never be able to cement our desires and let this burning question bubble loom ever so grey and large… Cheers and till next time! Hope you enjoyed this edition of Speaking Seb! 🙂







Compare and contrast the Chinese and Italian variations of food

[1] Spaghetti Pesto – a very traditional Italian recipe, but to what similarities can we trace this to?

Hello there, welcome back to another edition of Speaking Seb. In this article, I return with a fresh idea of comparing and contrasting the Chinese and Italian versions of food – with a few principal dishes that is predominantly part of these two great cuisines’ staples: ravioli/tortellini, spaghetti, pizza and lasagna. I will dwell into elements of history and certainly gastronomy itself. As per usual, any constructive criticisms are more than welcome below!

Marco Polo’s Role

A lot of people know the effect that Marco Polo had in discovering different eateries in China, and brought many culinary ideas back to his Venetian homeland.

There are some interesting controversies about Marco Polo that I have previously written, so if you would like to find out more about him and Italian cuisine in general, you could check out my post here:. Moreover, there is an interesting read about his travels discussing what Polo discovered and where he travelled in the world. His writings has to be questioned as historians as whether they were imaginative or actual travel scriptures. According to historian Ritter, however, Polo has:


“been frequently called Herodotus of the Middle Ages, and he has a just claim to that title. If the name of a discoverer were to be assigned to any person, nobody would better deserve it. Doubt, it is well known, were at first raised respecting the accuracy of his statements have arisen solely from the fact that his discoveries far transcended the knowledge of his age…A map of Central Asia has constructed on a scale suited to the Work, with a view of illustrate the routes both of the early embassies and of Marco Polo; and great care has been taken to render it as accurate as the somewhat uncertain materials would admit.” [2] 

Chinese vs. Italian cuisine, East meets West 

I have picked many Italian staples that goes into the daily diet in a typical Italian family – namely ravioli/tortellini, spaghetti, pizza and lasagna, to draw comparisons amongst them with their Chinese versions. I will use Cantonese explanations to break this down bit by bit.

1) 雞蛋麵 vs. the spaghetti/tagliatelle/papardelle 

Gai dan meen or literally egg noodles. These types of noodles originated in ancient China since the Han dynasty, circa 206 B.C to 220 A.D. [3] Normally, we like our egg noodles in a stir-fried dish with plenty of onions, garlic, mixed vegetables consisting of carrots, cabbage and green beans, with some meat. Or typically again in a soup based broth usually fish or pork bones. Or again, deep fried with some gravy sauce. As a matter of fact, the spaghetti we credit the Chinese for since Polo’s appellation of pasta is argued to have originated from the Arab tribes in Sicily during circa 1150, who already started boiling noodles. [4] Yes, I honestly did not come to realise it would turn out to be an Arabic influence as such. 

In Italy, you have your variations of the thickness of your noodles, whether you like it fine like vermicelli, spaghetti, all the way to thicker sizes or width, including those of: tagliatelle, fettucine and papardelle. The sauce really depends on which region you come from, influencing the type of ingredients you would have incorporated. For example, if you came from Sicily, then you would cook Pasta alla Norma. This includes fresh and key ingredients, like eggplant, tomatoes, grated ricotta cheese and basil. Of course, you can vary in what meat you like to implement into the basic recipe – tuna slices, ham, anchovies, capers, chicken slices…


2) 餃子 vs. the ravioli/tortelliniGao ji or to dumplings to you and I. This stuffed pastry originated since the Song dynasty, a late-comer compared to the noodles, circa 960 to 1200 A.D. [5] Like many extravagant dishes, this was believed to be created by a chef to appease the Emperor. In Chinese culture, there are many variants of this dish – it can be in boiled or fried, for a soup noodle or own its own. It usually has some meat, leeks, shrimps or many different types of green vegetables. You can find these in many traditional yum cha, juk meen poh or tsa tsan teng restaurants, or to what I would like to call a Cantonese take on consommet, an orthodox noodle and congee shop, and cafés. The ravioli or the Italian verb ravvolgere meaning to wrap, have all its varieties across the Italian nation, each having its own shapes and sizes. For example in Emilia, you have tortellinis or your agnelottis from Piedmont. [6] 

3) 洋蔥薄餅 vs. the pizza
Yeung chung bok beng or the spring onion flat-bread. Unfortunately, I could not find any historical records of this Cantonese dish that is served in many yum tsa restaurants. This resembles more of a flat-bread filled with spring onion cuttings in it. Simply put, this Oriental pizza is a simple delicacy to be relished, whereas the pizza is different, originating from the city-state of Naples was credited to Queen Maghuerita, using the Italian tricolours and represented through the basil leaves, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. Thus you have your traditional Pizza Maghuerita, but again, it ranges from region to region. Do check out my blog article, Food Profile: the tomato, for further reference. 


4) 腸粉 vs. the lasagna 

The tseung fun. Alright, for those who are Chinese would be strict and tell me that a tseung fun is typically made from rice flour and water and has a translucent appearance, cooked with some barbecued pork, dried shrimp, fish mince or spring onion with a blanket of dark soy sauce on top.

You got that savoury version, or the sweet version with sesame sauce, sweet sauce and light soy sauce or spicy sauce – sprinkled with some sesame seeds.

Apart from the pizza, I thought this would be appealing enough for weighing them up on the balance. It is a very different type of recipe, except you do not add the yeast to make the dough inflate. The Italian version is typically with a pasta base, with your traditional egg, flour, salt and olive oil combination, Thin it out with your rolling pin or pasta machine, square them up and you got a home-made sheet of lasagna layer! Top it all off with your favourite Bolognaise sauce with your cream sauce and cheese if you are really feeling it.

All in all, many comparable dishes that you can find amongst the Chinese and Italian cuisines. There are many debatable origins of where each type of staple – whether it were noodles, spaghetti, dumplings or raviolis – there are always colliding evidence that go vis-à-vis. It must be noted that the art of noodle and dumpling making are both ancient in China, where as a very traditional rumour, Marco Polo was the accredited explorer to have discovered the Chinese versions of the pasta. This inspired him to bring back the many experiences to the Venetian and Italian regions. However, the Arabs did introduce some boiling of noodles in Sicily in the early 12th century as well. So who to believe? And then, you have newer creations you find readily in countless yum tsa restaurants, that seem not to have a particular origin – in the Chinese spring onion pizza and lasagna. It is an open door that needs to be entered so that we can discover more, and hopefully many scholars and food historians can collaborate to analyse the jigsaw puzzles together. Right, that is it from me on this article. Until next time! 🙂



[2] Polo, M. and Murray, H., The Travels of Marco Polo, (Harvard College Library and Oliver & Boyd., Harvard and Edinburgh, 1845), pages 5-8





How do we determine our ethnicity?

[1] The family tree – one of the most common ways to track our ancestors. But what else can we use to do so?


For many people around the world, who are mixed, a few generations down the immigration line, or from relatively new countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United States or whatnot, little do we know about our real family roots. A lot of people might say I am half this, two quarters that, an eighth there…but can genealogy be that simple with fractions and percentages? Problems of cultural identity aside, can we use more concrete methods to determine our ethnicity? I have figured out three main ways in which we can carry out our family research: family tree, DNA, other genealogy methods and the bigger picture. This is the type of direction I am willing to take in this article, and I hope you enjoy your read once again. I want to point out that I am no genealogy specialist – and only wrote this article because I found it intriguing enough to potentially find out more about my family, so if I am wrong in cases, comments for improvement are most welcomed below. 

1) Family tree 

One of the simplest ways to devise your roots is through a family tree. I felt that the British royal family – one of the longest surviving monarchies to have roots attributed to the Normans, Anglo-Saxon, Scottish, Hanoverian and English especially encapsulating. Unfortunately, I was highly disappointed when I encountered the problem through my own research, noting that most of the sites publicise themselves to be fully viable to allow us to find our ancestries and nothing further. We would need to pay tribute to expert archivists for that job, I suppose. Furthermore, with so many people on the tree and their names and surviving years, we do not take into the full account of one’s nationalities – therefore limiting our accuracy in discovering critical and interesting points. 

2) DNA 

Consequently, this drives me towards my next point – perhaps a more precise way to determine our ethnicity is by using scientific methods found in DNA testing. In a research conducted by the University of Arizona, there has been an African-American called Albert Perry from South Carolina who has chromosomes dating back to around 300,000 years ago. [2] It must be considered that if two Y chromosomes have the same mutation, this significantly means they both have a common ancestor at same point in history. Furthermore, if there are more mutations of these chromosomes, this is key, because this means there are even more ancestors dating further back in time. [2] 


3) Other genealogy methods 

There are four main other genealogy ways to find our heritage: 1) Y-DNA, 2) mitochondrial DNA (abbreviated as mtDNA), 3) ethnic tests and 4) biogeographical tests. These are expensive procedures and we should be meticulous about which process to choose from – as there can easily be inaccuracies. [3] You could extract blood, or extract moisture from your mouth or a piece of hair – like they do in CSI. 

Both the Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA ways provide choices for us interested in our family background or those who are family historians. On the one hand, Y-chromosomes helps us find combination to match with other male relatives – our father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great great grand-father and so on. [3] Conversely, this is mtDNA, that we can use for male and female descendants – but we can only trace the roots to the females before us – so our mother, grandmother, great-grandmather and so forth. We must be careful because according to the book, The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes, there are one out of a seven of the world population that our female ancestors date back 10,000 to 45,000. [3] Weird stuff, huh? (More detailed information on the third link in the references section below). 

There are less complicated ways to determine one’s ethnicity – ethnic tests and biogeographical tests. Ethnic tests do tend to help us undertsand our ethnicity, in some shape or form – but should not over-rely on this, as it has been discovered Africa being the centre of 70 to 75 per cent of people’s early origins. [3] Another way is biogeographical tests, which categorises your background to four main parts: European, African, Asian and Native American. The problem with this again, is that there are no absolute truths because it goes so far back in history that it becomes somewhat unreliable. However, this type of technology is fast developing, and we can hopefully one day find out more for those who are half European with a EuroDNA test. [3] Fingers crossed. 

4) What is the bigger picture?

I have to admit, biology has never really been my strong point. I thought I would take some time to improve my understanding behind DNA and chromosomes. Sorry to those of you who are biological or genetics specialists already, but it is always nice to learn something better or new, right? Admittedly, some parts are pretty standard secondary school stuff. 

Anyway, back to the whole idea dealing with chromosomes and DNA. DNA, otherwise known with its scientific name, deoxyribonucleic acid. [4] There are four main chemicals in DNA: A, T, C and G. There are 23 pairs of chromosomes – 1 of which is female, that is why when men age – there hormones alter and become more and more feminine and vice versa with females. The rest of the chromosomes determine whether the baby is a male or female. Moreover, a mutation is basically the alteration of chromosomes, through the changing switching, dropping or repeated DNA combinations. [4] 

In conclusion, we have four fundamental ways to trace our ethnicity roots – whether they are fully reliable with their expensive price-tag is another thing entirely. Apart from the overall genealogical aspect, we have got to put our history hats on and question every truth we can given. The simplest way is the family tree, where you could draw your most recent relatives on it. However, this is limited because we only know so much on the paper with names and dates, rather than nationality of our ancestors. Indeed, you can have your respective Y-DNA and mtDNA tests in full swing, and it is advisable to be weary of the level of resolution in tests (medium seems appropriate according to the third site), so that we avoid too many anomalies and limitations to the relative truths given – as you saw with the ethnic and biogeographical tests. Hopefully, in the future, we can successfully trace ourselves to be a certain nationality and discover things we did not originally know. Cheers for reading and I will be back soon! 🙂 






Food profile: The Spice World – Cinnamon

[1] Cinnamon – a very special and versatile spice in many savoury and sweet foods. 

Hello there, it’s time for a Food Profile, once again. I have tried to mix it up with as much of the topics as possible to keep you interested – I sincerely hope it pays off. In this edition, I am writing about an integral ingredient that has been used throughout the span of Asia. This is one of the many articles I hope to be under the series, The Spice World – as I do enjoy to categorise things to accentuate and make things clearer. Like always, I will use the main ideas of origin, nutritional facts and recipes to analyse the cinnamon bark. I hope you have a worthwhile read here – if there are areas of improvement, do suggest them in the comments below.

Like the salt, the cinnamon bark was once a highly prized commodity, particularly in Ceylon or modern day Sri Lanka, widely contested over by the Dutch and Portuguese colonists on the island. [2] It was first recorded by the Chinese in 2800 B.C., and its name evolved, interestingly enough, in different languages – in Arabic, amomon, meaning fragrant spice plant and in Italian and French, canella or canelle, meaing the little tube. However, in 1833, the cinnamon cultivation was starting to deteriorate drastically, whilst many new industries found in Indonesia, Mauritius, Réunion, Guyana and other tropical lands, found in the South American or Caribbean areas, expanded to fill this void. [2]

Nutritional Facts
There has been a lot of research and debate by many universities and dieticians about what is the ideal amount of cinnamon to take daily – but it is still not a cracked nut. There is a type of cinnamon, called the cassia cinnamon, which is used to reduce and regulate blood sugar levels, acts as an inflammatory and antioxidant ingredient and can fight against bacteria. [3, 4] It has been discovered, however, that there is a specific component that cinnamon contains –insulin. This is believed to have metabolic effects, reducing chances of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. [4]

Despite the fact that it is argued cinnamon does help with metabolic attributes, it does not mean to take it excessively. This is because, according to American dietician, Dr. Richard Anderson, consuming high amounts of cinnamon, can affect the salivary glands particularly the main enzyme polyphenol, and prevent the body from maximising results after protein intake. Like many ingredients, it is to be taken in relatively lower amounts, that way it is beneficial to the consumer. [4]

Below, I have provided a few of my favourite recipes that incorporates cinnamon as a primary ingredient to enhance the taste:

1) Apple tart/Fruit tart/Apple crumble 
Perhaps one of my favourite desserts apart from the chocolate or fruit cake. In my opinion, this serves as an alternative to the apple crumble – whether you are feeling adventurous or more comfort food during the day. It’s your choice – I have left the pastry or crumble up to you to decide. If you like to be adventurous, try out a crème anglaise or custard and place your favourite berries or apricots on top, sprinkling with some ice sugar for extra goodness.

1.1) Pastry – preferably puff pastry, but can make yourself (which is more crumbly in texture, rather than crispy)

For 4 people: 

  • 200g plain flour 
  • Pinch of salt 
  • 110g unsalted butter 
  • 2-3 tablespoons of very cold water [5] 

Part of the topping 
1 apple for each person – so 4 apples – it is more workable number 
Half a lemon
A few sprinkles of cinnamon
2 teaspoons of castor or cane sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 1 small packet of vanilla sugar
(If you are really feeling it, serve with a scoop of coconut or vanilla ice cream and garnish with powdered pistachio nuts)  

In a saucepan, heat up the apples. When it heats up add the other ingredients, until the apples have browned and deformed. If you are making an apple tart, use a blender and blitz until soft. Scoop and add this paste on top of the pastry, giving some decoration from bits of left over pastry, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.

1) Preheat oven at 190 degrees Celsius.
2) Make the pastry – your choice whether it is already made or self-made. Once you have gotten to the point where all the ingredients have mixed, formed into a ball, put it in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes so that it sets properly. I remember when I first tried to make this and forgot to put it in the fridge – the pastry crumbled easily in my fingers and had to restart the procedure.
3) Blind bake in oven for 15-20 until it starts to take some form and colour. Remember not to cook it for too long as you will be it cooking later again.

1.2) Crumble 
This is similar to the tart – except instead of making a base and puréeing the apples – you must make a cooked diced pieces of apples and a breadcrumb effect with the pastry.

For 6 people:

  • 6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 200g plain flour
  • 120g butter
  • 1 clove or cinnamon stick [6] 
  • Vanilla extract 
  • Dash of brandy or lemon juice 

Preheat oven at 150 degres Celsius. In a saucepan, slowly cook some washed, diced apples with sugar and cinnamon. If you have a sweet tooth, add some vanilla extract – otherwise, add some alcohol or lemon juice to subside the over-sweet flavour. Do not purée the apples like above. Once cooked, add in a large baking bowl and put to one side.

As for the pastry breadcrumbs, mix your sugar, flour and butter in a bowl until you get the right consistency. Sprinkle over the apples and put into oven for around 30 minutes – until golden brown and crispy crust on top. Serve with clotted cream or with your favourite ice cream. Enjoy!

2) Milkshake 
This is a really flexible recipe – grab any fruit you like and a blender. This could be traditional bananas, berries or apples. In it, I do suggest either milk or yoghurt, and to finish it off a bit of cinnamon. Very similar to many cinnamon lattes or chais you find in cafés. Personal fave for a pre-workout or post-workout refuel drink.

Effectively, the cinnamon is a useful ingredient that you can use in many sweet and savoury (despite the fact that I have not provided recipes for that). It was a highly sought-after ingredient that caused much respect as a currency, and struggle for colonial powers – particularly the Portuguese and Dutch administrations. Moreover it is continued to be relished as a medicine and as an inflammatory, metabolism-boosting spice thanks to its insulin-filled bark. I hope my apple tart/fruit tart/apple crumble and milkshake have provided some inspiration for future references as recipes, used by you, the reader. All the best from me, and take care. Till next time! 🙂


How did Italian explorers help in the American exploration and colonisation effort?


[1] What if the red of England and Spain, plus the blue of France became the one dominant Italian-controlled area?

Hello there and welcome back, as always. Let’s dive straight into the article. I have always loved knowing about the world maps and many of the colonial powers. Whenever we think of the colonisation process, we have buzzwords, countries and navigators being the pioneers of discovering and colonising a certain country. Oftentimes, by doing so, we simply scratch the surface in understanding the bigger picture, where certainly the grandiose of the British and French Empires have overshadowed the originally potent Spanish and Portuguese ones. Consequently, we lack know-how of the importance of the Italian explorers in their role helping American colonisation, as they took an almost peripheral role, tirelessly searching for a viable administration to subsidise their project abroad. Thus, I wanted to use this article as a tribute and opportunity to commend the three main Italian explorers: Christopher Columbus, Giovanni di Verrazzano and Giovanni Caboto, and their roles in helping the exploration and colonisation process. In this article, I hope to discuss the situation of the Italian papal states, the backgrounds and legacies of the explorers themselves, and the sphere of influence they each had on colonising these geopolitical areas. As always, I would appreciate any constructive criticism for improvement.



Europe always had a huge fetish with maps and cartography. Martin Behaim, known for trying to put the duty of attempting to draw one of the first European versions of the entire globe, was already a milestone. Native of the German city of Nuremburg, other important European cities or countries like Florence, Venice, Genoa, Portugal, Spain domesticated the true pioneers of the Age of Discovery. Continents were drawn disproportional to their actual sizes until the expert cartographers many centuries later, until all geographical regions were discovered and navigated properly. Thus, the necessity for explorers to discover the world around them and try to solve this long-lasting puzzle.



Up until the Italian unification in 1863, Italy was comprised of papal and city states, each having its own mark in terms of history, culture and trade. At this time, Europe was still dominated by modes of Christianity and the far-fetched aspiration to traverse the world and reach the riches of China, the most cultured and powerful country during that period. With religion, the Europeans spread ideas of white superiority, using imperialism or brutal force to convert natives to their own European values and customs. Behind all this, was an expensive fetish and competition backed by the Catholic and Protestant Kings and Queens, in order to defy the laws and arts of navigation, cartography and astrology.

Situation of the Italian papal states


[2] Before: How Italy would have looked like before the unification.


[3] After: The Italian state during its first stages of unification. 

1) Genoa

Throughout the 15th century, Genoa struggled under the control by Milan, under Filipo Maria Visconti. As Genoa wanted more autonomy, it turned to France’s King Charles VII as the new lieutenant. With this in place, Genoa was an influential power in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, controlling parts of Cyprus and Constantinople. Moreover, they had high dexterity in trading and banking, opening the Bank of Saint George as early as 1407, expanding it to the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. [4]


2) Florence

When you hear Florence, you instantly think of the buzzwords, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. As aforementioned, Italy was still consisting of city-states, whereby each would try to assert more control over another in its riches. In Florence, there were two main family dynasties a bit like in Romeo and Juliet – Neri and Bianchi, much like the Montague’s and Capulet’s. They both competed for ascendancy within the highest Italian nobility, where the Neri’s were supported and protected by the French King Charles of Valois. [5]


Florence at this time, was also known to be a republic – one that promoted the ideas of liberalism as a city-state. It advanced exponentially in culture, arts and sciences, drawing many inspiration from other European countries. Thanks to the grace of many architects like Brunelleschi, Lippi and Michelozzo, Florence showcased its buildings to many spectators, in awe of its humanist styles – a movement that embraced Greco-Roman appreciation of literature, arts and civilisation [5, 6].


3) Venice 

When you travel to Venice, you instantly think of the Piazza San Marco and the extravagant masks. These were the remnants of the once great Venetian city-state that glowed in Gothic architecture and paintings expertise, especially under the genius of Palladio. [7]


The scramble for prestige within the Mediterranean Sea was none different in the Venetian’s agenda. They contested to be a maritime superpower, seizing the critical ports of Corfu and Crete in 1204. In 1380, Venice was victorious against the Genoese, becoming the dominant force in the European and North African pond. [7] Being an expansionist power externally, Venice began to conquer more land internally throughout the 15th century – particularly in the Italian mainland, namely those near the Alps to the Adriatic northern tip close to Milan. However, with the huge success in the Mediterranean, it was to come to a reluctant standstill, as there were other priorities that pegged the way for explorations in America and India.


Italian explorers and their discoveries 

1) Cristoforo Colombo – working under the Portuguese and Spanish crowns 

[8] Columbus’ route around the Carribean and South American region. 

Cristoforo Colombo or the more widely-used name of Christopher Columbus, who was an explorer with contested identity – but with records, it has been proven that he originates from Genoa, born in 1451. By the way, if you like your documentaries and can understand French, I highly recommend Secrets d’Histoire – a well-made programme, despite a few sophisticated eloquence here and there.


At first, Columbus worked for the Portuguese crown, travelling to the Canary Islands. During this time, the explorers were in an obsession in discovering the Asian continent, each with their supposed distance from Europe to Asia. Nevertheless, it was a dear demand to navigate half the world, and Columbus was refused with his proposals by the Portuguese crown and Venetian city-states. Luckily, with Columbus’ persuasion of discovering key resources like silver and gold, together with discovering India and China, this was too much of an attractive deal for both Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon to turn down.


Despite a nearly fatal encounter in 1476 being attacked by French privateers near Portugal, Columbus was able to swim to shore to Lisbon. There, he settled and eventually wedded Felipa Perestrello, having one heir – Diego in circa 1480. Unfortunately, Felipa soon passed away, and Columbus immigrated to Spain and had another son called Fernando with Beatriz Enriquez de Arana in circa 1488. [9] Under the Spanish crown, Columbus set off on the Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina, stumbling upon Hispaniola (modern day Dominican Republic and Haiti), persuading himself that he had found the outer islands of China.


As Columbus was tried guilty of the false claims of finding riches, the Spanish authority arrested Columbus, forcing his return back to his adopted land and removed him of his role. Indeed, even after convincing King Ferdinand for another voyage in 1502, Columbus’ mission to find gold and to properly colonise the native islands in Cuba was halted with alleged unfair conduct and treatment. [9] Columbus’ legacy was a mixed one. On the one hand, he was believed to bring destruction and a wasted an opportunity to find the route to India and China. However, he did bring about what was known as the Columbian Exchange, allowing the Old World to become more sensitive to a different type of people, flora and fauna, diseases, culture and foods like potatoes and tomatoes all originating from the New World he set foot in. [9]


2) Giovanni di Verrazzano – French crown

[10] Verrazzano’s route around the New World. 

Whenever we think of the colonisation of Canada, we always think of Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain and Pierre du Gua. Again, Verrazzano’s birthdate and place were contested, but he did consider himself a Florentine and born in 1485, rather than a Frenchman as many modern French scholars have observed. [10] After being subsidised by the French King Francis I to discover a route to China and to open trade for the nation, Verrazzano successfully explored around the Northern Hemisphere, despite interference from the powerful Portuguese and Spanish fleets who controlled the area. In his ship La Dauphine, Verrazzano travelled around what is now Maine, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, naming this region Nova Gallia or Nouvelle France. With this successful voyages, this Florentine explorer was able to provide the basis for future inspirations and investment from the French merchants and nobles. [10]


3) Giovanni Caboto – under the English crown 

[11] Best picture I could find of Caboto’s route around the Newfoundland area. 

The English were lagging behind the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch navigators in terms of colonisation and exploration – especially as they were more privateers and pirates. It was not until there was a real incentive to leave and immigrate the British Isles, in search of better lands did Britain overtake and become the indisputable maritime and colonial power of the world.


Whenever you think of English navigation, you would sometimes think of Walter Raleigh and John Smith, with their respective ideas of settlement. However, with an Anglicised name of John Cabot, yet again, this Italian explorer has been left almost anonymous – leaving scrutiny and argument over his real identity. I hope you begin to understand why I dedicated this article to these three explorers, few of the many navigators and merchants from the Italian city-states. Born in circa 1455 in Naples or Genoa, Caboto was a son of a merchant. Eventually, in 1482, Caboto married Mattea in Venice, together with which he had three sons: Ludovico, Sebastiano and Sancio. Having been refused permission to navigator to the Atlantic to find another route to China, Caboto turned to England in circa 1495, with support of many Italian bankers. In Bristol, this Italian merchant was able to settle with his family and be in the service of the English King, Henry VII. He believed if he could discover Asia with he explored west across the North Atlantic – with mixed success, leaving many historians to contemplate whether he or indeed the Bristol navy to have discovered Caboto’s credited lands of exploration found in Newfoundland and Labrador. With such a low profile, this will remain as a huge challenge to know the exact truth – here is a token of hope that we do discover something!


To sum up, many Italian explorers have had their roles in the American exploration and colonisation – the three I have chosen: Columbus, Verrazzano and Caboto are simply the more dominant ones I found interesting for discussion. During the 15th to 16th century, there was a huge obsession across Europe to find the most efficient route to China with its riches, together with the fetish to complete the world map. This was a lengthy process, which needed the full backing of the crown in trusting the navigation process proposed by these navigators. More importantly, it must be noted that with so many city-states and competition between them, this had evidently prevented unity for a concrete Italian empire together, instead only adopting and helping other European powers, and their eventual quest to reminisce the  Roman expansionist glory days not later than 1936 to 1945 under Mussolini’s influence. I, as a passionate history student and researcher, do hope that you have read and understood the roles each of these explorers has made – and a bit of my passion as well in the map, colonial powers and the colonisation process itself. That would be greatly appreciated on my part! But anyway, bye for now! 🙂