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! 🙂



















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





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! 🙂


Food profile: the chili pepper

[1] Remember. The smaller the chili is, the hotter it is! 

Hello there! Hoo hoo! Hot, hot, hot! Get me some water! Yes, as the title evidently suggested, I am doing a similar task as before, and I am continuing with another food profile – the chili pepper itself. I will analyse the origin, nutritional properties and history of the ingredient. Then, I will incorporate a few recipes to finish off the article. Again, if there are any commentaries you like to add below, please do so. Good reading to you!

The chili pepper originated from Central and South America, and was introduced to South Asia by Portuguese and Spanish traders, together with Arab merchants during the early 16th century. Interestingly, India is now the largest producer of this! There are many different types of the chili pepper or the Capsicum family, ranging from sweet all the way to spicy. Nothing too new there. In fact, it has been noted that Mexico and Northern Central America is the birthplace of the Capsicum annum (ranging from bell peppers to hot chili peppers), whilst South America was that of the Capsicum frutescens (this is more of the spicier type)[2] However, it must be noted that there are many families that pop up depending on the geographical region you are using the chili pepper itself. For example, in India, 

Also, chilis are measured in Scoville heat units (SHU). For example, a normal bell pepper that you put in your salads are 0; a jalapeno one is 2,000 to 4,500 SHU units; and finally, the Mexican habaneros consists of 200,000 to 500,000 SHU units! [3] Here comes the toilet break any time soon…

Nutritional information 

Chili peppers have a substance called capsaicin, giving it that distinctively spicy flavour. By consuming it, capsaicin is known to be an anti-bacterial, anti-diabetic and cholesterol-reducing agent. Moreover, with a high level of minerals found in chilies – potassium and iron, for example, this can help regulate heart rate and blood pressure. [3] 

It also contains Vitamins A and C – both antioxidants which help the body in different ways. On the one hand, Vitamin A helps the body to prevent getting serious effects that can be a side-effect from stress. Conversely, Vitamin C contains collagen, helping the body structure to regulate better flow of blood throughout the body, giving it immunity to diseases and protection against scruvy (teeth problems). [3] 


1) Grilled Shrimp 

A very simple marinade that you can make beforehand. All you need is a grill and a brush with oil (remember, that that is a top secret to keep the shrimp meat nice and juicy inside). Again, I offer an Asian marinade that is versatile to many different seafood or meats. This can be served as a starter, on a barbecue day with some green salad dress with a simple vinaigrette. You could go creative and even make your own Thai red curry shrimp rice, topped with a fried egg and spring onion. Class. 


  • 3 tablespoons of light soy sauce 
  • 1 tablespoon of fish sauce 
  • 1 chili pepper 
  • 1 teaspoon of caster sugar 
  • 1 spring onion 
  • 2 cloves of garlic 
  • 1 small part of ginger 
  • Ideally for 3-5 prawns each (so that all the flavour can be properly macerated) 


2) Chili Con Carne

Another simple recipe that is house-pleaser and body-warmer during those cold winter nights. You could even have it during the summer days if you are really in the mood! 


  • Half an onion 
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 400g of minced beef
  • 400g of tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of tomato purée 
  • 2 tablespoons of ketchup (if you like it sweeter rather than spicy) 
  • 2 teaspoons of chili sauce (again to your preference)
  • 1 can of kidney beans 
  • Salt and pepper (to taste) 
  • (If you are really feeling it, you can top it off with some grated mature Cheddar cheese) 
  • 75g-100g of Basmati/Thai rice for one person (use this as a measure for the number of people you are cooking for)  

Effectively, the chili pepper is a versatile and healthy ingredient that can be used in many Oriental and Meso-American dishes. This originates from the Iberian and Arab traders that brought the much-coveted spice to the shores of South Asia. Now, the chili pepper is incorporated in many different types of dishes, varying in levels of spiciness. Moreover, you get critical nutritional content, like Vitamin C and potassium, which are critical for regulating blood circulation and immunity to diseases. I once remember watching a television programme on Discovery channel, about curry making and the Indian chef would explain that spice brings colour and soul to the person eating it. With different colours that you can use with your ingredients, it is truly a delight to view and consume. Do try out my recipes or this could always be an inspiration for you to think about different types of dishes that incorporate the chili pepper itself – be it Vietnamese, Cantonese, Thai, Malaysian or Indian. Hope you liked your read again, till next time! 





Food profile: the ginger

[1] One very important ingredient in many South East Asian cuisines. 


Welcome back again, o’reader. I am digressing from the purely history, politics and international relations related articles to a more readable topic. I am returning to the food profile and this time analysing the origin, properties, history of the spice itself and a few recipes to finish it off. As usual, if you think there is something that can be improved, then feel free to comment below. Otherwise, I hope you have an enjoyable time on my blog once again!


The ginger, a bizarre-looking spice looking rather like a clustered bunch of insects. Admittedly, it is not the most appetising ingredient ever, but what you can do with it might convert you! It is believed that the ginger was first recorded by the Indians as Sanshrit, which translates as “horn root”, effectively describing its shape and form. [2] This was a very common spice in tropical Asia, used initially by the Indians during the 4th century A.D onwards in meat dishes, drinks and pastes. Through trade by Arab merchants, the spice was extensively brought to Asia and Africa during the 13th and  14th century. [3] Similarly, Marco Polo, through his travels eastwards in Asia and particularly in China, brought ginger back to Europe, a once vanished delicacy from the fall of the Roman Empire. [2]


As mentioned above, the ginger is a herb, spice and medicine. It can be a remedy to boundless diseases or minor problems like: stomach and bowel problems, diarrhoea, nausea, coughing, reduces chances of diabetes and osteoporosis, improves health in case of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. [4, 5] This is because one of the main essential oils, gingerols, is effective with its anti-inflammatory, pain-killing and anti-bacterial properties in the intestines. Moreover, it has a chemical compound called zingerone, useful as anti-bacterial element against E. coli found primarily in diarrhoea. [6]


Whether it is Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Malaysian or Indian, the ginger is the rock star of the show. Below is a traditional Thai green and red curry paste you can easily make. You could add any meat you like to it – be it pork, chicken, beef or fish. If you prefer it as a vegetarian dish, why not try bell peppers, potatoes, spring onion or carrots? Apart from this very orthodox stance, I have also provided some new ideas to cure your sore throat or as a simple Chinese dessert.


Green/Red Thai curry paste 

1 stalk of lemon-grass

1 small piece of ginger

3 tablespoons of fish sauce

2-3 green/red chili (depending on your spicy level tolerance)

1/4 of lime juice

1 teaspoon of brown sugar

2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup of coriander

(+2 tablespoons of tomato purée – if you decide to make your red Thai curry paste)


[7, 8]


Medicine/Simple Chinese dessert/dish

Traditionally speaking in Chinese cuisine, like the garlic clove as I wrote before, you can boil a small portion of chopped ginger with some rock sugar until the sugar has dissolved. This is a herbal drink to clear your coughing and throat problems. Very simple and cheap – I highly recommend it!


With this in mind, you can expand this syrup with boiling some tong yuen or glutinous rice balls (usually filled with sweet peanut, red bean or black sesame stuffings)!


If you prefer savoury foods, you could always use ginger apart from your onions and garlic in your first stages of stir-frying or even for marinating your meats or fish, whichever you prefer! Here is an example:


Meat marinade

2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce

2 tablespoons of light soy sauce

Small portion of ginger

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon of caster sugar

1 teaspoon of corn flour or starch

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Chili flakes (if you like it spicy!) 


How to choose a ginger 

In order to choose the best piece of ginger, try to search for a shiny and earthy looking ginger, with a good smell. However, if you find it to be too wrinkled or dry, that is a no-go!


In conclusion, the ginger is a very Asian ingredient that is used widely in curry pastes and simple meat or vegetable dishes, across the continent since the ancient times in India. Through trade, this ingredient expanded to across the world, making it a popular yet a delicacy for savoury and sweet dishes. Moreover, apart from this, it is advantageous of consuming ginger, as it consists of critical essential oils or chemicals like gingerol and zignerone, its cleansing, anti-bacterial and pain-killing properties, it is a flexible ingredient that can be used many Asian or European recipes. Right, that is it from me this time round – I hope you enjoyed your read and see you next time! 🙂 Be sure to comment below if you think it can be improved.










How has historical factors affected food in France, Italy and Britain?

[1] The variety of foods throughout our history – why has it turned out this particular way? 

I have always been passionate about cooking as well as history. Those who know me well, recognise the fact that I was sitting on the fence when I was thinking about what to do with my main two passions in life. From the blogs you have previously read, they have been individual articles regarding history or food (the food profiles), but this time round, through deep inspiration from family and friends, I have decided to marry the two components together. The accolade should really go to them here, with many brainstorming ideas that really helped! Anyway, I will use historical factors that have affected these European countries including France, Italy and Britain, specifically because I am partly Franco-Italian, and partly because I was always intrigued to discover the history behind the food itself in all of these places.


French cuisine 


[2] An exmaple of the type of food you might find at a top-end French restaurant. 

When you enter in a typical French restaurant around the world, you see pieces of nicely sliced poultry, roasted vegetables, all neatly presented and a generously drizzled sauce to enhance the flavours. This was down to an evolution of processes and influences. This all started with the legacy of Catherine de Medici during the 15th to 16th century, who introduced many of her native Italian and Renaissance traditions to France. [3] Despite the chaos found during the period of the Wars of Religion, where Catherine was juggling between the powerful forces of the Catholic House of Guise, the French Huguenots and the weary eyes of other European countries, by introducing highly-skilled Italian chefs in France, this significantly improved the level of food and ingredients, into a more elegant affair [3, 4].


Furthermore, the Ancien Régime saw many skilled craftsmen plying their trade in what was known as haute cuisine, where there were guilds mainly around the city of Paris [5]. This was significant, as this allowed different entreprises to, on the one hand, sell crops or raw materials and the other, to sell ready made meals, almost like a modern catering business we have right now with many top restaurants. Moreover, the chefs would have to follow particular traditional methods of cooking aimed at pleasing the King himself – of which, three virtuous chefs have revolutionised the style and ideals of French cooking; de la Varenne, Carême and Escoffier.


One of the chefs to change French cookery was Francois-Pierre de la Varenne. During the 1600s, he introduced his philosophy of santé, modération et raffinement or health, moderation and refinement [6].  This was significant, as it was believed de la Varenne changed the way of presentation and simple use of ingredients. He was also perceived to have invented the béchamel sauce and some type of papillote [6]. A béchamel sauce is essentially a savoury roux sauce that can be used for vegetables or meat dishes. Equally, a papillote is a way cook an ingredient, say fish or vegetables, wrapping it up in a piece of paper. This is primarily aimed to preserve its flavours by slow cooking.


The next most important French chef was Marie-Antoine Carême. Having been living under the chaos of the French Revolution, Carême preferred to use his nickname “Antonin” – probably because of his first name sounding a lot like the Austrian queen, Marie-Antoinette [7].  He tried to modernise the mode of cooking, by introducing many reforms like white uniforms and tall chef hats. This was important, as this promoted cleanliness and professionalism [7].


Finally, the most significant French chef to grace its gastronomy has been Auguste Escoffier. Like Carême, Escoffier worked in many countries throughout various wars namely the Napoleonic Wars, through countries of the Congress of Vienna and the Franco-Prussian War in this case [8]. Escoffier is remembered as the main pioneer to revolutionise the usage of the menu itself, the mode of cooking and organisation within the kitchen and the restaurant themselves. This was significant, as using faster service or service à la Russe and à la Carte menu, this brought more efficiency and authenticity within the restaurant and kitchen together [8]. Instead of using overly extravagant garnishes, Escoffier tried to simplify the amount of things occurring on a plate of food. By doing so, he tried to promote the idea of seasonal ingredients and the use of lighter sauces to further satisfy his customers. More importantly, Escoffier introduced separate and individual stations within the kitchen, for example, starters, mains and desserts, essentially to further increase the efficiency of the service even more [8].


Italian cuisine 


[9] The traditional ingredients that are found in many rustic Italian dishes. 

We then move onto France’s south-eastern neighbour, Italy. Until Italy’s unification in 1861, Italy was always separated into many provinces or city-states – due to political, commercial or religious reasons. However, the type of food still remains different by regional Italian food since the ancient Roman times. I remember once watching Jamie Oliver’s show on the television, and he would make gnocchi with these grandmothers in the middle of the streets. One thing that striked me and the host himself, was the fact that every street all had an individual sauce to prepare their own pasta, rather than a common one representing the region as a whole. Bolognese over here, with cream and mushrooms over there, with anchovies and capers down there…a true mosaic. Perhaps that is the true beauty of the cuisine itself, a lot of chefs and cooking shows always reiterate the fact that a dish must be cooked with fresh ingredients. Bring out the flavour. Make it with passion. I can almost hear Gennaro Contaldo (part of the Two Greedy Italians and Jamie Oliver series) say it time and time again.

The regional differences in every dish can be brought out in…well, the regions itself. Take for example, three fundamental Italian regions that is almost always on the menu. Bolognese, Napolitana and Firenze. Bologna has always used more meats in their dishes; Napolitana uses anchovies, garlic, chilis and capers more readily as it is more southern and influenced; Florence has always used tomato, basil and maybe even cream or chicken stock as key components to many staples found in pasta or pizza. But why do Italians eat pizza, tortellini, pasta, bread based foods? Who is it influenced from? 

Many history books have analysed the importance of the great Marco Polo, who travelled the distance to China and brought back many replicas of the technology and foods he had found. I was brought up to understand that the navigator had copied the Chinese version of dumplings, rice noodles and pizza and brought it back to his homeland. However, recently and interestingly enough, many different archaeologists have argued amongst them about the feasibility of this myth of the great Venetian traveller, where some even stated that there was a huge possibility that Polo had compiled many false stories and facts of the East in his work, “A Description of the World” and “The Travels of Marco Polo”. 

Whatever the truth, there can be no denying of the importance of the trade and commerce that the Venetians and Genoese merchants had brought back to the Italian cuisine. During the 11th to 15th century, both of the regions had the benefit to be bordering the sea, with many trade routes connecting to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic itself. This was significant, as this meant that many key ingredients such as wheat for Italian staples, wine, salt for food preservation and flavouring, and most of all, the use of chili, that we associate with some parts of Italy like Sicily and Sardinia [10, 11]. For example, the Spaghetti Siciliano has olives, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and red pepper flakes – a true summery feel to it, that resonates its rich past under Venetian and Genoese rule. 


British cuisine 


[12] Arbroath smokies – a way of preparation passed down since the Vikings times.  It doesn’t always have to be about fish and chips! 

You may wonder why I have decided to explore British cuisine, but after all, this is the marriage of food and history. Britain, as we know it today, is England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland [13]. The Romans, German tribal unit or Saxons, the Vikings, the Danes and the Normans have all set their footprint one way or another. What must be said is the different types of foods and processes that each type of people brought to the fore.


Apart from constructing important roads that connected major cities together, the Romans brought with them various ingredients to British cuisine. Major ingredients included cherries, cabbages and peas [13]. Instant ideas of fruit cakes or puddings, traditional cabbage and peas sides to a large pot of Lancashire stew sounds readily and typically English.


Then you have the Germanic tribe, the Saxons. Apart from being a conquering tribe, the Saxons brought many herbs to flavour and marinate stews [13].


The Vikings were a tough nomadic bunch, known for their travels to America in what is known as Newfoundland in Canada today, and infamous their brutal methods of burning houses when invading a country. However, they did bring two major cooking methods in smoking and drying fish and meats [13]. For example, the Arbroath smokie in Scotland is an example of the true flavour of the Vikings. Or the York Ham that is smoked with the sawdust of oak tree that you find so readily in Christmas [13].


The Normans, under William the Conqueror, did bring many modes of ‘Anglicisation’ in terms of social and political ways throughout the British Isles. Nevertheless, what we might not know is that the Normans encouraged the consumption of wine and many common meats such as mutton and beef, together with citrus fruits particularly oranges and lemons [13].


During Tudor times and through to the great success of the British Empire, many more ingredients began to flood in due to many commodities found in trade. There were ingredients from all over the world; spices from the Far East, sugar from the Caribbean, coffee and chocolate from South America, tea from India, potatoes from America [13]. This feat in empire-building can be best illustrated in one of the most famous British classics – the Christmas pudding. Originally, when the Christmas pudding was invented in the 14th century, it was based on the usage of beef and mutton with fruits, an almost Moorish type of dish. Despite the ban by the Puritans in 1595, the revival by King George I in 1714 made it quite similar to the ones consumed currently [14]. Certainly, there are many ingredients such as sugar, cinnamon, raisins and other dried fruits. This is significant, as this shows and celebrates the fruitfulness that the British Empire has brought in abundance.  

In conclusion, history, as we have seen, does certainly play a role within each country’s food. France has seen many Italian influences introduced by Catherine de Medici, the genius of de la Varrane, Carême and Escoffier, all play a massive role to shape the modern French fine dining that we find in many top Michelin-starred restaurants nowadays. Equally, with the commercial strength of the Genoese and Venetian trade merchants, together with the continuing importance of the different regions of Italy since the ancient Roman times, each part of the country is unique in preparing its famous staples and dishes. Finally, Britain has been more influenced by its rulers throughout history, each bringing their own brand of cooking and ingredients to the British palette. Moreover, the success of the British Empire has brought more vibrancy and exotic ingredients to modern British dishes as we have seen in the Christmas pudding. Thank you for reading, and as it is soon time for me to return home and maybe work, I will try my best to update my blog as much as possible in the near future. I hope to incorporate more of history and food articles in my blog, so if you did enjoy your read, do stay tuned and all the best! 🙂

















Food profile: The tomato

The tomato, a fundamental ingredient in the Mediterranean cuisine. [1]

Well, after doing a few international relations and history related posts, I thought I would revert back to a food one, and then eventually maybe a football or fencing one to spice things up. Anyway, the last time you read a food blog by me, it was about the potato, so it is only right that I do justice with a tomato one as well. I will be discussing about the origin and some dishes concerning the fruit…or vegetable (that particular myth to be explored as well), the advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified (GM) and organic tomatoes or products in general, some important nutritional facts and the occasional interesting facts here and there. All constructive criticism for improvement is always welcome, and I hope you enjoy this blog!

Firstly, let us understand the origin of the tomato itself. Called Lycopersicon esculentum in Latin and in the Solanaceae vegetable group (including the chili, potato and eggplant), the tomato is of Mayan, Aztec, Andean or ancient Peruvian and Chilean origins (depending on which source we, as the reader believe) and was a fundamental ingredient in the Mesoamerican cuisine, only to be introduced to Western Europe in the 18th century. (Fernandez-Armesto: 78) [2, 3] But more importantly, with the word origin in mind, I think by understanding whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable would be interesting, especially as it is an incredibly important ingredient that is used profoundly by many cultures, whether it is simply used in your salads or more!

“Is it a fruit or vegetable?”
I think to answer this particular question, it is very important that we first understand the definitions of ‘fruit’ and a ‘vegetable’, and then eventually onto the tomato itself. Firstly, a ‘fruit’, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means “the sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food”, whereas a ‘vegetable’ means “a plant or part of a plant used as food, such as a cabbage, potato, turnip, or bean”. [4, 5]

Again from the the Oxford Dictionary, the tomato is defined as “a glossy red, or occasionally yellow, pulpy edible fruit which is eaten as a vegetable or in salad. [6] Fair enough, a very controversial, two-sided definition here where the tomato can be considered as both a fruit and a vegetable. But why so? To botanists or plant specialists, to correctly identify a vegetable, it must have roots, tubers (a much thickened part of the stem deep inside the crop), stems and leaves, or in summary, a type of plant. [7] For example, potatoes, carrots and onions are all vegetables. Conversely, fruits should be identified when it has seeds, where commonly recognised vegetables are in fact fruits. For instance, cucumbers, squash and bell peppers. [7]

Why all the fuss? As a matter of fact, in 1883, tomatoes were brought from the West Indies and shipped to New York, under the rule of Hedden, the port administrator, who taxed the imported tomatoes as vegetables. [7] Farmers, however, protested and felt that tomatoes should not be taxed as vegetables, and be considered as fruits instead. As a result, the American Supreme Court brought this up as a law case, and eventually decided that tomatoes should be considered as fruits, whilst consumers should recognise the products as vegetables. [7]

The tomato in dishes 
Now, onto probably my favourite part of this article, where I can discuss about the importance and usage of the tomato itself. Similar to the soy sauce to the Chinese, the fish sauce to Indo-Chinese people (Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, Laotian), the curry sauce to Indians and Indo-Chinese, the teriyaki to the Japanese, the sauce hollandaise or roux blanc to the French, the gravy to the British, the tomato is fundamental in Mediterranean cuisines, particularly in Italy with your pizzas, pastas, ragouts, salads, soups…

You can use tomatoes in many different dishes, and below are proper examples:

Generally speaking, the tomato is very important in many parts of Italy to make pasta sauces, minestrone (vegetable soup) and pizza bases. Interestingly, the Pizza Maghuerita was invented in Naples, in order to celebrate a new Italian ruler sinceNapoleon III in 1878, with the tricolour of the Italian flag being represented proudly to the Queen of Savoy through the green of the basil leaves, the white of the Buffalo mozzarella cheese and the red of the tomato sauce. [3]

Unlike their Indo-Chinese cousins, the Indians, especially the northern ones, make tomato-based curries. They add a rainbow range of spices and herbs into the sauce paste and fried on a medium heat. Serve that with some Basmatic rice and you got yourself a real treat. Mmhmm. A basic Indian curry recipe here for more reference:

I once watched a travelling show on the television, and learnt that unlike the Turkish version, the Greeks use Feta cheese in making their glorious and light salads. A bit of tomato, onions, olives, cucumbers, Feta cheese, the traditional quadruple of the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, perhaps even a bit of lemon or lime juice, mix and voilà. Bon appétit, monsieur et madame.

International cuisines 
On the international scene, the tomato is generally used as a garnish or a side-dish. For example, the tomato in hamburgers or roasted tomatoes that accompany your roasted vegetables and meats.

GM and organic products – the tomato 
GM tomatoes 
In 1994, the Americans created a new GM crop called the FlavrSavr tomato. This type of tomato was significant, because it did prolong shelf-life, but it did, unfortunately, also delay the ripening, which ultimately became substantial to consumers’ standards. [8] At one point, tomato purée made from GM tomatoes was a success, but it was not fully approved internationally by the American and European Health Organisations. That being said, new researchers are attempting to find a proper answer to resistance of pests, and enhancing tomatoes with more health benefits in the near future. [8] This is an advantage and key, because many properties of tomatoes can be altered in such a way to improve the quality of the tomato itself, and we, as the consumer, can eat healthily as well.

Naturally cultivated/organic tomatoes 
Stephen Kaffka, introduced organic gardening at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the late 1960’s, of which he still continues to this date. Many organic tomatoes are said to have twice the amount of flavonoids (quercetin and kaempferol) than normal tomatoes. This is an advantage and important, because these two important antioxidants and substances, which are essential in giving the tomato its renown dark red colour. [9]

Another advantage, according to Kaffka, is that organic tomatoes absorb the nitrogennaturally from animal excrete, which is mainly broken down by the natural microbes or bacteria found in the soil and eventually released into the plants themselves. This is different to artificial genetically modified products, which get their nitrogen from fertilizers. [10]

Furthermore, as it is a natural process, the procedure takes a lot more time and is not cultivated as fast as GM crops. This is further emphasised by Alyson Mitchell, a food chemist at the University of California Davis, who explains that with limited amounts of nitrogen, the plants are slower to grow. However, it does have more time to trace its food source and make natural nutrients for itself, namely the flavonoids. [10]

The tomato itself has many types of nutrients and it is believed that it is more beneficial properties than an apple. In the tomato, there are various anti-oxidants, one of which is called lycopene. This is fundamental, because this helps cell structure prevent the body from oxygen-free radicals, reducing chances of skin cancer and sickness. Moreover, it can reduce sensitivity to ultra-violet (UV) rays which are harmful to the skin and its cells. [11]

Another nutrient found in a tomato is Vitamin C, which increases the resistance against radicals developing in body, and also makes the body more immune from bacteria. This is key, as this reduces the possibility of us being sick. Furthermore, the tomato has Vitamin A found in them, which is found primarily from the flavonoid antioxidants. This is very important, as it can prevent the body from lung or oral cancers, and maintain essential skin membranes and bone health. Finally, the tomato has potassium, which is mainly used to maintain cell and body fluids which help regulate the heart rate. [11]

In conclusion, the tomato is a very versatile and ancient ingredient, which can be used in many types of sauces across many types of cultures. As controversial as this may be, in my opinion, the tomato should be considered as a vegetable, because it has been recognised that way in our daily lives in your salads or sauces. I have never heard of someone asking “have you eaten your tomatoes today?”, as opposed to your traditional apples and oranges as your main fruits. I also believe that that cultivators and botanists should always try to make the tomato as organic as possible, in order to make us not eat artificial or unhealthy substances and achieving consumer satisfaction. Finally, the tomato boasts quite a long list of nutrients that are essential for regulating and maintaining key body functions, beneficial to our skin, heart and bone health.

That is a wrap from me, folks. I hope you enjoyed your read here!
Bye for now! 🙂

[2] Fernadez-Armesto, F., 2003, The Americas: The History of a Hemisphere, London, Phoenix

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