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The Science Behind the Perfect Blend

By Joseph Steele.

It’s time to crack open your books and pull up a chair. We’re going back to school to learn about the science of blending spices.

More than the simple act of sprinkling various powders into a mix, it is a complex process that requires a myriad of flavour compounds and their molecular interactions. The perfect spice blend can elevate the most ordinary of dishes and this seamless integration of science and sensibility is a foundational pillar of the culinary arts.

Who would have thought that the ready-to-go spice blends had so much forethought? Spices owe their intense flavours and alluring aromas to various chemical compounds - namely essential oils, phenolic compounds (responsible for the flavour, colour and antioxidant qualities) and terpenes (the controllers of the aromatic qualities). As these molecular compounds interact, they make up the character of the spice.

The Science Behind the Perfect Blend

Image credit: Gewürzhaus

Working on a molecular scale may not seem to have a huge impact, but the wrong combinations can have a disastrous effect. The pungency of black pepper comes from piperine, while the sweet notes of cinnamon are courtesy of cinnamaldehyde. Understanding these components and how they play with others, allows spice blenders to craft combinations that are balanced and resonate with depth and subtlety.

Sensory science has a vital role in blending. Applying analytical techniques like gas chromatography and mass spectrometry helps us understand how individual spices combine and are perceived on our palate. Studying these results while looking into the molecular interactions, helps us to predict the outcome of blends. More precision when blending, means a better result on the plate.

It hasn’t always been done this way. Spices are ancient and the blending has often been done through a sense of feel and a whisper of magic. Many of us have recollections of grandparents seemingly haphazardly tossing an assortment of spices into the meals they’re preparing, but there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.

The Science Behind the Perfect Blend

Deeply rooted in tradition, each culture has its hallmark blends, often born out of the spices available within their region and influenced by historical trade. Garam masala, a blend pivotal to North Indian cuisine, uses spices that were historically accessible in South Asia. Chinese five spice, which encapsulates the philosophy of balance in Chinese culture, combines ingredients that provide an equilibrium of all five key tastes.

For more on the origins of popular spice blends, check out this article.

The foundation of any great spice blend is, naturally, the quality of spices used. High-quality spices have a higher content of essential oils which are responsible for the sensory experience. The quality not only provides more potent flavours and complexity, but enhances the overall dish. Premium spices are typically fresher and have been processed and stored under optimal conditions to preserve their aromatic and gustatory properties.

The Science Behind the Perfect Blend

Image credit: Gewürzhaus

Investing in high-quality spices ensures that the blends are not only effective in their flavour delivery, but also consistent in the quality and experience. If you’re looking to elevate your spice rack, it is important to purchase from a trusted purveyor.

Much like Chefs developing a new recipe, crafting a new blend is a meticulous, yet exciting process. Spice blenders begin with a concept and identify a desired flavour profile. From there they’ll experiment with various combinations; adjusting quantities and components as they go to achieve the perfect balance. This process not only requires a sound understanding of individual spices, but also how they change under various cooking conditions and in combination with other ingredients.

Scientific innovations are making massive contributions to the field of blending. Advanced technologies and methods are allowing for more precise measurements and consistency. Precision is key, especially considering that the raw cost of some spices exceeds that of gold.

Fortunately, with purveyors such as Gewürzhaus taking the lead in creating fine spice blends, we have access to expertly crafted blends and premium spices. All we have to do is create magical dishes! 

As we become more inquisitive, delving deeper into the chemistry of flavour and the sensory aspects of dining, the potential for new and exciting spice blends is endless. For culinary professionals, this is a vibrant field of limitless exploration that is offering new ways to enchant the palates of diners.

Gewürzhaus offers 250 spices, herbs, salts, peppers, teas and sugars from around the world, and more than 100 exclusive small-batch blends. Shop now.

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