From ancient times to this day, spices have been at the forefront of the most demanded food items in the world. Once in the past, they were considered precious things and often traded with gold coins. That time may have gone by, but the popularity and demand for spices have not decreased. People still buy bulk herbs and spices and store them to flavor their dishes regularly.
Spices make our food more delicious, but have you ever wondered what makes these spices do so? Herbs and spices we use in our cooking contain essential or volatile oils, giving them their characteristic flavor. In this article, we have discussed everything about these volatile oils so that you can better understand your spice and store them safely to create delicious dishes.
What are volatile oils?
In simple terms, volatile oils are essential oil contained in every part of the plant, from leaf to seed, stem, root, bark, and more. This volatile oil may contain up to several hundred chemical compounds. When combined, this gives spices their characteristic taste and aroma. Volatile oils are stored in whole spices and slowly break down over time.
There are various methods these oils can be released into our food. The most common practice is grounding the spice. Powdered spices reveal the inner oils and infuse them into our food. Other methods of releasing the spice are tempering and dry roasting.
Do different spices have different amounts of volatile oils?
Yes, different spices have different amounts of volatile oils. One of the best examples of this is cinnamon. Cinnamon is a bark of the cinnamon tree which is generally used as a powder in various sweet and savory dishes. There are multiple types of cinnamon trees, and each tree contains different levels of volatile oils.
For example, one type of cinnamon called Korintje contains 3% of volatile oil. In contrast, Saigon includes 4-6% of volatile oils, which is considered the highest concentration. The varying concentration of oils creates distinct flavor characteristics.
Why do spices have different volatile oil concentrations?
Many factors affect the volatile oil concentration in the spices in growing conditions, such as moisture, temperature, seasonal changes, and soil. Since growing conditions change year to year, the amount of oil in one crop year may differ from that in another.
Spices with the highest volatile oils
Cinnamon is among the many highly volatile oils containing spices, but it is definitely not the only one. Spices such as peppercorns, coriander, cardamom, cloves, and turmeric are high in oil. Not all spices need to smell extremely aromatic in their whole form. But they release their characteristic aroma when they are ground.
Smelling the spices is one of the ways experts determine how long they have been ground. The more they contain volatile oils, the more, the faster their aroma and taste dissipate. So, if you buy whole spices, it is best to grind them as needed instead of powdering all of them at once.
How are volatile oils measured?
Volatile oils can’t be measured at home. They are often measured in laboratories by scientists. They take a small amount of ground spice and boil them in the water. This process extracts the oil from the spice. And condensed oil and water are then removed to evaluate them.
Why do volatile oils reduce over time?
Once the spices are harvested, the volatile oil starts diminishing slowly. The speed of this decrease depends on the material and whether it is ground or whole. In general, oil reduces more slowly in seeds than in herbs. This is because seeds have more inner and outer layers that protect essential oils. And leaves do not have such structures, so oils evaporate more speedily for them. As per this rule, peppercorns can have longer shelf life than bay leaves.
Is there any relationship between higher volatile oil and prices?
Yes, volatile oils and spice prices have an inverse relationship. That means the more volatile the oil level is present in the spice, the higher their prices will be. This is because spices with higher oil content are hard to grow and often require optimal growing conditions. Unfortunately, not every farmer can achieve it; hence, the such spice has scarcity in the market.
As we have discussed, volatile oils are the reason behind the spice’s secret flavoring. But one of the crucial things to procure high-quality spices is choosing the right and reliable wholesale spice suppliers. Certified suppliers offer bulk spice with higher volatile oil content to create delicious cuisines. So, ensure you focus equally on choosing the right supplier for your spice.