Hawaiian Spices

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Colorful spices add flavor to your dishes.
Colorful spices add flavor to your dishes. (Image: spice image by Rachwalski Andrzej from Fotolia.com)

Historically, native Hawaiian cooking was simple, making use of plants that grew on the islands, such as bananas and breadfruit, and the plentiful seafood. However, immigrants from other ethnic cultures have introduced different meats and new cooking styles. Modern Hawaiian cuisine is strongly influenced by Asian flavors, using blends of spices, together with peppers and onions, to create a tasty complement meat and fish.

Alaea Sea Salt

This organic salt, which is only found in the Hawaiian Islands, is traditionally used to flavor and preserve meat and fish, and it is the basis of almost all spice blends used in Hawaiian cooking. It is also known as Hawaiian Red Salt and Hawaiian Sea Salt. The red coloring results from iron oxide found in volcanic red clay in the ocean, which adds an earthy taste to the salt. Alaea is also rich in trace minerals, so that the Hawaiian people use it for cleansing and purifying as well as in their cookery. Sea salt is used in many traditional Hawaiian dishes, including Jerk and Poke. It can be rubbed into meat or fish before cooking, which helps to keep in moisture that is usually lost, but it retains its flavor better if it is added toward the end of the cooking process.

Chinese Five Spice

Asian cuisine has strongly influenced Hawaiian cooking, and Five Spice is frequently used in Chinese dishes. It is a blend of equal amounts of five spices, which are most commonly fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and Sichuan pepper, although the blend can vary. These spices represent the five basic flavors of Chinese cooking, which are: sweet, sour, savory, salty and bitter. Five Spice can be rubbed on meat and fish before cooking, and is also used in stir frys and soups. It tastes better when mixed with salt, which makes it a perfect combination with Hawaiian Sea Salt. Chinese Five Spice can be bought ready-mixed, in powdered form; or you can grind up and mix your own blend. This spice has a powerful flavor, so it should be used sparingly.

Chinese Five Spice
Chinese Five Spice (Image: herbs and spice image by Bartlomiej Nowak from Fotolia.com)

Ginger

Ginger is another spice that was introduced into Hawaiian cuisine as a result of fusion with Asian cookery. It originates from Southern China, although cultivation of the spice has spread to other parts of the world. It is not actually the root of the ginger plant that is used in cooking, but the rhizome. Chinese cooking tends to use older ginger roots, because the flavor in these is stronger, and white ginger is the most commonly used variety. Powdered ginger can be blended with other spices to make a rub for meats and fish, and grated ginger adds flavor to soups and stir frys.

White ginger root
White ginger root (Image: Raw ginger against white background image by Christopher Meder from Fotolia.com)

Garlic

Garlic is used as a spice for flavoring in Hawaiian dishes, although technically it belongs to the onion family. It can be used fresh, pureed, smoked and in the form of garlic salt. The more finely that garlic is chopped or crushed, the stronger the flavor will become. However, when it is used in a coating for baked meats and fish, slow-cooking will result in a more mellow taste. In Asian-inspired dishes, black garlic is often used. This involves fermenting garlic bulbs at a very high temperature.

Garlic cloves
Garlic cloves (Image: Garlic image by bayu harsa from Fotolia.com)

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