Spice Expert Guesses Which Spices Are More Expensive

In this episode of 'Price Points', Epicurious challenges spice expert Ethan Frisch of Burlap & Barrel to guess which one of two spices is more expensive. Ethan breaks down cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, chili flakes, cumin and smoked paprika. For each type, Ethan analyzes, smells, and taste tests before guessing which spice costs more. Once the prices are revealed, he explains why. Visit Ethan at https://burlapandbarrel.com/

Released on 10/22/2018

Credits

Starring: Ethan Frisch

Transcript

00:00
I'm Ethan Frisch, and I'm a spice expert.
00:02
(cheerful music)
00:07
Chili pepper.
00:17
Looks like we have two different cinnamons, A and B.
00:21
There are several different species,
00:22
two main species of cinnamon.
00:24
A looks like a variety of Cassia cinnamon.
00:28
It's got kind of a spicy, woody, almost bourbon aroma,
00:33
fairly dense bark, it's hard to break.
00:36
You can sort of see how it unfolds when you break it
00:40
the curls just open up.
00:43
Now let's look at B,
00:45
and then this looks like a Ceylon cinnamon
00:47
a Cinnamomum verum.
00:50
You can tell by the density of the bark,
00:54
and the way that it curls.
00:56
It will break much more easily so it crumbles in your hands.
01:00
All spices are plants and cinnamon comes from a tree.
01:02
It's the bark of a tree,
01:04
or in this case two different species of trees,
01:06
both of the genus Cinnamomum.
01:08
This bark is probably from a younger branch,
01:10
which is why it's so much lighter, so much more delicate.
01:14
This bark might be from the trunk,
01:15
or from an older branch to give it that like real density.
01:20
Here's cinnamon B, let's try tasting them.
01:23
So when you get cinnamon
01:28
this one has a nice citrusy flavor,
01:30
which is typical of this variety.
01:33
That's a little sweet,
01:34
it doesn't have a very strong flavor, but it's nice.
01:37
Cinnamon A, this one is gonna be harder to eat, let's see.
01:44
Yeah, definitely spicier.
01:46
The next step, I think, to analyze these
01:48
is gonna be to grind them.
01:51
Dump this whole thing in here.
01:54
All right.
01:56
Oh, wow, that smells good.
01:57
So this is cinnamon A, see how that looks.
02:07
All right, yeah, I mean, you can immediately see
02:09
the smoke rising off of this
02:11
the difference in texture of this bark,
02:14
and the difference in color.
02:16
Yeah, much more citrusy, sort of smells like pine trees,
02:21
and, yeah, that's great.
02:24
So looking at cinnamon A it's a darker color let's try it.
02:32
Yeah, very spicy, kind of woody.
02:35
Tastes sort of like what you might find in bourbon,
02:38
or something like that,
02:40
whereas, cinnamon B, I'm going to try it.
02:45
Still very sweet and a little bit of citrus,
02:49
a little bit of pine,
02:51
a much more delicate kind of complex flavor.
02:54
Okay, I'm pretty sure that cinnamon B
02:56
is the more expensive one, but let's find out, here we go.
03:01
Yeah, all right, quite a bit more expensive.
03:04
Cinnamon B is almost twice the price of cinnamon A.
03:08
One of the reasons that cinnamon B is more expensive
03:10
is because this species,
03:12
and you can tell just by the texture of the bark,
03:14
and the color this species is grown in fewer countries.
03:17
There's just less of it in the world,
03:19
but it also is a little bit higher maintenance, right?
03:22
Every one of these cinnamon sticks that we just ground up
03:25
had to be hand rolled.
03:26
Somebody cut them off the tree,
03:27
they shaved the outer bark off.
03:28
I would really approach these as different ingredients
03:31
where cinnamon A is perfect if you want,
03:32
you know, a spicy cinnamon flavor in a cinnamon bun,
03:35
or any kind of baked dessert,
03:37
where cinnamon B might be
03:39
something you'd use in a savory dish,
03:42
or where you'd want a little bit more
03:44
of a complex cinnamon flavor
03:46
that's not gonna hit you over the head so hard.
03:48
So when you're shopping for cinnamon
03:50
quality can be pretty difficult to tell,
03:52
so what I would recommend first of all is only buy something
03:55
that has a country of origin listed on the package.
03:58
Another thing to check for is a packing date,
04:01
and try to buy one that's as close to the date
04:03
that you're buying the cinnamon as possible.
04:08
So, this looks like turmeric.
04:10
They look very similar, actually,
04:11
this is gonna be a tough one.
04:13
Let's start with A.
04:15
I like to shake it around a little bit.
04:19
It makes it easier to smell.
04:21
It's got, actually, a really nice sweet
04:23
kind of gingery, floral aroma.
04:26
It's not bitter or chalky.
04:28
Sometimes, turmeric can be, especially, low quality turmeric
04:31
can be kind of chalky.
04:33
It smells great.
04:34
Turmeric B, let's see.
04:38
Yeah, see, this one smells a little chalky.
04:40
There's really not a lot going on aroma wise,
04:42
and that's often the case with turmeric.
04:44
It's really primarily used as a natural coloring,
04:47
but people often don't think a lot about the flavor,
04:49
which turmeric should have a lot of flavor.
04:51
I'm gonna taste A, it's a really nice texture
04:54
evenly ground and clumping a little bit which is a good sign
04:57
means that it wasn't cut with wheat flour, or rice flour,
05:01
or some other kind of starch, let's see.
05:04
Yeah, kind of a buttery flavor.
05:06
A little bit of ginger at the end.
05:09
Turmeric is related to ginger, turmeric is a root,
05:11
smaller and obviously a brighter color than ginger,
05:14
but grows in a very similar way.
05:16
So, here's turmeric A,
05:18
really bright, vibrant, orange golden color.
05:22
You see little flecks which is usually a good sign.
05:25
It means that there was no artificial dye added to it,
05:28
which, unfortunately, is pretty common with turmeric.
05:30
Turmeric the fresh root is usually peeled before it's dried,
05:34
so you're really only getting
05:37
the pure golden inside of the root,
05:39
but this looks like a really beautiful,
05:42
a really beautiful turmeric to me.
05:46
Let's try turmeric B, kind of a sandier texture,
05:51
not quite as smooth.
05:53
Doesn't have the flex which might mean nothing,
05:55
or it might mean that it was dyed it's really hard to tell,
05:58
and I'm gonna taste a little bit of turmeric B.
06:02
It's got kind of a bitter mineral aftertaste, not very good,
06:07
and a little bit of chalkiness,
06:08
so it's pretty clear to me that
06:11
turmeric A is the higher quality turmeric.
06:14
Let's see if I was right.
06:17
Turmeric A is definitely more expensive,
06:19
five times more expensive.
06:21
There are a lot of things
06:21
that can drive up the price in turmeric,
06:23
one of them begin the curcumin content,
06:25
which is the compound the component of turmeric
06:27
that's supposed to be really good for your health.
06:29
Curcumin above, you know, 3.75 or 4% that's a decent amount,
06:34
that's what you're looking for.
06:42
Black pepper.
06:43
Black pepper grows in bunches on a vine like grapes,
06:48
and the skin of the black pepper
06:50
it's actually the dried fruit of the pepper berry.
06:53
The pepper starts off green,
06:54
and then turns yellow and orange,
06:56
and is red when it's fully ripened,
06:57
although, black pepper is usually harvested
06:59
before it's fully ripened.
07:01
What's interesting about black pepper A
07:03
is that an indication of a lower quality maybe
07:08
is that some of these have a really nice skin,
07:10
and some of them do not.
07:12
Some of them are kind of waxy or they've turned white,
07:15
or the skin has fallen off a little bit.
07:18
When we smell pepper A it smells kind of fruity,
07:21
kind of citrusy, not a strong smell, but it's there.
07:25
Peppercorns in B are consistent size,
07:27
but smaller than the peppercorns from A.
07:30
You know, a lot of spices are graded by size.
07:33
Size, you know, like we know in apples, or anything else,
07:36
size doesn't necessarily mean it's a better product.
07:39
A bigger apple doesn't necessarily taste better,
07:41
or taste sweeter,
07:42
so the size of black pepper A might be a higher grade,
07:46
but it doesn't actually mean
07:47
that it's gonna taste any better,
07:49
so let's try grinding them up a little bit.
07:54
When we grind it what we're looking for
07:55
is a real release of aroma,
07:57
the spicy, citrusy, fruity flavors in black pepper.
08:02
So this came out very white, very white in color,
08:04
not very dark, I would have preferred it to be dark.
08:08
When you grind pepper and you see more black than white
08:11
it means you're getting a better balance between
08:13
the dark skin and the lighter pit,
08:15
and that's gonna give you the balance
08:17
between sweet and spicy.
08:18
The black wrinkly outer skin of the black pepper
08:21
is the fruit, is the dried fruit,
08:22
so that's really where the sweetness
08:23
from black pepper comes from.
08:25
The inner pit, the white pit,
08:26
is what's spicy in a black pepper.
08:28
Let's pour some black pepper B in here.
08:35
Send black peppers flying everywhere.
08:43
So you'll see a little bit of moisture
08:44
that kind of appears on the pepper.
08:46
Black pepper A when I ground it looked very dry.
08:48
You saw the little pieces, but they were very dry.
08:51
This immediately looks, you know, just like
08:53
there's a little bit of moisture in the peppercorn.
08:57
Very citrusy, kind of sharp, a little bit herbal like basil.
09:01
All right, let's try tasting.
09:02
I'm gonna start with black pepper A.
09:07
This is very spicy right up front, and then kind of nothing.
09:10
Not a very complex flavor, but it tastes all right.
09:13
Then black pepper B let's try this.
09:18
It's a slower build, little bit of citrus,
09:22
and then a lot of heat at the end
09:26
right in the back of your throat.
09:27
This is a hard choice.
09:29
A looks like a higher grade,
09:31
but B is a better flavor hands down.
09:34
If A were a more consistent pepper
09:35
it would be a tough choice, but I'm gonna go with...
09:38
For that reason I'm gonna go with B.
09:40
B is the more expensive one, let's find out.
09:46
Yeah, B is $4 an ounce and A is $1.50 an ounce.
09:49
You know, black pepper is one of those things
09:50
that you use all of the time, it goes on everything.
09:52
It's one of the places where a better spice
09:55
really does make a difference, you really taste it.
09:58
When you're shopping for black pepper
09:59
you really want to look at the peppercorn.
10:00
If you can taste it that's great,
10:02
but definitely look at it.
10:03
You want a consistent dark skin.
10:06
You want lots of little ridges and folds
10:08
because that really speaks to the amount of juice
10:11
that the fruit have, the moisture, the sugar in the fruit
10:14
before it was dried.
10:18
All right, this is gonna be an easy one.
10:21
I can already tell just from looking
10:23
at these two chili flakes which one looks more appealing,
10:27
is likely to have more flavor
10:29
without even smelling or tasting or anything.
10:31
I'm gonna start with A.
10:33
This is a fairly consistent chili flake
10:36
sort of balance between seeds and fruit.
10:39
The fruit is where the sweetness is in the pepper,
10:42
and the seed is where the capsaicin,
10:44
the spiciness is concentrated,
10:46
so depending on how spicy you want it
10:48
you might choose a chili flake
10:50
with a little more seed or a little less seed.
10:52
More seed is definitely gonna be spicier.
10:54
This looks pretty balanced.
10:56
Let's smell it, it smells pretty fruity it's a nice aroma.
11:02
Let's look at B next.
11:04
Very irregular which actually I kind of like.
11:07
It speaks to possibly a more artisanal,
11:10
or less industrial process
11:11
for chopping up and drying the pepper.
11:13
This one looks like it's probably a little less spicy,
11:17
fewer seeds compared to the fruit,
11:22
and a much more tomatoey, more savory aroma.
11:26
Let's pour some out and taste it.
11:33
Not a very strong flavor it's not super hot,
11:35
it's not super sweet.
11:36
There's a little finish that tastes kind of peppery.
11:39
It would be all right on pizza or something.
11:41
All right, let's try pepper B now.
11:45
The seeds in pepper B are much smaller,
11:48
and then the flakes are much larger and more irregular.
11:51
They do feel a little softer.
11:52
Let's taste a little bit.
11:53
Hopefully, it doesn't kill me.
11:56
This is definitely a spicier chili pepper.
12:01
The thing that caught my attention about B right away
12:04
was the vibrancy of the color of the pepper,
12:05
and the irregularity of the flakes.
12:08
A looks like every other chili pepper I've ever seen.
12:10
I think B is the more expensive one, let's take a look.
12:16
Yeah, yeah, a lot more expensive,
12:18
so when you go out to buy chili peppers
12:20
I think right off the bat you want some glossiness.
12:24
You want to check the balance between seed and fruit.
12:27
It you like a spicier chili pepper
12:28
you're gonna want more seeds.
12:30
If you want a sweeter pepper flake, chili flake,
12:32
you want fewer seeds.
12:36
Looks like we have some cumin.
12:38
Two mystery cumins, A and B.
12:42
Let's start with A, a little dull in color.
12:46
Cumin seeds have little ridges.
12:48
The ridges on these look a little flat.
12:50
It could be an indication that they're just a little old,
12:52
and the smell, let's see.
12:56
It smells okay it's not a very strong smell.
12:58
Good cumin should smell pretty sweet.
13:00
Cumin B the color is a little more vibrant,
13:03
and this, yeah, has a stronger, a much sweeter smell.
13:09
These seeds it looks like
13:11
they still have some stems attached to the seeds.
13:13
They're a little fresher,
13:14
a little more closer to the source, closer to the plant.
13:18
These both look like standard variety of cumin.
13:22
Likely grown in India would be my guess
13:24
that's where a lot of the world's cumin comes from.
13:26
The next step is gonna be to just give these a little grind.
13:29
A mortar and pestle is just a great,
13:31
very versatile tool for working with spices.
13:34
I'm just gonna grind these seeds up a little bit.
13:36
We're not trying to make a fine powder, just to crush them,
13:39
and get a little bit more aroma and flavor.
13:42
All right, so this one.
13:50
Flavor wise, yeah, I don't know,
13:52
there's not a whole lot going on, a little bit sweet.
13:55
All right, let's try cumin B, same deal.
13:59
Just kind of grind them up a little bit.
14:02
Can smell them already releasing a much sweeter aroma.
14:06
Yeah, these smell great, let's try those.
14:12
Yeah, much stronger, it really tastes like
14:14
got a kind of bitterness, tastes like a vegetable.
14:17
I'm gonna guess that this is the more expensive one.
14:21
Let's go in for the big reveal.
14:26
Oh, yeah, yeah, a lot more expensive.
14:29
This one just tastes much fresher,
14:31
so, you know, fresher spices, a shorter supply chain,
14:35
that just, sometimes, cost a little more.
14:39
So when you're shopping for cumin
14:40
if you can smell and taste the spice absolutely do.
14:43
You should taste sweetness, you should taste nuttiness.
14:47
It should taste a little bit piney, a little bit herbal.
14:51
All right, looks like we have some paprika.
14:54
Two very different paprikas, very different colors, A and B.
14:58
Let's start with paprika A, really dark color.
15:02
Kind of a rich, red, well, very smokey.
15:06
Smells kind of like barbecue sauce, smokey and sweet.
15:12
This has a really nice fine texture.
15:16
It's already leaving a color on my finger,
15:20
which is probably good, yeah, it smells great.
15:23
Now let's try the other one, paprika B.
15:26
The texture looks good.
15:27
Sometimes, paprika has added starch.
15:30
Sometimes, paprika or other powdered spices like this
15:33
are not gluten-free because there are anticaking agents,
15:36
which is just, essentially, a little bit of wheat flour.
15:38
Caking is a feature of the moisture
15:41
that's in the paprika naturally,
15:42
and it's clumping that happens with paprika
15:43
that makes it harder to pack jars, so, sometimes,
15:46
they'll add a little bit of wheat flour to prevent that.
15:48
So it's a good sign that in this one
15:50
it doesn't seem like they've done that.
15:52
The color difference in these two
15:53
could be for a whole bunch of reasons.
15:55
It's likely that this is just
15:56
from a different kind of pepper,
15:57
or possibly a more mixed lot of fresh peppers.
16:01
When it's a more consistent darker red color
16:04
they probably let the peppers ripen fully
16:06
before they dried them.
16:09
So B doesn't have a strong aroma,
16:12
definitely not smokey like A is.
16:16
It's a little sweet.
16:17
It's got a fairly bitter flavor, it's not very good.
16:21
Paprika A, my guess is that this pepper was smoked,
16:24
which is what smoked paprika is, I'm just gonna taste this.
16:29
Very sweet, it tastes like
16:31
biting into a big red bell pepper, that's great.
16:36
A is really where it's at.
16:37
Based on the color difference
16:39
the dark red versus the kind of rusty orange,
16:41
the aroma difference this smells really smokey,
16:44
this smells kind of nah.
16:46
The flavor difference this one is really sweet and savory,
16:49
and this one is kind of bitter
16:51
with a slight sweet aftertaste.
16:53
The textures are pretty similar, actually, which is okay,
16:55
but based on those four factors
16:56
I'm pretty confident that this is the nicer one.
17:01
This is the more expensive, let's find out.
17:06
Yeah, yeah, big price difference.
17:09
Something else that could account for
17:10
the difference in color between these two
17:11
is the way that it was stored
17:13
because paprika is, basically, a dried fruit.
17:16
It's very sensitive to light
17:18
in ways that other spices might not be,
17:20
so if this were packed in a clear package
17:22
it's possible that if it were left in the sun
17:24
it would have been bleached a little bit.
17:26
Under the lights of a supermarket or a warehouse
17:28
it would have lost some of its color,
17:30
so when you're buying paprika,
17:31
buy it in an opaque container, a metal tin,
17:34
or a jar that doesn't have a lot of exposure to light.
17:37
In general, color is not the best indication of quality,
17:42
but it is an indication of freshness.
17:45
When you're buying paprika you should be looking for
17:48
a strong smell either smokey or not.
17:50
If you're buying smoked paprika it should smell smokey,
17:53
and you want something that really smells like
17:55
you're sitting next to a campfire.
17:57
When you're cooking with spices be creative,
18:00
be experimental, use them.
18:01
Mix spices into whatever you already like to cook.
18:04
Don't think that you have to make a specific recipe
18:06
that calls for a specific spice.
18:09
Mix new spices into old dishes and see what happens.
18:13
If the worst that happens is
18:14
you don't love the way they taste then you order a pizza,
18:17
it's not the end of the world.