Seasonings, necessary in cooking various dishes, create special dish flavors when used either singly or blended. Even a skilled cook, let alone a beginner, needs seasonings to cook any dish especially delicious dish with distinctive flavor and attractive color. Many people say that they are eating seasonings instead of dishes, because even delicious ingredients can taste bland and uninteresting without appropriate seasonings. Chinese dishes are well-known all over the world, while Chinese seasonings will also open your eyes.
Salt, the seasoning most used in Chinese people's daily life, tastes salty, just as the name implies. It is an inorganic, white crystalline compound of sodium and chlorine, essential for human body. Salt is an indispensable seasoning, used in almost every dish in China. It has the function of getting rid of fishy smell, increasing freshness, sterilizing the food and preventing it from spoiling. It can also stimulate the secretion of the digestive juice in the stomach, which gives one a good appetite.
Vinegar is a transparent and colorless or reddish-brown liquid seasoning, with an acid taste. It is prepared by fermentation of rice, broomcorn or corn. Vinegar protects vitamins from being destroyed and is used to increase the flavor and nutrition of the dishes when used in stir-frying. It helps remove the smell of the beef and mutton when baking, and converts the phosphorus and calcium in fish bone into absorbable substances when cooking fish. Moreover, it can lighten the piquancy and reduce the salty taste when used in dishes which are too hot or salty.
A feature of Asian seasonings, Soy sauce, reddish-brown in color, is brewed from soy beans, wheat or bran. It tastes fresh and a little salty, having a unique soy flavor. Soy sauce is divided into two types. One is reddish and is used in fried dishes and cold dishes for a salty taste. The other is brown and lustrous and used in the dishes that need color, and a sweetish taste. The sauce should be added later than other ingredients in order to retain nutritious elements such as amino acids and sugars. However, this is not necessary when cooking green vegetables.
Made from sugar cane or sugar beet, white sugar is white crystal, pure and with high-intensity sweetness. It performs the following functions. Basically, it helps increase the sweetness, lighten the sourness and color the ingredients especially all kinds of meat. It is particularly a necessity in preparing sweet and sour dishes and dishes in hot toffee. It is also used to make the surface of the food glassy or frosty. Furthermore, it has the property of adherence, sterilizing and adding luster.
Used mainly to increase the freshness of the dishes, Monosodium Glutamate is a white crystalline seasoning, easily soluble in water. It can be used in dishes, soups and all sorts of sauces. It is composed primarily of sodium glutamate which is said can help cure chronic hepatitis, hepatic coma, nervous exhaustion and epilepsy. However, be mindful that sodium glutamate is converted into carcinogens if used at high temperatures, above 100 C (212 F). Eating too much may also lead to stomach cancer.
It is a yellowish-brown seasoning brewed from sticky rice and millet, especially used for preparing dishes with aquatic ingredients and meat to remove the fishy smell and increase the aroma of the dish. Its strong permeability and can help to keep the food fresh for longer. Though cooking wine is preferable, beer and brandy can be used instead in its absence. In order to play its part into full, the best time to add it is when the temperature in the wok reaches its highest.
Prickly Ash Seeds
This particular spice, prickly ash seed, comprises claret or reddish-brown cones from prickly ash tree. It causes a slight numbness on the tongue, and is used mainly to remove a fishy smell. Mostly used in Sichuan Cuisine, prickly ash seeds are added in when the oil in the wok is hot and are removed when they turn black. The seeds can also be made into an oil or powder to be added to the dishes without being picked out. Prickly ash seed also has the effect of benefiting the stomach, dispelling cold, removing dampness and alleviating pain.
Cinnamon (gui pi)
From the bark of cinnamon tress, cinnamon is one of the earliest used spices. It is employed in cookery as a condiment and flavoring material. It is always tube-shaped and reddish-brown. Having a powerful aroma, cinnamon can help make the dishes not so fishy or greasy, necessary when preparing meat. Adding some cinnamon can help to prevent diabetes and to cure hyperplasia of the prostate. Cinnamon oil is also an important industrial flavoring. However, it also contains safrole which may cause cancer, so the less you eat the better.
A special monosodium glutamate, chicken essence is a freshness enhancer, made from chicken powder, chicken bones and egg. It is granular form in yellow color, containing multiple amino acids, vitamins and protein. It can be used in all of the dishes and soups where monosodium glutamate used, having similar effect with monosodium glutamate but with higher nutrition. Chicken essence cannot only help increase people’s appetite, but it can also supply human body with amino acids to enhance and maintain the cerebrum functions.
Broad Bean Paste
Red chili after salted or milled, broad bean paste has been developed into a great variety by adding in different ingredients such as minced garlic, preserved beans, beef, peanuts, chicken, almonds and so on. The products sold in the market are mostly made through fermentation, bright red or brown in color. broad bean paste can be eaten with the food directly or used for preparing dishes as a kind of seasoning. In China, broad bean paste made in Guilin is most renowned, reputed as the ‘Three Treasures of Guilin’ together with Guilin pickled tofu and Guilin Sanhua Jiu (a kind of rice liquor).
Dry Chili Sections
Fresh red chili after dried and sectioned, dry chili sections have the same functions as dry chili peppers, containing low moisture and can be kept for a long time. It is a common seasoning used in Sichuan, Guizhou and Hunan cuisines. Dry chili sections are maily used in stir-frying and quick-frying, having the effect on improving and increasing appetite. However, since it is very spicy, eating too much would lead to dryness of the mouth, cough, sore throat and constipation.
A special seasoning in China, pepper powder is fruits of pepper trees after ground, produced in India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore as well as Guangdong and Hainan Provinces of China. There are two kinds of pepper power according to the color, one is white pepper powder made from the fully ripe fruits and the other is black pepper powder from the immature fruits. Black pepper powder is spicier than white pepper powder, mostly used in cooking seafood and entrails, while white pepper powder has greater medicinal properties.
Also named thickening powder in cooking, starch is mainly made from green beans, potatoes, wheat, lotus roots and corn. Among them, corn starch is the most commonly used because of its steady character, low price and good appearance. It is usually prepared with water an added into the dishes when a dish is almost ready to make the dishes smoother, fresher and more tender and lustrous through thickening the broth and sauce. Meanwhile, starch is also a necessity when coating all kinds of meat to stop the water in the meat escaping out when heated.
Cardamom (cao guo)
Fruits of cardamom tree, cardamom is oblong shaped in brown color, produced in Yunnan, Guangxi and Guizhou, China. It has strong spicy fragrance, mainly used for braising all kinds of meat to reduce the fishy smell and to improve the flavor. It can be used directly or ground into powder. Cardamom powder can be used as a kind of spice used for stir-frying dishes. Furthermore, cardamom is also a traditional Chinese herbal medicine, having the functions of strengthening the stomach, promoting digestion and dispelling wind and dampness from the body.
Lesser galangal (liang jiang)
Also named Alpinia officinarum Hance, lesser galangal is the root of Alpinia officinarum, cylindrical-shaped and in reddish-brown or dark-brown color. There are gray brown wavy junctions every 0.5-1 cm on its surface. It smells fragrant and tastes spicy. It is usually used in spicy sauce for salting meat or ground into power as one of the ingredients of the 'Five Spices Powder’ (wu xiang fen) in China. It’s said that lesser galangal powder is also used in curry dishes, rum and beer in some districts of Far East.
Kaempferia Galanga (shan nai)
A common spice used in Sichuan Cuisine, kaempferia galanga is mostly round-shaped sections, with light brown or yellowish brown skin and white section. It has a special fragrance, tasting spicy, mainly produced in Guangxi, Yunnan, Guangdong and Taiwan in China. In cooking, it is mostly used in hotpot, salted vegetable and preserved vegetable in Sichuan. It is also used for cooking chicken by Cantonese. Meanwhile, it is also a herbal medicine, having functions of warming spleen and stomach and relieving swelling and pain.
White Cardamon (bai dou kou)
Dry fruits of white cardamon trees, white cardamon are spherical, having unapparent dull prisms on the yellow-white skin. It smells fragrant but tastes cold-pungent, mainly produced in Vietnam and Thailand. It is used for cooking all kinds of meat soups, salting meat and chicken to get rid of the peculiar and fishy smells and to increase the fragrance. It is also an ingredient of curry powder and a herbal medicine. It’s said that white cardamon was also used as the main ingredients of perfume in ancient Greece and Rome Times.
Star Anise(da hui xiang)
In the shape of stars, star anise is also the fruit of star anise trees, produced in Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces in China. It is hard and brittle in purple-brown color, with smooth and lustrous appearance. It is one of the ingredients of the ‘Five Spices Powder’ (wu xiang fen) in China, necessary for preparing all kinds of meat to get rid of the fishy smell and increase the fragrance. Star anise is usually added in the dish at the very beginning in order to fully dissolve its fragrance and make the meat mellower.
Fennel Seeds(hui xiang)
Seeds of fennel plants, fennel seeds are similar to unhusked rice grains in shape and grey in color, having a hot flavor. Besides the seeds, stems and leaves of fennel plants are also used as the stuff of dumplings and steamed buns (baozi). As a seasoning, fennel seeds are used for cooking meat, seafood and wheaten food in China, while they are used in curry or eaten after meals to remove the smelly breath after roasted with sugar in India. As a herbal medicine, they can help warm livers and kidney, alleviate pain and regulate qi-flowing for harmonizing stomach.