Think you know your spices?

This was the very question posed to me quite recently by Richard Davies, Executive chef at Calcot manor near Tetbury.

And to be honest it’s something that I hadn’t really paid much attention to, because let’s face it, a peppercorn is a peppercorn right? Well no, actually it isn’t and to my shame I, like a lot of chefs, don’t know the difference either.

Chefs and kitchens up and down the land blindly follow recipes containing spices without ever questioning their provenance or variety.

The morning was filled by informative demonstrations and sampling lead by Kätlin Ambos from Santa Maria.

We started with the ‘King of spice’ – Black pepper, where Kätlin explained the growing, harvesting, the sizing/grading and the general process of how it arrives in our kitchens. Then there was the flavour profiling:Pepper flavour profile

Whilst Santa Maria were more focused on the Indian production of their Tellicherry peppercorns, it is worth bearing in mind that production of various varieties, each displaying their own unique properties, as can be seen in this tasting session: Serious Eats website.

During the course of the discussion the subject of pink peppercorns, and this was a surprise the majority of those present. The reason pink pepper had been omitted from the presentation so far, is because it actually belongs to the cashew nut family, something which every professional chef should be aware of in light of recent allergen legislation.

After black pepper we moved on to cinnamon, cardamom & juniper berries, again Santa Maria producing some excellent examples of each spice. But also explaining the difference, in a blind sensory experience, between cassia & Ceylon cinnamon

Both cinnamon
In this case, the more desirable Ceylon cinnamon is on the left.
Testing dried oregano
Comparing four different types of dried oregano from various global sources

After an enjoyable 2-3 hours which made the various assembled chefs from Lucknam Park, The Royal Crescent in Bath & The rectory in Crudwell, have a rethink about their use of spices.

Lunch was courtesy of Richard Davies in the Conservatory, and as you’d expect we weren’t disappointed.


Croquette of middle white pork, pineapple, pink peppercorn & star anise

Creedy Carver duck, crispy cardamom rice, cauliflower & cumin

Bitter chocolate tart, Tellicherry ice cream.

Pork - starterDuck - main v2Choc tart v3 wide

PdF p4 v1

Big thanks to;

  • Richard Davies & the team at Calcot Manor
  • Kätlin Ambos & the team from Santa Maria.

Kätlin Ambos & Santa Maria. are contactable through their website for similar demonstrations.

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