|Zedoary flower (ornamental breed)|
In Thailand, the young rhizomes are often eaten as a very aromatic vegetable, and it might be used in the preparation of curry pastes (see coconut). In India, zedoary is occasionally used to flavour the pickles (achar [अचार]) Indian cuisine is so famous for. For that purpose, the fresh rhizome is grated and added to the pickling mixture.
Due to its bitter taste, the dried rhizome is seldom used as a spice alone, but sometimes appears in spice mixtures (curry powder, see curry leaves for a discussion of that mixture); used in minute amounts, it might be worth trying. Medieval European sources, up to the 16.th century, often speak of dried zedoary as a spice. Unless this is by confusion with another fragrant rhizome, it may be taken as a token of how radically the peoples’ taste may change within a few centuries.
Even if bitter zedoary has fallen into disuse in most modern cuisines, other bitter spices have kept their position as important flavourings. Popular in Europe is orange peel (e. g., for British marmalade), mugwort and its close relative, southernwood; the old Romans loved a bitter celery cultivar and rue. Another distinctly bitter spice, fenugreek, is a popular flavouring from the Eastern Mediterranean to India. Furthermore, bitter alcoholics (e. g., Angostura) are sometimes suggested to spice up vegetables or even fruit salads. It is worth noting that bitter taste is strongly appetizing and, thus, has indeed true culinary merit.
Several aromatic leaves exhibit significant bitter overtones: Here, bay leaves and myrtle must be named besides several herbs of the mint family (Lamiaceae): hyssop, sage, lavender and rosemary. Nonetheless, bitter herbs are valuable for cooking and do enhance the food’s quality; most noteworthy, they stimulate bile secretion and thereby aid digestion, which is especially advantageous for fat meat.
Bitter taste is also typical for spices containing glycosides. As I have
explained elsewhere, it’s not the
glycosides which are responsible for the culinary value of a plant, but their
easily formed, yet frequently unstable aglyca. So, the bitter taste of bitter almonds gives way to the well-known
almond fragrance of benzaldehyde only after some chewing; very similar
remarks hold for mahaleb cherry stones. Lastly, if
wasabi powder is mixed with water, the paste tastes
unpleasant and bitter in the first minutes, but then develops an intensive horseradish-like pungency.
Besides zedoary, there are also other bitter tropic spices,
all of which tend to be not
very popular in the West. The astringent cassia (Chinese
cinnamon), the bitter and pungent negro pepper and
the simultaneously bitter, pungent and fragrant cubeb
pepper are today considered inferior surrogates of cinnamon and black pepper,
respectively, although their importance in Europe was far greater in past