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Cumin

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You know how sometimes you are eating and you come across a little burst of flavor and you wonder what spice it was? Chances are good it was cumin. The little seed is quite a chameleon, with a flavor that is both strong and iconic, yet blends with the flavor of a dish in such a way that a new flavor is born that is greater than the sum of its parts. You can find it in massive quantity along with peppers and garlic powder in that cheapo curry powder that forms the base of so much commercial Americanized Mexican food. I use cumin myself as a brute force flavor for taco meat, but it also has a great deal of complexity to add to a variety of classier dishes. Its raw flavor is a strong and a bit on the green side. If you toast it the force of the flavor subsides into a lighter, more complex spice suitable for less potent fare, but over toasting it will leave you with something bitter and undesirable. It is a strong spice, but I always find myself adding more as I cook. Make sure you label it well in whatever spice storage you use. It looks similar enough to anise seed, fennel seed, and caraway to make mistakes easy to make. One meal of tacos that taste like they were made of rye bread is enough to drive the lesson home nicely. Cumin is an anchor in my Five Pillars of Greatness blend.

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