Friday, 18 May 2012

Musk Mallow Seeds — Re-creating an Ancient Taste

The seeds of the Musk Mallow, (Abelmoschus moschatus) represent an almost completely forgotten spice. The plant itself is an annual or biennial that is closely related to okra (the immature seed pods can be cooked ad eaten like okra). The plant's mature seeds have a deep musky smell, and contain myricetin and macrocyclic lactone compounds and it is these that give them their musky aroma. Indeed, an oil, Ambrette oil is extracted from the seeds and is used commercially in the perfume industry as a substitute for musk.

What is rather less well know is that musk mallow seeds are a spice that lend an unusual, musky, note to foods. In fact, musk was an important flavouring agent all the way through the Medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods and recipes for sweetmeats, preserves and candied fruit would often include a grain or two of musk as a flavouring ingredient. During the 1600s, with increasing trade to India, musk mallow seeds began to find their way into lists of ingredients as a cheaper substitute to musk.

Though not common, they can be purchased as a spice even today. They are great when reconstructing historic recipes as ground musk seeds can be substituted for very expensive musk in recipes, whilst maintaining the aroma profile.

As musk was believed to be an aphrodisiac, a little ground musk seed also makes an excellent addition for desserts and cakes made for Valentine's day.

Below is a version of Crème Brûlée that includes this exotic spice as a flavouring ingredient:

Musky Crème Brûlée

600ml double cream
5 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp water
2 drops vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground musk mallow seeds
caster sugar (for topping)

Combine the egg yolks, sugar, cream, musk mallow seed powder and vanilla in a bowl and whisk until combined. Divide the mixture evenly between 6 ramekins and place in a roasting tin. Add boiling water until it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins then place the roasting tin in an oven pre-heated to 170°C and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cream custard has set.

Bring out of the oven, remove the ramekins from the roasting tin and allow to cool to room temperature. When ready to serve sprinkle a level teaspoon of caster sugar evenly over the surface of each ramekin then either place under a hot grill to caramelize or use a blowtorch. Allow to cool for a few minutes so that the sugar forms a hard crust then serve.

This recipe is brought to you in association with the Celtnet Guide to Spices where you can find detailed information on over 80 of the world's common (and not so common) spices, along with recipes showing how each spice can be used in your own cooking.

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