Have you ever thought about how spices are made? Drying spices is a crucial part of the process. The goal is to get rid of excess water, which helps prevent bacteria from growing and damaging the spice in the long run. The process involves two steps: first, heat is used to evaporate the water inside the spice, and then the water vapor is moved to the surface so it can evaporate and dry out completely.
There are four steps involved in preparing for the drying phase of spice production. It starts with selecting the best plants from the field, then cleaning and disinfecting them. After that, you might need to slice or peel them to get them ready for drying. Finally, there’s a pre-treatment stage where you might use things like antioxidants, blanching, or sulfur to make sure the spices turn out great. It’s all about ensuring that the final product is top-quality!
Sometimes it’s necessary to wash spices before they’re processed to get rid of things like dirt and dust from the field. Washing them with an antimicrobial solution can also help reduce the amount of bacteria on the spices before they’re dried.
Drying Seeds and Fruits
1. Direct Drying
Did you know that sometimes spices are dried using the power of the sun? It’s called direct drying, and there are several methods that can be used. For example, when making black pepper, the pepper fruit is removed and blanched, then left to sun-dry for a week or so until the moisture content is around 10% and the seeds are wrinkled. That’s when it officially becomes black pepper spice!
When you’re drying pepper using the sun, it’s important to turn it over regularly to make sure it dries evenly and doesn’t get infected with fungus. The downside of sun-drying is that it can be hard to get the spices to dry evenly and there’s a risk of contamination from being out in the open. However, in places with a lot of rain and humidity, this method of drying is actually necessary to produce high-quality black pepper.
Meanwhile, the way nutmeg and mace (the flower of the nutmeg plant) dried is different from other spices. Nutmeg is dried with its skin under the sun, and you have to turn it over every day to prevent the bottom from going bad. When it’s dry enough, the skin will be hard, and it usually takes about a week to get to that point.
After the nutmeg dried, you can store it for a long time. The skin of the nutmeg can also be removed and dried separately in the sun for 2-4 of hours. On the other hand, mace needs to be dried in storage in the dark for about four months.
Chili peppers is also different from other types of spices. Chili peppers and other spices in the Capsicum, Chilli pepper, and Paprika families have thick, waxy skin, so they can’t be dried quickly. However, using black plastic as a base can help speed up the process. At night or when it’s wet outside, you can stack and cover these spices to protect them.
It can take up to 15 days to dry chili peppers, depending on the weather and how much sunlight there is. From 100 kg of fresh peppers, you’ll end up with about 25-35 kg of dried spice. Big traders often use racks that are easy to move around when they’re sun-drying chili peppers. The goal is to get the moisture content down to 10% while still keeping the color and spiciness of the peppers.
2. Programmed Drying
There’s also a type of drying called programmed drying that helps create flavor compounds using enzymes. It’s usually used for spices like vanilla and allspice. The first step is to halt the plant’s growth by stopping its physiological functions. The most common methods for doing this are sun-drying, oven-drying, or boiling in hot water.
The second step in programmed drying is super important – it’s when you remove the water from the spice. Initially, you want to let the water escape quickly to reduce the risk of decay during the rest of the process. This is also when preservative enzymes are most active. Plus, compounds like vanillin are released during this phase, which takes 7-10 days.
At the end of the programmed drying process, preserved vanilla still has a moisture content of 60-70%, which is too high for safe storage. That’s why the third step is drying it further to protect it from decay, stop enzyme activity, and prevent biochemical changes. By the end of this phase, the spice should have a moisture content of 25-30%. Finally, the fourth step is storing it in a closed box for a few months to let natural chemical reactions take place and create the desired flavor.
Drying Spices to Preserve Color
Sometimes you have to dry spices in a way that preserves their color. That’s usually the case with spices that need to be dried but shouldn’t change color or become darker, like cardamom. The original color of cardamom capsules is important in determining their quality. When it’s harvested, green cardamom usually has a moisture content of 70-80%, so it’s stored in a bag for more than 12 hours. To make it safe for storage, the moisture content needs to be reduced to 8-10%.
It’s not a good idea to dry cardamom using direct sunlight because it can remove the essential oil from the spice. However, you can dry it in the sun as long as the drying area is completely dry and there’s no dew or water puddles around. The best time to dry cardamom is from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at a temperature of 30℃. If you’re using an artificial drying system, you can use a slow method (15℃ – 50℃) and dry it for 18-30 hours using either artificial drying or direct sunlight.
Drying Leaves and Stems
When you’re drying spices like lemongrass, cinnamon, sandalwood, celery, bay leaves, basil leaves, and others, it’s important to get the moisture content down to just 5-10%. It’s also important to minimize the time between harvesting and drying to prevent delays and the risk of spoilage.
The temperature during drying is crucial – if it’s too high, important compounds in the spice will evaporate and be lost. To preserve as much flavor as possible, the ideal temperature for drying these spices should be below 40°C with good air circulation.
Drying Flowers and Shoots
Spices like cloves and saffron come from flowers and shoots. To dry cloves, they’re spread out on a bamboo mat and left in the sun. You can also remove any damaged shoots during this phase. It takes 4-6 days to dry the cloves, and you’ll know they’re done when they lose about 2/3 of their weight.
When it comes to saffron, the stigmas have to be dried on the same day they’re picked from the plant, after being separated from the rest of the flower. Saffron stigmas have a moisture content of 85%, so to store them long-term, the humidity needs to be around 10%. It takes 10-15 days to dry saffron.
When it comes to drying saffron, you don’t want to expose the stigmas to high temperatures. If you’re only dealing with a small amount of saffron, you can put it on a plate and let it dry in the sun. For larger quantities, you can use a dehydrator or electric oven set to a temperature of 60-50 degrees Celsius. To dry the saffron, you’ll want to put it in layers that are 1-2 centimeters thick and let it dry for 30-40 minutes. This method preserves the color and quality of the saffron.
Drying Roots and Rhizomes
When you’re drying spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, onions, and others, it’s important to maintain their aroma and color. A traditional way to preserve rhizomes is to steam or boil them in lime juice or a 0.1% sodium bicarbonate solution. You can then dry them using artificial methods like trays, hot air dryer drums, and tunnel driers. It’s a good idea to keep the temperature at 60°C or lower during the drying process.
Before you start drying spices like rhizomes, it’s worth noting that peeling the skin can reduce the fiber and oil content, and it can also affect the spiciness since active compounds like gingerol are often found in the skin. You can use wood or solar-powered heating or gas-powered dehydrators to dry these spices.
When you’re drying spices like rhizomes, it’s important to prepare them properly. You can slice the rhizomes or dry them whole, but slicing usually produces a more uniform and bright-colored powder. Artificial drying helps preserve the quality of the spice and can also prevent microbial contamination. The temperature, air flow, and drying time all play a role in how the flavor compounds in ginger are affected during the drying process.
When you’re drying root spices like garlic, you should wash and cut it into pieces first. Then, you’ll want to dry the garlic slices until the moisture content is around 10%, using a temperature below 60°C. When it’s done, you can turn the garlic into finished products like flakes, rings, kibble, and powder.
The way you dry spices needs to be tailored to the type of spice you’re working with. While many spices can be naturally dried using sunlight, the spice industry often uses modern drying equipment to save time and improve the quality of the spices.
In conclusion, drying your own spices at home is actually quite simple! The process starts with selecting the best plants from the field, cleaning and disinfecting them, and preparing them for drying by slicing or peeling them, for example.
After that, you might need to use antioxidants or other treatments to ensure the spices turn out great. Then, it’s time to dry the spices. There are a few different methods you can use, like sun-drying or programmed drying, which involves halting the plant’s growth and removing water to create flavor compounds.
Just make sure to turn and monitor the spices regularly during the drying process to prevent fungus and ensure they dry evenly. Finally, proper storage in airtight containers can help extend the shelf life of your dried spices.