Most brewers know a fair amount about barley and hops. They know barley is the seed of a species of grass (and specifically a cereal) and hops are cones from a vine. However, when we brew beers with other ingredients — such as fruits or spices — we might be familiar with its origin. In this article, I take a quick look at four spices commonly found in winter warmers and how to use them in brewing.
Cinnamon is a spice nearly everyone is familiar with. We’ve all had cinnamon rolls, cinnamon toast, and any number of other baked goods with cinnamon. The spice cinnamon comes from the inner bark of cinnamon trees. So called “true cinnamon,” which grows in Sri Lanka and Ceylon, comes from Cinnamomum verum. Other species of cinnamon trees yield other types of cinnamon, including C. cassia — which yields the most common type of cinnamon sold in grocery stores and found in processed foods.
The most abundant essential oil in cinnamon is cinnamaldehyde. This comprises 90% of the essential oils in the spice. Other essential oils includes eugenol (the most abundant essential oil in cloves) and linalool (an oil that is found in some hop varieties).
Cinnamon is sold ground, or as “sticks” (rolled up sheets of bark). Ground beechwood husks, with cinnamaldehyde added, may be sold as powdered cinnamon. (Read the label of whatever you buy.)
Nutmeg is one of the key spices in pumpkin pie spice and also shows up in a lot of baked goods. The spice nutmeg is the seed of of an Indonesian tree (Myristica fragrans). Seeds from trees in the same genus are the source of mace.
The most abundant essential oil in nutmeg is d-camphene, but there is a long list of others. Oils that brewers may have heard of include gerianol (found in some hops), safrole (sassafras), limonene (oranges), and myristicin (parsley, dill). Myristicin is a poison, and is likely partly responsible for the hallucinogenic properties of nutmeg. Likewise, in the past it was believed that nutmeg was an abortifacient. In the amounts used in brewing (and cooking), nutmeg is not poisonous (or mind altering).
Nutmeg is sold ground, or as seeds that need to be ground or shaved for use.
Cloves are used in a lot of Asian, African and Middle Eastern dishes, as well as being anpther major component of pumpkin pie spice. Cloves are dried flower buds from the Indonesian plant Syzygium aromaticum.
Up to 90% of the essential oils in cloves is eugenol, which is also found in cinnamon. Eugenol is structurally very similar to 4 vinyl guaiacol — the molecule that produces the “clove” character in German wheat beers. Cloves also contain caryophyllene (hops), vanillin (vanilla), and methyl salicylate (oil of wintergreen).
On Friday, I’ll cover the last of these four spices — all-spice — and how to use them in brewing.