If someone asked you to describe what the holidays smelled or tasted like, what would you say? Would you say fir trees and gingerbread cookies? What about warm fireplaces, honey ham, or perhaps, peppermint? There are no correct answers, as everyone has their own unique ideas about what the holidays are made of.
For many of us, the tastes and smells present this time of year deeply infuse our holiday memories. In our memories, the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds are indistinguishable from the holiday traditions that we celebrate. However, one could argue that the food we eat and the scents we smell often contain more of the unique holiday magic that we remember from childhood. They are as much a part of the season as the traditions that we celebrate, and certainly more than the overly commercialized aspects of the holidays today.
That said, there are specific herbs and spices that burst onto the scene this time of year. The scents and flavors that we associate with the holiday season immediately jumpstart our holiday spirits. They permeate our noses and our taste buds every year, and it wouldn’t be the same without their familiar and deeply gratifying tastes and scents. With the holiday season in full swing, we wanted to try our hand at identifying some of these definitive tastes and scents that help to make the holidays, well, the holidays.
I think we can all unanimously agree that the holidays wouldn’t be complete without cinnamon. In fact, according to a 2009 study, it’s been scientifically proven that the smell of cinnamon is most intimately connected with Christmas. It’s no coincidence that coffee houses and cafés across North America begin selling drinks heavily infused with cinnamon around the holidays. There’s just something about this spice that makes it more enjoyable when it’s cold outside and the magic of the holidays is in the air.
Having company for the holidays? You need to try this Stacked Cinnamon Roll Christmas Tree recipe!
Peppermint is another no-brainer when it comes to the holidays. Popularized by the ubiquitous candy cane, it has a longstanding tradition in holiday lore. However, despite popular belief, candy canes do not grow on trees. The real source of that minty, sweet, taste and refreshing smell is the peppermint herb. Peppermint is a mint hybrid that is a cross between spearmint and watermint, indigenous to Europe and the Middle East. To put Peppermint’s popularity into perspective, more than 1.8 billion (with a B) candy canes will be made for the winter holiday season.
This Peppermint Chocolate Cake recipe is a must-try!
The fact that you can purchase Rosemary Christmas Trees on the internet for around forty-five dollars tells you everything you need to know about the popularity of this herb during the holidays. Rosemary is a common cooking herb with a pine-like scent that bears a strong resemblance to Douglas Fir. This herb is commonly used to add flavor to the pork, lamb, ham, or turkey on your table, permeating your room with a mouthwatering aroma. This same aroma has a long association with Christmas and dates back to the Middle Ages. Back then, people spread it across floors on Christmas Eve. As people walked around the rooms, the aroma filled the air.
Prepping your Holiday Ham? Check out this Ham with Rosemary, Garlic, and Lemon recipe from Fine Cooking.
There’s something about vanilla that elicits an unmistakable sense of warmth and coziness. Any time you get a whiff of fresh vanilla as you enter your local bakery, or take a sip of your vanilla latte from your local coffee hangout, you know that warm and fuzzy feeling. Vanilla is a common culinary flavor. It is used throughout the year, but is also one of the most popular flavors of the holidays. In fact, the scent of this iconic spice has been proven to correlate to positive memories associated with the holidays, celebrations, confectionery treats, ice cream, rewards, and generally all things good and tasty.
Check out this amazing Christmas Vanilla Roll Cake recipe as fast as you can!
More than any other time of year, the holidays are about flavors and lots of them. One spice that stands out in a sea of holiday flavors as one of the most traditional, is Ginger. The Ginger spice has an exotic tang when it hits your tongue. It has one of the most unique aromas and a one-of-a-kind flavor profile that makes it a favorite holiday must-have when used in cookies, ciders, lattes, chutneys, cakes, and pies. It can also be utilized in crystallized form, eaten fresh, and used medicinally for colds (which is great for winter). There is little doubt that Ginger is one of the most festive spices of the holidays.
This classic Gingerbread Cookie recipe from Taste of Home is a must-try! We also recommend a Hot Ginger Lemon Tea, perfect for sore throats and healthy stomachs over the cold winter months.
Orange and Orange Peel
Yes, you read that correctly. Orange is on our list of Holiday spices and herbs, and it’s not a mistake. Citrus fruit often finds inself in spices during the holidays. It’s sweet and citrusy flavor enhances many of the sugary and spice-filled foods and beverages. By definition, a “spice” is “an aromatic or pungent vegetable substance used to flavor food or beverages,” which is exactly what orange and orange peel do in classic holiday drinks such as hot spiced ciders, holiday punch, and chocolate orange black tea. It’s also used generously in countless holiday dishes and desserts such as cookies, trifles, macaroons, cakes, and especially in icings and cake ornamentation.
Cold outside? Make sure to try this hot Mulled Cider with Orange recipe!
If you liked this article then you’ll love the Farm-to-Table Guide to the Fall Harvest! Discover how the freshest local vegetables, fruits, meats, and dairy products arrive on the menu each week. Learn how chefs work directly with local farms, farm fresh co-ops, and farmer’s markets to make sure only the highest quality meats and produce are introduced to the ever-changing menu selections throughout the year.