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The history of spices is the history of humankind itself, with empires rising and falling based on the trade of exotic spices from distant lands, their exotic allure changing and shaping the very foundations of our society. Let's not forget that when Christopher Columbus set sail for the Indies (following the unorthodox notion of getting there faster by heading in exactly the wrong direction), he was searching for pepper. Not gold or jewels, but pepper and other spices. He never found the passage to the Indies he was hoping for, and he never found the pepper he was searching for, but the world was changed forever because of our passion for strange new flavors from faraway places. The proper place to begin just about any protracted and bombastic examination of any subject, it seems to me, is to attempt to define the subject in question. In this case, the subject is spices, as in "herbs and spices." Unfortunately, no one seems to be able to agree on precise definitions for either of these terms, even though we all know what they mean... sort of. Due to this shameful and nearly universal lack of consensus, I have decided to use definitions of my

own device. When you are a big famous food writer like me you can make up your own definitions too. In an earlier, highly acclaimed article I wrote entitled All About Herbs I defined a culinary herb as a plant whose leaves or stems are used to flavor foods. This is a much more narrow definition than that employed by other selfappointed gastronomic pundits, but that's their problem. The reason I defined herbs in such narrow terms was because I knew that someday I would be writing this article and someone was bound to ask me, "Hey Cheffie, just what the heck is a spice, anyway?" My answer? Simple. A spice is a part of a plant other than the leaves or stems that is used to flavor foods. See how I covered all the bases there? Herbs and spices are divided into two teams: the herbs get the leaves and stems of plants, and the spices get everything else. No part of any plant is left out. Pretty cool, eh? Anyway, I have come up with a list of over 60 spices, some of them as common as ordinary, everyday pepper, and others so exotic that you might think that I'm making this stuff up. I'm not. We'll look at spices that are the seeds and dried fruits of various plants. We'll see the bark, roots, rhizomes, bulbs, and tubers of other plants used in cooking around the world. Then there are the flower buds, unripe fruits, berries, seed pods, stigmas, and even the resin of certain plants, all of which have been flavoring our foods for millennia. We'll see plant parts that are dried, crushed, ground, fermented, chopped, pickled, salted, brined, and roasted. There's even this weird thing called an aril that comes into play. Let’s get started. Storing and Preparing Spices Now that we have that nasty business of defining spices behind us, let’s take a look at storing and preparing spices, or as I like to think of it, “Getting the Most Out of Your Spices.” As a general rule, spices have a shelf life of a year or more in their unground, uncrushed, unprocessed form, and an effective shelf life of about a month once they have been

ground, crushed, or otherwise processed before use. The message here is clear: buy whole, unprocessed spices whenever possible. A cinnamon stick will retain its freshness far longer than ground cinnamon, and whole cumin seeds will last a whole lot longer than ground cumin seed, and a whole nutmeg will last almost indefinitely, yet it begins to lose its flavor the second it is ground. Buy whole, buy in small quantities, and buy often for best flavor. Store your whole spices in airtight containers, and preferably in opaque airtight containers. Small metal or dark glass containers with tight-fitting lids are ideal. Clear plastic bags and deli-style plastic lidded containers are far from ideal because many of the volatile oils in spices are sensitive to sunlight, and the thin plastic does little to prevent the escape of those flavor components. The shelf life of all spices can be extended if you store them in the refrigerator, and they will remain fresh almost indefinitely if stored frozen. There are two basic procedures for getting the most flavor from whole spices: heating and grinding. With very few exceptions (which we will touch on in the Dictionary of Spices), the flavor of spices is improved by heating them. They can be dry-roasted in a skillet, oven, or microwave, or they can be lightly fried in oil to release the essential oils that contribute to the unique flavor of every spice. This heating can be just a gentle toasting or a sizzling hot scorching that literally makes some of the spices pop and explode—just follow the directions in the recipe you are using. Whole spices may be ground to further enhance their flavor, and this process releases huge amounts of flavor whether they have been heated or not. The grinding may take place either before or after they have been heated, depending on the recipe. I recommend you add a small, inexpensive coffee grinder to your kitchen arsenal, and that you use it exclusively for grinding spices. The Dictionary of Spices Achiote - Also called annatto,

pastries. and parts of Southeast Asia. cheese.achiote is the dried seeds of a small tree (Bixa orellana) native to tropical South America. smoked fish. unless used in moderation. and discarded in order to obtain a colored liquid which can then be used to color stocks. The seeds are usually soaked in water or other liquid. They have a flavor that some have likened to sundried tomatoes with undertones of chocolate and caramel.Also known to Australians as bush tomatoes. achiote is used as a coloring agent in butter. peppery flavor with a hint of bitterness when used in large quantities. its popularity has been growing for decades in Australia and is not generally available elsewhere. the Caribbean. Commercially. stews. will provide a bitter taste. and fried snacks throughout India. It is used in many breads. It has an extremely strong flavor of thyme which. It is widely used throughout Latin America. or in a dry powdered form. Ajowan . Pakistan.The seeds of Trachyspermumn ammi. and cosmetics. Whole seeds may be bought in Indian specialty shops and should be ground immediately before cooking. and rice. the dried fruits of several members of the Solanum species grow wild in the desserts of western and central Australia. a small annual umbellifer closely related to caraway and cumin and native to India and the Middle East. Akudjura . Although the seeds have a faint. . it is most often used for the orange-red color it imparts to foods. or fried in oil. and as far west as Ethiopia. Available as whole dried fruits about the size of a grape which must be soaked prior to using.

and dill native to the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. which will retain their flavor for at least two years if stored properly. The ancient Romans believed anise seed to have medicinal properties so it was added to cakes served at the end of a meal to aid in digestion.” a direct translation of the Hindi name “am-choor. stews. cloves. and it is still used primarily in baked goods and sweets where its licorice-like flavor is always welcome. and therefore the Spanish name for this spice is pimienta (pepper). Amchoor . The bulk of the world’s production goes into commercial ketchups and other sauces. the dried fruit of the evergreen Mangifera indica (which the rest of the world knows as the mango tree) is used give a tart tang to many dishes including stews. Widely available throughout the world in whole or powdered form. and the dried fruit is available both in sliced and powdered form. and tandoori meats. the smart cook will buy the whole berries because of their almost indefinite shelf life. fillings. dark berries of the Pimenta dioica plant growing wild in the West Indies. a relative of caraway. he thought he had found the pepper he was seeking in the Far East. The seeds.” A single teaspoon of amchoor provides the equivalent acidity of three tablespoons of lemon juice.In India. and nutmeg or mace. pepper. Only unripe mangoes are used for this purpose. It is available in Indian specialty shops where it may be labeled “mango powder. Its English name is derived from the fact that the taste resembles a mixture of cinnamon. It is often used in baked goods. and pickling mixtures.Allspice .When Columbus saw the small.The seeds of Pimpinella anisum. Anise . cumin. are similar yet .

stuffings. they have a pleasantly acidic flavor reminiscent of tart currants. The red berries of the Berberis genus are used to flavor pilafs.The berries of several members of the Berberis and Mahonia genera. and in powdered form.The dried resinous gum of several types of giant fennel (genus Ferula). asafetida is available either in small pieces called “tears. and in India the dried berries are added to desserts. acrid. They are also used fresh in meat and seafood dishes where their tartness is akin to lemon juice. stews. whole. It has a strong bitter. They impart an astringent. uniform pieces. It is used primarily in Indian cooking and is particularly appreciated among the Brahmin and Jain sects whose beliefs forbid the use of garlic and onions. Black Cardamom . Black cardamom is one of the . or encased in the woody pods in which they grow. musky. earthy flavor and are used in just about every type of dish. from meats to pickles to confectionery. and frankly unpleasant odor. and meats in central Asia and Iran. The seeds may be used ground. but when fried briefly in hot oil it lends a much more appealing onion-like flavor.The seeds of several species of the Amomum and Aframomum genera are sometimes sold as a cheap substitute for green cardamom. The dark blue berries of Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) can be used the same way. although they play a distinct role in the cuisine of the Himalayan region.milder in flavor to fennel and star anise. Barberry .” “lumps” which have been processed into larger. Asafoetida .

it is most often found as whole seeds which will retain their flavor for at least six months if properly . and stews all over Europe. and are used in many seafood and poultry dishes in the Mediterranean region where they are often paired with olives. They are best added to a dish towards the end cooking because prolonged exposure to heat can result in a bitter taste. soups. cheeses. cole slaw. including tartar sauce. It accounts for the characteristic flavor of pumpernickel bread.The dried seeds of Carum carvi have an unmistakable flavor all their own. and Danish aquavit. Those grown in France are graded according to size. Usually sold pickled or salted. and smoked fish. Tunisian harissa. Capers . Hungarian goulash. and with capottes at the other end of the scale. crackers. and rye bread. It is used in breads. with nonpareils being the smallest and most desirable. Although it is available in ground form. the Middle East. and India. when rinsed they have a pungent flavor that comes from an oil called glycoside. and is often added to sauerkraut.essential spices in garam masala. and their flavor is more subtle than that of capers. Both may be eaten on their own and as an accompaniment to cold meats. Spain. Cyprus. Caper berries are the pickled unripe fruits of the same shrubs. Major producers of capers are France.The unopened flower buds of several small Mediterranean shrubs of the Capparis genus. which is also found in horseradish and wasabi. California. which no doubt accounts for the widespread popularity of this spice. They are an important ingredient is many sauces. Caraway seeds . and Malta. North Africa. cakes. Italy. one of India’s most widely used spice mixtures. sausages.

Vietnam. It is also available in ground form which usually includes the hulls. In fact. The sticks will retain their flavor for over two years if stored in an airtight container. North Africa. it is usually sold as cinnamon in the USA. but in India.The seeds and seed pods of Elettaria cardamomum are sometimes called green cardamom in order to distinguish it from the closely related black cardamom. this is such common practice that it is quite possible that most Americans have never tasted true cinnamon. It has a more pronounced flavor and aroma than true cinnamon. Tanzania. Sticks (aka quills) of dried bark are widely available. and Guatemala. It is used almost exclusively in sweets and baked goods in the West. a powdered form is available almost everywhere. while the ground version will lose its potency in just a few months. It is one of the essential ingredients in Chinese . and the finest quality is grown in Vietnam. so it is best to buy it in small quantities. buy the whole pods and grind the seeds yourself. and loose seeds lose their flavor quickly. Buy the whole green pods when possible. so for best results. the white pods are merely bleached versions of the green pods. Native to southern India. It is used primarily in baked goods in Europe (especially Scandinavia). but it can be found in almost any type of dish elsewhere. Cassia . and since they are difficult to grind. it is now grown commercially in Sri Lanka. and Arabs use it to flavor coffee.stored. and the Middle East it is equally at home in savory preparations. Cardamom . Indians also use it to flavor ice cream (kulfi) and tea.The dried bark of the Cinnamomum cassia tree native to Southeast Asia.

The seeds of lovage (Levisticum officinale). and the name stuck. and in India they can frequently be found in curries. but use them sparingly or their flavor will overpower the dish. the Spanish called them pimiento (pepper) due to their pungency. burning aftertaste if used indiscriminately. What did the foods of India taste like before chiles? How did the people of Southeast Asia season their foods before chiles reached their shores? How did the Hungarians season their goulashes without paprika? What did the Spanish do before they had pimientos and their own smoky version of paprika called pimentón? What would Italian food be like without bell peppers or crushed red pepper . potato salad. stews. and breads. (Although they are unrelated to the pepper that Europe was already familiar with.No one is actually keeping score. Cayenne pepper . They are widely used in Russia and Scandinavia where they are often added to soups. but I bet if someone were.See chiles Celery seeds . a closely related plant. chiles would win as the New World’s most valuable contribution to world cuisine. Chiles . are also often sold as celery seeds. Try adding them to cole slaw.five-spice powder and in many traditional spice blends of India and the Middle East.) It’s hard to imagine what many of the outstanding food cultures of the world were like before the introduction of what has become the world’s largest spice crop. and salad dressings. The fruits of several species of the Capsicum genus have transformed the cooking of almost every region of the planet since Columbus delivered the first batch to his Spanish patrons at the close of the 15th century.The seeds of Apium graveolens have an intense celery flavor with overtones of citrus and parsley. and may leave a bitter.

this diversity points to the fact that Capsicum species are easy to grow just about anywhere. although the fruits may not be identical to the parent due to cross-pollination. As a general rule. The amount of capsaicin depends on the variety of chile as well as its ripeness. and may be eaten at any stage of maturity. including temperature. and experts agree that many other variables play a part in the ultimate spiciness of many varieties.flakes? Chiles are possibly the only spice that has so radically and permanently affected the cooking and eating habits of almost half the population of the planet. Usually classified as annuals. Ignoring this basic variability for a second. However. as determined by the amount of capsaicin they contain. the larger. orange. but rather a chemical stimulation of pain receptors in mucous membranes) is measured in Scoville units and ranges from zero Scoville units in the case of the mildest sweet bell peppers. chiles are easily grown from seed and will bear fruit in their first season. although freezing will result in a loss of flavor and spiciness unless . They may be dried or frozen. With literally thousands of varieties under cultivation around the world. they have a characteristically smooth and shiny skin in vibrant colors ranging from green to yellow. You will almost certainly be rewarded with your first crop in a matter of weeks. try saving some of the seeds and planting them in the spring. Their “hotness” (it’s not actually heat.000 for the hottest habanero and Scotch bonnet varieties. thinnerskinned varieties. with lower concentrations in the flesh of the fruits. and the dedicated cook can have a personal crop of chiles growing in the backyard or in pots on window sills virtually anywhere in the world. a comprehensive listing is far beyond the scope of this little article. fire engine red. It is said that capsaicin stimulates digestion and circulation. to about 350. and it also provokes perspiration which accounts for the near-universal popularity of spicy foods in tropical climates. some chiles are spicier than others. Chiles get their “heat” from a compound called capsaicin which is most concentrated in the seeds and white membranes. and soil conditions. and deep maroon. When fresh. If you happen across a fresh or dried chile you are particularly fond of. fleshier varieties are milder than the smaller. rainfall.

The uses of chiles are almost too numerous to mention. chile oils are made by steeping chiles in oil for a period of time. and hot pepper flakes are the dried. the flavors can be overwhelming (especially to the uninitiated). They come in various guises and are marketed under various names: cayenne pepper is the pulverized form of the dried red cayenne chile. but they can also be exceedingly subtle as well. four. chile powder is a mixture of powdered chiles (often ancho chiles) with other herbs and spices such as oregano and garlic. preserves. or even more types of chiles in order to form a combination of flavors from what each variety of chile provides. pastes. Cooks in Central and South America and the Caribbean have been keenly aware of these differences for thousands of years and it is not uncommon for some traditional preparations to call for three. Some attack the tongue with their chemical assault.The dried bark of .they are blanched first. Chiles get my vote for the most important spice of all time. crushed form of any of a variety of spicy red chiles. while others gently stimulate the back of the throat. paprika is the dried and pulverized form of sweet and mildly spicy red chiles. but the flavor spectrum is not limited to degrees of spiciness. Dried chiles will keep almost indefinitely in an airtight container. Chili powder . and chocolate. They are used fresh and dried. pimientos are the preserved flesh of red chiles similar to bell peppers. whole. prunes.See chiles Cinnamon . ounce for ounce. Some are fresh and “green” (it’s a chlorophyll thing) in flavor while others can be slightly bitter (especially yellow chilies) to sweet with overtones of raisins. and cooked in sauces. The flavors range from mild to infernally hot. raw. oils. as we have already seen. pickled. and ground. and powders. the spiciness may increase as much as tenfold. Yes. In their dried form the flavor is concentrated and. chopped. hot sauces are made by preserving chiles in brine or vinegar. Different types of chiles are valued for their different flavor components everywhere chiles are used.

and other condiments. its primary use in the West is in sweets and baked goods. desserts. preserved. in soups. and Latin America. true cinnamon is more subtle in flavor than cassia. condiments. and mojos. were known to ancient Romans thanks to an overland trade in spices dating back thousands of years.The dried. As with cassia. ceviches. so buy it in small quantities. and in India it is a component of many masalas. fresh. the Middle East. an indigenous citrus whose flavor is similar to a cross between a lemon and a lime. or dried rind of many members of the Citrus genus give an unmistakable citrus flavor and aroma to any dish they touch. In North Africa whole lemons are preserved in salt so the pickled rind can be used in chicken. chutneys. India. Candied and dried citrus rinds will keep indefinitely. rinds. Whole dried limes are added to stews and pilafs in the Middle East. In the West we use the juice. and zest (the outer colored part of the skin) to flavor baked goods. The Japanese use the dried rind of yuzu. unopened flower buds of Syzyium aromaticum. and in the Caribbean and Latin America the juice is used in innumerable marinades. China.the Cinnamomum zelanicum tree native to Sri Lanka. And let’s not forget all the beverages that citrus fruits have contributed their juice to all over the world. In stick form it will retain its flavor for several years. In Mexico it is traditionally combined with chocolate. Eugenol is the essential oil that gives cloves their . simmered dishes. and couscous dishes. but it is also used in savory meat and vegetable dishes in North Africa. When ground it loses its potency quickly. but it also has a hint of cloves from the oil eugenol which cassia lacks. Citrus . and sweets. It is available as sticks (aka quills) and in ground form.The juice and the pickled. lamb. and candies. a small tropical evergreen tree native to the Moluccas in Indonesia. Cloves .

and in France they are one of the four spices in quatre epices (along with black pepper. and ham dishes. and excessive amounts will actually produce a mouth-numbing sensation. and India as a flavoring for meat and vegetable dishes. North Africa. In India they are one of the basic ingredients of garam masala. India. They are used in sweet and savory dishes in the Middle East. . have a sweet. and dried ginger). the Middle East. spiced breads. and sausages. and are scarcely known outside of Indonesia today. Ground cloves lose their flavor quickly.The dried seeds of the Cariandrum sativum plant. in China they are essential to the five-spice mixture. In Europe and North America they are usually found in pickling spice mixtures and in cakes and cookies. nutmeg. In Indonesia they are mixed with tobacco and made into the aromatic kretek cigarettes. spicy fragrance with hints of pepper and orange peel. so buy in small quantities or buy the whole cloves which will retain their flavor for at least a year if properly stored. pine-like pungency that mellows in cooking. cubebs are a close relative to black pepper which they resemble in appearance and flavor. The taste can be overpowering if used indiscriminately. which also gives us the herb cilantro. Coriander seeds . The whole seeds are easily crushed or ground and retain their flavor much longer than the pre-ground form available on the market. China. Cubeb . Also known as Java pepper. and Southeast Asia. they were popular in Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries as a substitute for black pepper. stews. Cubebs also have notes of allspice and a strong. In Europe and North America they are often included in pickling mixtures. They are widely used throughout North Africa.unique flavor which is appreciated in virtually all parts of the world.The dried immature fruits of a tropical vine (Piper cubeba).

Dill seeds . making it one of the few plants that provides us with both a spice and an herb. the spice has been used in the Mediterranean. When they are dry. Its unique and indescribable flavor is used to season every type of food. cumin benefits from heating. North Africa. the flavor is enhanced by dry roasting before grinding. Dill is easily grown and will self-seed readily. with a touch of citrus. India. a small umbellifer related to caraway. couscous in Morocco. Harvest the seed heads when they are fully formed and dark brown. Many dishes from India and Mexico would be unrecognizable if the cumin were omitted—a garam masala or chili con carne wouldn’t be the same without it. dill. As with all seeds used as spices. Cumin .They are enjoying a minor resurgence in popularity among spice aficionados and are sometimes available from specialty spice shops. They are what puts the “dill” in dill pickles. and tapas in Spain.The seeds of another umbellifer. and the Romans used it much the way we use pepper today.000 years. it’s one of the world’s favorite spices as well. The seeds have a flavor reminiscent of caraway anise. Judging from its long history and ubiquitous nature. are possibly my all-around favorite spice. Native only to the Nile valley in Egypt.The dried seeds of the Cuminum cyminum plant. . rub the seedheads between your hands to separate the seeds from the husks. and China for at least 4. Place them in a paper bag and allow to dry in a warm place. from cheeses in Holland and pickled cabbage in Germany to fish dishes in Lebanon. both the leaves and seeds of Anethum graveolens are used in cooking. and fennel. Whole seeds will remain fresh for at least two years if stored in an airtight container. or by frying in hot oil if being used whole. Ancient Egyptians and Minoans used it for medicinal purposes. and are used in many Scandinavian and Norther European baked goods.

The “foenum-graecum” part of the name means “Greek hay. The seeds have a strong flavor reminiscent of celery or lovage. and cured as well as fresh sausages. galangal can be used fresh or dried. In India it is used in pickles and chutneys. Fennel pollen imported from Italy.” referring to the plant’s widespread use as animal fodder in classical times. and it is the dominant flavor in some curry powders.The dried seeds of Trigonella foenum-graecum are widely used in Middle Eastern. Dry-roasting or frying brings out a nutty. With its aniselike flavor. or Thai ginger. Galangal . sauerkraut. which has an intense flavor even when used in small quantities. dill and fennel plants should not be grown in close proximity to each other because they will cross-breed and produce hybrids. burnt sugar or maple syrup flavor. and Indian cooking. the dried seeds of Foeniculum vulgare are used to season pickles. and this trend may have already passed. It is an essential flavor component in Thai curries.Fennel seeds . Fenugreek . it is one of the components of Chinese fivespice powder and Indian garam masala. in North Africa it is often added to breads. Siamese. It is easily grown and can be harvested like dill seed (see above). but never seem to have caught on in the West. has been a recent fad among foodies. With a flavor similar to its cousin ginger.Yet another umbellifer. You may substitute ginger in recipes calling for .The rhizome of a couple of Alpinia species. however. it is used in a similar manner in the cooking of southern China and Southeast Asia and is sometimes called Laos. and in Turkey it is used to cure dried beef. North African. breads.

the bulbs of Allium sativum have been cultivated in central Asia and the Middle East for thousands of years. In addition to Allium sativum (which we consider to be basic. and this chemical activity results in the production of several disulphate compounds which owe their pungency to the sulfur compounds they contain. Garlic . garlic salt. sativum var. ursinum) are often cultivated and sold in markets.” The cloves of this plant may weigh up to an ounce (28 g) each. including fresh heads of garlic. While some of these products may offer something in terms of convenience. It is available in many forms. This accounts for why some recipes would have you mash the garlic to a pulp (as in aioli and pesto Genovese) for the maximum garlic flavor. Similarly. several other related species are also used around the world. or chopping of the garlic. ampeloprasum. slicing. and juice. The characteristic odor of garlic (as with the other members of the onion family) is formed when enzymes and other compounds come into contact with each other as a result of the crushing. they all lack the flavor of true. tricoccum) will most likely have to collect their own. ophioscorodon) and ramsons (A. extract. while aficionados of wild American garlic (A. the more finely garlic is chopped. regular old garlic). but the ancient Egyptians discovered its benefits in the kitchen and began growing it on a large scale. and others require a more . In other words. and although they are too mild to replace true garlic in cooking. and should only be used when fresh garlic is unavailable. which is actually a type of leek and is marketed as “elephant garlic. The most familiar to Americans is probably the bulb of A. the whole cloves are good roasted with other vegetables.galangal if it is not available in your area.Perhaps the most widely used spice in the world. wild members of the genus are often collected and used as garlic. A. the more pungent it becomes. It was originally used in medical and magical potions. canadense) and wild onions (or ramps. dried garlic flakes and powder. fresh garlic. In southern Europe rocambole (A.

or added whole to a dish and removed before serving. is used in sweet as well as savory foods nearly everywhere in the world. Ginger . pungent flavor with sweet. the thin brown skin is easily removed by rubbing with the edge of a spoon. or even the bottom of the sink if it is stainless steel. ginger is more likely to be used in a dried. and even leaving the garlic cloves whole in order to moderate the flavor. unwrinkled. candied. and heavy for their size. slicing. but there is a surefire way to eliminate the odor from your hands. Unfortunately. minced. Fresh ginger may be used sliced. In Europe and the rest of the Western world. When buying fresh ginger. Fresh ginger (also known as gingerroot) has a sharp. look for pieces (called “hands” in the trade) that are hard. Don’t ask me how this works because none of my scientific food resources contain any mention of it. It is used throughout Asia in every type of dish. responsible for the lingering aroma on the hands and breath of those who have cooked with and eaten it. and they even sell little pieces of stainless steel for this purpose.The fibrous rhizome of the Zingiber officinale plant. modern science has little to offer to remedy the noxious breath (and occasionally even body odor) that accompanies the consumption of garlic. fork. but I have tested this procedure and it’s the real deal: after cutting garlic or any other member of the onion family. as you might expect. Even though it is not necessary to peel fresh ginger. When garlic is heated the disulphate molecules are rearranged to form different. The same disulphate compounds that give garlic and the other members of the Allium genus their characteristic flavor are also. You may use a spoon. or preserved form because it was in these forms that ginger was traded from the Far East for many centuries.restrained chopping. run water over your fingertips as you rub them on a piece of stainless steel. which is why garlic and its cousins lose so much of their punch when cooked. native to China and Southeast Asia. less pungent disulphates. grated. Try it—you’ll be amazed. It . citrus undertones.

grains of paradise are also known as Guinea pepper. Ginger is often pickled in vinegar and served as a condiment. It figures prominently in the cooking of its native region of . It is also widely used in Asia. and continues to be one of the essential spices in African spice mixtures such as qalat daqqa and ras el hanout. and cakes. This will provide you not only with fresh ginger that will keep for several months. but as the supply of true pepper grew over the centuries. powdered ginger is most often found in baked goods in the West. the paper-thin slices of ginger (made pink by the pickling) that accompany sushi. Dried. Melegueta pepper. especially in spice mixtures such as Chinese five-spice. Grains of Paradise . so the demand for grains of paradise diminished. Store some fresh ginger in a small glass jar filled with dry sherry in the refrigerator.will keep for up to three weeks in the refrigerator. a relative of the plant that gives us cardamom. especially in Japan where one method produces gari. Crystallized ginger may be eaten as is.Although the leaves may be added raw to salads. but the ginger-flavored sherry can also be used in cooking. or used to flavor baked goods. The spice was once popular throughout Europe as a replacement for the more expensive true pepper. and occasionally alligator pepper. and curries. and you can refill the jar with both sherry and ginger to maintain your supply. Horseradish . masalas. Native to Western Africa. ice cream. It is still used in Scandinavia to flavor aquavit. and almost indefinitely frozen. Its flavor ranges from peppery and lemony in the case of the better grades.The seeds of the Amomum melegueta plant. it is the root of the Armoracia rusticana plant that most people are familiar with. to sharp and bitter in the case of the less expensive grades—buy Jamaican or Cochin ginger if possible.

especially with wild game dishes where their powerful. peppery flavor we are familiar with. and pates in France. and vinegar or lemon juice are added to enable an enzymatic reaction that produces the sharp. Juniper Berries . so both ripe and unripe green berries will appear on the same bush. The freshly grated root is extremely pungent enough to make your eyes sting and nose run. Pick the ripe blue-black berries from juniper plants that have not been treated with chemicals and dry them for home use. it’s no surprise that the fruit is used primarily in Indian cooking. They are widely used throughout Europe. and spread to Scandinavia.eastern Europe and western Asia where it still grows wild. tongue in Germany. The whole dried fruit and the dried rind have a slightly fruity. pine-like flavor will not overpower the meat. sherbets. in pickling mixtures in Scandinavia. Germany and the rest of Europe through the Middle Ages. and for more than a year in the freezer. and boiled beef in Austria and elsewhere. sour taste and are used much like tamarind to add a mildly tart note to beverages. Traditionally served to accompany roast beef in the British Isles. They are used to flavor sauerkraut in Alsace. Kokum .The dried berries of the common juniper plant (Juniperus communis) used in landscaping are probably best known as the dominant flavor in gin. and condiments. The berries take two years to ripen. woodsy.Since the Garcinia indica tree is native to and grows almost exclusively in India. In fact. . Its culinary history probably began in Russia and the Ukraine. fresh horseradish will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. the French word for juniper. our word for gin is derived from genievre.

and soft drinks. The flavor is very similar to nutmeg. are used to flavor baked goods. candies. and it is surrounded by a lacy. the Myristica fragrans tree of Southeast Asia produces a fruit that resembles an apricot.This is going to take a little explaining. The large. In China and Southeast Asia its primary use is medicinal. They may be eaten (chewed. with hints of pepper and cloves. hard seed in the middle of the fruit is the spice we know as nutmeg. perennial shrubs native to Europe and Asia. Mace . the dried arils are sometimes available and are worth seeking out because they have an almost indefinite shelf life when properly stored.The roots of several species of the genus Glycyrrhiza. liqueurs. where it can be used interchangeably with nutmeg.Also known as mahlab and mahaleb. and cough syrups and other medications rely on its powerful flavor to mask medicinal tastes. The plants are easily grown from seed or root cuttings.Licorice . but are most often sold in dried and powdered form. You see. The soft kernels are removed from . and in the West it is used primarily in baked goods and pickling mixtures. Mahleb . Although it is most commonly found in ground form. This is mace. orange-red covering called an aril. actually) raw. and the roots may be harvested in the fall and will take several months to dry. and can be ground in a pepper grinder or spice mill. the kernels of a sour cherry Prunus mahaleb are used primarily in baked goods in the Middle East. The majority of the world harvest is used to flavor tobacco.

and can be ground in a pepper mill. and preserves and is widely used in the Middle East and is not widely available elsewhere.the center of the cherry pits and dried before they are used whole or in ground form. It has a light.The dried seeds of several members of the Brassica genus are valued worldwide for their pungent flavor. dark berries resemble pepper in appearance. and may even provide a mouth-numbing effect if used to excess. Mountain Pepper . Mustard . The small. In Western cooking the whole seeds are a common ingredient in pickling mixtures.The fresh and dried berries of Tasmannia lanceolata. It is brittle and easily crushed. a small shrub native to Australia. puddings. The berries are very potent with an intensive bite more pungent than pepper. cheese pastries. It flavors many breads.” small nuggets of the dried resin which is always ground to a fine powder before being used. Pistacia lentiscus. pine-like aroma and taste. These run the complete spectrum from smooth and mild to .The dried resin of a member of the cherry family. and takes on the consistency of chewing gum when chewed and so has been popular as a breath freshener for centuries. It is usually sold in a form known as “tears. Mastic . but the vast majority of the mustard we consume is in the form of prepared mustards. it is often used as a substitute for pepper in combination with other Australian bush spices. They have a flavor reminiscent of cherries and almonds.

and many fruit. Nutmeg . beer produces a fiery hot mixture.The kernel of the seed of the Myristica fragrans tree of Southeast Asia. and cheese dishes. depending on the type of mustard seed used. fruit extracts. and the liquid they are combined with. north Africa. crushed. Mustard loses its potency when heated. nutmeg has hallucinogenic properties and can be toxic and even fatal if consumed in excessive quantities. meat fillings for pastas and pastries. herbs. from breads and baked goods to vegetable dishes (it is a classic seasoning for fresh spinach). stews. and finger-staining ability. so is best added at the table or during the last stages of cooking. which accounts for its bright color. or finely ground. dusty taste. The bright yellow stuff often called “ball park” mustard is more properly known as American mustard and is characterized by the addition of entirely too much turmeric. It is added to just about every form of preparation. but ground mustard loses both after a few weeks. whether the husks were removed in the processing. whether they are used whole. With a taste similar to mace but with overtones of cloves. and pure water provides the hottest mustard of all. and the ultimate flavor of prepared mustard is determined largely by the liquid used: vinegar gives a mild mustard. Consumed in large quantities. The spiciness of prepared mustards is provided by an enzyme called myrosinase which is activated by water. while the ground product quickly loses its flavor.coarse and fiery hot. including honey. and the Middle East. and it’s hard to imagine a good old American pumpkin pie without it. It is also an essential ingredient to many spice mixtures used throughout Europe. and other spices. Whole kernels of nutmeg last indefinitely. Prepared mustards are also flavored with a variety of other ingredients. nutmeg is relatively inexpensive compared to mace because the yield of nutmeg from a given tree is about ten times that of mace. white wine gives a sharper version. the same plant that also provides us with mace. . Whole mustard seeds will retain their potency and flavor for at least a year when stored properly. egg.

better known to gardeners as love-ina-mist. Pepper . and the flavor is mildly peppery with nutty. and used to pay ransoms. Indonesian lampong pepper has more bite and less aroma. black pepper is by far the most common. Vietnam. Of the several forms of pepper available to modern cooks. and pickles in India. and are used whole as a pickling spice in Iran and other parts of the Middle East. earthy overtones. Pepper owes its bite to an alkaloid called piperine. Native to India. curries. pilafs. The aroma is reminiscent of mild oregano. and dowries. always buy whole seeds because the ground form doesn’t last as long and may have been adulterated with less expensive ingredients. Available in Indian and Middle Eastern specialty shops. Malaysian Sarawak pepper has even less aroma. exchanged ounce for ounce with gold. It is produced by . taxes. chutneys. They are ground and added to legume and vegetable dishes. Brazil.000 years ago. and Malaysia as well. woody. The balance of these essential oils and piperine vary according to the origin of the pepper: Indian Malabar pepper is reputedly the best with its balanced blend of bite and aroma. and its warm.The seeds of the Nigella sativa plant. making them less pungent. the fruits of the Piper nigrum vine are the world’s largest spice crop in both volume and value. It has been used as currency. sometimes citrus-like flavor is derived from several essential oils. what they are really talking about is the pepper trade.When history books refer to the spice trade. Pepper originally reached Europe over 3. and our craving for it has never diminished. native to southern Europe and western Asia. are used primarily in the cooking of India. and Brazilian and Vietnamese peppers generally contain less piperine. they are now grown commercially in Indonesia. Today.Nigella .

They will retain their flavor for over a year (longer if frozen). buy whole peppercorns only. In the course of fermenting and drying.picking the berries when they are still green. or red pepper. They have a delicate sweet. go to the kitchen and throw it away right now. and a couple of grinds of a pepper mill will remind you what pepper is supposed to taste like. white.The dried berries of the Brazilian pepper tree . Without this outer skin and its resident oils. If you have bought ground black or white pepper. just about everywhere. fruity taste. which is then removed. it has already lost most of the essential oils that provide its flavor. They have less bite than other forms and add an agreeable fresh note. and then drying them. fermenting them briefly. The best white pepper is said to be Muntok from Indonesia. Whether you are buying black. Green peppercorns are picked green and freeze-fried or pickled in brine or vinegar. giving black pepper its unique and complex aroma and flavor. The uses for pepper are too numerous to list here because it is used in just about everything. the berries shrink and the skin becomes black or dark brown and wrinkled. green. white pepper is almost without aroma. They are soaked briefly to soften the outer skin. and with only piperine to provide the bite. White pepper is the inner core of berries that have been picked when they are yellow-orange and almost ripe. its flavor is considered flat and uninteresting by many. Pink Pepper . Red peppercorns (not to be confused with pink pepper) are picked ripe and treated the same as green peppercorns. It is often used in cream sauces in order to avoid the visible black specks that black pepper would provide. Regardless of how recently you bought it. and all you have left is what amounts to dried sawdust with a splash of piperine. The skin is where many of the essential oils are located. but are not widely available outside of Southeast Asia.

The berries grown on Reunion seem to be free of the irritant and have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. baked goods. add a crunchiness in addition to their fruity taste. The berries are available dried or pickled in brine or vinegar. Even though the plant is native to Brazil and southern South America. gravies. and desserts in India and the Middle East. and ground into a . and salad dressings.(Schinus terebinthifolius) should not be confused with the fruit of the Piper nigrum vine. Although pink peppercorns have small amounts of the alkaloid piperine that gives true pepper its bite. They are often sprinkled over breads and sweet buns. chutneys. Poppy Seed .The protein-rich seeds of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum. buy whole peppercorns and crush or grind them immediately prior to using them. Pink pepper is grown commercially only on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. and imported through France which helps to account for its exorbitant price. curries.Both the seeds and the juice of the fruit of the Punica granatum tree native to the Middle East and southern Asia add a sweet-tart taste to salads. As with all peppers. known as anardana in India. The dried seeds. There have been reports of gastric and respiratory irritation associated with the consumption of pink pepper. it has naturalized in California and Florida as well as many parts of the Mediterranean due to its popularity as a landscape plant. the two plants are unrelated. The juice may be drunk as a beverage or added to sauces. fruity taste with hints of pine and juniper. Pomegranate molasses made from the juice is currently in vogue with trend-following chefs who add it to sauces. especially with regard to the berries found growing wild in Florida. and have a pleasant. Pomegranate . stews. or “sleep-inducing poppy”) are used primarily in baked goods in the West.

Westerners don’t usually think of roses as a flavoring for foods. Its contribution to a dish is primarily aromatic when used in moderation because the pungent. medicinal flavor can be overpowering.Although we know it better for the oil extracted from its seeds. and rose petal preserves in Middle Eastern and Indian specialty shops. the most widely used form of rose flavoring is rose water made with the distilled essence (attar) of roses. so buy them in small quantities and store them in the freezer. Their subtle flavor and aroma are reminiscent of almonds and are enhanced by dry-roasting or baking. This is used in all types of dishes. especially in beverages and sweets. the Middle East. Rose is available as dried petals and buds. Although the dried and ground petals are used in marinades and stews in India and north Africa. it is no urban legend that the consumption of poppy seeds can provide a false positive reaction for opiates in drug screenings. but the dried buds and petals of the most fragrant members of the Rosa genus are used widely throughout north Africa. pale brown.paste as a filling for pastries. They range in color from almost black to slate-blue. and cream-colored. In fact. rose oil. the dried flowers of the thistle-like plant Carthamus tinctorius are also valued. and India. In India they are frequently ground and added to spice mixtures for kormas and curries and used in vegetable dishes. Rose . Safflower . Because of their high oil content they tend to go rancid quickly. Although they contain none of the narcotic properties of the milky sap of the plant that is used to make opium. primarily for their ability to color foods yellow. rose water. unscrupulous spice merchants may try to pass it off as the much more expensive .

and are used in the West primarily as a topping for baked goods. buy threads if possible because the ground saffron is easily adulterated with less expensive ingredients. and traditional saffron cakes are still available in Cornwall.saffron. pale gold. pilafs. lightly toast the threads before adding them whole or crushed to a dish. floral aroma to dishes it is used in. For best results. Saffron lends a yellow color and a musty. In India. It is used to color rice. and vegetable dishes. and it is often called false saffron. Asia. Saffron is available as dried stamens (known as threads) and in powdered form. noodle. soups. and is also an essential ingredient in such fish soups as the French bouillabaisse and the Catalan zarzuela. pound for pound. paellas.See Szechwan pepper Sesame seeds . Portugal. Sansho . . or steep them in warm liquid for 5 minutes to make an infusion. and black.The Sesamum orientale plant has been cultivated for its seeds for at least three thousand years. The small seeds range in color from ivory to red. and the Middle East they are often used to add flavor and texture to seafood. and sauces in India. medicinal taste. chicken. the most expensive spice in the world. The stigmas of more than four thousand blooms must be plucked by hand in order to produce a mere ounce (28 g) of the spice. and has a subtle bitter and lightly pungent flavor. but caution should be used because more than a pinch will yield a bitter. It is widely used around the world to color and season risottos. It is almost without aroma. and many other traditional rice dishes. and Turkey. Saffron . The Swedes add it to buns and cakes to celebrate Saint Lucia’s day in December.The stigmas of a wild crocus (Crocus sativus) native to the Mediterranean and western Asia are. stews. brown.

and is used in the West primarily as a flavoring ingredient in liqueurs such as pastis and anisette. warm flavor with notes of anise.The dried fruit of the Illicium verum tree. Iraq. Whole. Sumac is a frequently used ingredient in the cooking of Turkey. or grind them yourself in a spice mill. and Vietnamese pho (beef and noodle soup) wouldn’t be right without it. fish. marinades. powdered. Sumac . and Korean primarily as a seasoning rather than a cooking oil because of its low smoke point. and in chewing gum and pastries.The dried berries of a shrub (Rhus coriaria) native to Iran and the Middle East are used to add an acidic note to dishes much the way lemon juice is used in the West and tamarind is used in Asia. Because of their high oil content sesame seeds tend to go rancid quickly. a type of magnolia native to China and Japan. store them in an airtight container in the freezer. It is also served in its crushed or powdered form as a . breads. buy only the whole pods and add them whole to soups and stews (remove them before serving). Lebanon. Star Anise . and vegetable dishes. and Syria where it is used to flavor beverages. baba ghanoush. It has a sweet. chicken. used widely in Chinese. It is an essential ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder as well as many Chinese soups. and licorice. The berries may be used whole. definitely takes the prize as the most attractive spice with its star-shaped seed pods. so buy them in small quantities. Although it is sometimes available in ground form. fennel. and many traditional Middle Easter dishes. Japanese.They are the primary ingredient is such sweets as Middle Eastern halvah and Indian til laddoos. or to form an infusion. is made from toasted seeds and provides a distinctive. raw seeds are ground into the paste tahini which is used to make hummus. Asian sesame oil. nutty flavor. and toast them as needed. and braising liquids.

and it is also available as a concentrate (or syrup) and paste. Turmeric .condiment with kebabs. One of the world’s least expensive spices. Southeast Asia. Peru. It is used in a wide variety of dishes whenever an acidic note is desired. the majority of whose crop is used domestically. The world’s largest producer is India. . Haiti. adds a bright yellow-orange color and subtle flavor reminiscent of ginger and citrus to many sweet and savory dishes.The reddish-brown pulp that surrounds the seeds inside the seed pods of the Tamarindus indica tree of Madagascar and eastern Africa is the only spice of importance to have originated on the African continent. simulans) and Japan (Z.The fresh or ground rhizome of Curcurma longa. They have a fragrant.The dried berries of the Zanthoxylum genus of prickly ash trees native to China (Z. and as a flavoring for beverages in the Caribbean and Latin America. Jamaica. it is also grown commercially in China. and vegetable dishes. a plant related to ginger. The pulp is often formed into cakes or blocks which are typically soaked in water to form a tart infusion which is added to dishes. Szechwan pepper . fish. and India. piperitum) are an essential ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder and Japanese seven-spice mixture. and is one of the predominant flavors in Worcestershire sauce. It is used in all types of meat and vegetable dishes in China. Tamarind . peppery flavor with hints of citrus and are used in all manner of meat. poultry. They are currently banned from importation into the United States because they are a vector for a disease that attacks native ash trees. woodsy.

sun-dried.It’s ironic that among the orchid family of plants. Madagascar. darken. and although each claims superiority over the others. the most numerous and geographically widespread family of plants on the planet. I doubt that even the most sensitive palate would be able to distinguish them. and Indonesia. mustards. They are parboiled. Today vanilla is grown commercially in Mexico. Fresh rhizomes are widely available throughout Asia. and pickling mixtures. It is still used widely for its . and the Spanish returned to Spain with both chocolate and vanilla. The seed pods of the climbing perennial orchid Vanilla planifolia native to Central America have no flavor or aroma when they are picked.and several Southeast Asian countries. The fresh rhizomes freeze well and may be stored for several months in an airtight container in the freezer. only one offers a food product. It is an essential ingredient in many Indian curries and masalas and contributes the distinctive yellow color to those dishes. It is available in most supermarkets in two forms: whole “beans” (the commercial designation for the seed pods). Tahiti. the most recognizable of which is vanillin. Reunion. and as an extract made by macerating the pods in alcohol. but the most common form of the spice in the West is the powdered form. In the West is it most frequently used as a coloring agent in cheeses. and fermented in a lengthy and complicated process during which the pods shrivel. margarine. and develop aromatic compounds. Vanilla . The powdered form will retain most of its flavor and all of its coloring ability for more than a year when properly stored. The Aztecs introduced their Spanish conquerors to vanilla as an ingredient in the chocolate beverage served in the court of Moctezuma.

and vanilla extract will last indefinitely. after which they may be rinsed. and food coloring because wasabi is expensive to grow due to its finicky horticultural requirements. they will impart their unique flavor to the sugar for use in baking or for sweetening a cup of coffee or tea. read the label carefully. try to buy those with a light dusting of white crystals of vanillin on the surface. Added whole to sugar. and when buying whole dried beans. vanilla also goes well with seafood (especially lobster. so is typically served with and added to cold foods. The beans may be used whole to infuse sauces and syrups. When buying powdered wasabi. powdered form wasabi has little taste and only develops its eye-tearing and sinus-clearing pungency when mixed with water. Wasabi . The beans may also be split and the tiny black seeds may be scraped out of the pod prior to being added to a dish. ice creams. In Japan the root is available fresh and is often grated and added to fish dishes. or with powdered wasabi that has been prepared in a paste. but the rest of the world has to be content with powdered wasabi. Although its primary use is to flavor sweet preparations. and reused. When buying vanilla extract. In its dry.The root of the Eutrema wasabi plant native to Japan is frequently called Japanese horseradish even though the two plants are not related. It is essential to sashimi and sushi. as well as in the full spectrum of baked goods. mustard. be sure to look for “pure vanilla extract” on the label. The real thing should cost at least twice as .original purpose in the manufacture of chocolates and other sweets. dried. and mussels) and is also added to black beans in Mexico. scallops. It loses its flavor when exposed to heat. Vanilla beans will retain their flavor for up to two years if properly stored. and sweet treats the world over. Many so-called “wasabi” products actually contain horseradish.

and chocolate. Wattle seeds are expensive because they are collected in the wild and require a labor-intensive process to make them ready for market. They are available in Australian gourmet markets and specialty spice shops. Although it has been known to Europeans for at least 1. hazelnuts.Of the thousands of varieties of acacia trees in the world. Sometimes called “white turmeric. but have failed to make much of an impact on the rest of the world. All rights reserved.much as the imitation. Powdered wasabi has a shelf life of several months. chopped. . but it is becoming increasingly available in Asian markets around the world. and the prepared paste will last almost as long if properly stored. Copyright © 2005 by Worldwide Recipes. Nowadays its culinary use is limited mainly to Southeast Asia.The rhizomes of several members of the Curcuma genus are used in Southeast Asia in a manner similar to ginger and galangal. The Acacia victoriae and A. and they are used in custards. and other baked goods. Their flavor has been likened to coffee. Wattle . and because their demand exceeds their supply. Dried zedoary is rarely found outside Southeast Asia.” the fresh rhizomes may be grated. cheesecakes. two close relatives. or sliced and used like ginger. aneura are among the Australian species that are valued for their seeds. ice cream. its use has been primarily as a medicinal herb in the West.500 years. only a few have edible seeds. Zedoary .

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