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Everything about spices
EVERYTHING ABOUT SPICES
“Spice” comes from the Latin species meaning ‘sort, or kind’.
A spice is an aromatic vegetable substance (from a plant) used to flavour food.
Background: the quest for spices
Spices first appeared in 4000 B.C. in India and China. Arab traders were the first to bring back these precious flavours, which soon became as coveted as gold.
Egyptians used spices to make perfumes and embalm the dead.
The Spice Trade gave impetus to the discovery and colonisation of new lands by explorers like Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus.
Spices also figure predominantly in traditional medicine for their healing properties.
Culinary and medicinal uses of herbs and spices
Star anise (Illicium verum)
The star-shaped fruit of this plant is a digestive aid, calms muscle spasms and coughs and cures bad breath. It’s also used in cooking – mainly desserts – for its fresh, warm aroma and anise seed taste. Common dishes: puddings, crème brulée, herbal teas, chutneys, meat roasts and chicken.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Cinnamon bark is said to boost the body’s respiratory, digestive and circulatory systems and purify the blood.
Cardamom (Fructus Cardamomi)
Cardamom (also spelt cardamum) helps relieve digestive troubles.
It’s primarily used in sweet dishes and drinks such as chutneys, pies, spice bread, cakes and chai tea, but is also found in things like stuffing, meatballs, rice, omelettes and noodles.
Caraway (Carum carvi)
Caraway leaves are eaten in salads, soups and cold side dishes. The plant’s seeds are used in meat dishes, sausages, potatoes and other vegetables, tajines, cheeses and deli meats.
Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
Cloves, which are dried flower buds, are known for their antiseptic and anaesthetic properties.
They are also used to prepare stewed dishes (meat and game) and are a component of spice mixes such as curry, five-spice powder and ras-el-hanout, a north African spice blend.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Coriander is used as a digestive aid and antiseptic.
A member of the parsley family, its leaves are eaten as a side dish and seasoning. Coriander seeds are a commonly-used spice in marinades and Greek mushroom recipes.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric is a rhizomatous herbaceous plant of the ginger family. It is said to:
- reduce fatty deposits in the liver
- fight colon cancer
- improve skin complexion
- be an excellent anti-inflammatory
In Indian and Reunionese cooking, turmeric flavours meat, fish and seafood dishes.
In western culinary traditions, it’s used in baked white meat and fish dishes, sauces, quiches and other savoury pies, salad dressings, rice, paella and creamy vegetable soups.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foennum graecum)
Fenugreek seeds stimulate the appetite and digestion.
The plant’s leaves are used (in small quantities) in salads, vegetable soups, stews, and in cauliflower and potato dishes.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
The rhizome, or root, of the ginger plant is believed to play a key role in brain stimulation and the quenching of thirst and is especially known as an aphrodisiac! Ginger is used to treat upset stomach and nausea.
It’s also a staple ingredient in Asian, and particularly Japanese, cooking, to flavour sauces, meats, fish, seafood, rice, tofu and soups, as well as jams and crystallised sweets. In Europe, ginger is most often used in desserts, including biscuits, spice loaf and chutneys.
Mustard (Sinapis alba/nigra)
Mustard seed stimulates appetite and digestion.
The plant’s leaves and flowers can also be added to salads and sauces.
Nutmeg (myristica fragrans)
The seed of the nutmeg tree has been used as a folk treatment for rheumatism and bronchial infections. When pressed, it is used to make essential oil.
As a spice, nutmeg is used in soups, mashed vegetables, soufflés and meat dishes.
Paprika (capsicum annuum var annuum)
The fruit of this pepper tree acts as a decongestant and expectorant (for coughs and chest conditions) and has warming and calming properties. It lowers the risk of heart disease, stimulates appetite and improves digestion.
Paprika is particularly popular in Hungary, where it is added to goulash, sauces, fish, eggs and potatoes.
Chili pepper (capsicum)
This fruit is hot, hot, hot thanks to its high capsaicin content which sets taste buds on fire. The cleansing effect of chilli pepper helps eliminate alcohol and medicines from the body, and the plant is also used to treat rheumatism and flu and to prevent heart disease and prostate cancer. It has antibacterial, antiseptic, diuretic and sudorific properties and plays a role in digestion.
Kitchen side, this pepper is an ingredient in chilli con carne, Hungarian goulash, chorizo, curries and condiments.
Black pepper (fructus piper nigrum, longum)
This is the most common spice in the world. Black pepper is a tonic, antibacterial agent, and stimulates digestion.
It can be used to flavour almost any dish, including some desserts.