Story of spices
I love spices. I make my own spice-blends. There is something sensual and mystic about spices. Most spices are so tiny but have such huge character, they really bring a dish to life. Each spice is so unique and yet when you blend them together, they compliment each-other to create a fantastic symphony of flavor.
Those jars of spices in your pantry are not only packed with flavour and medicinal properties, they are a chapter from culinary history. Spices are easily available today but history has seen that it was once valued as much as currency and controlled the economy of nations. Archeologists discovered spices in Egyptian tombs as early as 3000 BC. One can see a reference to spices in Epic of Gilgamaesh, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Old Testament. Spices were believed to have mystical powers and healing properties, and many continue to believe so even today. It is therefore no surprise that nutmeg was once worth more than gold. In many parts of the world, even today, saffron is as good as gold and is one of the most expensive culinary ingredients.
Cinnamon is a bark. It has a warm sweet aroma, great for sweet and savory dishes. In 1500 B.C. the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut used cinnamon in her perfumes. It's probably one of the oldest spice.
A bright yellow aromatic powder obtained from the rhizome of a plant of the ginger family, used for flavoring and coloring in Asian cooking . Turmeric was used as a dye before it claimed a spot on the spice rack. It has medicinal properties and is often referred as miracle spice.
A pungent hot-tasting red powder prepared from ground dried chili peppers. It not only adds color but the fire in the curry. There are numerous kinds of red chili powder, some adding more color than fire and vice-versa. I dig the fire !!
Cloves originated in Maluku Islands of Indonesia, the earliest documented history. It was a tradition to plant a clove tree, on the birth of a child and the health of the tree was directly linked to the health of the child. During the 16th or 17th century, the Dutch took over the islands and started destroying the clove trees that was not in their control, as they wanted to have a monopoly on the spice. It's got a very sweet n strong aroma. I remember my mother would always ask me to chew a clove if I ever had tooth ache. It is said to have local anesthetic and antiseptic properties, hence; useful in dental care.
Cumin is another nutty spice that is widely used in Indian cuisine has its origin in Nile valley of upper Egypt. About 400 years ago, Spanish and Portuguese traders, introduced it to the New World and Americas. Around the same time it was introduced to India and south east Asia thanks to the turks.
Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper, In the early 17th century, it was named allspice because spice traders identified it with a combination of flavors: clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The leaves of the allspice tree has the same flavor as the fruit, but lose their potency when dry. In the 19th century, Russian soldiers would put allspice in their boots to keep their feet warm. This also helped with foot odor, and pimento oil (allspice oil) is used today in the cosmetic industry, especially in men's products with the term spice in the name.
Black and White Pepper are both obtained from the small dried berry of the vine Piper nigrum. For White Pepper, the berry is picked when fully ripe. The outer layer of shrunken skin is removed, leaving the dried, grayish-white kernel. It has a milder, more delicate flavor than Black Pepper.
Fennel is a flowering plant from the carrot family. It is also used as a herb. Ancient roman texts mention the value of this herb for its aromatic seeds and succulent edible stems. Romans introduced the herb to Britain during the Roman occupation. The Americas were introduced to the herb in the 1700’s. Fennel is grown in France, Germany, Italy, India, Japan and America. The root of the plant was one of the flavorings used in Sack, an alcoholic drink featuring mead that was popular during Shakespearian times. In India it is coated in sugar and used as a mouth freshener.
Vanilla is from the orchid family and is native to central Mexico. It's the only fruit bearing orchid. The ancient Totonac Indians of Mexico were the first to learn to use the fruit of the Tlilxochitl vine, The flower that produces the vanilla bean lasts only one day. The beans are hand-picked and then cured, wrapped, and dried in a process that takes 4 to 6 months. That's the reason it's so expensive. It's the second most expensive spice after saffron. Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing vanilla to the United States in the late 1700s. While serving as Ambassador to France, he learned the use of vanilla beans, and when he returned to the United States, brought vanilla beans with him.
Saffron is technically a spice, made from the dried stigmas of the crocus flower . It's the most expensive spice. Saffron was used to scent the baths and public halls of Imperial Rome. Researchers have shown that saffron has its origin in the Zargos mountain range in Iran, where around 1 Kg of saffron was used in the royal kitchen every day. The word saffron is derived from the Arabic word Zafaraan, it was the Arabs who planted saffron initially in Spain over 1000 years ago when they ruled the region. It's still the most expensive spice in the world.
Star anise is the fruit of a small evergreen tree native to southwest China. The star-shaped fruits are picked just before ripening and dried before use. They contain the same essential oil as the botanically unrelated Spanish anise seed, which gives the two a nearly identical flavor - strong, sweet, and licoricey.
Cardamom is a spice native to the Middle East, North Africa, India and Scandinavia. There are three types of cardamom; green cardamom, black cardamom and Madagascar cardamom. It is best to buy cardamom still in the pods, which are removed and discarded. It is native to the East originating in the forests of the western ghats in southern India, where it grows wild The green cardamom has the most delicate flavor of the three.
Fenugreek seeds are used as spice in some cuisine. Like fennel, fenugreek has been cultivated for centuries primarily because it was thought to have many healing virtues. It was even an ingredient in the "holy smoke" which was a part of the Egyptian embalming ritual. An old-fashioned Arabic greeting was, "May you tread in peace the soil where fenugreek grows." Indians often roast the seed before grinding, giving it a somewhat sweeter flavor. It is also said to reduce blood glucose levels. In Indian cuisine it's used in spice blends.
For recipes using spices and spice blends visit : http://www.turmericnspice.com