1597 map depicting the locations of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Abraham Ortelius [Public domain]
The lands where the pepper grows: 1597 map depicting the locations of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Abraham Ortelius [Public domain]

Everything you need to know about SPICES

Good food is a science with a massive history. In this article, we’re going to start out simple and slowly dive in. Here we tell you about the worlds most popular spices, where they come from, and how to use them.

This time we’re going to infuse you with some history, tricks, and fun facts about SPICES.

Before we go any further, herbs are worth a quick mention. When it comes to adding flavour to our food, few things do the job quite like herbs and spices. A few herbs come from tree-like, woody plants (plants with woody branches and stems), such as a bay leaf. Most come from ‘herbaceous’ plants (plants that flower within one year and don’t have woody stems). That’s where we get the term ‘herbs’ because generally, herbs are leaves.

Spices come from parts of plants that are particularly full of essential oils. But what are essential oils? Easy: essential oils are the essence of plant cells.

How MANY spices are there?

Of the traditional Indian spices? About 64. But, spices can be defined by combination, and there are over 200 varieties of Cayenne pepper alone! It’s reasonable to guess that there are thousands of herbs throughout the world.

What is the most EXOTIC spice?

These are the rarest spices out there: Annatto, grains of paradise, asafoetida, saffron, sumac, anardana juniper berries, galangal, fenugreek, Ceylon and cinnamon.

What are the most EXPENSIVE spices?

The three most expensive spices are cardamom (30$/lb) vanilla (50 – 200$/lb) and Saffron (1600 – 5000$/lb) (source).

Cardamom seed pods hold many seeds, but the entire pod can be ground up or used whole.

Vanilla is native to Mexico, and it’s one of the most sought-after spices in cultivation because of its scent and flavour.

Saffron has a vivid red ‘stigma’ (the significant waggly bit in the centre of the flower). This is collected with its ‘threads’ to be dried and used as food colouring and seasoning.

WHY are these the most expensive?

To put it bluntly, expensive harvesting costs. The saffron crocus blooms for only two weeks annually. The pistils, of which each flower has three, must be painstakingly harvested by hand. Most importantly, this must be done in the morning, after the flower has opened naturally; otherwise, the afternoon loses the flavour. (source)

What can I use INSTEAD of saffron?

The best substitute for saffron is Ground Turmeric. Available in most food shops. Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory (eases and heals swelling), can serve as an antioxidant (cleansing), and can help with some of the side effects and symptoms of illnesses like depression or arthritis. How is this miraculous spice able to do so much? An active part of the spice is curcumin, a compound that gives the sauce its bright yellow colour. This compound champions many scientifically proven health benefits to improve the health of our hearts and ward off Alzheimer’s or cancer.

However, if you’re wondering if Turmeric is better to eat cooked or raw, know this. Cooking turmeric destroys the curcumin in it. Be sure that if you want to enjoy the benefits of this fantastic spice, other than its flavour and colour, add it after you have prepared your cooked meal. The health benefits of Turmeric will be mostly lost if heated. For a more detailed understanding of this, check out this link.

What spices BURN easily?

Here’s a short history of the black peppercorn:

  • India: circa 2000 BC: Archaeological evidence of a pepper trade in Ancient Egypt.
  • Italy: 410 AD: Romans used it to trade with the Visigoths to stop their sacking of the Eternal City (it didn’t work; the city soon-after stopped being so ‘eternal’).
  • “As navigators began to understand the pattern of the Indian Ocean monsoon and the surge resulted in more detailed knowledge about the lands where the pepper grows.” – Periplus Maris Erythraei – anon merchants’ guide to the Red Sea.
  • India: 14thCentury: Malabar Coast, pepper becomes the significant trademark of the first Muslim expansion and was a primarily traded commodity.
  • India: 1500: after the Portuguese bombardment of Kozhikode, the Portuguese ‘Pepper Empire’ was born.
  • Everywhere: the mid-1500s: Mappila Muslims remained to resist or evade the Portuguese monopoly on pepper. Muslim traders foreign to India moved to safer ports to trade with mainland Europe, often undercutting the Portuguese prices in Lisbon.
  • India: End of the 16thcentury: The Portuguese finally defeated the Mappila strongholds.
  • The Dutch hear the word of the pepper wars and get involved with designs of their own imperialism.
  • The British got involved after the Dutch, and the rest is colonial history.

For more detail, go here.

GINGER

India grows the best ginger.

What are the varieties of ginger?

Southern India grew ginger, mainly around the first century and throughout the spice trade era. However, the Chinese first recorded the spice and introduced it to Mediterranean Arabs. Ginger treats and heals illnesses and disorders. Click here and order the Chicken Adrak (31) to experience the best of ginger!

Yellow Ginger

AKA: “Creamy Garland Lily”. It’s a perennial flowering plant (meaning it will live many years and produce a flower). Ginger grows naturally in Northern Vietnam, the Himalayas, and Sichuan and it is grown around the world, in Hawaii, for example. We know Yellow Ginger for being bitter, spicy, and musky. You can use it for muscle pain, as an anti-inflammatory, and it’s anti-microbial. Yellow Ginger possesses many other health benefits, including healing a stomach ache when you put it in your tea!

White Ginger

AKA: “Coronarium”/”Butterfly Lily”/”Ginger Lily”. This one is hardy, and like other ginger, types can grow up to 8ft tall! It’s pretty standard in Hawaii. It is used for sore throats by gargling its juice. It also treats rheumatism.

Spring Ginger

Known For: ‘hand like’ shape, commonly seen as the young version of mature ginger, indicated by a ‘pink blush’. This kind of ginger is especially good at neutralising and eliminating unpleasant tastes. Brewers can use it to make ginger ale, using its refined juices.

Culinary Ginger

AKA: “Edible Ginger”. Usually, you will find this ginger in a recipe or dish as a garnish of ginger peel. However, it is also used in tea and various preserves.

Blue Hawaiian Ginger

AKA: “Blue Ginger Beauty”. Blue Hawaiian Ginger is a lesser-known variety. It is blueish in colour, edible, and when its roots aren’t fully mature, it looks like more common varieties of ginger. Blue Hawaiian Ginger is another variety of ginger with medicinal properties, acting as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Blue Hawaiian Ginger is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, sodium and iron.

Peacock Ginger

Family: “Kaempferia”. Peacock Ginger is an ‘Ornamental Ginger’, and has leaves patterned with green, purple and even silver. We use this as a ‘collective plant’ because we use it for food, and as decoration. It produces a small, pretty flower, often pink or in colour or pale purple. This kind of ginger is grows naturally in Asia, and has distinctive round  leaves that can grow between 4 to 10 inches in length.

Shampoo Ginger

AKA: “Zingiber Zerumbet”/”Wild Ginger”/”Pinecone Ginger”. The Shampoo Ginger is native to Indonesia and Malaysia. This plant produces pink or yellow flowers in the shape of a pinecone. We use these flower cones in shampoo and conditioner. Therefore we refer to it as both “Shampoo Ginger” and “Pinecone Ginger”. Its rhizomes (or roots) are edible. However, it’s unlikely you’d find this variety in any recipe because it is so bitter.

Shell Ginger

AKA: “The Bright Ginger”. Family: “Zingiberaceae”. Shell Ginger is native to East Asia, specifically regions like Taiwan and South Japan, for example. This variety flourishes in wet environments and, like its relatives, can grow up to 8 feet in height. We find it in Malaysia and around China from the North Peninsula down to the South. This ginger family is often grown as an ornamental type. They are also found in traditional medicine and some cuisines.

Ginger Lily

AKA: “Garland Lily”/”Garland Flower”. The Ginger Lily flourishes in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia. We cultivate this one as an ornamental plant. Its flowers are used for decoration, such as in garlands (as its name would imply). This ones roots are like more common gingers, but its flesh can be blueish or yellow. You can identify this kind of ginger by its long green leaves, shaded underneath with a tinge of blue. However, some variations of this one have dark green leaves with red beneath. a system of Indian medicine called Ayurvedic medicine utilises other types of the Ginger Lily’s flower. We also use these flowers in perfume.

Turmeric

AKA: “Curcuma Longa”. Turmeric is a prevalent type of fresh ginger, a favourite of cultivators worldwide; it’s especially common in Rio-de-Janeiro. Though Turmeric can be classified differently from other gingers, its roots or rhizomes appear identical to common ginger. It has a familiar warm bitterness, peppery aroma and that famous yellow-gold colour. Turmeric possesses broad medical uses, such as aches and pains, digestive issues, and skin conditions. Turmeric is especially popular ground, and you can find it in any supermarket.

Japanese Ginger

AKA: “Zingiber Mioga”/”Myoga”. Native to Japan and Korea, it only grows up to 4 feet tall in home gardens. We only use the flower buds as a garnish, even though this is a ginger plant.

Most ginger root is best fresh. However, we can crystallise it in sugar, or crystallised and coat it in chocolate too. Anyone can enjoy ginger in tea and add it to honey and lemon to soothe a sore throat, cold, or flu.

Check out this source for more!