Allspice - (Pimenta Dioica)
This spice is also known as Pimento or Jamaica Pepper: Allspice being the name mostly used in this country. It is so called because it has the flavour and aroma of a blend of spices, mainly Nutmegs, Cloves and Cinnamon.
Most of the world’s supply of finest quality Pimento is exported from Jamaica, although it is grown in several South and Central America countries, Guatemala, Mexico and Brazil. This was one of the many new exciting spices discovered by the early Spanish explorers of the New World, and because the Allspice berries resemble to some degree, peppercorns, they named them PIMIENTA (pepper) this was later corrupted to Pimento. For many years they used the berries to preserve the meats that they took as provisions on their long sea voyages.
Pimento is sold in both whole and ground form and has many uses. The whole berries are used in stews, casseroles and chutneys and are one of the ingredients of Mixed Pickling Spice. They are used in the manufacture of the liqueurs, Benedictine and Chartreuse.
Ground Pimento is used in preparation of seasonings for cooked meats and sausages as well as the flavouring for several sweet dishes.
Anise Seed - (Pimpinella Anisum)
Commonly called Aniseed – this is the seed of an annual herb of the parsley family, originally a native of Asia Minor and Egypt, the bulk of the worlds supply now is produced in Mexico, Spain, Turkey and Italy although it is grown in most temperate climate.
Anise Seed and Anise Oil, the essential oil derived from distillation of the seed, have a very strong liquorice aroma and flavour, it is widely used in the production of beverages, confectionery, cough – drops, as a flavouring in toothpaste. In medicines, it is used both for its expectorant properties, and to disguise the flavour of more bitter tasting drugs.
In its powdered form, it is added in the manufacture of cattle feeds.
It is used in several countries as the base for liqueurs, the French “Anisette” and Turkish “Raki” being the only two.
This comes from an entirely different plant – an evergreen shrub of the Magnolia family – it is grown mainly in South West China.
This comes from an entirely different plant – an evergreen shrub of the Magnolia family – it is grown mainly in South West China.
When the dry hard fruits of the tree are ripe, they burst open into the shape of a star – hence the name.
Although being a different plant, it has the same flavour and chemical properties as the Anise seed but is not used nearly so much.
Caraway Seed - (Carum Carvil)
Caraway is the seed of a hardy biennial herb of the same family as parsley and is believed to have been cultivated and used in Europe for longer than any other flavouring. Although it is now grown in many temperate areas of the world, including Northern Europe and Russia, for many years Holland has been the worlds largest supplier.
Caraway Seeds have a very distinctive sharp taste and are used in the baking of many of the Continental breads – rye bread usually has caraway seed as an ingredient. Other uses are in seed cake, biscuits, flavouring cheeses, cooked meats and sausages.
Caraway is essential ingredient of the liqueur “Kummel”.
Cardamoms – (Elettaria Cardamomum)
Cardamom is a tall herbaceous perennial plant of the same family as ginger, it is indigenous to the evergreen forests of Southern India and Ceylon, although it was introduced to Guatemala some sixty years ago and is now grown successfully there.
The fruit is a green pod about ½” long, which contains some twenty or so, black hard irregular shaped seeds which have a very distinctive, strong flavour and aroma.
Cardamom is a very expensive spice, usually only exceeded in price by Saffron and Vanilla.
In Scandinavian countries cardamom is used by mixing it in with the flour prior to baking Danish pastries, it is also used in biscuits, cakes and fruit pies. It is an ingredient of genuine East Indian Curries and is sometimes included in the mix of Pickling Spices.
Cardamom is a very popular spice through the Arab countries and is used there mainly in the preparation of their coffee. Many Arabs also believe that this spice has aphrodisiac powers.
In several parts of the world the little seeds are chewed, particularly after spicy meals, in the belief that they are an aid to digestion, others chew them as a breath sweetener.
Chilli Powder – (Capsicum Frutescens)
Chilli Powder is a ground product made from the ripe dry pods of one of the more pungent members of the Capsicum family, commonly known as Chillies or Chilli peppers. These are grown in many areas of the world. India, Africa, Mexico, Japan, China and many other regions.
The chillies used for chilli powder are the smaller more pungent type – elongated dark orange to bright red in colour and contain small yellow seeds which have great heat.
Because of its biting heat chilli powder should be used with caution and added sparingly to dishes – it is always easier to add a little more to taste but is impossible to overcome should too much be added to a dish.
Always wash your hands after using this spice, or handling chillies, it can be very painful should you happen to rub your eyes with Chilli dust on your hands. It could also cause irritation to the lips, nose or other sensitive parts of the body.
Cassia – (Cinnamon Cassia)
Cassia is the bark of a tree of the same family as Cinnamon, however, it is a much larger tree, a native of Vietnam and its bark is much thicker and coarser than Cinnamon. It also has a much stronger flavour and aroma.
When the tree is fully grown, the bark is carefully stripped off with knives, cut into convenient lengths and allowed to dry in the sun, when dry it is bundled up and exported.
The United States use far more Cassia than they do Cinnamon, but they tend to use the term Cinnamon to cover both products. The main suppliers to the U.K. are mainland China and Indonesia.
Both Cassia and Cinnamon are two of the oldest know spices, many references to them are found in the Bible.
They are both important baking spices, being used in many cake and pastry recipes.
Cinnamon – (Cinnamomum Zeyanicum)
Cinnamon is the bark of the Cinnamon tree a native of Sri Lanka, it is also now cultivated in the Seychelles. The method of harvesting the bark is somewhat similar to that of Cassia, but the bark is much thinner, more delicate and brittle, smoother in texture and lighter in colour. Cinnamon being a light tan and Cassia being darker and reddish brown.
A piece of Cinnamon or Cassia bark is included in the Mixed Pickling Spice, which sometimes leads to our receiving a complaint from a housewife that she has found “a small piece of wood” in her purchase.
Cinnamon sticks are made by suitable pieces of bark being selected as the outer cover and small pieces of bark being packed inside them, they are then allowed to dry – the finished article then resembling a thin cigar – they are then made up into bundles put into wooden crates and exported.
They are used to flavour drinks, punches and fruit dishes.
Celery Seed – (Apium Graveopens)
Celery seeds are the dried seeds of a herb of the parsley family – as so many of the seed products are, it is native to the Mediterranean and Central Asian areas. It is now cultivated in France, India, and the United States, the bulk of exports to this country coming from India.
The seeds are very tiny indeed, they are brown in colour and have a very strong Celery flavour and aroma.
They are used for flavouring soups and casseroles, and ground are mixed with salt to make Celery Salt.
Cloves – (Syzygium Aromaticum)
Cloves are the dried unopened flower buds of the clove tree, an evergreen of the myrtle family. The buds are gathered along with the stems just before the flower opens, they are then carefully separated from the stems and put out to dry. They are then cleaned, sorted and graded and bagged off for export.
The clove tree is a native of the Moluccas or Spice Islands a group of Islands in the East Indian Ocean. First colonised by the Portuguese, the Islands were then taken from them by the Dutch about 1600, the Dutch then had a complete monopoly of the lucrative clove trade for some two hundred years. It was eventually broken by a Frenchman who managed to smuggle out some clove seedlings and successfully planted these in the French colony of Mauritius, by the early 1800’s they were being grown in the other French colonies of the area, and today most of the world supply of cloves come from Zanzibar or Madagascar.
The clove is used both in its whole and ground form. Ground, it is used for flavouring pastries, apple pie being the favourite in Europe. In its whole form it is used for studding into hams and pork and is also an ingredient of Pickling Spice. We have also experienced recently where whole cloves have been used by children to make pomanders. They cover an orange with silver paper and stud it with cloves.
The clove also has a very strong essential oil which is used in the perfume and soap industries. It is also used in medicines and in dentistry.
The biggest users of Cloves are the Indonesians, who blend cloves in with tobacco in the manufacture of their cigarettes.
Coriander Seed – (Coriandrum Savitum)
Corianders are the dried seeds of an annual herb of the parsley family. It is a native of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean areas, but is now very widely grown in Russia, Eastern and Southern Europe, North Africa and India. The main exporters to the U.K. being Morocco and Romania.
Coriander is again one of the spices known to have been used since ancient times. Many references are found in the Bible and coriander seeds were amongst those found in the exploration of the Pyramids in Egypt.
Coriander has a very distinctive flavour and aroma, a pleasant sweetish taste and is one of the main ingredients of Curry Powders. Whole Coriander is also an ingredient of Pickling Spice.
Cumin Seed – (Cuminium Cyminum)
Cumin Seeds are the dried fruits of another annual herb of the parsley family, a native of Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean although today it is cultivated in Iran, Morocco, China, Russia and many other countries.
It was listed as one of the medicinal herbs of the Ancient Egyptians and there are many references in the Bible.
It is an essential ingredient of Curry Powder, being very aromatic with a very strong distinctive flavour.
In Europe it is sometimes used to flavour cheeses and is sometimes also used in the same way as Caraway in bread and cakes.
Dill – (Anethum Graveopens)
Dill is another of the annual herbs, a member of the parsley family, a native of the Eastern Mediterranean it is now grown in the majority of countries in the temperate zones and in Europe. It is sometimes used in several European and Scandinavian countries instead of Caraway Seed for flavouring breads. It is also used in the manufacture of Pickles (cucumbers or gherkins).
Not all that long ago, Dill water was often used to soothe baby’s upset tummy, and it is reputed to be beneficial to those on a diabetic or a low salt diet.
Dill weed, the leaf of the herb is now growing in use, either fresh or dried, finely chopped it is used in preparing salads, soups and mainly seafood dishes.
Fennel Seed – (Foeniculum Vulgare)
Fennel seed is again related to the parsley family and has the same origins of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean areas. It is now grown in many parts of the world.
Fennel is closely related to Dill but has a flavour somewhat similar to Anise seed.
Its main use is in flavouring pickles and in many Mediterranean fish dishes.
Fenugreek is an annual plant of the bean family. It has for many years been grown through out the Mediterranean area, North Africa and India.
In countries of origin, it is grown and used as food, a forage for cattle and to a certain extent for medicinal purpose. In India and parts of North Africa, it is used to relieve certain gastric troubles, and in England it has been discovered that the seed contains a substance called diosgenin which is used in a process in the manufacture of sex hormones and oral contraceptives.
Ginger – (Zingiber Officinale)
Ginger is obtained from the thick underground stems or rhizomes of the Ginger plant, a perennial herb native to Southern Asia, which is grown commercially in most tropical countries. The main producing areas being Nigeria, Jamaica, India, Sierra Leone and Australia.
Ginger was introduced to the West Indies by the Spanish in the early 1500’s and produces the finest quality obtainable.
The plant is propagated by splitting the rhizomes as one does in the garden with plants like the flag iris and then replanting the divided root stems.
When flowering is over and the stalks have begun to wither, the rhizomes are carefully dug up, cleaned, washed, scraped and peeled with knives specially designed for the purpose, then allowed to dry in the sun. after grading, it is then bagged off for export.
Ginger was one of the very first Oriental Spices to be introduced into Europe being supplied to the Romans and Greeks by the old Arab spice traders and has become a very popular spice.
Ginger has many uses biscuit manufacturers all have ginger biscuit in their range and are large buyers of the spice. The drinks industry too, use large quantities of ginger or the oleoresin obtained from it, in the manufacture of Ginger Ale, Ginger beer and wine.
Many of the Oriental and Hawaiian meat dishes have ginger as an essential ingredient and a small piece of whole ginger is usually included in mixed pickling spice.
China and Australia are large producers in Crystalized and Preserved ginger which are considered a confection rather than a spice.
These are manufactured by preserving fresh rhizomes in varying strengths of sugar solution for a time.
As its name suggests is a blend of a number of the ground sweet spices and is used for making cakes, biscuits and in the manufacture of mincemeat. There are many recipes for Mixed Spice, and it could contain in varying quantities a blend of any of the following spices: Allspice, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Caraways, Ginger, Nutmeg, Mace.
There are many types of Mustard but the two most commonly used are the white or yellow mustard (Sinapis alba) and the brown mustard seed (juncea).
Both white and brown mustard have masses of bright yellow flowers, which then produce a pod which contains the seeds. Both types of seed are very small, the brown being the smaller of the two.
Mustard seed is now grown in most countries in the temperate zones and if mustard is imported into the U.K. it is usually from either Canada or Denmark.
Powdered dry mustard, known as mustard flour, is made by grinding a mixture of white and brown seeds together, the more brown seed used, the hotter the end product. Prepared mustard, sold in the shops in either jars or tubes, is manufactured by mixing mustard flour, salt, spices and vinegar, ground turmeric is added to provide the bright yellow colour.
There are many regional Mustards, especially on the continent, France having several very famous ones. Dijon and Meaux being two, both made to local recipes.
Mustard seeds are used as an ingredient of Pickling Spice.
For many years mustard had been used as a medicine in European countries, for many ailments, the best-known being for mustard baths or plasters to aid arthritis and cold, but this practice has now virtually disappeared.
Nutmegs & Mace
The nutmeg tree is a native of the Moluccas or Spice Islands but is now cultivated in both the East and West Indies. It is remarkable in that from one tree we obtain two spices, nutmeg and mace.
The fruit of the nutmeg is fleshy, rather large, apricot in appearance and colour, when it is ripe it splits open and inside is a red feathery like membrane. (Mace), which is wrapped around a dark brown nut, this nut has a quite brittle shell, which when broken reveals the nutmeg.
The mace is first removed and dried, on drying, the mace changes from its bright red to an orange, or reddish yellow colour.
After the mace has been removed, the unshelled nutmegs are allowed to dry. When fully dry, the shells are cracked either by hand with a mallet or by machine.
They are then graded according to size – 80’s, nutmegs mean there are 80 to the lb.
Mace is usually found in the shops only in its powdered form. Nutmegs are sold either whole or ground.
The used of both spices are many and varied – they are both used as baking spices in cakes and puddings and sprinkled on top of custards and milk puddings. They are also used in the meat trades, in seasonings for sausages and cooked meats.
Paprika – (Capsicum Annum)
Paprika is the ground product of a sweet red pepper pod, which over the past few years has increased in popularity in the United Kingdom.
The main producing countries are Spain a Hungary.
Paprika is an essential ingredient in the Hungarian dish “Goulash” and is used because of its bright red colour as a garnish for any light-coloured food such as prawn cocktail, seafood dressing, egg mayonnaise.
Pepper is the most important of all the spices and is obtained from the small berries of a perennial climbing vine, a native of the Malabar region of India, it is now grown in many tropical areas, the main supplying countries being India, Indonesia, Sarawak and Brazil.
Both Black and White peppercorns are obtained from the same vine – for black pepper, the berries are picked before they are fully ripe and then are spread out to dry in the sun. On drying, they shrivel and turn black. White pepper is left on the vine until it is fully ripe, the outer hull is then removed leaving the inner grey coloured peppercorn, these are then allowed to dry and become the smooth white peppercorn used for producing Ground White Pepper.
Black and White Pepper are both used in the preparation of and for the seasoning of foodstuffs in practically every country in the world. In England, Ground White Pepper is the largest selling spice, and is generally preferred to Black, although during the past few years the sales of both Ground and Whole Black have increased dramatically. It is doubted whether if there are many homes now that don’t possess a pepper mill and have freshly milled Black Pepper available on the table.
Pickling Spice is a mixture of a number of the whole spices, which together with vinegar is used in the manufacture of pickles and contains most, if not all, of the following spices: allspice, cardamoms, cassia bark, chilli, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, mustard seed, coriander, dill.
Poppy Seed – (Papayer somniferum)
The Latin words of its botanical name means “sleep inducing” and this, of course, refers to its narcotic properties as being the source of opium.
This is obtained before the seed is fully ripe, by the time the seed has formed, the pod has lost its narcotic properties. The seeds are very tiny indeed and can range in colour from white to blue black.
Although a native of the Eastern Mediterranean countries and central Asia, poppy seed is now cultivated in most temperate regions of the world. Although the Dutch Blue Poppy Seed is the one used mostly in the U.K.
The tiny seeds are used mainly as a topping for breads and bread rolls.
Saffron – (Crocus Sativus)
The English word saffron is derived from the Arab word “Za ‘faran”, which means yellow. Arabs introduced saffron into Spain in the eight century – Spain now being considered the worlds finest saffron producer.
A pound (lb) of saffron is composed of 225,000 stigmas, requiring 75,000 flowers. The beautiful saffron rose, crocus sativus is violet – blue and flowers only once a year during the early cold winds of Autumn. The delicate nature of the product requires all planting and picking to be done exclusively by hand, operators are specially trained in this process and this explains why traditionally saffron the most expensive spice in the world is – at times more expensive than gold.
Dry roasting the saffron threads for one or two minutes in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven will assist in releasing essential oils and make the saffron more brilliant and pungent. Roasted or not, you can put the saffron in a mortar and pestle to powder it and either add it directly to a dish or steep it in a liquid first.
Another method is to steep untoasted strands in liquid for about ten minutes before use, or to add strands to hot oil to release colour and flavour.
It is not known when saffron was introduced into England but by the sixteenth century it was being cultivated in Essex near the town that was to bear its name “Saffron Walden”.
Sesame is an annual plant which has been grown for its seeds since very early times, in most hot countries of the world, for two reason – as a food and for the seeds have a reason but mainly as a cooking oil.
The main growing countries are China, India and South America e.g. Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico.
Sesame oil is used in the production of margarine and cooking oil, the seeds are used as a topping for bread and rolls and in biscuits and crackers.
Although large tonnages of the seed have always been used, during the past few years its popularity has grown considerably with the rapid growth of the fast food industry – sesame rolls have become part of the daily menu for a large number of people particularly the young.
With the recent emphasis on healthy eating, and low cholesterol diets, sesame oil has also increased in demand because it is a rich source of polyunsaturated fat.
Turmeric - (Curcum Longa)
Turmeric is a perennial plant of the same family as Ginger, and like Ginger, has a thick rhizome, or underground stem, but unlike the ginger root, which is more palmate, turmeric has smooth round fingers up to 3 inches in length.
Basil - (Ocimum Basilicum)
There are many herbs of the Mint family and Basil is one of them, originating in India and North Africa, it is now grown commercially in Egypt, India, Hungary, Morocco and several other Eastern European countries. Egypt is one of the main exporters to the U.K. Sometimes called the tomato herb than is used in tomato or salad dishes, it can also be added in stews, sauces and soups. It is probably the most popular herb used in Italian cooking and is also an ingredient of the liqueur Chartreuse.
Bay Leaves – (Laurus Nobilis)
Bay leaves are obtained from the bay tree, a member of the laurel family. It is cultivated in the Far East, the Mediterranean areas, Turkey, Mexico and France.
Bay leaves are picked early in the day and are dried, sometimes under pressure to keep them flat, not in the sun which would turn them brown, but in trays in a sheltered area. Bay leaves are usually used whole in making meat dishes, stews, fish dishes and in preparing sauces. They are taken out before serving. Cut Bay Leaves are an ingredient of Pickling Spice.
Chervil – (Anthriscus Cerefolium)
Chervil is an annual plant of the parsley family, a native of western Asia. It is now grown extensively in France. Sweeter and more aromatic than parsley, it has a slight taste of aniseed.
Rarely used in England, it is usually included in the mixture of herbs known as fines herbs.
Chives are the hardy perennial plants and are similar to Spring Onions in structure but smaller with more delicate leaves. They grow well anywhere in England or in the Northern Hemisphere and are also grown commercially in Denmark and Germany.
Unlike the onion, it is not the bulb, which is used, but the leaves, which are cut and dried. They are used in salads, soft cheeses, omelettes and seafood dishes.
Marjoram – (Marjorana Hortensis)
Marjoram is a perennial herb of the mint family, grown mainly in the Mediterranean regions, and France, Portugal and Chile.
The herb has a strong sweet flavour and is used for flavouring soups, meats stuffing and pasta sauces. It is often used as an ingredient of Bouquet Garni and Sweet Mixed Herbs.
There are two main types of mint that are used extensively for flavouring food. Peppermint (mentha piperita) and Spearmint (mentha spicata), the later being the most popular. Both are grown throughout the temperate areas of the world.
Of course, the best-known use in the manufacture of mint Sauce or mint Jelly as the traditional accompaniment for Roast Lamb, or in adding a sweet flavour to new potatoes or other boiled vegetables.
Commercially the oils distilled from Mint have a wide use in medicinal preparations, mint confectionery, flavouring chewing gum, toothpaste, perfumes, mouth washes and Mint liqueurs.
The leaves are also used making Mint Tea and other drinks such as Mint Julep.
Oregano – (Origanum Vulgare)
Oregano is sometimes called Wild Marjoram and is a native of the Mediterranean area, turkey and Chile.
The sales of Oregano have increased dramatically over the past few years with the growth of the Pizza industry and Italian cuisine.
The herb has a very strong pungent flavour and should be used sparingly to flavour soups, vegetables, meat dishes and pasta sauces.
It is often included in the ingredients of sweet Mixed Herbs.
Parsley – (Petroselium Crispum)
Parsley is one of the most popular herbs used in this country. The sales of which are only exceeded by Mixed Herbs. It grows well in a cool damp climate and therefore most of the parsley used is grown in England.
Although, well known for its use as a sauce to accompany fish dishes with its mild pleasant flavour and bright colour, it is used for soups, salads, meats, poultry and as a garnish on vegetables, cheese or mashed potatoes.
Parsley is a health-giving plant, with a high level of vitamin “C” iodine and other minerals.
Rosemary – (Rosmarinus Officinalis)
Although a native of the Mediterranean region, Rosemary has been used as a condiment in England certainly since Anglo Saxon times.
The Rosemary is a shrub and it is the dried leaves that are the herb, they are small and thin and resemble pine needles. The main growing areas are France, Spain, Portugal and the North African areas.
Its traditional use is for flavouring lamb, but it can be used in other meat dishes, stews and soups.
Sage – (Salvia Officinalis)
Sage is a hardy evergreen shrub, originating from the Mediterranean area. The herb is the dried leaf of the plant, greyish green in colour.
Sage is very aromatic and has a strong pungent flavour. Its use in the home is usually for making stuffing’s and seasonings for use with poultry and pork.
Commercially, it is used by the meat packing trade, sausage makers and in its ground state is used in cheese manufacture such as Sage Derby.
The main imports of Sage to the U.K. are from Turkey, the Dalmatian coast and Italy.
Tarragon – (Artemisia Dracunculeus)
Tarragon is a perennial plant, a native of Southern Russia and Western Asia. It now grows in most temperate zones, the main producing area being France.
It can be used in soups, stews, meat dishes or sprinkled on salads.
It is used for making Tarragon Vinegar.
Thyme – (Thymus Vulgare)
Thyme is a small perennial shrub from the Mediterranean. It is now grown in most countries with temperate climate and is grown either as an ornamental plant or for its value as a herb in many gardens in England. The thyme used for commerce is usually imported from Spain or France.
Thyme has a strong flavour and aroma; it is used for flavouring meats and fish dishes and is used with Parsley to make poultry stuffing’s.
The oil distilled from Thyme has both antiseptic and germicidal properties and is used in manufacture of many pharmaceutical preparation – cough sweets, cough linctus, mouthwash and toothpaste etc.
Thyme is almost always included as an ingredient in Mixed Herbs.
Garlic – (Allum Sativum)
Garlic is a bulbous plant of the lily family as are onions and chives. The bulb is made up of a number of small bulbs lets which are called “Cloves” the whole being covered with a white skin.
Garlic has traditionally been more popular as a condiment in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean areas than here, however, recent years have seen a dramatic increase in its use in England. Garlic Powder, Garlic Granules, Garlic Salt and more recently, Garlic Puree have all become very popular.
The flavour and aroma of garlic is strong and pungent, and it is a favourite seasoning in many Italian and French recipes. It is also used in soups, sauces, salad dressings and for making “Garlic Bread”.