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Uses for some Common Herbs and Spices

Flavoring        Form                        Suggested Uses
Allspice                 Whole or Ground           Fruits, Relishes, Braised Meats

Anise                     Whole or Ground           Asian Cuisines, Pastries, Breads, Cheeses

Basil                       Fresh or Dried                 Tomatoes, Salads, Eggs, Fish, Chicken, Lamb, Cheeses

Caraway               Whole or Ground           Rye Bread, Cabbage, Beans, Pork, Beef, Veal

Chervil                  Fresh or Dried                 Chicken, Fish, Eggs, Salads, Soups, Vegetables

Chives                    Fresh or Dried                Eggs, Fish, Chicken, Soups, Potatoes, Cheeses

Cilantro                 Fresh Leaves                   Salsa, Salads, Mexican Cuisine, Fish, Shellfish, Chicken

Cloves                    Whole or Ground           Marinades, Baked Goods, Braised Meats, Pickles, Fruits, Beverages, Stocks

Cumin                    Whole or Ground           Chili, Sausages, Stews, Eggs

Dill                        Fresh or Dried Leaves;   Leaves or seeds in soups, Salads, Fish, Shellfish,  
                                Whole Seeds                      Vegetables, Breads; Seeds in pickles, Potatoes, Vegetables

Fennel                   Whole Seeds                     Sausages, Stews, Sauces, Pickling, Lamb, Eggs

Ginger                   Fresh Root or Powder    Asian, Caribbean and Indian cuisines, Pastries, Curries, Stews, Meats

Marjoram            Fresh or Dried                  Sausages, Pates, Meats, Poultry, Strews, Green Vegetables, Tomatoes, Game

Nutmeg                  Ground                              Curries, Relishes, Rice, Eggs, Beverages

Rosemary              Fresh or Dried                Lamb, Veal, Beef, Poultry, Game, Marinades, Stews

Saffron                  Threads or Ground        Rice, Bread, Potatoes, Soups, Stews, Chicken Fish, Shellfish

Sage                        Fresh or Dried                Poultry, Charcuterie, Pork, Stuffings, Pasta, Beans, Tomatoes

Tarragon               Fresh or Dried               Chicken, Fish, Eggs, Salad Dressings, Sauces, Tomatoes

Thyme                    Fresh or Dried               Fish, Chicken, Meats, Stews, Charcuterie, Soups, Tomatoes

Turmeric               Ground                            Curries, Relishes, Rice, Eggs, Breads

For great herbal cooking information check out

For some excellent recipes using Spices & Herbs, check out the cooking channels Spice Goddess at:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spices and herbs at a grocery shop in Goa, India
Shop with spices in Morocco

A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for flavor, color, or as a preservative that kills harmful bacteria or prevents their growth. It may be used to flavour a dish or to hide other flavours. In the kitchen, spices are distinguished from herbs, which are leafy, green plant parts used for flavoring or as garnish.

Many spices are used for other purposes, such as medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics, perfumery, or for eating as vegetables. For example, turmeric is also used as a preservative; liquorice as a medicine; garlic as a vegetable.

Classification and types

The Gato Negro café and spice shop (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Culinary herbs and spices

Botanical basis

Some Spices from the Spice Market in Cairo, used in Arabic cuisine

Common spice mixtures


Early history

Spices at central market in Agadir, Morocco

Humans were using spices in 50,000 BCE. The spice trade developed throughout the Middle East in around 2000 BCE with cinnamon and pepper, and in East Asia with herbs and pepper. The Egyptians used herbs for embalming and their need for exotic herbs helped stimulate world trade. The word spice comes from the Old French word espice, which became epice, and which came from the Latin root spec, the noun referring to "appearance, sort, kind": species has the same root. By 1000 BCE, medical systems based upon herbs could be found in China, Korea, and India. Early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation.

Archaeological excavations have uncovered clove burnt onto the floor of a kitchen, dated to 1700 BCE, at the Mesopotamian site of Terqa, in modern-day Syria. The ancient Indian epic Ramayana mentions cloves. The Romans had cloves in the 1st century CE, as Pliny the Elder wrote about them.

In the story of Genesis, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers to spice merchants. In the biblical poem Song of Solomon, the male speaker compares his beloved to many forms of spices. Generally, early Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, and Mesopotamian sources do not refer to known spices.

In South Asia, nutmeg, which originates from the Banda Islands in the Molukas, has a Sanskrit name. Sanskrit is the ancient language of India, showing how old the usage of this spice is in this region. Historians believe that nutmeg was introduced to Europe in the 6th century BCE.

Indonesian merchants traveled around China, India, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa. Arab merchants facilitated the routes through the Middle East and India. This resulted in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria being the main trading center for spices. The most important discovery prior to the European spice trade were the monsoon winds (40 CE). Sailing from Eastern spice growers to Western European consumers gradually replaced the land-locked spice routes once facilitated by the Middle East Arab caravans.

Middle Ages

"The Mullus" Harvesting pepper. Illustration from a French edition of The Travels of Marco Polo.

Spices were among the most demanded and expensive products available in Europe in the Middle Ages, the most common being black pepper, cinnamon (and the cheaper alternative cassia), cumin, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Given the medieval medicine's main theory of humorism, spices and herbs were indispensable to balance "humors" in food, daily basis for good health at a time of recurrent pandemics.

Spices were all imported from plantations in Asia and Africa, which made them expensive. From the 8th until the 15th century, the Republic of Venice had the monopoly on spice trade with the Middle East, and along with it the neighboring Italian city-states. The trade made the region rich. It has been estimated that around 1,000 tons of pepper and 1,000 tons of the other common spices were imported into Western Europe each year during the Late Middle Ages. The value of these goods was the equivalent of a yearly supply of grain for 1.5 million people. The most exclusive was saffron, used as much for its vivid yellow-red color as for its flavor. Spices that have now fallen into obscurity in European cuisine include grains of paradise, a relative of cardamom which most replaced pepper in late medieval north French cooking, long pepper, mace, spikenard, galangal and cubeb.

Early modern period

The control of trade routes and the spice-producing regions were the main reasons that Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama sailed to India in 1499. Spain and Portugal were not happy to pay the high price that Venice demanded for spices. At around the same time, Christopher Columbus returned from the New World, he described to investors new spices available there.

The military prowess of Afonso de Albuquerque (1453–1515) allowed the Portuguese to take control of the sea routes to India. In 1506, he took the island of Socotra in the mouth of the Red Sea and, in 1507, Ormuz in the Persian Gulf. Since becoming the viceroy of the Indies, he took Goa in India in 1510, and Malacca on the Malay peninsula in 1511. The Portuguese could now trade directly with Siam, China, and the Moluccas. The Silk Road complemented the Portuguese sea routes, and brought the treasures of the Orient to Europe via Lisbon, including many spices.[citation needed]

With the discovery of the New World came new spices, including allspice, bell and chili peppers, vanilla, and chocolate. This development kept the spice trade, with America as a late comer with its new seasonings, profitable well into the 19th century.

In the Caribbean, the island of Grenada is well known for growing and exporting a number of spices, including the nutmeg, which was introduced to Grenada by the settlers.

Handling spices

A typical home's kitchen shelf of spices as would be seen in the United States or Canada.

A spice may be available in several forms: fresh, whole dried, or pre-ground dried. Generally, spices are dried. A whole dried spice has the longest shelf life, so it can be purchased and stored in larger amounts, making it cheaper on a per-serving basis. Some spices are rarely available either fresh or whole, for example turmeric, and must be purchased in ground form. Small seeds, such as fennel and mustard seeds, are used both whole and in powder form.

The flavor of a spice is derived in part from compounds that oxidize or evaporate when exposed to air. Grinding a spice greatly increases its surface area and so increases the rates of oxidation and evaporation. Thus, flavor is maximized by storing a spice whole and grinding when needed. The shelf life of a whole spice is roughly two years; of a ground spice roughly six months. The "flavor life" of a ground spice can much shorter. Ground spices are better stored away from light.

To grind a whole spice, the classic tool is mortar and pestle. Less labor-intensive tools are more common now: a microplane or fine grater can be used to grind small amounts; a coffee grinder is useful for larger amounts. A frequently used spice such as black pepper may merit storage in its own hand grinder or mill.

Some flavor elements in spices are soluble in water; many are soluble in oil or fat. As a general rule, the flavors from a spice take time to infuse into the food so spices are added early in preparation.


Production in tonnes. Figures 2003-2004
Researched by FAOSTAT (FAO)

 India 1 600 000 86 %
 China 99 000 5 %
 Bangladesh 48 000 3 %
 Pakistan 45 300 2 %
 Nepal 15 500 1 %
Other countries 60 900 3 %
Total 1 868 700 100 %


The International Organization for Standardization addresses spices and condiments, along with related food additives, as part of the International Classification for Standards 67.220 series.


The Indian Institute of Spices Research in Kozhikode, Kerala, is devoted exclusively to researching all aspects of spice crops: black pepper, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, garcinia, vanilla, etc.


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