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                                   Spices and Other Flavoring Substances

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Spices from Roots & Rootstalks    Angelica    Galangal    Ginger    Horseradish    Sasaparilla    Tumeric    Zedoary    Spices from Barks    Cassia    Cinnamon    Sassafras    Spices from Flowers or Flower Buds    Capers    Cloves    Saffron    Flavoring from Flowers    Spices from Fruits    Allspice    Capsicum

Sweet or Bell Peppers    Paprikas    Chiles    Juniper   Black & White Pepper    Long Pepper    Star Anise    Vanilla    Savory “Seeds”   Anise    Caraway    Celery    Coriander    Cumin    Dill    Fennel

Spices from Seeds    Cardamon    Fenugreek    Grains of Paradise    Mustard    White Mustard

Black Mustard    Indian Mustard    Nutmeg & Mace    Tonka Beans    Spices from Leaves    Balm    Basil    Marjoram    Peppermint    Sage    Savory    Spearmint    Thyme    Bay    Parsley    Terragon

Wintergreen    Minor Savory Leaves    Other Spices & Flavoring Substances

Illustrations

 

Introduction

 

          The history of spices, condiments and other flavoring plants has been considered one of the most romantic chapters in the history of vegetable products (Hill 1952).  Since ancient times spices have been eagerly sought and highly valued.  The craving for spices has been one of the driving forces in human progress and has changed the course of history and geography.  The discovery of new lands and of shorter trade routs and the colonization of areas that grew spices have resulted partly from this interest in aromatic plants.  A quest for spices created a furor comparable to the Crusades, and was one of the dominant factors in European history during the Middle Ages and into the 16th Century.  However, the use and cultivation of spices can be traced to the beginnings of history.  Spices have played an important part in all the ancient civilizations of China and India, in Babylon and Egypt and in Greece and Rome.  The spices of greatest international importance originated in the Asiatic tropics and were among the first objects of commerce between the East and the West.  The Arabs were the first spice traders, bringing their products from southern India and the Spice Islands by caravan to Arabia and from there to Europe.  This trade later spread to other countries as well.  For many years Venice, Italy led the trade.  In the 16th Century the Portuguese assumed control and held a monopoly for 200 years.  The Dutch followed and later the British Empire shared with Holland most of the world spice trade.

 

          Spices have been put to many uses such as to season insipid foods and to give zest to an otherwise monotonous diet as well as to serve as preservatives.  Their aromatic qualities were useful in overcoming offensive odors of spoiled food.  They were used in beverages, medicine and even in lieu of currency.  Rich and poor alike sought after spices and they were expensive because of the demand and the difficulty and cost of obtaining them.  They were the basis of many great fortunes during 1300-1700 A.D.

 

          The use of spices then somewhat diminished in modern times, especially as other means of food preservation were deployed.  The practice of importing the various aromatic materials in a crude state and converting them into a powdered or ground form is still followed in an effort to prevent adulteration and to ensure the quality of the final product.  Essential oils that are obtained from the various substances are also imported in large quantity.

 

          Spices are not usually classed as foods for they contain little of nutritive value.  However, they do give an agreeable flavor and aroma to food and greatly enhance the pleasure of eating.  They stimulate the appetite and increase the flow of gastric juices.  Therefore, they are often called food accessories or adjuncts.  Their value is due to the presence of the essential oils and occasionally to other aromatic entities. 

 

          The medicinal value of spices is not a great as was believed during the Middle Ages, but a large number of them are still official drugs in both Europe and America.  They are used as carminatives and antiseptics and to hide the unpleasant taste of other drugs.  They also are important in many industries and are used in perfumery, incense, and soaps, as dyes, in histology and in some arts.

 

          Most spices are still obtained from the tropics, predominantly Asia.  Africa supplies the grains of paradise while tropical America furnishes vanilla, red pepper and allspice.  A small number are found in the cooler temperate regions of the Old World.

 

          Classification of spices is difficult as there are no absolute boundaries between the various groups.  Usually all aromatic vegetable products that are used for flavoring foods and drinks are included under spices.  In other cases the term “spice” is confined to hard or hardened parts of plants that are usually used in a pulverized condition.  Condiments are spices or other flavoring substances that have a sharp taste and are usually added to food after it has been cooked.  Savory seeds are small fruits or seeds that are used whole.  In the sweet or savory herbs, fresh or dried leaves are used for flavoring or garnishing.  Essences are aqueous or alcoholic extractions of the essential oils.  Because of the difficulty of distinguishing between spices, condiments, and the other flavoring substances, it is probably best to consider this group on a morphological basis== the nature of the plant part utilized (Hill 1952).  A few more common spices out of the hundreds in existence are herein considered under roots, barks, buds and flowers, fruits, seeds, and leaves and stems.

 

Spices from Roots & Rootstalks

 

Angelica

 

          Angelica, Angelica archangelica, is a stout perennial herb with large pinnately compound leaves and small greenish-white flowers in terminal compound umbels.  It is indigenous to Syria but now occurs in many parts of Europe and Western Asia in low ground.  It has even made it to boreal regions in Lapland and the Alps.

 

          The entire plant is aromatic.  The roots and fruits are dried and used for flavoring cakes, candy and beverages, such as vermouth and the various bitters and liqueurs.  The young stems and leafstalks are candied by steeping them in syrups of increasing strength.  Candied angelica is used for decorating and flavoring other candy and cakes because of its attractive bright green color and aromatic taste.  The oil that is usually distilled from the fruits is used in flavoring, perfumery and medicine.  It is widely cultivated in Germany and it dates from about 1,500 AD.

 

Galangal

 

          Lesser Galangal, Alpinia officinarum, is native to southern China and was in ancient times there.  It is a perennial herb with a raceme of showy flowers and ornamental foliage.  The reddish-brown rhizomes have an aromatic, spicy odor and a pungent taste, like a mixture of pepper and ginger.  Galangal has lost much of its importance in modern times, bit it is still used to some extent in cooking, medicine and for flavoring liqueurs and bitters.

 

          Greater Galangal, Alpinia galanga, is a larger plant of Java and Malaya.  It is also used for flavoring purposes.

 

Ginger

 

          Ginger, Zingiber officinale, is the most important spice that is obtained from roots.  It has a long and interesting history.  Indigenous in Southeastern Asia, it was used in China and India in ancient times, and was brought by caravans to Asia Minor before the Roman Empire.  It was among the first of the oriental spices to be known in Europe where it became prominent early in the Middle Ages.  For many years it was an important drug, being the principal ingredient of a remedy for the plague especially in England during the reign of Henry VIII.  Ginger is now cultivated over a wider area than most spices due most likely to the ease with which the roots can be transported.  It was one of the first Asiatic spices to be grown in the Western Hemisphere.

 

          The plant is an erect perennial herb with thick scaly rhizomes that branch digitately and are known as “hands.”  The stem reaches a height of about three feet and is surrounded by the sheathing bases of the leaves.  The flowers are borne in a spike with greenish-yellow bracts subtending the yellowish flowers that have a purple lip.  Ginger is mostly cultivated in small home gardens.  A rich moist soil, partial shade and a tropical climate are desirable.  Propagation is by rhizomes.

 

          The rhizomes are pale yellow in color externally and a greenish yellow inside.  They contain starch, gums, an oleoresin and an essential oil.  The different varieties vary in the content of the latter two contents.  The rhizomes are removed from the soil after the aerial parts of the plant have withered.

 

          Two ways are used to prepare ginger.  In Preserved Green Ginger the young juicy rhizomes are dried, cleaned, and boiled in water until tender.  They are then peeled, scraped, and boiled several times in a sugar solution.  They are finally packed in a similar solution.  Sometimes preserved ginger is prepared in a dry state by dusting the drying rhizomes with powdered sugar.  In Dried or Cured Ginger the rhizomes are cleaned, carefully peeled and dried in the sun.  They are sometimes parboiled in water or limejuice before peeling.  This is the black ginger of commerce.  Bleaching the rhizomes makes white ginger.

 

          An essential oil contributes to the aromatic odor of ginger, while the pungent taste is due to the presence of the nonvolatile oleoresin, Gingerin.  Ginger is used more as a condiment than as a spice.  It dilates the blood vessels in the skin, causing a feeling of warmth and increases perspiration with an accompanying drop in temperature.

 

          Ginger is used in medicine as a carminative and a digestive stimulant.  It is widely used in culinary preparations, such as soups, pickles, puddings, gingerbread and cookies and is an ingredient of all curries except those used with fish.  Ginger is very popular for flavoring beverages such as ginger ale and ginger beer.  It was once added to wine and porter.  The oleoresin is extracted and used in medicine and flavoring.  The essential oil is also extracted.

 

          Ginger is grown mainly in China, Japan, Sierra Leone, Queensland, Indonesia and Jamaica and other West Indies islands where the soil and climate are favorable.

 

Horseradish

 

          Armoracia lapathifolia is indigenous to Southeastern Europe.  The plant is widely grown both in Europe and America and often escapes from cultivation and becomes established as a troublesome weed.  It is a tall hardy plant with glossy green toothed leaves and masses of small whtie flowers.  The large, fleshy, white cylindrical roots are usually dug in the autumn.  They are scraped or grated and used as a ocndiment, either fresh or preserved in vinegar.  The pungent taste is due to a glucoside, Sinigrin, that is broken down in water by enzyme action.  it is similar to mustard oil in its properties.  Horseradish is a valuable condiment that has been used for centuries as it aids digestion and prevents scurvy.

 

Sasaparilla

 

          Sasaparilla, is obtained from the dried roots of some tropical species of Smilax, among them Similax aristolochiaefolia from Mexico, S. officinalis from Hondurus and S. regelii from Jamaica.  The plants are climbing or trailing vines with prickly stems.  They are found in dense moist jungles.  Propagation is by seed, layering, cuttings or suckers.  They have a short thick rhizome and very long thin roots that extend to 10 ft.  Thus the collection of roots is a laborious process.  They are harvested when 2-3 years of age.  The roots have a bitter substance that is used for flavoring.  Sasaparilla is usually used in combination with wintergreen and other aromatics.  it was once used in medicine. 

 

Tumeric

 

          Turmeric, Curcuma longa, is both a dye and a spice.  It is native to Cochin China and the East Indies and is widely cultivated in all the world tropics.  Turmeric is popular in India where enormous quantities have been used for centuries.  The plant is a robust perennial with a short stem and tufted leaves.  The pale yellow flowers are borne in dense spikes, topped by a tuft of pinkish bracts.  The rhizomes that supply the colorful condiment are short and thick with blunt tubers.  They are cleaned, washed and dried in the sun.  Turmeric is very aromatic with a musky odor and it has a pungent bitter taste.  It is used to flavor, and at the same time color, butter, cheese, pickles, mustard and other foodstuffs.  Turmeric is one of the main ingredients of curry.  Curry is not a single substance, but a compound of many spices.  Each type of meat or other food requires its own particular curry.  One recipe for a meat curry includes turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, cardamom, fenugreek, cayenne pepper, pimiento, black pepper, long pepper, cloves and nutmeg.  Another curry, used for fish, is made of turmeric, coriander, black pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper and fenugreek.

 

Zedoary

 

          Zedoary, Curcuma zedoaria, is similar in habit to Turmeric but with pale yellowish or white flowers and showy crimson or purple bracts.  It is extensively grown in India for the large tuberous rhizomes that are sliced and dried.  It is used as a spice for flavoring liqueurs and curries.  However its principal use today is in medicine, perfumery and cosmetics.

 

Spices from Barks

 

Cassia

 

          Cassia, Cinnamomum cassia, is also known as Chinese Cinnamon.  It is a spice that was used in China since 2,500 B.C., in Egypt in the 17th Century B.C. and was familiar to people of the Mediterranean region since ancient times.  In the earlier records it is often confused with cinnamon.  Cassia is an evergreen tree of Burma that reaches 40 ft in height, with smooth pale bark, small pale yellow flowers and a fleshy drupe like fruit.  The tree is grown in southern China from seed, usually on terraced hillsides.  Trees from 60-10 years of age are cut down and cut up into short lengths.  The bark is loosened, stripped off and dried.  Cassia bark reaches the markets in the form of dark reddish brown “quills,” usually with some patches of grayish cork on the outside.  It varies in quality, but is always very aromatic although not as delicate as cinnamon.  It contains tannin, sugar, starch, a dye, a fixed oil and the essential oil that is distilled and used in medicine and flavoring.

 

          Cassia buds are the dried unripe fruits that contain the same essential oil.  They are picked when only one-fourth grown and resemble small cloves.

 

          Sources of cassia of lesser importance are Indian cassia from Cinnamomum tamala; Padan cassia with smooth bark and no cork from C. burmannii from Indonesia.  Large amounts of this cassia have been exported to America.  Oliver’s bark, C. oliveri, of Australia and Massola bark, C. massoia, of New Guinea are of lesser importance.

 

          The bark and oil of cassias are used in medicine, for flavoring and in soap, perfumery and candy.

 

Cinnamon

 

          Cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, quickly superseded cassia once it was discovered.  Native people used it long before it attracted the foreign trade.  It is native to Sri Lanka and is often called Ceylon cinnamon.  For years it was grown only in Sri Lanka and was a monopoly of the Portuguese, Dutch and English in succession.  Today the tree is grown in southern India, Burma, and parts of Malaya and in tropical America.

 

          The plant is an evergreen shrub or small tree with attractive dark coriaceous aromatic leaves, numerous inconspicuous yellow flowers and blackish berries.  When cultivated the young trees are cut back and sucker shoots develop from the roots.  These are long and slender and provide the commercial product.  They are cut twice a year, the bark is removed and the outer and inner portions are scraped away.  After drying compound quills are tied up ready for shipment.  The waste is used as a source of oil of cinnamon.  The leaves and roots are also aromatic but the essential oil differs from that in the bark and is of little value.  Cinnamon is a very popular spice for flavoring foods.  It is also used in candy, gum, incense, dentifrices and perfumes.  The oil is used in medicine as a carminative, antiseptic and astringent and as a source of cinnamon extract.

 

       Saigon cinnamon or Saigon cassia, Cinnamomum loureirii, is grown in Vietnam.  Its coarse bark is valued in China and Japan and is also used in America where it is recognized as an official cinnamon in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia.

         

          <bot71>  Cinnamon Tree (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) [Ceylon], (ex. Riverside, CA)

 

Sassafras

 

          Although not a true spice, sassafras is an important flavoring material.  It is obtained from the bark on the roots of Sassafras albidum of eastern North America.  The sassafras is a tree of 60-100 ft. height with typically lobed leaves and greenish yellow dioecious flowers produced before the leaves and dark blue drupes with red stalks.  Amerindians and early colonists used the spicy root bark.  All parts of the plant are aromatic.  The bark is gathered in the spring or autumn, deprived of the outer corky layers and dried.  The supply comes mainly from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina.  Sassafras is used for flavoring tobacco, patent medicines, root beer and other beverages, soaps, perfumes, dentrifices and gum.  Both sassafras bark and sassafras pith are used in medicine.  The oil is obtained by distillation and is used for flavoring and as a source of artificial heliotrope.  It is also an ingredient of soap and floor and polishing oils.

 

Spices from Flowers or Flower Buds

 

Capers

 

          Capparis spinosa is a trailing spiny shrub only a few feet tall.  It is native to the Mediterranean region and is cultivated in Southern Europe and the southern United States.  The solitary berrylike fruits are borne on thick stalks.  The unopened flower buds are gathered every morning and pickled in salt and strong vinegar.  These capers are roughly spherical and round angled, and dark green in color.  They have a very pungent taste and are used as condiments with meat and in sauces and pickles.

 

Cloves

 

          Cloves, Syzygium aromaticum, were in use in the 3rd Century B.C. in China, was well known to the Romans and reached northern Europe during the Middle Ages.  Their source and place of origin were not known until the Portuguese discovered the Molucca Islands in the 16th Century.  For a while cloves were a Portuguese and later a Dutch monopoly.  Today they are grown all over the world’s tropics.

 

          The clove is the unopened flower bud of a small, conical and very symmetrical evergreen tree.  In the wild state it produces clusters of crimson flowers, but in cultivation it never reaches the flowering state.  The flower buds are greenish or reddish when fresh and become brown and brittle on drying.  They have a nail-like shape and the name “clove” is derived from the French word for nail, clou.  They have a slightly cylindrical base surmounted by the plump, ball-like unopened corolla that is surrounded by the 4-toothed calyx.  The buds are picked by hand, stemmed and dried in the sun or in kilns.  The crop is difficult to grow, as yields are uncertain.  Curttngs are useless and the seeds germinate and grow slowly.  Therefore, nursery seedlings are usually necessary for large scale propagation.  The yield is low until trees are at least 20 years old.  Adequate moisture in the soil is required and growth is best near the ocean.

 

          Cloves are very aromatic and fine flavored imparting warming qualities.  They have many uses both whole and in the ground state, as a culinary spice, for the flavor blends well with both sweet and savory foods.  They are used for flavoring pickles, curries, ketchup and sauces, in medicine and for perfuming the environment.  Cloves have stimulating properties and are one of the ingredients of betel-nut chew.  Clove cigarettes are smoked in Java.

 

          The essential oil that is obtained by distilling cloves with water or steam is also valuable.  it is used in medicine as an aid to digestion and for its antiseptic and antispasmodic action.  it is often used as a local antiseptic in dentistry.  Externally it has a counterirritant action.  it is an ingredient in many toothpastes and mouthwashes.  The oil has many industrial applications and is widely employed in perfumes, in scenting soap and as a clearing agent in histological preparations.  The main constituent of the oil, Eugenol, is extracted and used as an imitation carnation in perfumes and for the formation of artificial vanilla.

 

          Clove stems are a commercial product with a lesser content of the essential oil.  The dried fruits, known as mother cloves, are also valuable.  Zanzibar, Indonesia, Mauritius and the West Indies produce most of the crop.

 

          <bot451>  Clove orchard [Syzygium aromaticum (L.) Merr. & Perry] in Jamaica highlands

 

Saffron

 

          Saffron Crocus, Crocus sativus, cultivation dates to the time of the Greeks and Hebrews and is still carried on in many parts of Europe and the Orient.  The dried stigmas and tops of the styles are used as a spice and as a dye.  Saffron was of great importance during the Middle Ages for its both real and fancied value in medicine.  It is used today as a flavoring and as an ingredient of many Continental dishes, especially the famous French bouillabaisse.

 

Flavoring from Flowers

 

          The essential oils in certain flowers are often used for flavoring candy, cakes and similar products, though as in the case of perfumes, synthetic substances have replaced the natural ones.  Otto of Roses and the oil from sweet violets are still used.  Floral syrups are also prepared and used for flavoring ices and beverages.  Crystallized flowers are used that are prepared by placing fresh flowers in baskets and allowing sugar syrup to trickle over them until saturation.  They are then dried in the sun or with artificial heat.  These confections have the flavor imparted by the respective essential oils.  The industry centers in Grasse, France.  The flowers utilized include violets, rose petals, lavender, carnations, lilac and orange.

 

Spices from Fruits

 

Allspice

 

          Pimenta dioica, is a small tree native to the West Indies and parts of Central and South America.  The dried unripe fruits make up the spice called allspice, Pimento or Jamaica pepper.  The name “allspice” comes from the flavor that resembles a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

 

          The tree is evergreen, 20-30 ft. tall with greenish white flowers and purple fruits.  The ripe fruits lose most of their aromatic qualities so the commercial product is gathered when the berries are mature but still green.  Branches are broken off and the fruit removed by hand or flails.  The ripe and undersized berries are discarded and the desirable ones dried for several days.  They become wrinkled and turn dull reddish brown while the aroma becomes more pronounced.  This tree is common in Jamaica where it does not have to be cultivated.  It grows slowly and begins to bare when about 7 years old and continues to bear for 12 years with an average yield of 75-100 lbs. per tree.

 

          Allspice is used as a culinary spice in a mixture with other spices of alone.  It is especially favored for pickles, sausages, soups and sauces.  The extracted oil is used for flavoring and perfumery.  The leaves contain an inferior oil of bay that is sometimes used to adulterate bay rum.  The wood is used for canes and umbrella handles.  Although Jamaica produces most of the commercial product, Mexico and Guatemala grow a small amount.

 

Capsicum (Peppers)

 

          The most important contribution of America to the spices is capsicum or red pepper.  Today these are actually consumed in large quantity as a vegetable, but will be treated in this section.  This condiment is obtained from the fruits of several different plants all of which belong to the genus Capsicum.  The genus is native to tropical America and the West Indies.  The use of capsicums in America date back to pre-Inca times.  Capsicums reached Europe shortly after the voyages of Columbus who found the West Indian natives commonly using red pepper,   By 1600 capsicums had become widespread in the Eastern tropics where they are an important part of the diet to this day.

 

          The long time that capsicums were cultivated by Amerindians has resulted in many varieties that differ in habit and in the size, shape, color and pungency of the fruit.  Among these are the bell peppers, chiles, paprikas, pimientos, tabascos and others.  They are believed by many authorities to be derived from a single species known variously as Capsicum frutescens of C. annuum.

 

          All of the capsicums contain an indigestible skin that covers the fruit.  This can be removed by roasting the fruits over an open flame or in a broiler for a few minutes on each side.  The skin then blisters and may be easily removed, which facilitates digestion.

 

Sweet or Bell Peppers

 

          Capsicum frutescens var. grossum are herbs or slightly woody plants, 2-3 ft. tall, with ovate leaves, white flowers with a rotate corolla and many-seeded fleshy fruits that are technically berries.  The fruits are large and puffy with a depression at the base and are yellow or red in color when ripe.  This variety includes some of the mildest of all the capsicums as the pungent principle is confined to the seeds.  They are widely used in temperate areas of America and Europe where they are used as a fruit vegetable rather than a spice.  Both green and ripe peppers are consumed raw in salads, or are cooked in various ways, stuffed peppers being very popular.  They are also used in pickles.  The plants are grown as annuals or biennials, depending on the climate.  A long season is required but they are well adapted to cooler areas for they are somewhat frost tolerant.

 

Paprikas

 

          These are European varieties with large mild fruits.  Spanish paprika, better known as pimiento, produces attractive fruits with a typical flavor, but entirely lacking in pungency.  They are preserved and are used in cheese preparations and stuffed olives.  They are also grown in South America, California and Georgia.  Hungarian paprika has long pointed fruits that are more pungent.  They are dried and used for powdered paprika or fresh in salads.  The uses of paprika as a condiment and in cooking are well known.  It has high vitamin content.

 

Chiles (Chilis)

 

          Capsicum frutescens var. longum are wholly tropical and subtropical plants.  They are more woody and taller with small pod like berries and innumerable small flat seeds.  The crimson or orange-red fruits are elongated, conical, somewhat flattened and very pungent.  The pungent principles are present in the flesh, rind and seeds.  These peppers are cultivated throughout the world tropics.  The African varieties are the hottest, but Japanese chiles are more favored for culinary purposes.  The ripe fruits are dried in the sun and used whole or powdered.  The ground fruits constitute the cayenne pepper or red pepper of commerce.  Capsicum is used in medicine internally as a powerful stimulant and carminative and to prevent fever.  It is used externally as a counterirritant.  It is extensively used in such beverages as ginger ale because of its pungency.  There are countless culinary uses for chiles.  These peppers are especially favored in the America tropics where they are used in chile con carne, tamales and other dishes.  Extracting the pulp by pressure and pickling in brine or strong vinegar makes pepper sauce.  Tabasco sauce is pepper sauce made from a small variety grown in Louisiana.

 

          In North America Mexico, California, New Mexico and Texas are the chief producers of chiles.  Many varieties with varying degrees of pungency are grown and they are usually consumed whole or after drying the flesh is removed after boiling the dried fruits in water.  The dried chiles develop flavors that are distinct from the fresh fruit and are more often used as a traditional spice.

 

Juniper

 

          Juniperus communis has berries that are used as a flavoring substance.  This is a small tree or prostrate shrub with evergreen needlelike leaves and a berrylike cone, formed by the fleshy coalesced scales.  It is native to the cooler parts of Asia, Europe and North America.  The berries have a sweetish pulp with a typical gin like aroma.  They are purple in color with a greenish bloom.  When dried they are used in flavoring wild game and various meats, but more typically for gin.  The volatile oil that is extracted from crushed berries by steam distillation is also used for flavoring gin and in some medicines.

 

Black & White Pepper

 

          This kind of pepper has been an important spice in the East since ancient times.  It was important to the early Greeks and Romans, and was the principal spice used during the Middle Ages when tributes were often levied in pepper.  As early as 1180 AD the Guild of Pepperers was one of the leading trade guilds in England.  London still retains its identity as the center of the pepper trade.  The high prices charged for pepper was one of the main incentives for the search for a sea route to India.

 

          Black Pepper, Piper nigrum, is a vine indigenous to India or the Indo-Malayan region.  It is now cultivated everywhere in the Eastern tropics from Africa to India, Thailand, the Philippines the East Indies and the South Sea Islands.  The plant is a weak climbing or trailing shrub with adventitious roots that reach a length of 30 ft. in the wild state.  It has coriaceous evergreen leaves and very small flower4s in catkins.  The fruits are small one-seeded berry-like drupes, about 50 to a catkin.  In ripening they change in color from green to bright red and then to yellow.  Pepper requires a hot humid climate and at least partial shade.  Various soils can be used.  The plants are supported on posts or living trees.  When they reach about 2 ft. in height the tip is removed to promote the development of lateral buds.  The crop begins to yield in 2-3 years and reaches full bearing in 7 years.  Propagation is by seed or cuttings from the tips of the vines.

 

          The preparation of black pepper of commerce involves gathering the fruits when at least a few of the berries in each spike are red.  They are picked by hand.  The spikes are dried in the sun or in smoke and are sometimes treated with boiling water before drying.  When dry the berries or peppercorns are rubbed off, winnowed and packed for shipment.  They are reddish brown or black with a wrinkled surface and measure 3-5 mm. in diameter.

 

          White Pepper is the same species as white pepper but it is prepared from berries that are nearly ripe.  They are picked and piled-up to ferment or are soaked in water.  The pulp and outer coating of the seed are then removed.  White pepper is a yellowish gray color and the surface is smooth.  Oftentimes white pepper is prepared from black peppercorns by grinding off the outer parts by machine.  Although not as pungent as black pepper, white pepper is often preferred in the trade.  Commercial ground pepper is often a blend.

 

          The aromatic odor of pepper is due to a volatile oil, while the pungent taste is the presence of an oleoresin.  An alkaloid is also present.  Pepper stimulates the flow of saliva and gastric juices and has a cooling effect.   The culinary uses are numerous, and it is especially valuable as a condiment.  Pepper by itself as well as the oleoresin and alkaloid are used in medicine.  The alkaloid is used as a source of synthetic heliotrope.

 

Long Pepper

 

          Long pepper is derived from Piper retrofractum, of Java and Piper longum of India.  The first species is a climbing woody plant native to Malaya but is cultivated in Java, Bali and adjacent islands.  The latter species is more of a shrub and is native to India, Sri-Lanka and the Philippines.  It is grown extensively in Bengal.  The Romans preferred long pepper to black pepper.  The tiny fruits are fused into cylindrical spike like cones.  These are collected when unripe and dried quickly in the sun or over fires.  Long pepper contains the same principles as black pepper, but is more aromatic and sweeter.  It is grown in the same manner as black pepper.  It is used chiefly in the tropics in pickles, preserves and curries.

 

Star Anise

 

          This is the fruit of a small evergreen tree, Illicium verum, probably native to China.  The star-shaped reddish-brown fruits consist of eight carpels, each with a hard shiny seed.  Both the seeds and the fruit are aromatic with a flavor of anise.  The plant is cultivated from seed only in southern China and Viet Nam.  It requires special climatic conditions for development.  The tree yields from 6-100 years of age, often producing two crops per year.  The fruits re collected before they are ripe and are dried or are immediately distilled for the oil.  Star anise is used as a culinary spice in Eastern cooking.  It is often chewed to sweeten the breath and aid digestion.  The oil is used in medicine as a carminative, expectorant and flavoring and also in liqueurs, aperitifs and perfumery.

 

Vanilla

 

          Vanilla planifolia is a climbing orchid, native to the hot humid forests of tropical America.  The flavoring material is obtained from the cured, fully grown but unripe fruits.  It was extensively used in Pre-Columbian America.  The Europeans who found the Aztecs using it to flavor chocolate, carried vanilla to Europe.  It soon reached the Eastern tropics and was cultivated in many areas.

 

          The plant is a climbing vine with fleshy adventitious roots, large succulent leaves and greenish-yellow flowers.  The fruits are long, thin, yellow, pod like capsules known as vanilla beans.  Vanilla is a wholly tropical species and requires a hot climate with frequent rains.  In cultivation it is grown from cuttings and is trained on posts or living trees.  The flowers are pollinated by hand, but in nature pollination is by stingless bees of the genus Melipona, and perhaps also by hummingbirds.  William Roland in Maryland, USA is investigating  Melipona bees as pollinators of vanilla.  The Melipona species are vicious biters and have never been domesticated.  However, their honey that is derived from an array of tropical plants is of the highest quality.  Sadly, according to William Roland these bees are under threat of extinction by competitive Africanized bees that have spread throughout the Americas from a poorly conceived hybridization experiment in Brazil.

 

          The flavor and aroma of vanilla is not present in the pods until they have been cured.  The unripe fruits are picked at just the right time and submitted to a sweating process.  They are exposed to the sun during the morning, and are then protected by covers during the afternoon.  At night they are placed in airtight boxes.  During this curing process a glucoside is changed by enzyme action into a crystalline substance, Vanillin, which possesses the characteristic odor and flavor.  The pods become tough and pliable and very fragrant, and turn dark brown in color.  Frequently crystals of vanillin appear on the surface.  Vanilla is cultivated in many tropical areas where an island climate is particular favorable.  Mexico, the Seychelles Islands, Madagascar, the Comoro Islands, Reunion, Tahiti, Dominica, Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe are principal producing areas.  West Indian or Pompona Vanilla is obtained from Vanilla pompona, a species with shorter, thicker pods.

 

          Vanilla is used to flavor chocolate, ice cream, candy, puddings, cakes, beverages, etc.  Sometimes the beans are used but more often an extract is prepared by soaking the crushed beans in alcohol.  The manufacture of synthetic vanillin from eugenol, which occurs in clove oil, has threatened the vanilla industry, but the natural product has a superior flavor.  Several other plants have been used as substitute for true vanilla, but they are of inferior quality.

 

Savory “Seeds”

 

          The family Umbelliferae is characterized by the possession of aromatic fruits.  These fruits consist of two one-seeded carpels, or mericarps, with numerous oil ducts containing essential oils.  The mericarps separate readily and are so seed like in appearance that they are often called seeds.  These savory “seeds” are usually used whole for flavoring.  The most common commercial species are anise, caraway, celery, coriander, cumin, dill and fennel.

 

Anise

 

          Pimpinella anisum is mentioned in writings of the Hebrews, Greeks and Romans and was highly valued during the Middle Ages for its real or reputed medicinal value.  Anise is an annual, about 2 ft. tall with simple or ternate basal leaves and pinnate stem leaves.  The small fruits are grayish brown and covered with short hairs.  Anise is extensively cultivated in Europe, Asia Minor, India, Mexico and parts of South America.  It is indigenous in the Mediterranean region.  It is used for flavoring cakes, curries, pastry and candy.  The oil is distilled and used in medicine, perfumery, soaps and other toilet articles and beverages.  The liqueur anisette is widely used, especially in Southern Europe.

 

Caraway

 

          Carum carvi is a native of Europe and Western Asia, but has become widely distributed in temperate regions of both hemispheres, often occurring as a weed.  It was cultivated in Europe before the time of the Lake Dwellers.  The plant is a perennial with thick roots, compound leaves with linear segments and small white flowers.  The brown fruits are slightly curved and tapering.  These “seeds” are used by the baking industry, in perfumery, medicine and beverages, such as the liqueur Kűmmel.  Caraway is grown commercially throughout Northern Europe and in parts of North America.

 

Celery

 

          Celery “seeds”, Apium graveolens var. dulce, are used in flavoring foods.  These fruits are small and dark brown with a pronounced celery flavor.  The oil has some medicinal value, but is used mainly for flavoring in the form of an extract.  Salt flavored with celery-seed oil or the ground seeds, is in great demand for culinary purposes.

 

Coriander

 

          Coriandrum sativum, native to the Mediterranean region, is mentioned in Egyptian, Sanskrit, Hebrew and Roman literature.  During the Middle Ages it had many strange uses, such as love potions, incense, etc.  The plant is widely grown in Europe, Morocco, India and South Hispanic America.  It is a perennial, 3-ft. in height with small white or pinkish flowers.  The lower leaves have broad segments while the upper are very narrow.  The globular yellow-brown fruits have a characteristic odor when fresh and are often used in salads and sauces.  Some find the odor offensive.  The dried fruits are pleasantly aromatic and serve as a common flavoring for both sweet and savory foods, especially in Europe and India.  The fruits are frequently candied in a sugar solution and sold as “sugar plums.”  Oil of coriander is used in medicine and in flavoring beverages, such as gin, whisky and various liqueurs.  The extract is superior to either the dried fruit or the oil for flavoring.

 

Cumin

 

          Cuminum cyminum has been cultivated for such a long period that it is impossible to determine its place of origin.  It most likely originated in the Mediterranean area.  The plant is an attractive small annual with small pinkish flowers.  The elongated oval fruits are light brown and hot and aromatic.  Cumin was valued highly by the ancients and is frequently mentioned in the Bible.  Today is widely grown in Southern Europe, India and warmer parts of North America.  The fruits are used in soup, curries, bread, cake, cheese and pickles and often are candied.  The oil is used in perfumery and for flavoring beverages.

 

Dill

 

          Anethum graveolens, indigenous to Eurasia, still grows wild in many places.  It was known in ancient Greece, Rome and Palestine where it was held in high esteem.  It is cultivated in Europe, India and North America.  The plant is a small annual or biennial with light green leaves and yellow flowers.  The “seeds” are oval, light brown and very compressed.  In North America dill is used mainly for flavoring pickles.  In France, India and other countries it is widely used in soups, sauces and stews and for other culinary purposes.  Dill oil is frequently used as a substitute for the seeds.  Both the seeds and the oil are used in medicine.  The leaves are becoming more widely used in salads.

 

Fennel

 

       Foeniculum vulgare has an interesting history.  Native to the Mediterranean region, it has spread all over the world and often occurs as an escape from cultivation.  The ancient Chinese, Hindus and Egyptians knew it as a culinary spice.  The Romans cultivated it for its aromatic fruits and edible shoots.  It is essential in modern French and Italian cuisine.  All parts of the plant are aromatic and are utilized in various ways.  Fennel is a tall perennial with finely divided leaves and yellow flowers.  The “seeds” are oval and greenish or yellowish brown.  They are used in cooking and for candy and liqueurs.  The oil is used in perfumes, medicine and soaps.  The thickened leafstalks of one variety, Finochio or Florence fennel (F. vulgare var. dulce) are blanched and used as a vegetable.

 

Spices from Seeds

 

Cardamon

 

          The aromatic seeds of the cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum, have been an important spice in the Orient for centuries.  The plant is a native of India and is cultivated mainly in that country and Sri Lanka.  It has also been introduced into other tropical areas.  Large quantities are grown in Central America, especially Guatemala.  It is a perennial herb, 6-12 ft. tall, with long lanceolate leaves with sheathing bases.  The white flowers, with a blue and yellow lib, are borne on a separate elongated stalk.  The fruits that are triangular paper-thin capsules are borne the year round.  The small seeds are light colored and have a delicate flavor.  They are usually kept in the fruit until required for the flavor is superior.  In other cases seeds of either wild or cultivated plants are gathered when completely ripe and dried in the sun.  Few spices are handled with greater care.  Cardamoms are used in cakes, pickles, and curries and for other culinary purposes, as well as in medicine.  They are a popular masticatory in India.  The oil is used to some extent in cooking and in flavoring beverages.

 

Fenugreek

 

          Trigonella foenum-graecum, is an annual legume with white flowers and long slender pods with a pronounced beak.  It is native to Southern Europe and Asia where it is grown for forage and ornamental purposes.  The small seeds are used in India for curries, in dyeing and in medicine.  The extract is used with other aromatic substances to make an artificial maple flavoring.

 

Grains of Paradise

 

          Aframomum melegueta is a perennial herb of West Africa that is the source of the aromatic seeds known as Grains of Paradise.  The plant has large rootstalks that send up an erect stem, 8 ft. or more in height, with long fragrant leaves and showy yellow orchid like flowers in dense spikes.  The fruits are orange pear-shaped capsules that contain the golden brown seeds with a distinctive aroma.  These seeds are very pungent and during the Middle Ages rivaled pepper as a spice.  They are still used somewhat in medicine and for flavoring beverages.  Other species of Amomum are sometimes utilized as substitutes.

 

Mustard

 

          Mustard was widely known since ancient times.  It is frequently mentioned in the Bible and in Greek and Roman writings.  During its long history it has had some curious uses.  It is now grown as a field crop in most temperate regions, especially North America, Europe, China and Japan.  Mainly cultivated for its seeds, the tops are used as potherbs and salad plants.  There are three main species utilized: white, black and Indian mustard

 

White Mustard

 

          Brassica hirta is a freely branching annual, 2-6 ft tall, with yellow flowers, hairy lobed leaves and a bristly pod with a long beak.  The small round seeds are yellow on the outside and white within.  They contain mucilage, proteins, a fixed oil and a glucoside, Sinalbin.  When ground seeds are treated with water this glucoside is broken down through enzyme activity and yields a nonvolatile sulfur compound with a typical sharp taste and pungency.  White mustard is used in medicine and as a condiment.  The fixed oil is expressed and used externally as a counterirritant.  It is also used as a lubricant and illuminant.

 

Black Mustard

 

          Brassica nigra is also native to Eurasia.  It is grown more commonly, and has become a weed in North America.  It is cultivated especially in California, Montana and Kentucky.  The plant is smaller than the white mustard and has smooth pods with dark brown seeds that are yellow on the inside.  Black mustard seed has the same general constituents as white mustard seed.  The glucoside, Sinigrin yields on decomposition a volatile oil containing sulfur, which is responsible for the pungent, aromatic odor and flavor.  This essential oil is very powerful and dangerous to handle as it can blister the skin.  It also attacks the membranes of the eyes and nose.  When diluted it is used in medicine as a counterirritant and to some extent in condiments.  The expressed fixed oil has a mild taste.  It is used in making soap and in medicine.

 

          Ground mustard is widely used as a condiment and in preparing pickles, sardines and salad dressing.  It has a stimulating effect on the salivary glands and also increases the peristaltic movements of the stomach.  Mustard and warm water form an efficient emetic.  The more pungent black mustard is preferred in continental Europe while white mustard is more popular in England.  However, ground mustard is usually a combination of both kinds.  The familiar mustard paste is prepared by treating ground mustard with salt, vinegar and various aromatics.

 

Indian Mustard

 

          Brassica juncea is used in India and parts of Europe as a spice and in cooking.  Its properties are similar to those of black mustard.  The fixed oil is expressed and used in cooking and to anoint the body.

 

Nutmeg & Mace

 

          Both nutmeg and mace are obtained from Myristica fragrans, native to the Moluccas or Spice Islands.  It is now grown in the tropics worldwide, especially in the East Indies and the West Indies.  These spices were probably not known to the ancients.  However, they had reached Europe by the 12th Century.  The discovery of the spice Islands in 1512 led the Portuguese to obtain a monopoly of nutmeg and mace, which later was dominated by the Dutch.  Later trees were smuggled into French and British possessions and the monopoly was broken.

 

          The plant is a handsome evergreen tree with dark leaves that reaches a height of 30-60 ft.  It is usually dioecious, with small pale-yellow flowers that are fleshy and aromatic.  The ripe fruits are golden-yellow and resemble apricots or plums.  They gradually dry out and when completely ripe the husk splits open revealing the shiny brown seed covered with a bright-red branching aril.  The kernel inside the seed is the nutmeg of commerce.  The aril is the source of mace.

 

          nutmeg is propagated from seed in nurseries and later transplanted.  It needs a hot moist climate and thrives when near the sea, so that islands are very favorable for its growth.  The trees come into full bearing when about 20 years old and contuse for 30-40 years.  The yield is very high, a large tree furnishes about 1,000 nutmegs annually.  Fruits are produced all year round.  After the husks split open the fruits are picked, the pericarp is removed and the made is stripped from the shell, flattened and dried.  it turns a yellowish brown.  The seeds are dried and the shell cracked off.  The kernels are removed, sorted and often treated with lime to prevent insect attack.

 

          Mace is a very delicately flavored spice and is used with savory dishes and in making pickles, ketchup and sauces.

 

          Nutmegs have been used medicinally and as a culinary spice for centuries.  Grated nutmeg is used with puddings, custards and other sweet dishes and with various beverages.  A jelly is made from the fresh husks of the ripe fruit.  An essential oil is extracted for use in medicine and as a flavoring agent.  This oil contains a very toxic substance, Myristicin, and can be used only in small amounts.  Caution must also be exercised in the use of nutmeg and mace.  nutmeg oil is used in the perfume and tobacco industries and in dentifrices.  Nutmegs contain a fixed oil, called nutmeg butter. 

 

Tonka Beans

 

          The South American trees, Dipteryx odorata and D. oppositifolia, are the source of Tonka beans.  They serve as a substitute for vanilla.  Most of the commercial supply is from Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.  The large trees, up to 110 ft tall, have strange egg-shaped fruits with a hard shell and pulpy flesh surrounding a single seed.  The fallen fruits are collected, broken open and dried.  These resemble Jordan almonds and have a black wrinkled surface.  They contain a crystalline substance, Coumarin, which is of importance in the manufacture of perfumes.  The odor is that of new-mown hay, and closely suggests vanilla.  The beans, or an alcohol extract are used for flavoring tobacco, cosmetics, perfumes, soap, liqueurs, as a substitute for vanilla in cocoa, candy and ice cream and as a fixative for dyes.

 

Spices from Leaves

 

          The aromatic leaves of many plants frequently have been used to flavor foods and for their medicinal qualities.  Many of these belong to the mint family that is identified by its aromatic odor, square stems and small bilabiate corollas.  Some of the more important mints are basil, peppermint, balm, marjoram, savory, sage, thyme, spearmint, bay , parsley, terragon and wintergreen.

 

Basil

 

          Sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum, is most likely native to India and Africa.  It has been used in India for centuries as a condiment and in England because of its aromatic qualities.  The leaves are used in salads, stews dressings as an ingredient of mock turtle soup and Fetter Lane sausages.  Basil is also very popular in French and Italian cookery.  The golden-yellow essential oil is used in perfumery and various beverages.  There are several varieties.

 

Peppermint

 

          Mentha piperita is one of the most important of the aromatic herbs.  It is a perennial found wild in moist ground in the temperate parts of Asia, Europe and America.  It is cultivated in Europe and has been an important crop plant in America for since the 18th Century.  Mucky soils that are unsuitable for other types of agriculture are ideal.  The crop is harvested with mowing machines when in blossom and after drying it is hauled to distilleries.  Peppermint has a refreshing odor and a persistent cooling taste.  The leaves are used for flavoring but the oil, obtained by steam distillation, is of greater importance.  The oil is used to flavor candy, gum, dentifrices and various pharmaceutical preparations.  It is valuable in both internal and external medicine and in the perfume and soap industries.  Because of its penetrating odor it has often been used to detect leaks in pipes.  Peppermint camphor or menthol, a derivative of the oil extracted by freezing, is valuable as an antiseptic and has been used in the treatment of the common cold.

 

          Japanese peppermint, Mentha arvensis var. piperascens, is cultivated in Japan, Brazil and North America as the main source of methol.  Although the menthol content is higher than in Mentha piperita, both the oil and the camphor are very bitter and less valuable.

 

Balm

 

          Melissa officinalis is a perennial herb of Southern Europe that has been introduced into all temperate climates.  It has been cultivated since before 100 B.C. and was well known to the Greeks, Arabs and Romans.  The leaves are used in stews, sauces, soups, dressings and salads.  The essential oil has a lemon flavor and is used in beverages.  The flowers are an important source of honey.

 

Marjoram

 

          Sweet marjoram, Majorana hortensis, is indigenous in the Mediterranean region where it has been known since ancient times.  It is a sacred plant in India and is popular both in Europe and North America.  The leaves, flowers and tender stems are used for flavoring syrups, dressings, stews and sauces.  The essential oil is used for perfumes and soap.  Pot Marjoram, Origanum vulgare, is also used as a substitute.

 

          <bot680>  Marjoram in flower (Majorana hortensis) [Mediterranean] (ex. Riverside, CA)

 

Savory

 

          Satureja hortensis is native to the Mediterranean region but is now grown worldwide.   The leaves are strongly aromatic with a warm bitter taste.  Its principal use is in sauces, dressings and gravies.  It was used as a potherb during Roman times.  Winter savory, Satureja montana is of some importance in Europe.

 

Sage

 

          Salvia officinalis has been a valued spice for use in making stuffing for meats, sausage and fowl.  It adds zest to Italian cookery.  The plant is a shrubby herb of the Mediterranean region.  The grayish green hairy leaves are very aromatic.  It has been used for its reputed health benefits since Roman times.  Oil of sage is used in the perfume industry.

 

          <bot681>  Sage (Salvia officinalis) [Mediterranean] (ex. Riverside, CA)

 

Thyme

 

          Thymus vulgaris is indigenous to the Mediterranean region where it is widespread as a wild plant.  It has escaped cultivation in most countries and often escapes.  Thyme has been used since the time of the Greeks and Romans as incense and as a source of honey, the latter being distinctive and of high quality.  The fresh or dried green parts of this low shrubby plant are used in sauces, soups, dressings and gravies.  The oil is used in perfumery.  Thymol, a derivative of the oil, is antiseptic and is used in mouthwashes, toothpastes, as a fungicide and as an internal medicine where it is effective against hookworm.  It also has some industrial uses.

 

Spearmint

 

          Mentha spicata is native to temperate Asia and Europe.  It is now common worldwide.  It was known before the Christian era.  Both fresh and dried leaves are used for jelly, mint sauce and to flavor soups, sauces, stews and beverages.  It is also used in chewing gum, candy, dentifrices and medicine.  The plant resembles peppermint but has longer and lighter colored leaves and more pointed spikes.  It is mild in flavor.

 

Bay

 

          Sweet bay, Laurus nobilis, is a small tree native to Asia Minor.  It is very ornamental and is often cultivated.  The leaves constituted the laurel of antiquity, the symbol of victory.  These leaves are bitter and aromatic and are widely used in cooking.  Bay is extensively grown in Europe where the leaves are used in puddings, soups and other culinary products.  It is an ingredient of the “bouquet” the small bunch of sweet herbs used widely by the French.  The essential oil was once used in medicine.  Bay leaves also contain a fixed oil.

 

Parsley

 

          Petroselinum crispum is one of the most widely cultivated garden herbs.  It is native to the rocky shores of the Mediterranean, but has escaped from cultivation in all moist cool climates.  The plant is usually biennial and during the first year produces a dense tuft of dark green finely divided leaves.  The leaves are used as a garnish and for flavoring soups, stuffing and omelets.  They are a good source of Vitamin C.  In Europe the tops are often used for potherbs and the roots as boiled vegetables.

 

Terragon

 

          Artemisia dracunculus is a small herbaceous perennial of Western Asia that is widely grown in Europe for its pungent, aromatic leaves, which are used in making vinegar and pickles. It is also used for seasoning salads, soups and various meats.  The tender shoots can also be utilized.  The essential oil is used to perfume toilet articles.

 

Wintergreen

 

          Wintergreen or Checkerberry is important as a flavoring in North America.  The original source was Gaultheria procumbens, a low creeping evergreen plant with flat, dark green shiny leaves that grows wild in eastern North America.  The leaves contain a glucoside, which breaks down in water to form methyl salicylate or oil of wintergreen.  The oil is distilled from the leaves in copper stills.  It was once an important industry in New England.  The sweet birch, Betula lenta, contains the same glucoside in its bark and the young twigs and bark of this plant have generally displaced the checkerberry as the source of oil.  The oil is used in medicine and in flavoring candy, soft drinks, chewing gum and dentifrices.

 

Minor Savory Leaves

 

          Other plants that contain aromatic oils and that are used to some extent in medicine and for flavoring are certain mints, such as Catnip, Nepeta cataria, Clary Sage, Salvia sclarea, Hyssop, Hyssopus officinalis, and European Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium.  Some that belong to other plant families include Chervil, Anthriscus cerefolium, Lovage, Levisticum officinale, Rue, Ruta graveolens, and Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare.

 

Misc. Spices & Flavoring Substances

 

          Various other plants that are used as flavorings but which are discussed in other section include calamus root, almonds chives, garlic, hoarhound, cubebs, lavender, lemon, lime, orange, pistachio, orris root, poppy seeds, sesame and rosemary.