What would a dish without spices? I am sure that the answer is ... too plain a.k.a boring......... !! And it's true that spices enrich our food and our lives, too. That's why I include assorted spices below, just to make sure that your life is not too plain or too bored to live.............

Monday, March 31, 2008



Family: Mustard (Brassicaceae)
Origin: Originally watercress came from Europe, but now you can find it in every temperate area. It usually grows around water and is sometimes called water or brook nasturtium. The Romans used it when preparing salads and seasoning foods. You can find it under the name "rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum"
Cuisine: You can use watercress together with other greens. It also tastes good in sandwiches or in herbal cottage cheese. It add zing to soups, as well.
Health effects: this herb stimulates the gall bladder, kidneys, and liver. It stimulates digestion and purifies the blood, and in spring you can use it for dieting. It helps with rheumatism and gout.
Cosmetics: Watercress juice contains an antibiotic essential oil that clears and purifies the skin. Use a swab to apply it to irritated places. You can also lighten summer freckles by applying the crushed herb to your skin at night.
Decorative uses: Watercress is grown on the banks of garden ponds or brooks and covers them with its white flowers.
Features: This water and marsh plant grows up to 30 inches tall with dense leaves. Thick roots hold the plant firmly in place and the leaves hang above and under the water. In the summer, the white flowers contrast nicely with the dark green shoots. The leaves contain a bitter essential oil (mustard oil glucoside), vitamins, mineral substances, tannins and alkaloids.
Similar species: Small-leafed watercress (Nasturtium microphyllum) is known for its frost resistance.
Location for growth: Watercress is a salad herb that can grow in colder places in partial or full shade. It prefers rich clay soil, which must always be damp.
Cultivation: The plants need your attention while growing because they need water that is 3 feet deep. You can find such conditions in marshy areas around small lakes.
Harvest: The best parts to eat are the new leaves and shoots, which should be harvested before the flowers come. Store them in a glass of water in a shaded area to keep them fresh. It is very important to wash them before use.

useful link: watercress

When gathering watercress in the wild, be aware in which the plant is growing, otherwise you may be at risk from water-borne diseases and parasites. You can irritate your kidneys by overdosing on watercress, so eat no more than an ounce per day.




Family: Carrot (Apiaceae)
Cuisine: Parsley is used to season soups, sauces, and egg dishes, potatoes, vegetable dishes and salads. Herb-enriched cottage cheese and parsley butter are also tasty. Add the parsley just before serving, because it loses its vitamins when cooked. The roots can be added to soups and stews.
Health effects: Parsley is rich in vitamin C. It purifies your blood and supports blood cell production.
Origin: This herb originated in southern Europe, and was used medicinally by the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was forgotten for a long time, but returned to the kitchen in the 15th century.
Features: Parsley is biennial herb. In the first year, roots and leaf rosettes form, and then the next summer it produces yellowish-green flowers and reaches a height of 25 inches. Once the seeds develop only a few leaves continue to grow. The roots and leaves contain large amounts of vitamin C, as well as important minerals such as calcium and iron and essential oils. The seeds are especially rich in parsley camphor.
Similar species: Root parsley (petroselinum crispum varianttuberosum) has richly-flavored roots as well as green herbal leaves.
Location for growth: This plant needs full sun to partial shade. The soil should be rich, deep and moist for the plant to grow well.
Cultivation: You can plant leaf parsley seeds starting in the middle of March, spaced 6-8 inches apart. If you sow new seeds regularly, you can harvest leaves from the plant throughout its growing season. If you are planting root parsley about 4 weeks until the ground is warmer. The seeds will germinate and grow more quickly if you mix them with radish seeds, so you can watch your parsley progress! Seeds and plants need to be in damp soil, though not excessively wet. Late-sown parsley stays green in the winter if well covered. You can also cultivate parsley in pots on windowsills.
Harvest: You can harvest fresh leaves, and they can be preserved by freezing. The roots should be dug up in late fall and put in sand for storage in a cool cellar. Alternatively you can freeze or dry the roots.
Cosmetics: Parsley oil is used in perfumes. A fresh mash of parsley soothes inflammations and cleanses the skin.
Decorative uses: Curly-leafed parsley looks especially great on balconies and terraces when planted in pots.

Parsley has lush, flat leaves, and the leaves at the tips have a stronger flavor. Famous curly-leaved types include "Green Pearl" and "Emerald". Green River has sturdy, curly leaves and is very hardy. The renowned "Gigante d'Italia" has flat leaves and a very fine flavor.

Parsley oil can cause kidney and liver problems. It can cause abortion; so pregnant women should not use it. There is only a small amount of parsley oil in the leaves and roots.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Buah kluwek or keluak nuts are a type of nut that is actually a seed. The oily, hard-shelled seeds resemble to Brazillian nuts. The meaty seeds are edible only after the poisonous hydrocyanic acid is removed by soaking and boiling them in water. Fermented keluak nuts become chocolate-brown, greasy and very slippery. Cooked seeds are used in a number of popular Malaysian and Indonesian dishes.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Mentha x piperita

Family: Labiate (Lamiaceae)
Origin: Peppermint was crossbred from water mint (menthe aquatic) and spearmint (m. spicata). This plant, with its intense aroma, has been popular since the end of the 17th century. It is also called tea mint or English mint.
Features: the plant grows to a height of 30 inches. Mint leaves are usually green, though sometimes they change to a reddish color similar to that of the shoot, or to a pinkish violet color in summer. The plant is reproduced from underground shoots. The most important substance in the plant is its essential oil, menthol.
Similar species: Spearmint, the ancestor of peppermint, is known for its high menthol content and was originally used to flavor chewing gum.
Location for growth: Mint needs partial shade with damp, rich soil. It can grow in sunny places if it is not too dry.
Cultivation: Peppermint has no seeds, unlike other mint types, and it reproduces only from its root shoots so to begin growing it you need to buy the first plant. Alternatively, ask a neighbor or friend if they have any mint shoot to spare.
Mint makes a good ground cover because it grows in thick clumps. The plants usually grow tall, and can be seen with other plants next to them. When blight appears, the plant should be cut back radically. It grows back quickly. Protect the plant against freezing in winter.
Harvest: You can harvest the leaves all season long. Cut it back before it blooms if you want to dry it.You should do this late in the summer.
Cuisine: The fresh leaves are used in herbal salads, sauces, soups, and vegetable or meat dishes. You can use it as a garnish that can be eaten. Fresh and dried leaves are used for preparing tea.
Health effects: The menthol contained in peppermint has calming effects and is good for relieving cramps. Peppermint tea soothes discomfort caused by digestive problems, and inhalations are used to get rid of a cold and stuffy nose.
Cosmetics: Peppermint leaves in a bath are refreshing, and good for skin pores. You can make peppermint body oil by mixing 1 handful fresh leaves with a pint of olive or almond oil. Allow to sit for 1 week.
Use for decorations: The scent of peppermint is pleasant and attracts many bees and buttefly.

The ‘Mitcham’ type, with its blue-green leaves, is probably the most famous of mints. It has a peppermint aroma and grows robustly. ‘Citrta’ smells like cologne. There are also types with lemony and orange scents.

You should avoid using peppermint if you have serious stomach problems. Some people are allergic to menthol. It would be better to choose fennel tea for small children suffering from stomach aches because peppermint’s high menthol content can cause breathing problems.


Kaempferia galanga

Familia: Zingiberaceae
Synonyms: -
Cuthchery or kencur or aromatic ginger is sometimes mistakenly called lesser galangal, although its correct English name is zedoary. This ginger-like root has a unique camphor flavor and should be used sparingly. Wash it and scrape off the skin before using. Dried sliced kencur or kencur powder can be used a substitute. Soak dried sliced in boiling water for approximately 30 minutes; use 1/2 - 1 tsp of powder for 1 inch fresh root. There is no real substitute - if you can't find it, add more galangal and ginger to the recipe.


Candlenuts are waxy, straw-colored nuts that are ground to add texture and flavor to spice pastes and curry mixtures. Raw almonds, cashews or macadamia nuts mau be substitutes.


Aloysia triphylla

Family: Verbena (verbenaceae)
Origin: The aloysia family comprises about 35 species. One of the most beautiful is lemon verbena, also known as the lemon shrub, which is sometimes known by its older botanical name Lippia tripylla. It is indigenous to Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.
Features: Outdoors, the shrub grows up to 16 feet tall, grown in a pot it is usually smaller. The lancet leaves (up to 4 inches long) have a strong lemon odor if you rub them in your hand. In summer, the plant produces small violet flowers in branched clusters (panicles), which also smell good.
Location for growth: Lemon verbena grows best in partial shade. A few hours of sun in the morning or evening suffice. As a rule, rich humus or potting soil is recommended when lemon verbena is grown in pots. In summer, it can also be grown outdoor, but do not forget to put it in a pot and place indoor before the first frost.
Cultivation: During winter, Aloysia needs a light, airy, frost-free environment, and temperatures from 35-40 F degrees are just enough. If you keep in a dark place it loses its leaves. In the winter, the plant needs only enough water to keep it from drying out, but in summer, the plant must be watered regularly. Before digging the plant up, you can cut it back sharply and pick off the shoots. These can be rooted at the temperatures of 70F. Pinch back the young plants several times so they can grow into small shrubs. Fertilize weekly from spring to late summer. The shrub is very vulnerable to aphids.
Harvest: As a rule, the leaves keep best when dried and stored in sealed bottles in a dark place. The extract is know as Herba Verbenae odoratae and can beobtained from a pharmacy.
Cuisine: The aromatic leaves can be used in many recipes. You can add a leaf to the water, for example, to spice boiled fish. Lemon verbena leaves are also a favorite ingredient in tea in France and Spain.
Health effects: The essential oils calm down and relieve stomach cramps. Added to tea they aid digestion. Leaves added to a bath release a relaxing fragrance.
Cosmetics: The essential oils are used in the production of perfumes and other cosmetics. You can dry the leaves yourself and use them in a potpourri.
Decorative uses: Grown in pots on your balcony or terrace, they not only look nice, but smell good too! Because of their lemony aroma, they should be placed near where you sit and relax.

Lemon and lime fans can grow their own trees. They need a warmer place than lemon verbena, but can be grown in pots without much effort. If you keep them in a sunny place at temperatures ranging from 60-65F during the winter, they will produce delicious fruit rich in vitamin C. The juice reduces fever, has antiseptic effects, and is suitable as an ingredient in drinks and foods. It can be added to salad
dressings, roasted meats, soft drinks, or cocktails. Lime peels is less useful, whereas ground lemon peel can be added to cakes, sauces, teas, or mulled wine.


Anethum graveolens

Family : Carrot (Apiaceae)
Origin: This plant – which was used as an herb and as a remedy by the Egyptians and Romans – probably came from Asia. In the Middle Ages, the Mongols brought it to Europe and since then it has spread widely.
Features: Dill is easily mistaken for fennel, as it has similar appearance and smell. It can grow up to 3 feet tall and its hollow stalks sprout smoothly feathered leaves. In late summer, the plant produces many small, yellow flowers in big umbels from which the dill seeds fall. These are round and when dried, they split into two pieces. A number of essential oils give the plant its distinctive aroma.
Tips for species: “Fern leaf dill”, with leaves similar to those of ferns, is especially attractive and can be harvested for along time.
Location for growth: Dill needs a warm, sunny place, and its smooth leaves should be protected against the wind. Grown in such a place, its aroma will be at its best. This somewhat demanding plant requires a soil rich in nutrients, which should be well watered but not overly wet.
Cultivation: Dill can be sown outdoors in April, and this can be repeated every 2 or 3 weeks so that you always have the fresh herb at your disposal. Dill is especially aromatic when it blooms. If you want to harvest the plants, it is recommended that you sow them in rows. If you want to let the plants mature properly, space them 8 inches from one another. Otherwise, the plants’s spreading roots will keep each other from developing fully. You can grow dill among vegetables, for example; sowing it among carrots and cucumber is a very effective means of repelling pests. The soil should be well tilled so that puddles do not form. It is easy to start dill and in following years it will grow back.
Harvest: The leaves can be cut off and used fresh through-out the whole year. They are especially aromatic if you cut them off after a sunny day. You can dry them or freeze them, but they tend to lose their distinctive taste. The seeds are ready to be harvested as soon as they turn brown. Cut off the seed heads and hang them upside down to dry. The mature seeds will fall out of the seed heads, so place a cloth underneath to collect them.
Cuisine: Fresh leaves give a special flavor to fish, vegetable dishes, sauces, and salads. It is best to chop them before adding them to dishes. Dill is also popular for flavoring vinegars and pickles.
Health effects: Dill seed tea helps against indigestion and flatulence. It also has a calming effect, and since it is a diuretic, it can be used for trouble with kidney stones. Mothers can use it to increase secretion of milk.
Decoratives uses: Dill is also used in decorative gardens because of its smooth stalks and pretty yellow flower umbels. It looks especially good when planted in beds with other perennials. Its smooth stalks may also be used in bouquets.

Wine with dill to help you fall asleep.
Boil a cup of white wine and add 1 tsp dry dill seeds. Strain the wine and drink it hot. Put leaves of Greek dill plants on your eyes to help you fall asleep.


Cuminum cyminum

Family: carrot (apiaceae)
Synonyms: comino, jintan
Forms of use: Cumin is native to the Eastern Mediterranean region and Egypt. Today, it is principally cultivated in North African and Middle Eastern countries, India and Mexico.
Aroma: Cumin taste is pleasant, fresh an d sharply aromatic. Its taste resembles that of caraway very remotely.
Use: Cumin is used particularly in Arab, Far Eastern and Latin American cuisines. It belongs among the spices used in Indonesian rice dishes and is added to many types of Indian chutney, mango chutney, for example. It is also used in Arab and Mexican meat dishes like chili con carne and it can be present in bread and cheese as well as in bitter and herbal liquor. Cumin is essential in spice mixes like garam masala, tandoori and curry.
Buying/storing: Cumin is available in spice stores either whole or ground. If whole seeds are kept in an air-proof closed container in a cool, dry and dark place, they will last more than 1 year. In powder form, cumin loses its aroma and taste quickly.
Properties: This creeping plant grows only 12 inches high and has dark green leaves and white – almost lilac - blossoms, which develop into fruits. Cumin is visually very similar to caraway. However, black cumin is dark coffee brown and is a spice as well as an herb.
Related species: Besides common brown cumin, there is black cumin as well. It is called Cashmere cumin and is used mainly in Iran, Pakistan, and in northern India, where it grows wild. Its seed are black and smaller than those of regular cumin.
Mythology; The Egyptians put cumin in the pyramids where they buried their pharaohs. Cumin was probably regarded as a medicine at the time. The Romans used it instead of pepper and ground it into a paste to use as a spread on bread. It was grown in cloister gardens under the reign of Charlemagne. In modern times, cumin oil is used in heavy, oriental perfumes.
Medicinal use: Eating cumin has very positive effects on digestion. It releases convulsions and brings relief in the abdominal area in cases of colic, diarrhea and dysmenorrhea. When used in greater quantities, it helps to cure the diseases of upper airways. Or chew a few cumin seed for about 2 minutes and spit them out! It stimulates the appetite, cleans blood and has a sedative effect. It was used to treat pulmonary diseases in ancient Egypt.

DID YOU KNOW……………………..
Pliny, a Roman scholar, mentions in his works that a rich Roman, C.Julyus Vinder, won the post of Propretor in Galicia through deception. He was drinking an extract of cumin and went to the Emperor Nero, promising him to appoint him heir of his property if the Emperor complied with his request and granted him the post. Thanks to the cumin, the greedy Emperor was disappointed.

Cumin is a suitable spice for mixtures because it goes well with other exotic spices. Cumin should be used reasonably because it has very strong taste. To intensify the taste of cumin, roast it in a hot pan without fat.


Coriandrum Sativum

Family: Carrot (Apiaceae)
Synonyms: Chinese parsley, cilantro
Form of use: seed, dried, whole and ground, and leaves, fresh, root
Origin: an herb native to and common in southern Europe and western Asia for thousand of years. Today, coriander is spread throughout the Mediterranean, the Netherland, the Balkans, Russia, India and America.
Aroma: the aroma of the fruit is pleasantly nutty and spicy. The smell and taste of coriander haulm as well as its roots is very strong and sometimes you must get used to it!
Use: coriander seeds are classic spices added to baked goods or used as a spice for dishes containing cabbage, potatoes and legumes. They enhance the taste of roast fish, poultry and meat dishes and complement chutney, plum jam and pickled vegetables as well. The herbs is mainly used as spice in Thailand, Indian,Mexican and Brazilian cuisines. Coriander seeds are added to liquors and vermouth and were used in beer production during the middle ages as well.
Buying/storing: coriander seeds, whole or ground, are available in the spice section of well-supplied and supermarkets. Green coriander is available in the vegetable section throughout the year.
Coriander seeds should be stored in an air-proof closed container in a cool, dark place to keep their aroma for up to 1 year. Ground coriander loses its taste very fast. The leaves and roots of coriander can only be used fresh because they lose their flavor if dried.
Properties: the 12-24 inch high plant is not picky about the quality of its soil. Its leaves are fan-shaped in the lower part and pinnate in the upper part. The blossoms form an umbel, bloom white and develop into globular, round, yellow-brown ribbed fruits. The diameter is 1.5-3 mm. The seeds are dried and ground after harvesting.
Related spices: coriander resembles parsley in many ways. Both their leaves and their blossoms are very similar and can be easily confused. Both herbs are used in a similar manner in cooking because their leaves tolerate neither heat nor drying. You can make broth from its roots.
Mythology: coriander is one of the oldest cultivated plants. It was mentioned in the Bible as one of the bitter herbs of the Passover feast. Seeds were discovered in archaeological finds among cultural relics from the Neolithic era. Traces of coriander found in the tombs of the Pharaohs show that coriander was also appreciated in ancient Egypt.
Medicinal use: coriander contains essential oil which help stomach and intestinal disorders and have a sedativeeffect on nerves. Coriander is flatulent because it stimulates the activity of intestinal musculature, causing interstinal convulsions and strengthening the stomach.

The aroma of coriander intensifies when the seeds are crushed in a mortar or roasted in a pan without any fat. Coriander goes well with cumin, chili, fresh mint and garlic.


Myristica Fragrans

Family: nutmeg (myristicaceae)
Synonyms: pala (Indonesian)
Form of use: seeds and episperm, dried, whole and ground
Origin: the nutmeg tree is a native to the Moluccas or New Guinea. Today, nutmeg is grown mainly in Indonesia, west India, Madagaskar and Mauritius as well as Brazil.
Aroma: the smell of nutmeg is pleasantly spicy, its taste is intensely spicy and slightly fiery. The taste of mace is milder. Mace can always replace nutmeg, but not vice versa.
Use: nutmeg is used to season everything salty, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach and cauliflower are better with a pinch of nutmeg. Thick vegetable soups, light sauces, eggs, fish and meat dishes can also be seasoned with nutmeg. Cheese fondues and eggnog are better with a pinch of nutmeg. Nutmeg is particularly good in sweet dishes like custards, puddings and stewed fruit as well as in Christmas cookies and punches.
Buying/storing: nutmeg is available either as whole or ground nuts and mace is available either ground or as yellow brown perianth. The powder is easier to handle and thus more common. Both spices are available in well-supplied groceries and greater selection of variations is available in spice stores. Nutmeg (as well as mace), should be kept in an airtight, closed container in a dry, dark place.
Properties: Nutmeg trees can live 100 years. In the wild, nutmeg grows up to 50 feet. Its cultivated from is pruned to a more accessible height of 20 feet to make harvesting easier. The tree only bears fruit starting from its eighth year of life and its yield increases up to the fifteenth year, when it peaks. Nutmeg is not the fruit of the nutmeg tree, its fruits is a seed similar to apricots. The period of ripening last 9 months – from blooming until harvest when the tree bears fruit. The fruit is thrashed with long wooden sticks. Fruit flesh, mace or nutmeg blossoms are separated and dried separately or together with the seeds (nutmeg).
Mytology: It is hard to say how long nutmeg was known as a spice in Europe. Martius (1794-1868), a natural scientist and explorer, tried to prove that mace was known to Plautus, a Roman writer, around 200 BC, and nutmeg to scholar Pliny in about 50 AD. Nutmeg was found in Egyptian mummy graves. Thus we know that ancient proved whether it was used as spice or only as a medicine or for occult purposes. Nutmeg and mace belonged, besides cloves and cinnamon, among the most expensive spices during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Medicinal use: Nutmeg plays as important role in folk medicine. Some people believe that if you carry it as an amulet or in a pocket, you will be protected from ulcers and boils. Nutmeg plays an important role in homeopathy even today.

1-6 teaspoons of nutmeg can be poisonous. The substances it contains are similar to mescaline and amphetamine in a human organism and can alter consciousness and even cause death.

Nutmeg is a spice best used only in pinches. Use it sparingly or the dish can taste soapy. Because nutmeg develops its aroma only when grated, it is a good idea to buy a nutmeg grater. Nutmeg loses its aroma when warmed, which is why dishes should be spiced only after cooking.


Dried kelp or konbu, probably the most important seaweed in Japanese cooking, is an essential ingedient in basic dashi stock. It has a dark brown color, often with whitish patches of salt and is sold in strips or small folded sheets. Wipe with a damp cloth but do not soak before using. When cooked, it expands into smooth, green sheets which are discarded before serving. One-inch (2 1/2 cm) squares of salted dried kelp (shio-konbu) available in plastic packets, are either enjoy as a snack or used as a savory accent in some dishes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Palm sugar or gula aren/jawa is a type of sugar made by boiling down the sweet sap harvested from cut flower buds of sugar or coconut palm trees. Palm sugar varies in color, consistency and sweetness from soft, gooey and creamy beige type which is sold in plastic jars to the crystallized hard and dark brown. Palm sugar sold in round disks or blocks wrapped in clear plastic or paper wrappers. The dark brown palm sugar is generally sweeter and more fragrant than the others. All can be used. If you cannot find it, substitute dark brown sugar or maple syrum for palm sugar. Hard palm sugar should be shaved or gratted into small cunks or melted in the microwave oven to measure before using. Store palm sugar in the same way as notmal sugar.


Illicium Verum

Star anise is a star-shaped, eight-pointed pod from an evergreen tree grown in northern Vietnam. It has the pungent flavor of aniseed or licorice. Used most often in soups (pho, in particular) or other recipes requiring long simmering. Star anise is available whole or ground. If use whole, discard before serving.

Family: illiciaceae
Synonyms: chinese anise, bunga lawang, pekak
Forms of use: fruits, whole or ground
Origin: star anise is native to southern China and North Vietnam. Today, it is cultivated in Cambodia, Laos, Japan, and the Philippines as well.
Aroma: star anise smells like anise but its taste is fuller, fiercer and deeper.
Use: In Chinese cuisine, star anise is used to spice pork, duck and goose meat. Europeans use it to spice gingerbread, stewed plums and pears and sweet dishes as well as Christmas tea and mulled wine. The oil is used instead of anise oil in candies and baked goods, ices and liquors.
Buying/storing: Star anise is available in spice stores or in well-supplied supermarkets. Whole fruits stored in an air-proof container in a dark, dry place will keep their aroma for a few years. Ground star anise loses its taste faster.
Properties: Star anise is definitely a beautiful spice. It is a star-shaped fruit of an evergreen tree, which can grow up to 26 feet high and live to be more than 100 years old. It bears red-brown, corky-woody, star-shaped fruit starting from its seventh year. You can find chestnut brown, glossy, seeds inside. A single star anise tree bears up to 88 lb of fruit in one year. When they are dried in the sun, they lose about three-quarters of their weight. It is not the seeds but the walls of the fruit which possess the flavor. Chinese anise is rich in essential oils, anethole in particular. It is used in food preparation and medicinally as a carminative. Star anise is unrelated to common anise.
Related species: Botanically, star anise is not related to anise, but they do have similar taste.
Mythology: Sir Thomas Cavendish, an English navigator, brought star anise from Philippines to Plymouth on sept 9th 1588. In Europe, it started as a tea spice in the court of the Russian tsar in th 17th century. Its genus name “Illicinum” is derived from the Latin word ‘illicere’, or ‘attract’.
Medicinal use: Chew star anise after eating to promote digestion and to freshen your breath. It should help with flatulence, coughing and bronchitis.

Insert a piece of star anise inside the chicken or duck and it will have spicy sweet aroma. Star anise can be combined with ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and soy sauce.


Cumin - jintan - or mellet yira is often added to curry pastes. The same thai name is use for cumin, fennel and caraway, which are all similar in appearance but sometimes leading to confusion.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Elettaria cardamomum
Family: Ginger (Zingiberaceae

Synonyms: Lesser cardamom, Ceylon cardamom
Form of use: seeds, dried, whole or ground
Origin: Cardamom is native to South India, Ceylon and Malaysia. It is cultivated in India and Guatemala as well.
Aroma: the aroma of cardamom is very fine, sweet and sharp. Its aftertaste resembles a mix of lemon, camphor and bergamot.
Use: Cardamom is added to mulled wine and gingerbread. It is a significant part of curry mixes. If well dosed, it goes well with cakes, baked goods, meat dishes, pickles and herrings, sausages, pâtés and liquors as well as with whisky. Coffee and tea in Asian countries is enhanced with cardamom. Cardamom pods strengthen the aroma of Bedouin coffee.
Buying/storing: whole cardamom seeds of pods are available in spice stores. Ground cardamom is available in well-supplied supermarkets as well. The way to store cardamom is to put it in a bowl and keep it in a cool, dry and dark place. Ground seeds lose their aroma very fast.
Properties: Cardamom is a reedy, perennial plant which can grow up to 5 feet (1.5 m). Its blossoms are light yellow and grow into small, green fruit pods.
The fruits can be harvested during the third year. Therefore, one has to keep watching the plant because the seeds ripen throughout the year. You must harvest the seed pods before they ripen, or jump out, and dry them in a drying chamber in the sun. The seeds are the spice and contain fine aromatic essential oils. They are left in the pods in order to protect their aroma and they are available ground as a reddish-gray powder.
Since the spice is expensive, its light seed cases are often ground and added to the spice. You can distinguish between pure cardamom seed and “cardamom with ground seedcases,”according to color.
Related species: Its close relatives include brown Ceylon cardamom (Elletaria major), which tastes bitter and is often used as a cardamom substitute, and paradise pepper (Aframomum melegueta). Theie taste is sharp and peppery, similar to the taste of cardamom.
Mythology: Some people believe that cardamom increases male sexual appetite and stamina, an effect attributed to the spice’s iodine content.
Medicinal use: The best known effect of cardamom is that it promotes digestion. It helps cure flatulence and eases stomacheaches and cramps as well. Chewing the seeds refreshes the breath and improves the voice. Cardamom even contains detoxifying enzymes which relieve hangovers. It is regarded by many as an aphrodisiac.

Cardamom develops its aroma best when roasted is a pan without any fat. It should be added at the beginning of cooking because it develops its full taste only when heated.


Crocus sativus
Family: Iris (Iridaceae

Synonyms: Saffron, crocus, azafran
Forms of use: blossoms, dried, whole or ground
Origin: Saffron is native to western Asia and is cultivated in India, China, Iran and Iraq as well as throughout the Mediterranean region, particularly Spain. The best saffron is supposedly from the “La Mancha”plateau.
Aroma: saffron tastes acrid, bitter or piquant and tints food yellow.
Use: saffron is used to color cakes and sweet baked goods. However, saffron is crucial in many classic piquant dishes such as Spanish paella, French bouillabaisse and Italian risotto alla Milanese. It is added to many Arab rice dishes and goes well with lamb, poultry and fish. Saffron seasons very nicely and colors food attractively.
Buying/storing: Saffron is available in fibers or ground. The fibers are preferable because they remain aromatic longer. Besides, you can be sure that you bought genuine saffron it you buy it in the fiber form. It should be stored in an air-proof container in a dark, dry place.
Properties: Saffron is a type of crocus. Its blossoms are lilac and bloom from September to October. Its leaves are long, narrow and similar to grass. The saffron petals of the blossoms are nipped off manually during their six-week blooming time. They must be dried as quickly as possible and they lose about 80 percent of their original weight during the process. About 200,000 to 400,000 petals are needed for 1 pound of saffron spice. Saffron is, therefore, available only in small quantities at a relatively high price even today. A dish flavored with saffron is definitely a special treat.
Mythology: It is said that the ancient Phoenicians baked cakes spiced with saffron in honor of the goddess of love when they wanted to be lucky in love. The Roman Marcus Aurelius allegedly bathed in saffron water because it tinted his skin and increased his virility, or so he believed!
Medicinal use: Doctor Dioscorides from Asia Minor described the therapeutic effects of saffron in his work “Demateria medica’ published in about 60-78 AD. It was thought to be a diuretic, helpful for calming inflammations and was mixed with water and used for ëye and ear effusions. Heart-strengthening and aphrodisiac effects of saffron were known before Christ and it was used as a hallucinogen and opium substitute as well in Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece and Italy.

Did you know……..?
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world today, prompting the innovation of the cheaper substitutes and supplements to saffron powder such as safflower, safflower seeds, thistle oil or turmeric. Cutting saffron was punished with death by burning in Nuremberg during the Middle Ages. Seasoning with safflower is common in the Arab world today and many tourists buy it in bazaars as a cheaper version of saffron. Highly prized saffron fibers are dark red and they feel elastic or flabby. Their typical yellow color changes only when diluted in water.

You obtain the finest aroma when you crush the saffron fibers with a mortar. Saffron powder can be added directly to dishes.

Saffron consumed during pregnancy can cause miscarriage. It has narcotizing effect if consumed in larger quantities and even a small dosage of 2-2 ½ teaspoons can be fatal.


Carum carvi
Family: Carrot (Apiaceae)

Synonyms: Carvi, alcaravia, kummel
Forms of use: seeds, dried, whole or ground
Origin: Caraway is one of the oldest European spices. Dishes were seasoned with caraway already in Neolithic times. It grows wild in Europe, North Africa, western Asia and India. Today it is cultivated mainly in the Nederlands, Poland and Hungary.
Aroma: Caraway is spicy, aromatic and slightly hot like lemon.
Use: Caraway is best alone and can rarely be combined with other spices. It is used to season cabbage potages as well as cabbage rolls. It goes well with nutritious, stewed dishes like lamb, pork, goose and baked potatoes. Piquant breads, such as gingerbread, are also seasoned with caraway.
Buying/storing: Seeds are available in almost every grocery whole or ground. Keep them in a closed container in a dry, dark place. Caraway loses its aroma very gradually and will keep for a long time if stored properly.
Remarks: Caraway is a biennial plant. It resembles beet plants in the first year, grows to 3 feet in height during the second year and blossoms in white umbels. The blooms change into seed, which are eventually cut, thrashed and dried. Caraway contains many essential oils, carvon and limonene, which are responsible for its distinctive taste.
Related species: Caraway is closely related to cumin. Caraway is considered a northern spice and cumin is a spice of the south. Generally speaking, the distinction holds true. However, caraway is often used in Indian cuisine as well.
Mythology: People in the Middle Ages believed that caraway seed could chase away ghosts and demons.
Medicinal use: Caraway is an old spice. It promotes digestion and is used to cure flatulence. Mix 2 teaspoons caraway with 1 cup of water. Steep caraway in hot water in a covered cup for about 5 minutes and strain. Drink2-3 cups after eating every day. Drinking tea prepared from equal parts of caraway, fennel, anis and dried nettle can stimulate lactation.

Did you know……?
People in northern germany have a liquor called ‘kummel’distilled from grain and only the essential oil contained in the caraway seeds is added to it.

Young caraway leaves can also be eaten. They go well with nutritious salads and their appearance, but not taste, is slightly reminiscent of parsley. Whole caraway seeds should be crushed in a mortar to fully develop their aroma.


Bixa orellana
Family: Bixaceae

Synonyms: Urucum, achiote, urucu
Forms of use: seeds, dried, whole and ground
Origin: the bush is native to South America. It is grown in the Caribbean, Mexico, and in the Philippines as well.
Aroma: Annato has a light floral odor. Fresh annatto seeds are peppery. However, they lose their aroma fast if dried.
Use: Annato is used mainly in Caribbean and Latin American cuisines. Besides being used as a spice, it gives food an orange color. British cheddar is colored with annatto as well.
Buying/storing: Annatto is available only in special spice stores. Its seeds can be stored for every long periods of time in air-proof closed containers stored in a dark place. The seeds should be brick red, not brownish.
Properties: the bush grows up to 6 feet high. Its pink blossoms resemble to roses. The seeds are contained in heart-shaped shells with thorns resembling sweet chestnuts.


The best way to process the seeds is to make oil of them. Put the seeds into a little hot oil and when the oil turns orange, cool it and remove the seeds. The mixture stored in a dark bottle lasts as long as the oil.


Artemisia vulgaris
Family: aster (Asteraceae)

Synonyms: Common mugwort, mugwort, felon-herb
Forms of use: leaves, fresh and dried, ground and crushed
Origin: wormwood is native to the temperate zone of Asia, but it has been used all over Europe and North America for a long time. It is cultivated in the Balkans, Germany and France.
Aroma: The taste of wormwood is slightly bitter and acrid. Its smell resembles a mix of mint and juniper.
Use: Wormwood goes well with fatty goose, duck, pork or lamb roast. It makes cabbage dishes more digestible and is used as a spice for fatty eel dishes.
Buying/storing: Wormwood is mainly available dried. It can be stored in an air-proof container in a dark and dry place. Fresh wormwood is available in marketplaces only in late summer. If wrapped in a freezer bag and stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator, it remains fresh for 2-3 days.
Properties: Wormwood is a perennial plant and grows up to 6 feet high. Its herbaceous stems are angular and bluish-red. The leaves are dark green on the top and white and velvety underneath. Its small dark yellow blossom heads bloom in late summer. Only the leaves of its upper part are used as a spice, not the ones growing in the lower part. The leaves must be harvested before the plant starts blooming or they will become too bitter.
Related spices: Wormwood is closely related to absinthe (Artemisia absinthium). Both species contain a high proportion of bitter substances, particularly when blooming.
Mythology: This herb was regarded in the Middle Ages as a very effective means against and for magic. Wormwood was a part of many magic potions. It was supposed to relieve dysmenorrheal and strengthen people suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. Pliny recommended that people about to set off on a long journey put wormwood in their shoes.
Wormwood picked during on the summer solstice is special. If you dig up the roots of the herb during the night of June 24th, you will find little pieces of coal. Worn as amulets, they are supposed to relieve fever and epilepsy. It is said as well that they protect from burns, plague and strokes of lightening.
The Germans wore wormwood picked on Midsummer Night attached to their belts next to their loins to protect their bodies from disease.
Medicinal use: Wormwood eases stomach problems and has spasmolytic, diuretic, antibacterial and antifungicide properties. It promotes digestion and is therefore appropriate in recipes containing fat.

Always add wormwood to dishes at the beginning of their preparation because it develops its aroma only after being heated. You can freeze fresh, mince wormwood. Wormwood is a maverick. It does not combine well with other spices because its pungent, bitter taste dominates other aromas.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Piper nigrum
Family: Pepper (Piperaceae)

Synonyms: Madagascar pepper, common pepper
Forms of use: Fruit (pickled, dried, and ground)
Origin: Pepper is native to the monsoon forests of India. It is cultivated mainly in India, Indonesia and Brazil.
Aroma: Pepper does not smell at all and its taste is sharp and slightly hot.
Use: Next to salt, pepper is a universal spice in European and North American cuisines. It is used to season all savory dishes. Moreover, green pepper seasons sweet dessert like fruit salad, strawberries and chocolate dishes as well. Black pepper is a part of many spice mixes such as curry and quatre epices. It is also used to produce pepper oil essence for perfume.
Buying/ storing: Pepper is available whole or ground in every grocery. If kept in a cool, dark place in an air-proof container, pepper corns should last up to 3 years. An open jar of green pepper corns should be stored in a fridge and will last about 4-6 weeks.
Properties: Pepper grows in the form of berries on an evergreen climbing plant. A wild plant reaches a height of 30 feet, while cultivated varieties are bred to reach only 13 feet in order to make harvest easier. A pepper bush is completely mature when it is about 8 years old. It bears fruit for about 20 years. Spadix-like inflorescences develop into fruits resembling red currants. Depending on the degree of ripeness, berries, are green or red. They are picked in various stage of ripening, according to personal preference, and processed further. Alkaloid piperine is responsible for its hot taste.
Medicinal Use: Because of its sharp flavor, pepper warms up the body, boosting the metabolism and helping digestion by stimulating salivation and digestive juices. Pepper increases appetite and eases flatulence. Piperin contained in pepper is used in some stomach tonics and stomach medicines.


Green pepper is an unripe harvested corn generally pickled in salt or vinegar brine or freeze-dried using a special procedure immediately after being harvested. Green pepper is very aromatic and there are many ways to use it. Pickled vegetables receive a special flavor from this mild pepper. However, it is good to use it in meat dishes that cook for a long time like game, lamb or pork roast. Since green pepper is soft, it can be used for pastes, marinades and spreads. Strawberries with green pepper is a unique culinary experience.

Black pepper is an unripe harvested green berry which is dries in the sun after being picked. It becomes black and hardens. The spice is sharp and fiery. Use black pepper in sauces, soups and marinades, roasted and grilled meat, ragouts and stews as well as in game, meat fillings and pasta dishes.

White pepper is a red, fully ripe harvested berry that is soaked for about one week before its skin is removed. Then the corns are dried in the sun and gain their distinctive yellow-white color. Since it is finer and milder than the other types of pepper, it complements salads, spicy cottage cheese dishes, light sauces and fish very nicely.

Long pepper belongs to the pepper family as well. It is a tropical climbing plant with about 1 inch long, cone shaped ears which turn light brown when dried. It is as sharp as black pepper, but its taste is simultaneously slightly sweet and sour. Grind or crush in a mortar before using.

Red pepper grows on Brazilian pepper trees all over South America. Fully ripe pink berries are not processed in the same way as black pepper. Its taste is sweet, spicy and only slightly sharp.

Did you know…
Beside salt, pepper corns are the most popular and common spice in most households. Pepper is relatively cheap today, but this has not always been the case. The ancient Greeks knew that pepper stimulates the appetite. During Roman times, pepper was a sign of wealth and prestige because its sharp flavor only seasoned meals in rich households. In ancient Rome, successful merchants who traded spices were called “pepper bags”. During the Middle Ages, pepper was weight in gold. Since pepper is native to countries in the Far East faraway from Europe, an insult developed among European: “Go where peppers grows!”.

Important Warning:
Use red pepper sparingly and keep container containing it away from children. It is poisonous when eaten in large qualities.

Tips for cooking:
Two ground rules: put white pepper in light dishes, black pepper in dark dishes. Cook whole pepper corns in the dish the whole time. When using ground pepper, add it only at the end of cooking.
Biting into a pepper corn can be unpleasant. Therefore, cook pepper corns in a little textile bag or in a tea ball and remove it from the dish before serving.


Rosmarinus officinalis
Family: Mint (Lamiaceae)

Synonyms: Romero, alecrim
Forms of use: Leaves, fresh, and dried
Origin: rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region where it grows wild even today. It is cultivated in Spain, France, North Africa and the United States. Rosemary likes sun and does not like too much water. The more intense the sunshine, the better the aroma.
Aroma: The taste of rosemary is resiny and spicy. Fresh rosemary is very aromatic. If dried, its taste is slightly bitter and acrid and should be used sparingly.
Use: rosemary is a classic spice of Mediterranean cuisine. However, it is used in Central European cuisines as well to season lamb, game, pork and poultry. It goes well with fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini as well as with string beans, potatoes and legumes.
Buying/storing: Rosemary is available either fresh or dried in every supermarket. Fresh rosemary twigs should be wrapped in a moist towel and put in a bag in the refrigerator. If you intend to store them for more than 1 week, however, freeze them. Dried rosemary should be kept in an airtight container in a dark, cool place.
Properties: Rosemary is an evergreen plant which is not frost-resistant. It can grow up to 5 feet high, but it is usually merely a knee-high bush. The narrow, blue-green leaves smell like resin and are shaped like fir needles. Rosemary has little lilac blossoms. The taste and aroma are affected by its essential oils, tannin, bitter substances, resins, flavonoides and saponins.
Mythology: Rosemary was regarded as a holy herb by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It was a symbol of fidelity and was supposed to improve memory and thus symbolized the constancy of lovers. In ancient Greece, students wore wreaths of rosemary to support their ability to learn. Rosemary was said to chase away ghosts. It was burnt in invalids’rooms to clear the air. During the Plague, people wore sachets filled with rosemary around their necks to ward off infection.
Medicinal Use: rosemary balances nerves and blood circulation, relieves exhaustion, stomach aches and headaches, soothes rheumatism, neuritis and cramps, and stimulates bile and digestive juice production.

Did you know….
“Ros”and “marinus”means, respectively, “dew”and “sea”in Latin. Rosemary is devoted to the goddess of love and beauty. Aphrodite, and was regarded as a symbol of fertility. A twig of rosemary was placed in cradles and worn as a wedding wreath. Courting couples planted a rosemary twig in hopes of a long and happy marriage.

Tips for cooking:
Rosemary should be added to dishes early. Remove the twigs before serving. Fresh rosemary twigs can be used as skewers to pierce meat and vegetables for kebabs. Rosemary goes well with garlic and thyme.


Salvia Officinalis
Family: Mint (Lamiaceae)

Synonyms: Common sage, Ramona, sage, sauge
Forms of use: Leaves, fresh and dried
Origin: sage is native to the Mediterranean region, but it has been spread over Central Europe, and even Asia Minor, since the 9th century.
Aroma: The taste of salvia is fresh, spicy, slightly bitter and almost soapy if used in excess.
Use: Sage is a classic spice in Italian cuisine. Classic dishes include saltimbocca, tortellini with sage butter and polenta with gorgonzola and sage. It seasons tomatoes, potatoes, greens, minced meat and poultry stuffing very well. Buying/storing: Sage is available fresh and dried in every supermarket. Fresh sage twigs should be wrapped in a moist towel and put in a bag stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator. Dried sage has more intense aroma than fresh salvia. It should be stored in an airtight container in a dark, cool place.
Properties: Common sage is a perennial forb growing up to 32 inches high with gray-green, oval and slightly pilous leaves on woody shoots and light blue or light lilac blossoms in July. Its spicy-bitter leaves are used for seasoning. They are rich in essential oils and thujone and smell very aromatic.
Related species: There are hundreds of sage species. The most common relatives of sage are; pineapple sage (salvia rutilans), cherry sage (salvia greggii), grapefruit sage (salvia dorisiana), and clary sage (salvia sclarea), which is cultivated for use in the perfume industry because of its intense nutmeg smell. All the listed species are similar to divine sage (salvia divinorum), which is native to Central America. The latter was a sacrificial herb of the Central American indigenous peoples.
Mythology: The medicinal power of sage was appreciated first by the ancient Romans. It was grown in cloister gardens in the time of Charlemague. A verse from the 13th century credits sage with warding off death and for a long time, occult powers were attributed to it. Sage was first used in cooking during the Middle-Ages.
Medicinal Use: Sage has anti-inflammatory, painkilling and perspiratory properties. Because of its anti-inflammatory function, it is suitable for soothing gingivitis and as mouth wash. It calms stomach viruses and can prevent light influenza infections. It also prevents lactation. Furthermore, a cup of sage tea on hot summer days is very pleasant.

Tips for cooking:
Sage goes well with rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley and bay leaf. Use sage with care – it can be overpowering. Roast salvia in oil to bring out its full aroma.

Important Warning:
Thujone eaten in large amounts is poisonous. Severe nervous diseases develop if used often in high quantities.


Satureja hortensis
Family: Mint (Lamiaceae)

Synonyms: Summer savory, sedree, ajedra
Forms of use: Leaves (fresh and dried)
Origin: Savory is native from the eastern Mediterranean region to Iran. Today, it is cultivated in all Mediterranean countries, Central Europe, western Asia and India as well as in southern Africa and North America.
Aroma: The taste of savory is peppery, slightly hot and smells very spicy.
Use: Savory is an attractive ingredients because it reduces flatulence. It goes well with fatty meat, game and fish dishes, heavy soups, baked potatoes, potato and bean salads as well as tomato and mushroom dishes. It can be used as a seasoning for smoked foods.
Buying/storing: Savory is available in some marketplaces where one can buy it with fresh beans. Its fresh form is available only in marketplaces, but its dried form is available in well-supplied supermarkets or spice stores. Keep fresh leaves in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator. Dried savory should be kept in an airtight container in a dark, cool place.
Properties: Savory is an annual, shrubby plant which grows up to 20 inches high. Its paired leaves are dark green, lanceolate. They are about 1 inch long and 1/8 inch wide and have very thin barbs on the edge. The blossoms of savory are pink or light lilac. The herb is cut before blooming, when its flavor and aroma are most pungent. Savory get along both in a flowerpot with beans and in a garden. It can even act as a natural pesticide. String beans, for example, are almost free from greenflies if savory is planted nearby.
Related species: Perrenial winter savory (Satureja Montana) is a close relative. Its taste is slightly more acrid than the taste of summer savory.
Mythology: The ancient Romans used savory as a cooking spice and medicinal herb. They also believed in its powers as an aphrodisiac. This knowledge was noted in medieval medical document prescribing it to ensure fidelity in marriage.
Medicinal Use: Savory promotes digestion and strengthens the stomach. It relieves coughing and obstruction of airways with mucus. Savory acts as an antiseptic for pharynx and larynx injuries.

Tips for cooking:
Fresh savory can be frozen and dried. Use savory with care. Its full aroma is brought out during cooking. Add whole fresh savory to dishes and remove before serving.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Syzygium aromaticum
Family: Myrtle (Myrtaceae)

Synonyms: Eugenia cayophylaltum, syzygium aromaticum
Forms of use: blossom buds (dried-whole or ground)
Origin: Cloves are native to Indonesian Molusccas, the “Spice Insland”. Today, the tree is grown in Indonesia, Madagaskar, Tanzania, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
Aroma: the taste of cloves is fiery sharp and slightly hot. Cloves smell very strong.
Use: Cloves enhance the taste of sweet dishes, baked goods and punch. They lend a special, piquant aroma to meat and fish dishes as well as game, poultry, stews, red cabbage, marinades of any type and smoked goods. Fine chocolates are delicious thanks to cloves, cinnamon and cardamom.
Cloves are contained in various spice mixes such as Indian “garam masala”, Arab”Baharat”and Chinese five-spice mix. Cloves are also present in Worchestershire sauce.
Buying/storing: whole cloves are preffered to powdered cloves because the essential oil evaporates very fast after cloves are ground. A spice grinder can grind a few cloves easily. Freshly ground cloves are perfect for Christmas cookies. Powdered and whole cloves can be kept in an airtight, dry and dark container for 2-3 days.
Properties: the clove tree prospers best in tropical marine climates. It can grow up to 50 feet high and bear about 6 pounds of fruit per year from its sixth to its sixtieth year. It has and red blossoms narrow, cylindrical, evergreen leaves similar to bay leaves. As soon as the firmly closed green buds turn light red, they are picked manually, separated from the stems and dried in the sun. In this way, cloves turn the brown color by which we identify them. They are rich in essential oils.
Medicinal Use: Cloves promote digestion, relieve stomachaches, stimulate appetite, relieve pain and disinfect. They heal toothaches as well. Clove oil is used as an anesthetic in dental surgery and as an ingredient for diarrhea and flatulence.

Did you know…..
Half a lemon stuck with cloves helps to repel mosquitoes on warm, sultry days.


Sesam Indicum
Family: Sesame (Pedaliaceae)

: Gingelly, benne
Forms of use: Seeds (dried, whole or ground)
Origin: Sesame belongs among the oldest cultivated plans in the world. It originated in Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and the Tigris, and in India and Africa a thousand years ago. Sesame spread to China, Japan and the Mediterranean countries. It is cultivated in Turkey, India, China, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mexico today.
Aroma: Sesame does not smell and its taste is nutty and slightly sweet.
Use; Sesame is used mainly as an ingredient in bread and rolls, muesli and in roast flakes in Central Europe. In Asian cuisine, meat and fish are fried in crunchy sesame butter, vegetable dishes are seasoned with gomasio, soups are spiced with tahini and sesame is added to sweet dishes of all types. Particularly in Chinese cuisine, sesame oil from roasted sesame seeds is often used as a spice.
Buying/storing: Sesame is available in well-supplied supermarkets or in Turkish groceries. Buy sesame in whole seed form and store it in a cool, dark, dry place.
Properties: A sesame plant has long, straight up to 6 feet high herbaceous stems with long, oval leaves. Its blossoms are white or wine red and resemble foxglove. Seeds are ripe 12 weeks after sowing. They are found in long pods and are about 2 mm. The plant is cut and dried in bundles. The pods open slowly and sesame falls out, hence the expression: Öpen sesame”.
Sesame is composed of, depending on its particular form, up to 50 percent oil, which consists almost of several fold unsaturated fatty acids, 20-4- percent protein and a significant amount of vitamin E, lecithin and niacin. Moreover, it is rich in calcium, iron and magnesium.
Medicinal Use: Sesame has detoxifying as well as laxative functions. It promotes menses and prevents hair loss and headaches. Because of its high content of calcium and essential fatty acids, it is recommended for osteoporosis prophylaxis. Sesame oil is used in traditional Asiatic medicine as well as in massage oil and is supposed to aid in relaxation.

Tahini is a paste prepared from ground sesame. It is available either with or without salt in natural food stores, shop selling dietetic products or in Arab groceries. The paste is used to spice meat and vegetable dishes in Oriental cuisine. Spread on bread as a healthy, exotic and delicious alternative to salami or marmalade.

Gomasio, also known as sesame salt, is a mix of toasted, ground sesame and sea salt. It has been used as a traditional spice in Japan for centuries. Gomasio should never be hot and should be added to dishes just before eating to preserve its nutty aroma. Gomasio should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed as soon as possible.

Tips for cooking:
Sesame develops its full nutty aroma only when roasted. For piquant dishes, crush the seeds in a mortar with a little salt to intensify the taste. Sesame can go stale fast if it becomes damp.


Ocimum basilicum
Family: Mint (Lamiaceae)

Synonyms: Sweet basil
Form of use: leaves, fresh and dried
Origin: Basil is native to the Indian subcontinent, but basil was planted in Italy during Roman times. Basil is grown both in tropical as well as in temperature latitudes. The more intense the sunshine, the better the aroma of basil.
Aroma: the taste of basil is sweetly spicy and pleasantly peppery. It gives dishes a fresh aroma.
Use: Basil is a classic spice of Italian cuisine. Pesto, insalada caprese and pizza margherita are not complete without this spice. Basil goes well with salads, vegetable dishes and dips.
Buying/storing: Basil is available either fresh or dried in every supermarket. It is better to buy fresh basil with roots because it is more flavorful and lasts longer. Dry basil has a less intense and slightly harsh aroma. It will keep if stored in an airtight, closed container in a dark, cool place.
Properties: Basil is an annual plant with big dark green oval leaves. In late summer, the herb has white, rosy or lilac blossoms forming a spike. Basil grows up to 20 inches high. Many essential oils are responsible for its distinctive smell and taste.
Related species: The genus of Ocimum includes more than 60 different species. They differ in color and in the shape of the leaves. Exotic lilac forms are called “Dark Opal”or Purple Delight. Moreover, there are lemons, cinnamon and anise basil with various aromatic nuances, as is clear from their names. Depending on a particular cuisine, you can use either Thai basil or Mexican basil.
Medicinal Use: Basil has sedative effects on the nervous system. Brewed basil leaves promote sweating and help to release mucus in cold weather. Basil soothes stomach disorders, flatulence and anorexia and stimulates milk secretion in new mothers. It used to be regarded as a means to treat depression.


1. ASIAN BASIL (Horapa in thailandese): this basil is similar to European sweet basil. It is used liberally as a seasoning and sprigs are often added to platters of fresh, raw vegetables.

2. LEMON BASIL (kemangi in Indonesian): this basil is similar to others, but paler in color, and with distinctive lemony fragrance.
3. HOLY BASIL: this basil has distinctive purple -reddish leaves and a mint-like zesty flavor and is used for stir-fries.

Did you know….
The name ‘basil’is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘royal’. In India, basil was regarded as holy and was used in religious ceremonies. The herb was brought to central Europe by Charlemagne and was grown as a medicinal herb in cloister gardens.
Lemon basil and holy basil are not widely found outside the region, but European sweet basil can be used as a substitue for all varieties.

Tips for cooking:
Add basil only shortly before the end of cooking or it will lose its aroma. Basil can be used to garnish soups and salads. Fresh basil can be cut finely, mixed with little water and frozen into ice cubes to be added to dishes.
Basil doesn't store well, so buy it just before you intend to use it. Basil has a strong flavor, so don't use it more than the recipes states.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Vanilla Plafolia
Family: Orchid (Orchidaceae)

Synonyms: vanilla orchid, vanille
Origin: the climbing orchid, is native to southern Mexico, Guatemala and other Central American countries. Today, vanilla is grown both in Central America and on Madagaskar and the Reunion and Comoros islands. High quality vanilla is called “bourbon vanilla”.
Aroma: the smell of vanilla is intense and slightly sweet. Its taste is also sweet and slightly spicy.
Use: vanilla is used to season chocolate, coffee, desserts of any type, custard, stewed fruit, and fruit salads. The taste of battercakes, pastries and cakes is improved with vanilla. In Mexico, even savory food like shellfish and meat dishes are seasoned with vanilla.
Buying/storing: vanilla is among the most expensive spices. You can buy vanilla beans in jars every well-supplied supermarket. Excellent quality vanilla is available under the name “bourbon-vanilla”. When buying vanilla beans in a spice store, you can choose between various quality and origins. Vanilla beans should be stored in an airtight, container in a cool, dark place.
Properties:Vanilla beans are the long, thin fruits of the vanilla orchid, which climbs 50 feet high tropical trees. The plant has thick, fleshy, oval leaves 10 inches long and 3 inches wide. The blossom is relatively small compared to the leaves and its color is white-yellow or greenish. Wild blossoms open only for a few hours and are pollinated by hummingbirds. Vanilla in cultivated form is pollinated manually. In 6-8 months, the vanilla stripes are harvested unripe and then fermented. The green-yellow fruits turn black-brown and develop an intense aroma. Vanilin is the most aromatic substance of this spice.
Mythology: The Aztec spiced their chocolate with vanilla to increase sexual desire. Indigeneous people from North America used dried vanilla as currency.
Medicinal Use: the Indians used vanilla both as a spice and as a medicine. They attributed heart-stimulating effects to it. Like cocoa, vanilla is said to reduce fear, depression and fatigue.

Did you know….?
The difference between vanilla sugar and vanillin sugar is that vanilla sugar is produced from genuine vanilla. Vanillin sugar contains only synthetically produced vanillin, an aromatic substance which smells like vanilla.
You can make vanilla sugar yourself: Put 1 scraped-out pod with 1 cup sugar in a jar with a lid and set aside for at least 6 weeks.

Tips for cooking:
In order to use the flesh, cut the fruit lengthwise and scrape it out. The fruit is not edible on its own.


Thymus Vulgaris
Family: Mint (Lamiaceae)

Synonyms: Common thyme, garden thyme, frigoule
Forms of use: leaves (fresh and dried)
Origin: Thyme is native to and is cultivated all over the Mediterranean region. Its aroma and flavor are heightened by sun exposure.
Aroma: The taste of thyme is spicy and distinctly resin-like. It has a strong smell.
Use: Thyme goes well with meat and cabbage dishes, fish terrines, aromatic, fruity soups and sauces as well as with salads. Zucchini, pumpkins and tomatoes are often spiced with thyme.
Buying/storing: Thyme is available either dried or fresh in supermarkets. Fresh thyme should be wrapped in a moist towel and put into a bag. It can be kept in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for about 1 week. The aroma of dried thyme is very intense. It should be stored in an airtight, closed container in a dark, cool place.
Properties: Thyme is a perennial evergreen forb whose lower herbaceous stems are woody or feathered. It grows up to about 16 inches high and has relatively small, dark green or grayish leaves. Its pink or lilac blossom is not very big. The whole plant has a very aromatic smell. The aroma of thyme is affected by essential oils, particularly thymol and carvacrol as well as flavonoid and tannin.’
Related species: Lemon thyme (thymus citriodorus) is a relative of garden thyme and is often garden thyme and is often used in cooking. Its leaves are slightly bigger and have yellow edges. It has a lemony scent, but its taste is reminiscent of thyme. It has available in marketplaces in summer. Season desserts and fruit salads with it.
Mytohology: The word “Thymus”is derived from Greek “thymos”or “stamina”which symbolizes strength and power. The Greeks used thyme as a smoking plant. Roman legionaries took thyme baths before battle to give them courage and power.
Medicinal Use: in folk medicine, thyme is recommended as a cure for upper respiratory diseases. It releases cramps and mucus. Furthermore, it is believed to reduce fever, calm nerves, reduce odor and disinfect. It relieves asthma, digestion problems and sore throats.

Tips for cooking:
Small quantities of thyme are sufficient and can be cooked for a longer time as well. Remove dried leaves from twigs with a fork. Thyme goes well with rosemary, oregano, sage and catmint.