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.............

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.