We all know that spices make our food taste better, but what do we really know about them? In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything about them. What are they? What do they do? How were they first used? And what are the different types of spices used in different parts of the world? Stay tuned to find out!
What are Spices?
Spice is a term used in the culinary arts to describe any dried portion of a plant other than the leaves used for seasoning and flavoring but not as the main ingredient. The plants' leaves in dried form are referred to as herbs.
Many whole and ground spices have been used since ancient times to enrich dishes and to mask the taste of spoiled or otherwise unpalatable food. In addition, these were used as early as the Bronze Age to preserve meat.
Today, most of them are still used for these same purposes and to provide exotic flair to dishes from all over the world.
What are the Most Common Spices?
The most common ones in the spice trade include turmeric, pepper, mustard, cumin, and ginger; however, there are literally hundreds of different types available, each with its own unique taste and aroma.
When used judiciously, these can transform a simple dish into a work of art. Consequently, it is no surprise that they continue to be essential ingredients in home cooks and professional chefs' kitchens.
Popular Spices Around The World
1. Indian Spices
Indians have used them for centuries to add savor and depth to Indian cuisine. The first recorded use of the spices dates back to the Vedic period (1500-500 BC) when they were used in religious ceremonies and as part of the Ayurvedic tradition of healing.
Each of them has its own unique taste and health benefits. For example, turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, while cumin is a good source of iron.
These flavorings are used in many different dishes, from curries and stews to rice and vegetables. They can also be used to make chutneys and blends like garam masala, and they are all essential to Indian cuisine and culture.
Recommend Reading: The Ultimate List of Best Indian Spices
2. Italian Spices
For centuries, spices and dried aromatic herbs have been used to add depth to food and to preserve it from spoilage. The use of these is thought to have originated in China and India and evolved through the ages into an integral part of many of our favorite cuisines.
From there, the use of these ingredients spread to the Middle East and eventually made its way to Europe and the Mediterranean area.
During the Middle Ages, they were used sparingly due to their high cost, however, as trade routes opened up and these became more readily available, they began to be used more frequently in cooking.
Today, Italians use a variety of aromatic herbs and spices in their cooking, including basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic, parsley, fennel seeds, paprika, marjoram, and red pepper all common ingredients.
Recommend Reading: The Ultimate List of Best Italian Spices
3. Asian Spices
Asians have been using them for thousands of years, dating back to the Neolithic period.
Initially used mainly for medicinal purposes, they are now widely used in cooking to add flavor and depth.
Common Asian spices include galangal root, lemongrass, chili peppers, Szechuan peppercorns turmeric black pepper, and Chinese five-spice.
Each spice adds its unique twist that can be used to create a range of dishes; however, caution should be taken when using them as a first-time user by adding small quantities before increasing them further if needed.
Recommend Reading: The Ultimate List of Best Asian Spices
4. Thai Spices
Thai cuisine has its roots in Chinese cuisine, but over time, Thai cooks developed their own unique approach to cooking, making use of locally grown ingredients and incorporating a variety of different mild and strong flavors.
One of the key elements of Thai cuisine is the use of spices and the use of fresh and dried whole and ground ones, including chili peppers, lemongrass, galangal, fresh ginger, cumin, and turmeric.
These add depth and help create the distinctive aroma that is so characteristic of Thai cuisine.
Common dishes that make use of these flavorings include curries, stir-fries, and soups. In recent years, Thai food has become increasingly popular around the world. As a result, more people are getting interested in learning about the different flavorings used in Thai cooking.
Recommend Reading: The Ultimate List of Best Thai Spices
5. Mexican Spices
While the exact origins of the usage in Mexican cuisine are unclear, it is thought that the first ones were brought to the region by Spanish explorers in the 16th century.
These were used to add flavor to otherwise bland dishes, and they quickly became a staple of Mexican cooking. Today, the most common ones used in Mexican cuisine include Mexican oregano, chili powder, cumin, coriander, annatto seeds, and paprika.
Each ingredient brings its unique taste to dishes, and they can be combined to create complex flavor profiles. In addition to their flavor benefits, it also plays an important role in preserving food.
By inhibiting the growth of bacteria, they help keep food edible for longer periods. For all these reasons, these seasonings play a vital role in Mexican cuisine.
Recommend Reading: The Ultimate List of Best Mexican Spices
6. Caribbean Spices
Caribbean cuisine is known for its bold savors; one of the key ingredients that give it its distinctive taste is spices. But When did the Caribbean start to use it? And what are the most common ones used in Caribbean dishes?
The history of spice used in the Caribbean is a long and complicated one. The first settlers to arrive in the region, the Arawak and Carib people, brought with them plants and herbs that they had used for centuries.
These included ingredients like chili peppers, allspice, and ginger. However, the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century began to transform Caribbean cuisine.
These European settlers introduced a host of new flavors to the region, including cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon; over time, these became essential components of many classic Caribbean dishes, from everyday meals to baked goods.
Today, Caribbean food is characterized by its bold use of seasonings. Chili peppers are often used to add a touch of heat, while allspice and ginger give dishes a warm, earthy flavor.
Recommend Reading: The Ultimate List of Best Caribbean Spices
Cooking With Spices: Useful Tips
Adding spices to your food can add flavor and nutrition. Some of them, such as ginger, turmeric, cloves, and cumin, also have anti-inflammatory properties. Here are a few tips for cooking with them:
- Use fresh ingredients when possible, adding more flavor to your food. To keep their aroma, make sure to store them in airtight containers in a dark and dry location.
- If you are using dried mixes, some recipes may require to rehydrate them in water before cooking. If so, allow yourself enough time for this step.
- When cooking with them, add them early in the process so they have time to release their flavor, but ensure not to burn them, as they may turn bitter.
- Be careful not to overdo it! A little bit goes a long way.
- Experiment with different combinations of them to find the perfect flavor for your dish.
- Store them in a cool, dry place. Be sure to keep them away from heat and light, as this can cause them to lose their flavor.
- When in doubt, start with less and add more as needed. It’s always easier to add more than it is to take away.
- And finally, have fun! Cooking with spices is a great way to experiment with new flavors and create dishes that are uniquely your own. From baked goods to mulled wine, curries, and middle eastern tagines, these can help you travel from your own kitchen!
People Also Ask [FAQs]
It depends on the spice in question. Generally, spices last around six months to a year, but this can vary depending on how the spice is stored. Spices should be kept in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard. Ground spices may lose their flavor more quickly than whole spices.
The best way to organize spices is by how often you use them, making it easy for you to find the spices you need when cooking. If you have any spices you never use, consider removing them, as they may have lost their essence. This will clear up space in your spice cabinet and make finding the spices you use easier.
There are many different places to buy spices, depending on what region of the world you're in. If you're in the United States, you can buy spices at most grocery stores or specialty spice stores. If you're in India, then you can buy spices at local spice markets, or at specialty stores that sell Indian spices. And if you're in China, you can buy spices at Chinese herbal pharmacies or supermarkets.
Wrap Up: Spices
- Spices are essential ingredients in many dishes from around the world.
- They add flavor and nutrition to food, and can also have anti-inflammatory properties.
- There are many different types to choose from, so it's important to experiment until you find the perfect combination of spices for your dish.
- Be sure to store them in a cool, dark place, and use them within six months to a year for the best flavor.
Do you have any questions about spices that we didn't cover in this post? Let us know in the comments below and we'll be sure to answer them!
Indian Spice Mix
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon ground chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- Simply mix all of the ingredients together and store in an airtight container.
- To use, simply add the desired amount to your recipe.
- This spice mix can be used in a variety of dishes, from curries to rice dishes to soups and stews.