By definition spices are seasonings obtained from the bark, buds, fruit or flower parts, roots, seeds and stems of aromatic plants and trees. Whew, that’s a long one. Herbs, on the other hand, are the aromatic leaves of plants. We use many of these spices without really knowing what they are or where they come from. We just know they make our food taste better. Spices are generally grown in tropical areas.
As you do your fall cooking, enjoying all the bounty of the last of the summer gardens, why not try out some new recipes using these traditional fall spices?
Nutmeg: grown in Southeast Asia, is used either whole or ground. It is made from the oval seeds of the nutmeg tree. The spice known as mace is made from the membranes of the same seeds. Nutmeg is used in beverages, cakes, cookies, sauces and vegetable dishes.
Cinnamon: used whole or ground, cinnamon is made from the bark of the Cassia tree. There are two types of cinnamon—light, buff-colored and the darker, reddish-brown version most of us are used to seeing. Cinnamon grew originally in Sri Lanka and is still a major crop there. It is also grown in other hot climates such as India and China, Madagascar and Egypt. Cinnamon is used in many baked goods and dessert recipes.
Ginger: is grown throughout Southeast Asia. It is used fresh, dried, crystallized and ground. It comes from the root of the ginger plant. The rough, gnarled roots are commonly seen in grocery aisles. Ginger is used in meat and seafood recipes, and in baked goods such as pies, cakes and cookies.
Cloves: are grown in the Spice Islands, now part of Indonesia. Cloves are the buds of the tropical evergreen clove tree. Their flavor can be overpowering and should be used sparingly. Cloves are used in baked beans, fruit pies, and ham, in pickling, in cookies, spice cakes and sauces.
Cardamon: grows in South India, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Indochina and Tanzania. It is used as a whole pod, in seeds or ground. The seeds are the size of a cranberry and the plant is a member of the ginger family. Cardamon is used in cakes, cookies, curries, fruit dishes and in both Indian and Scandinavian dishes.
Cumin: was grown in Iran and the Mediterranean originally, and now also grows in Malta, India, Sicily, Southern Arabia, Mexico and China. It is used whole or ground and is from the dried fruit of a plant in the parsley family. Its taste is slightly bitter or nutty. It’s used in curry blends, fish or lamb dishes, in pickling, in sausages and in Middle Eastern dishes.
Coriander: was originally grown in the Middle East and Southern Europe. It’s now grown in Russia, India, Morocco, Egypt and South America as well. It’s made from the seeds of the coriander plant which is related to parsley. Coriander is also known as cilantro.
Allspice: is the only spice grown exclusively in the Western Hemisphere. It comes from South and Central America. The best allspice is grown in Jamaica. It’s used in breads, cakes, cookies and fruit dishes. Since it smells like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, many people don’t realize it comes from the berries of the evergreen pimento tree. It is also known as Jamaican pepper.
So now you have your work cut out for you. Get busy in the kitchen and see which of these exotic spices you enjoy the most.