Spices: There Origins & Varieties

In the Middle Ages, Europe was attracted to East which was very exotic and fascinating. One of the main reasons was due to spices. Due to rich spices available in India, there was a lot of competition between Dutch, English and French as each of them wanted to control trade and politics in India. It can be rightly concluded that spices were one of the reasons why Europeans migrated to India.

Spices like black pepper, cloves, cinnamon etc. are available at a cheap price now. But, in the past they were as expensive as silver and gold.

According to archeologists, it has been found that in primitive times humans used aromatic plants for flavoring. The primitive human used sweet-smelling spices for making food taste good. The primitive people offered different types of aromatic herbs to primitive gods and used spices for healing. And from there on, spices have become a very significant part of our life.

Spices are one of the early reasons why globalisation took place. Before the European voyages, the trade of spices was very prominent. In Europe, the demand for pepper was so great that it resulted in voyages of Vasco Da Gama and Christopher Columbus. This demand for aromatic food and flavours is still present today and is at the core of trade that is done today.

In this article, we have covered top 10 spices that add flavour to modern Indian and European food:-

  • Cumin

     

    Photo Courtesy: Aapni Dookan

    Cumin is mainly produced in India. It amounts to almost 70 percent of world’s production. Cumin is used very frequently in spice mixes and adds smoky flavour to Indian dishes. You can identify Cumin by its intense fragrance and distinct ridged brown seeds. Cumin can be confused with anise seeds, caraway and fennel but it differs from them in terms of colour and taste. Cumin is best used freshly ground.

  • Cardamom

     

    Photo Courtesy: شرکت آغاز دانه سپاهان

    Indian cooking uses 2 kinds of cardamom i.e. green and black. The green variety of cardamom is more commonly used. It is used in spice mixes, lassis and Indian desserts. It has sweet and light flavor with mild note of eucalyptus. Green cardamom can be used to prepare spice mixes like garam masala. You can also use cardamom seeds in sweets by crushing the seeds, thus providing fragrance.

  • Clove

     

    Photo Courtesy: Natural Factors

    Many Indian dishes use clove, which is a common spice used in Indian cooking. The flavor of the cloves comes from essential oils that they contain. Cloves are basically flowers and a lot of their oil is taken out before they are dried. Cloves can be used as a whole or can be blended into spice mixes.

  • Black Pepper

     

    Photo Courtesy: Ahimsa Oils

    Black pepper is mainly found in India in Malabar region and Western Ghats. It is hard to grow this spice as it depends on natural cycles like rainfall. Like most spices, one needs to toast black pepper before blending.

  • Coriander

     

    Photo Courtesy: PradeshJagran

    Coriander is one of the most popular spices of India. It is one of the oldest spices in the world. It is golden-yellow in colour and has gentle ridged texture. The seeds are aromatic and have citrus flavor.Many spices are prepared using whole coriander.

  • Mustard Seeds

     

    Photo Courtesy: Ghati International

    Mustard seeds are brown, black or yellow in color. They are frequently used in Indian cooking. When mustard seeds are crushed or cooked in oil, the flavor of mustard gets released. It is a staple ingredient of many curries, curry powders and mustard oil. It is commonly available in North India.

  • Fenugreek

     

    Photo Courtesy: Looks Forever

    Fenugreek is a spice that lends a very earthy, musky curry fragrance. The seeds of fenugreek are yellow and look like wheat kernels. The leaves of Fenugreek are dried and can be used as spices. They are also known as kasuri methi. They give butter chicken its unique flavour.

  • Turmeric

     

    Photo Courtesy: Cooking Worlds

    Turmeric is one of the most common Indian spice. It is grown as a rhizome and can be used fresh or dried. It has been shown to have a lot of health benefits and is used with many curries and spice mixes.

  • Saffron

     

    Photo Courtesy: Cercals & Pulses

    Saffron is one of the most expensive spices of the world. It is more valuable than gold because of the fact that it needs a lot of labor to produce. Saffron is actually the stigma of crocus flowers and is best picked by hands. The color of best saffron is dark red an originates from Kashmir, Spain, and Iran. Fresher saffron have deeper color. Saffron has unique flavor and fragrance.

  • Cassia Bark

     

    Photo Courtesy: iStock

    Cassia bark is also known as Chinese cinnamon. It belongs to the family of cinnamon tree. Cinnamon differs from cassia and is also known as “true cinnamon”. Cassia is cheaper to produce when compared to other spices. The majority of ground cinnamon is prepared from cassia bark. Cassia has milder flavours as compared to cinnamon and can be used in large quantities.