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General Overview/History

As we begin we need to be sure we know what we’re talking about. Spices are made from the bark, fruit, seed, stem, or root of a plant, while herbs are made from a plant’s leaves.

The word spice comes from the Old French word espice, which became epice, and which came from the Latin root spec, the noun referring to "appearance, sort, kind." 

The spice trade developed throughout  South Asia  and the Middle East  by at least 2000 BCE with  cinnamon and  black pepper , and in  East Asia  with herbs and pepper. The Egyptians used herbs for  mummification and their demand for exotic spices and herbs helped stimulate world trade. By 1000 BCE, medical systems based upon herbs could be found in  China Korea , and  India . Early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation.

Archaeological excavations have uncovered clove burnt into the floor of a kitchen, dated to 1700 BCE, in modern-day  Syria .  The ancient Indian  epic Ramayana  mentions cloves. The  Romans  had cloves in the 1st century CE, as  Pliny the Elder  wrote about them.

In the story of  Genesis Joseph  was sold into slavery by his brothers to spice merchants. In the biblical poem  Song of Solomon , the male speaker compares his beloved to many forms of spices. The earliest written records of spices come from ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. The Ebers Papyrus from early Egyptians that dates from 1550 BCE describes some eight hundred different medicinal remedies and numerous medicinal procedures. Historians believe that  nutmeg , which originates from the  Banda Islands  in  Southeast Asia , was introduced to Europe in the 6th century BCE.

Indonesian merchants traveled around China, India, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa.  Arab merchants facilitated the routes through the Middle East and India. This resulted in the Egyptian  port city of  Alexandria  being the main trading center for spices. The most important discovery prior to the European spice trade were the monsoon winds (40 CE). Sailing from Eastern spice cultivators to Western European consumers gradually replaced the land-locked spice routes once facilitated by the Middle East Arab caravans.

With the discovery of the New World came new spices, including   allspice ,   chili peppers ,   vanilla , and  chocolate . This development kept the spice trade, with America as a late-comer with its new seasonings, profitable well into the 19th century. Today, India   contributes 75% of global spice production.

One issue with spices today is dilution, where spices are blended to make inferior quality powdered spices, by including roots, skins and other admixture in production of spice powder.

SIDEBAR – admixture is a noun that means something mixed with something else, typically as a minor ingredient as in as in "green with an admixture of black"

Handling Spices / Nutrition

A spice may be available in several forms: fresh, whole dried, or pre-ground dried. Generally, spices are dried. A whole dried spice has the longest shelf life, so it can be purchased and stored in larger amounts, making it cheaper on a per-serving basis. Some spices are not always available either fresh or whole, for example   turmeric , and often must be purchased in ground form. Small seeds, such as fennel and mustard seeds, are often used both whole and in powder form.

The flavor of a spice is derived in part from compounds (volatile oils) that   oxidize   or evaporate when exposed to air. Grinding a spice greatly increases its surface area and so increases the rates of oxidation and evaporation. Thus, flavor is maximized by storing a spice whole and grinding when needed. The shelf life of a whole dry spice is roughly two years; of a ground spice roughly six months.   The "flavor life" of a ground spice can be much shorter.   Ground spices are better stored away from light. Some flavor elements in spices are soluble in water; many are soluble in oil or fat. As a general rule, the flavors from a spice take time to infuse into the food so spices are added early in preparation.

Because they tend to have strong flavors and are used in small quantities, nutritionally spices tend to add few calories to food, even though many, especially those made from seeds, contain high portions of fat, protein, and carbohydrate by weight. Many spices, however, can contribute significant portions of micronutrients to the diet. For example, a teaspoon of   paprika   contains about 1133 IU of   Vitamin A , which is over 20% of the recommended daily allowance specified by the US FDA. When used in larger quantity, spices can also contribute a substantial amount of minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, and many others, to the diet. Most herbs and spices have substantial   antioxidant   activity, owing primarily to   phenolic compounds, especially flavonoids , which influence nutrition through many pathways, including affecting the absorption of other nutrients. One study found   cumin   and fresh   ginger   to be highest in antioxidant activity.   These antioxidants can also act as natural preservatives, preventing or slowing the spoilage of food, leading to a higher nutritional content in stored food.

SIDEBAR - If you use sage only to stuff turkeys, then you’ve been missing out. Sage is great for preventing foot odor because it kills the odor-causing bacteria that grow on your feet in the warm, moist environment inside your shoes. Just crumble a leaf or two into your shoes before you put them on. At the end of the day, just shake the remains into the trash.

Allspice and Saffron

Saffron  is a  spice  derived from the flower of  Crocus sativus , commonly known as the "saffron crocus." Saffron crocus grows to 8–12 in and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson  stigmas , which are the distal end of a  carpel . The  styles  and stigmas, called threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly as a  seasoning  and coloring agent in food. Saffron, long among the world's most costly spices by weight, is native to  Southwest Asia  and was probably first cultivated in or near  Greece . As a genetically monomorphic clone, it was slowly propagated throughout much of  Eurasia  and was later brought to parts of North Africa North America , and  Oceania

The plants grow best in full sunlight. Fields that slope towards the sunlight are optimal. Planting is mostly done in June, where corms are lodged 2.5–6 in deep; its roots, stems, and leaves can develop between October and February. Planting depth and corm spacing, in concert with climate, are critical factors in determining yields. Mother corms planted deeper yield higher-quality saffron, though form fewer flower buds and daughter corms.

C. sativus  prefers friable, loose, low-density, well-watered, and well-drained clay- calcareous  soils with high organic content. Traditional raised beds promote good drainage. After a period of dormancy through the summer, the corms send up their narrow leaves and begin to bud in early autumn. Only in mid-autumn do they flower. Harvests are by necessity a speedy affair: after blossoming at dawn, flowers quickly wilt as the day passes. All plants bloom within a window of one or two weeks. Roughly 150 flowers together yield 0.035 oz of dry saffron threads.

Allspice isn’t  all  the spices . Lots of people are surprised to learn that allspice isn’t a combination of multiple spices. English explorers named it allspice because its aroma has suggestive notes of cinnamon, cloves, and other recognizable spices.

Allspice is the dried fruit of the   P. dioica   plant. The fruits are picked when green and unripe and are traditionally dried in the sun. When dry, they are brown and resemble large, brown, smooth   peppercorns . The whole fruits have a longer shelf life than the powdered product, and produce a more aromatic product when freshly ground before use.

Fresh leaves are used where available. They are similar in texture to   bay leaves , thus are infused during cooking and then removed before serving. Unlike bay leaves, they lose much flavor when dried and stored, so do not figure in commerce. The leaves and wood are often used for smoking meats where allspice is a local crop. Allspice can also be found in   essential oil form.

Additional spice fun facts, tips and tricks you can use throughout the year as filler.

  • Allspice isn’t  all  the spices . Lots of people are surprised to learn that allspice isn’t a combination of multiple spices. It’s a dry berry from parts of Northern Latin America and the Caribbean. English explorers named it allspice because its aroma has suggestive notes of cinnamon, cloves, and other recognizable spices.

  • Catnip isn’t just for cats.  To felines, catnip delivers a blissful high or laid back mellow aroma. Consumed by humans as tea, catnip provides relief for headaches, anxiety and insomnia. 

  • Ants become confused by peppermint.  Not that peppermint is particularly cryptic – but it is highly aromatic. Ants communicate by leaving chemical trails for their buddies following close behind. If you sprinkle some chopped, crushed peppermint (or essential oil) near an ant trail, you can break the chemical trail and disband the army.

Many people miss out on the best part of garlic!  Everyone thinks the main event is underground. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to pop off some garlic scapes and get cooking. Before your garlic is even ready to harvest, you can snap off their curly, pointy flower stems for concentrated garlic flavor. Pick them young while they’re still tender and enjoy!

  • In Taoist mythology, black garlic, a fermented Korean product, was associated with immortality.While we’re not sure it will endow you with supernatural powers, we can assure you that it will add richness and memorable flavor to eggs, dips and meats. Unlike white garlic, the black variation isn’t at all harsh—it tastes almost like a savory version of a fig.

  • The names of many spice blends are shrouded in mystery. One of these is the Argentinian blend, Chimichurri. One story is that Basque colonists named the sauce tximitxurry, which loosely translates to “a mix of many things, in no particular order.

  • Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world —the bowl of Spanish saffron pictured rings in at $371. This is because the vibrant thread-like spice has to be harvested by hand. Saffron comes from the stigma of the crocus sativus, and each crocus contains only 3-5 stigma. This means one hundred flowers are needed to produce only one gram of saffron. Thankfully, only a few strands are needed to infuse a dish with intense flavor and a faint tangerine hue.

  • While Columbus originally named the dried fruit of a certain Jamaican plant pimento, once it arrived in Europe, it became known as allspice. This name is attributed to the fact that it tastes like a blend of many spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Its unique flavor makes this small, dried berry a perfect addition to savory dishes (it’s a key ingredient in Jamaican Jerk Seasoning) as well as in baked desserts.

  • People sometimes mention masala as a seasoning. In fact, masala translates to spice—so a masala blend can contain just about anything. Chat Masala is a tart spice blend while Garam Masala is a warm, earthy blend.

  • Achiote seeds (or annatto seeds) are small, triangular, red seeds. They have a subtle peppery flavor with a slight peppermint scent and a hint of bitterness. While best known for their application in making authentic Puerco pabil, these seeds have also been used to color cosmetics and fabrics.

  • The primary difference between a butcher’s rub and a seasoning is the particle size. Butcher’s rubs are more coarse, which helps prevent the seasonings from burning during the cooking process. Seasonings are better for dishes with shorter cooking times and less intense heat.

While both from the bay laurel plant, California Bay leaves and Turkish Bay leaves have distinctively different flavors due to the climate and atmosphere in which they are grown. The Turkish variety is milder, while the California Bay leaves are stronger, with eucalyptus-like notes.

Chinese Five Spice  is a traditional blend, named not after the number of ingredients but after the five flavors (sour, bitter, salty, sweet, pungent). The combination of these flavors is thought to create balance.

  • Harissa is a condiment popular in North African cooking. It’s as common there as Tabasco is in the United States. This popular blend isn’t just hot, it’s also flavorful and contains coriander, cumin and caraway.

  • Scoville units are the most widely used measurement of a chile’s heat. This scale, created by Wilbur Scoville, relied on a panel of tasters to determine how much sugar water solution was required to neutralize a chile’s heat. The hottest chile for sale? The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Chile (pictured) rings in at 1.2 million Scoville heat units—the equivalent of eating a ghost pepper and habanero at the same time. But here’s some hot news: In December 2013, the Carolina Reaper stole the crown with 2.2 million Scoville heat units—making it akin to pepper spray.

  • It is suspected that the origins of chili powder date to frontier chuck wagons. The first commercial chili powder was sold in the late 1800s. Chili powder is a blend that usually contains chiles, onion, garlic, cumin and other spices.

  • Herbs are derived from a plant’s leaves whereas spices are sourced from the bark, buds, roots and seeds of a plant. This means you can have two very different flavors and products from the same plant. Take Fenugreek (pictured above) for example, a plant widely used in Indian cuisines that is sold in both golden seed and green herb form.

  • If you nick your finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, you may not even need to leave the kitchen for first aid. Alum, the old-fashioned pickling salt at the back of your spice cupboard, is an astringent. In a pinch, sprinkle some on a minor cut to stanch the flow of blood.

  • Flour, sugar, and paprika can all fall prey to ants, in fact many spices can. Keep these cooking essentials safe by slipping a bay leaf inside your storage containers. If you’re concerned about the flour or sugar picking up a bay leaf flavour, tape the leaf to the inside of the canister lid. This trick works inside cabinets, too, where sachets of sage, bay, stick cinnamon, or whole cloves will smell pleasant while discouraging ants.


Black pepper is produced from the still-green, unripe   drupes of the pepper plant. The drupes are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying; the heat ruptures   cell walls   in the pepper, speeding the work of   browning enzymes   during drying. The drupes are dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dried, the spice is called black peppercorn.

White pepper consists solely of the seed of the pepper plant, with the darker-colored skin of the pepper fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as   retting , where fully ripe red pepper berries are soaked in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the pepper softens and   decomposes . Rubbing then removes what remains of the fruit, and the naked seed is dried. The pepper plant is a  perennial woody vine  growing up to 13 ft in height on supporting trees, poles, or trellises. It is a spreading vine, rooting readily where trailing stems touch the ground. The leaves are alternate, 2-4 in long and 1-2.5 in across. The flowers are small, produced on pendulous spikes 1.5-3 in long at the leaf nodes, the spikes lengthening up to 2.8 to 5.9 in as the fruit matures. The fruit of the black pepper is called a drupe and when dried is known as a peppercorn. Pepper can be grown in soil that is neither too dry nor susceptible to flooding, moist, well-drained and rich in organic matter (the vines do not do too well over an altitude of 3,000 ft above sea level). The plants are propagated by cuttings about 16 to 20 in long, tied up to neighboring trees or climbing frames at distances of about 6.5 ft in apart; trees with rough bark are favored over those with smooth bark, as the pepper plants climb rough bark more readily. Competing plants are cleared away, leaving only sufficient trees to provide shade and permit free ventilation. The roots are covered in leaf  mulch  and  manure , and the shoots are trimmed twice a year. On dry soils the young plants require watering every other day during the  dry season for the first three years. The plants bear fruit from the fourth or fifth year, and typically continue to bear fruit for seven years. The cuttings are usually  cultivars , selected both for yield and quality of fruit. A single stem will bear 20 to 30 fruiting spikes. The harvest begins as soon as one or two fruits at the base of the spikes begin to turn red, and before the fruit is fully mature, and still hard; if allowed to ripen completely, the fruit lose pungency, and ultimately fall off and are lost. The spikes are collected and spread out to dry in the sun, then the peppercorns are stripped off the spikes.

Sidebar - Peppercorns have been used to spice up foods for more than 4,000 years. As early as the 4th century BC, texts describe pepper being used as a seasoning for Indian feasts.

Sidebar – A drupe is a fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone containing the seed, e.g., a plum, cherry, almond, or olive.


Vanilla   is a   flavoring   derived from   orchids   of the genus   Vanilla , primarily from the Mexican species,   flat-leaved vanilla   ( V. planifolia ). The word   vanilla , derived from the   diminutive   of the Spanish word   vaina   (vaina   itself meaning sheath or pod), is translated simply as "little pod." Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican   people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, called   tlilxochitl   by the   Aztecs . Spanish  conquistador Hernán Cortés   is credited with introducing both vanilla and   chocolate   to Europe in the 1520s. Initial attempts to cultivate vanilla outside Mexico and Central America proved futile because of the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla orchid and its natural pollinator, the local species of   Melipona   bee. Pollination is required to set the fruit from which the flavoring is derived. In 1837, Belgian botanist   Charles François Antoine Morren   discovered this fact and pioneered a method of artificially pollinating the plant.   The method proved financially unworkable and was not deployed commercially. In 1841,   Edmond Albius , a slave who lived on the French island of   Réunion   in the Indian Ocean, discovered that the plant could be   hand-pollinated . Hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of the plant.

The main species harvested for vanilla is   V. planifolia . Although it is native to Mexico, it is now widely grown throughout the tropics. Indonesia and Madagascar are the world's largest producers. Additional sources include   V. pompona   and   V. tahitiensis   (grown in   Niue   and   Tahiti ), although the vanillin content of these species is much less than   V. planifolia .

Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after   saffron ,   because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive.   Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor.   As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture, and   aromatherapy .

The distinctively flavored compounds are found in the fruit, which results from the   pollination   of the flower. These seed pods are roughly a third of an inch by six inches, and brownish red to black when ripe. Inside the pods is an oily liquid full of tiny seeds.  One flower produces one fruit.  V. planifolia  flowers are  hermaphroditic : They carry both male ( anther ) and female ( stigma ) organs; however, to avoid   self-pollination , a membrane separates those organs.

The   fruit , a seed capsule, if left on the plant, ripens and opens at the end; as it dries, the   phenolic   compounds   crystallize , giving the fruits a diamond-dusted appearance, which the French call   givre   (hoarfrost). It then releases the distinctive vanilla smell. The fruit contains tiny, black seeds. In dishes prepared with whole natural vanilla, these seeds are recognizable as black specks. Both the pod and the seeds are used in cooking.

The term  French vanilla  is often used to designate particular preparations with a strong vanilla aroma, containing vanilla grains and sometimes also containing eggs (especially egg yolks). The appellation originates from the French style of making   vanilla ice cream   with a   custard   base, using vanilla pods, cream, and egg yolks. Inclusion of vanilla varietals from any of the   former French dependencies   or  overseas France   may be a part of the flavoring. Alternatively, French vanilla is taken to refer to a vanilla-custard flavor.

Vanilla grows best in a hot, humid climate from sea level to an elevation of 5,000 feet. The ideal climate has moderate rainfall, 60-100 inches, evenly distributed through 10 months of the year. Optimum temperatures for cultivation are 59–86 °F during the day and 59–68 °F during the night. Ideal humidity is around 80%, and under normal greenhouse conditions, it can be achieved by an evaporative cooler. However, since greenhouse vanilla is grown near the equator and under polymer (HDPE) netting (shading of 50%), this humidity can be achieved by the environment. Most successful vanilla growing and processing is done in the region within 10 to 20° of the equator.

Soils for vanilla cultivation should be loose, with high organic matter content and loamy texture. They must be well drained, and a slight slope helps in this condition. Soil   pH   has not been well documented, but some researchers have indicated an optimum soil pH around 5.3. Mulch   is very important for proper growth of the vine, and a considerable portion of mulch should be placed in the base of the vine. Fertilization varies with soil conditions, but should be applied to each plant besides organic manures, such as   vermicompost , oil cakes, poultry manure, and wood ash. Foliar applications are also good for vanilla, and a solution of 1% NPK (17:17:17) can be sprayed on the plant once a month. Vanilla requires organic matter, so three or four applications of mulch a year are adequate for the plant.


Ginger, Zingiber officinale, is a   flowering plant   whose   rhizome ,   ginger root   or simply   ginger , is widely used as a   spice   or a   folk medicine .

It is an   herbaceous perennial   which grows annual stems about a yard tall bearing narrow green leaves and yellow flowers. Ginger is in the   family Zingiberaceae , to which also belong   turmeric   (Curcuma longa),  cardamom   (Elettaria cardamomum), and   galangal . Ginger originated in the   tropical rainforest   in Southern Asia. Although ginger no longer grows wild, it is thought to have originated on the   Indian subcontinent   because the ginger plants grown in India show the largest amount of genetic variation. Ginger was exported to   Europe  i n the first century AD as a result of the lucrative   spice trade   and was used extensively by the   Romans . The distantly related   dicots   in the genus   Asarum   are commonly called   wild ginger   because of their similar taste. Ginger produces   clusters   of white and pink   flower buds   that bloom into yellow flowers. Because of its aesthetic appeal and the adaptation of the plant to warm climates, it is often used as   landscaping   around  subtropical   homes. It is a   perennial reed -like plant with annual leafy stems, about 3 to 4 feet tall. Traditionally, the rhizome is gathered when the stalk   withers ; it is immediately   scalded , or washed and scraped, to kill it and prevent   sprouting . The fragrant   perisperm   of the Zingiberaceae is used as  sweetmeats   and also as a condiment and   sialagogue (see sidebar) . Ginger produces a hot, fragrant kitchen spice. Young ginger rhizomes are juicy and fleshy with a very mild taste. They are often   pickled   in   vinegar   or   sherry   as a snack or cooked as an ingredient in many dishes. They can be   steeped   in boiling water to make ginger   tisane , to which   honey   is often added; sliced orange or lemon fruit may be added. Ginger can be made into candy, or   ginger wine , which has been made commercially since 1740. Mature ginger rhizomes are   fibrous   and nearly dry. The juice from ginger roots is often used as a seasoning in   Indian recipes   and is a common ingredient of   Chinese ,   Korean ,   Japanese ,   Vietnamese , and many South Asian cuisines for   flavoring   dishes such as seafood, meat, and   vegetarian dishes . Fresh ginger can be substituted for ground ginger at a ratio of six to one, although the flavors of fresh and dried ginger are somewhat different. Powdered dry ginger root is typically used as a flavoring for recipes such as   gingerbread ,   cookies ,   crackers   and cakes,   ginger ale , and   ginger beer. Candied ginger, or crystallized ginger, is the root cooked in sugar until soft, and is a type of   confectionery .

ginger plant & bud raw ginger


Galangal   /ɡəˈlæŋɡəl/ ( Indonesian ) is a common name that is loosely attributed to any of several tropical rhizomatous spices.

Sialagogue is a is a  drug  or substance that increases the flow rate of  saliva

Cloves and Cumin

Cloves   are the aromatic   flower buds   of a tree in the Myrtaceae family,   Syzygium aromaticum that is native to Indonesia , and   Tanzania .

Archeologists have found cloves in a   ceramic   vessel in   Syria , dating back to 1721 BC.   In the third century BC, a Chinese leader in the   Han Dynasty   required those who addressed him to chew cloves to freshen their breath.

The clove tree is an   evergreen   that grows up to 26–39 feet tall, with large   leaves   and sanguine flowers grouped in terminal clusters. The flower buds initially have a pale hue, gradually turn green, then transition to a bright red when ready for harvest. Cloves are harvested at .5 - .75 inches long, and consist of a long   calyx   that terminates in four spreading   sepals , and four unopened petals that form a small central ball.

Cumin is the dried seed of the herb   Cuminum cyminum , a member of the   parsley   family. The cumin plant grows 12–20 inches tall and is harvested by hand. It is an   annual herbaceous plant , with a slender, glabrous, branched   stem   that is 8–12 inches tall and has a diameter of 1.25 – 2 inches.   Each branch has two to three sub-branches. All

the branches attain the same height, therefore the plant has a uniform

canopy.   The stem is grey or dark green. The   leaves   are 2–4 inches long,   pinnate   or bipinnate, with thread-like leaflets. The   flowers   are small, white or pink, and borne in   umbels . Each umbel has five to seven umbels.   The   fruit   is a lateral fusiform or   ovoid achene   1 ⁄ 6 – 1⁄ 5 inch long, containing two  mericarps   with a single   seed .   Cumin seeds have eight ridges with oil canals.   They resemble   caraway   seeds, being oblong in shape, longitudinally ridged, and yellow-brown, like other members of the   Umbelliferae   family such as caraway, parsley, and   dill .Cumin is a drought-tolerant, tropical, or subtropical crop. It has a growth season of 100 – 120 days.   The optimum growth temperature ranges are between 75 and 86° F.   The Mediterranean climate is most suitable for its growth. Cultivation of cumin requires a long, hot summer of three to four months. At low temperatures, leaf color changes from green to purple. High temperature might reduce the growth period and induce early ripening.

Cumin can be used   ground   or as   whole seeds . It helps to add an earthy and warming feeling to food, making it a staple in certain stews and soups, as well as spiced gravies such as curry and chili. It is also used as an ingredient in some pickles and pastries.

Nutmeg & Mace

Nutmeg   is a spice, the   seed   from several species of tree in the genus   Myristica . Mace   is a similar-tasting spice made from the dried lacy reddish covering or   aril   of that seed. The most important commercial species is   Myristica fragrans , an   evergreen tree   indigenous to the  Banda Islands   in the   Moluccas   (or Spice Islands) of Indonesia. The   seed   of the tree is roughly egg-shaped and about 0.8 - 1.2 inches long and 0.6 - 0.7 inches wide, and weighing between 0.2 and 0.4 ounces dried. The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7–9 years after planting, and the trees reach full production after twenty years. Nutmeg is usually used in powdered form. This is the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices, obtained from different parts of the plant. Several other commercial products are also produced from the trees, including   essential oils , extracted   oleoresins , and nutmeg butter. The essential oil obtained by   steam distillation   of ground nutmeg is used widely in the   perfumery   and   pharmaceutical   industries. Nutmeg trees are   dioecious plants   which are propagated sexually and asexually, the latter being the standard. Sexual propagation by seedling yields 50% male seedlings, which are unproductive. As there is no reliable method of determining plant sex before flowering in the sixth to eighth year, and sexual propagation bears inconsistent yields, grafting is the preferred method of propagation.   Epicotyl grafting, approach grafting, and patch budding have proved successful, with epicotyl grafting being the most widely adopted standard. Air-layering, or   marcotting , is an alternative though not preferred method because of its low (35-40%) success rate. Nutmeg and mace have similar sensory qualities, with nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavor. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange,  saffron -like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is used for flavoring many dishes, usually in ground or grated form, and is best grated fresh in a   nutmeg grater .

In the 19th century, nutmeg was used as an   abortifacient , which led to numerous recorded cases of nutmeg poisoning.   Although used as a   folk treatment   for other ailments, nutmeg has no proven medicinal value today. Nutmeg is highly   neurotoxic   to dogs and causes seizures, tremors, and nervous system disorders which can be fatal. Nutmeg's rich, spicy scent is attractive to dogs which can result in a dog ingesting a lethal amount of this spice. Eggnog and other food preparations which contain nutmeg should not be given to dogs. Nutmeg trees actually produce two spices: nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is the seed of the tree, while mace is the lacy, reddish covering on the nutmeg seed. The flavor is similar but mace is slightly more pungent. Nutmeg was once so exotic that the Dutch traded the entire island of Manhattan to the British for the islands that grew nutmeg.


Cinnamon is an evergreen tree characterized by oval-shaped leaves, thick bark, and a berry fruit. When harvesting the spice, the bark and leaves are the primary parts of the plant used.   Cinnamon is cultivated by growing the tree for two years, then   coppicing   it. The following year, about a dozen new shoots form from the roots, replacing those that were cut. A number of pests can affect the growing plants.

The stems must be processed immediately after harvesting while the inner bark is still wet. The cut stems are processed by scraping off the outer bark, then beating the branch evenly with a hammer to loosen the inner bark, which is then pried off in long rolls. Only 0.02” of the inner bark is used; the outer, woody portion is discarded, leaving yard-long cinnamon strips that curl into rolls ("quills") upon drying. The processed bark dries completely in four to six hours, provided it is in a well-ventilated and relatively warm environment. Once dry, the bark is cut into 2- to 4-inch lengths for sale. A less than ideal drying environment encourages the proliferation of pests in the bark, which may then require treatment by fumigation. Fumigated bark is not considered to be of the same premium quality as untreated bark.

A number of species are often sold as cinnamon:

Cassia is the strong, spicy flavor associated with cinnamon rolls and other such baked goods, as it handles baking conditions well.

  • C. burmannii   (Korintje, Padang cassia, or Indonesian cinnamon)

Ceylon cinnamon, using only the thin inner bark, has a lighter brown color, a finer, less dense and more crumbly texture, and is considered to be subtler and more aromatic in flavor than cassia, losing much of its flavor during cooking.

The barks of the species are easily distinguished when whole, both in macroscopic and microscopic characteristics.

The flavor of cinnamon is due to an aromatic   essential oil   that makes up 0.5 to 1% of its composition. This essential oil is prepared by roughly pounding the bark,   macerating   it in seawater, and then quickly  distilling   the whole. It is of a golden-yellow color, with the characteristic odor of cinnamon and a very hot aromatic taste. The pungent   taste   and   scent   come from   cinnamaldehyde   (about 90% of the essential oil from the bark) and, by reaction with   oxygen   as it ages, it darkens in color and forms resinous compounds.


“Coppicing” is a verb meaning to cut back (a tree or shrub) to ground level periodically to stimulate growth. As in “coppiced timber." “Macerating” is a verb meaning (especially with reference to food) soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid.


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