What springs to mind when you think of the word “spice”? Is it an aromatic curry, cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven, or the rows of jars in your spice rack?
The word has slightly different meanings for everyone, but spice refers to any dried part of a plant (with the exception of the leaves) that is used for seasoning and flavoring.
While spices most of us are familiar with are those we find in our spice rack as a quick way to enhance the flavors of a meal, there’s a lot more to them than that!
Let’s have a look at 7 things you probably don’t know about spices.
1. The Origin of Spices
The earliest written records of spices can be found in ancient Indian, Chinese and Egyptian cultures, and peppercorns are amongst the oldest. They’ve been used for more than 4000 years, dating back to the 4th century BC.
2. Spices in the Middle Ages
Spices were amongst the most highly sought-after products in Europe in the Middle Ages and had a price tag to match. And which spices were favored? Black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cumin and cloves.
3. The Popularity of Pepper
Black pepper is the most traded spice and the most commonly used as it shares pride of place on dinner tables around the world alongside salt. The next most popular are cumin and mustard.
4. The World’s Most Expensive Spice
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice because of its scarcity. Only the stigmata of the plant are used, and it takes 225,000 hand-picked stigmas to produce a pound of saffron.
5. Nutmeg Trees are Multi-Talented
Nutmeg trees produce more than one spice, as nutmeg and mace both come from the same tree. They taste very similar, too, although mace is slightly stronger.
6. Spices are Good for You
Many different spices offer health-supporting properties, including rosemary for blood and cardiovascular health, ginger for gastrointestinal problems, and turmeric for brain health.
7. Many Spices Have Antimicrobial Properties
Spices are used more in warmer climates which may be because food tends to spoil quickly in the heat, especially meat.
So, next time you go to fetch a spice rack, you’ll probably look at those unassuming jars a little differently. When you consider the history behind the spices we use today and their health benefits, they’re suddenly a lot more interesting than just a way to make your food taste good.