Spices and aromatic herbs. Plants present us with their aromas and flavors to enrich our cuisine, while we benefit from their therapeutic potential. Learn about the differences between spices and aromatic herbs and their many uses. Lets See what are the useful Spices and aromatic herbs and its benifits.
Differences between spices and aromatic plants
In the world of fragrances, spices and aromatic plants, which in fact are all fragrant plants, are often placed in the same bag, but there are some differences to note:
The spices are usually obtained from hard parts as bark, roots, stems or fruits generally species of tropical or subtropical origin, and are presented whole or chopped or pulverized, dehydrated as powders.
The aromatic plants tend to be herbaceous, not woody species or of which the leaves. They are common and abundant plants in temperate climates such as the Mediterranean climate, and have a long tradition of use. Aromatic plants are fragrant both fresh and dried, but they lose their fragrance over time.
Benefits of aromas for plants
Plants use certain active principles that they contain, such as essential oils, terpene, and other volatile substances, to give themselves aromas or fragrances that are more or less intense or more or less pleasant, which they use as a decoy or as a cry of alarm and therefore have transcendental importance in their survival. Thus, these molecules allow them to attract pollinating insects or block other insects that could be harmful to them. They also act as a strategy to discourage them from being eaten by herbivorous animals by exhaling an aroma or flavor that is offensive or unpleasant but also to alert neighboring plants to the presence of parasites or pests. and that they have enough time to be predisposed to reject them. In hot or warm climates, these substances also allow plants to reduce or avoid dehydration and drying out.
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These fragrances are usually contained in glands or glandular hairs, where these essential oils are concentrated, which give off their aroma at the slightest movement, whether it is subtle like the rubbing of an insect, or an abrupt and brutal as the bite of a goat. These glands are usually located in the soft parts of plants such as leaves or flowers, but they are also concentrated in hard parts such as stems and bark.
A good number of plants in our fields, bushes, and grasslands are aromatic to some extent, but the olfactory capacity of the human being only allows us to perceive those that are more or less prominently so. In many cases, when smelling a plant we do not notice any fragrance, in others, it will depend on the olfactory acuity of each one. But it is true that there are fragrances so powerful, that we can all capture them. And when faced with a certain fragrance, perceptions can be very different from one to the other.
Various botanical families such as Umbelliferae, Composite, Labiatae, Rutaceae, or Myrtaceae stand out precisely for being very fragrant, thanks to the fact that in most cases they are rich in those active principles already mentioned, especially essential oils and terpenes. but also in flavonoids and polyphenols.
Spices: uses and characteristics
In many culinary traditions, such as the Turkish, the Indian –with all their internal differences–, the Sri Lankan, the Vietnamese, or the Thai, food is almost meaningless without the fragrance and intense flavor provided by the most varied spices. Spicy, pungent, sweet, bittersweet, fruity, woody, floral, bitter, warm, or refreshing aromas depend on these prodigious condiments, which are obtained from barks, pods, stems, roots, leaves, seeds, flowers, or even berries of a large number exotic or nearby plants. Many dishes or stews of traditional Indian, Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, or Mexican cuisine, to give a few examples, would certainly be bland without the fragrant and intense presence of these spices.
There are those who do not conceive the pleasure of food without the help of these subtle or risky flavors, and on the other hand, there are those who are reluctant and distrustful of a spicy or sweet taste that is rare on their palate. But to be rigorous, it should be noted that spices are aromas rather than flavors and that if we tried to consume them, mixing them with sugar or salt, while covering our nose, and without cheating, in most cases, we would not be able to appreciate any flavor beyond salty or sweet. But these are aromas so penetrating that when they permeate food, they certainly give them a special flavor, and that is because spices are the great aromas of traditional and creative gastronomy.
In many culinary preparations, the absence of spices detracts from any grace to the stew, dish, cake, or ice cream that is third. A bechamel sauce without nutmeg is certainly much blander, and the same is true of a curry sauce without turmeric, black pepper, or coriander. Today, many of the spices are fully integrated into our cuisines, such as cinnamon, black pepper, saffron, or ginger, while others have been incorporated by the hand of other cultures such as cardamom, galangal, turmeric, or wasabi.
How to choose and preserve spices is home
Having spices at home and daring to experiment with them in the kitchen is a challenge that will enrich our culinary tastes and bring us closer to the customs of other cultures. Nowadays it should not be difficult to acquire them, not only in oriental food establishments but also in herbalists and in many grocery stores and supermarkets. When choosing them, we must first decide what and with what we are going to use them, find out with what other spices we can combine them, find out about the nutritional and therapeutic properties they provide us, and how to preserve them.
Spices each have their own shelf life. As a general rule, they should be stored in cool places , away from sources of heat and humidity, and not keep them forgotten in a drawer or in the pantry waiting for them to rot out of boredom. The spices are crying out for us to rescue them from their exile and that we dare to brighten our stews, rice dishes, soups or salads with their fragrances.
Special mention should be made of curry and other spice mixtures used in a variety of dishes and cuisines as we will see in the next section.
The most widely used curry and spice mixes in the world
When we talk about spices, it is impossible not to mention curry, that sauce not necessarily spicy, which is made with a mixture of spices, which is used to season various stews of Chinese, Indian, Thai cuisine, etc. There are very different types of curries, depending on the spices chosen and the food that should accompany them. There are more liquid curries, such as the ones used in Thai cuisine, thicker as the ones served in parts of India and Pakistan, or powdered curries, used for seasoning, as in some regional Chinese cuisine.
According to some sources, the name, curry, comes from a Hindu stew called Khari, made with a certain mixture of spices. In the middle of the 18th century, the English referred to as curry –pronouncing the Tamil term in their own way– to any mixture of spices and when they tried to reproduce it in Europe, and not being able to count on some of the original recipes, they adapted it to Western tastes and that It is the curry we now know, a yellowish powder that can contain turmeric, mustard, nutmeg, black pepper, cardamom, saffron, coriander, and cloves, although there are many variations.
According to the Spanish Association of Spice and Seasoning Packers, curries can be made up of between 10 and 20 different spices. We find yellow curries, where turmeric presides over the alloy, but also red curries –revealing the presence of red chili–, green –a very spicy curry due to green chili–, white, and so on. And, the curry stands out for its enormous versatility and can be adapted to a huge variety of dishes, such as rice dishes, legumes, lamb and pork stews, fish, seafood, pasta, etc.
Beyond curry, spice blends used in the world
Not everything is a curry in gastronomy when we talk about mixing spices to give a different and aromatic touch to different dishes. Thus, from India to China through France or the Maghreb, different options of combinations of spices come to our kitchens and restaurants to please our palates:
Those who have traveled to India have surely tasted one of the most appreciated combinations of spices, the Garam Masala. In fact, there are notable differences in the preparation according to the area of the country. The more traditional mix usually uses black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. But there are diverse combinations that can also include chili, mustard, turmeric, coriander, cumin, and even bay leaf. Spices are usually used dry and are not mixed until shortly before consumption to season the dish or stew in question, and it should be avoided that none predominates over the others, obtaining a balanced mixture.
From China comes the Zhung, which melts the aromas of cardamom, garlic, chilli and cumin. Or the Five Spice preparation, which combines Sichuan pepper with cloves, star anise, cassia and ginger.
In Japan, on the other hand, algae have a prominent role, and in the mixture known as Shichimi, they are associated with sesame, poppy seed, pepper, and sansho.
In Morocco, the Chermoula, with saffron, black pepper, coriander, onion, and garlic, or the Ras el Hanout, which can include more than 20 spices, among them cardamom, turmeric, ginger, cassia, are famous. coriander, cloves, or rose petals.
Throughout the Maghreb it will be easy to taste Harissa, a very spicy mixture of spices, used to season couscous, tagines, soups, and stews, and which incorporates hot red peppers, coriander, caraway, pressed garlic, and olive oil.
In Turkey, they would give us the Baharat, which incorporates sweet paprika, black pepper, chili, savory, cumin, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, and garlic.
To accompany chicken and beef, in Indonesia they use the mixture known as Sambal Kecap or Sambhar, which includes chili, soy, garlic, and lemon.
Much closer and more familiar is the combination of aromatic herbs, such as the mixture of finely chopped herbs, used in Provencal cuisine, with tarragon, chives, chervil, and parsley, or following in France, with the famous garnish bouquet, which includes thyme, sage, parsley and bay leaf and which is used to season stews and broths. And we could follow many more lines.
12 best medicinal spices
In addition to small shops and supermarkets, where we look for them to brighten up our dishes, spices can also be purchased by a herbalist and many of them stand out for their great therapeutic potential. In fact, the native peoples from which many of these spices are original have already been using them for this purpose for countless generations. Many cases, clinical trials have ended up confirming the usefulness of these species as supportive therapies or as a natural alternative to some medicine. It is worth mentioning in this regard turmeric, ginger, cardamom, or nutmeg, which we will talk about below.
In order for them to fulfill their curative effect, we can use them, in effect, as a condiment, but they will undoubtedly be more effective if we take advantage of it in other presentations, whether in infusions, decoctions, tinctures –macerated in alcohol–, in liquid extracts, powders or in drops of its essential oil. In this case, it is recommended to collect the advice that an expert herbalist or naturopath can offer us.
Paprika, allspice, cassia, citronella, star anise, garlic, wasabi, mace, the number and variety of spices is wide and diverse, but below we list the top 12 of the most appreciated spices for their medicinal uses:
It comes from Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia), its cultivation has spread to India, China, Hawaii, Nigeria, Central, and South America, Australia, and Polynesia.
From ginger are the fresh rhizome, which has a thick, twisted shape and a golden rind. It can be squeezed to obtain a juice or cut into thin slices or slices or grated to incorporate into stews. The dried rhizome is usually turned into a powder, with the help of a mortar, it is creamy white, very fine and aromatic, and is used as a spice. It has a penetrating aroma, between spicy and sweet, woody. It is used in Indian, Thai, Japanese, and Chinese cuisine, mainly. In cooking, ginger is used to season fish and seafood dishes, in rice dishes and especially in pastries, as well as to flavor bread.
Dishes with ginger : Turkey with orange and ginger, ginger jam, seitan with ginger with potatoes, ginger chicken, sautéed lamb with ginger, lemonade with strawberries and ginger, sponge cake with cinnamon and ginger, persimmon puree with ginger.
Medicinal value: the ginger is linked to various benefits as well, it is considered digestive, carminative, antiulcer, anti-inflammatory, expectorant and lipid-lowering, and circulatory tonic. Stimulates salivation, promotes good digestion of food, prevents the formation of gases. It is a traditional remedy to combat motion sickness on car or boat trips. It is also intended to combat respiratory conditions, such as flu, pharyngitis, or bronchitis. And in external use, it serves to relieve pain from bruises, muscle contractures, neuralgia, and toothaches. Traditional Chinese medicine recommends it, due to its hot nature, to warm the body and combat the cold inside. It is taken as a decoction, in syrup, liquid extracts, and powders.
It comes from India and Sri Lanka, it is cultivated on a large scale in the state of Kerala. There are important crops also in Central America and tropical Africa.
The seeds of cardamom are used, which are brown or black, wrapped in straw pods. They are very aromatic, with an intense, sweet, and slightly acid fragrance. They are taken whole or ground. It is used in various Indian, Tamil, Zeelandish, Chinese and Turkish cuisines. It is one of the ingredients in curry and Garam Massala.
In cooking, it is used as a spice to season various stews, rice dishes, soups, salads, and pastries. It has been used to flavor bread and cookies, in ice creams, teas, and compotes. It combines perfectly with other spices such as nutmeg, black pepper, and aromatic herbs such as coriander and cumin.
Dishes with cardamom: black tea with cardamom, vegetable brine with cardamom, mixed vegetables with poppy, cardamom, and turmeric, roast chicken with cardamom, bitter apple pie with cardamom, fruit salad with cardamom, curd with mango and cardamom.
Medicinal value: Cardamom is considered digestive, carminative, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and balsamic. Like ginger, with which it is related, it stimulates digestion, fights bad taste in the mouth and bad breath, as well as stomach heaviness, prevents gas and flatulence. Helps regain appetite after an episode of illness or depression. It is also prescribed to treat respiratory conditions such as the flu and for the natural treatment of skin infections. It is taken as an infusion, powder, tincture, in liquid extract, or drops of essential oil topically.
It comes from the Moluccas of Celebes (Sulawesi) islands, but today it is also cultivated on other islands of Indonesia (Sumatra, Java), in India, Papua New Guinea, Brazil, and Colombia.
Nutmeg is used in Indian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, and Scandinavian cuisine. They are oval seeds, dark brown in color, somewhat rough. It has a sweet and warm flavor. It is usually eaten grated and consumed as a spice, to flavor sauces such as bechamel, curry sauce, in spice mixtures, to season dishes of legumes, potatoes, rice, vegetables, and desserts, such as fruit salads, fruit cakes, chocolates.
Dishes with nutmeg: tortellini with salmon and nutmeg, broccoli gratin with bechamel sauce with nutmeg, spinach flan with nutmeg, green vegetable lasagna with judging, carrot, chocolate, and nutmeg cake.
Medicinal value: we are again facing a plant that stimulates the appetite, promotes good digestion, prevents the formation of gases and meteorisms and that helps fight intestinal infections and diarrhea. In external application, it is used on blows, bruises, contractures, muscular tension and neuralgia.
It is native to Sri Lanka, but it is also cultivated in India, China, Indonesia, Burma, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Mauritius, the Antilles and Brazil.
It is the bark of the young branches (the second bark or inner bark). The cinnamon is used as is or ground. It has a sweet, smooth and warm flavor. Cinnamon is used in Arabic, Mediterranean, Indian and Chinese cuisine. It is used in the kitchen to flavor stews, rice dishes, puddings, sweet egg creams, in smoothies, cakes, pastries and ice cream.
Dishes with cinnamon : chicken with dried fruits and cinnamon, almond and cinnamon cake, Catalan cream with cinnamon, sweet couscous with almonds, coconut and cinnamon, lemon and cinnamon cake, cinnamon and clove cookies.
Medicinal value: the cinnamon has virtues stomach, digestive, carminative, antispasmodic, antiseptic, stimulating, and emmenagogues. It is indicated to mediate states of inappetence, atony, asthenia, weakness, sexual apathy, gastrointestinal spasms, gas, menstrual pain and in topical use, on fungal infections (dermatomycosis). Cinnamon is a basic pillar of traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine. It is taken as a decoction, syrup, tincture, liquid extract, and powder, or the essential oil in drops for aroma therapy applications.
05. Cayenne, red pepper, or chilli
It comes from Mexico and Central America, up to Panama, it is also cultivated in South America and in the Mediterranean basin.
The fruits of cayenne are used, elongated and with a bright red skin. It is one of the hottest spices , a flavor not suitable for all palates. The red pod is ground and the black seed it contains is extracted, which can also be ground and incorporated. It is used in Mexican and Central American cuisine. It accompanies dishes and stews of vegetables, vegetables, meat and fish. Cayenne pairs well with other spices and aromatic herbs such as ginger, turmeric, coriander, anise, and cumin, and is incorporated into sauces, curries, and chutneys.
Dishes with cayenne : spicy prawns with cayenne, rice with chestnuts and cayenne, lasagna with wild asparagus, prawns and cayenne, chicken with cayenne and coconut curry, mojo picón, seafood soup with cayenne, back of spicy hake.
Medicinal value : theCapsaicin, a pungent compound stimulates the secretion of gastric juices, helps apetite, promotes digestion and intestinal transit. It is recommended as a support to reduce bad cholesterol and triglycerides. By external use it is shown as an analgesic on muscle pain and neuralgia. It is taken in powder, tincture and liquid extract available in herbalists.
It comes again from the Celebes Islands (Sulawesi), but is also cultivated on other Indonesian islands, in Madagascar, the Seychelles, Tanzania and the Antilles.
The clove is used for the flower buds – cloves – of this tree related to the eucalyptus. It has a very intense, penetrating, sharp and spicy flavor, which must be taken into account, as it can greatly modify the flavor of the dish if the amount is abused. Nail is used in traditional Indian, Indonesian and Chinese cuisine. It is an excellent companion to sauces, chutneys, broths, rice, pickles and various compotes, and is used to flavor oils and vinegars.
Dishes with cloves : Easter bread with walnuts and cloves, octopus vinaigrette with onions and cloves, tuna with vegetables and cloves, lentil stew with ham and cloves, noodles with mushrooms and cloves, boiled pears with cloves, baklavá with cloves, Lobster bisque with cloves, roasted apples stuffed with cloves.
Medicinal value : cloves contain abundant essential oil, with a strong antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and digestive action. It is indicated in dyspepsia, bloating, flatulence and diarrhea. In external use, herbalists indicate it to combat oral infections, toothache, ear infection or otitis and skin fungi. It is taken in infusion, powders, tincture, capsules, the essential oil in drops and an oleate for rubbing or massage.
07. Black pepper
It comes from India and is also grown in China and Southeast Asia.
Black pepper is the seed of a climbing plant of the Piperáceae family, which can reach arboreal dimensions. It is perhaps the most widely used spice in the world. It is very aromatic, spicy and penetrating. Black pepper is the one that is harvested when it is not yet fully mature, with its pod and left to dry, when it takes on its characteristic color. The green and pink peppers are the varieties harvested also immature, released from the pods, left in brine and removed at different times, and for its part the white pepper had to be soaked and pearled. They are used in the cuisines of the Middle East, traditional Indian, French and Italian cuisine, among many others. They go well with legumes, meat and fish stews, are incorporated into sauces and curries.
Dishes with black pepper : pepper steak, pepper sirloin, curry rice with black pepper, broccoli with mushrooms and pepper, pork tenderloin with apple sauce and black pepper.
Medicinal value: black pepper promotes digestion and prevents the formation of gases. Cardiotonic and antioxidant virtues are attributed to it. It is recommended as support in liver disorders and urinary disorders.
It probably comes from Asia Minor. The saffron species that is grown is a descendant hybrid of the original species. It was cultivated in ancient Egypt and classical Greece and its cultivation also reached Europe. It may have been imported to Europe from Persia by Phoenician merchants. Today crops are grown in some places in Spain –Teruel, La Mancha, with denominations of origin–, in North Africa –Argel– and the Middle East.
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices – if not the most expensive – as it takes about 20 thousand flowers to obtain 1 kg of pure saffron. The calyces or stigmas – the female part of the flower – are used, stripped of the purple tepals that guard them. It has a somewhat bitter and spicy taste and a delicate, floral aroma. Saffron is used in Mediterranean cuisine, but also in traditional Indian, Persian, Maghrebi and Arabic cuisine. It pairs well with sesame, ginger, cloves, and thyme.
Saffron is consumed in threads or ground, in powders. Endowed with a great coloring power, it is an irreplaceable ingredient in paellas, but also in fabada or Galician pot. It is used to flavor broths, creams, salads, stews and other meat and fish stews. In haute cuisine it is highly appreciated for the preparation of imaginative sauces and condiments, with garlic and apple cider vinegar. It is an excellent companion to various desserts, in compotes, sorbets, yogurts and fruit salads.
Dishes with saffron : seafood or mountain paella, Galician pot, Asturian bean stew, saffron chicken risotto, saffron fish fideuá, mussels with saffron sauce, monkfish with saffron, scallops with saffron, asparagus cream with saffron, sweet cream saffron with strawberries, chocolate mousse with saffron.
Medicinal value : saffron is a digestive and nervous stimulant. Due to its benefits, it is indicated in cases of asthenia, weakness, sexual apathy, indigestion, gas, meteorisms and topically in teething discomfort. It is taken as an infusion, tincture, powder or in food.
The mustard comes from is probably native to the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean, but it has been cultivated since ancient times in Europe, and can be found subspontaneously in fields and grasslands. There are several related species, especially the white and the black.
The seeds are used, which are black, spherical, barely 1 mm in diameter, aromatic. It has an intense, spicy flavor, which is accentuated when combined with wine. Mustard is used in Mediterranean and Central European cuisine, but it is also part of famous spice blends such as curry and Garam Massala. It pairs well with ginger, cumin, coriander, parsley, sage, etc. And it is incorporated as a condiment in salads, meat stews or for the preparation of vinaigrettes and sauces, which by extension are also known as mustard. The mustard sauce is usually prepared with grain vinegar mustard, salt and aromatic herbs such as tarragon. The French mustards (Dijon) or the English mustards, much more liquid, are famous.
Dishes with mustard : salad with walnuts, raisins, fresh cheese and mustard, mustard rosbeef, German salad with mustard, baked pork tenderloin with mustard, mustard fish supreme.
Medicinal value : mustard flour used to make poultices with rubefacient and revulsive effects. It has little medicinal use.
It comes from the humid forests of Mexico, but today it is also cultivated in the Seychelles, Madagascar, the Comoros or Polynesia islands. Vanilla is known that the Aztecs already used these pods to flavor cocoa, a sacred food in their civilization.
It is a lianoid orchid, which is grown in trellises. The fruit is used, a hard, fibrous pod, green in color, with numerous seeds inside. It has a very sweet and perfumed taste.
The vanilla is used in the kitchen European and American, and is also integrated into various spice blends. However, much of the vanilla that is marketed is nothing more than a synthetic flavoring. Whole, pulverized or chopped pods are used.
With vanilla, sweets, cakes, cookies, creams, ice creams, custards, fruit salads are prepared, or teas, chocolates, liqueurs and even oils are flavored.
Dishes with vanilla : infusion of hibiscus and vanilla, pasta with prawns, parmesan and vanilla, egg cream with vanilla, chocolate mousse with vanilla, roasted apples with vanilla, crunchy cookies with vanilla and ginger.
Medicinal value : acts as a digestive and stomach tonic, combats gastrointestinal spasms, gas and heartburn. It is considered stimulating and is intended to mediate states of weakness, asthenia and sexual disinterest. With medicinally it is taken in decoction, infusion, syrup or liquid extract.
Related to ginger, it comes from India, Sri Lanka and China, but is also grown in Southeast Asia and the Philippines.
Turmeric is used from the rhizome , from which it obtains a dense, yellowish powder. It is the main ingredient in curry and other spice mixes. It has an intense, penetrating aroma, something spicy and perfumed. Turmeric should be used in small quantities, otherwise it may be somewhat bitter. It is intended for the preparation of sauces , dry condiments and in baking. Turmeric combines very well with most spices. It is excellent for seasoning meat and fish stews, on pickles, rice, pasta and salads.
Dishes with turmeric : vegetarian curry, chicken curry, curry rice, curried eggs, rice cake with vegetables and turmeric, fried wanton with yogurt sauce, leek cream with kefir and turmeric.
Medicinal Value: Turmeric is probably the most highly valued spice for its therapeutic potential . Hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antitumor, antioxidant, bactericidal and cardiotonic virtues are attributed to it. It is recommended to alleviate liver conditions such as hepatitis, in digestive disorders, to prevent the formation of stones in the gallbladder, to control cholesterol levels and protect the heart, to promote the reduction of body fat, and on the other hand its effects have been studied as support therapy for anti-tumor treatments . It is applied as a decoction, tincture, powder or liquid extract. Turmeric is an indispensable element of Indian Ayurvedic practice, which among other cases, is used to cure respiratory conditions and skin infections.
It comes from India, but it is also cultivated in North Africa (Egypt) and in Central America.
Sesame uses the tiny cream-white seeds , very rich in unsaturated fatty acids, mineral salts and vitamins of group B and E. It is highly appreciated in Arabic, Persian, Indian and Chinese cuisine, as well as in macrobiotic cuisine.
From these seeds an oil highly valued as a condiment is obtained, and with the tahini –paste or sesame butter– the well-known chickpea hummus is prepared. The seeds are also used to flavor oils, breads, cakes and pasta. Other presentations of sesame are sesame horchata, with blended seeds and taken cold, and sesame or gomasio salt , a good alternative to table salt, made with toasted seeds.
Dishes with sesame : assorted salad with beets and sesame, aubergine puree with sesame, pork skewers with sesame, tortilla tacos with seaweed and sesame, walnut and sesame cookies, halvah (sweet with honey and sesame).
Medicinal value : supposes a natural support to control the levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, and to prevent vascular accidents. It is vitaminic and remineralizing and is recommended for vegetarians, athletes, hikers and in the period of child growth, as well as in pregnancy.
Aromatic plants and herbs: uses and characteristics
Less exotic and much closer and more familiar are the aromatic plants that we use as condiments, and that many people include in the universe of spices, without being it. In this case, the plants are usually used fresh or dried, often whole –but generally crushed–, to give flavor to various stews, pasta, rice and soups. The leaves, flowering tops, but also fruits and seeds are used, depending on the case.
We can cultivate aromatic herbs ourselves if we have a suitable space at home, since they do not require extraordinary care. Most also provide us with their healing properties, mainly digestive, carminative, anti-inflammatory, expectorant or antiseptic.
These are some of the most appreciated aromatic herbs , their uses and characteristics:
Lipstick family, with an intense and refreshing flavor. The basil is used in cooking in salads, with tomatoes and eggplants and to make sauces as the famous Italian pesto sauce, indispensable for the pasta.
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Lauraceae family, with a penetrating and perfumed fragrance. The fresh or dried leaves are used to flavor meat or fish stews, pâtés, soups or vegetable creams.
Labiatae family, with a mild aroma but an intense flavor, somewhat acrid. The crushed flowery tops are used. The oregano sprinkled on pizzas, crêpes, salads and pastas on, and goes well with cheese, tomato and egg.
Compositae family, with a somewhat perfumed, floral flavor. It is used to season fish stews, to flavor sauces, soups and creams and it goes well with eggs, chicken and vinegar.
Lipstick family, with a penetrating aroma, somewhat resinous and minty and fresh. It is used to flavor meat stews, stews, with vegetables such as leek, with pasta and in various salads.
Umbelliferous family, with a very intense, slightly spicy aroma that does not please everyone. It is used to flavor soups and creams, in salads, stews, braised meats and also in desserts and drinks.
Labiatae family, with a fresh and penetrating aroma. In the kitchen it is used to season fish or meat stews, chicken, turkey and to make cleansing soups with dry bread and egg.
Labiatae family, with a fresh, intense and minty aroma. It is used mainly in baking, to decorate cakes, ice cream and sorbets, to flavor infusions , liqueurs and in jams.
Umbelliferous family, with an intense flavor, between aniseed and lemony. It is used to dress salads, to season vegetables, potato dishes, in sauces and in vegetable creams.
Other aromatic plants to consider
Rosemary , spearmint, lemon verbena, santolina, caraway, anise , marjoram , parsley, chervil, French chives, cumin , lemon balm , white radish, caper, chia , calaminta, nepeta, lavender , hyssop, water mint, etc.
The spice route
Most of the spices come from warm areas, in tropical and subtropical environments of Asia and to a lesser extent from South America or the Antilles. India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Southeast Asia and especially the islands of Indonesia, with the Moluccas or Celebes at the head, were the destination pursued by Europeans in their search for spices. Thus, spices were soon conceived as a symbol of economic power and social distinction, which promoted numerous expeditions, more or less adventurous and successful, such as those undertaken by the mythical Italian traveler Marco Polo already in the 11th century.
The spice business became so imposing that the Arabs tried to keep European navigators – Genoese, Portuguese, Catalan – away from their spice routes., to preserve the prosperous monopoly or they imposed high taxes on the way. To reach the precious spices, the expedition members had to undertake very long routes by land and sea, crossing deserts, plateaus, narrow valleys, rough seas, often facing inclement weather in the form of typhoons, hurricanes, floods or the force of the monsoon. , or the harassment of rambling bandits, all of which contributed to make these products enormously expensive.
So much so that that adventurer or navigator who managed to return from his dangerous expedition with a sack full of spices, had practically resolved his subsistence for life. And in certain periods, some spices, such as red pepperIt ended up being used as a currency of exchange, grain by grain, with which to exchange goods and services.
From the 15th and 16th century, the spice trade was dominated by the Portuguese, who managed to open new maritime routes and establish different ports of cargo and protection along that route, avoiding the mediation of intermediaries and achieving a monopoly in the sale of these spices to Europe. Mythical navigators such as Magellan or Vasco de Gama manage to reach the remote coasts of the islands of Southeast Asia, on legendary expeditions, and establish contact with native peoples to exploit the spice trade. Many of these expeditions had a tragic end, others instead obtained dazzling loot, which served as a spur for new adventurers. It is well known that the Colon himself what he wanted with his expedition was to find a shorter route to reach the East and access the spice trade.
Later, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it would be the Dutch fleet, more technified and modern, which would take over in the expeditions to the East, which was joined by the English and French who also managed to monopolize the sale of so sought after product.
The conditioning of the cultivation of some of these spices in nearby lands, such as Africa or even in nurseries and plantations in Europe itself, caused the price of them and the fever to obtain them to fall dramatically from the 19th century.
Today, however, some spices still require the climatic characteristics of their land of origin, and the raw material remains expensive. This is the case of vanilla , distorted by mediocre substitutes, turmeric , cardamom or even saffron , which is still being cultivated in some parts of Spain such as Teruel, but which has not ceased to be a luxury item.
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