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home > food & wine dictionary > spices

Food and Wine Dictionary

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Pungent or aromatic seasonings obtained from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or stems of various plants and trees (whereasHERBS usually come from theleafy part of a plant). Spices were prized long before recorded history. Thoughthey've always been used to flavor food and drink, throughout the eons spiceshave also been favored for a plethora of other uses including crowning emperors,making medicines and perfumes, religious ceremonies and as burial accoutrementsfor the wealthy. Over 3,000 years ago the Arabs monopolized the spice trade,bringing their rare cargo back from India and the Orient by arduous camelcaravans. During the Middle Ages the demand for spices was so high that theybecame rich commodities — a pound of mace could buy three sheep and the sameamount of peppercorns could buy freedom for a serf. By that time Venice had atight hold on Western commerce and controlled the incredibly lucrative Europeanspice trade. That Venetian monopoly was an important catalyst for the expeditionsthat resulted in the discovery of the New World. Today, the United States is theworld's major spice buyer. Among the more popular spices are ALLSPICE, CARDAMOM, CINNAMON, CLOVES, GINGER, MACE, NUTMEG, PAPRIKA, PEPPER, SAFFRON and TURMERIC. Spices are also sold in blends,such as CURRY POWDER andSPICE PARISIENNE. Many spices areavailable in both whole and ground forms. Ground spices quickly lose their aromaand flavor, so it's wise to buy them in small quantities. Whole spices can beground as needed. Store spices in airtight containers in a cool, dark place forno more than 6 months. Spices are used to enhance a wide variety of food, bothsweet and savory. They should be used sparingly so they don't overpower the foodsbeing seasoned. See  also  ANISE; CARAWAY SEED; CAYENNE PEPPER; CELERY SEED; CHILI POWDER; CORIANDER; CUMIN; DUKKA; FENNEL; MUSTARD; RAS EL HANOUT; RED PEPPER; SANSHO; SESAME SEED; SZECHUAN PEPPER;ZAHTAR. See also HERB AND SPICE CHART.

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Material adapted from the The New Food Lover's Companion

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on
THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

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