A Brief History of Spices

Spices have been used for many purposes for thousands of years. Egyptian papyri dating back as far as 2800 B.C., identify several spices native to the Middle and Far East, that were used by ruling and priestly classes for therapeutic, cosmetic, medicinal, ritualistic, and culinary purposes.

By 300 A.D. the Romans were regularly importing spices for use as perfume, medicine, preservatives and ingredients from China and India via long, difficult caravan journeys over land and sea. Spices were extremely expensive and unavailable to all but the wealthiest of citizens.

After the fall of Rome, in the 2nd half of the 5th Century A.D., much of the land route through Europe fell prey to bandits. In 1453, after the fall of Constantinople, the spice routes through the Middle East were controlled by the Ottoman Turks. Spice costs soared and economies based upon the spice trade, such as that of Venice, were at risk.

By that time, highly spiced food became the norm, especially in wealthy households. So, in part to maintain their culinary norm, the Europeans set out to break the Ottoman Turk monopoly. These efforts lead to Columbus' discovery of the Americas and Vasco De Gamas' discovery of the sea route to India. Although the New World contained none of the spices for which Columbus was searching, it did provide many previously unknown foods and flavourings that changed European tables forever. Those foods and flavourings include chillies, tomatoes, vanilla, potatoes, and chocolate.

Formation of the Dutch East India Company in 1602 marked the start of the Dutch colonial empire and made spices available to the growing European middle class. The transportation and cultivation of spice plants eventually weakened the once-powerful trading companies, until by the 19th Century no European country could monopolize trade. Therefore prices fell dramatically. Essentially making spices affordable for all.

Difference Between Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are used as flavourings for various foods.

Herbs refer to the large group of plants whose leaves, stems or flowers are used to add flavour to other foods. Most herbs are available both fresh and dried, but because drying alters the flavour, fresh is preferred.

Spices on the other hand, are the bark, roots, seeds, buds or berries of plants, most of which grow naturally only in tropical climates. Spices are most always used in their dried form, and can be purchased whole or ground.

Some plants, for example Dill, can be used as both an herb (its leaves) and as a spice (its seeds).


BASIL strong, warm, slightly peppery flavour with a hint of cloves stuffing, chicken, Bolognese sauce, lasagne, grilled prawns (shrimp), omelettes, macaroni and cheese, minestrone soup baked potatoes, carrots, eggplant, home baked bread, savory scones
BAY (a.k.a. SWEET LARUAL) sweet balsamic aroma and peppery flavour traditional part of bouquet garni, also used in tomato sauces
CHEVRIL (a.k.a. SWEET CICELY) delicate flavour similar to parsley, but with distinctive aroma of anise common in French cuisine
CHIVES mild onion flavour meatloaves, seafood, quiches, herb sauces, potato soup, garlic and herb bread
CILANTRO (a.k.a. CHINESE PARSLEY) sharp and tangy with a strong aroma and an almost citrus flavour used in Asian, Mexican, and South American cuisines, especially salads and sauces
DILL tastes similar to parsley, but sharper and with a hint of anise chicken, fish fillets, omelettes, white sauces, potato salad, tomatoes, making pickles
GARLIC POWDER garlic in the powdered form casseroles, marinades, stir-frys pasta sauces, mixed with butter for prawns or lobster, french dressing, any soup, stuffed mushrooms, garlic bread
MARJORAM similar to thyme, but sweeter and with a stronger aroma chicken salad, homemade sausage, marinades, stir-fry, Hollandaise Sauce, tomato based soups, glazed onions pumpkin and potatoes, cheese and herb bread
MINT, SPEARMINT tart aroma and flavour fruits, fatty meats such as lamb, chocolate, brewed into a beverage, garnish
MINT, PEPPERMINT sharp menthol flavour and aroma used mostly as a garnish, but peppermint oil is often used in flavouring candies
OREGANO (aka WILD MARJORAM) pungent and peppery in flavour Italian chicken, pasta sauces, omelettes, flavouring for vinegars and oils for salads, garnish, garlic bread
ONION POWDER onion marinades, goulash, most egg dishes, soup and stock bases, all vegetables, cheese and onion bread
PARSLEY tangy and clean flavour seasonings, bread coatings, meat sauces, chowders, fish stuffing's, eggs, cream sauces, garnish
ROSEMARY highly aromatic, with a slight odor of camphor or pine roasted or grilled lamb, marinades, minestrone or tomato soups, eggplant, zucchini, pan fried potatoes, savoury herbed breads
SAGE strong and balsamic flavour with notes of camphor poultry dishes, stuffing's, fatty meats, brewed as a beverage
SAVORY sharp, bitter flavour similar to that of thyme bean dishes, sausages, herbed mixtures
TARRAGON strong flavoured and diffuses into foods quickly goes well with fish, tomato dishes, and is a essential to many French dishes such as béarnaise sauce
THYME strong refined flavour with hints of sage pork, beef, poultry, fish, shellfish, vegetables, stuffing's, marinades, omelettes, and is often used on a bouquet garni


ALLSPICE (aka JAMAICAN PEPPER) is not a blend of spices. Its flavour tastes like a blend of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg cakes, curries and often found in peppercorn blends
ANISE strong sweet flavour similar to liquorice and fennel pastries, fish, shellfish, vegetables, and is most common in beverages (pernod and ouzo)
CAPERS sharp, salty-sour flavour after curing in strongly salted white vinegar sauces such as tartare and remoulade, also used with fish and game
CARAWAY small, crescent-shaped brown seed with the peppery flavour of rye breads, meats and cabbage (used to make weck rolls)
CARDAMOM highly aromatic, flavour is lemony with notes of camphor sweet and savoury dishes, breads and pastries
CHILLIES (including PAPRIKA, CHILE PEPPERS, AND CAYENNE, are members of the CAPSICUM plant family) various shapes, sizes, and a wide range of flavours, from sweet to extremely hot see each individual spice for uses
CAYENNE- ground blend of several particularly hot types of dried red chile peppers, extremely hot and pungent, bright orange-red in colour
PAPRIKA- a.k.a. HUNGARIAN PEPPER- flavour ranges from sweet to pungent and the aroma is distinctive and strong
CHILE POWDERS- range in flavour from sweet and mild to extremely hot and pungent
CRUSHED CHILLIES- a.k.a. CHILE FLAKES- blended from dry coarsely crushed chillis and tend to be quite hot
CAYENNE- curries, stir-frys, mexican sauses, bbq prawns, hot noodle or rice soups, tomatoe dishes
PAPRIKA- essential to many Spanish and eastern European dishes
CHILE POWDERS- finest, purest chilie powders come from dried chilies that have been roasted, ground and sieved. Commercial chilli powder, and American invention, is actually a combination of spices (oregano, cumin, garlic, onion, and others), and is intended for use in Mexican dishes.
CRUSHED CHILES- used in sauces and meat dishes
CINNAMON tastes similiar to CASSIA but a bit stronger. CASSIA is a cousin to cinnamon and has a less cinnamon flavour pastries and sweets, lamb and spicy dishes
CLOVES pungent with a sweet, astringent aroma desserts, meat dishes, preserves and liquors
CORRIANDER (seeds from the CILANTRO plant) distinctive, sweet, spicy flavour and a strong aroma. Though they come from the CILANTRO plant, they may NOT be substituted for one another Indian cuisine, and pickling mixtures
CUMIN powdery, earthy flavour and tends to dominate the flavour of dishes in which it is used Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican dishes, curries of all sorts, chili con carne, chowders, chutneys, curry soups, cabbage, beans
FENNEL taste and aroma similiar to that of anise though not as sweet Italian stews and sausages, Centreal European cuisines use with fish, pork, pickles, and vegetables. Ground seeds can be used in breads, cakes and cookies
GINGER fiery but sweet, with notes of lemon and rosemary chicken, casseroles, stews, marinades, teriyaki sauce, stir-fry, pumpkin soup, brandies, cookies, pineapple upside-down cake
NUTMEG flavour and aroma are strong and sweet, a little goes a long way pastries, sweets, chicken casseroles, homemade sausages, white sauces, creamed potatoes, apple pies, brandy sauces, custards
POPPYSEEDS round and hard with a sweet, nutty flavour breads, pastries, and some dressings for salads
SAFFRON should be orange in colour not yellow, with a strong aroma, and bitter honeylike taste fish and shellfish, rice, baked chicken
SESAME SEEDS mild nutty flavour used in breads, pastries, some candies, and as a garnish
TUMERIC (a.k.a. INDIAN SAFFRON) distinctive and strong flavour and should NOT be used as a substitue for SAFFRON. Due to being yellow in colour, it is often used as a food colouring and dye. It is also a traditional ingredient in Indian curries, to which it imparts its colour and flavour.


CHINESE FIVE-SPICE POWDER combination of pepper, star anise, cloves, cimmamon and fennel seed Chinese and Vietnamese foods, excellent with pork
CURRY European invention which probably took its name from the Tamil word kari meaning sauce. black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, ginger, mace, and tumeric. Some are mild and sweet (Bombay or Chinese style) while others are hot and pungent (Madras style) curried dishes, including chicken, eggs, soups and others
PICKLING SPICE black peppercorns, red chilies, allspice, cloves, ginger, mustard seed, coriander, bay leaves and dill cucumber or vegetable pickles, stews, and soups
QUATRE-EPICES ("FOUR SPICES" IN FRENCH) a peppery blend of black peppercorns, nutmeg, cloves and dried ginger. Ocassionaly cinnamon or allspice is included. charcuterie and long simmered stews

Since it was mentioned several times above, here is the proper way to make a BOUQUET GARNI and SACHET:
Bouquet garni is a selection of herbs (usually fresh) and vegetables tied into a bundle with twine. A standard bouquet consists of parsley stems, celery, thyme, leeks, and carrots.
A sachet (a.k.a. sachet d'epices) is made by tying seasonings together in cheesecloth. A standard sachet consists of peppercorns, parsley stems, thyme, cloves and garlic.
Bouquets and sachets are used to add flavours in such a way that the ingredients may be easily removed once the proper flavour has been achieved.