A spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, or other plant substance
primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Spices are
distinguished from herbs, which are the leaves, flowers, or stems of
plants used for flavoring or as a garnish. Many spices have
antimicrobial properties. This may explain why spices are more
commonly used in warmer climates, which have more infectious diseases,
and why the use of spices is prominent in meat, which is particularly
susceptible to spoiling. Spices are sometimes used in medicine,
religious rituals, cosmetics or perfume production, or as a
1.1 Early history
1.2 Middle Ages
1.3 Early Modern Period
1.4 Contemporary history
2 Classification and types
2.1 Culinary herbs and spices
2.2 Botanical basis
2.3 Common spice mixtures
3 Handling spices
9 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
The spice trade developed throughout
South Asia and
Middle East by at
earliest 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.
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": species has the same root. 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.
Cloves were used in
Mesopotamia by 1700 BCE.[note 1] The ancient
Ramayana mentions cloves. The Romans had cloves in the 1st
century CE, as
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder wrote about them.
The earliest written records of spices come from ancient Egyptian,
Chinese, and Indian cultures. The Ebers Papyrus from Early Egyptians
that dates from 1550 B.C.E. 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
Indonesian merchants traveled around China, India, the Middle East,
and the east coast of Africa.
Arab merchants facilitated the routes
Middle East and India. This resulted in the Egyptian port
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
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 Mullus" Harvesting pepper. Illustration from a French edition of
The Travels of Marco Polo.
Spices were among the most demanded and expensive products available
in Europe in the Middle Ages, the most common being black pepper,
cinnamon (and the cheaper alternative cassia), cumin, nutmeg, ginger
and cloves. Given medieval medicine's main theory of humorism, spices
and herbs were indispensable to balance "humors" in food, a daily
basis for good health at a time of recurrent pandemics. In addition to
being desired by those using medieval medicine, the European elite
also craved spices in the Middle Ages. An example of the European
aristocracy's demand for spice comes from the King of Aragon, who
invested substantial resources into bringing back spices to
the 12th century. He was specifically looking for spices to put in
wine, and was not alone among European monarchs at the time to have
such a desire for spice.
Spices were all imported from plantations in Asia and Africa, which
made them expensive. From the 8th until the 15th century, the Republic
Venice had the monopoly on spice trade with the Middle East, and
along with it the neighboring Italian maritime republics and
city-states. The trade made the region rich. It has been estimated
that around 1,000 tons of pepper and 1,000 tons of the other
common spices were imported into Western Europe each year during the
Late Middle Ages. The value of these goods was the equivalent of a
yearly supply of grain for 1.5 million people. The most exclusive
was saffron, used as much for its vivid yellow-red color as for its
flavor. Spices that have now fallen into obscurity in European cuisine
include grains of paradise, a relative of cardamom which mostly
replaced pepper in late medieval north French cooking, long pepper,
mace, spikenard, galangal and cubeb.
Early Modern Period
Portugal were not happy to pay the high price that Venice
demanded for spices. The control of trade routes and the
spice-producing regions were the main reasons that Portuguese
Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama sailed to
India in 1499. When Gama
discovered the pepper market in India, he was able to secure peppers
for a much cheaper price than the ones demanded by Venice. At
around the same time,
Christopher Columbus returned from the New
World, he described to investors new spices available there.[citation
Another source of competition in the spice trade during the 15th and
16th century was the Ragusans from the maritime republic of Dubrovnik
in southern Croatia.
The military prowess of
Afonso de Albuquerque
Afonso de Albuquerque (1453–1515) allowed
the Portuguese to take control of the sea routes to India. In 1506, he
took the island of
Socotra in the mouth of the
Red Sea and, in 1507,
Ormuz in the Persian Gulf. Since becoming the viceroy of the Indies,
India in 1510, and
Malacca on the
Malay peninsula in
1511. The Portuguese could now trade directly with Siam, China, and
the Maluku Islands.
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.
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.
Classification and types
Culinary herbs and spices
Main article: List of culinary herbs and spices
Seeds, such as fennel, mustard, nutmeg, and black pepper
Fruits, such as Cayenne pepper
Arils, such as mace (part of nutmeg plant fruit)
Barks, such as cinnamon and cassia
Flower buds, such as cloves
Stigmas, such as saffron
Roots and rhizomes, such as turmeric, ginger and galingale
Resins, such as asafoetida
Common spice mixtures
Arab world, and the
Middle East in general)
Eritrea and Somalia)
Cajun (United States)
Chaat masala (
India and Pakistan)
Five-spice powder (China)
Garam masala (South Asia)
Harissa (North Africa)
Jerk spice (Jamaica)
Khmeli suneli (Georgia, former U.S.S.R.)
Masala (a generic name for any mix used in South Asia)
Mixed spice (United Kingdom)
Panch phoron (
India and Bangladesh)
Pumpkin pie spice
Pumpkin pie spice (United States)
Quatre épices (France)
Ras el hanout
Ras el hanout (North Africa)
Sharena sol (literally "colorful salt", Bulgaria)
Shichimi togarashi (Japan)
Belgium and Netherlands)
Za'atar (Middle East)
A typical home's kitchen shelf of spices in the
United States or
A spice may be available in several forms: fresh, whole dried, or
pre-ground dried. Generally, spices are dried. Spices may be ground
into a powder for convenience. 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. A fresh spice, such as
ginger, is usually more flavorful than its dried form, but fresh
spices are more expensive and have a much shorter shelf life. 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
To grind a whole spice, the classic tool is mortar and pestle. Less
labor-intensive tools are more common now: a microplane or fine grater
can be used to grind small amounts; a coffee grinder[note 2] is useful
for larger amounts. A frequently used spice such as black pepper may
merit storage in its own hand grinder or mill.
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.[note 3]
Ground spices are better stored away from light.[note 4]
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. This
contrasts to herbs which are usually added late in preparation.
A study by the
Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration of shipments of spices to
United States during fiscal years 2007-2009 showed about 7% of the
shipments were contaminated by
Salmonella bacteria, some of it
antibiotic-resistant. As most spices are cooked before being
served salmonella contamination often has no effect, but some spices,
particularly pepper, are often eaten raw and present at table for
convenient use. Shipments from Mexico and India, a major producer,
were the most frequently contaminated. However, with newly
developed radiation sterilization methods, the risk of Salmonella
contamination is now lower.
Because they tend to have strong flavors and are used in small
quantities, spices tend to add few calories to food, even though many
spices, especially those made from seeds, contain high portions of
fat, protein, and carbohydrate by weight. However, when used in larger
quantity, spices can also contribute a substantial amount of minerals
and other micronutrients, including iron, magnesium, calcium, and many
others, 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.
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.
India contributes 75% of global spice production.
Spice Producing Countries
(in metric tonnes)
Source: UN Food & Agriculture Organization
International Organization for Standardization
International Organization for Standardization addresses spices
and condiments, along with related food additives, as part of the
International Classification for Standards 67.220 series.
Indian Institute of Spices Research
Indian Institute of Spices Research in Kozhikode, Kerala, is
devoted exclusively to conducting research for ten spice crops: black
pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, garcinia, ginger, nutmeg, paprika,
The Gato Negro café and spice shop (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
A spice shop selling a variety of spices in Iran
Night spice shop in Casablanca, Morocco.
A spice shop in Taliparamba, India
Spices sold in Taliparamba, India
List of Indian spices
List of culinary herbs and spices
^ A team of archaeologists led by
Giorgio Buccellati excavating the
ruins of a burned-down house at the site of Terqa, in modern-day
Syria, found a ceramic pot containing a handful of cloves. The house
had burned down around 1720 BC and this was the first evidence of
cloves being used in the west before Roman times.
^ Other types of coffee grinders, such as a burr mill, can grind
spices just as well as coffee beans.
^ Nutmeg, in particular, suffers from grinding and the flavor will
degrade noticeably in a matter of days.
^ Light contributes to oxidation processes.
^ Thomas, Frédéric; Daoust, Simon P.; Raymond, Michel (2012). "Can
we understand modern humans without considering pathogens?".
Evolutionary Applications. 5 (4): 368–379.
doi:10.1111/j.1752-4571.2011.00231.x. ISSN 1752-4571.
^ a b Murdock, Linda (2001). A Busy Cook's Guide to Spices: How to
Introduce New Flavors to Everyday Meals. Bellwether Books. p. 14.
^ O'Connell, John (2016). The Book of Spice: From
Anise to Zedoary.
Pegasus Books. ISBN 978-1-68177-152-6.
^ Duke, J.A. (2002). CRC Handbook of Medicinal Spices. CRC Press.
p. 7. ISBN 978-1-4200-4048-7. Retrieved 2017-05-09.
^ Woodward, Penny (2003). "Herbs and Spices". In Katz. Encyclopedia of
Food and Culture. 2. Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 187–195 –
via Gale Virtual Reference Library.
^ Burkill, I.H. (1966). A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the
Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and
^ a b Freedman, Paul (2015-06-05). "Health, wellness and the allure of
spices in the Middle Ages". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Potent
Substances: On the Boundaries of Food and Medicine. 167: 47–53.
doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.10.065. PMID 25450779.
^ Adamson, Melitta Weiss (2004). Food in Medieval Times. Westport,
Conn: Greenwood Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-313-32147-7.
^ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, page 453, Gil Marks, John Wiley &
Sons, 2010. ISBN 9780470391303
^ "The Dark Truth Behind Powdered Spices: Garlic". Regency Spices for
China Business Limited.
^ a b Host:
Alton Brown (January 14, 2004). "
Spice Capades". Good
Eats. Season 7. Episode 14. Food Network.
^ Van Dorena, Jane M.; Daria Kleinmeiera; Thomas S. Hammacka; Ann
Westerman (June 2013). "Prevalence, serotype diversity, and
antimicrobial resistance of
Salmonella in imported shipments of spice
offered for entry to the United States, FY2007–FY2009". Food
Microbiology. Elsevier. 34 (2): 239–251.
doi:10.1016/j.fm.2012.10.002. Retrieved August 28, 2013. Shipments of
imported spices offered for entry to the
United States were sampled
during the fiscal years 2007–2009. The mean shipment prevalence for
Salmonella was 0.066 (95% CI 0.057–0.076)
^ Gardiner Harris (August 27, 2013). "
Salmonella in Spices Prompts
Changes in Farming". The New York Times. Retrieved August 28,
^ USDA National Nutrient Database: Nutrient data for 02028, Spices,
paprika, Retrieved August 26, 2012
^ Ninfali, Paolino; Mea, Gloria; Giorgini, Samantha; Rocchi, Marco;
Bacchiocca, Mara (2007). "
Antioxidant capacity of vegetables, spices
and dressings relevant to nutrition". British Journal of Nutrition. 93
(02): 257–66. doi:10.1079/BJN20041327. ISSN 0007-1145.
^ "Production of
Spice by countries". UN Food & Agriculture
Organization. 2011. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011.
Retrieved December 20, 2013.
^ "67.220: Spices and condiments. Food additives". International
Organization for Standardization. 2009. Retrieved April 23,
Czarra, Fred (2009). Spices: A Global History. Reaktion Books.
p. 128. ISBN 978-1-86189-426-7.
Dalby, Andrew (2000). Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices.
University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-23674-5.
Freedman, Paul (2008). Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval
Imagination. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-21131-3.
Keay, John (2006). The
Spice Route: A History. John Murray.
Krondl, Michael (2008). The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of
the Three Great Cities of Spice. Random House.
Miller, James Innes (1969). The spice trade of the Roman Empire, 29
B.C. to A.D. 641. Oxford: Clarendon P. ISBN 0-19-814264-1.
Morton, Timothy (2006). The Poetics of Spice: Romantic Consumerism and
the Exotic. Cambridge University Press.
Turner, Jack (2004). Spice: The History of a Temptation. Knopf.
Spice Survey Shows Why Some Cultures Like It Hot".
ScienceDaily. March 5, 1998. Retrieved December 20, 2008. ...Garlic,
onion, allspice and oregano, for example, were found to be the best
all-around bacteria killers (they kill everything)
Sallam, Kh.I.; Ishioroshi, M; Samejimab, K. (December 2004).
Antioxidant and antimicrobial effects of garlic in chicken sausage".
Lebensm. Wiss. Technol. 37 (8): 849–855.
doi:10.1016/j.lwt.2004.04.001. PMC 1805705 .
Billing, Jennifer; Sherman, Paul W. (March 1998). "Antimicrobial
Functions of Spices: Why Some Like it Hot". The Quarterly Review of
Biology. 73 (1): 3–49. doi:10.1086/420058. PMID 9586227.
"Common Kitchen Spices Kill E. Coli O157:H7". August 18, 1998. ...The
study is the first in the
United States that looks at the effect of
common spices on E. coli O157:H7. Previous studies have concluded
spices kill other foodborne pathogens. 'In the first part of our
study, we tested 23 spices against E. coli O157:H7 in the laboratory',
Fung said. 'We found that several spices are good at killing this
strain of E. coli.'
"Spice". Encyclopedia of Spices,
Spice Blends by Region, The Spice
Trade. Retrieved December 20, 2008.
International Organization for Standardization
International Organization for Standardization (2009). "67.220: Spices
and condiments. Food additives". Retrieved April 23, 2009.
Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Cookbook:Spices and herbs
The dictionary definition of spice at Wiktionary
Media related to
Spice at Wikimedia Commons
Spices in the 16th century Tudor time on YouTube
Culinary herbs and spices
Indian bay leaf (tejpat)
garlic / Chinese
Coriander leaf / Cilantro
Vietnamese (rau răm)
Houttuynia cordata (giấp cá)
Kinh gioi (Vietnamese balm)
Limnophila aromatica (rice-paddy herb)
Aonori (ground seaweed)
Amchoor (mango powder)
Aromatic ginger (kencur)
Grains of Paradise
Grains of Selim
Pomegranate seed (anardana)
Shiso seeds / berries
Peppercorn (black / green / white)
Beau monde seasoning
Herbes de Provence
Jamaican jerk spice
Montreal steak seasoning
Old Bay Seasoning
Pumpkin pie spice
Ras el hanout
Lists and related topics
Lists of herbs and spices
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Central African Republic
Ivorian (Côte d'Ivoire)
São Tomé and Príncipe
Trinidadian and Tobagonian
Early modern European
Historical South Asian
History of seafood
History of vegetarianism
Note by Note
List of cuisines
Lists of prepared foods
Non-timber forest products
Edible plants / roots
Saffron milk cap
Chaulmoogra (Hydnocarpus wightiana)
Sal-seed (Shorea robusta)
Sap / Gum / etc.
Dehesa (Iberian agroforestry)
Forest farming / gardening
Indian forest produce