Spices give aromas and tastes to foods that cannot be gotten from any other seasoning, including herbs. Spices and herbs possess different qualities and come from different parts of a plant. While herbs usually come from the leaves of plants, spices originate from their roots, buds, bark, dried fruit or seeds. Spices generally come from plants grown in the Asian, Caribbean, Central American and Mediterranean regions. Their flavors range from heavy and pungent to light and fruity.
Curcuma longa, a bright yellow root plant, gives the spice turmeric its hue. Turmeric tastes like a combination of ginger and pepper and resembles the ginger root in appearance. It gives mustard its color and relishes, pickles and chutneys, their flavor. Turmeric is often found in curry mixtures. The Curcuma longa root originates in India, China and Peru. The Indian type tends toward an orange-yellow color, while the Chinese type possesses a more-brownish caste.
Cloves -- long, narrow, unopened flower buds -- have a reddish-brown color and a strong, sweet aroma. Used in many northeastern Indian dishes, cloves also spice up condiments, such as ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and salad dressings. Certain types of meat and cookies contain cloves. Clove trees cover many acres of Zanzibar and Madagascar, its two major exporters. Indonesia has the distinction of being the largest producer of cloves.
The sun-dried inner bark of certain types of evergreen trees, commonly known as cinnamon, belongs to the genus Cinnamomum. In its ground-up form, cinnamon flavors baked goods, puddings, fruit, cereal and confections. Commonly found in Indian and Asian dishes, cinnamon is exported from Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Black pepper, made from the green berries of the vine Piper nigrum, ferments before drying in the Sun. The resulting product is a brownish-black, shriveled berry. The uses of black pepper, on its own or blended with other spices or herbs, spans a wide range of foods in just about every cuisine worldwide.
Cumin, a member of the parsley family, is a seed from the herb Cuminum cyminum. However, it plays an key role in the spice mixtures of chili powder and curry powder. Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese and Indian food would not be the same without it. It possesses a pungent flavor and a yellow-brown color.
- The Spice Trader: What Are Spices?
- McCormick Science Institute: Spices & Herbs: Turmeric
- McCormick Science Institute: Spices & Herbs: Cloves
- McCormick Science Institute: Spices & Herbs: Cinnamon
- McCormick Science Institute: Spices & Herbs: Black Pepper
- McCormick Science Institute: Spices & Herbs: Cumin
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
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