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Spice School: A – F


** This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Ajwain Seeds:

Flavor and Aroma: Very similar to Thyme, not as minty, but stronger and more peppery.

FYI: Ajwain Seeds do contain Thymol, which is the essential oil in Thyme, and why they taste similar!

Benefits: Thymol has very strong astringent properties, and is effective in battling viral, fungal and bacterial conditions. May be used to relieve pain and gas in digestive disorders, and also used to relieve symptoms of sore throats, and even bad breath! In parts of India they use this seed to cure everything from Migraines (from the smoke of heating the seed) to infertility, and sinus problems! Roasting them to release their vapors, then putting them in a muslin sack and keeping it near the pillow while you sleep was said to cure nasal congestion and asthma.

Allspice:

Flavor and Aroma: Strong in both flavor and aroma, with an intense fragrance, Peppery but a hint of sweetness. Allspice is a combination of clove, nutmeg and pepper.

FYI: Allspice berries are smooth and round, like a large version of peppercorns, but they are actually the seeds of the Pimento tree, which grows throughout South America and the Caribbean. It is called the “Pepper of the Caribbean” as it is the main flavor in Jerk Chicken and other Caribbean dishes! In the 18th century, Russian soldiers often rubbed Allspice over their bodies as a deodorant…Hmmm… maybe that is where the men’s deodorant line of “OLD spice” came from??

Benefits: Allspice is useful as a digestive aid for gas, bloating and nausea. Also helps regulate Blood Sugar levels, for appetite control, and is effective for mild pain relief for headaches, cramps, arthritis and toothaches.

Basil:

Flavor and Aroma: Slightly astringent, but sweet with a minty taste, a heady but calming fragrance.

FYI: Basil has been known as the ‘tomato herb’…because it pairs so well with tomatoes.

Benefits: Taken as a tea can be used to relieve symptoms from colds, sore throats and fever. As a poultice, Basil can reduce symptoms of mouth and skin infections, and even ringworm.

Bay Leaves:

Flavor and Aroma: Pungent, and complex, an astringent bitter/sweet with a hint of citrus and pepper. Cuts the richness of Pork and Lamb very well, pairs well with shellfish!

FYI: The educational title of “baccalaureate” comes from the Ancient Greek practice of decorating graduates with Laurel garlands. The Bay leaf from Turkey is the only authentic Bay Laurel plant, while the leaves from India and California are from other species.

Benefits: The anti-fungal and antiseptic properties help with skin infections, and when steeped as a tea, the anti-inflammatory properties can help with joint and muscle pain and rheumatism.

Caraway Seed:

Flavor and Aroma: Earthy and peppery with a hint of licorice, as they are related to Cumin and Anise.

FYI: Be careful not to confuse them with Cumin seeds, as Caraway has been called Persian Cumin, but they are curved seeds like half moons, and Cumin are flat seeds. They are used in breads in many countries, and the Germans use them to make a liqueur. They have been roasted with sugar, and used to spice desserts and salads.

Benefits: They have long been used for helping digestion, and eliminating gas.

Cardamom Seeds:

Flavor and Aroma: Black Cardamom is strong, smoky and warm, while Green Cardamom is Warm, lemony with a hint of sweetness.

FYI: Cardamom and Vanilla are the second most expensive spices in the world, next to Saffron! Most feel that Green Cardamom is the superior spice, but in some applications, the Black version is the best one to use. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it for an aphrodisiac and added it to their ‘love potions’!

Benefits: Cardamom also has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties. Aids digestion by stimulating digestive juices and thereby reducing gas. Used in a tea formulation, it is beneficial to the urinary tract by cleansing the kidneys.

Celery Seed:

Flavor and Aroma: The seed has a pungent, slightly salty and astringent flavour, just like celery.

FYI: There is a volatile Oil from Celery Seed which is used in the making of Perfumes, and also in Pharmaceuticals! That volatile oil contains Monoterpenes, which are phytonutrients and found in orange peels, cherries, caraway seeds, peppermint and spearmint. Monoterpenes are what give most herbs, and plants like Lavender their beautiful fragrances! These Monoterpenes have been garnering huge attention in the medical community as they have been showing effective in treating certain cancers.

Cilantro:

Flavor and Aroma: A bright and herbaceous flavour, similar to parsley but with a citrus overtone!

FYI: Cilantro is also known as Chinese Parsley, and the seeds are known as Coriander. All parts of the plant are edible and used for seasoning, even the root is ground and used in Curry. Cilantro was introduced to North America by the English, and dates back to Biblical times. There is an online ‘club’ of people who hate the taste of Cilantro! For some, it leaves a ‘soapy’ taste in their mouth, but it is an essential ‘flavor component’ to the native cuisines of Mexico, South America, India, Africa and even Scandinavia! Cilantro leaves loose their flavor quickly, and are best used fresh or added to foods just before serving.

Benefits: Cilantro is one of the herbs with multi benefits, and that is reason enough to love it! It is high in anti-inflammatory properties, and also is a good source of iron, magnesium and fiber! In Europe it is known as the ‘anti-Diabetic Plant’ as it can help with lowering Blood sugar. Cilantro also contains many phytonutrients and flavonoids (anti-oxidants), and is rich in Chlorophyll which ‘alkalizes’ the body, and helps lower bad cholesterol while raising the good kind.

Cinnamon:

Flavor and Aroma: Very warm and fragrant with a complex flavour of woods, citrus and sweet.

FYI: There is a more common impostor of cinnamon called Cassia, which is bolder and sweeter, but less complex. Most of the cinnamon on the store shelves is actually the cheaper Cassia, and not the original milder Ceylon Cinnamon. One of the best Cassia varieties is the Saigon Vietnamese grown, as it has the highest oil content, for flavor and aroma! According to studies, smelling cinnamon can boost memory!

Benefits: Cinnamon has been known for a long time to stabilize blood sugar levels, which may be why many cultures use this spice in sweet desserts! Cinnamon has antibacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties, and because of its warming properties can help with joint pain! It is also a source of iron, magnesium, calcium and fiber!

Coriander:

Flavor and Aroma: A pungent combination of citrus rind and sage, with a hint of sweetness. Coriander is the seed from the Cilantro Plant. For Benefits, see Cilantro.

Cumin:

Flavor and Aroma: Warm, and powerful, earthy with a slightly bitter and pungent tone. Cumin is that distinctive aroma in Chilli Con Carne, or seasoning for Tacos.

FYI: There is an ancient folklore around cumin in that it helps people and animals to not stray far from home. So it was prudent that a bride and groom should carry Cumin on their wedding day to ensure a happy life! And in Europe Cumin was given to soldiers as they went off to war, so they would return home.

Benefits: Cumin is a great source of iron, and used to create hemoglobin -essential for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Cumin has antiseptic properties as well, and may be applied topically as a paste to relieve boils and skin infections. It also aids the digestive system by reducing indigestion, gas and nausea or diarrhea.

Curry Leaves:

Flavor and Aroma: Powerful, Pungent, Smokey and Lemony, with heat.

FYI: Curry leaves are not to be confused with Curry Powder, as they are totally different. Curry Leaves are not a component of most commercial Curry powders, but are used in some original curries in Indian cuisine.  When the British colonized India, they created a Curry Powder that contained many spices, for their own British citizens, to quickly recreate the Indian stews to suit them.

Benefits: Western research has shown this plant to be very helpful in managing diabetes and may even help reverse it.

Curry Powder:

Flavor and Aroma: Because of the many varieties of Curry Powder, their different preparations, and different infusions of spice according to the area or culture they are associated with, I cannot give specific information other than to say that most Curry Powders are a mixture of the following: Fennel Seeds, Chillies, Paprika, Cumin, Tumeric, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Black Pepper, Coriander and Fenugreek.

All of these spices individually have tremendous health benefits, which you can read about here.

Dill Weed:

Flavor and Aroma: Light, and herbaceous aroma with a sweet, and peppery bite, like Caraway and Mint together. It should be used at the end of cooking for best flavour, and pairs well with Fish, Green Leafy Lettuces, Potatoes, Yogurt and Lamb.

FYI: In the Middle Ages, it was considered magical, and would ward off a curse if drank in a tea. The Romans and Greeks considered it a sign of wealth, or good fortune. It is often confused with Fennel as the fronds are fluffy and fern like, but they have different flavors.

Benefits: Dill is high in Vitamin C, is high in Minerals, mostly Calcium, and also contains flavonoids, and Monoterpenes – see Celery Seed. It is very effective in calming a gassy stomach.

Fennel Seed:

Flavor and Aroma: A licorice fragrance and flavor similar to anise, but lighter with a hint of pepper.

FYI: Although all the parts of the Fennel Plant are used in many cuisines, the actual bulb has different cultural folklore attached to it! The Anglo-Saxons considered it one of their Nine Sacred Herbs, along with Thyme, and Watercress. The English hung it over their doorway to ward off evil during the Summer Solstice.

Benefits: It is high in Vitamin C, and the mineral Potassium. Pliny, a Roman naturalist recorded that snakes ate the plant, and then rubbed their eyes over it after sloughing their skin, and to this day, herbalists use it to treat pinkeye and conjunctavitis. Herbalists also recommend it brewed as a tea to help digest fatty foods. The Fennel fronds are also used with pine cones, to ward off fleas from stables!

Fenugreek Seeds:

Flavor and Aroma: Very Distinctive aroma, heady, and a bit citrusy, powerful, warm and sweet sometimes used to replace Maple Flavor or Vanilla flavour!

FYI: Ancient Egyptians used it in the embalming process, and also as it still is today, used to increase lactation in nursing mothers.

Benefits: Fenugreek leaves have been used as a poultice for burns, and recent research shows it may inhibit liver cancer. It has also been used as a digestive aid and help in the treatment of diabetes.