Today, spice use is ubiquitous, but spices are far more important in some cuisines than others. "Japanese dishes are often described as delicate, Indonesian and Szechwan as 'hot,' and middle European and Scandinavian dishes as 'bland'" (Sherman and Billing, 1999).
"Cookbooks generally distinguish between seasonings (spices used in food preparation) and condiments (spices added after food is served), but not between herbs and spices" (Sherman and Billing, 1999). Herbs "are defined botanically (as plants that do not develop woody, persistent tissue), usually are called for in their fresh state, whereas spices generally are dried." 93% of recipes call for at least one spice. "On average, recipes called for nearly four, but some lacked spices, especially in temperate countries or in vegetarian dishes. Others had up to 12 spices. In 10 countries, Ethiopia, Kenya, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, and Thailand, every meat-based recipe required at least one spice. In Scandinavia, one-third of the recipes had no spices. Vegetable dishes are almost always less spicy than meat dishes, a clue that leads Sherman and Hash (2001) to argue that the spices evolved as antimicrobial agents. I agree.
Black pepper and onion were used more frequently (63 and 65%) than garlic, 35%, chilis, 24%, lemon and lime juice, 23%, parsley, 22%, ginger, 16%, and bay leaf, 13%. Then came coriander, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, thyme, paprika, sweet pepper, cumin, celery, turmeric, allspice, mustard, cardamom, saffron, mint, dill, oregano, basil, lemongrass, sesame, tamarind, sage, rosemary, anise, marjoram, caraway, capers, tarragon, juniper, fenugreek, horseradish, fennel, and savory (Sherman and Hash, 2001). Those that I fail to include in this book, I have covered earlier in my Culinary Herbs (Duke, 1985) and/or Living Liqueurs (Duke, 1987). I anticipate a CRC Handbook of Medicinal Culinary Herbs as a sequel to this spice book, lamenting that there is no clear-cut line between the definitions of spice and culinary herb. But all are medicinal.
Here I use statistics more appropriate for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in America. For more recent statistics, see the USDA web site: http://www.fas.usda.gov/ustrade
Spices ranked according to the most valuable imports to the U.S. are:
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