​Spices: some history and uses

​Spices: some history and uses

Posted by The Wares Team on 18th May 2022

Spices have been used to flavour dishes and to provide medicinal properties since man began to cook over fires. These highly pungent, nutritionally dense and prized ingredients come from seeds, leaves, roots and berries, and they are used in tiny amounts to provide flavour, scent, colour, vitamins and minerals.

Spices can be sweet and savoury, and many are associated with certain cuisines and dishes. For example, a Moroccan tagine would never taste authentic without cumin, German sausage relies on smoked paprika and Indian dishes gain their warmth, colour and flavour from turmeric.

The history of spices

Historians have found evidence of spice use since man's very beginnings. From Biblical times, these ingredients were becoming highly prized. Over the centuries, spice would be used as a currency to trade, for religious ceremonies, to ward off evil spirits, for burial rituals and to help preserve food. Ancient spice jars have been found containing favourites such as cinnamon and saffron; both of which are referenced in The Bible.

In Ancient Egypt spices were used widely, and garlic and onion were particularly valued. Labourers building Egyptian pyramids consumed both to build their strength and vigour, and spice jars containing coriander, pepper, cumin and fennel were found buried along with Kings. The Egyptians also cooked regularly with cinnamon and cardamon which they imported from Ethiopia.

Ancient China was also associated heavily with spice use. The Chinese used cassia for medicinal purposes and third-century courtiers gargled with cloves to keep their breath fresh. By the fifth century, the Chinese were also growing spices in pots and carrying them on long boat journeys. Other cultures from across the globe grew their own use of spices depending on their local climates and topography. For example, Mediterranean cooking has long used tarragon, basil, oregano and thyme. Mexico pioneered the use of vanilla in their prized hot chocolate, made with raw cacao for health and vitality.

In the ancient and middle ages, the spice trade was heavily monopolized and protected. However today, spice commerce is highly decentralised and species are used across the world to add flavour and for the nutritional benefits. In fact spice use is so ubiquitous that astronauts even have certain spices blended into their food. This was first carried out in 1982 as part of the United States space shuttle program. Today's home cooks are keen to experience food from different ethnic cultures, and spice usage is growing exponentially. In fact chilli pepper and ginger are just two spices that are now used more frequently than ever before. Many people are also taking spice blends to benefit their health. For example, different teas, tinctures and supplements are used to manage weight, boost cognition and help heart function. This willingness to experiment in the kitchen is opening up a new world of spices, which are now used in everything from health tinctures to traditional beauty preparations. An example of this is the ancient Indian system of Ayurveda, which uses spices to balance out every person's dosha, or physical and mental type.

Getting the most from spices

A spice blend can completely change the flavour and profile of your food. Consider the addition of a BBQ rub to your meat for example, or the use of cardamom, ginger and aniseed in a spicy mug of chai. Different cuisines rely on different spice blends, and have often created their own delicious combinations, such as Ras-al-hanout in Moroccan cooking. This blend varies from kitchen to kitchen and according to taste, and it combines ginger, cardamon, mace, cinnamon, allspice, coriander, nutmeg, turmeric, pepper, anise seed and cloves. Garam masala is blended between kitchens in India for Indian cuisine. Again, the exact recipe will depend on the cook's preference but the blend features in nearly all curry dishes and provides a rich, warming flavour with incredible depth.

You can easily make your own spice blends with a pestle and mortar, and then store them in a spice jar. Spice glass jars are a good choice, as the glass will not absorb the aromas or flavour of the spices and so you can reuse them almost endlessly. It's best to store spice jars away from light and heat, as the volatile oils in spice can degrade very quickly. Many cooks will prefer to store raw spices in glass spice glass jars before they are needed, and then prepare them at the point of cooking. As an example, you could store cinnamon sticks and then break them into your liquid as you prepare a recipe.

Stock up at Wares

Whether you need a single spice jar or a bulk order of glass spice jars, Wares of Knutsford is your first choice for a large and competitively priced product range coupled with superb service. We pride ourselves on offering excellent customer satisfaction, and we have a very loyal customer base as a result. Follow us on social media and sign up to our newsletter for all of the latest news, product releases and special offers and look out for our special delivery rates on bulk orders for small businesses.