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Geographic Spice Index


In this index, you will find spices ordered according to the region they probably stem from. Since spice trade is nearly as old as humanity itself, we cannot reconstruct the natural occurrence of spice plants in all cases.

For every region, I have included the most important spices used in present-day local cuisine. Of course, this information cannot be exhaustive, in part because spice usage may differ even in relatively small regions and in part because since I have not travelled to all these places, I rely on second-hand information, which is rather sparse about some topics.

You may find that this index is rather Asia-centered; although certainly true, I claim that this is not due to my personal interest in Indian and South-East Asian cooking, but rather due to the fact that nearly all spices important in our days are of Asian origin (exclude allspice, vanilla and chile from this statement). Therefore, it seemed convenient to split up the Asian section of this index in several parts, while only one section deals with African or American spices, respectively.

This index contains short hints about more than 60 herbs and spices that are not treated on my pages. Some of these spices are very obscure, have highly specialized (often non-culinary) applications, are only used in a small region or are merely of historic interest. Some others are quite interesting and deserve a fuller treatment, but I do not know enough about them to write a full article. Whenever that changes (maybe because of your help?), I will gladly write more about these spices.


Central and Northern Europe

Surprisingly few spices actually stem from Europe, although many have been imported. The Romans brought many of their Mediterranean spices to the countries north of the Alps, and some of them found the climate acceptable and were easy to cultivate; some even spread over the new habitat and became part of the local flora.

The following plants are commonly believed to be of European origin, although you might find different opinion expressed in some literature.

Today, Europe’s local cuisines use a lot of herbs from the Mediterranean, of general importance are bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, savoury and thyme, most of which can be grown in cool temperate climate (in our days, though, they get mostly imported because of cost and quality considerations).

Since ancient times, onion and garlic are cultivated in Europe. However, because of its strong odour, garlic is less appreciated especially in North Europe, where excessive garlic consumption seems to be regarded as a kind of social crime. Onion is more used as a vegetable.

Hungary is well-known for its paprika (bell pepper) and its variety of diverse chiles (a gift from the New World). In other European countries, hot chiles are less enjoyed, although they do play some rôle in South East Europe (Balkan peninsular) and in some of the Mediterranean states.

Tropic spices are usually not essential ingredients in traditional European cuisine – with the exception of black pepper, which is held in high esteem all over the world. Cinnamon and cloves find their main applications in sweet dishes, ginger and nutmeg are used even less. Although cardamom is nearly unknown in most of Europe, Scandinavians are very fond of it and use it to flavour bread and pastries.

There are more European plants that get used culinarily, though in most cases use is rare, or restricted to a small area; others are mainly of historical interest.

The Mediterranean Region

The area around the Mediterranean Sea, belonging in part to Europe, Asia and Africa, has always been a cultural unity. Early spice trading routes lead from China and India via the Arab peninsular to the Mediterranean Sea, which made the region an important place of cultural and culinary exchange. In the warm Mediterranean climate, many fragrant plants grew abundantly; and in the course of millennia, even more have been introduced by traders, refugees or immigrants from further East.

The following are generally considered as native Mediterranean plants; however, some are open to dispute, e. g., cumin or even the apparently typical Mediterranean olive.

Asian spices became popular in Europe first in the Age of Hellenism. Later, spice trade blossomed in the late days of the Romans, about two thousand years ago; from the beginning, spice trade was dominated by the Arabs. Apicius’ De re coquinaria is one of the oldest European cookbooks; it lists some tropical spices, of which long pepper was most valued. Black pepper, cloves and Chinese cinnamon (cassia) also figure prominently. The enigmatic spice silphion (probably of Northern African origin) became extinct around 100 AD and was substituted by asafetida (from Central Asia). The usage of olive oil is a cultural constant in the Mediterranean since five millennia.

Today, Mediterranean Europe mostly relies on its native or imported herbs. Basil (stemming originally from South or even South East Asia) today grows wild all over South Europe and is used extensively, especially in Italian cuisine; the same holds for the indigenous oregano. Garlic figures more prominently than in Northern European countries. Regionally, saffron is used for fish or sea food specialties, but the high price of this spice limits its usage. Throughout the region, some dishes require small amounts of chiles; fiery food, however, is not typical.

Typical spice mixtures from Southern Europe are bouquet garni (see parsley) and Herbes de Provence (see lavender).

In Asia Minor and West Asia, herbs cease to be dominant. Coriander and cumin (from Persia, but grown locally) are popular, and the use of pungent spices (mainly black pepper and chiles) becomes more common. The berries of the sumac tree are essential to reproduce the astringent and sour taste found in many dishes from Turkey to Israel.

In Northern Africa, chiles take an important part in fiery stews and sauces. Coriander and cumin both are used extensively, but also African spices (grains of paradise) are common. Of the spices from tropical Asia, cinnamon and cloves find most use. All these, and more, may appear in Moroccan spice mixtures (ras el hanout, see cubeb pepper).

Although a large number of Mediterranean herbs is discussed here, the treatment is not exhaustive: There are many more that find their way in the kitchen on occasion. Sometimes, these are wild relatives of herbs treated here which are collected by knowledgeable family members, because their flavour is regarded superior to that of commercially grown ones. This usage is often very local and is hardly mentioned in cookbooks. This applies particularly to herbs of the mint family, e. g., thyme, marjoram and especially oregano. Further interesting plants from the Mediterranean are:

West and Central Asia

Many important spices actually stem from West or Central Asia, even if some of them are in our days cultivated from Morocco to Vietnam:

Possibly, cumin and some other of the spices listed in the previous section have their origin actually in western Central Asia, being spread westwards by migrating peoples in prehistoric times.

Today’s Persian or Arabian cooking uses a multitude of spices, having easy access to Indian or Southeast Asian ingredients. Cardamom is much valued as an essential component of Arab-style coffee.

Cooking styles of the Arabic peninsular have a preference for aromatic but fiery food. Yemeni zhoug (see coriander), a spicy chili-laden paste, and Saudi Arabic baharat (see paprika) may serve as examples.

The Caucasus republics, situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, have developed a unique style of foods, although Russian and Turkish influences can bee seen. Georgia has a mild yet flavourful cuisine much basing on the flavours of dried herbs (see blue fenugreek for the Georgian spice mix khmeli-suneli [ხმელი-სუნელი]) and of sour–fruity sauces prepared from fresh or preserved fruits. Fresh herbs are often sprinkled over warm and cold dishes; uniquely, Georgian cooking makes parallel use of both parsley and coriander leaves; the latter are not used anywhere else in the region.

Berberis vulgaris: Barberry inflorescence
Barberry flowers
Tagetes erecta: Marigold flower
Imeretian saffron
Berberis vulgaris: Barbery infrutescence
Barbery fruits

A similar inkling to fruity flavours is found in neighbouring Azərbaycan (Azerbaijan) and in Iran. A typical Irani spice that is, unfortunately, missing from these spice pages is barberry, Berberis vulgaris (Berberidaceae/Ranunculales), called zereshk or sereshk [زرشک] in Farsi and k’ots’akhuri [კოწახური] in Georgian; it is often used to flavour ground meats or Persian rice dishes (polo [پلو]). Another source of sour flavour in Irani foods are dried limes (see also fenugreek for khoreshte ghorme sabzi).

An interesting herb typical for Georgian cooking is marigold (Tagetes erecta, Asteraceae), which appears in several recipes including the spice mix khmeli suneli (see blue fenugrek). In Georgian, it is simply called yellow flower (q’vit’eli q’vavili [ყვითელი ყვავილი]) or Imeretian saffron (imeruli zaprana [იმერული ზაფრანა]), and sometimes just zaprana which can lead to confusion with the much different saffron. The marigold flowers are dried and ground to yield a yellow powder that hat a mild, sweet scent. It can best be substituted by safflower. Sometimes, also the fresh sprigs are used that have a different, much stronger flavour reminscent of the South American huacatay.

The proper Central Asian region, between the Caspian Sea and the Tianshan mountains [天山], is a region rather devoid of local spices, although imported spices are available since antiquity, because the ancient Spice Route running from China to the Mediterranean cuts through that region. Cookbooks of Kazakhstan sometimes mention local herbs with cress-like flavour. Combinations of dried fruits with meats are very popular, where cooks often use local species of genus Prunus (apricot, plum).

South Asia

South Asia, which encompasses the Deccan peninsular and the southern slopes of the Himalayas, has a variety of indigenous spice plants. Furthermore, Southeast Asian spices have been traded in India since thousands of years. Therefore, Indian cuisine is one of the most fragrant and aromatic in the world. A large number of spices native to South Asia has been exported long ago either to the West or to the East. For example, in today’s South East Asia, we find spices of Indian origin that have no place in today’s Indian cooking, e. g., lemon grass or lesser galangale. The following table shows only those South Asian spices that flavour the contemporary South Asian kitchen.

In today’s Indian cuisine, many more spices play an important part. Chiles, brought to Asia from the New World by the Portuguese, are used generously, especially in South India and Sri Lanka. Tamarind (from East Africa) is used to give some Southern Indian curry dishes a sour and tart flavour. Of the European and Central Asian spices, coriander, cumin and garlic are now indispensable for the taste of Indian food. Cinnamon, originally growing on the island of Sri Lanka, is now valued all over India and frequently combined with cloves, which stem from Southeast Asia.

Arab influence in South Asia is strongest in Afghanistan, Pakistan and North India. Cooks in these regions tend to use less chiles but more fragrant spices (cloves, saffron and cinnamon).

There are numerous spice mixtures in India, but most of them have nothing in common with the curry powder of Western supermarkets (see curry leaves). Most mixtures are actually not powders but pastes, made from ground spices, garlic, ginger and oil and are neither stored nor traded. Mixtures containing only dried spices are the Bengali panch phoron [পাঁচ ফোরন] (see fenugreek), the North Indian garam masala [गरम मसाला, گرم مسالحہ, also گرم مصالحہ] and the more Southern sambar podi [சாம்பார் பொடி] (for the latter two, see cumin and coriander, respectively). Southern Indian mixture (bese bele powder) is mentioned under coconut.

See black cumin about Northern Indian (Moghul style) cooking, and ajwain about spiced butter (tadka or tarka). See also onion. For a few typical recipes, see Indonesian bay-leaf for the aromatic Northern biriyani and tamarind for the fiery Southern vindaloo. Indian spiced tea (chai masala [चाय मसाला]) is discussed under cardamom.

Nepali cooking resembles Indian cooking in several ways, and some preparations, e.g., pickles, are quite comparable. Nepali food is typically milder than Indian food, both with respect to actual heat and usage of aromatic spices. This doesn’t make the food of Nepal bland or uninteresting, because due to Chinese influence, there are several additional flavourings made by fermentation: Cheese, soy products and the typical Nepali gundruk [गुन्द्रुक], dried fermented vegetable leaves. Noodles in various styles are another culinary mark left by neighbouring China.

Finally, Burma, or Myanmar, as it is now called, is the meeting place and melting pot of the great cooking traditions of India and Southeast Asia. Noodles, shrimp paste, soy sauce and sesame oil on one side and cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric and cumin on the other side witness the mixed heritage and give Burmese curries their distinct and very tasty character.

Fish flavourings are rare in the Indian subcontinent; this is in line with the observation that fermented products generally have only little tradition. The main exception to that is dried fish in Sri Lanka (umbalakada [උම්බලකඩ]), which is usually referred to as Maldive fish in English. Yet, fermented preparation from water-living organisms play an imortant rôle in North Eastern India and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Eastern Bangladesh, which indicates South East Asian influence (mostly, Burmese). The Khasi people use a paste of fermented fish with various spices (tungtap) as a condiment, the Chakma employ shrimp paste (sidol [𑄥𑄨𑄘𑄮𑄣𑄴]) for cooking, and in Manipur, the Meitei have a dry-fermented fish called ngari [ঙারি, ꯉꯥꯔꯤ]. More rarely, fermented soy bean products are found in that region: Khasi tungrymbai, Manipuri hawaijar [হাৰায়জার, ꯍꯥꯋꯢꯖꯥꯔ].

I am fascinated by Indian cooking; consequently, my treatment of Indian spices is intended quite exhaustive. Nevertheless, there are some Indian spices of which I still know too little to write a detailed description:

Garcinia indica: Kokam, Kokum
Dried kokam
Garcinia cambogiana: Goraka fruit on tree
Goraka fruits grow on high trees

Southeast Asia

Due to its tropical climate, Southeast Asia has a large number of native aromatic plants, most of which are preferred fresh in local cuisines. The Moluccas, a group of small islands on the border between Asia and Australia and home of nutmeg and cloves, have been the center of European spice policy in the late Middle Ages and the first centuries of the modern times.

Today, all these spices (with the exception of cinnamon varieties, cloves and nutmeg, which are not so much in use) feature prominently in at least some of the major South East Asian cuisines. Furthermore, chiles, ginger and garlic are found all over the region, as are coconut products: coconut milk and coconut oil.

In Southeast Asia, numerous independent culinary styles have evolved; yet most of them prefer spices fresh (if available), and also fresh herbs (basil, coriander leaves and mint) are popular as a fragrant decoration in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Throughout the region, pungent fish preparations are essential: Fish sauces (nam pla [น้ำปลา] in Thailand, nuoc mam [nước mắm] in Vietnam), shrimp pastes (gapi [ငပိ] in Burma, trassi in Malaysia and Indonesia) and the unique Cambodian paste prepared from fresh water fish, prahok [ប្រហុក]. Fish sauce is also known in Southern China, where it is called yu lu [魚露]; but in Chinese cuisine, it is only a minor flavouring.

Thai cooks use even more spices (e. g., kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass and fingerroot) and other strong-smelling ingredients like dried fish to achieve the characteristic aroma of Thai dishes. Since they use chiles generously, Thai food is sometimes extremely hot and fiery. For Thai curries, see coconut. See also basil and mint for more Thai recipes.

In Cambodia and Vietnam, spice usage is not that dominant, and also Philippinos cook rather mildly. Besides garlic and ginger, Philippine cuisine makes use of the South American annatto seeds. This spice was introduced to the Philippines by the Spaniards and is hardly known in other Asian countries.

Vietnamese cuisine is unique for its massive use of fresh herbs, some of which are used only rarely outside of Vietnam (Vietnamese coriander, long coriander), while others (rice paddy herb, chameleon herb) do not appear in other any other cooking style at all.

On the numerous islands of Indonesia, lots of very different regional cuisines have developed, which is to be explained by different life conditions (jungle nomads, farmers or seafarers; village-bound or cosmopolitan urban cultures), food taboos because of different religions (Islâm, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Animism), different climates (tropical jungle, mountain woods, highlands or even dry areas) and several other factors.

Most Indonesian cuisines do not use sweet spices, which is all the more remarkable because cloves, nutmeg and the Sumatra cinnamon variety are indigenous to Indonesia. Instead of these, the most popular spices are ginger, onion, garlic and moderate amounts of chiles, furthermore galanga and turmeric. Indonesian dishes frequently need shrimp paste (trassi) and soy sauce (kecap), which is also used in a thick and very sweet variety (kecap manis). Especially Jawanese dishes sometimes contain large amounts of sugar and taste sweet–spicy, while I enjoyed rather hot food in Sumatra, and Bali certainly displays the largest variety of different spices.

Some highlights of Indonesian cookery are shortly discussed under greater galangale (rendang, a buffalo stew from Western Sumatra), Sichuan pepper (sangsang, a spicy pork variety meats stew from Northern Sumatra), coconut (ayam pa’piong, a chicken dish from Sulawesi), mango (the pan-Indonesian fruit salad rujak) and lesser galangale (bebek batulu, Balinese roast duck). About Indonesian spice pastes (bumbu) in general, see lemon grass, for information about Balinese cuisine see Indonesian bay leaf and for Jawa cookery see tamarind.

Many more herbs and spices are used in the many and varied culinary styles of that large region. Particularly in Vietnam, there is a large whealth of local herbs that are not commonly available in the West. The following are particularly worth noting:

Etlingera elatior, Torch ginger, Bunga kantan
Torch ginger

East Asia

The whole East Asian region is dominated by Chinese culture. Chinese cookery is very varied and highly sophisticated; it has influenced all East Asian cuisines, and is also a important contribution to all South East Asian culinary styles.

Chinese cuisine derives its attraction not so much from different spices, but from a multitude of meat and vegetable ingredients with different flavour, shape, colour and texture, and from a wealth of standardized cooking and frying methods; the only common spice mixture is the famous five spice powder (wu xiang fen [五香粉], see star anise), which is frequently used to flavour fried meat all over China. Soy sauce (jiang you [酱油]) is the most important condiment in China, but to prepare authentic Chinese foods, also other soy products are needed, for example sweet bean paste (haixian jiang [海鲜酱], better known by its Cantonese name hoisin jeung [海鮮醬]), hot bean paste (douban jiang [豆瓣酱]) and fermented black beans (dou chi [豆豉]).

  1. The least spicy cooking style in China is Cantonese cuisine, which is native to the Guangdong province [广东, 廣東]. The name Cantonese derives from the province capital Guangzhou [广州, 廣州] that was formerly known as Canton in the West. Cantonese cuisine has a reputation for its exotic meat dishes made from dogs, cats, monkeys and snakes. It is also known for a varity of barbecued meats (siu mei [燒味], Mandarin shao wei [烧味]), for example spare ribs (cha siu [叉燒], often spelled char siu in the West, Mandarin cha shao [叉烧]).

    A famous Cantonese food term is dim sam [點心] (in English also spelt dim sum), which is not a dish but a light meal composed a selection of small dishes; a most popular choice are meat-stuffed dumplings made from ground pork, chicken or shrimps with light yet subtle flavourings. Outside of Guangdong, the term has mainly come to mean a variety of such steamed pasta. Though Cantonese in origin, dim sam is now enjoyed all over China (Mandarin dian xin [点心]).

  2. By tradition, fiery food is rather uncommon in China, except in two Central Chinese provinces: Hunan [湖南, ] and Sichuan (Szechwan) [四川, ], which is also known as Tian-fu [天府] (heavenly province or land of plenty). In these both provinces, but especially in Sichuan, chiles, garlic and aromatic sesame oil are popular. An important flavouring of Central Chinese cookery is red hot bean paste, doubanjiang [豆瓣酱] made from fermented broad beans. Due to domestic migration, spicy Sichuan and Hunan foods have recently become available and popular in wider parts of China. In contrast, the cuisine of the mountainous Yunnan province [云南, 雲南] has not yet attracted much interest, though it is spicy and related to the Sichuan cuisine.

  3. The North-Eastern Chinese cooking is usually termed the Shanghai [上海] style. It is particularly rich and often uses sweet flavours. A typical motive of Shanghai cooking is the use of rice wine (liao jiu [料酒]). Red-braising (hongshao [红烧]) is a cooking technique that originates in Shanghai, although it is today commonly found all over China.

  4. The fourth and last Great Cuisine is the Northern Beijing [北京] style, which has a large repertoire of baked foods (a Central Asian influence) and uses more wheat than rice due to climatical reasons. Two signature dishes are Beijing duck (beijing kao ya [北京烤鸭]) and Mongolian hotpot (meng-gu huo-guo [蒙古火锅]). Furthermore, sweet and sour dishes are popular: Fish ore meat are battered, deep-fried and served with a sweet–sour sauce (tangcu [糖醋] sugar and vinegar)

A handful of Chinese dishes are shortly discussed at this site: See ginger on gong bao [宫保] (stir-fried chicken with peanuts in Sichuan style), orange on au larm (Sichuan braised beef), Sichuan pepper on shui zhu niu rou [水煮牛肉] (Sichuan water-boiled beef) and chile on mapo doufu [麻婆豆腐] (bean cheese with ground pork in spicy sauce). See also star anise about five-spice-powder (wu xiang fen [五香粉]) and cassia on red braising (hongshao [红烧]) and cooking in master sauce (lu shui [鹵水]).

Cuisine in Japan restricts itself to utmost simplicity with respect to spices: Only Sichuan pepper (more precisely, a closely related Japanese species) is used as a condiment, either alone or mixed with tangerine or orange peel and chiles in form of the spice mixture shichimi tōgarashi [七味 唐辛子]. Japanese dishes, thus, owe most of their flavour to their ingredients, whose freshness and skilful preparation are crucial, furthermore to dried sea grass and kelp, several different soy products (e. g., soy sauce shōyu [醤油, しょうゆ]) and other fermented crops (miso [味噌, みそ]). A pungent root, wasabi, is served as a green paste to raw fish (sashimi [刺身, さしみ]) and rice bits (sushi [ 寿司, すし]); several herbs (water pepper, perilla and the young leaves of Sichuan pepper) are used both for flavour and as a decoration.

In sharp contrast, the cuisine in Korea, the most Eastern country of East Asia, is fiery and pungent, dominated by chiles, toasted sesame seeds and garlic; pickled vegetables (kim chi [김치]), both spicy and sour, are also very popular. Soy bean paste (den jang [된장], also spelled doen jang or doin jang) similar to Japanese miso and bean-chile paste (gochu jang [고추장], also spelled kochu jang) are essential flavourings. In both Korea and Japan, fresh spring onions are a common garnish.

There are some further local herbs and spices that are occasionally used. For example, Chinese cuisine utilizes several local onion species (Allium, see chives); for Sichuan, particularly, cookbooks mention local Himalaya herbs but don’t give any clear identification. We should also note the following:

Africa

Few African spices have ever become known in the West. Personally, I know only four, of which sesame’s origin is uncertain.

During the Age of Explorations, the former two (from West Asia) were traded as cheep substitute of black pepper, unless the sea route to India was established. Later, people lost interest in them and they are now nearly forgotten (and difficult to obtain). Silphion is the name of a legendary spice in ancient Rome, which was so popular that it became extinct in the early Imperial era. Its botanic classification is subject to debate.

Tamarind probably stems from East Africa, but is in our days grown in tropical climate all over the world and is an important ingredient in Asian or Latin American cuisine.

Sesame is one of the most important oil seeds of mankind, yet little of the crop is used as a spice. Specialties containing sesame are found all over the Old World, from Europe to Korea.

Today’s African cooking is dominated by Arabic influences, mostly so in the North and East, where Islâm prevails. In the South, there is much colonial influence, both by European colonists and immigrants from India and Malaysia. East Africa has absorbed Arabic and Indian cooking techniques and developed a unique cuisine by blending foreign influences with local traditions. Cooking in West and Central Africa has conserved its distinct character and is hardly comparable to any other culinary style.

In West Africa, e. g. in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, food is often very pungent due to the use of extrahot chiles that have been imported from the Caribbean. Other important flavourings are dried fish products, smoked meats and toasted peanuts; the typical cooking medium is unrefined palm oil (from Elaeis guineensis) whose flavour also contributes significantly to the character of West African cooking. Furthermore, a number of local spices are used that are, however, hardly available outside the region (except grains of paradise and, if one is very lucky, negro pepper).

In North Africa, however, subtle spice mixtures based on cumin and coriander dominate, and aromatic Asian spices are popular. See cubeb pepper about the exceedingly complex mixture ras el hanout. Arabic or Indian influence is manifest in spice mixtures like Tunisian gâlat dagga (see grains of paradise) and Ethiopian berbere (see long pepper).

Quite many spices of other continents are grown in today’s tropical Africa, where they are mostly planted as cash crops and exported. Nigeria, for instance, is a large producer of ginger. The tiny but fertile islands East of Africa are sources for several of the finest spices for European consumers: Réunion (formerly known as Bourbon) exports vanilla and allspice, and Zanzibar has long outgrown Indonesia as the major clove producing country.

I don’t know much about other native African spices, which of course does not mean that those do not exist. For example, various scented pelargoniums are native to South Africa; they are often referred to as scented geraniums but belong not to genus Geranium but Pelargonium, which is closely related but distinct (Geraniaceae/Geraniales). These herbs have an amazing spectrum of different flavours, most often lemony or rose-like floral, but there are also types with fragrance resembling mint, cinnamon and even nutmeg. Nevertheless, these astonishing plants have not yet found much application in cooking, although a few varieties are grown for the perfume industry.

Also in West Africa, the potentials of indigenous spices have not yet been exploited. Most of the native West African spices are unavailable in the rest of the world. In some cases, like the akob bark and felom fruits (seeds?), I don’t even know the botanical identity. Some more West African spices are mentioned in the below list.

America

The contribution of the two Americas to the list of spices is, unfortunately, rather short. This is not for lack of aromatic plants, but mostly for lack of information regarding native American spices in Europe. In the USA, due to immigration, Latin American spices are easier to get by, but few of them have found a permanent place in the spice shelf. Of course, there is this one American nightshade plant that revolutionized almost any cuisine in the world …

Because in Northern America (the US and Canada) the cooking style is largely derived from and not very different from European cuisine, spice usage is generally rather low (exclude the Mexican-influenced cuisine of the Southern states of the US from this statement). Currently, there is only one plant native to North America treated on these pages: Sassafras (filè) has great though only regional importance in New Orleans cooking.

Allspice was introduced to Europe from the Caribbean islands; its alternative name newspice indicates its origin from the New World. Vanilla is native to México and has been used for flavouring a chocolate-like drink since Aztec times. A culinary herb native to México is epazote. Toasted pumpkin seeds are an ancient flavouring of Central American peoples that goes back to pre-Columbian times; yet extraction of oil from toasted pumpkin seeds, as practiced in Central Europe, is a much more recent invention.

From South America stem annatto seeds, much used locally, and pink pepper, a spice that became popular during the past decades in the nouvelle cuisine. Further South American spices are tonka beans and paracress, which have, however, found only limited use outside of South America. Lemon verbena is another spice generally underrated.

The most important spice of both Americas are, however, chiles and bell peppers, which are both thought to be native to the Amazon region, but have been traded extensively as far north as the southern states of today’s USA before the arrival of the Europeans. Today, they are high valued in all tropical countries of America, Asia and Africa.

Some more interesting plants from North, Central and South America are, unfortunately, not yet treated on this page. Some of these are:

Australia

Few plants of Australia have ever gained economical importance, macadamia nuts (Macadamia integrifolia and M. tetraphylla, Proteaceae/Proteales/Rosidae) being the chief example. There are, however, plenty of aromatic plants, some of which might gain some importance in the cuisines to come.

Both spices are currently hardly known (less used) outside Australia, but in our global world, these things may change quickly. Note that in Australia, there are more indigenous flavourings that can be considered spices: The dried tiny berries of bush tomato (Solanum centrale, Solanaceae) have a complex taste not altogether dissimilar to Italian sun-dried tomatoes, although less fruity and more spicy. Another candidate is the so-called wattle seeds, dried and roasted seeds of various Acacia species, e. g., Acacia victoriae, A. sophorae and A. murrayana (Mimosaceae/Fabales). Both plants have a long record of indigenous usage by Aborigines.

I know of no spices originating from Oceania, but on Tahiti, a relative of vanilla is grown. The origin of coconut was long a matter of scientific dispute, but it has now been shown that the plant actually stems from Asia.



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