It’s obvious: If you can get any spice from a local source, you should do it. In any of Europe’s large cities, there are Turkish, Indian, Chinese and Thai communities; it’s very likely that there are also corresponding food shops, although they may be small and difficult to locate.
If you’re lucky, you might even be able to find Indonesian (Amsterdam!) or Caribbean (London!) markets. In the USA, Mexican and South American ingredients are more easily available.
Often, there is quite an overlap between different ethnic groceries: Indian food ingredients are likely to be carried by Chinese or Iranian vendors, and a Thai grocery might well have a number of Chinese products. Ethnic shops are often scattered over the whole city, but sometimes they are combined into one single multi-ethnic market.
Typically, the shops are frequented by members of the same community; thus, they offer good quality, their items are fresh and the price is reasonable. Furthermore, such shops are often the only way to get fresh (or deep-frozen) plants.
The following list is intended to guide your expectations when entering an ethnic food grocery. Remember, it’s no chain with standardized selection, but the shop owner is free in choosing the products he is to carry. Typically, that’s what you can expect:
Lesser galangale (
sand ginger), Licorice, Sesame, Sichuan Pepper, Star Anise, Vanilla, Wasabi, plus a rich selection of soy sauces (jiang you [酱油] or chi you [豉油]), including the salty light soy sauce sheng chou [生抽] used for marination and table condiment, and the somewhat sweetish dark say sauce lao chou [老抽] which has a richer flavour and is better suited for cooking. There are numerous other flavourings made from fermented beans (not necessarily soy beans) including hoisin sauce (Mandarin haixian jiang [海鲜酱], Cantonese hoi sin jeong [海鮮醬], Vietnamese tuong den [tương đen]), hot bean paste (douban jiang [豆瓣酱]), sweet bean paste (tianmian jiang [甜面酱], yellow bean paste (huang jiang [黄酱] and dry fermented black beans (dou chi [豆豉]). Chinese cuisine has many more unique flavourings, e. g., oyster sauce (hao you [蠔油]), rice wine (liao jiu [料酒]), black vinegar (hei cu [黑醋]), plum sauce (su mei jiang [蘇梅酱]), dark sesame oil (xiang you [香油]) aromatic sesame paste (zhi ma jiang [芝麻酱]) and pickled chiles (pao hai jiao [泡海椒]. Occasionally, one can also obtain Korean soy pastes (chile bean paste gochu jang [고추장] and black bean paste den jang [된장]). The latter is similar to some types of Japanese miso [味噌, みそ].
- Annatto, Coconut milk, Coriander (fresh herb), Fingerroot (fresh), Ginger and Greater Galangale (fresh), Lemon Grass (fresh), Rice Paddy Herb (fresh), Long Coriander, Perilla (fresh), Star Anise, Tamarind (fresh or frozen pods), Turmeric (fresh), Vietnamese cinnamon, Vietnamese coriander (fresh), and fish sauces (nuoc mam [nước mắm]).
- Basil (fresh leaves of incomparable fragrance), Chile (fresh), Coconut milk Coriander (fresh herb), Fingerroot, Ginger, Greater Galangale (fresh), Kaffir Lime (fresh), Lemon Grass (fresh), Long Coriander, Pandanus leaves, Star Anise, Tamarind (dried pods or extract), Turmeric (fresh), Vietnamese coriander (fresh), Zedoary (fresh), furthermore palm sugar, ready-to-use curry pastes, oyster sauce, sweet and salty soy sauces and a host of fish sauces, dried shrimps, fish or shrimp pastes and similar products.
- Basil, Chile (fresh), Cloves, Coconut milk, Cumin, Greater Galangale (fresh), Indonesian Bay-Leaf (dried), Kaffir Lime (fresh), Lemon Grass (fresh), Lesser Galangale (fresh), Tamarind, Turmeric (fresh or dried), then palm sugar, sweet and salty soy sauce and shrimp paste.
- Ajwain, Almond, Asafetida, Black Cardamom, Black Cumin, Black Mustard (also mustard oil), Cardamom, Ceylon Cinnamon, Chile, Cloves, Coconut milk (also palm sugar), Coriander, Cumin, Curry leaves (fresh or frozen), Fenugreek (seeds, possibly dried leaves), Ginger, Indian Bay-leaf (dried), Long Pepper, Mango (dried), Nutmeg & Mace, Pandanus flower (kewra water), Paprika, Pepper, Pomegranate (dried), Rose (flowers or rose water), Saffron, Tamarind (dried or extract), Turmeric (dried), furthermore, you’ll get a large variety of ready-to-use curry pastes and curry powders (masala).
- Turkish/West Asian:
- Basil, Chile, Coriander, Cumin, Lemon, Mahaleb Cherry, Olive, Orange, Oregano, Paprika, Pepper, Peppermint, Poppy, Rose, Safflower, Saffron, Sesame paste (tahini [طحينية]), Sumac, plus a variety of fresh vegetables, cheeses and sweets.
- Annatto, Boldo leaves, Chile (fresh fiery chiles, e. g. habaneros), Coconut, Ginger, Long Coriander.
- Allspice, Annatto, Ceylon Cinnamon, Coconut, Coriander, Epazote, Lime, Mexican pepper leaves Paprika and Chile (incredibly many different varieties), Safflower, Sesame, Vanilla.
- Annatto, Boldo leaves, Chile (several unique varieties), Epazote, Long Coriander, Oregano, Tonka bean.
Pharmacies sell medicines, which also includes medical plants. In every pharmacy, all drugs listed in the national pharmacopoiea (so-called official drugs) can be obtained. Within Europe, pharmacopoieas do not much vary; I am less sure about the US, though.
Most spices do have some medical value; thus, many of them are official drugs. To be sold in pharmacies, they must comply to strict standards of quality (which is less certain with spices obtained from a spice merchant), but good flavour is not always covered by the pharmaceutical standards. Thus, pharmacy-bought spices are sometimes, but not always, superior to those sold in a supermarket.
The following plants are likely to be official in any European country: Allspice, Almond, Anise, Asafetida, Basil, Bear’s Garlic, Black Mustard, Boldo leaves, Caraway, Cardamom, Celery, Ceylon Cinnamon, Chervil, Chile, Cloves, Coriander (fruits), Cubeb pepper, Cumin, Dill, Fennel, Fenugreek, Ginger, Greater Galangale, Hyssop, Juniper, Laurel (leaves and fruits), Lavender, Lemon Balm, Lemon, Licorice, Lovage (root), Marjoram, Mugwort, Myrtle, Nigella, Nutmeg & Mace, Orange (dried peel or orange flower water), Oregano, Paprika, Pepper, Peppermint, Rose (also rose water), Rosemary, Rue, Safflower (seeds and flowers), Saffron, Sage, Savory, Star Anise, Tamarind, Tarragon, Thyme, Tonka bean, Turmeric, Vanilla, White Mustard.
Some of these might be official, but nonetheless a typical pharmacy won’t carry them, as demand is low and shelf life is short. In this case, the pharmacy can always get the drug within a few days, but this will probably mean that you will have to buy larger quantities.
Compared to pre-internet times, ordering unusual goods has become much, much more simple. There are spice merchants that carry quite exotic stuff at reasonable prices. Of course, only dried herbs and spices are available.
- Penzeys Spices
Penzeys is the largest, best known and best reputed internet spice vendor in the USA. Besides herbs and spices, Penzeys carries a large number of own spice blends, accessories and the gimmicks to be expected from a US company (gift baskets etc). A PDF-Version of the catalog is available on the Web. Penzeys ship world-wide, but shipping to Europe is expensive. European customers will be compensated by the current Dollar-to-Euro rate.
Penzeys spice blends are, according to common belief, good (I haven’t tried them, and will not unless they give me free samples); their catalog claims that some of their dried herbs (e. g., basil and tarragon) profit from advanced drying technology in California, and are thus better than the same herbs as sold here in Europe. A certain plus is that the origin of the herbs and spices is always indicated; in several cases, the customer may choose between different production countries for the same spice.
The catalog (appearing twice a year) is nice, contains a lot of information and can be requested by submitting a form to the web page.
When I looked for the last time (Holiday 99) at their site, I found the following spices: Ajwain, Allspice, Anise, Annatto, Basil, Black Cumin, Black Mustard, Caraway, Cassia, Celery (both fruits and herb), Ceylon Cinnamon, Chervil, Chile (just a few varieties), Chive, Cloves, Coriander (both fruits and herb), Cumin, Epazote, Fennel, Fenugreek, Garlic (granulate), Ginger, Greater Galangale, Horseradish, Indonesian Cinnamon, Juniper, Laurel, Lemon Grass, Lemon (peel), Mahaleb Cherry, Marjoram, Nigella, Nutmeg & Mace, Onion (granulate), Orange, Oregano, Paprika (several Mexican and Hungarian varieties), Parsley, Pepper Rosé, Pepper, Peppermint, Poppy, Rosemary, Saffron (both from Spain and Kashmir), Sage, Sassafras, Savory, Sesame, Star Anise, Sumac, Tarragon, Thyme, Turmeric, Vanilla (from México, Madagascar and Indonesia), Vietnamese cinnamon, White Mustard.
- Francesco Sirene, Spicer
Here you can get ingredients and accessories for Middle Age food. Note that the prices are in Canadian Dollars, although you can pay in US Dollars. Sirene does not accept credit cards, but European customers can send cash via mail (it really works!). Shipping to Europe is quite inexpensive.
The last check showed the following items: Ajwain, Allspice, Anise, Annatto, Asafetida, Black Cardamom, Black Cumin, Black Mustard, Caraway, Cassia (bark and buds), Celery (fruits), Ceylon Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander (fruits and herb), Cubeb pepper, Cumin, Dill (fruits), Epazote, Fennel, Fenugreek, Fingerroot, Ginger, Grains of Paradise, Greater Galangale, Hyssop, Juniper, Laurel (fruits and leaves), Long Pepper, Lovage (root), Mahaleb Cherry, Myrtle, Nutmeg & Mace, Pepper Rosé, Pepper, Rosemary, Rue (herb and fruits), Saffron, Sichuan Pepper, Star Anise, Sumac, White Mustard, Zedoary and a few other uncommon flavourings, e.g. mastic and gummi arabicum.
October 2003: Sirene is back again! After some time in offline mode, the site resurrected like the mythical bird Phoenix, who burnt herself at a stake of aromatic plants (many of which carried by Sirene) just to get a new, younger life.
- American Spice
American Spice is another online vendor carrying a great number of dried spices: Allspice, Anise, Annatto, Asafetida, Basil, Bay leaf, Black mustard Caraway, Cardamom, Celery (fruits, root), Ceylon cinnamon, Chervil, Chinese cinnamon, Chives, Cloves, Coriander (fruits, leaves), Cumin, Dill (fruits, leaves), Epazote, Fennel, Fenugreek, Garlic, Ginger, Indonesian cinnamon, Juniper, Lavender, Lemon grass, Lemon (granules), Licorice, Lime (granules), Lovage (root), Mango, Marjoram, Nutmeg & Mace, Onion, Orange (granules), Oregano (Greek, Mexican), Paprika (Hungarian, Spanish), Parsley, Pepper (black, green, white, Tellicherry), Peppermint, (also other mints), Pink pepper, Poppy, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage, Sassafras, Savory, Sesame, Star Anise, Tarragon, Thyme, Turmeric, Vanilla (beans, extract in various strengths), Vietnamese cinnamon and White mustard. Navigation is easy as there is a search engine on the website.
Furthermore, American Spice carries several kinds of Mesoamerican paprika and chile varieties: ancho, cayenne, chipotle, de arbol, habanero, jalapeño, morita, New Mexico, bird’s eye, pasado, guajillo, pasilla and pequin. Last but not least, they have an enormous selection of aroma oils, hot sauces, gravy mixes, mustard specialties, soup bases, salsas, spice blends, …
I was not able to find out whether American Spice ships to any destination outside the United States.
- Spices at the Spice House
This is another vendor with a great selection of spices and spice mixtures, also spice pastes. The spice blends are all home-made and are often praised by happy customers, but the selection of single spices is also impressive.
When I checked their user-friendly product page the last time, I found the following: Ajwain, Allspice, Anise, Annatto, Asafetida, Basil, Bay leaf (also Californian bay leaves from Umbellularia californica), Black Mustard, Caraway, Celery (fruits and flakes), China Cinnamon, Chives, Cloves, Coriander (fruits and herb) Cumin, Curry leaves, Dill (fruits and herb) Epazote, Fennel (fruits and pollen) Fenugreek, Grains of paradise, Horseradish (powder), Indonesian Cinnamon, Juniper, Lavender, Lemon Grass. Lemon (extract and dried peel) Mahleb cherry, Marjoram, Mint, Nigella, Nutmeg and Mace, Orange (extract, peel, orange flower water) Parsley, Pepper (black, white and green, with origin), Pink Pepper, Poppy, Rose water Rosemary, Sassafras, Sesame (black) Sichuan Pepper, Sri Lanka Cinnamon, Tamarind (extract), Tarragon, Thyme, Turmeric, Vanilla (Madagascar, México, Tahiti), Vietnamese Cinnamon, Wasabi,
A strong point of The Spice House is the fine selection of paprika and chiles. The offer Californian, Hungarian and Spanish (also smoked) paprika, and Mexican chiles of varying heat (ancho, chipotle, habanero and others). The web site is fun to read, and for each spice, there are hints how to use and sometimes entertaining stories around the spices.
- Herbies Spices
A large Australian spice merchant, offering a great variety of Western, Asian and Australian spices: Ajwain, Allspice, Anise, Annatto, Asafetida, Basil, Bay leaf, Black Cardamom, Black Cumin, Black Mustard, Caraway, Cardamom, Cassia, Celery (fruits), Chervil, Chile (among others, habaneros), Cloves, Coconut (extract and dried endosperm), Coriander (fruits and leaves), Cubeb Pepper, Cumin, Curry leaves, Dill (fruits and leaves), Fennel, Fenugreek (seeds and leaves), Garlic, Ginger, Greater Galanga, Horseradish, Juniper, Kaffir lime, Lavender, Lemon grass, Lemon myrtle, Lesser Galangale, Licorice, Lime (dried), Long Pepper, Mahaleb Cherry, Mango, Nigella, Nutmeg and Mace, Onion, Orange (orange blossom water), Pandanus, Parsley, Pepper (black, white and green), Peppermint, Pink Pepper, Pomegranate, Poppy, Rose, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage, Sassafras, Savory, Sesame, Sichuan Pepper, Sri Lanka Cinnamon, Star Anise, Sumac, Tamarind, Tarragon, Tasmanian Pepper (fruits and leaves), Thyme, Turmeric, Vanilla, White Mustard. The owner of this site, Ian Hemphill, has also written an excellent book on herbs and spices.
- Aromates, Epices et Condiments du Monde entier
Spices from all over the worldis the promise of Philippe Latour, a French vendor; the larger part of the pages have their English translation attached. Indeed, the selection is very convincing: Allspice, Anise, Annatto, Basil, Caraway, Cardamom, Celery (fruits), Ceylonese Cinnamon, Chile (e. g., piment d’espelette), Cloves, Cocos (desiccated, extract), Coriander, Cubeb pepper, Cumin, Dill (fruits), Fennel, Fenugreek, Ginger (ground), Grains of Paradise, Greater Galanga (ground), Indonesian cinnamon, Lemon grass, Licorice, Long Pepper, Marjoram, Negro Pepper (kili), Nutmeg and Mace, Nigella, Oregano, Paprika, Pepper (black, white, green), Pink pepper, Poppy, Rose flowers, Saffron, Sesame (white), Star Anise, Sumac, Sichuan pepper, Tamarind (paste), Thyme, Turmeric, Vanilla (Bourbon), White mustard, furthermore spice blends and some special goods. Unfortunately, I have been told that M Latour will accept only customers living in France; I do not know about his conditions and prices. The same vendor also sells living plants (see below).
- Cool Chile Co.
This company (located in Great Britain) carries a respectable number of paprika and chile varieties, mostly from México. Among others, the following cultivars can be bought: ancho, mulato, pasilla, chipotle, guajillo, chilhuacle negro and New Mexico. Furthermore, they have the Spanish choricero, the Caribbean habanero and the Peruvian ají amarillo. Shipping fees within Europe are moderate.
- Habanero Sauce
Nomen est omen: Here you can get sauces containing the world’s hottest chiles! And then, they have dried pods and powder not only of the common habanero, but also of the super-hot red savina. Shipping rates are modest.
- Blue Gum Fine Food
Australian spices: That’s the place where I got my lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepper from (the latter is not mentioned at the web site, but they ship it on request). Shipping rates are, unfortunately, quite high.
- Australian Native Foods Management
Another company marketing the culinary treasures indigenous to Australia. Besides lemon myrtle in various forms (for example, green or black tea flavoured with lemon myrtle has an outstanding flavour), they sell the related aniseed myrtle, wattle seeds and Dorrigo pepper, a close relative of Tasmanian pepper. Italian style fettucini flavoured with dorrigo pepper are definitely worth a try! In addition, ANFM offers a wide range of hard-to-find products like Native Australian versions of pesto, several hot sauces, honeys and other fine foods.
- Vic Cherikoff Food Services Pty Ltd
Yet another source of Australian goodies. Besides Tasmanian Pepper, lemon myrtle, wattleseeds, several kinds of dried fruits and a variety of bottled sauces and condiments, Vic Cherikoff offers some dried herbs referenced as native mint and native thyme, whose botanical identity and culinary merits are not known to me.
- KCJ Vanilla Company
Here you get mostly vanilla beans and vanilla extract made from Mexican or Bourbon vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) and Tahiti vanilla (V. tahitiensis), a rare spice not easily found elsewhere. Furthermore, the company produces a number of extracts from other spices, nuts and fruits; I found their hazelnut extract of truly outstanding flavour!
- Natco and Pataks
Both companies produce a wide range of Indian foodstuffs, by traditional recipes that capture the flavour of traditional Indian food very well. Most interesting items from their selection are curry pastes, pickles and chutneys, some of which I find highly authentic. I think that these product are as good as industrially produced flavourings can possibly be. Highly recommended for those who want to enjoy true (if unindividual) Indian flavours with minimum effort.
If you cannot find another possibility, you might be able to locate unusual plants in nurseries specialized in medical or fragrant plants.
Many aromatic herbs of temperate zone will lose most or all of their fragrance when dried; in many cases, fresh plants in your own garden will be a very good alternative – even if the dried herb is readily available in the supermarket. Examples include Basil, Bear’s Garlic, Borage, Chameleon plant, Chervil, Chive, Cicely, Coriander, Cresses, Epazote, Long Coriander, Parsley, Perilla, Rue, Tarragon, Vietnamese coriander, Water Pepper.
Other herbs, although still aromatic in the dried state, taste much better when fresh. If you have a few square meters to spare, try it and you won’t be disappointed! For example, Celery, Dill, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Lovage, Marjoram, Mugwort, Peppermint, Sage, Savory, Southernwood, Thyme.
Most of the plants listed so far are not difficult to locate, as they are common herbs/ornamentals/weeds, and they grow well in temperate climate. Try any garden equipment shop, farmer’s market or seed shop. It’s usually much more complicated to get hold of plants of tropical origin, as these demand a lot of care (and probably experience) and, therefore, won’t sell in large numbers.
The largest German nursery specializing in spices, aromatic and
medicinal plants is Kräuter und Duftpflanzen Rühlemanns (formerly
known as Kräuterzauber
herbal magic). The owner
is Daniel Rühlemann. He has a very
great selection of both seeds and living plants. They support credit cards and
ship seeds to any European country; living plants are expensive to ship and
restricted to Germany, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Danmark and Luxembourg.
Currently, they offer the following spices:
Basil (many varieties),
Chile (a few varieties),
Grains of Paradise,
Lemon (several varieties, including citron),
Marjoram (several varieties),
Oregano (also Mexican oregano),
Pandanus (the variety with fragrant leaves),
Peppermint (plus several more mints),
Rice Paddy Herb,
Rose (lots of varieties),
Sage (several varieties),
Tarragon (French, German and Russian),
Thyme (several varieties),
Tropical and subtropical plants, some of which are very rare, are offered by a German gardener, Renate Bucher (Exotische Nutz- und Zierpflanzen, exotic economic and ornamental plants). The site is mostly in German, but some parts have also been translated to English. Ms. Bucher ships to any EU country, but paying might become expensive as no credit cards are accepted. The selection is quite large and covers many tropical vegetables and fruits (cashew, papaya, candle nut, coffee, drumstick tree). Seeds are available for allspice and annatto, black pepper, caper, cardamom, chaste tree, curry leaves, lemon myrtle, myrtle, olive, orange, pink pepper (both the Brazilian and the Peruvian variety), pomegranate, Sri-Lanka cinnamon, tamarind; furthermore, vanilla plants are available. Actually the selection is very large, but happens to contain only few spice plants. If you look for tropical plants in general, this may be the site to visit.
Another place to find seeds for a large selection of tropical and subtropical plants is Sementes, a small shop run by German gardener Margrit Reiner. Their selection is subject to seasonal fluctuations, currently I find Annatto, Caper, Cardamom, Ceylon Cinnamon, Chaste Tree, Cloves, Grains of Paradise, Lemon (also citron), Lemon Myrtle, Licorice (also Chinese species), Lime, Long Pepper, Myrtle, Negro Pepper, Olive, Orange, Pomegranate, Pepper, Pink Pepper (Brazil and Peruvian species!), Star Anise, Tamarind, and many more exotic plants related to those discussed here, e. g., Murraya exotica, Pandanus utilis, Zanthoxylum caribaeum. Furthermore, they even have spices that I do not (currently) list here e. g., Monodora myristica and Umbellularia californica. Mrs. Reiner ships to all European countries for a modest extra fee; she doesn’t accept credit cards, but for small sums, you can pay by cash in the envelope.
Living plants can also be obtained from Aromates, Epices et Condiments du Monde entier (M Philippe Latour); the selection comprises several unusual and rare species. Shipping is restricted to France only. Despite my virtually non-existent French, I found the following plants: Annatto, Basil (O. gratissimum and O. kilimandscharicum), Caper, Cardamom (also Jawa cardamom), Chameleon plant, Chaste tree, Chile, Cicely, Fennel, Ginger, Grains of Paradise, Greater Galanga, Horseradish, Hyssop, Juniper, Kaffir Lime, Laurel, Lavender (many varieties), Lemon Balm, Lemon Grass Lemon Verbena, Lesser Galanga, Licorice, Lovage, Mexican Tarragon, Myrtle, Oregano (several varieties), Pepper, Peppermint (plus many more mints), Pink Pepper (Sch. molle and Sch. terebinthifolius), Rosemary, Rue, Saffron, Sage (many varieties, including such with fruity flavour), Savory (perennial), Sichuan Pepper, Southernwood, Tamarind, Tarragon, Thyme (several varieties), Turmeric, Vanilla, Vietnamese Coriander, Zedoary. The same vendor also sells dried spices (see above).
An comparatively large selection of seeds, living plants and dried herbs
and spices is found at Richters (it’s a Canadian company, but mostly
selling to the US market). The list is pretty impressive:
Basil (a few varieties),
various types of Celery,
Lavender (several varieties),
Licorice (also Russian and Chinese),
various types of Marjoram,
Mint (many different mints),
Onion (various varieties),
Oregano (also Mexican oregano),
Perilla (purple and green),
Pumpkin (Styrian oilseed pumpkin),
Rice Paddy Herb,
Rose (including some Damask types),
Rosemary (several varieties),
Sage (many varieties),
moreover, under the name
ajmud, the rare Indian spice
radhuni is available (see
nigella for more).
Bhatia Nurseries sell a small number of plants native to India (neem, numerous varieties of jasmine, betel pepper). From culinary point of most interesting is their selection of three different types of curry trees; furthermore, they have Indian sacred basil.
Mountain Valley Growers is a Californian nursery selling plants grown strictly organic; their current catalog contains about 300 different plants. The website features pictures of some of their plants and can be expected to grow in the future. Shipping inside the US is cheap (and even free for the Western half of the country). Currently, they offer Basil (a few varieties), Caraway, Cardamom, Chameleon plant, Chaste Tree, Chive, Dill, Epazote, Fennel, Hyssop, Lavender (several varieties), Lemon Balm, Lemon Grass, Mexican Tarragon, Mugwort, Myrtle, Oregano (also Mexican oregano), Parsley, Peppermint (plus several more mints), Rose, Rosemary (several varieties), Rue, Sage (many varieties), Savory, Southernwood, Tarragon (French), Thyme (many varieties), Vietnamese coriander.
Growing paprika and chiles is an art for itself – and, in the United States, it’s popular enough to keep alive a dozen or so vendors that sell nothing but chile seeds to hobbyists! Two of the most popular are Enchanted Seeds (P.O. Box 6087, Las Cruces, NM 88006, USA) and The Pepper Gal (P.O. Box 23006, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. 33307-3006, USA). Both have no web presence, unfortunately; but you can request their catalog and then order by mail (pay by cash inside envelope outside the US — this really works!). You find a larger collection of seed sources at the Pepper Fool Homepage (here is the link page).
In Sweden, Örtagården (
herbal garden) offers about
40 different chile varieties as seeds. They ship world-wide and accept credit
Chile (and other) seeds in incomparable selection are offered by Reimer Seeds, who ship also to destinations outside the USA. Go directly to their chile page! The number of different varieties available from Reimer is truly astonishing. In case of troubles with the ordering form (for non-US residents), their customer service will help efficiently.
Another good (and cheaper) source is Redwood City Seed Company run by Craig Dremann, the only person in the world who thinks the Habanero isn’t the hottest chile around. For beginners, they have collection of interesting chile seeds. They ship world-wide.
Often, the seeds of spice plants are used in the kitchen, and the question arises whether the seeds can be used to produce new plants. It often works well with herbs from temperate climate, but the seeds of many tropical plants have only a short germination period. Keep in mind that seeds are often steamed or otherwise heat cured to improve their shelf life; also, seeds harvested unripe won’t germinate.
Of the following plants, I know for certain that people did have success in germinating: Ajwain, Black Mustard, Caraway, Celery, Chile, Coconut, Coriander, Cumin, Fennel, Fenugreek, Lemon, Nigella, Orange, Paprika, Poppy, White Mustard; yet be aware that hybrids yield daughter plants largely different from the parents, and don’t forget that citrus fruits need grafting.
In some cases, you can also grow plants from vegetative parts; propagation is most simple in the case of rhizomes (you just have to cover them with soil). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to propagate kaffir limes nor curry leaves from the branches sold here. Although the literature states that turmeric of commerce is treated with boiling water, I have heard of a reader who was able to propagate turmeric from the fresh rhizome sold in Asian food markets. Go ahead and try it with Fingerroot, Garlic, Ginger, Greater Galangale, Horseradish, Lemon Grass, Lesser Galangale, Long Coriander, Onion, Rice Paddy Herb, Turmeric, Zedoary. Most of these plants are comparably easy to grow; rice paddy herb (rau om), however, is more difficult.
If you have success with any spice plant not listed here, please let me know!