The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

7:42 PM

Herbs and Spices of the World - Part 1

Posted by Truffle Shuffle

 Herbs and Spices of the World - I
In the culinary world, there is nothing quite so important as herbs and spices.  We use them to bring out the flavor in great foods, to make more bland foods taste interesting, and to alter the flavors of a dish.  Can you imagine the dull and lackluster plates of food we would eat if there was nothing with which to spice them up?  Imagine a world with no garlic, no pepper, no chili powder... What a horrible place!
In this series of posts, we will be discussing some of the most popular herbs and spices from around the globe.  Use it to learn something new about a spice you use every day, or to find a new herb you have never tried!  Whatever your taste, be sure that herbs and spices hold a position of majesty in your kitchen.


This wonderful spice is actually the dry bark of the cinnamon tree.  Originating in Sri Lanka, this spice is often sold in curls of bark, is also quite regularly found in ground form. It may also be found in the form of chips of bark, or granules of bark.  Cinnamon has been used for thousands of years, treasured for its uniquely spicy flavor, and rich aromatic scent. 
The thin inner pieces of bark from the cinnamon tree are cultivated and dried, following which the cinnamon is cut into small pieces, often the size of which you would find in any package of cinnamon bark. If you wish to obtain the best flavor from your cinnamon, but the bark in this fashion, and grind it yourself.  This can be done either in a spice grinder, using a mortal and pestle, or by scraping off small pieces as needed (I like to use a fine hard cheese grater, or the side of a small kitchen utility knife).
 Cinnamon Roll

Cinnamon has long been used as a flavoring for baked goods and drinks, in savory dishes, with fruit, mixed with sugar (to create cinnamon and sugar), in cinnamon oil, and in confections.  However, cinnamon is also praised for its medicinal and holistic uses.  For instance, it has been used to cure the common cold, to aid in digestion of food, and to treat diarrhea.  Cinnamon oil has also been used in food preservation.
Cinnamon is a very versatile spice, and not just in sweet goods.  Try adding it to chicken or duck, to soups, or to spice mixes.  The great aromatic flavor can help kick up the taste of your dish.  Try adding cinnamon and sugar to toast or to baked goods, and try sprinkling a little cinnamon over a cup of hot chocolate or cappuccino. 
 Cinnamon vs Cassia
Fact: did you know that the "cinnamon" we often see sold in America today is actually cassia, not true cinnamon.  There are also several other types of related plants stemming from different regions of the world.  However, true Ceylon cinnamon is revered for its superior flavor.
Use in combination with: cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves.

Lemon Balm
 Lemon Balm

This herb is a relative of mint, and has a mild lemon scent and flavor.  It has long been considered a calming herb, and has thus been used to make tea.  The leaves may be found in fresh or dried form, and can also be used in cooking.  It is sometimes used in making confections and other desserts.  It can also be used in savory dishes, to add a mild minty, lemony flavor.  Try using with pork or lamb.
Dried, Ground Lemon Balm
Try chopping up fresh lemon balm and adding it to a bowl of chopped mixed fruit.  It will add a nice zesty flavor. 
Lemon balm has long been used for its calming effects, to promote sleep, relaxation, and longevity.  It has also been used in the treatment of cold sores found in the mouth.
 Lemon Balm Tea

Fact: lemon balm contains eugenol and tannins, which help fight bacteria and viruses.
Use in combination with: rosemary, mint, thyme, and bay leaf.

Poppy Seed
 Poppy Seeds

These seeds are the small seeds of the opium poppy.  They are very small and dark black, white or bluish in color, and may be found in raw or toasted forms.  Toasting poppy seeds releases their oils, and brings out their great aroma and flavor.  Poppy seeds can also be made into poppy seed oil, which is a fairly uncommon type of cooking oil.
Types of Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds are used in many ways, including in salad dressings, on baked goods, and even in savory dishes.  The use of poppy seeds in savory food is very popular in India, where it is used to make many dishes, including being mixed with potatoes, served with vegetables, and in the form of a poppy seed paste
Try toasting some of these seeds in a dry pan or skillet, and adding them to bread or buns, crackers, pretzels, croissants, muffins, or many other baked goods.  Also, try adding poppy seeds to chicken or other poultry dishes.
Poppy Seed Bagel

Fact: since poppy seeds come from the opium poppy, they contain traces of opiates, but do not harbor enough to have any visible effect when consumed in normal amounts.
Use in combination with: lemon zest, paprika, chili powder or cayenne pepper, garlic, cumin, coriander, and tumeric.

If you found this post to be informative, please keep an eye out for my future postings, in which I will discuss many more herbs and spices from around the world!  Have an herb or spice you would like to see discussed here?  E-mail me at

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