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Spices 101

The History of the spice trade is a fascinating one and one of the main propellants of globalization. For as long as we know, the quest for the attainment of spices has always been mans greatest venture. Spice trading in the Far East thrived before European voyagers arrived. From trekking and trading on the Silk Road to Sailing the unknown and dangerous seas, the journey to obtain exotic ingredients to make medicines, perfume, enhance flavors and preserve meats went far and wide. These commodities were mainly found in South Asia and South East Asia but the most prized spices were exclusively found in the Mollucas islands of Indonesia as it was once known as the Spice Islands.

At the time, the Spice Islands were the largest producers of cloves, nutmeg, pepper, mace and a variety of other spices in the world. The rich luxuriant tropical environment and volcanic soil was perfectly suited to grow these in large quantities. Cloves, nutmeg and mace are native to Indonesia and was the only place to find these spices. These spices were highly sought out and were the most expensive. Because of the way they shipped these goods and however many times they were purchased from trader to trader, by the time these spices reached Europe, their worth shot up to 1000% more than what they paid for in Indonesia. Hard to believe there was a time where cloves were worth more than gold when today it costs $3 for a few ounces!

In my next blogs I am focusing on the common spices that are commonly found and used in Indonesia. But first what is the definition of "Spice" and the difference between a spice and an herb?

Before I started my culinary journey, I always mixed up herbs and spices because of their subtle similarities and lumped both categories as spices. Now that I know better, I can tell the difference! Spices are basically the dried seed, flower, berry, root, or bark of a plant. An Herb is the green leafy part of a herbaceous (non woody) plant like rosemary and thyme! A perfect example is the Cilantro (we like to call it Coriander) plant which has both herb and spice. The leaves of the Cilantro is an herb but the seeds, known as Coriander seeds, is a spice. *mind blown*

*Side fact: salt is not considered a spice but a mineral!

Herbs are most often used in savory dishes and used in higher quantities because of its light flavor. Spices are more potent in flavor so only a small amount is needed and depending on the spice, can be used as a preservative. Herbs and spices are strongest in flavor and aroma when fresh from the garden or freshly grounded. Dried herbs and spices can be preserved for basically forever but they lose their aroma and flavor in time especially once you grind them. So keep in mind how long you hold your spices and make sure they are stored in a cool and dry area and grind when you need them.

Till next time folks!

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