Many people are used to having herbs and spices nicely packaged in a powdered form. The spice section of the grocery store is full of powdered herbs and spices, from basil and dill to cumin and coriander. If you head over to the produce section, you’ll often see some fresh cilantro, thyme, and rosemary.
Most people know that herbs are the leafy green part of plants, but where do spices come from? If there are fresh herbs, is there such a thing as “fresh spices?” An answer to this question, as well as some of the most common spices, are highlighted below.
Where Do spices Come From?
Spices do in fact come from plants, just not the leafy parts. Spices are dried or crushed bark, flowers, seeds, root, stem, or fruit of a plant. It’s easy to imagine plucking off a few leaves of fresh basil to add to a dish, but a bit more difficult to imagine scraping off a piece of cinnamon bark and adding it to your dessert.
This is why you won’t find any fresh spices in the produce section. Because of the nature of spices, they need to be dried and ground before use. Let’s take a look at where some of the common spices originate.
Cinnamon is often found in powdered form, although it can also be found in the form of cinnamon sticks. It is obtained from the inner bark of a tree from the genus Cinnamomum. The strips of the bark are then dried until they curl into the rolls that you know as “cinnamon sticks.”
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The cinnamon that most people are used to using is actually known as cassia cinnamon, from the Cinnamomum cassia tree. “True” cinnamon comes from the bark of Cinnamomum verum, which is native to Sri Lanka.1
Allspice sounds (and smells) like a mixture of different spices, but it is actually one spice. Believe it or not, allspice is actually a fruit that is picked from the tropical Pimenta dioica tree, then dried and sold in either whole berry or ground form.2
Anise, also referred to as aniseed, is the seed of the Pimpinella anisum plant. It belongs to the same family as carrots, parsley, and celery. Although other parts of the plant are edible, the plant is most well-known for its seeds, which have a licorice-like taste and fragrant aroma.
Star anise is commonly confused with anise, and for good reason. Although they share the same name, they are two completely different spices. Star anise is the dried fruit of a small evergreen tree (Illicium verum) and has a more intense licorice flavor than anise.3
Nutmeg is the dried seed of the nutmeg tree, botanically known as Myristica fragrans. The nutmeg tree is an evergreen native to Indonesia and provides both nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is the inner seed, while mace is the lacy, red coating of the nutmeg seed. When this outer coating is dried, it becomes a yellowish-brown color. 4
Cloves are the dried flower buds from the evergreen clove tree, botanically known as Syzygium aromaticum. The flower buds are harvested while they are still immature and can be found in the whole or powdered form. When used whole, they are taken out of a dish before serving.
Although many spices come from plants that aren’t native to North America, many herbs can be grown easily in your own garden or kitchen. You can even dry and grind them yourself. Try adding herbs and spices into your daily routine to benefit from both the taste and the medicinal properties they offer.
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