Herbs and Spices


Introduction Herbs and Spices


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The terms 'herbs' and 'spices' are used today for all fresh and dried plant parts that have an intensive aroma and are suitable for the preparation of foods. They taste aromatic, bitter or spicy. Originally, only particular parts of dried aromatic plants were called spices. These were – according to the species of plant – the seeds, flowers, leaves, bark, stems, bulbs or roots.

We buy herbs and spices already cut, granulated, ground or rubbed, but they are frequently also available uncut. Herbs and spices are most aromatic if they are ground just before use, when their content of ethereal oils is at its peak. To this end, there are mills specifically for dried herbs.

By 'herbs' we generally mean mainly domestic, indigenous herbaceous plants or parts thereof that are also intensively aromatic. It is sometimes difficult to draw a clear line between herbs and vegetables. Herbs should be used fresh whenever possible, as this is when their flavour is strongest. Herbs belong more to the spices when they are dried or when they are used in only small amounts.

Herbs and spices give variety to food and make it more appetizing. They accentuate the natural flavour of a food by perfecting or complementing it. Seasoning is an art, however, requiring experience and instinct – or at least a good cookery book. Both the dosage and the combination of the seasonings must harmonize with the food.

The possible tastes in seasoning are manifold and traditionally very varied. Conspicuous are the different preferences beyond our borders, for instance, if we compare Chinese with Italian cooking. But within Germany as well, the preparation of many dishes is completely different from region to region. This assortment offers us a variety of pleasures that we should not miss.

Herbs and spices are used not only for reasons of taste, but also for their effects on our health. These effects are generally based on old experiences from naturopathy and often lack strict scientific proof. Many spices contain aromatic ethereal oils in which so-called secondary plant substances are found that are presumed to have a number of healthy effects.

Some therapeutic successes are possibly speculative, but numerous herbs and spices are regarded above all in naturopathy and in alternative methods of treatment as traditional remedies. This is also suggested by the botanical names of many plants which include the addition 'officinalis' or 'officinale' (meaning medicinal). Descriptions of individual seasonings should at least make you aware of these effects.

In contrast to other food groups, in the chapters about herbs and spices you will find no details about the composition of individual nutrients. One might easily overestimate a high vitamin or mineral content from such tables, because seasonings are normally used in very small amounts. Therefore, the nutrients that you consume through herbs and spices play no role in supplying your daily requirement. Instead, this food group has other clear advantages.

It is best to keep dried spices cool and dry in airtight containers. Ground products especially must be protected from the effects of light in order to preserve their aroma. Basically, spices keep longer if they are not minced. Ground spices should be used up within several months.

In the case of fresh herbs, you should first remove the bottom leaves and then lay them with their stems in water. If the water is changed daily they will remain fresh for several days. They can be kept somewhat longer if the cleaned, slightly moist herbs are deposited in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Herbs also freeze well, either whole or minced in an ice-cube tray.

Many herbs are also sold throughout the year in small flowerpots. They keep considerably longer than cut herbs, and with some luck and good care they will even continue to grow.