Since ancient times, the fragrant spice has delighted palates, influenced the fate of nations, and been hailed for its supposed medicinal properties. Whether it’s sprinkled atop a steaming pumpkin spice latte, dropped as a curl of bark into a hot wintertime cider, or featured in an aromatic, freshly baked apple pie, cinnamon has the power to evoke a degree of nostalgia and luxury that few other spices can match.

Black Pepper

Whereas other spices live tucked away in dark cupboards black pepper proudly stands in shakers and grinders on the kitchen counter or – holiest of holy places – the dining table in nearly every single home and restaurant. It’s the only spice that finds its way into nearly every single dish.


The ancient Egyptians chewed cardamom seeds as a tooth cleaner; the Greeks and Romans used it as a perfume. Vikings came upon cardamom about one thousand years ago, in Constantinople, and introduced it into Scandinavia, where it remains popular to this day.


To aid digestion the Romans enjoyed anise-spiced cakes after heavy meals and it was spread throughout Europe by Roman legions. In the Bible there is mention of paying tax with anise. In 1305, anise was listed by King Edward I as a taxable drug and merchants bringing it into London paid a toll to help raise money to maintain and repair London bridge.


Chia is an edible seed that comes from a desert plant grown in Mexico dating back to Mayan and Aztec cultures. “Chia” means strength, and folklore has it that these cultures used the tiny black and white seeds as an energy booster. That makes sense, as chia seeds are a concentrated food containing healthy omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium.


The earliest written mention of cloves is in writings from the Han dynasty in China which tell how officers of the court were made to hold cloves in their mouth when talking to the king, apparently to insure the sweetness and acceptability of their breath. Vast forests of clove trees flourished on the famous Molucca Islands in Indonesia and were encouraged in their abundance by a native custom of planting a clove tree whenever a child was born

Dried Ginger

Ginger is native to Southeast Asia and is also cultivated in Africa, Australia and Jamaica. Ginger was introduced to Europe and the Middle East from the Orient in a dried form, which explains why many dishes call for dried ginger rather than fresh. ginger had religious significance among Austronesians, being used in rituals for healing and for asking protection from spirits. It was also used in the blessing of Austronesian ships. In the Middle Ages, spices were used as currency; a pound of ginger could easily buy you a sheep.

Dried Chilli

When Christopher Columbus and his crew reached the Caribbean, they were the first Europeans to encounter Capsicum, calling them “peppers” because they, like black pepper or Piper as was known in Europe, have a spicy, hot taste unlike other foods. The spread of chili peppers to Asia occurred through its introduction by Portuguese traders, who, aware of its trade value and resemblance to the spiciness of black pepper, promoted its commerce in the Asian spice trade routes.


Wall paintings from ancient times show that dried raisins were consumed and used as decorations in the Mediterranean regions. They were given as prizes in sporting events, used as barter to trade, and used as a cure for what ails you. Ancient physicians prescribed raisins as potions that could cure everything from mushroom poisoning to old age. Emperor Augustus feasted on small birds stuffed with raisins. Even Hannibal had raisins in his troops’ rations when he crossed the Alps.

Black Cumin/Nigella/Kalonji

Probably one of the most confused of spices, they are referred to as nigella seeds, onion seeds, black cumin, black caraway, fennel flower or kalonji. However you choose to name this spice, what it lacks in aroma — it has just a hint of a savory scent — it makes up for in taste. Nigella sativa seeds were said to have been found in King Tut’s tomb and have been used for thousands of years as a preservative, a spice, and as the Prophet Muhammad said, a seed with healing powers.

Khus khus/Poppy Seeds

The Egyptian papyrus written in 1550 BC, lists poppy seed as a sedative. The Cretan civilization from 2700 BCE cultivated poppies for their seed, and used a milk, opium and honey mixture to calm crying babies. Khus khus is used for treating a host of ailments including heart diseases, digestion, hair and skin ailments, insomnia, diabetes, bone disorder and neural problems.


Although both spices come from the same tree, nutmeg and mace do differ from each other. Mace is a little spicier and can be described as a combination of pepper and cinnamon. Even though they grow as one, they are rarely used together in a recipe.


Historically, grated nutmeg was used as a sachet, and the Romans used it as incense. Around 1600 it became important as an expensive commercial spice in the Western world and was the subject of Dutch plots to keep prices high and of English and French counterplots to obtain fertile seeds for transplantation. The nutmegs sold whole were dipped in lime to prevent their sprouting.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil, once vilified for its saturated-fat content as a potential artery-clogger, has enjoyed a new, almost superfood status. People who include coconut as part of their native diets (e.g., India, Philippines, Polynesia) have low rates of cardiovascular disease

Spice Essence

Essence and oils of spices