A Brief Look At Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are products of plants that are used to add flavor or aroma to food. Herbs and spices generally come from plants that are grown in the more temperate climates or in countries with warmer climates.
Herbs are usually the leaves and seeds of plants. Examples of common herbs are sage, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and marjoram. A sub group of herbs have onions, chives and other strongly flavored vegetables belonging to it. Spices, on the other hand, have a stronger flavor than herbs. Spices can be classified under several types; namely, berries, roots, bark and other dried plant parts like seeds.
The Uses of Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices were used long ago, even before there were records of them in written documents. They have been used in medicines, cosmetics and mainly put flavor and aroma in food. Several herbs and spices were also utilized in superstitious beliefs and magic. Garlic is believed to repel some evil spirits and other forms of monsters while thyme was said to give an individual courage.
Other than in food, herbs, and also spices, were often effectively used as medicines and other remedies for illnesses and other conditions. In ancients Europe, monks would cultivate herb gardens and use the herbs to produce medicines and some beverages.
The Spice Trade
Before the early 1200's, Europeans did not know where the herbs and spices came from until the famous traveler, Marco Polo, wrote of his travels around most of Asia and China. He wrote of the spices which he encountered in various parts of Asia. The Arab traders who brought the spices to Europe had kept the secret of where they had gotten the unique herbs and spices which can not be grown in the cold climate of Europe before.
Upon Marco Polo's revelation of where the spices come from, many ships were sent to Asia to acquire the coveted herbs and spices. Sailors braved the seas and high winds just to bring home with them several barrels and boxes of the spices from the Spice Islands, which is now part of Indonesia.
Herbs and spices are generally used to increase the personal enjoyment of foods nowadays. They are much easier to come by than ancient times and they have other uses also instead of just flavoring for food. Stronger flavored herbs like basil, oregano and sage add zest to cooked food. Whole spices are also used in dishes that require longer time in cooking.
To this very day, India and some parts of Southeast Asia still supply the most quantities of spices to the world.