Spices of the Season
This article has a look at the spices we most commonly associate with this time of year:
Allspice comes from the dried, unripened fruit of a small evergreen tree in the Carribbean and has a flavor suggesting a blend of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It was exported to Europe in the early 1600s as a substitution for cardamom. It is used in seasonings, sauces, sausages, ketchup, jams, pumpkin, gravies, roasts, hams, baked goods and teas.
Cinnamon comes from the dried inner bark of various evergreen trees belonging to the genus Cinnamomum. Cinnamomum burmannii is primarily imported from Indonesia and is the most common form of cinnamon in the United States. Vietnam is the source for Cinnamomum loureirii, sometimes called Saigon cinnamon. Cinnamomum zeylanicum, grown in Sri Lanka, is actually "true cinnamon."
Cloves are the dried, unopened, nail-shaped flower buds of the evergreen Syzygium aromaticum. Indonesia is the largest producer of cloves, although those of Madagascar are considered superior. Cloves were extremely costly in the past and wars were fought to secure exclusive rights to the profitable clove business.
Ginger is the dried knobby-shaped root of the perennial herb Zingiber officinale. The plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Once the leaves of the plant die, the thick roots, about 6 inches long, are dug up. China and India are the principal sources of ginger. During the 15th century, gingerbread became a gift of love and respect.
Nutmeg is the seed of the fruit that grows on the tree Myristica fragans. Nutmeg blends well with other spices and is found in the ethnic cuisines of Italy, the Caribbean, France, India, Germany, Scandinavia, Greece, Latin America and the Middle East.