Spices are the aromatic parts of tropical plants traditionally used to flavour food, or the dried seeds or fruit of temperate plants used in the same way. Some of the substances we call spices come from the bark or roots of certain plants, but the majority are berries, seeds, or dried fruits.
Some of the most popular spices in New Zealand – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, pepper – are native to the Asian tropics. Some of the aromatic seed spices – coriander, fennel, fenugreek, mustard, poppy – are native to the Mediterranean region. A few spices – allspice, chillies, vanilla – are native to parts of the Carribean and Central America.
Complex flavours can be created by using mixtures of spices that complement each other. Some spices are used for their taste while others are used for their aroma. The stage at which spices are added to a dish can make a big difference. Typically they will impart flavour if added at the beginning of the cooking process, but if they are added at the end it is their aromas that will be most noticeable.
View our latest spicy recipe and our recipe archive and tips for cooking with spices.
The aroma and flavour of spices come from essential oils. The oils in most spices contain a dozen or more constituent chemical compounds. Many of these chemicals are present in more than one spice (which is why cinnamon and cloves have a similar flavour), although typically these chemicals are in different proportions.
To release the essential oils in spices, the cell walls must be ruptured. This can be done by:
The essential oils in spices are volatile and they begin to evaporate once exposed through processing. This is why spices are best (in terms of their aroma and flavour) when they are freshly processed. In their whole form though, some spices can keep for years.
Spices are becoming increasingly popular in modern New Zealand cuisine. We stock the following spice products –
View details about all these spices in our online spice shop.