What are spices?
Spices are those hard parts, usually coming from the seeds or barks of plants, with aromatic properties.
Most of the spices that we use in our daily life are originally from Asia and its tropical regions, however, there are well known cases of spices from the Mediterranean area, such as anise or mustard.
Due to their properties, many of them should be consumed in small doses and with caution, since they can become toxic for our organism if we abuse them in excess.
In the same way, their great aromatic and flavoring capacity allows foods to greatly enhance their flavor using very small amounts.
History of spices
Since there is evidence of their use, already in the ancient Roman Empire, spices were one of the most valuable products of the economy, since they have always had a great value as a condiment, both for food and for the preparation of medicines or perfumes, as well as fulfilling the function of masking bad flavors of foods that, without the possibility of being kept cold, quickly took bad smells and flavors. Hence, they have always been consumed in greater abundance in warmer countries.
Given their high economic value throughout history, many unpleasant chapters have been written by the spice trade between countries, something that, today, no longer happens thanks to globalization and the free market.
Many of today’s exporting countries are considered developing countries, so for their protection, the International Spice Group was founded in 1983 to control the safety mechanisms necessary for spices to become the complement and differentiating delicacy of the world’s most exquisite dishes.
In addition to their culinary use, spices and seasonings have historically been great allies of medicine. Before the generalization of their manufacture and use in medicines, remedies made with herbs and condiments were already prescribed, sometimes effective, sometimes more homeopathic, but sometimes used to make or obtain certain compounds used in other medicines.
How are spices classified?
We find a great variety of spices and types of these, but we will try to classify them into two main types, those that modify the flavor of food, and those that excite the palate.
- Flavorings: The traditional thing when it comes to cooking is to think that, to flavor food, the amount of salt is what counts, however, there are a variety of alternatives to this to give more flavor to recipes.
Flavoring spices will transform or improve cooked foods to enhance their flavor and give more variety to meals, from sweet to spicy touches.
Here we can find among others, spices such as saffron, cinnamon, thyme, rosemary, etc.
- Exciting: In turn, other types of spices can add more than just flavor, since their more exciting properties endow foods with new culinary horizons.
However, these types of spices should be used in moderation, since their intensity can be unpleasant or even harmful to our organism.
Among many others, we find spices such as pepper, paprika, nutmeg, chili peppers, etc.
On the other hand, within each of these two types, we can group each spice according to its origin into five subgroups:
- Bark: These are the spices obtained from the coating of the branches of certain plants, such as cassia or cinnamon.
- Seeds: In this type we find the spices that we obtain from seeds of plants, both from their fruit and flower. Here we can find some such as anise and star anise, cumin, mustard, juniper, pepper, walnut, chili, vanilla, sesame…
- Dried flowers: These are obtained by drying the flowers, or a part of them, such as saffron, cloves, etc.
- Roots and rhizomes: These are extracted from parts of the seeds of certain plants. We have roots such as licorice, arugula, or wasabi, and other rhizomes among which we find ginger, or turmeric.
- Arils: They would be those coming from the fleshy fraction that covers certain seeds. Here we would find some like the mace, which covers the nutmeg.
Transportation, preservation and storage of spices
Throughout history, the trade and transport of spices has been closely associated with some sad chapters in our history as a society. Today, however, it is fortunately quite different.
It has become a matter of trade relations between those countries producing spices (exporters) and those countries consuming spices (importers). Nowadays, it is much easier to find a wide variety of spices almost all over the world, with the USA, Japan and, in Europe, France, Germany and, increasingly, Spain as the largest importers of spices, while the largest producers and exporters of spices are China, Madagascar, Tanzania and Indonesia.
For the conservation and storage of spices, several factors must be taken into account in order to understand their properties and keep them in an optimal state until their arrival at their final destination.
Achieving an ideal state of preservation is essential to keep all their properties intact, and for this purpose their main vulnerabilities must be well understood, which are:
- Packaging: It is very common for spices to come from developing countries, which means that they are packaged in sacks, a packaging that can easily crack or break and allow them to be exposed to external damage.
- Humidity: Changes in the environment can easily damage most spices, if there is too much humidity, it is very likely that they can lose their flavor, or even their texture. For this reason it is also advisable when cooking, not to pour them directly from the container, as steam can enter the container.
- Sunlight: Excessive sunlight and ultraviolet rays can damage certain spices. As a general rule, all of them usually come already dry from their place of production, in its just measure, so that an overexposure again to the Sun can alter its ideal state.
- Air: A vulnerability that goes hand in hand with their packaging, because if the air flows easily, without a type of airtight packaging, when going all together, it is possible that some transfer their aromas and more powerful flavor to other more sensitive ones.
- Insects: Although, thanks to their strong aroma, some spices such as garlic or cinnamon scare away insects, the fact that many are plants, implies that many others such as larvae, spiders or parasites are attracted to them, which contaminates them.
Knowing their main vulnerabilities, it is important to learn from them how to preserve spices for proper storage and transport, and to extend their shelf life as much as possible, preserving their main properties as much as possible.
This implies a perfectly prepared logistics, which involves:
- Perfectly sealed and airtight packaging.
- Perfectly controlled humidity without variations.
- Spice storage places at stable temperatures and without the entry of natural light.
- Controlled air flow at all times.
- A perfectly sanitized environment with no gaps for pests to enter.
The road transport of spices has increased considerably over the last 10 years in the European Union, therefore, it is very important to be able to comply with all these indications to store and transport spices correctly to their final destination.
There has been an average annual growth of 4.4% in the number of tons of spice pallets imported by road by truck.
The main countries from which Spain imports spices are Germany and Portugal. However, Spain is a country that exports very few spices and seasonings to other countries, but some countries such as Switzerland, France or the United Kingdom buy spices in bulk from Valencia, Murcia, Andalusia or Catalonia.
Therefore, from Antonio Marco, we know each and every one of the products we transport, as well as their optimal conservation methods to transport the goods in perfect conditions to their final destination. In addition, thanks to our large logistics center and the professionalism of our team, we are able to meet the requirements that each type of product may need.
At Antonio Marco we can help you to transport and preserve spices with guarantee and good service.