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Spices in the Agadir market , Morocco , 2005
A spice shop in Nasiriyya , Iraq with imported spices from India , 2007
Spices in Jiayuguan , China
Spices in a supermarket in Abu Dhabi

Spices are parts of plants ( leaves , flowers , bark , roots , fruits , juice ) that occur fresh, dried or processed and that, due to their natural content of flavoring and odorous substances ( essential oils ), are used as seasoning or flavoring ingredients in the preparation of dishes and Beverages of all kinds are used. All other substances that serve to improve the taste or improve digestibility are referred to as condiments .

Spices are not only useful in terms of taste, but are also traditionally used to preserve food and beverages. Their scent also drives away storage pests .


Spices played just as important an economic and political role in Europe in the Middle Ages and early modern times as oil does today . They were extremely valuable because they were used not only for seasoning, but also as preservatives and the basis of medicines . In addition, some spices, such as nutmeg and cloves, were important status symbols .

The spice trade , especially with spices from Asia , was therefore a lucrative business, through which primarily Arab states and the Italian maritime republics , and later also the colonial powers, became rich, which is why they defended their monopoly position with armed force. The opening of the sea ​​route around Africa from Europe to the islands of Hinterindiens from the 15th century was the beginning of European expansion .

As early as the 12th century, Hildegard von Bingen, the “first female doctor”, referred to the healing power of spices in treatises. The most expensive spices today are: saffron , followed by vanilla and cardamom . In the past, pepper was so valuable that it was outweighed by gold . The derogatory term pepper sack for a rich person comes from this era . Cinnamon was also very precious: 1530 the merchant to Anton Fugger the IOUs Charles V have burned before his eyes in a fire of cinnamon sticks to demonstrate his wealth.

However, spices have been used for a long time. Dill spread from the eastern Mediterranean towards the Atlantic more than 5000 years ago. Its use in food preparation was dated for about 3600 BC. Proven in the western Alps. The Pharaoh Amenophis II also settled in 1400 BC. Place dill in the grave. Also capers were placed on the territory of modern Turkey in food before some 6750 years ago. They were also found in 7,800-year-old pots from today's Syria. Coriander was found in 3,000 to 4,000 year old kitchen scraps from today's Syria as well as in Egypt from the second millennium BC, and cumin was also used in kitchens in those times . But not only sedentary people, but also their nomadic ancestors already used spices. Coriander, for example, was found in the Nahal Hemar cave in Israel, which was used 23,000 years ago. Already about 6000 years ago, at the change to settling down , people in the western Baltic Sea area seasoned their dishes with garlic mustard . Archaeologists found remains of the peppery and garlic- tasting plant in pots in which fish and game were prepared.


The word Gewürz has its origin in the Middle High German Gewürz (" Gewürz ") from wurz ( Old High German  wurz und wurza , mhd. Wurz (e) , nhd. Wurz ) and in its original forms simply meant 'root'. This meaning is preserved z. B. in the words hazel root (or hazel root ) and hellebore .

Classification according to origin

By definition, only parts of plants are considered spices.

For some plants, such as caraway, cinnamon and nutmeg, several parts of the plant can be used.

According to the definition of spices as "dried plant parts", no "spices" are:


Spices on an Indian market

The flavor-enhancing effect of the spices is based on volatile compounds, the essential oils. Due to their slight volatility, they not only give the food a pleasant smell, but also a pleasant taste, since the overall taste sensation is largely in the nose . Depending on the intention, you can use spices to give a meal a completely different flavor and thus perhaps cover up an undesirable flavor or emphasize, supplement and strengthen the original taste of the food. Since the essential oils contained in the spices can also develop physiological effects, various spices can also be used for medicinal purposes.

The main functions of spices are

  • Conservation of seasoned foods (chilli, rosemary)
  • Stimulation of the appetite through bitter substances (rosemary, bitter orange peel )
  • Stimulation of digestion by stimulating stomach activity (pepper)
  • Help with intestinal cramps and prevention of flatulence (fennel, anise, caraway)
  • Improving the taste of spoiled or bland foods (orange blossom)
  • Supplement and enhancement of the taste of dishes with little aroma (vanilla)

There are also individual effects that go beyond the groups mentioned. Many spices and herbs have been used for health purposes since ancient times. A distinction can be made between short-term effects and longer-term effects on the human organism. For example:

  • Stimulates the formation of bile, promotes fat digestion (onions, garlic)
  • Favorable effects on the intestinal flora (ginger, garlic)
  • Aphrodisiac effect, activation of the cardiovascular system (cloves, chilli, ginger, cocoa beans)
  • Promotion of concentration, encouraging (cocoa beans, coffee beans, guarana , cola nuts )
  • Relaxation, calming down, sleep promotion (sage, nutmeg)


Since until the beginning of colonization many spices in Europe were rare and correspondingly expensive, their use was unnecessarily abundant in view of their status character.

The herbal spices are usually crushed, grated or ground, unless they are available as an essence or extract . In order to better control the flavoring effect, for longer cooking processes such as stewing or braising, the spices can be filled into a spice ball, similar to a tea infuser, and thus easily removed without leaving any residue. Food technology needs more and more processed spices and prefers spice preparations that only consist of essential oils .

See also


Web links

Commons : Spice  Collection of Images
Wiktionary: Spice  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Hans Braxmeier: Are salt and sugar actually spices? (with reference to Allgemeine Deutsche Real-Encyklopädie für die educated Estates. 1827, p. 691)
  2. Definition according to Duden , as of 2017, Gewürz : "Aromatic substance consisting of certain parts of aromatic plants or made from them, which is added to food in order to give it a certain taste."
  3. Hansjörg Küster: Oldest references to gardens. Spices in the Neolithic of Central Europe . In: Renate Rolle, Frank M. Andraschko (Ed.): Early use of plant resources. International Symposium Duderstadt, 12. – 15. May 1994 . LIT Verlag, Münster 1999, p. 55–60, here p. 56 .
  4. Hayley Saul, Marco Madella, Anders Fischer, Aikaterini Glykou, Sönke Hartz, Oliver E. Craig: Phytoliths in Pottery Reveal the Use of Spice in European Prehistoric Cuisine . In: PLoS ONE 8 (8): 2013, e70583. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0070583 .