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Some herbs and spices, such as basil (basileus), whose name means “king,” have names that invoke grandeur. Coriander, a member of the parsley family, is not one of those spices. Its English name comes from the Greek word koris, which means stink bug. This name may be the fault of the coriander plant’s strong smell, but it’s difficult to say, as coriander has been around for a very long time. The earliest archaeological evidence (coriander seeds found in caves in Israel) dates back 8,000 years. The Coriandrum sativum plant actually produces both a herb and a spice. Coriander leaves are...

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When most people think of the history of garlic, they likely think of the people of medieval Romania wielding garlic against suspected vampires. However, garlic was used long before the middle ages. So long before, in fact, that the actual origins of garlic (Allium sativum) are uncertain. It has been used historically in the Middle East and much of Asia to treat bronchitis, hypertension, tuberculosis, liver ailments, dysentery, colic, intestinal worms, rheumatism, diabetes, and fevers. Garlic has been used as a medicinal plant in India since the beginning of recorded history. The herb may have originated in central or southern...

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Had Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman actually walked the streets of Morocco while filming Casablanca—rather than the streets of a Warner Brothers Studios film set in California—the air around them would have been filled with the scent of Moroccan street food, with cumin being one of the chief aromas. However, though strongly associated with Moroccan street cookery, cumin is not actually native to that country. The cumin plant, Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family, is indigenous to Egypt and the Levant, where the spice has been used since ancient times in both cookery and mummification. “Cumin” is the...

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  Nutmeg, like cinnamon, is a spice that many people associate with hot drinks and desserts. But its history isn’t so sweet. The colonial policies of Europe’s erstwhile empires were driven in part by the profits that could be derived from the spice trade—and European colonizers did not tend to treat indigenous populations well. As a result, the history of many spices is marred by war and subjugation; however, nutmeg’s history is considered to be one of the more tragic tales. Though nutmeg would become incredibly popular amongst the European nobility during the Middle Ages, the spice was far less...

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Everyone knows cinnamon. The spice is sprinkled on warm beverages, baked in pastries, and taken by the spoonful by teenagers and preteens participating in the social media-based “cinnamon challenge” (an activity that Vanillablossom wholeheartedly does NOT encourage). But what most people may not realize is that the spice sitting in their pantry is likely not “true” cinnamon. That’s right, there’s more than one type of cinnamon. Two, in fact: Ceylon and cassia. Though both Ceylon cinnamon and cassia are produced from the bark of trees belonging to the laurel family, Lauraceae, Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is considered to be “true”...

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