During the Christmas holidays, the scent of cinnamon, aniseed and cardamom fills the air. In addition to their enchanting fragrance, some Christmas spices can also have a positive effect on health. Find out everything you need to know about the 10 most popular spices for the holiday season below.
Classification: Cardamom belongs to the ginger family and primarily grows in tropical regions.
Taste: The aroma of cardamom is subtle, sweet, and slightly spicy.
Use: Like saffron and vanilla, cardamom is one of the most expensive spices. You can buy both, whole capsules and ground seeds. The aroma of ground cardamom dissipates quite quickly, so it is best to always grind the seeds just before use.
Mace and nutmeg
Classification: Mace and nutmeg both come from the nutmeg tree, which grows mainly in tropical areas. Nowadays, the main producer of these two spices is Grenada, an island in the Antilles.
Taste: While nutmeg has a very strong, slightly nutty, and woody flavour, mace is characterised by its mild and delicate aroma.
Use: Nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg fruit, while mace is the seed covering. You can buy both in powder form or as whole ‘nuts’ or strips, respectively. Nutmeg is poisonous in high doses – so use it sparingly. But unless you grate and eat a whole nut at a time, there will be no adverse effects.
Classification: Cloves belong to the myrtle family. Originating from Indonesia, today they are cultivated worldwide, but the best cloves are produced on the Maluku Islands (an Indonesian archipelago), Madagascar, and Zanzibar.
Taste: Cloves have an intense flavour that is both sweet and spicy.
Use: Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove tree. They are available either as whole buds or as a dark brown powder. When clove powder is sand-coloured, it is likely to consist partly of ground stems.
Classification: Star anise belongs to the magnolia family and originates from southern China.
Taste: Its taste is reminiscent of aniseed. This is because both fruits’ essential oils contain the chemical compound anethole.
Use: The star-shaped fruits consist of 6 to 10 capsules containing seeds. The essential oils are mainly found in the fruit, not in the seed.
Classification: Ginger belongs to the family of the same name and is produced mainly in China and India.
Taste: Ginger’s slight pungency is caused by gingerols, substances which change into the milder shogaols when ginger is stored for longer periods of time. Ginger has a refreshing and slightly woody taste.
Use: You can grate ginger or use dried powder. If ginger peels smoothly, that’s a good indication that it’s still fresh.
Classification: The allspice tree belongs to the myrtle family and is found mainly in Mexico and Jamaica.
Taste: Its flavour is reminiscent of clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon. This is due to eugenol, a component of the essential oil which is also found in cloves. Because of its spicy taste, allspice is also known as Jamaica pepper.
Use: Allspice is used as whole, dried berries or ground to powder.
Classification: Aniseed belongs to the Umbelliferae family and is native to the Asian and south-eastern Mediterranean region.
Taste: Aniseed has an intense aroma. The taste is similar to liquorice and also has a floral component.
Use: The fruit of the aniseed is used for cooking, not the seeds, as is often assumed.
Classification: The tonka tree belongs to the Fabaceae family and originates from South America.
Taste: The tonka bean’s sweet aroma is comparable to vanilla, making it a popular alternative.
Use: The dark seeds are extracted from the fruits of the tonka tree and are, strictly speaking, not beans. They grow to a size of about 6 cm. You can use a nutmeg grater on tonka beans as well. Bear in mind that less is more. This is because the seeds have a relatively high content of coumarin, an aromatic substance that can cause temporary liver damage in sensitive people if overconsumed. However, this happens very rarely.
Classification: Vanilla belongs to the orchid plant family and originates from Mexico. It is mainly cultivated in Indonesia as well as on Madagascar and the Comoros.
Taste: Vanilla is a creamy sweetness. Bourbon vanilla’s aroma is particularly intense. It is also one of the most expensive varieties.
Use: The fruit capsules containing the black black seeds are called vanilla pods. They are harvested when yellow and turn black when dried in the sun. They are then packed into airtight bags. The main compound released by enzymes during this process is vanillin. Supermarkets usually offer vanilla pods, as well as powder and/or liquid extract. It also sometimes comes in grinders. Vanilla can be used in many ways. You can just scrape out the vanilla pulp, put the deseeded pod in a glass of sugar to make vanilla sugar, or grind the whole pod.
Classification: The cinnamon tree belongs to the laurel family and originates from Southern Asia. Ceylon cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka, cassia cinnamon originates from China, and padang cinnamon is harvested in Indonesia (mainly Sumatra).
Taste: The earthy, woody, and sweet aroma of cinnamon lends many deserts an unmistakable flavour. There are three varieties: the sweetish-mild, higher quality Ceylon cinnamon, which is somewhat more expensive; cassia cinnamon (also known as China cinnamon), which has a less fine, more pungent and intense aroma; and padang cinnamon, which is similar to the Ceylon variety, but tastes a little stronger.
Use: Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a cinnamon tree. Shop for cinnamon sticks that have a rather pale colour, which indicates good quality. Cinnamon varieties are easy to differentiate: cassia cinnamon sticks have one thick, rolled up layer while Ceylon cinnamon sticks have many flaky layers.
These are general nutrition guidelines. If you have concerns about your diet, please talk to your doctor about seeing a dietitian. Discussing the use of supplements with a health professional will help to ensure that they are suitable for you. Never stop taking prescribed medications without first talking to your doctor.