A GUIDE TO SPICES

Spices have always reigned our taste buds since time immemorial. Before preservatives and sauces were invented, early civilisations utilised natural herbs to add flavour to their meat and vegetables! 

Not just this, but spices are known to confer several benefits based on their composition. The spice market in Australia is nothing short of amazing. One can purchase everything from cumin to turmeric in Australia at the highest quality. According to the reports published by IBIS World, the herbs and spice market in Australia is equivalent to $493 million as of 2021! Not just this, but the export market value is at 3 million AUD and is predicted to increase exponentially from 2021 – 2026! 

Since the Australian diet consists of steak and meat, spices prove to be an integral part of their diet. Several indigenous Australian herbs and shrubs are paired with internationally acclaimed masala mixes to give the best flavour out there! 

What is it about spices?

Although spices, herbs and shrubs are commonly used synonymously, they are all different from one another. Spices are typically roots, barks or other plant substances that are used either for flavouring or adding colour to the food. Herbs, on the other hand, are the flowers and leaves that are solely used for garnish. However, some cuisines do use herbs as flavourings while cooking.

The early spice trade has been significant in the standardisation of spices. Indian and Moroccan spice trades are hallmark events in the history of spice sales. It is a very common phenomenon to see adulteration in the spice market. Preventing such procedures through standardisation tests and tactics are vital. 

How are spices divided?

Spices can be any part of a plant, or they can even be a derived component. Furthermore, spices are largely culture-specific. So what is considered a spice in one nation might be regarded as a herb in another and vice versa. 

In general, spices are split into two based on their origin and composition. Regional divisions might exist, but these two categories are universal:

  • Botanical: Botanical spices are usually elements directly taken from the plant without much refinement, grinding or mixing. These spices are further subdivided based on which part of the plant they are derived from. For example, fennel and mustard are grouped under seeds, whereas cassia and cinnamon are grouped under barks. There are over 10+ categories under this segment.
  • Mixes: While the botanical spices are universal in name and usage, mixes are what differ culturally and locally. Spice mixes are usually powdered forms of several raw spices blended together. These mixes are often representative of the flavour profile and cultural heritage of a particular location. For example, Indian spice mixes are referred to as ‘masala’, whereas the United Kingdom call their spice mix as ‘pudding spice’. 

Spices and Australia

Australian diets are heavily flavoured with spices, be it meat or seafood. The Aussie outbacks are known to be home to several indigenous and wild spice plants and herbs that cascade over their cuisine. Some commonly used spices in Australia are:

  • Lemon Myrtle: This versatile spice is popular in New South Wales and has a mild lemony flavour. 
  • Turmeric: Turmeric in Australia is one of the richest, earthy spices with up to 6% curcumin content! Wild turmeric is a popular Aussie plant found in Southern Queensland. 
  • Native Mint: This mauve-coloured shrub is found in North New South Wales and is used for its distinct smell and colour as an ornamental plant.