We've been fascinated by spices for as long as we can remember. They have beguiled us since the times of our ancient forebears. Their sensual qualities captivate us with a magical appeal. Dangerous feats of valour were performed, risky journeys undertaken and even wars were waged, just to enjoy the delights of certain spices. And many made their fortune by selling these aromatic delights.
Spices as a status symbol
Even today we speak about "spicing up" prices in some languages. The origin of the saying stems back to the sometimes shocking prices paid for pepper in days gone by. Only the very well-heeled could afford to pay. At certain times pepper was even weighed with gold. Like saffron, it was seen a status symbol in days gone by – although it has now become part of our daily kitchen. Saffron on the other hand, along with vanilla and cardamom, is still one of the most expensive spices.
As far back as 2500 BCE, spices were used in Egypt for the preparation of food, for body care and for ritual acts, such as the mummification of the pharaohs. In ancient Greece too, spices were a symbol of fame and honour. The winners of the Olympic Games were each lauded with a wreath of laurel leaves.
The spice journey
Since most spices originated in Asia – mainly in South India and from the Indonesian islands – India was the hub of spice trade in antiquity. In the Middle Ages, the main European trading centre for spices shifted to Alexandria in the Mediterranean.
Today the leading trade centres are Rotterdam, Hamburg, Singapore and Mumbai.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the way spices are transported. Even now, they are packed in large jute bags and taken by ship to their port of destination.
What is a spice?
How do you define a spice? Spices are plants or parts of plants which, because of their taste or smell, are used to improve the taste of food. They can be leaves, buds and flowers, bark and roots, but also bulbs, fruits and seeds.
The essential oils in the individual plants or components create the pleasant aroma and taste. These oils add a final touch – often the defining character – to our meals. We couldn't imagine Italian food without basil and oregano or Indian cooking without fennel seeds, coriander and cardamom! In black African cuisine, on the other hand, the essentials include cayenne pepper, dried okra and baobab leaves or the dried leaves of the monkey-bread tree.
As well as adding flavour, spices also stimulate the appetite and increase well-being.
Some spices even have health-promoting or healing properties. Turmeric helps with stomach and digestive problems, peppermint has antispasmodic properties and cinnamon can help to lower cholesterol levels.
As is often the case, however, spices also have their downside: they can trigger allergic reactions or lead to poisoning symptoms in too-high amounts. Nutmeg has a hallucinogenic effect and can be as dangerous as heroin, for example. In the 16th century, nutmeg was even used for abortions. Some spices can also be contaminated with harmful substances, such as heavy metals, moulds or the residues of plant protection products, which makes it important to know the origin of the spice.
At Zifru Trockenprodukte GmbH we only focus on the sunny side of spices.
We combine our dried apples and tomatoes with oriental flavours that make us feel good, such as cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. And we know exactly where our spices come from. The result: healthy, culinary dream combinations that awaken memories of distant worlds. Our special drying process also means that our fruits and vegetables are not just an aromatic experience for the palate, but also for the ears and eyes. Every bite sounds crisp and our products also look tasty, retaining their colour and shape in the manufacturing process. Just as you would expect from a culinary journey. A complete experience for all the senses.
We'd love to take you on our aromatic journey with us. Our dried tomatoes are available with an exotic twist seasoned with cardamom and our apple slices reflect the flavours of the Orient with ginger, cardamom or with cinnamon.
A detailed look at our spices
GINGER (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is a plant of many talents. It is a spice, luxury food, medicinal plant and health care product in one. Ginger plants have a branching rootstock, known as a rhizome. The term “root” is not completely correct; in fact, they are more like subterranean crawling, bulbous shoots that branch out like antlers.
The roots are harvested in autumn, when the plant loses its leaves. Ginger roots are tossed into boiling water and then dried for a few days in the sun.
Ginger is an indispensable ingredient in kitchens and medicine cabinets in Asia. It was also extremely popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. In the course of the 18th century, however, ginger fell out of favour in some areas and was even called a "hellish ingredient". With the growing popularity of Indian and Thai cuisine in Europe, however, ginger once again began its triumphal march.
The lemony-fresh aroma and the fruity-hot taste can be used in many ways in cooking.
CARDAMOM (Elettaria cardamomum)
In India, cardamom is king of spices; besides saffron and vanilla it is one of the finest and most expensive spices in the world. Cardamom belongs to the ginger family. However, the seeds of the plant are harvested rather than the rhizome or rootstock. The ripe, dried cardamom fruits are used whole or ground.
The intense peppery-bitter aroma is rather unusual, but fascinating for our palate.
Cardamom is mainly found in Indian and middle eastern cooking, where lots of rice dishes and desserts are flavoured with cardamom. The spice is also a staple of any curry mixture and can be found in Chai tea. In middle eastern countries, coffee without cardamom is unthinkable!
CINNAMON (Cinnamomum verum)
Cinnamon is one of the world’s oldest spices. It originates in Sri Lanka, the island formerly known as Ceylon. This cinnamon is considered the highest quality because it is the most aromatic. The bark of the branches of the real cinnamon tree is detached and all the primary bark and cork layers are removed. Around six to ten of these wafer-thin barks are pushed together and dried, to be used whole as cinnamon sticks or finely ground. The dried cinnamon blossoms are also used.
Ceylon cinnamon has a sweet aroma and its taste is unmistakably mellow and spicy, warm and slightly woody.
In oriental, middle eastern and Asian cuisine, cinnamon is used in all savoury dishes; in the western world, however, it is almost exclusively used for sweet foods.
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