Plants, bark, roots, and vegetableswith strong flavors have been used for thousands of years. Spices were one of the main products in early international trade and a major reason that some European nations sought to expand their colonial holdings. Many of today's popular pungent plant-based flavors are the same as their equally desirable fore-bearers.
Habanero Peppers and Scotch Bonnet Peppers
Allegedly two of the most spicy chili peppers on the planet. Habaneros originated somewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula, where a vast majority of the world's supply is still cultivated today. They are a major ingredient in the cuisine of Mexico. Scotch Bonnets are of the same species as Habaneros, though they have a distinct flavor and are mainly cultivated and used in the Caribbean on islands like Jamaica and Haiti.
The cinnamon sticks that people toss into their apple cider comes from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree, an evergreen that grows in tropical climates. Though most of the cinnamontoday is produced in Southeast Asia, the highest grade of the spice is grown in Sri Lanka and Southern India.
Lemongrass is a widely used spice in Asia. It has a slightly spicy, citrus-like flavor. Though it is a favorite ingredient for curries and stir fries, it also acts as an insect repellent. A species of lemongrass, citronella, is especially useful for keeping mosquitoes at bay.
Ginger is a popular rhizome that has had a long history as an ingredient in everything from breads to curries to tonics and teas. It is the most widely known of the world's rootstocks. Turmeric is a more pungent relative of ginger. It is used in Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Africa. It's orange-yellow color makes it a popular natural dyeing agent. Galangal resembles ginger, but has a earthy, slightly citrus-like taste. The raw root is quite hard and is used in various tonics.
Clove Tree and Pepper
Cloves were one of the first spices traded during the colonial era. They are grown throughout the Indian Ocean, from Madagascar to Indonesia. Though large amounts of the spice can be toxic, it is often used in Indian and Chinese natural remedies. Pepper is one of the most universal spices. It is cultivated throughout the world and is used in some way by every major culinary culture in the world.
Anise is a popular spice in the Mediterranean and Western Asia. It has various culinary uses and is also used as a flavoring agent for various forms of regionally produced liquorsuch as absinthe and sambuca.
This is one of the world's spiciest peppers (the spiciest, according to Guinness). Grown in India, it is said to produce a burning sensation in the mouth that will not negate for 30 minutes.
Garlic and Mustard Plants
Garlic is another widely used flavoring agent. It also has been used for its health benefits (anti-viral and anti-bacterial) and as a general tonic. Mustard seedsare used in cookingand to make the popular condiment, mustard sauce. The greens, which share their flavor with the seeds, though not as strongly, are eaten in salads, stews and stir-fries.
West Indian Arrowroot
Arrowroot is used as a starch and thickening mianly in Caribean cuisines. It was popular in England during colonial times. Some historians claim it was first cultivated by native tribes in the Caribbean more than 7,00 years ago.