Allspice (Pimenta dioica) Myrtaceae. Same family as cloves.
Pimenta in Spanish means pepper.
Native to Central America and the
2. The name allspice refers to the flavor of the dried green berries, which is like a combination of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
3. The berries, which are picked nearly ripe and then dried, resemble peppercorns.
Allspice was one of the few treasures
6. Ground, it is an ingredient in baked goods, sauces, relishes. Whole, is used in pickling vegetables and meats.
Capsicum peppers (Capsicum spp.) Solanaceae
1. Capsicum peppers are the fruits of plants belonging to a single genus, Capsicum, which includes 5 cultivated species and hundreds of varieties.
2. Capsicum annuum is the most widely cultivated of these species throughout the world and includes the mild sweet bell pepper as well as many varieties of hot peppers such as cayenne.
a. Paprika is obtained from dried, powdered peppers of this species
b. Chiltepin is a hot pepper of this species
is the pepper used in
d. Capsicum chinense is native to northern
South America and the
3. A single gene mutation separates the sweet varieties from the fiery hot varieties. Sweet bell peppers are homozygous recessive.
4. The compound in some red peppers that causes the burning sensation is capsaicin, which is concentrated in the placenta on which the seeds are borne.
Why eat hot peppers?
Anyone who has inadvertently bitten into a jalapeno (or worse, habanero) pepper can attest to the searing pain, watering eyes, and blinding sensation that occur moments after the pepper hits the mouth. Why would anyone want to deliberately inflict such pain on themselves?
a. Evolutionary biologists think that the fiery fruits evolved to deter mammalian predators. (In fact, capsaicin, or synthetic versions of capsaicin, has been used to coat aboveground and underground cable that is ordinarily gnawed upon by rodents. Also used as a pepper spray by police to subdue people they want to subdue).
1. However, birds serve as seed dispersers and readily consume the fruits.
b. It appears that both hot temperatures and capsaicin trigger the same pain-sensing nerve fibers and explains why we perceive the taste of a chile pepper as hot.
c. As a matter of fact, another type of receptor - a pain receptor - has been added to the traditional taste receptors of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Hot peppers and other similar spices activate the same sensory neurons in the mouth as liquids and foods that are noxiously hot.
d. Some claim that capsaicin releases endorphins (endogenous morphine-like compounds) that signal pleasure responses in our brains.
e. It has also been suggested that capsaicin has a cooling effect for those eaters of it in the south. Eating hot peppers makes you sweat, the body's natural means of cooling.
Medicinal value of capsaicin
1. Capsaicin appears to have beneficial effects on the heart.
2. It is considered an analgesic in that it has the ability to suppress pain.
3. Taken internally, capsaicin relaxes arteries, thereby reducing blood pressure.
4. It also seems to reduce the amount of harmful triglycerides in the blood.
5. In the last few years the FDA has approved several drugs that contain capsaicin to be used as topical creams applied locally to block pain generated by arthritis, shingles, diabetes, or neuralgia.
6. Neurologists believe that capsaicin works by interfering with particular nerves of the peripheral nervous system that initiates pain messages to the brain
a. Cooking reduces the amount of Vitamin c available.
b. Vitamin C is completely lost when the fruit is dried.
The fire of hot peppers
1. The biting taste of hot peppers is due to the mixture of several related alkaloids, of which capsaicin is the most prevalent.
2. The capsaicin content in a sweet bell pepper is negligible, but can be found in such high concentrations in hot chile or habanero peppers that even handling or cutting the peppers can irritate the skin.
3. Capsaicin can be tasted in concentrations as low as 1 part per million, and is still hot in 1 part per 100,000.
4. Hotness is measured in Scoville units: bell peppers registers 0; jalapenos register 2,500-5,000; and habaneros have registered over 300,000 Scoville units! The 'Red Savina' has been registered at 550,000 SHU!
a. There is now a capsicum pepper (a
variety of C. frutescens) recently
5. Scoville units are measures that utilizes the addition of sugar to a solution until one can no longer taste the pepper. The more sugar, the higher the spice, the greater the Scoville units. It was created in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville.
6. Today, high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) can directly measure the concentration and type of capsaicinoid present.
7. Neutralization of the effects of capsaicin is with milk. Because capsaicin is not water soluble, but fat soluble, water will not flush the "fire" away.
Vanilla - Vanilla planifolia (Orchidaceae)
1. Orchidaceae is the largest of all plant families with about 700 genera and over 20,000 spp. native to all tropical and temperate regions.
2. In tropical forests, orchids are characteristically epiphytic, and cultivation of the popular ornamental orchids is generally not in soil but in microhabitats resembling a tree branch. Epiphyte - a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic, producing its own food by photosynthesis.
3. The only genus within Orchidaceae cultivated for utilitarian purposes is Vanilla.
4. Of over 100 spp. of Vanilla, V. planifolia is the source of nearly all commercial vanilla.
is a terrestrial vine native to the tropical forests of
2. Requires light shade, a tree trunk to climb, good humus-rich, well-drained soil.
3. Vines are xerophytic, that is, shallow-rooted, succulent, and resistant to desiccation.
4. Fruit - cylindrical pods, referred to as beans, due to their resemblance to string beans. Capsule is nearly triangular, 15-20 cm long, ca. 1 cm diameter. When ripe it is yellow, and splits into 2 halves.
5. Flowers - fls of Vanilla open for 1 day, blooming in morning, wilting by afternoon, dropping by nightfall…unless they’ve been pollinated.
a. Vine may produce 1,000 blossoms, but even on a commercial plantation, at most only 300 will be pollinated and develop into fruit.
b. Like the fls. of many orchids, the flowers of vanilla are intricately shaped and adapted for pollination by specialized insects.
c. For commercial production and to insure good production, fls. are hand-pollinated, particularly in areas outside the native range where natural pollinators (bees, hummingbirds) aren’t present.
d. Workers are able to transfer pollen to about 1,500 flowers a day.
e. The fruit takes 9 months to mature. And the mature pods go through a lengthy process to bring out the essential flavor of vanilla.
a. pods are picked green (not yet mature) and undergo a traditional curing for months.
b. the unripe capsule does not have the characteristic aroma of vanilla; this develops during curing.
c. capsules are spread on a blanket exposed to the sun for the whole morning. At midday they are wrapped in the blankets and stored until the next morning in airtight boxes. This procedure is repeated many times (up to 36 times) until capsule in cured.
d. capsule contain a glucoside which is broken down during this sweating process, by an enzyme, into vanillin, a crystalline substance responsible for the aroma of vanilla.
e. when properly cured, pods are black with crystals of vanillin on surface.
f. The flexible and nearly black fruits are then dried indoors for a month and finally placed in boxes to "condition" for up to 3 additional months.
g. In view of the laborious process of producing aromatic vanilla, it is little wonder that vanilla ranks second to saffron as the most expensive spice.
Imitation vanilla extract
1. Vanilla extract is made by chopping the fermented beans and continually percolating an ethanol-water mixture over them to dissolve out the pure vanillin and other flavoring agents.
2. Any product labeled pure vanilla extract must come from vanilla beans.
3. Pure vanilla extract should be expensive (>$25 per qt.) and have alcohol in it since alcohol (35%) is used in the extraction process.
4. Vanillin can be synthesized chemically from a variety of compounds such as clove oil, lignin from wood pulp, or coal tar, a paper mill by-product. In fact, the largest producer of synthetic vanillin is the Ontario Paper Co.
a. Extracts of tonka beans, Dipteryx odorata, have been passed off as vanilla extract.
b. Tonka beans contain coumarin, a blood thinner that cd. cause internal hemorrhaging. U.S.-made vanilla extract is not made with coumarin.
5. In the last few years an American biotechnology firm has developed a method of obtaining vanilla by culturing vanilla plant cells. this could reduce the cost of natural vanilla from $1200 to $25 per pound.
However, this alternative source could have grave
consequences to the economy of
Vanilla and Native Peoples
Original processors of vanilla were the Totonacs, native Indian people who still survive in the
Mexican central state of
2. Processing beans for 1,000 yrs., the Totonacs also used vanilla as a perfume, flavoring for food and drink, as an effective medicine, an aphrodisiac, and insect repellent.
3. Totonac farmers learned to husband the vanilla vine to great advantage:
a. they discovered that the vine didn’t flower as well when it grew straight up, and the higher it climbed, the more energy it diverted from flowering to leaf production.
b. they then began to loop each vine back to the ground once it reached a height of 5’.
c. they also increased fruit production by hand-pollinating the flowers. Male and female flowers are separated by a membranous tissue that prevents self-pollination. In native habitat, vanilla’s reproductive needs are met by a few spp. of ants, hummingbirds, and a tiny, melapone bee. But since it flowers for only 1 day, the number of flowers pollinated are few.
1. plants are multiplied clonally from pieces of the vine with adventitious roots.
2. rooted cuttings begin to bear in about 3 yrs.
3. Totonacs integrated vanilla plantings with shifting cultivation of maize. As a milpa was abandoned, vanilla was planted in the young forest regrowth and flourished for about 10 yrs before shade became too intense.
Tropical forests of southeast
Vanilla is still raised in the area, and Totonac culture is still structured around vanilla’s growing cycle (with traditional harvest festival in late January), but Totonacs have been reduced to plantation heads, and despite their vast knowledge of the territory and needs of vanilla, they are struggling to maintain their ancestral crop in a vastly altered terrain.
French were enamored
of vanilla - used it as a flavoring for chocolate (so had the Aztecs),
confections, ices, perfume and tobacco aromas. They shipped vanilla cuttings to
Vines did well but seldom flowered. Lacked
natural pollinators. Produced no fruit. In
1838, Belgian botanist Charles Morren published a method of artificial
Vines are grown in artificial woodlands providing light shade and litter for mulch. Shaded by trees that have symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria associated with their roots. Flowers are hand-pollinated.
Vaynilla (the word) entered botanical literature in 1658, and now refers to both the common and scientific name.
1. it is a diminutive form of vaina, meaning little sheath, scabbard, or pod.
2. Vaina comes from the Latin vagina, whose original meaning was also sheath.
3. The Greek, orchis, the root word for Orchid, means testicle.
Given these etymologies, and the fact that both Aztecs and Europeans of Renaissance times considered vanilla a powerful aphrodisiac, it might be wise to treat the contents of that benign-looking bottle in the pantry as something more than just flavoring.
Darwinian Gastronomy: Why we use spices - BioScience Vol 49 No. 6.
Why do humans add spices and herbs to their foods and quickly adopt and add new combinations to their foods and drink? This proclivity is especially puzzling since many spices, such as cilantro, which contains the same compounds as stinkbugs, and epazote, which resembles skunk odor, are not particularly pleasant by themselves.
1. The spice trade was so crucial to national economies that rulers repeatedly mounted costly expeditions to raid spice-growing countries, and struggles for the control of these countries precipitated several wars.
2. Each spice has a unique aroma and flavor, which derive from compounds known as phytochemicals (secondary compounds: they are secondary to the plant’s basic metabolism). These chemicals evolved in plants to protect them against herbivorous insects and vertebrates, fungi, pathogens, and parasites. Most plants contain dozens of secondary compounds. These are plants’ recipes for survival - legacies of their coevolutionary races against biotic enemies.
3. Antimicrobial properties of spices
a. spices are used to enhance food flavor, color, and palatability (proximate/immediate cause).
b. the ultimate (evolutionary) question of why cuisines that contain pungent plant products appeal to people and why some phytochemicals are tastier than others, might lie in the protective effects of phytochemicals against plants’ biotic enemies. (Answers to proximate and ultimate questions are complementary, not mutually exclusive). After all, meat and other food items are also attacked by fungi and bacteria, in deed some of the same species that afflict plants. Food borne bacteria - Clostidium, Escherichia, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, and Vibrio or their toxins have been serious health concerns, and still are. If spices were to kill such microorganisms or inhibit their growth before they cd. produce toxins, use of spices might reduce foodborne illnesses and food poisoning. If this antimicrobial hypothesis is true, several predictions shd be fulfilled:
Prediction 1 - Spices shd exhibit antibacterial and antifungal activity
1. many spices have potent antimicrobial properties. (We’re particularly interested in antibacterial processes because bacteria are more commonly incriminated in foodborne disease outbreaks than yeasts of fungi).
2. many spices at some concentration will kill or inhibit at least 25% of the bacteria spp. on which they had been tested, and 15 of 30 spices tested, inhibited at least 75% of bacterial spp. Garlic, onion, allspice, and oregano were found to be the most potent spices. They killed or inhibited every bacterium they were tested on.
Prediction 2 - Use of spices shd be greatest in hot climates, where unrefrigerated foods spoil especially quickly.
1. as average temperatures increase among countries, there are
significant increases in the fraction of recipes that called for at least one
spice per recipe, the mean number of spices per recipe, and the number of
different spices used. E.g.
2. among countries, as avg temperature increased, so did the frequency of use of chile, garlic, and onion, as well as anise, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, basil, oregano, etc. The first spices mentioned are highly inhibitory (at least 75% of tested bacterial spp. inhibited). The positive relationships were statistically significant.
Prediction 3 - A greater proportion of bacteria shd be inhibited by recipes from hot climates than from cool climates.
1. as avg annual temperatures increase among countries, the mean fraction of recipes that called for each one of the highly inhibitory spices used in those countries increased significantly.
2. this correlation didn’t hold for less inhibitory spp.
3. there was also a positive correlation between the fraction of bacterial spp. inhibited by each spice and the fraction of countries that used that spice, indicating widespread use of the spices that are most effective against bacteria.
4. as annual temperature increases, the estimated fraction of food spoilage bacteria inhibited by the spices in each country’s recipes increased significantly. Therefore the cuisine of hotter countries potentially has greater antibacterial activity.
Prediction 4 - Within a country, cuisine from high latitudes and elevations (i.e. cooler climates) shd contain fewer and less potent spices than cuisines from lower latitude and elevations.
the total number of spices
used, the fraction of recipes that called for at least one spice, and the frequency
of use of highly inhibitory spices were greater in southern regions than in
northern regions of both the
Prediction 5 - Quantities of spices called for in recipes shd be sufficient to produce antimicrobial effects, and cooking shd not destroy the potency of phytochemicals.
1. most phytochemicals are thermostable, altho a few are destroyed by heat. Some spices (garlic, pepper, rosemary, and onion) are typically added at the beginning of cooking, whereas others (parsley and cilantro) are added near the end. According to cookbook authors the delicate flavors of the latter wd be destroyed by heat.
2. if thermostable spices are the ones added early, and thermolabile spices are added later (or used primarily as condiments), differences in timing of use may function to maintain beneficial antimicrobial properties (and corresponding flavors) until food is served.
1. Pepper and lemon (or lime) juice are very frequently used spices, and their use does not change much across temperature gradients. Moreover, they are among the least effective bacteriocides.
2. Pepper and citric acid play special roles - as synergists.
a. citric acid potentiates the antibacterial effects of other spices because low pH disrupts bacterial cell membranes.
b. foods to which lemon/lime juice is added require less heating to cause the same levels of bacterial mortality that take place in foods cooked at higher pH and temperature for a longer time.
c. the black pepper compound, piperine, inhibits the ubiquitous, deadly bacterium Clostridium botulinum.
d. black pepper is also a “bioavailability enhancer” - it acts synergistically to increase the rate at which cells, including microorganisms, absorb phytotoxins.
e. many other spices exhibit greater antibacterial potency when they are mixed than when used alone. The French “quatre epices” (4 spices) - ginger, pepper, cloves, and nutmeg - are often used to make sausages. Sausages (botulus in Latin) are a rich medium for bacterial growth and have frequently been implicated as the source of botulinum toxin.
f. curry powder has 22 different spices; pickling spice has 15 different spices, chile powder has 10 different spices - these are broad spectrum antimicrobial melanges (mixtures of incongruous ingredients).
1. as antivirals (including suppressing HIV), brain stimulants, aphrodisiacs, ethnopharmacologically, traditional societies use spices as topical of ingested antibacterials and vermicides (worms).
2. a few spices - garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and chiles - have for centuries been used to counteract a broad spectrum of ailments, including dysentery, kidney stones, arthritis, and high blood pressure.
Phytochemicals in some common spices have mutagenic, teratogenic (developing malformations or monstrosities), carcinogenic, or allergenic properties. E.g. in small quantities chiles have antimicrobial and therapeutic effects, but ingestion of lg. amounts of capsaicin has been associated with necrosis, ulceration, and carcinogenesis. In hot climates, benefits of avoiding food-borne illnesses and food poisoning apparently outweigh the various cost of spices.
Even in countries where spices are heavily used, pre-adolescent children and women in their first trimester of pregnancy typically avoid highly spiced foods. This may have an adaptive basis: e.g. morning sickness may function to reduce maternal intake of foods containing teratogens during the early phase of embryogenesis, when delicate fetal tissues are susceptible to chemical disruption. (Women who experience morning sickness are less likely to miscarry than women who do not?). Young children, who are growing rapidly, may also be particularly sensitive to environmental mutagens. Once pregnant women progress into 2nd trimester and once children reach puberty, the dangers of food poisoning and food-borne illnesses may again outweigh the mutagenic risks associated with phytochemicals.
1. Spices may disguise the smell and taste of spoiled foods. However, the problem with this as an ultimate explanation is that it ignores the potentially serious negatives consequences of ingesting foods laced with bacteria or their toxins. Even poorly nourished individuals wd. be better off if they recognized and passed up foods containing potentially deadly spoilage microorganisms.
2. Spicy foods are referred in hot climates because they increase perspiration and help cool the body evaporatively. Altho chiles and horseradish have this effect, most spices do not. Evaporative cooling cannot be a general explanation for he increased spice use in hot climates. Moreover, physiological mechanisms of temperature regulation operate to keep us cool without having to resort to finding, eating, and dealing with the potentially negative side effects of phytochemicals.
3. Wherever spices are difficult to obtain and are therefore expensive, individuals signal their wealth and social status by using them lavishly. This may apply to spice plants with limited ranges (pepper, allspice, fenugreek, nutmeg, and cinnamon). But this doesn’t explain the multiple positive correlations between temperature and spice use found for spices that are available ubiquitously.
4. Spices supply chemicals that, in small quantities, have beneficial effects other than inhibiting food spoilage microorganisms. E.g. certain phytochemicals, especially those found in garlic and onions, can aid in digestion, modulate energy metabolism, and even help postpone some degenerative diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. Some phytochemicals particularly those in cloves, rosemary, sage, pepper, and mace are powerful antioxidants. By retarding the oxidation of fats and oils, phytochemicals help preserve foods and also reduce the production of free radicals, which have been linked to cancer and aging.
5. Spice use may not confer any benefits. Patterns of spice use may arise because people just take advantage of whatever aromatic plants are available to improve the taste of food. If this were true, however, spice chemicals shd be highly palatable, and spice use patterns shd relate to local availability of spice plants. Altho some spices are initially appealing (cinnamon, basil, thyme) pungent spices, such as garlic, ginger, anise, chiles, are distasteful to most people, especially children. In addition, spices are not necessarily more available in hot climates than in cool climates. There is no relationship between the number of countries in which each spice plant grows (native and domesticated range) and either the number of countries in which it is used or their annual temperatures.
6. Correlations between spice use and annual temperature must be due to people in hot countries using a larger proportion of whatever spices are available locally.
Conclusion - Use of spices takes advantage of plant defensive compounds - these phytochemicals have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. The use of spices borrows plants’ recipes for survival and puts them to similar use in cooking. Over time recipes shd “evolve” as new bacteria and fungi appear or indigenous species develop resistance to phytochemicals, requiring the addition of more spices or new spices to combat them effectively. (However, there is a limit to how much of any one spice can be added before beneficial phytochemicals become phytotoxins. So cookbooks from different eras are more than just curiosities. Essentially, they represent written records of our coevolutionary races against foodborne diseases. By cleansing foods of pathogens before consumption, spice users contribute to the health, longevity, and fitness of themselves, their families, and their guests. A Darwinian view of gastronomy thus helps us understand why “some like it hot”.
1. As with the other uses of herbs and spices, tit is very difficult to determine just when people began using plants for the art of perfumery.
a. By 3,000 BCE, the Egyptians were already skilled perfumers.
b. They taught the art of perfumery to the Hebrews, and the frequent references to perfumes and incenses in the Torah reflects the importance of perfumes in Judaic culture.
c. The Chinese, too, used scents in ceremonies and even developed an "incense clock" that indicated the our as it burned.
d. The Japanese modified the Chinese clock by making sticks with different odors. As they burned, these "joss sticks" provided scents appropriate for the different hours of the day.
It wasn't until the
a. The word perfume comes from the Latin per, meaning "through", and fumus, meaning"air" or "smoke", referring to the fact that fragrances diffuse through the air.
b. Perfumes were added to baths, to oils for annointing the body, and even to wine.
2. As in the case with spices, it was the returning crusaders who reintroduced perfumes to Europeans, after its use had waned in the "Dark Ages".
Today, rising costs have shifted the cultivation of
plants used for scent extraction to Asia and
4. Moreover, there has been a steady increase in the use of synthetic compounds from 30% synthetic fragrances 30 years ago to over 75% today.
How are perfumes made?
1. Originally, all perfumes were derived from natural sources: flowers, fruits, leaves, roots, wood resins, and occasionally animal secretions (musk is obtained from the abdominal sac of a male musk deer).
2. Since the compounds responsible for fragrances are oils, they are not water-soluble.
a. Consequently, extraction methods must use substances in which volatile oils dissolve.
b. In the manufacture of perfumes, substances known as fixatives can also be added to help retard rapid dissipation of the volatile compounds.
3. The basic ingredients that are used in the perfume trade are known as odorants.
a. There are 5 classes of odorants: concretes, absolutes, distilled essential oils, resinoids, and tinctures.
1. Concretes - purest of natural odorants; obtained by immersing fragrant plant products in a hydrocarbon solvent that penetrates the tissues and dissolves out the oils and other lipid components.
2. Resinoids - obtained in the samemanner, but instead of flowers, leaves, and bark, solid or semi-solid plant secretions such as resin are dissolved in organic solvents. The solvent is then evaporated from the oils under reduced pressure.
3. Absolute - when a concrete is extracted to a more concentrated state with alcohol and the alcohol is then evaporated, an absolute is produced. Most perfumes consist of mixtures of absolutes.
4. Distillation / Fractional distillation - the most common methods employed today for the extraction of natural fragrances. They involve exposing plant parts to superheated steam. The volatile oils are carried off in the steam. Because the volatile oils are insoluble in water, they float on the surface of the water produced by the cooled steam. The layer of oil is then skimmed from the top of the water column.
Fractional distillation takes advantage of the fact that different volatile oils vary in their solubilities in steam. the most soluble are carried away first, and the less soluble later. When different fractions of the steam are condensed, the fragrant compounds can be separated from one another and collected individually.
Distillation is a more rapid and inexpensive method than other extraction procedures. However, heat is detrimental to a number of fragrances.
5. Tincture - this method has been used since ancient times and is still employed to
extract medicinal compounds as well as fragrant oils. the oils are extracted from a macerated substance in 95% ethanol (ancient Egyptians used wine). tinctures may seem very similar to absolutes, but absolutes are obtained by the extraction of concretes, whereas tinctures are obtained by direct extraction of plant or animal material with alcohol.
In the production of synthetic fragrances, the chemical structure of a natural fragrance is usually determined and then procedures are devised for its synthesis. It is often cheaper to synthesize a compound than to extract it from a natural source.
In addition, synthetic fragrances are pure, whereas natural extracts are mixtures of volatile oils.
In some cases, natural fragrances are very inexpensive to produce, so as to make synthetics unnecessary. Example is cedar oil from junipers (Juniperus spp.)