Learning about Spices
What is a spice?
Why were spices important?
Sources of spices
Perfumes and Incenses 
Use of spices as aphrodisiacs
Use of spices as medicines
Culinary herbs
A spice timeline

Table of Spices
Allspice (Pimento)
Black Pepper
Chile Pepper
Coriander (Cilantro)
Frankincense and Myrrh
Nutmeg and Mace

Contacts and Acknowledgments
Click image to enlarge
Genus SpeciesBrassica alba or Sinapis nigra
Origin Mediterranean countries
Cultivated USA, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Holland, France, Britain, China and Japan
Description Over 4000 years ago, mustard seeds were being utilized in Greece and Egypt as a flavor and a medicine. The mustards are part of the cabbage family. Brassica (or Sinapsis) alba is white or yellow mustard; other species are known as brown mustard, and the main variety was formerly called black or true mustard. The brown cultivar is more pungent, and is used in the popular Dijon mustard; the milder American or English mustards are often made more colorful by the addition of the yellow dye, turmeric. The most pungent mustard taste is obtained from freshly ground seeds, but numerous other gustatory components are added to commercial condiments, including various spices, herbs and alcohol.

Despite its ability to be grown worldwide, mustard can be regarded as a spice. It arose in the Mediterranean countries, but its “exotic” taste led to it being transplanted to India and other Asian countries in medieval times and it was imported into the Americas by Spanish missionaries. In California, wild mustard is now a common weed whose yellow flowers can be seen widely beyond the trails to missions alongside which they were first planted. Mustard seeds develop no odor when crushed, but the pungent taste is more relevant than its odor. The name mustard comes from the product that was derived by adding sinapsis (the Roman name for mustard seed) to unfermented grape juice, or “must”. This resulted in a “hot must” or mustard; the latter part of the word comes from the Latin, “ardere”, which means “to burn”. In Sweden, the old Latin name is recalled by the current name for mustard, senap; in Italian it is called senape. See a list of spices by Taste and Hotness.
Useful Parts The seeds are either used whole or ground into a powder. The leaves may be used in salads.
Medicinal PropertiesThe pungent and irritating allyl isothiocyanate (“mustard gas”) that is released from brown mustard, horseradish and other pungent vegetables, has been used in war gas products and other offensive preparations both for attack and for personal defense. Derivatives, such as nitrogen mustard (mechlorethamine) have been used as antineoplastic drugs. The plant source of the active chemicals is sinigrin (or allylglucosinolate, which is also known as potassium myrosinate); crushing the brown mustard seed releases the enzyme myrosinase, which converts the sinigrin to allylisothiocyanate and related compounds that have irritating, lachrymatory properties.
See chemicals in spices.
Historical View “Similar to, but milder than, those of black mustard seeds. When swallowed whole they operate as a laxative, and have been used as a remedy in dyspepsia, and in other complaints attended with torpidity of the bowels. But their use in this state is by no means free from danger, as they sometimes accumulate in the intestines, and have produced fatal effects."

Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. Medicinal Plants; being descriptions with original figures of the principal plants employed in medicine and an account of the characters, properties, and uses of their parts and products of medicinal value. London, Churchill, 1880. (WZ 295 B556m 1880)
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Spice Exhibit URL: http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/spice/index.cfm

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