Spices may be defined as the dried parts of aromatic plants with the exception of the leaves. This definition is wide-ranging and covers virtually all parts of the plant.
Important flavour compounds found in culinary herbs and other spice plants are:
• eugenol (allspice, cinnamon, cassia, clove)
• piperine (black pepper)
• gingerol (ginger)
• myristicin (nutmeg)
• turmerone (turmeric)
• vanillin (vanilla).
In using spices to flavour foods, the aim should always be to arrive at a balanced overall odour and flavour effect, complementing and accentuating, rather than swamping, the flavour of the basic ingredients, and usually without any single spice predominating excessively. This culinary art needs experience and expertise and in-house training with the assistance of leading spice houses.
Herbs and spices are not just valuable in adding flavour to foods. Their antioxidant activity also helps to preserve foods from oxidative deterioration, increasing their shelf-life. There has been increasing research in the role of herbs and spices as natural preservatives.