Food display at Wafa's Mediterranean Restaurant.

The Empty Plate | The Spice Alphabet M-Z

by Debra Calhoun

Good Day, Spiceologists!

This month, the alphabet continues:


Mint: Of the many varieties of mint (apple, chocolate, pineapple, lemon, etc.), spearmint (mentha spicata) and peppermint (mentha piperita) are the most common and easily grown. To tame its ability to take over an area, grow in pots or border the area with bricks pushed deeply in the soil. Use for desserts, sauces, alcoholic beverages, candies. Use the exotic types in fresh salads. 

Mustard: As in mustard seeds, both yellow and brown varieties. Both are a base in all forms of mustard, smooth, hot, ground and in pickled/dill preserved dishes. Both types are a staple in Indian curries and dishes. 

Mace: Nutmeg is actually the kernel of an apricot-type fruit. Mace is the thin covering that covers the nutmeg seed. It is used in deserts, curries and stews. Use both spices in ciders, chai teas, barbecue sauces and curries. Have a light hand, as they can overpower a dish.  


Nigella (seed): Used in Turkish, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Toast the seeds then crush lightly. Top breads, crackers, salads, bean dishes and vegetables. 


Onion: Central to the global kitchen. Produced as dried, roasted, toasted, granulated and powdered. Rich in flavonoids. Do not over-peel. Onions are high in polyphenols, so gently roast them over low heat to maintain their health benefits. You can use shallots, red, yellow, white or sweet varieties. Save the peelings for stocks and simple dyes.  


Paprika: Similar to the bell pepper, it is milder than most chili peppers. Used in Cajun and Creole cooking as well as Spanish, Hungarian and Israeli recipes. Comes in sweet, hot and smoked varieties. Salad dressings, paellas, poultry, and vegetable dishes benefit from its use. 

Pineapple: A popular tropical fruit grown in Hawaii, Costa Rica, Brazil, the Philippines and Thailand, pineapple is used for its sweet and tart qualities in desserts, salads, chutneys and smoothies. The enzyme effect of pineapple tenderizes meat proteins. 


Quinoa (keen-wah): A super grain related to the amaranth family. It is not a spice, per se, but it is worth noting. It is a pseudo-cereal and contains all of the amino acids. The Inca refer to it as the “mother grain.” It is gluten- and wheat-free and is considered a superfood. 


Saffron: Next to vanilla, it is the world’s most expensive spice. It is obtained from the stamens of the crocus sativus flower, producing just three stigmas per flower. It takes 14,000 stigmas to make one ounce of saffron. Used in Spanish paellas, chicken, rice dishes, carrots teas and broths. 

Salt: Comes in many varieties often paired with other spices and seeds, including celery, onion, chipotle, garlic, hot peppers. Himalayan, Hawaiian, Black and Sea types have trace minerals like iron and magnesium. A healthy balance must be maintained to avoid issues of hypertension. Salt is essential to pickling and curing meats and vegetables, among the oldest food preservation techniques along with drying. Salt could be used as a form of currency in ancient times. 


Turmeric: A rhizome grown in South Asia. It is a central ingredient in curries and is called Indian Saffron.  Turmeric is used in ayurvedic medicine and has been said to be helpful in reducing inflammation in the joints.  Excellent when roasted with potatoes and carrots. Pairs well with rice and couscous. Tarragon, thyme, tomato flakes, are other spices. 


Vanilla: The most exotic of spices, second only to saffron in price. It is used in whole bean, powdered and extract forms. Vanilla is the fruit of the orchid and is grown in Mexico and Central America. The pods from the orchid are hand-picked, sweated and dried for six to nine months. It was Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old slave, who discovered that the plant could be hand pollinated. This discovery was the qualitative leap that pushed vanilla cultivation to worldwide impact in the 15th century, opening markets in Puerto Rico, Mexico, French Polynesia, Réunion, Dominica, Indonesia and the West Indies. Baking, desserts, teas, perfumes, ice cream and alcohol distillation all benefit from pure vanilla. 

Spiceologist tip: This month’s tip is to roast your garlic heads. Take four to six whole heads and cut off the top half-inch or so. Place in a lined oven-proof bowl. Pour about ½ tsp of oil (olive, grapeseed or corn) in the center opening of each head. Sprinkle salt, pepper and ½ tsp sugar over all of the heads. Cover and roast in a 340 degree oven for about an hour. Remove from the oven and squeeze the roasted individual cloves into a container. Heat the spent heads in about ½ cup oil and pour the now-flavored oil over the roasted garlic cloves. 

Keep the roasted cloves refrigerated, covered with a layer of flavored oil. The cloves can be frozen also in ice-cube trays. Use this on flatbread, on pizza shells, in sauces, stews or on pasta. The taste will be rich, without the sharpness of raw garlic. 

Remember, If your plate is empty, cook something. 

Local sources for these and more spices: 

* denotes some fresh tubers, leaves and spices:

*Morrie’s International Market, 216 E. Cuyahoga Falls Ave., Akron

* Far East Oriental Market, 738 E. Archwood Ave., Akron

* Asian Market, 2419 State Rd., Cuyahoga Falls

* Indian Grocery, 2619 Bailey Rd., Cuyahoga Falls

* Sanabel Middle East Bakery, 308 E. South St., Akron

Acme Fresh Markets

The Mustard Seed Market

A warm foodie wave Goodbye to EarthFare, which closed its doors late February. 

Contact Debra at or visit her on Facebook at DesignsbyDebra Calhoun.