4. Lemon grass
known as "pistou") is an annual plant of the family of Lamiaceae
(Labiatae) cultivated as an aromatic plant and culinary herb. It
is used for making pesto, the emblematic condiment of Italian
· Scientific name: Ocimum basilicum L., Lamiaceae family
· Common names: common basil, roman basil, royal herb, pistou.
Common basil is an annual plant measuring 20 to 60 centimetres
in height, with oval leaves of 2 to 3 centimetres. The leaves
are pale to dark green, sometimes purple in certain varieties.
The stalks are upright and ramified with a square section, like
many of the Lamiaceae, and they have a tendency to becoming
ligneous and bushy.
The flowers are small and white; the upper lip is divided into
four lobes. They are small and grouped together in long tubular
tufts, in the form of elongated clusters.
The seeds are slender, oblong and black.
The term basil would appear to derive from the ancient Greek
basilikón (meaning royal plant), itself derived from the word
basileús, king, from the low Latin basilicum, meaning royal,
referring to the high esteem in which this herb is held.
The plant, which probably originates from Iran or India, arrived
in Europe via the Middle-East: it spread to Italy and the south
of France during the XVth century, to England during the XVIIth
century and then travelled to American with the first emigrants.
L'Ocimum tenuiflorum, the species of sacred basil, is cultivated
near the Buddhist temples, notably in Thailand.
In India, basil is a sacred plant that is offered as a gift to
Vishnou, protector of the universe and to the God Krishna,
saviour of the world.
In Gaul, the inhabitants gathered basil in July and August when
it was in flower. The pickers of this sacred plant had to
observe strict rituals of purification: they had to wash the
hand that did the picking in the water of three different
springs, put on clean clothes, avoid the impure (such as women
who were menstruating) and not use metal tools to cut the stalks.
Basil was considered a sacred plant because it supposedly had
the power to cure cuts and blows, especially those caused by
arquebuses. It was therefore used with red water to make special
lotions for healing wounds.
In the kitchen
As a fresh aromatic herb in salads, or with ripe tomatoes,
courgettes, garlic, shellfish, fish (mullet), scrambled eggs,
chicken, rabbit, duck, mixed salad crudités, rice, pasta and
sauces (vinaigrettes, lemon, olive oil). It is better used fresh
as it is not suitable for cooking any length of time as it loses
all its flavour. When using basil for hot dishes, it should be
added just before the dish is served in order to conserve its
fresh, intense flavours. Also, for this same reason of
preserving its flavour, it should not be blended. However, it
can be pounded with a mortar and pestle.
· Pesto (Ligurie), this is
the star recipe using basil and comes from the north-west of
Italy. Pounded with olive oil, pecorino (or parmesan can be used),
pine nuts and garlic, it makes a creamy sauce which accompanies
2. Cinnamon (bark)
· Pistou (south of France): this recipe resembles that of
Italian pesto, but is prepared without the pine nuts and
accompanies summer vegetable soups and haricot beans, pasta,
courgette and aubergine fritters.
In the medicine cabinet
· Part of plant used: leaves and flower heads
· Properties: Stomachic, carminative, lactagogue
· Used in the form of: infusion, powder, essential oil,
medicated wine, poultice
Sedative, antispasmodic for the digestive tract, diuretic,
antimicrobial, relieves indigestion and vermifuge. It is also
reputed to keep away mosquitoes and is a remedy against
Cinnamon is the bark of the Cinnamomum verum (cinnamon tree,
synonym. Cinnamomum zeylanicum), an evergreen tree belonging to
the Lauraceae family native to Sri Lanka.
The cinnamon tree is 10 to 15 metres tall. Its bright green,
oblong shaped leaves are 7 to 18 cm long. Its flowers are
greenish and have a distinct somewhat unpleasant odour. The
fruit of the cinnamon tree is a purple berry that is
one-centimetre in diameter. The bark is harvested in the rainy
season. That is cut into cinnamon quills.
Cinnamon has been known since antiquity and was used by ancient
Egyptians in the embalming process.
The tree is grown almost everywhere in the world but the best
quality is produced in Sri Lanka. The latter has a magnificent
light-yellowish brown colour, a highly fragrant aroma and a very
sweet, warm and pleasant taste. Its flavour comes from the oil
that it contains.
Cinnamon has been used in numerous preparations from the Middle
Ages to the current time.
This spice can be found in, among others, the famous "hypocras",
a medieval drinks.
Cinnamon is mainly used in cookery as condiment and to add
flavour, for example, combined with apples, for preparing
chocolates and liqueurs, as well as in Indian food.
Production in tonnes
Figures for 2003-2004
Tome e Principe
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum, from the Greek word kardámômon,
probably of Indian origin, passed on by the Arabs) is a
herbaceous rhizome plant which originates from the coast of
Malabar, like pepper.
The dried fruit it used. It looks like a green grey capsule,
with three compartments containing dark brown seeds which are
the only aromatic part of the plant. However, the fruit, which
turns yellow whilst it is drying, is sold whole in order to
avoid any deterioration of the seeds.
The seeds are used in Indian cookery and more generally in Asian
cookery as well as in Africa, in particular Ethiopia, whole or
in a powder. Cardamom has a very strong smell and should
therefore be used with precaution. On the other hand it is not
Cardamom can also be used for the production of mead.
There is also another plant, called black cardamom, whose pods
are much fatter, darker and slightly hairy.
Historically, cardamom was first used during the Middle Ages.
It was part of the mixture
of spices that were used to transform red wine (difficult to
conserve in the Middle Ages) into hippocras, which was served as
an aperitif. It is not very often used in Europe, except in
gingerbread and in cookery in the Scandinavian countries. It is
also often used to flavour coffee and Chai tea.
4. Lemon grass
Lemon grass, or Indian Lemon Grass or Malabar Grass, is a
tropical herbaceous plant of the Poaceae family (grasses),
cultivated for its stalks and leaves which have a citrus flavour.
Scientific name: Cymbopogon citratus (DC.) of the Poaceae family,
sub-family of Panicoideae, tribe of Andropogoneae.
Common name: lemon grass, lemon herb, Indian verbena, sweet
In France in the perfume industry, it is also known under the
name of schenante.
Herbaceous plant with long vertical leaves growing 90
centimetres to 2 metres in height, with rough, sharp edges and
pale green in colour. It is a perennial rhizome grass.
The plant originates in the south of India. It can also be found
in various regions of Africa.
The base of the fresh stalks are cut into slices and used to
flavour raw vegetables, salads, marinades and soups. It is a
traditional ingredient of south-east Asian cookery (India,
Vietnam and Indonesia). Cooks in Thailand and Vietnam use the
lemon grass stalks to give a lemon flavour to their dishes. The
only part of the "sweet rush" which is eaten is the tender base
of the stalk, around 6 to 7 centimetres in length.
Essential oil is also made from lemon grass and used as a
Ginger, Zingiber officinale, is a species of plant originating
The etymology of ginger defines it as deriving from a word in
the Indian language prâkrit; "singabera" which means "in the
form of a horn". It has come into our language via the Greek
word zingiberis and then the Latin word zingiber.
Ginger is a tropical perennial herbaceous plant growing around
1.50 m in height from a rhizome. The leaves are evergreen, long
and have a powerful smell. Once it has flowered, a short spike
enclosing the black seeds in capsules appears at the end of the
stalk covered with scales. The flowers are yellow-white speckled
with red. Ginger likes to be exposed to the sun and thrives in a
humid environment. It grows rapidly and multiplication is
obtained by division of the roots.
It was called zenj by the Arab merchants. This word was also
used by them to describe the inhabitants of the east coast of
Africa and where the word "Zanzibar" derives, for it is here
that the Arabs went for their supplies of ginger.
Production in tonnes.
Figures for 2003-2004
Uses of Ginger
· The young roots of ginger are juicy and fleshy and have a
sweet flavour. In Japanese cookery they are used marinated in
vinegar and in India they are used as an ingredient for making
· The mature roots are fibrous, almost dry and are more strongly
flavoured. As they get older, so the flavour intensifies and
they are often used in Chinese cookery to cover strong smells
and flavours such as those of seafood and mutton. This spicy and
smelly flavouring is caused by the compound zingerone.
· Marinated ginger (gari) is used to refresh the palate between
mouthfuls when sampling sushi.
· Ginger is also used for flavour when making cakes and pastries
and is the principal flavour in ginger ale, a Canadian fizzy
drink, which is sweet and non-alcoholic and ginger beer, an
English beer made with ginger.
· Dried ginger, in powder form, is used to flavour ginger bread
and other recipes. It has a totally different flavour from fresh
ginger and it is impossible to substitute one for the other.
· Ginger is also used to flavour tea in the Swahili cultivation
· In the year 2000, a number of medical researches grouped
together, officially acknowledged that ginger efficiently
reduces nausea after operations. It is also known for relieving
kinetosis or travel sickness. Ginger can be consumed fresh or in
the form of powder in capsules.
· Traditionally, Chinese women ate the root of ginger during
pregnancy to relieve morning sickness.
· Ginger lowers the level of cholesterol, blood triglyceride,
· The root of ginger is also reputed to be an aphrodisiac.
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, is a bush belonging to the
family of Lamiacea (or labiates), which grows in the wild around
the Mediterranean basin, especially on chalky ground or
scrubland. It can also be grown in the garden. It possesses many
phyto-therapeutic properties as well as being used as a herb for
cooking. It is also a melliferous plant (rosemary honey is
renowned) and is frequently used in perfumery. In Latin, its
name literally means dew of the sea (rosée de mer).
Rosemary can grow up to 1.50 metres in height. It is easily
recognised in all seasons by its evergreen leaves that have no
petiole. The leaves are tough, much longer than they are wide,
with slightly curved in edges; they are shiny dark green on the
topside and whitish underneath. The smell, which is strongly
camphorated, evokes that of incense. Rosemary comes into flower
as early as the month of February (sometimes even January) and
continues until April-May. The colour of the flowers, which are
formed in clusters similar to tufts, varies from pale blue to
mauve (the variety which has white flowers, R. officinalis
albiflorus is more rare). As with the majority of lamiacea, the
fruit contains a single seed, which is brown in colour.
Rosemary grows where the climate is hot and dry. It can be
reproduced by taking cuttings or layering in the spring or
autumn. It can also be sown.
Different uses of
Rosemary is very easy to dry and highly appreciated as a herb
for all sorts of preparations. It can be used in stews and
ragouts, in soups, marinades and with grilled meat. It is also
used to flavour puddings and jams.
Rosemary is reputed to activate and facilitate the digestive
system, in particular the function of the gall bladder. It is
also anti-spasmodic and its power to stimulate the nervous
system means that it can be recommended in the treatment of
various types of asthenia.
The properties of rosemary are contained in the leaves and the
tips of the flowers. One of the easiest ways to use it is to
make an infusion (or decoction), where its digestive properties
work wonders. It can also be taken in the form of capsules,
which you can buy at the chemist, if the treatment lasts a long
time. It is also available in the form of essential oil and can
be used either as a massage oil, bath oil, or it can be taken
The use of rosemary as a perfume goes back a long way.
Particularly well known is Queen of Hungary Water, an alcoholate
frequently used in the XIVth century, of which rosemary is one
of the principal components. The name comes from Queen Elisabeth
of Hungary who is said to have used it in 1378 at the age of 78
years old; the water gave her back her youth to such an extent
that the king of Poland asked her to marry him!
According to the legend, the rosemary plant originally had white
flowers. Before giving birth to the infant Jesus, Mary is said
to have left her blue cloak on a rosemary bush planted in front
of the stable. The colour run off the cloak onto the bush and
that is why, ever since, all rosemary bushes have blue flowers.
Some people see in this legend another possible origin of the
name Rosemary, that is " Rose de Mary " or Mary's rose. Indeed
this is the origin of the English name Rosemary.
Vanilla is a spice that comes from the fruit of certain tropical
creeping orchids of the Vanilla genus, mainly the species
Vanilla planifolia, which originates from Central America.
The plants which produce vanilla also bear the name vanilla, or
sometimes vanilla plant. They are the only orchids which are
cultivated for reasons other than ornamental.
In order to obtain a spice which is rich in flavour, the
cultivation and preparation of vanilla requires much care and
attention. So in proportion to its weight, this makes vanilla
one of the most expensive agricultural products in the world. It
comes in the form of long, thin, shiny black fingers which are
commonly known as "vanilla pods".
Etymologically, the name vanilla derives from the Spanish word
vanilla, which issues from the Latin word vagina and signifies
sheath, pod or case.
The vanilla liana, also known as vanilla plant, is supple, with
few ramifications and forms long shoots with which it can climb
up a support of more than 10 metres high. If the stem is snapped
in pieces, the parts which have been broken will readily put out
new shoots, thus enabling the multiplication of the plant in the
wild as well as when cultivated.
The leaves are disposed alternately on each side of the stem.
They can measure up to fifteen centimetres. The stem and the
leaves are green, fleshy, filled with a transparent and
irritating sap which burns the skin and causes a persistent itch.
The flowers are arranged in groups of eight or ten and form
White, greenish or pale yellow in colour, they possess the
classic structure of the orchid flower despite a fairly regular
Pollination requires the intervention of an outside agent: in
the wild, in the region where vanilla originates, pollination is
carried out by insects of the genus Melipona, a type of bee.
After fertilization, the ovary is transformed into a hanging pod,
measuring between 12 and 25 centimetres. The fresh pods have no
scent and a diameter of between 7 to 10 millimetres. They
contain thousands of tiny seeds which are normally liberated
when the ripe fruits burst, unless they are harvested whilst
Current distribution of vanilla as a cultivated plant
Vanilla originates from the east cost of Mexico, where it can be
found in the undergrowth of the humid tropical forests.
But vanilla is known above all as a cultivated spice, and,
thanks to its history, vanilla is now grown in most of the wet,
tropical climates of the world.
The history of
a spice that has conquered the world
The tlilxochitl of the Aztecs
At the time of the Aztecs, vanilla was already known and valued
by them. They called it Tlilxochitl.
They used it mostly to flavour a drink made with cocoa.
Vanilla appeared in the court of Spain at the beginning of the
XVIth century, but international trade only really took off in
the following century.
For more than two centuries, from the XVIIth to the XVIIIth
centuries, Mexico, and in particular the region of Veracruz,
conserved a monopoly on vanilla.
All efforts made to grow this orchid outside of its natural
habitat failed. The problem was that until the XIXth century
nobody realised that the honey bees played a critical role in
the pollination of the flowers, which was essential for the
formation of the fruit.
A real craze for vanilla was by now beginning in Europe. It was
notably highly appreciated at the court of France, where Madame
de Montespan used it to perfume her bath. Under the charm, Louis
XIV decided to seriously try and introduce the vanilla liana to
the Island of Bourbon. However, the various attempts made during
his reign all failed.
The influence of the Island of Bourbon
The first artificial pollination of the vanilla plant was
carried out in 1836 in the botanical gardens of Liège by the
Belgian naturalist, Charles Morren, then in 1837 by the French
horticulturist, Joseph Henri François Neumann.
However, it was not until 1841 that a young slave of twelve
years old from the Island of Bourbon, Edmond, developed the
practical procedure which is still used today. This method of
pollination, of which Jean-Michel-Claude Richard tried to
appropriate the discovery, made the Island of Bourbon (today
known as Reunion Island) the leading vanilla plant centre of the
world only a few decades after the introduction of the orchid
there in 1819. When slavery was abolished in 1848, the young
Edmond was given the patronymic Albius, in reference to the
colour "white" (Alba) of the vanilla flower.
The Rise of
Vanilla in Madagascar
It was the planters of Reunion Island who introduced the
cultivation of vanilla to Madagascar around 1880. The first
plantations were established on the Island of Nosy Be. From
there they took hold in the eastern part of the great island, in
the regions of Antalaha and Sambava where the humid climate is
favourable to the cultivation of vanilla. Enthusiasm for the
spice was immediate and Madagascan production was more than
1,000 tonnes in 1929, which is more than ten times that of
Reunion Island. But the market was not well regulated and as a
result vanilla periodically went through crisis of
In spite of competition from other tropical countries such as
Indonesia, and the emergence of new dynamics in the conquering
of markets such as in the State of Kerala in India, Madagascar
still conserves even today its status as the number one exporter
of vanilla in the world.
types of cultivation and the care of vanilla
In order to grow, vanilla needs a hot and humid climate, a
support on which to cling and a certain amount of shade. On the
whole, three different plantation techniques are used, from the
most extensive to the most intensive:
· in undergrowth, using tree trunks as support
· in intercrop cultivation, for example between rows of sugar
· in a shaded environment.
The farmers carry out propagation, make sure the plants can
cling onto their support and pay particular attention to placing
the liana so that the future vanilla pods can grow at the height
of the average man.
Fertilisation must be done manually, one flower at a time. The
process is exactly the same today as it was when developed by
Edmond Albius. It is carried out early each morning (because the
life span of the flowers is only a few hours at the beginning of
the day) and when the weather is dry (because rain is a
disadvantage in the formation of the fruit).
The transformation of the fruit which are entirely without scent
into a tender and pleasantly perfumed spice requires meticulous
and methodical preparation, the principles of which were
developed in Mexico a long time ago. The most simple method,
known as direct preparation, consists of leaving the pod to
mature by exposing it alternately to shade and sun, but the
results are mediocre. That is why the method of indirect
preparation is more commonly used. It starts with a brutal shock
that "kills" the pod, followed by a series of operations that
transform, dry and sort it and which last around ten months
before the end product is finally available: the vanilla pod is
ready for market.
The pod can be "killed" in a variety of ways: it can be put in
the oven, subjected to cold, to infrared rays, soaked in alcohol
and so on. But the method most commonly used today is to soak it
in hot water. That is how the process developed in 1851 by
Ernest Loupy, a native of Reunion Island, first started. It was
developed from a procedure carried out by the Mexicans and
subsequently made largely known by David de Floris. Here is a
description of the different stages:
· soaking in hot water: wicker baskets are filled with up to 30
kg of green vanilla pods which are then plunged for three
minutes in hot water at a temperature of 63°C.
· steaming: the pods are then immediately placed between wool
blankets in large crates for twelve to fourteen hours; kept warm
like this they dry out, are subjected to enzymatic
transformation and thus acquire their lovely black chocolate
· drying: from two to six weeks, depending on its potential
degree of quality, the vanilla is dried several hours a day on
oven racks, then in the sun and finally in the shade in order to
obtain the highest quality.
· storage in crates: the vanilla is then left to mature for
eight months in secret in wooden crates which are lined with
greaseproof paper; it is during this period that the fragrance
develops. The crates are regularly inspected in order to take
out any pods that have gone mouldy so that they do not
contaminate the others.
· grading: the pods are sorted according to their length; the
longest are the most sought after.
· packing: traditionally, pods of the same length are bundled
together, otherwise they are packed in bags.
Natural vanilla develops a complex perfume formed of several
hundreds of different aromatic compounds. Amongst these it is
however the vanilla molecule (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldéhyde)
that is dominant in the formation and characterisation of the
aroma of vanilla.
The commercial term vanilla applies to the end-product pods that
are at least 15 centimetres in length. If a pod is of good
quality it can be coiled around the finger without sustaining
The very best quality vanilla is found in frosted vanilla where
the vanillin has crystallised on the surface in fine, snowy
efflorescences. It is the most intensely and delicately perfumed
vanilla you can find.
Poorer quality pods are used by the wholesale trade for the
industrial food industry, or they are used in the preparation of
extract of vanilla or vanilla powder. Extract of vanilla is
obtained by macerating the pods in alcohol, whereas powder is
obtained by grinding.
The cultivation of vanilla has spread to various humid, tropical
regions of the world. However, two countries, Madagascar and
Indonesia, assume the main world production. Whilst during the
1990s Indonesia was the leading producer of vanilla, Madagascar
has now regained its dominant position.
In Madagascar in 2004, vanilla provided a livelihood for 80,000
planters. It is mainly cultivated in the region of Sava in the
north-eastern part of the island where 24,000 of the 29,500
hectares are planted. The other plantations can be found around
Diego Suarez where there are 1,500 hectares and 3,800 hectares
in the region of Toamasina, from whose port the spice is
exported. Other countries that have a long tradition of
cultivating vanilla continue to supply the world market,
although on a more modest scale, such as Mexico and the Comoro
Islands. Reunion Island and Tahiti produce fewer quantities but
supply a high quality product at the top end of the market. The
Seychelles and Mauritius Island no longer produce vanilla.
Production in the south west of the Indian Ocean also qualifies
for the Bourbon vanilla label of origin, whether it comes from
Madagascar, the Comoros Islands or Reunion Island.
In Reunion Island, production is concentrated along the coast au
vent between Sainte-Suzanne and Bras-Panon. In the archipelago
of Comoros it is located in Anjouan and Mayotte. Vanilla is one
of the only resources of the Union of Comoros along with cloves,
another type of spice from which vanillin can be produced.
New countries have also launched or re-launched their own
production of vanilla, such as Uganda, the State of Kerala in
India, Papua New Guinea, the Tonga Islands and so on. Whilst
searching to diversify their agricultural revenue and make good
profits in order to end up with a high quality spice, they are
nonetheless confronted with the uncertainties of an extremely
fluctuating market in addition to manufacturing a product that
requires precise and rigorous attention to its needs during the
lengthy process of preparation.
China also produces vanilla in the province of Yunnan.
Annual Production (in tonnes) of vanillasource : FAOSTAT
industrial artificial flavours
In 1874, Dr Willhelm Haarmann, a German chemist, made the
synthesis of the first artificial vanilla from coniferin, an
extract of spruce resin. Other substances with an aromatic
nucleus can also serve as a basis for synthetic vanilla. It was
by using eugenol, extract of cloves that the production and
business of artificial vanillin began.
Artificial vanillin is gradually becoming more and more
important in the food trade as well as in the industry of
perfumed products. Thanks to its low production cost, vanilla
flavouring has become more and more popular the world over,
whilst at the same time imposing severe competition on natural
vanilla. World production of industrial vanillin is currently
estimated at around 12,000 to 15,000 tonnes a year, whereas all
the natural vanillin that could be extracted from world
commercial production represents less than 50 tonnes per year.
Other industrial processes for the manufacture of vanillin have
also enabled producers to benefit from the use of raw materials
that are less and less expensive: petrochemical synthesis,
synthetic production of lignin from the residues of the
paper-making industry, oxidation of curcumin extracted from
turmeric or bio-technological preparation through controlled
fermentation of the residues of the pulp of sugar beet used by
the sugar industry.
Because the molecule is chemically the same as that present in
nature, industrially produced vanillin is qualified as naturally
identical flavour. In application of European regulations,
vanillin can be indicated as a food ingredient with the simple
mention of flavouring, whilst under American law it has to be
mentioned as artificial flavouring. On the other hand, in all
cases, the term natural flavouring is reserved for the use of
vanilla or vanilla extract.
Known as a stimulant for the nervous system, vanilla is used in
the form of essential oils, tincture, or infusion against
hysteria, depression and bouts of melancholy. It is also
recommended for stimulating muscular efforts and for relieving