I have a lot of interesting and unusual spices, as well as all the “usual suspects” so to speak.
Some are old friends that have been used as long as I can remember. Some are fairly new on the scene and due entirely to the internet, which has made available exotic spices and herbs from all over the world. Even now, “new” spices and herbs appear on the market from time to time and people who never heard or read about them are ordering and trying them in ethnic recipes that are also available on the internet.
These are not new to the people who have been using them for hundreds of years, they are only new to westerners where the proliferation of ethnic foods has been simply incredible.
Just look in any supermarket and compare the selections to what was available fifty years ago.
My mother cooked with Herbs de Provence and I was using this blend fifty years ago.
Forty years ago I had never heard of Za’atar or Harissa and now I use them weekly, at least. Also Ras el Hanout – I bake a flatbread, brush the warm bread with olive oil and sprinkle on a little of this blend of spices and herbs. It transports me to the middle east, in my mind.
A few months ago I ordered some Wattleseed from Australia. This is a terrific “spice” or flavoring that, as far as I know, has no equal. I learned about it from an online blog where it was mentioned as a unique flavoring agent. It combines the flavors of cocoa, coffee and some say hazelnuts but to me it tastes like the best Italian pine nuts. I saw it mentioned in an article by a chef who raved about the flavor and its versatility, having used it in both sweet and savory dishes.
I made cookies with it as the only flavoring and everyone that tried them thought the flavor was exceptional.
I’ve always enjoyed hot peppers and the number of varieties available is staggering. The best source for information on all types of capsicum is the Chile-Head website and the Chile Varieties Database.
If you have a pepper that you can’t identify, this is the best place to look. There is also plenty of information about using peppers.
Aleppo pepper, often used like black pepper, is simply ground dried hot peppers (capsicum) from Turkey and Syria. This is another item that I had never seen prior to the internet.
I had read about Grains of Paradise in spice books but until a few years ago it simply was not easily found. Some specialty markets in New York carried it and the first I ever purchased, I bought while in the city for the Westminster Dog Show. Now I can order it online from any of several vendors.
Other exotic ingredients that I have in my spice cabinet, which I only learned about via the internet are:
Black Lemon – Dried, ground lemons.
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Mahleb or Mahlab
Zhug (A spicy-hot blend from Yemen, recently purchases, not yet tried.)
Here are some online sources for spices.
The Spice House
World Spice Merchants
Arizona Vanilla Company
Vanilla, Saffron Imports
San Francisco Herb Co. (I’ve been ordering from this company since long before the internet came into existence.)
Mountain Rose Herbs
Monterey Bay Spice Company
Frontier Natural Products Co-Op
My Spice Sage