The second splendid discovery of

Not since the ancient mariners stumbled over North America in the frenzy to find the Spice Islands have so many people been eager to add that certain tickle to the things they eat. Here’s a short guide to sharp taste

Grattan Gray January 7 1961

The second splendid discovery of

Not since the ancient mariners stumbled over North America in the frenzy to find the Spice Islands have so many people been eager to add that certain tickle to the things they eat. Here’s a short guide to sharp taste

Grattan Gray January 7 1961

The second splendid discovery of

Not since the ancient mariners stumbled over North America in the frenzy to find the Spice Islands have so many people been eager to add that certain tickle to the things they eat. Here’s a short guide to sharp taste

Grattan Gray

Rather than run the risk of spicing your food with a second-rate pepper when you eat out. you can now buy a compact pocket pepper mill in a leather carrying case and grind your own. A Torontonian I used to lunch with has bought one. He may be ahead of his time, but not much. Racks of exotic condiments are blooming in the supermarkets and flamboyant names — oregano, chervil — are shouldering into the normally bland recipes on the women's pages. Prosperity, sophistication, and the splendid gustatory example of European immigrants have all contributed to this rediscovery of the difference between mechanics and art in the kitchen, but a more practical reason has been forgotten by the few Canadians who ever knew it. It's only in the last few years that we have been able to buy pure spices.

Canada is a long way from the Spice Islands, as the early explorers learned to their disappointment, and at one time the shrewd men who exported spices to Canada raised their profit margins by mixing ground-up olive pits into what they called pure spice shipments. They assumed Canadians wouldn't know the difference, and there is reason to believe they were right. In 1942, when the Canadian government stockpiled eight million pounds of spices as a war measure, the Wartime Prices and Trade Board doled them back out. Unsure how long their hoard would have to last, the government men hedged their bet by bulking out the spices with harmless additives. Pepper wasn’t pepper: it was mixed with cereals and mustard seed. Cinnamon was padded out with ground cocoa husks.

Since the war Canadian spice salesmen have been selling pure spices. Canadians have been buying them in growing quantities, and the gastronomic climate

has been improving rapidly. It has, in fact, improved faster than the ability of most people to inform themselves about the fiavorful things they are eating.

There are. for a start, only twelve “true” spices to a purist (saffron, a red-yellow flavoring agent made from a type of crocus and used in dyes, soups and stews, is in a class by itself). The true spices are allspice, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, paprika, black pepper, white pepper, red pepper and turmeric. Then there are twelve seasonings that are called spices by most people but are really herbs: basil, bay leaves, chervil, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme. Next, seeds: anise, caraway, cardamom, celery, coriander. cumin, dill, fennel, fenugreek, mustard, poppy, sesame. And finally, blends: chili powder, curry powder, fines herbes, mixed pickling spice, poultry seasoning, pumpkin-pie spice — and seasoning salts: celery, garlic, and onion.

Almost all Canada’s spices come from the Far East, the herbs and seeds mainly from the Mediterranean. Only mustard is grown here commercially. A third of all the spice sold in Canada is pepper; cinnamon is second; paprika, a red powder ground from a Spanish chili, has shot up to third since arriving Hungarians taught their neighbors how to use it in everything from chicken broth to cabbage rolls. Chervil is a garnish that's competing with parsley. Oregano flavors pizza pie; tarragon flavors salads; and sweet basil does something good to tomato sauces.

The flavor market is. in fact, so brisk that food manufacturers are beginning to push pre-mixed spice packages. A barbecue seasoning named Hi-Char contains charcoal, salt, monosodium glutamate, and a hickory flavoring. It's not a spice. It’s an anti-spice. ★

I'lic 20 spices at the right, including a costly heap of saffron, the world's most expensive flavoring at $88 a pound, and nutmeg (now rare because West Indian plantations were destroyed in 1055 by hurricanes), were photographed for Maclean's by Hugh Thompson inside the warehouse on Pier 15 on the Toronto waterfront.