Photograph by Anindita Chakraborty, National Geographic Your Shot
Photograph by Anindita Chakraborty, National Geographic Your Shot

For a Zesty 2016, Start With the Spice Rack

As 2015 came to a close, people across the globe feasted on culinary delights fragrant with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and ginger. (You can read about the history of gingerbread, about German aachener printenGerman aachener printen, and feast on a gallery of holiday sweets.)

But as billions of people in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America can tell you, if most of your annual spice intake happens in November and December, you’re missing out.

Sure, Westerners have been seasoning their foods with spices for centuries—dishes flavored with saffron and nutmeg are sprinkled throughout Shakespeare’s works, nutmeg has long been a key element in Scottish haggis, and pepper was so valuable to Europeans they once used it as a form of currency. The English infused alcohol with coriander and anise to develop gin in the 18th century. And bay leaves, cumin, and paprika are all widely used in many familiar Western foods like tomato sauces and chili.

Even so, many of the spices that make the cuisines of Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere so flavorful and distinct have long been considered “exotic” in the West, particularly when used in savory preparations. Thankfully, that’s changing as the complex artistry that chefs and home cooks in India, China, Thailand, the Philippines, Mexico, and beyond have practiced for centuries has grown in popularity worldwide.

If you haven’t experienced Filipino adoboFilipino adobo, Indian garam masala or panch phoran, Moroccan hariraMoroccan harira, or Mexican moleMexican mole, I have a New Year’s resolution for you! And with countless versions of each of these dishes and spice blends out there, there’s plenty of variation to keep you going all year long. Here’s a primer on just a few delicious spices to get you started, thanks to our Your Shot community.