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Culinary Herbs and Spices of the World

Ben-Erik van Wyk
University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 320 pp., $45.00.

This is an outstanding book, the first fully illustrated, scientific guide to nearly all commercial herbs and spices in existence. Van Wyk covers more than 150 species, from black pepper and black currant to white mustard and white ginger. Each page is devoted alphabetically to a spice or herb with an illustration of a given spice, fresh or dried. Most significantly, each description includes details on chemical compounds found in each spice, those vehicles for flavor imparted to dull cuisine.

Nations fought over access to and monopoly of certain spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, when they were rare commodities. Many fortunes were made in the pursuit of spices; in some  periods and in some locales, spices literally served as currency. The author, a professor of botany at the University of Johannesburg, is familiar with daily use of many spices that we would consider exotic. He brings to life many herbs and spices, especially those used in specific dishes, such as Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) or used in Singaporean seafood noodle soup. This is the kind of book to be studied and digested, a kind of encyclopedia to pursue and enjoy in your kitchen. 

—Adele Kleine, volunteer and garden writer, Chicago Botanic Garden