Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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spices are difficult to define. ‘One or other of various strongly flavoured or aromatic substances of vegetable origin obtained from tropical plants, commonly used as condiments, etc.’ (OED). This needs two corrections and one rider. Some of the plants which produce spices belong to temperate climates (e.g. caraway seeds); and spices are more often used in cooking, not as condiments (at table, when cooking has already been completed). The rider is that there are some substances of animal origin, e.g. ambergris, which are often included in lists of spices, if only for want of any other category into which to put them. Otherwise, the OED definition may be regarded as helpful.