- Star anise is generally considered to be an exotic spice.David Cordner/Photodisc/Getty Images
There are hundreds of different herbs and spices throughout the world. Some of them are very common and easy to obtain, others are more rare and therefore expensive. While there is no official list of "exotic" spices and herbs, they are generally considered to be those that come from regions at a far distance, are used in unfamiliar cuisines or are difficult to come by.
- Star anise seed is taken from the star-shaped illicium verum; it is a small evergreen tree that grows in Asia near China. Many spices from Asia are considered "exotic." In the 17th and 18th centuries, when sea travel and exploring were at a height for Europe, spices from Asia were very valuable. The routes to obtain these spices were not easily traversed and many men spent their lives mapping and discovering them. The star anise is used in baking and liquor production, specifically a liquor called Galliano. It is also used in the making of sambuca and pastis. In India, the spice is used to prepare a meat dish called biryani. The star anise is part of the Indian, Indonesian and Chinese cuisine.
- saffron image by Lovrencg from Fotolia.com
Saffron comes from a flower called the saffron crocus, the stalks of which are dried and used in many recipes. Historically, saffron is the world's most expensive spice by weight and it is native to Asia. The use of saffron as a dye for textiles dates back thousands of years; evidence of it has also been found in ruins of ancient Persia. In Minoan culture it was used medicinally. Each flower yields very little spice, making it more valuable. About 454 gm of saffron spice needs a football field's worth of flowers. For cooking, saffron adds a yellow color to foods and has a grassy, sweet aroma. It is prevalent in Arab, Asian, European, Turkish, Indian and Cornish cuisines.
- Indian spice, cardamom. Isolated on white. From South India. image by diter from Fotolia.com
Cardamom is from India. There are two kinds: green and black. Black cardamom is actually a reddish-brown color, while green cardamom is generally the same shape but smaller and has a color similar to pistachios. Cardamom is used in flavoring food and drinks, both savory and sweet. This Indian spice is used in a Finnish dish of sweet bread called pulla. In the Middle East it is used to flavor coffee and tea. The most common uses of cardamom is in Indian dishes. In South Asia it is used to treat infections of the teeth and gums.