Lively up your shelf! A well-travelled spice

Zingiber officinale

Ginger is a spice (also, former spice girl and one of the shipwrecked on Gilligan’s island) that has made its way around the world. It is believed to have originated in India (or China according to some sources) and with trade and empire-building has travelled from the Orient to Greece then Rome and Britain. It was brought to West Africa by the Portuguese, to East Africa by the Arabs and to Mexico and the West Indies by the Spanish. Ginger is now found in several cuisines around the world. These days and at this time of year you are likely to see it in various baked gingerbread creations.

Ginger is obtained from the rhizome, or root, of a flowering plant and it is through the rhizome that the plant is propagated. For more on one of my favourite spices, check out the Weal Food archives:



Lively Up Your Shelf! Barking up the Wrong Tree

Cinnamon is commonly used this time of year in Canada. It is the ubiquitous spice found in pumpkin and apple pie and its sweet and warming tones are ideally suited for comforting fall weather foods. But did you know…

most cinnamon sold commercially in Canada and the US is not actually cinnamon but cassia? The former is usually sold under the name ‘true cinnamon’ and the latter is often sold under the name Saigon/Vietnamese Saigon cinnamon.

True cinnamon 

origin: Sri Lanka (formerly named Ceylon)

botanical name: cinnamomum zeylanicum 


  • It is an evergreen tree that is part of the Laurel family.
  • It indigenous to Sri Lanka.
  • The inner bark is stripped away, laid out to dry at which point it curls up into quills. These are packed like Russian nesting dolls, one inside the other, to form sticks and sold as is or in ground form.
  • Popular uses: in savoury dishes and meat sauces during the Middle Ages and in spice blends in Eastern countries eg ras el hanout (Morocco), berbere (Ethiopia), curry (India). In the West, it is most often used in sweet dishes.
  • The Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Portuguese, Dutch and British all vied for trade in cinnamon.
  • It is true cinnamon that is recommended for its effect on blood sugar regulation.  Check out this post from Healthline for its other health benefits.


origin: Myanmar (formerly called Burma)

botanical name: cinnamomum cassia 


  • It is an evergreen tree, sometimes called bastard cinnamon, and processed the same way as cinnamon.
  • It is cheaper and easier to produce than true cinnamon.
  • Cassia is much more pungent than true cinnamon and therefore favoured in baking for its strong aroma and taste.
  • Cassia contains a significant amount of coumarin, a chemical compound that may cause liver damage in certain individuals when taken in high doses.



Lively up your shelf! Spice a-peel

Kimberley’s holiday kitchen 

It’s Easter time and that means chocolate eggs and hot cross buns! Traditionally eaten on Good Friday, hot cross buns are enriched bread made with spices and citrus zest/peel. They are marked on top with the symbol of the cross, made from either a flavourless flour water mix or a mix of powdered sugar and milk.

This weekend I undertook a hot cross extravaganza and made hot cross cookies, scones and my signature buns known as hot cross bunnies; obviously made in the shape of a (Easter) bunny.

Hot cross scones
Hot cross cookies

Previously I have made hot cross brownies and plan to make hot cross pancakes and muffins for next year.

Many recipes for hot cross buns call for ‘mixed spice’. So what exactly is in this blend?

Hot Cross Bun spice mix:

2 teaspoons of true cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon clove

This quantity will be more than sufficient for one full batch of hot cross buns. Use the leftover spice blend to make cookies, scones, cake or whatever else you can think of to ‘hot crossify’.

*For best flavour, grind the spices fresh just before using in a recipe.
*For more pungency double the amounts of allspice, nutmeg and clove.