The production of ground spices

Spices - Nature's flavor for our foods

Approved spice shipments, in the form of leaves, seeds, bark, or buds, are purchased from the importer by grinding companies. Each shipment is identified according to the grinder's system of grinding. The raw spices are mechanically ground to a predetermined fineness. Special equipment separates the spice particles from fibrous material. Ground spices are shipped in packages of varybing sizes - as small as two ounces for home consumption and as large as 200 pound quantities for food manufacturers.

A spice flavor can vary depending upon its age, where and when it was grown, and how it was picked and stored. Ground spices do not mix evenly or completely into certain foods. This can produce an unappetizing appearance and discoloration in so oils and some food mixtures. Thus, ground spices are unsuitable for use with some products in food-processing plants. The food industry has devised other methods for extracting and using spice flavors.

The spice flavor is contained in volatile oils (the essential oils) and oleoresins found in the whole spice. The essential oils can be separated by steam distillation. Oleoresin flavors are lost, however, because they cannot be separated by distillation.

Spice processors can now remove both the essential oils and oleoresins from the raw spices. A suitable solvent, circulating through the spices, dissolve and carries away all essential oils and oleoresins. The solvent is filtered and all insolubles such as hulls and fibers are discarded. This procedure removes all flavor from the spice plant.

Chemical treatment of the solvent precipitates the oils and resins. The mixed extract is then ground into a soluble powder of dextrose or salt. When added to foods, the powdered flavor extract dissolves and is distributed evenly and completely through the food mixture. A standard flavor is achieved and it can be reproduced exactly for different batches of food. The spice manufacturer can mix individual spice extracts to produce an exact spice combination that meets the requirements of the food processor.

Characteristics and Uses of Spices

Spices have always been highly valued for the distinctive flavors they give to our foods. They have also proved effective in preserving foods. The oils of some spices are powerful germ killers. Spices contain no calories - a fact of importance to modern dietitians. Doctors recommend the use of spices in salt-restricted diets because of their low sodium content. Paprika is one of the most concentrated sources of Vitamin C.

Manufacturers of meat products, particularly those making sausages and luncheon meats, are the largest industrial users of spices. The baking industry uses large quantities of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and poppy and caraway seeds. Pickle packers, condiment manufacturers, and canners are also important spice users.

The Modern Spice Trade

More than 90 million pounds of spices are imported by the United States each year. Americans also consume about 30 million pounds of domestic spices. New York receives more spices than any port in the world. Pepper, the most important commercial spice, accounts for more than 60 percent of the total of the spice trade. About 60 percent of all spices go directly to the homemaker in the whole or ground form; 40 percent is used in the food industry.