Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages

If you have an interest in plants, unusual spices, the botanical aspects of cooking, or herbal etymology, either you’ve been to Gernot Katzer’s site or you should give it a look.

The topics range from common spices to ancient herbs extinct for millennia, but the kinds of information provided for each are similar.  Every flavoring entry discusses its source, including which part(s) of the plant are used, their taste and scent (as much as they can be described in words), some brief notes on their use in the kitchen.  The natures of the primary active chemicals involved are mentioned.  And, perhaps most importantly, the names of the spice in many languages are provided, along with historical notes on where they originated and what meanings they originally had.

This last is especially important if you’re dealing with cooking instructions that are in a language other than those you are deeply familiar with, or a recipe that is being translated from a foreign tongue.  Many vegetables and spices are improperly identified or poorly translated in such cases.  Local names and references frequently produce false cognates in other contexts or languages, and acquiring ingredients according to the instructions you’re given can produce highly variable results, from unpalatable messes to potentially dangerous toxins in some cases.

The illustrations are not only pleasant to look at but highly useful, making it easy to identify relatively exotic and unfamiliar flavorings when you’re looking for or encountering them.  And since people in temperate climates are unlikely to ever see such things as ginger flowers or fresh pepper berries, the photos are educational in addition to being informative.

Culinary backgrounds to linguistic data, it’s all here.  The only thing not present which you might possibly expect is information on finding or growing the source plants.  But that isn’t the intended function of the site.

For English speakers, the website is found at http://gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com/engl/.

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