We’ve all seen the KFC slogan for the eleven spices and herbs in their secret recipe alongside the amazing Twitter coup. If you weren’t aware, KFC and their wonderful masterminds in marketing only follow 11 Twitter profiles; 5 types of spices (the five Spice Girls) and 6 herbs (6 random blokes called Herb). It’s genius.
But this can spark questions. Other than the inevitable “what are the 11 herbs and spices?”, it can also make us wonder what a spice really is, where they come from, how they’re so flavourful and how to use spice combinations in a way that lets us master the way of the tastebud.
Luckily, our team here at The Hobby Kraze are pretty seasoned, themselves, in the world of spice. From the savoury twang it can bring your paella to the hot kick it can serve in a chilli dish. This fact file of the types of spices has everything you could possibly want to know about the common spices and herbs from around the world (as well as some of the rarer picks that cost a couple more coppers out of the jar).
Here’s what we’ll be covering in this fact file about spice profiles:
- An Introduction to the World of Spices
- What are Spice Profiles?
- A Brief History into the Types of Spices in Your Spice Cupboard
- The Types of Spices and the Scoville Pepper Scale
- Why Should Different Types of Spices Be Sprinkled into a Dish?
- The Top 5 Facts About Common Spices and Herbs
- Top Tips for Using the Common Spices and Herbs
- What are KFC’s 11 Herbs and Spices?
Before we head off into a rainbow of tastes through the exotic souk markets of Asia, it’s best we get something off our chest.
Common spices and herbs can be bought and sold in two major forms; loose and packaged. Quite simply, one of these forms is in a loose powder and in its native form stored in giant sacks and displayed for all to see. The second involves a factory process of packaging.
And while the authenticity of heading to an Arabian souk to source golden flavours might sound enticing, we highly suggest enjoying the sights, smells and experiences of the souk before heading out to a shop to source packaged spices.
This is because loose spices are out in the open. They risk being adulterated, having their flavour lost to the wind, harbouring insects, causing doubt over the true origin and being in overall unhygienic conditions.
So, always opt for health and quality assurance when it comes to your spices and buy spice profiles in their packaged form.
Now we’ve dealt with the nitty-gritty, we can get on with the fun part:
An Introduction to the World of Spices
Spices are aromatic and flavourful natural substances that can be used to colour food, flavour food and bring invigorating smells to any room.
They derive from seeds, fruits, flowers, bark, roots, plants and other naturally culminating worldly goods. However, they do differ from herbs which are the leaves, stems and flowers of plants such as rosemary. But they are more than often paired together to get the right zest to each bite. Let’s take the KFC secret recipe with the 11 herbs and spices; without the herbs, it just wouldn’t be the same!
When it comes to the taste of spice, they aren’t all that similar, either. So many people walk through life without a sprinkling of spice believing the only purpose is to sting the mouth and cause the eyes to water.
Spice should not be confused with ‘spicy’. We’ll touch more on this later in the article with the Scoville Pepper Scale but, for now, it’s key to recognise each individual colourful power and the types of spices to be companions of each flavour profile.
What are Spice Profiles?
Traditionally speaking, there are four flavour profiles: bitter, salty, sour and sweet. However, more recently, there has been an identification of a 5th flavour that doesn’t quite match any of the other four. This is called umami; it originates from Japan and is related to the taste profiles of mushrooms.
But, when it comes to describing the types of spices and their tastes, it’s a whole new ball game. Spice connoisseurs around the world have gathered to culminate 15 distinct tastes that can be used as a spectrum to identify each spice flavour and how to use spice combinations for new dishes.
The 15 spice profiles are:
A good example would be that cumin can be described as both earthy and spicy while thyme is bitter, floral, herbaceous and piney. Neither of which can be distinguished within the traditional 5 flavour profiles.
A Brief History into the Types of Spices in Your Spice Cupboard
Spices have been used for as long as our ancestors were able to distinguish safe from poisonous in the fields and woodlands where they lived. In fact, as much as spices are rich in taste, they are rich in history; being used as valued trading goods, they travelled around the world via the famous Silk Road.
So, let’s go through lifetimes and millennia of the types of spices in a few short timeline snippets on the ‘spice’ road:
The Hunter Gatherers
As mentioned, our ancestors would gather surrounding leaves and they did so to wrap around the meat of the hunt. Inadvertently, they realised this enhanced the smells and tastes of meat when it was cooked (especially when the meat was cooked in the earthy wrap). With care and experimentation, they found the same with nuts, seeds, fruits, flowers, barks and roots.
The Ancient Egyptians
It is said that the Ancient Egyptians (our best friends here at The Hobby Kraze) loved to lavish in a life filled with spice. They found medicinal purposes for caraway, coriander, fennel, garlic, mint, onion, peppermint, and poppy. Many of these roots and spices were even found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The Egyptians would also source various spices from neighbouring countries such as Ethiopian cardamon and cinnamon.
The Chinese Cassia
In around 2700 B.C., a herbal book named Pen Ts’ao Ching was written mentioning the cassia spice. It resembles cinnamon and is said to have grown in the cassia forests of Southern China as a greatly important spice. Later in the timeline, historians have found that ancient Chinese courtiers had very different uses of spices. They would harbour cloves in their cheeks when addressing the Emperor; this was to keep their breath smelling fresh and sweet.
The Late Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia (culminative parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Kuwait and Syria until the 7th century) was a kingdom rich in the growth, procurement and use of spices. King Ashurbanipal of Assyria who ruled from 668 B.C. to 633 B.C. even created a scroll listing thyme, sesame, cardamom, turmeric, saffron, poppy, garlic, cumin, anise, coriander, silphium, coriander, dill, and myrrh. It was these ancient cultures who innovated how to use spice combinations in other areas. For example, the concoction of essential oils through roses and saffron.
The Indian Medicines
To this day, India is a hub for colour and flavour in every dish resulting from the different use of spices. But they’ve been used for thousands of years for medicinal and health benefits, too. Many of which, such as turmeric, are native to Indian soil. For example, Charaka and Sushruta II are two medical writings from the 1st and 2nd centuries that both reference the use of spices and herbs.
The Ancient Greeks
Various herbs and types of spices all had a key part to play in ancient Greek society. From flavouring breads and intensifying wine through to medicinal care and creating drunk-preventing crowns. Yes, people truly believed wearing crowns of parsley and marjoram would stop a drunk at play. Interestingly, Hippocrates (the great Greek physician) wrote about 400 herbal remedies using bounds of spices with half still in usе today.
The Roman Empire
Much like the uses within Greek society, the Romans had different uses of spices for the growing herbology table. Atop the jobs that spices had with the Greeks, they’d also be used within essential oils, baths, balms, scents and poultices for good health and pleasant smells.
The Muslim Influence
Aside from being a monopoly of suppliers along the silk road for many spices to various empires, Arabs (namely the followers of Mohammed) were great scientists and innovators of their time. The most notable thing they did for the common spices and herbs was to advance the extraction process from flowers and other aromatic plants. Then, in the 9th century, they began formulating rich spice syrups for foods, drinks and medicines.
The Medieval Times
Medieval Europe wasn’t rife with international trade to the same extent as after the crusades. In fact, the Asian spices were very expensive, valuable and hard to come by. For perspective, one pound of saffron would have cost someone a horse and peppercorns were commonly used as currency for dowries, taxes, rent and tolls. With this, they didn’t have their traditional roles in food but were more ornamental for their aroma.
The Modern Day
Today, with thanks to our friend Marco Polo the travelling trader, spices have become so much more common throughout the world. The American colonists brought spices from Europe to the US and – after the Boston Tea party of 1773 – herbs and spices were used as a replacement for tea in herbal drinking causing a further rise in popularity for the types of spices and how to use spice combinations across the board. They also saw to the cultivation of vanilla, so we can thank them for that.
The Types of Spices and the Scoville Pepper Scale
We said we’d touch on it, so here we are. As you now know, not all the common spices and herbs have the spice profiles of ‘spicey’. Vanilla, for example, is just sweet, woody and smoky.
Spiciness is a flavour profile that can be described with heat, stinging, tang and piquant. And, yes, many spices such as cayenne, cumin, cajun and paprika do fall into this category of spicy.
However, the degree of the spice profiles and the flavour is measured by the Scoville Pepper Scale (once named the Scoville Organoleptic Test). It’s named as such because it’s actually used as a measurement for peppers like chili peppers and bell peppers but can also be used for any other foods described as spicy.
An American scientist named Wilbur Scoville (hence the name) developed the Scoville Organoleptic Test when working at a pharmaceutical company in 1912. He needed to be able to measure a chili pepper’s pungency and heat.
So, the Scoville Organoleptic Test first grinds up a substance like a pepper, mixes it with sugar water, and then gets people to taste it. The mixture is diluted until the taster no longer feels heat and then the substance is given a number from 0 to 16,000,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). Where 0 is a bell pepper and 16,000,000 is pure capsaicin (just don’t do it).
Why Should Different Types of Spices Be Sprinkled into a Dish?
Spices, as we’ve mentioned have so many roles from scents and aromas to dish infusing and colour intensifying. Sometimes they can seem intimidating from having the Scoville Pepper Scale looking over your shoulder to not quite understanding why so little could make a difference to an entire dish.
Luckily, the team are here to help. There are so many reasons you should be confident with experimenting how to use spice in combinations for new dishes as well as trying to create old favourites.
Here’s what sprinkling a little spice into your life can bring to the table:
- Low calorie options
- The culture of a dish
- Ease of use
- Long-life ingredients
- Spice profile
- Chef status
As well as this, we wanted to take some of the guessing work out of the different uses of spices within various combinations from around the world. For example, India is the leading country for the use of garam masala and curry powder.
That said, here are our top ten cuisines and their spice profiles for flavour combinations you simply can’t miss:
- Caribbean: Allspice, nutmeg, garlic powder, cloves, cinnamon and ginger.
- Chinese: Anise stars, ginger, garlic powder, cloves, cassia fennel seeds, black pepper, onion powder and sesame seed.
- French: Nutmeg, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder rosemary, oregano and herbes de provence.
- Indian: Bay leaves, cardamon, curry powder, ginger, coriander, cajun, cayenne, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, turmeric, saffron and garam masala.
- Italian: Oregano, basil, garlic powder, thyme, rosemary and marjoram.
- Mediterranean: Oregano, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, basil and ginger.
- Mexican: Coriander, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, cinnamon and chili powder.
- Middle Eastern: Bay leaves, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ginger, coriander, za’atar and garlic powder.
- North African: cardamon, cinnamon, paprika, cumin, turmeric, ginger and ras el hanout.
- Thai: Basil, cumin, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cardamon and curry powder.
The Top 5 Facts About Common Spices and Herbs
Talking about the types of spices isn’t without its weird and wonderful facts. In fact, given the history, it’s surprising there aren’t more strange concoctions and beliefs stating how to use spice combinations in a way that brings about mystical powers.
And, while there are quite a lot out there, the team here at The Hobby Kraze have done a round-up for 5 of our favourites. From the common spices and herbs to the more unknown and from the interesting and useful facts to the down-right whacky.
Take a look at our top 5 facts about common spices and herbs:
Black Garlic is Believed to Give Immortality
Black garlic is a fermented type of garlic on the Korean market. However, Taoist (Chinese philosophical) mythology states that it can give you immortality. Of course, we know that garlic has been used throughout the ages to aid in overall health and this could be what they mean metaphorically.
But, unfortunately, black garlic hasn’t made anyone immortal just yet. You’re welcome to try; it pairs perfectly with meats and in a variety of dips as it brings a savoury and molasses-type taste to the mix.
Translations of Spice Combinations Are Actually Very Vague
It really is what it says on the tin with this fact, unlike the spice blend. Types of spices have been known to match together perfectly for the right dish. With many blends out there as standard such as Chimichurri, Five Spice, Everything but the Bagel, Curry Powder, Jerk Seasoning, Italian Seasoning, Herbes de Provence and more.
However, what they are can sometimes be a bit of a mystery. For example, Chimichurri is an Argentinian spice which roughly translates to “a random mix of many things”.
Saffron is One of the Most Expensive Spices
Saffron is a vibrant burnt orange thread originating as one of three yellow styles of the Crocus Sativus flower. Best known for bringing vibrant golden colours and flavours to dishes like paella, it originated in Iran before being domesticated in Greece.
However, the clincher is that each thread of saffron needs to be hand-picked from the flower. And, to create 45g of saffron, it takes 20 hours of labour and over 70,000 Crocus Sativus flowers. Luckily, the strength of saffron means those three threads from one flower go a long way.
Columbus Originally Named Allspice Pimento
On one of his voyages to the New World, Christopher Columbus ran into various types of spices with one being the dried fruit of a Jamaican plant named the Pimenta Dioica. With this, Columbus named the spice pimento.
However, the Brits knew better. After reaching Europe in the 16th century, English tastebuds noted the spice resembled various spice profiles with various common spices and herbs such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pepper. So, they renamed it allspice and that’s what it’s been known as since.
Particle Size Dictates a Seasoning and a Butcher’s Rub
You may be familiar with the term or you may not, but a butcher’s rub is something that helps to season and flavour large cuts of meat all at once. However, there is a big difference between this and seasoning and it has nothing to do with the ingredients and everything to do with the size.
A butcher’s rub has far bigger particles to make it coarser and more resistant to burning when under heat for longer cooking periods. With this, seasonings are typically made with fine powders perfect for the dinner tonight.
Top Tips for Using the Common Spices and Herbs
We started this article off with the toppest-of-the-top tips for the different uses of spices and that was to make sure you buy your spices packaged to avoid unwanted surprises.
However, that isn’t the only tip of the spice trade you should know about. In fact, these can go hand-in-hand with some common myths about various types of spices out there. For example, many people believe spices never go bad!
Take a look at our three top tips for how to use spice combinations and lonely spices to their fullest flavour:
Make Sure to Store Your Spices Properly
This is a big one: so many people neglect to store spices correctly in air-tight containers. When stored properly, common spices and herbs can last up to three years, otherwise, they can cake, lose colour, lose aroma, lose flavour and simply lose the essence of them.
To store properly, you need to make sure they stay away from light, heat and moisture. With that, your best bet is to make sure you keep your types of spices in an air-tight container in a cupboard.
For fresh herbs, you’ll want to pat them dry with a paper towel, chop them up, place them into an air-tight jar and throw them into the fridge to keep them cool and lasting longer than two days.
A bonus would be to make sure you always take spices out of the jar using a measuring spoon. This is because shaking the spice jar over a pan can cause steam to rise and cake the spice.
Get Rid of Any Older Spices You Have Laying Around
We mentioned this earlier, but spices do actually go bad. While most cases don’t render anything dangerous to consume, you won’t be jumping for joy at the colour, taste or texture.
A rule of thumb is to note that ground spices can last around a year and whole spices can last for three (when the right storage is used, of course).
If you’re like us and you like to put your spices into glass jars with name stickers, it might be worth putting the toss-away date on the bottom, too. That way you don’t have to stand there contemplating if you’ve had that particular spice for ten weeks or ten years.
Buy Your Spices Whole
As touched on, spices last longer when they’re in their whole form rather than ground. Of course, you still need to make sure you’re buying them packaged, but packaged and whole.
You can grab yourself an automated grinder or use the good old method of the pestle and mortar to really put some elbow grease into it. You’ll certainly appreciate each bite a little more afterwards.
This is because ground spices are exposed to the air which allows natural oils to evaporate. This loses some of the flavour and you’re left with something that once was rather than something that still is.
What are KFC’s 11 Herbs and Spices?
Until recently we would have had to leave you in the dark about this one. However, a 2016 reveal by the Chicago Tribune shows one of their journalists got their hands on the recipe.
After interviewing the Colonel’s nephew (Joe Ledington), flicking through an old photo album brought them to the official will and testament of Colonel Sander’s 2nd wife. Inside was a napkin note titled “11 spices – mix with 2 cups white fl.”.
While Joe couldn’t quite confirm if the ingredients were completely true, he did confirm a main couple with white pepper being the true secret ingredient that competitor kitchens just never thought to use.
Still, many have since tried their hand with the types of spices listed in the ingredients and have said the outcome was incredible and near-enough indistinguishable. So, you could have a go yourself at learning how to use spice combinations that bring KFC home.
Here are the famous 11 herbs and spices used within the KFC finger lickin’ chicken recipe:
- 2/3 Tablespoon Salt
- 1/2 Tablespoon Thyme
- 1/2 Tablespoon Basil
- 1/3 Tablespoon Oregano
- 1 Tablespoon Celery Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Black Pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Dried Mustard
- 4 Tablespoons Paprika
- 2 Tablespoons Garlic Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Ground Ginger
- 3 Tablespoons White Pepper
And that’s the end of the spice road for this ultimate fact file of spices. We’ve learned a lot about the types of spices out there and our mouths are watering at the thoughts and possibilities for dinner. Homemade KFC anyone?
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