Kitchen Spices Look Startlingly Different in the Wild

Spices have been giving our lives pizazz for millennia: Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon to embalm bodies, Mesopotamians cultivated cardamom and garlic in their gardens, Dutch colonists hoarded cloves and nutmeg from Southeast Asia, and Ina Garten taught her loyal viewers about “good vanilla.”

But these powders, seeds, roots, and fruits have to start somewhere—and their plants of origin can be unrecognizable. Here are ten of the most surprising seasoning shrubs.


As the red stigma of a purple flower that turns dishes yellow, saffron always keeps you guessing. One of the most expensive and precious spices in the world, it’s believed to have been initially cultivated in Greece, though today it’s also grown in the Middle East and India. The spice is derived from a flower called the saffron crocus, which produces just three saffron threads. The flower only blooms for one week a year, and the threads must be harvested by hand. With that comes a high price tag—a pound of the good stuff can set you back nearly $2000.


Black pepper doesn’t start black—in fact, it turns from green to red before it’s even picked. A tropical plant native to India, peppercorn is thought to be one of the world’s oldest spices. Individual peppercorns are picked when they’re at their most red (and most mature) and boiled—that’s what turns them dark. They’re then dried and ground.

Learn more at Popular Science.

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