Book Review: Spice Market by Jane Lawson

Book Review: Spice Market by Jane Lawson, Lay The Table

Cloves © Helen Yuet Ling Pang

Before I even laid eyes on Jane Lawson’s Spice Market, I knew it was my type of book. And when I finally leafed through the 450 pages, my instincts were confirmed. Apart from offering 250 recipes, the book is a comprehensive guide on the history and culinary uses of over 40 spices from around the world. Like many people, I buy spices on an ad hoc basis, when I need something to make a particular dish. As a result, my collection of spices is somewhat eclectic, to say the least, and there are some that I have used just once. Spices also start to deteriorate if not stored properly (and even then, the volatile oils fade over time, taking with them the spices’ true flavours, colours and aromas). I hope that by using Spice Market on a regular basis, I’ll not only learn more about the background of each spice, but I’ll also be able to make the most of the spices sitting in my cupboard.

Book Review: Spice Market by Jane Lawson, Lay The Table

Saffron © Helen Yuet Ling Pang

I started by reading up on a few of the spices that I already own, as I thought that would be the best way to tackle this tome and start cooking with them.

Saffron – also known as azafran

My jar of saffron has been languishing in my spice drawer for a few years now, but I could never throw out such an expensive spice. The handpicked stamen from a flower of the crocus family, saffron is grown in Iran, Spain, India, Greece, Morocco and Italy. It is the most expensive spice in the world, but a tiny amount goes a very long way. The recommended recipes in the book include risotto milanese, arancini, seafood paella, poached pears in saffron syrup and saffron buns.

Book Review: Spice Market by Jane Lawson, Lay The Table

Cardamom © Helen Yuet Ling Pang

Cardamom – related to galangal, ginger, turmeric

I bought cardamom last year to make cardamom kulfi and karahi lamb chops, but since then, the pods have just been sitting in their storage jar looking pretty. Cardamom is regarded as the world’s third most expensive spice by weight after saffron and vanilla. There are two types, green and black or brown cardamom, both of which are native to India and Sri Lanka, but most recipes call for the green one. Apart from being commonly used in Indian, West Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, it’s also popular in Dutch and Scandinavian baking and of course in Turkish coffee. I particularly like the sound of cardamom pear shortcake and honey and cardamom biscuits!

Cloves – related to allspice (top photo)

Cloves are ‘the dried and unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree from the myrtle family’, and because they are so pungent, only a small amount is needed. They also form an intrinsic part of spice mixes, including Chinese five spice and Indian garam masala, and are used as a painkiller for toothache (‘biting into a whole clove releases an intense, almost antiseptic taste’). The recommended recipes include Kashmiri lamb cutlets and clove-studded honey-glazed ham.

Book Review: Spice Market by Jane Lawson, Lay The Table

Juniper berries © Helen Yuet Ling Pang

Juniper berries

Juniper berries are the edible fruit of a shrub that grows in the Northern Hemisphere, and should be lightly crushed before use to release their flavour. I was pleased to read that juniper berries are commonly used in Scandinavian cooking, because I’m going to Sweden next month and hope to find more inspiration from the dishes that I try there. Out of the recipes featured, I very much liked the sound of vodka and juniper cured salmon, duck confit and venison with juniper berries.


This is a book every home cook should have on his or her shelf, not just for the variety of recipes, but for the wealth of information on spices all in one place. I for one will be using this as a handy reference book before shopping for more spices, particularly when visiting spice markets around the world! Hopefully my spices will be used more regularly in the future…

Spice Market is published by Murdoch Books and costs £18.95. Thank you to Murdoch for sending me a copy.

@ Lay The Table
Tags: cookery, cookery book, cooking, food, Jane Lawson, recipe, Spice Market, spices, traveleating

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