Seasoning with salt and pepper has taken on new meaning in recent years…

for professional and home cooks alike.

A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark or vegetative substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for the purpose of flavoring.

Many of the same substances have other uses in which they are referred to by different terms, e. g. in food preservation, medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics, perfumery or as vegetables. For example, turmeric is also used as a preservative; licorice as a medicine; garlic as a vegetable and nutmeg as a recreational drug.

Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are leafy, green plant parts used for flavoring purposes. Herbs, such as basil or oregano, may be used fresh, and are commonly chopped into smaller pieces; spices, however, are dried and usually ground into a powder.

And to add further to the spices , here is to share the delicious Jing’s Oxtail Soup recipe by Jing Tio , a former accountant in California traveling the world with a suitcase filled with spices and gadgets. Jing Tio is something of a spice whisperer, introducing chefs, and diners, to new flavors. He is a second-generation Indonesian spice trader and a passionate home cook, Tio, 33, was an accountant and property manager in Southern California until his frustration with the lack of high-end culinary equipment and ingredients led him to sell his cars — all six of them — to open Le Sanctuaire in Santa Monica. The Barneys of cooking stores, it sells everything from Hermès porcelain to Pacojet ice-cream makers, Ferran Adrià’s Texturas-brand agar to cooking chopsticks.Tio’s spices were different. His mother supplied him with peppercorns — black, white, red, cubeb, Sichuan, long pepper, four grades of tellicherry — that were still bright and round, not the dusty, desiccated fruits you usually see. “Spices can last maybe two or three years, depending on how well you store them,” Tio says in accented English. “But most of the spice that the consumer gets is already two, three years old.” So he made arrangements with Indonesian spice growers and began selling directly to chefs.

“The spice trade is really tricky,” Tio says with a laugh. “People want the money quick. Sometimes they harvest too fast, and the black pepper’s not dry enough, and mold starts growing. And then they cover it — you know when you cut the battery? The black dust? You don’t wanna know!” Now Tio and his mother have a 50-50 partnership with farmers on Java, Sumatra and Banda islands. Tio also uses sources in India, China and Malaysia, changing suppliers whenever quality dips. He is already on his fourth Sichuan-pepper grower on Sumatra.

Tio says that he is less interested in novelty, but many of the spices that he imports are still exotic to the American palate, like yarrow flower, cypress nuts and kola-nut powder, all of which sit in large glass jars in a back room of his shop. Asked about the pretty buds in one, Tio says they are pistachio flowers but doesn’t know what to do with them yet. “I just got excited,” he says. Chefs get excited, too, seeing spices that are so fresh as to be unrecognizable: bright green fennel seeds, plump black cardamom pods, still-spiky cloves, curled cinnamon sticks as thick as a cigar.

“It’s word of mouth,” Tio says of his expanding clientele. “If somebody likes your products, they just call all their buddies and say, ‘Hey, you ought to check out this spice dude.’ ” He begins by eating at the restaurant he has been summoned to, then packs his suitcase accordingly on the next visit. “I always come up with new stuff, depending on what I think will get the chef excited,” he says. “Really, I’m a muse to them. Not only spice. I bring them books, plates — not all of them, but. . . .” His dream, he says, is to find his “soulmate chef” to work with exclusively, followed by opening his own restaurant. In addition to a new San Francisco location, Tio plans to roll out chef-centric Le Sanctuaires in New York, Chicago and Spain in the next five years.

Jing’s Oxtail Soup

4 pounds oxtails, cut into 11/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons peanut oil
4 green cardamom pods
5 cloves
2 sticks cinnamon, preferably Ceylon
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
5 thin slices ginger
21/4 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground
11/2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
Kosher salt
9 cups beef stock or broth
1/2 cup crisp fried shallots (see Note)
3 sprigs cilantro
1/2 onion, peeled and sliced 3/4 inch thick
2 tomatoes, seeded and sliced 3/4 inch thick
1/3 cup lime juice
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped.

NOTE: Fried shallots can be purchased at most Asian markets. To make them at home, slice shallots as thinly as possible, pat dry with paper towels and leave to dry overnight. The next day, heat enough oil for deep-frying to 325 degrees. Fry the shallots until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

1. Fill a large pot two-thirds full with water, place over high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Add the oxtails and blanch for 5 minutes, then rinse under cold running water.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high until hot. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, chopped onion, garlic and ginger, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin and turmeric and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the oxtails, beef stock and 1/4 cup of the fried shallots. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and add the cilantro sprigs and 1 tablespoon salt. Simmer, covered, until the meat is falling off the bone, 2 to 21/2 hours.
3. Add the onion and tomato slices and 3
tablespoons of the lime juice. Return to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes more. Season to taste with more salt and lime juice, as needed. Remove from heat. To serve, place oxtails on soup plates or bowls, and ladle over some of the broth. Garnish with chopped cilantro and fried shallots. Serves 4 to 6.