In global education, we often talk about international cuisine and how food can connect people across cultures and different backgrounds. Special dishes are closely tied to cultural identities, and the spices that help create those dishes are no different. Having your students learn about spices and herbs from around the world can give them glimpses into various traditions and experiences. This is also an excellent way for you and your students to share your culture through dishes you cook at home and what spices are on your shelves.
Below we outline three different spices for you to learn about as a starting point, and then we offer activity ideas, ways to make global connections, and how to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This will be a fun global exploration for you and your students as you learn about spices and each other!
Country/region of origin: native to Southern India, now most commonly grown in India, Sri Lanka, and Guatemala
Commonly used in: South Asian curries and chai, Scandinavian pastries, and Middle Eastern cuisine
Cardamom seeds are the most common part of the plant used to flavor food and drinks. Seeds are roasted and then ground with a mortar and pestle to release the essential oils of the plant. Cardamom is high in antioxidants and contains nutrients like vitamin C and potassium. Used in sweet or savory dishes, this spice is often paired with cinnamon and cloves and, in the spice mix garam masala.
Country/region of origin: Mediterranean region and Mexico
Commonly used in: Italian cuisine, Greek dishes, and traditional Mexican dishes
There are two varieties of oregano, one native to the Mediterranean region and one to Mexico and the Americas. Oregano thrives in warm, dry, and even drought conditions. Though similar in flavor, Mexican and Mediterranean oregano are actually different species; they are members of the lemon verbena and mint families, respectively.
Fresh or dried Mediterranean oregano leaves enhance the flavor of Italian dishes like pizza and tomato-based sauces. They are also used to flavor grilled meats. Mexican oregano is used in chili powder and in traditional foods like chili con carne. It pairs well with cumin, paprika, and chili peppers.
Country/region of origin: native to Argentina and Chile, now grown in northern Africa, southern Europe, the U.S., and the Middle East
Commonly used in: herbal teas, jellies, sorbet, ice cream, and medicines
Lemon verbena has an intense citrus flavor and is used to flavor both drinks and food. It can be used to treat digestive issues and is used in medicines to treat anxiety, insomnia, and asthma. The leaves release an oil used in salad dressings and sauces and are infused into drinks and sweets like ice cream. In warm climates, the plant can grow more than ten feet high and can also be grown as a much shorter potted plant.
Activity ideas and resources
Ask students to pick a spice they often use in their homes, and then ask them to research the following information:
- How the spice is grown and harvested
- The country and/or region where the spice originates
- The cultural significance of this spice and what it means to the people who use it
- Dishes and/or drinks it is often used in
Have students share their findings with a small group or with the class. If they feel comfortable, students can share how they use this spice at home and why it is special to their cultural backgrounds or families.
You can do this same research activity with herbs or spices from a region or country you are studying together as a class. This is a great way to explore other cultures through agriculture and food.
If you are an Ambassador Teacher, you can share a common spice found in your home country and the special dishes you make with it. Talk about how it is grown and harvested. You could even demonstrate how to make a dish to your class and share why it is important to you.
Connections to the SDGs:
This lesson ties in naturally with building global competencies and action-driven learning. As you and your students explore global spices, you can incorporate the SDGs to help students make real-world connections to their learning.
You can talk about SDG 2, which includes targets to end hunger and malnutrition and to increase sustainable food production. Ask students to research the health benefits of different spices since they often contain beneficial nutrients and antioxidants.
You can also incorporate SDG 12 since responsible production and consumption are part of buying and using food and spices. Explore how sustainable the growing and harvesting of a particular spice is and what could be done, if anything, to lessen the impact on the environment.
What spices are special to you and your culture? We’d love to hear about your favorite recipe or what your students learned through this resource! Use the hashtags #GlobalLeaders and #UnitingOurWorld to let us know.