There is another class of foods, called condiments, which should not pass unnoticed.
Food that "tastes good" is digested more readily, and assimilated more perfectly, so that we really derive more nourishment from it. We use many articles with our food to make it taste better, which are not in themselves valuable as food. But by stimulating the flow of saliva and gastric juice, and enhancing the fine flavor of food, they increase the pleasure of eating, and render digestion more complete. These are called condiments. They are not necessary to persons of sound digestion, and, with the exception of salt, should not be used by children, nor by any one in large quantities. In perfect digestion there is the first taste in the mouth and the after-taste of the digestive organs which require satisfaction. "Any cook may gratify the first, but the second requires a skilled chemist."
The principal condiments are salt, pepper, mustard, and some herbs, including mint, thyme, parsley, sage, marjoram, summer savory, and bay leaves; spices, including ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, mace, and allspice; and flavorings or extracts of lemon, vanilla, orange, almond, pineapple, etc.
Salt is the only condiment actually necessary to health (see page 455).
Pepper is a stimulant when taken in small quantities, but irritating if taken in excess. It is the dried berry of a climbing plant of the piper family. The whole peppers are called peppercorns. These peppercorns are ground, and we have black pepper. The outer shells are sometimes removed before grinding, and these kernels ground give us white pepper, which has a different flavor and is less pungent than black pepper. Red or Cayenne pepper consists of seed-vessels or pods of different species of capsicum ground to powder. It is stimulating, and far more wholesome than the black pepper, though not as much used. It is valuable as a medicine.
Mustard is used as a condiment and medicine. It is made from seeds of black and white mustard, which are crushed between rollers, and then pounded in mortars. In small quantities it is good for digestion. Both red pepper and mustard, if used sparingly with indigestible food, like lobster and baked beans, are very useful.
Spices are used in cakes and articles of food containing sugar, and sometimes with meats. They are used whole, ground, and in the extract. Ginger is the most healthful, and is often used in sickness. It is a valuable stimulating tonic in hot weather. The other spices are better when mixed in small quantities, less of clove and more of cinnamon being used. When combined so that no one spice predominates, they are pleasant to the taste. Care should be taken lest they hide the natural flavor of the food.
Flavors are all good in small quantities. Almond, vanilla, lemon, and pineapple are often adulterated. They should never be added while the article is hot, as the heat wastes the strength of the flavor. Vanilla beans are better than the extract. It is always well, if possible, to use the fresh fruit juice.
Lemon juice and vinegar, used in moderation, increase the solvent properties of the gastric juice, and are useful with meats and vegetables which are difficult of digestion.