Aromatic and pungent, garlic, ginger, paprika and onion are common spices and flavors used in Mediterranean cooking. Combined with aromatic herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint, sage and thyme, they form the basis for Mediterranean flavor profiles.
Of the Mediterranean spices, garlic is one of the most commonly used in world cuisines. A member of the lily family, its close relatives are onion, shallot, leek and chive. Garlic originated in Asia and has been used in cooking and folk medicines for over 7,000 years. Blended with aromatic herbs such as rosemary, parsley and tarragon, garlic adds a strongly pungent burst to many recipes.
Like garlic, ginger comes from Asia. Versatile in both fresh and dried forms, ginger can be used in savory dishes to add notes of pepper and citrus flavor and aroma. Ginger blends with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, mint and nutmeg to give sweet recipes a warm smoky flavor.
Made from dried peppers, paprika originated in Spain and Portugal. In addition to adding color to soups, stews and sauces, paprika also lends an earthy, spicy flavor and makes a colorful, flavorful garnish as well.
Mainstays of fine cuisine, onions date back to at least 5,000 B.C. Both the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used onions in cooking and medicine. Because onions vary so widely in flavor, from hot and tangy to buttery and sweet, they add many subtle tones to Mediterranean food.