Throughout the year, home cooks an professional chefs use a wide variety of spices and herbs in their cooking. The diverse range of spices swings from incredibly spicy to ones deliciously used in sweet dishes. Around the world, spices add flavor to dishes.
ALLSPICE: These small dark, reddish-brown berries are so called because their aroma and flavor resemble a combination of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Use berries whole in marinades; for boiling and pot roasting meats and poultry; in fish dishes, pickles and chutneys. Also available ground and excellent for flavoring soups, sauces and desserts.
ANISE: Commonly called aniseed, these small, brown oval seeds have the sweet, pungent flavor of licorice. Also available ground. Use seeds in stews and vegetable dishes, or sprinkle over loaves and rolls before baking. Try ground anise for flavoring fish dishes and pastries for fruit pies.
CARAWAY: Small brown, crescent-shaped seeds with a strong liquorice flavor and especially delicious as a flavoring in braised cabbage and sauerkraut recipes, breads (particularly rye), cakes and cheeses.
CARDAMOM: Small, triangular-shaped pods containing numerous small black seeds which have a warm, highly aeromatic flavor. You can buy green or black cardamoms although the smaller green type is more widely available.
CAYENNE: Orangey-red in color, this ground pepper is extremely hot and pungent. Not to be confused with paprika which, although related, is mild flavored.
CHILI POWDER: Made from dried red chilies. This red powder varies in flavor and hotness, from mild to hot. A less fiery type is found in chili seasoning.
CINNAMON and CASSIA: Shavings of bark from the cinnamon tree are processed and curled to form cinnamon sticks. Also available in ground form. Spicy, fragrant and sweet, it is used widely in savory and sweet dishes. Cassia (from the dried bark of the cassia tree) is similar to cinnamon, but less delicate in flavor with a slight pungent ‘bite’.
CLOVES: These dried, unopened flower buds give a warm aroma and pungency to foods, but should be used with care as the flavor can become overpowering. Available in ground form. Cloves are added to soups, sauces, mulled drinks, stewed fruits and apple pies.
CORIANDER: Available in seed and ground form. These tiny, pale brown seeds have a mild, spicy flavor with a slight orange peel fragrance. An essential spice in curry dishes, but also extremely good in many cake and cookie recipes.
CUMIN: Sold in seed or ground. Cumin has a warm, pungent aromatic flavor and is used extensively in flavor curries and many Middle Eastern and Mexican dishes. Popular in Germany for flavoring sauerkraut and pork dishes. Use ground or whole in meat dishes and stuffed vegetables.
FENUGREEK: These small, yellow-brown seeds have a slight bitter flavor which, when added in small quantities, is very good in curries, chutneys and pickles, soups, fish and shellfish dishes.
GINGER: Available in many forms. Invaluable for adding to many savory and sweet dishes and for baking gingerbread and brandy snaps. Fresh ginger root looks like a knobby stem. It should be peeled and finely chopped or sliced before use. Dreid ginger root is very hard and light beige in color. To release flavor, “bruise” with a spoon or soak in hot water before using. This dried type is more often used in pickling, jam making and preserving. Also available in ground form, preserved stem ginger and crystallized ginger.
MACE and NUTMEG: Both are found on the same plant. The nutmeg is the inner kernel of the fruit. When ripe, the fruit splits open to reveal bright red arils which lie around the shell of the nutmeg – and once dried are known as mace blades. The flavor of both spices is very similar – warm, sweet and aromatic, although nutmeg is more delicate than mace. Both spices are also sold ground. Use with vegetables; sprinkled over egg dishes, milk puddings and custards; eggnogs and mulled drinks; or use as a flavoring in desserts.
PAPRIKA: Comes from a variety of pepper (capsicum) and although similar in color to cayenne, this bright red powder has a mild flavor.
PEPPER: White pepper comes from ripened berries with the outer husks removed. Black pepper comes from unripened berries dried until dark greenish-black in color. Black pepper is more subtle than white. Use white or black peppercorns in marinades and pickling, or freshly ground as a seasoning. Both are available ground. Green peppercorns are also unripe berries with a mild, light flavor. They are canned in brine or pickled, or freeze-dried in jars. They add a pleasant, light peppery flavor to sauces, pates and salad dressings. Drain those packed in liquid and use either whole or mash them lightly before using. Dry green peppercorns should be lightly crushed before using to help release flavor, unless otherwise stated in a recipe.
POPPY SEEDS: These tiny, slate-blue seeds add a nutty flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. Sprinkle over desserts and breads.
SAFFRON: This pice comes from the stigmas of a species of crocus. It has a distinctive flavor and gives a rich yellow coloring to dishes, however, it is also the most expensive spice to buy. Available in small packets or jars (either powdered or in strands – the strands being far superior in flavor). This spice is a must for an authentic paella or Cornish Saffron Cake. Also an extremely good flavoring for soups, fish and chicken dishes.
SESAME SEEDS: High in protein and mineral oil content, sesame seeds have a crisp texture and sweet, nutty flavor which combines well in curries and with chicken, pork and fish dishes. Use also to sprinkle over breads, cookies and pastries before baking.
STAR ANISE: This dried, star-shaped seed head has a pungent, aromatic smell, rather similar to fennel. Use very sparingly in stir-fry dishes. Also good with fish and poultry.
TURMERIC:Closely related to ginger, it is an aromatic root which is dried and ground to produce a bright, orange-yellow powder. It has a rich, warm, distinctive smell, a delicate, aromatic flavor and helps give dishes an attractive yellow coloring. Use in curries, fish and shellfish dishes, rice pilafs and lentil mixtures. It is also a necessary ingredient in mustard pickles and piccalilli.