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Spices + Herbs: A to Z

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Get tips on buying, storing and cooking with every spice and herb under the sun, from allspice to za'atar.

Allspice

What It Is

Allspice is the brown, unripe berry of a tropical evergreen plant native to the Caribbean islands, where it is called pimento. It is the main ingredient in Jamaican jerk seasoning, but is also found in Mexican (called pimenta gorda or fat pepper) and Indian cuisines. It is used in the Lebanese kitchen as a substitute for their seven-spice mixture, which typically includes pepper, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, paprika, coriander and sometimes more.

 

How to Use It

Allspice adds bold, sweet and savory flavors to dishes and gives recipes hints of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. In Jamaica, seasoned meats are often cooked over an allspice wood fire. You can add it to soups, lentils, marinades, barbecue sauces, chili and slow-cooked stews. Allspice pairs well with pumpkin and is frequently used in pumpkin pies. You can buy it already ground or whole (five whole berries make about one teaspoon when ground).

 

How to Store It

Store in a sealed container, away from direct heat and light. Whole allspice can retain its flavor for up to three years; ground, the flavor can last for 12 to 18 months.

 

Typical Recipes:

Zinfully Delicious Short Ribs

Polvorones

 

Unusual Recipe:

Allspice Gravy

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Ancho Chile

What It Is

Ancho chiles are native to Mexico. When the chile is sold fresh, it is deep green and called a poblano. But when sold in dried form, it’s an ancho. It is heart-shaped in appearance, a few inches in length, has a very dark brown color and is wrinkled (but should be pliable). It is very mild tasting.

 

How to Use It

It is typically found in Mexican stews and in tamales. You can buy anchos whole or ground. These chiles, used whole or pureed in mole sauces or ground in rubs, have a very mild, almost sweet flavor. They generally do not add any heat. Many sauce recipes require the dried chile to be soaked in hot water before using. You can use the chile as is (just cut off the stem) or sizzle it in hot oil before using.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container in a cool and dark place. Use whole chiles before they become brittle.

 

Typical Recipes:

Ancho Chipotle Turkey Chili

Slow Grilled Ancho Rubbed Pork

 

Unusual Recipes:

Fried Chicken with Ancho Honey

Parker County Peach Barbecue Sauce

Anise

What It Is

Anise is a small, ridged, light brownish, crescent-shaped seed. It lends a sweet licorice-like flavor to dishes and is found in many cuisines including Indian, Italian, Greek, Turkish and other Mediterranean countries. It is known to have digestive properties. It is found in several liqueurs, including French Pernod and Greek ouzo.

 

How to Use It

Since it is so sweet, anise is typically used in cookies, cakes, stews, coffee, cocktails and liqueurs. But many Italians like to use it in their tomato sauces. Use it toasted, whole, or grind before use. Dry-roasting anise seeds before grinding them will make their flavor stronger.

 

How to Store It

Store whole seeds in an airtight container in a cool and dark place. Ground anise will lose its flavor quickly so use within three months.

 

Typical Recipes:

Chocolate Anise Cookies

Mulled Cider

Spiced Poached Peaches

 

Unusual Recipes:

Dried Fruit Schiacciata with Rosemary and Anise

Star Anise Flank Steak

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Annatto

What It Is

Annatto seeds come from a tree aptly named the “lipstick tree” because they impart a distinct red color to anything they are added to. The seeds themselves are brick red. Typically found in Latin American cuisines and also in the Philippines, annatto is also known as achiote.

 

How to Use It

Annatto has an earthy flavor and pairs well with meats, especially pork. When used in everything from butter to cheese to chocolate to stews, it imparts a deep yellow color. For frying use the seeds whole; otherwise buy annatto ground (it is really hard to grind finely enough at home). It is also sold as part of achiote paste, which contains garlic, other spices and chile. Sizzle annatto seeds in hot oil and use the strained oil to flavor and color dishes.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container in a cool and dark place. Whole seeds can keep their flavor for up to three years; ground annatto deteriorates more quickly and may be prone to bug infestations.

 

Typical Recipes:

Rice and Chickpeas

Chicken with Rice (Arroz con Pollo) 

 

Unusual Recipe:

Maya-Mediterranean Chocolate Rice Pudding (Arroz con Leche y Chocolate)  

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Apple Pie Spice

What It Is

Apple pie spice – a fragrant mix of spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and mace – is used to flavor apple desserts such as pies and cobblers. It is commercially sold but many home cooks like to create their own personal combinations.

 

How to Use It

Toss apples in the spice mix, then cook according to the recipe you are using. You can also try to use this mix to flavor pancakes, muffins and even cocktails. Try spinkling over French toast or using in lamb stew to add sweetness. The mix is very aromatic; a little goes a long way, so use sparingly.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container away from direct heat. Ground spices lose their potency over time so use your nose to check for freshness. If there is an aroma, the spice mix is alive and can still be used.

 

Typical Recipe:

Caramel Apple Cake 

 

Unusual Recipe:

Sandra’s Mulled Wine

Photo By: Igor Dutina

Arrowroot

What It Is

Arrowroot, a starch, comes from a rhizome and is used as a thickener. It is preferred over other thickeners like rice flour or cornstarch since it can be used at lower temperatures and adds a lovely gloss to sauces in which it is incorporated. It is also flavor-neutral so it does not affect the flavor of the dishes.

 

How to Use It

It is commercially sold as a powder. Slowly dissolve the powder in an equal volume of cool water. Once the powder is dissolved, add the liquid slowly to your simmering sauces, whisking as you add. Arrowroot works well with most sauces but generally does not do well with dairy products; a dairy sauce thickened with arrowroot will be really slippery and slimy.

 

How to Store It

Store in a container away from direct heat.

 

Typical Recipe:

Rum and Pork Pot Roast

 

Unusual Recipes:

Brownies 

The Club Sandwich

Photo By: Wekwek / ThinkStock

Basil

What It Is

Basil is a gentle, sweet-tasting herb found in many cuisines including Indian (where the variety is called holy basil), Italian, Thai (purple basil) and Moroccan. One thing is for sure: No matter which cuisine, the preference of cooks seems to be toward using the fresh leaves. There are over fifty types of basil and each one has a nuanced flavor ranging from cinnamon-like to sweet to peppery.

 

How to Use It

While basil is most often used to make pesto and to flavor tomato sauces, think beyond those uses. It brings freshness to a cocktail, pairs well with rice and with vegetables, and is a great flavor enhancer for chicken and shrimp. Also, think of it for desserts: A fresh fruit salad tossed with lemon juice and basil is very refreshing. While dried basil can provide a strong, sweet flavor, fresh leaves have the upper hand in most cuisines. Cut or tear them at the last minute before adding, as they blacken quickly.

 

How to Store It

The best way to have fresh basil on-hand is to grow your own. Fresh basil keeps for just a few days so buy often and use copiously. Wrap fresh basil leaves loosely in a paper towel and place in the refrigerator until needed. But use it soon; basil does not like the cold. Or stand a bunch of basil in a jar or vase with water and keep on your kitchen table for a few days.

 

Typical Recipes:

Grilled Tuna with Basil Pesto

Thai Basil Chicken Soup

Pizza with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

 

Unusual Recipes:

The Basil Berry Cocktail

Mango Cheesecake with Basil Lemon Syrup 

Old School Double Crust Blueberry Pie with Goat Cheese and Basil

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Bay Leaf

What It Is

The bay laurel tree bears leaves that are popular in many cuisines including Turkish, American and Indian. The leaves are razor sharp and very tough, and should be removed from a dish before it is served. The leaves add a sweet flavor. Turkish bay leaves are milder than their Californian relatives. Indian bay leaves, known as tej patta, are generally harder to find in the US. These are leaves of the cassia tree (cassia is type of strong cinnamon) and are much milder than their US counterparts.

 

How to Use It

Bay leaves are generally sold dried and are added to tomato sauces, soups, stews, curries and even syrupy desserts. Add them to the liquid when poaching fish or shrimp, alone or as part of a bouquet garni. But use sparingly – even the mildest leaves are highly aromatic.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container. The dried leaves have a long shelf life, up to three years. Ground bay leaves lose their flavor within 12 months.

 

Typical Recipes:

Cioppino

Loin of Pork with Bay Leaves

Chicken Stew

Super Tuscan White Bean Soup

 

Unusual Recipe:

Balsamic Glazed Fruits

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Cajun Spice Mix

What It Is

This spice mix, featured in blackened Cajun-style dishes, is one of the most popular mixes in the US. It is used to coat the main ingredient (typically fish or chicken), which is then cooked at a high heat so that a crust forms on the outside. Every cook has their own combination but typical mixes contain salt, paprika, thyme, cayenne, garlic, oregano, black pepper and onion powder.

 

How to Use It

As mentioned, rub the mix over chicken or fish fillets, then cook it at high temperatures to get the blackened effect. Cajun seasoning adds great flavor to chicken breasts (perfect for use in sandwiches), nice depth to stews and soups and a bit of spice to sweet potato fries or French fried potatoes (sprinkle as you would salt).

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light. As with most ground spices, it should be used sooner rather than later, or all you’ll taste is the salt.

 

Typical Recipes:

Blackened Catfish with Pontchartrain Sauce

Jambalaya with Shrimp and Andouille

Bobby’s Smokey Gumbo

 

Unusual Recipe:

Cajun Fried Green Tomatoes

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Caraway

What It Is

Caraway, believe it or not, is a part of the parsley family. The seeds are crescent-shaped, impart an earthy, slightly bitter flavor, and are commonly found in Middle Eastern and northern European cuisines. They are typically used to flavor savory dishes like potatoes, cheeses and bread but appear in the occasional cookie and, of course, alcoholic drinks like aquavit.

 

How to Use It

You can add caraway to breads, soups and stews, where it provides a nice aroma and a pungent, thyme-like flavor. It’s especially good in braised cabbage, with or without sausages. If you want just a hint of the flavor, don’t roast the seeds before using. But if you prefer a stronger aroma, many chefs suggest you gently toast the seeds before using. You can also grind the seeds to a fine powder.

 

How to Store It

Whole seeds have a longer shelf life than the powder, which loses its potency rapidly (this is true with most ground spices), so it’s best to keep whole seeds and grind them as needed. Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light.

 

Typical Recipes:

Caramelized Onion Pretzel Rolls with Caraway Salt

Homemade Rye Bread

Caraway Crusted Pork Loin with Stewed Cabbage

 

Unusual Recipes:

Homemade Grilled Applesauce with Caraway 

Pork Fennel Burger

Spiked Date and Fudge Balls

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Cardamom

What It Is

Cardamom is a strong, aromatic and intense spice. There are two main types of cardamom: The gently sweet green cardamom is a small, light-colored pod with black seeds inside; both pod and seeds are edible. Black cardamom is very fragrant and has a pungent, almost smoky flavor; it is used whole to season dishes and is removed before serving. In some stores you will find white cardamom, which is green cardamom that has been sun-bleached. Cardamom is found in several ancient cuisines around the world including Indian, Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Ethiopian.

 

How to Use It

Green cardamom: Crush green cardamom with a mortar and pestle and use to flavor ice creams, cookies, pilafs and curries. Add whole pods to rice as you steam it. You can also grind it to a fine powder and sprinkle it in tea or coffee, or use it in a chocolate sauce. If you purchase ground cardamom, make sure it is dark gray in color, not light and fibrous, which indicates that the flavorless pods have been ground with the seeds to provide more bulk.

 

Black cardamom: Use whole to flavor soups, stews, curries and stocks to add sweet depth of flavor. Remove before serving the dish.

 

How to Store It

Store both types of cardamom (separately, of course) in airtight containers, away from direct heat and light. It’s better to keep the seeds in their green pods, as they lose their flavor and aroma much faster when out of the pods.

 

Typical Recipes:

Roasted Pears with Cardamom Granola and Vanilla Ice Cream

Cardamom Orange French Toast 

Cardamom Fennel Brownies

 

Unusual Recipes:

Cardamom Blood Orange Mojitos

Homemade Eggnog White Hot Chocolate

Orange Cardamom Bellini

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Cayenne Pepper

What It Is

Cayenne, a slender red chile, is popular in Indian and many South American cuisines. It lends heat and a sharp flavor to dishes. In the US, it is mostly sold in ground form. While not as potent as some other chiles, it is still quite strong and should be used sparingly.

 

How to Use It

Cayenne plays well with vinegar, so it’s ideal for barbecue sauces. In fact, it is the ingredient that provides the heat in Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, a necessity for Buffalo chicken wings! You can add it to pretty much any savory dish you want. In India, ground cayenne is also added to fresh fruit salads, along with a pinch of salt, as the heat helps amplify the sweetness of the fruit. Try adding it to a pie spice mix for heat, sprinkle on popcorn in lieu of salt or sprinkle on a bowl of yogurt for an Indian raita.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light.

 

Typical Recipes:

Buffalo Chicken Salad

Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham

Crabcakes with Remoulade Sauce

 

Unusual Recipes:

Chocolate Diablo Cookies

Bacon and Egg Rolls with Spicy Tomato Relish

Devils on Horseback

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Celery Seed

What It Is

Little tiny celery seeds are part of the parsley family and are bitter in taste. Sometimes, they are referred to as smallage because they come from a plant of the same name – not from the celery we eat. Though the seed is tiny, it packs a punch with its grassy aroma, so use it sparingly.

 

How to Use It

The pungent seed does become a bit mellower with cooking. Use it to flavor sandwiches, soups, stews, macaroni and cheese, hearty vegetables and poultry. Ground celery seed is one of the most identifiable ingredients in Old Bay Seasoning. One of its most popular uses is in the Bloody Mary.

 

How to Store It

Buy and use whole, as the ground seed tends to lose its flavor quickly. Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light.

 

Typical Recipes:

Balsamic Bloody Mary

Cilantro-Crusted Roast Beef Sandwiches

Bloody Mary Burgers

 

Unusual Recipes:

Carrot Slaw

Meatloaf

Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Chaat Masala

What It Is

This classic North Indian spice mix is similar to a finishing salt. It has several ingredients including dried mango powder (which adds tartness), black salt and many more spices. The commercially available brands are so good that fewer people seem to be making this from scratch. It adds a tang and savory flavor to all sorts of dishes.

 

How to Use It

Sprinkle it on fritters, salads, fries, kebabs and popcorn. Sprinkle on freshly sliced mango, then season with some lemon juice. This mix is generally not used during the cooking process, but as a final garnish to the dish. A pinch or two just before serving can turn almost any dish from ordinary into exotic.

 

How to Store It

Store it an airtight container away from direct heat.

 

Typical Recipes:

Paneer and Vegetable Skewers

Spiced Fried Okra

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Chamomile

What It Is

Chamomile has a very distinct sweet and flowery flavor (it is a flower, after all!). It is used in teas as a soothing, nerve-calming agent. You can purchase it fresh or dried. There are several types of chamomile available in the market. Herbalists usually use flowers from German chamomile, while Roman chamomile is used in cooking applications.

 

How to Use It

You can use chamomile to make tea, which is especially nice with honey for a sore throat. Add it to cookies and crumbles, or add to simple syrup to give it nice depth. Infuse it into jams (it’s lovely with plums or other gentle fruits) or use as a flavor note in your fruit crisp topping. Chamomile is also great in cocktails; chamomile-infused grappa is delicious.

 

How to Store It

Store dried chamomile in a cool dark cupboard, in a glass spice jar. Fresh chamomile flowers should be used immediately.

 

Typical Recipes:

Nettle and Chamomile Tea for Hay Fever

Angelica and Mint Cocktail for Indigestion

 

Unusual Recipe:

Black and Blueberry Dumplings

Photo By: Nadezda Verbenko

Chervil

What It Is

Chervil has a delicate, lacy appearance, tastes like a cross between very mild parsley and anise, and is very aromatic. It is used in French and other European cuisines. It is part of aromatic mixes like herbes de Provence and fines herbes.

 

How to Use It

Because it is so delicate, it is generally not used during the cooking process but rather is added at the end. You will find it in gently cooked classic sauces like béarnaise and in omelets. It pairs especially well with mild fish. Chervil is also often used as a garnish.

 

How to Store It

Use fresh chervil as soon as possible as it perishes quickly, turning yellow.

 

Typical Recipes:

Every Herb Pesto

Herby Potato Salad

The Ultimate Omelette

 

Unusual Recipes:

No-Cook Summer Squash Salad with Lemon and Herb

Asparagus with Morels and Tarragon

Photo By: Cosotto / ThinkStock

Chili Powder

What It Is

Chili powders, in fine to medium grinds, are generally comprised of different kinds of chiles (of various heat indexes) balanced with garlic and onion powders and other flavorings. There are many variations available in the market, so please check the label to be sure you know what you are getting! The powders may contain ingredients like allspice, black pepper, cumin and salt. Don’t confuse them with pure chile powders that contain only the named chile, with no additional ingredients.

 

How to Use It

Typically these powders are used in making chili and in dry rubs and marinades. They can add depth to curries and stews, and work well with most meats, poultry, game and fish. Add it at the beginning of the cooking process. Cooking the mix along with other ingredients will make the flavors truly blossom. Try making a marinade out of your favorite powder and olive oil. Because the powders vary in heat, be careful about how much you add at one time.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light. As with other blends, as time goes by some ingredients will fade while others will grow stronger, so always check it for balance before using.

 

Typical Recipes:

Chili Rubbed Steak Tacos

Beef and Andouille Chili

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

 

Unusual Recipes:

Bobby’s Southwestern-Style Pizza

Popcorn Shrimp with Chili Lime Dipping Sauce

Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding

Mango Sorbet with Lime and Chili

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Chinese Five-Spice Powder

What It Is

This ground mix is, as its name would imply, an important part of the Chinese kitchen. The aromatic mix contains star anise, cinnamon, fennel, Szechuan peppercorns and cloves. Since all the spices used are pretty strong, the resulting mix is quite pungent. The most prominent flavor in the mix is that of the star anise.

 

How to Use It

You can use this as a rub for meat, in stir-fries or to liven up stews. It adds something close to sweetness – but without sugar – to savory dishes and to barbecue sauces. Mixed with hoisin sauce, it makes an excellent dipping sauce for Chinese steamed buns. Remember to use it sparingly as the mix is quite strong.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light.

 

Typical Recipes:

5-Spice Pork Stir Fry

Five-Spice Roast Chicken Drumsticks

Chinese Spare Ribs with Teriyaki Glaze

 

Unusual Recipes:

5-Spice on Ice

Grilled Corn with Five Spice and Lime

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Chipotle Chile

What It Is

Chipotle chiles are jalapeño peppers that have been smoke-dried. While common in Mexican cuisine, they are gaining popularity all over America. They are hot, spicy and more than a bit smoky. They are sold as whole dried pods, ground into pure chile powder or within small cans, moistened in a tomato-garlic sauce called adobo.

 

How to Use It

In all forms, chipotle chiles can be added to stews, sauces, salsas, meat marinades and more. Puree chipotles in adobo in a blender and mix with mayonnaise for a zippy sandwich spread or dip (in fact, this puree can add flavor to almost any dish). Start with a little, taste, and add more as desired. Whole pods should be roasted in a dry skillet until fragrant; they can then be ground to powder form once cooled, or softened by soaking in hot water before being chopped. Consider adding ground chipotles to the batter when you make fried chicken or using the chipotle puree to add zing to salad dressing.

 

How to Store It

Store whole and ground chiles in an airtight container. Transfer unused chiles in adobo from the can to a covered plastic container or jar and refrigerate; they will keep quite a long time so long as you employ a clean implement whenever you remove some to use.

 

Typical Recipes:

Ancho-Chipotle Turkey Chili

Chipotle Chicken Thighs with Chunky Guacamole

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream

Chipotle Chicken Fajitas

 

Unusual Recipes:

Eggs Benedict with Chipotle Hollandaise

Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes

Sliced Chipotle Turkey Breast

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Chive

What It Is

These very delicate, vibrant, hollow green stalks are part of the onion family and sometimes also referred to as onion grass. Their flavor is milder than that of bulb onions or scallions (green onions). They are often used in American cooking, chopped, as a garnish. Their Asian counterpart, called Chinese chives, are larger, flatter and stronger in flavor.

 

How to Use It

Add chives toward the end of the cooking process or as a final garnish. Top spuds, boiled eggs, soups, stews and Asian dishes with them. Mix chopped chives into cream cheese for your bagel. Chives are a classic garnish on potato soup, either hot or cold as vichyssoise. And they are a component of fines herbes along with parsley, chervil, and tarragon, used in delicate sauces and omelets.

 

How to Store It

Fresh chives don’t keep for very long. Spreading them whole on a paper towel, rolling it up, and storing in a loose plastic bag helps. But just a couple of days in the refrigerator and they will begin to rot, so use them as quickly as possible.

 

Typical Recipes:

Vichyssoise

Smashed Potatoes with Sour Cream and Chives

Prawn and Chive Potstickers

 

Unusual Recipes:

Tofu Salad with Chive Ginger Oil

Chive Biscuits

Cilantro

What It Is

Cilantro is an herb born from the coriander seed. It has a refreshing citrusy flavor and adds freshness to dishes. It is frequently used in Indian, Thai, Portuguese and Mexican cuisines. The herb is indigenous to southern Europe and the Middle East; it's often called Arab parsley or Chinese parsley in French cooking. Cilantro, the herb form of coriander, and the coriander seed have very different flavor profiles and cannot be substituted for one another.

 

How to Use It

Use cilantro in pestos, sauces cooked on low heat, salad dressings, fresh chutneys and of course as a garnish for Mexican food. If the cilantro you are using is young, the tender stems are also edible; as the plant matures, the stalks get tougher and should be discarded. But the entire plant, even the roots, is pounded to make Thai curry pastes.

 

How to Store It

Fresh cilantro has a short shelf life. Wrap it in newspaper and place in the refrigerator. Use within two to three days. It will keep slightly longer if the bunch is placed in a jar with water (like a bouquet).

 

Typical Recipes Using Cilantro:

Basic Salsa Fresca

Grilled Shrimp and Cilantro Pesto Pizza

Curried Calamari with Cilantro and Mint Chutney

 

Unusual Recipes:

Coriander Meatloaf with Cilantro Pesto, Tomato Jam, and Grilled Zucchini and Onions 

Jalapeno Bloody Mary

Cilantro Lime Ice Cream

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Cinnamon

What It Is

Aromatic cinnamon – actually the bark of a tropical tree – is a versatile spice, which adds its gentle bite to both sweet and savory dishes. A lot of the cinnamon sold in the US is actually cassia (also called Chinese cinnamon), a more pungent type of bark. The best cinnamon is said to come from Vietnam. Cinnamon is popular in cuisines all over the world.

 

How to Use It

Heated oil helps cinnamon release its flavor. Add whole or broken cinnamon quills or ground cinnamon to hot oil, then use as needed. Use cinnamon to add aroma and flavor to muffins, cookies, stews, chili, pork chops, moussaka, ratatouille, rice pudding and cocktails.

 

How to Store It

Store the quills in a jar and grate as needed. Ground cinnamon loses potency quickly. Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light.

 

Typical Recipes:

Cinnamon Mascarpone Pancakes

Baked Apples with Rum and Cinnamon

Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding

 

Unusual Recipes:

Potato Pancakes with Cinnamon Crème Fraiche

Cinnamon and Chocolate Spiced Mexican Wedding Cookies

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Clove

What It Is

Cloves are actually dried flower buds which add a deep sweet and spicy aroma to dishes. They can be used whole or ground, but one thing remains constant: They are very strong, so use them sparingly. Raw cloves are very bitter. Cloves have been used in Asian, Mexican and European cooking for years.

 

How to Use It

Adding whole cloves to hot oil really helps bring out their flavor. You can then use the oil to start stews and vegetables. When adding whole cloves directly to a dish, it’s best to add them in such a way that they can easily be removed. (For example, leave them in a steamed rice dish, whole, but warn diners.) They make a glazed baked ham wonderfully fragrant and festive. You can use ground cloves in cookies, cakes, barbecue rubs and both sweet and savory sauces. Cloves add great depth to jams, chutneys and stewed fruits. Steep them in simple syrup and use the syrup in desserts and cocktails; just be aware that the syrup will darken.

 

How to Store It

As with all spices, store whole or ground cloves in tight sealed plastic bags or jars in a dark cool cupboard. When they lose their fragrance, replace them.

 

Typical Recipes:

Mulled Cider

Roasted Pears with Honeyed Cinnamon and Cloves

Pineapple Confit with Cloves

 

Unusual Recipes:

Mexican Beef Stew

Orange Clove Spiced Biscotti

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Coriander

What It Is

Coriander is a light-tan-colored ridged round seed that births the cilantro plant. When ground, it releases a lovely lemony flavor. It is used in Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, North African and Mexican cuisines. The coriander seed and the herb (cilantro) are not substitutes for one another.

 

How to Use It

The best way to use the seeds is to dry-roast, then grind them. The ground seed is great in marinades for grilled meats, barbecue sauces, tomato-based sauces and salad dressings. The seeds provide the best flavor when they are crushed open. In this form they are often used in the Indian kitchen to thicken curries. Use coriander to bring depth to stocks.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light. Use ground coriander quickly before its flavor fades.

 

Typical Recipes:

Cilantro and Coriander Chicken

Hurry Curry Cauliflower 

Juniper Mop Sauce

Memphis Dry Rub Ribs

 

Unusual Recipes:

Spicy Melon and Serrano Ham

Crispy Rock Shrimp with Lime and Coriander

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Cumin

What It Is

Cumin – a small, oblong, ridged seed – is actually a dried fruit that lends a toasty, smoky flavor when roasted or sizzled in oil. It is almost never used raw. Cumin is said to be one of the most popular spices in the world, preceded only by black pepper. There are many varieties of cumin from mild to pungent, and it is used in Indian, Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisines. In Indian cuisine, you will also find black cumin, which is smaller and sweeter than regular cumin.

 

How to Use It

Sizzle cumin in hot oil, then use the oil to flavor curries, stews, rice dishes and meats. You can also dry-roast it in a skillet, grind it and use it to garnish almost any dish that needs a savory, earthy flavor. Dry-roasting the cumin really magnifies its flavor and aroma. Whole or ground, cumin is a major ingredient in Tex-Mex dishes like pinto beans and chile con carne and in North African sauces like chermoula.

 

How to Store It

Buy it whole and store it in an airtight container. Roast and grind as needed. Ground spices tend to lose their potency within a year. Use your nose to check for the freshness of ground cumin: If it is still aromatic, then it can still be used.

 

Typical Recipes:

Bal’s No-Butter Chicken

Salmon and Greens with Cumin Dressing

Aubergine and Cumin Charlottes

 

Unusual Recipes:

Red Pepper Soup with Toasted Cumin Seeds

Zucchini, Carrot and Potato Pancakes

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Curry Leaves

What It Is

Curry leaves, popularly known in India as kariveppilai, karivepaaku or kari patta, are aromatic and flavorful leaves that add a pungent, lemony flavor to dishes. They are popular in many southern regional Indian cuisines. They have no substitute. Curry leaves (from the curry tree) have nothing to do with curry powder, although some curry powders may contain ground curry leaves. Unlike bay leaves, curry leaves are edible so there is no need to remove them from a dish before serving.

 

How to Use It

The leaves, sizzled first in oil, can add depth to rice dishes, vegetable sides, lentil broths and curries. They add tang to marinades for seafood, and can flavor Indian-style pickles. For a unique flavor, use curry leaves in breads and even to flavor drinks. They do not freeze well so it is best to use them fresh.

 

How to Store It

Fresh curry leaves can last up to two weeks in a plastic bag in the fridge. To make them last longer, air-dry them and store in an airtight container.

 

Typical Recipes:

Traditional Vegetable Curry

Chicken South Indian Style

Chili Coconut Dip

 

Unusual Recipes:

Juicy Turkey Cheddar Burgers

Turnip Lettuce Wraps

Bitter Melon Stuffed with Spiced Tomatoes

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Curry Powder

What It Is

The British, who ruled India decades ago, actually created this product to imitate the Indian flavors they had come to love. “Curry powder” is a collection of ground spices mixed together in a particular proportion. Different versions add sweetness, bitterness, heat, sourness and color to dishes. Some are generic and can be used to add an Indian-style touch to almost any dish, while others are meant to be used only for specific dishes. There are also Jamaican versions that tend to be heavy on turmeric, adding more color and bitterness.

 

How to Use It

Most commercial powders are added during cooking, not used as a garnish. A quick rule of thumb here: Use a couple of teaspoons to flavor a dish that is meant to serve four. Taste to check seasoning, then increase if you need to. Give an exotic touch to standard American dishes by adding a pinch or more to vinaigrettes, dairy sauces, meatloaf and even cookies.

 

How to Store It

Store in airtight containers and away from direct heat. Be sure to check the expiration dates on packages before you buy them.

 

Typical Recipes:

Cold Chicken Curry

It’s a Wonderful Waldorf
 

 

Unusual Recipes:

Aloo Pie with Apple Mango Chutney

Fondue Vudu

Spiced Honey-Glazed Chicken Wings

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Dill

What It Is

Dill has soft, long, grass-like leaves. Fresh dill has a distinctive flavor (think dill pickles) with sour notes. It is very popular in many northern European and Middle Eastern cuisines. Dill seeds (actually the dried fruit of the plant) are stronger and more pungent in flavor than the delicate-looking leaves, but less aromatic.

 

How to Use It

Dill leaves are primarily used as a garnish and as a flavoring for chicken soup. Try adding them to casseroles, stews, yogurt-based dishes, soups and seafood dishes. Dried dill works almost as well as fresh, and can be cooked a bit longer. The seeds are used to flavor breads, pickled vegetables and anything that needs a punchier flavor.  Seeds can be sizzled in oil or toasted before using to bring out a stronger flavor. If a recipe calls for them to be ground, grind them yourself, as the aroma and flavor dissipate quickly in storage.

 

How to Store It

The leaves have a very short shelf life and should be used as soon as possible. To keep for a few days, wrap the bottom of the bunch in foil and stand in a container of water in the fridge. The seeds can be stored in an airtight container away from direct heat.

 

Typical Recipes:

Malt Vinegar Mashed Potatoes with Dill

Dill Pickles

 

Unusual Recipes:

Fresh Dill Noodles

Zucchini and Dill Pancakes

Creamy Scrambled Eggs with Dill Havarti

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Fennel Seed

What It Is

These light green, ridged seeds may look like slightly larger cumin, but their flavors are worlds apart. Fennel seeds have a sweetness very similar to licorice. They are highly aromatic and used in cuisines around the world. In India, they are used in curries, breads and drinks. Raw fennel seeds are said to aid digestion, which is why you’ll often see a bowl of them by the door of Indian restaurants. Chinese five-spice powder uses ground fennel seeds as one of its ingredients, while blends such as herbes de Provence use them whole. Feathery fennel fronds (that look like dill) are much milder and don’t carry as strong of an anise punch as the seeds; they are best for garnishes.

 

How to Use It

You can use the seeds whole or ground. To get the most flavor, grind the seeds just before using. Use the seeds to flavor bread doughs, salad dressings, fish soups and stews, and pork dishes (especially sausage). They add a Mediterranean flavor to lamb dishes. Try adding to simple syrup for use with desserts or adding to spice rubs.  You can also buy fennel pollen to use as a garnish – although please note that it is very expensive.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container away from direct heat. Whole seeds retain their flavor up to three years, and ground, up to one.

 

Typical Recipes:

Whole Roasted Turkeys with Fennel Spice Rub

Chicken Breasts with Orange, Fennel Seed, Olive Relish

 

Unusual Recipes:

Almond-Crusted Fig Tart

Breakfast Burger

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Fenugreek Seed and Leaf (Dried)

What It Is

Fenugreek seeds are small, flat and caramel-colored. But don’t let their small size fool you. They have a strong aroma (think maple syrup) and bitter flavor. They are used primarily in Indian and North African cuisines, and are a major ingredient in generic curry powders. Dried fenugreek leaves, dark green in color, are also used to provide a similar, but grassier, aroma to a dish. The seeds and leaves cannot be substituted for one another.

 

How to Use It

The seeds work best when lightly toasted or soaked in water for an hour or so. Do not overcook these or they will become terribly bitter. Also, a little goes a really long way, and too much can also be bitter. Because they are extremely hard and difficult to grind, buy them already powdered. Use in curries, vegetable dishes, lentil dishes and tomato-based sauces.

 

The leaves can be added to lentils, tomato sauces or meat stews to give them great aroma. They work very well in potato dishes, especially finely crumbled into mashed potatoes for an unusual twist.

 

How to Store It

Whole seeds can be stored up to two years. Toast and grind the seeds (if you have a strong grinder) as you need them. The aroma of ground seeds does not last long. Dried fenugreek leaves can be stored for up to a year (if not more), but be sure to keep them away from light, which destroys their color and flavor. Use your nose: If it smells good, it can still be used.

 

Typical Recipes:

Lamb and Fenugreek Dumpling Stew

Chicken Masala

 

Unusual Recipes:

Bread ’n’ Butter Pickles

Vegetarian Burgers

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Galangal

What It Is

Galangal is a rhizome: the underground stem of a plant. It has a sharp, spicy flavor similar to ginger, which it resembles physically. It also looks similar to turmeric, but is less orange in color. Many East Asian cuisines, especially Malaysian and Thai, use it liberally. There are two primary types of galangal: greater and lesser. Greater galangal is used in cooking and is sold fresh; lesser galangal is more often used in medicine, and is usually sold in jars, dried and ground.

 

How to Use It

If you are lucky enough to find galangal, use it as you would ginger in savory dishes. Young galangal can be eaten raw in salads or added to stir-fries, stews or soups. For a unique application, add young galangal to apple cider. Just peel it (a vegetable peeler works well) and grate or cut it really thin as it can be fibrous. Older galangal can be hard and woody, and is generally pounded into Thai curry pastes.

 

How to Store It

Store galangal in a paper bag in the fridge. It will stay fresh for up to two weeks. Peel it just before using. Fresh galangal can be found in Asian markets and is becoming more available in stores like Whole Foods.

 

Typical Recipes:

Char-Grilled Sapa Black Chicken in Galangal

Pan-Roasted Pork Chops with Homemade Chile Jam

 

Unusual Recipe:

Pickled Long Beans

Photo By: Frans Rombout

Garam Masala

What It Is

Garam masala is an Indian spice blend; its name translates literally to “warm spice mix,” although it can range from spicy hot to somewhat mild. The strong-tasting mix is typically a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, mace, peppercorns, coriander and cumin. The ingredients vary from region to region, family to family, and even from one cook to another within a family. It is used both whole and ground.

 

How to Use It

When used whole, garam masala spices are added to hot oil before the other ingredients. The seasoned oil can then be used as a foundation for making curries, rice and lentil dishes.

 

To use it ground, gently dry-roast the spices until they release their aromas, then grind together into a powder. In powdered form, it is traditionally used as finishing spice to add depth to stews and curries. It can also be added to rubs and marinades. It is a very strong mix, so use sparingly.

 

How to Store It

The whole spices can be stored for a year or so, but the ground mix will lose its potency over time. Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light.

 

Typical Recipes:

Garam Masala Chicken with Roasted Vegetables

Spicy Chicken Coconut Curry

 

Unusual Recipes Using Garam Masala:

Garam Masala Chicken Pot Pie

Crispy Sweet Potato Cakes

Fried Plaintain Chips

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Garlic

What It Is

This bulb, with its milk-colored cloves enveloped by super-thin papery skin, is possibly one of the most widely used ingredients in the world. Garlic comes in different sizes and colors, from tiny bulbs to huge elephant garlic, and from white to purplish. Softneck garlic is the one most commonly seen in supermarkets, while hardneck varieties are increasingly available at farmers’ markets. Garlic adds a pungent flavor and depth to dishes. Depending on how it’s cooked, though, it can also add mellow sweetness. Garlic is sold as fresh whole bulbs, dried and ground, and minced or pureed (in jars with oil or water). Some groceries also carry jars of whole peeled cloves.

 

How to Use It

For best results, use fresh garlic. To bring out its pungency, peel it, then crush with the flat of your knife blade. Chop or slice it as fine or coarse as you need and use it to flavor salad dressings, soups, sauces, rice, stews, curries, casseroles, or pretty much any savory dish you’d like. Don’t let garlic burn; it becomes terribly bitter and ruins the dish (so it’s best to start it in cold oil rather than adding it to a hot pan).

 

Slow, gentle cooking – especially roasting – calms garlic’s volatile oils and brings out its sweetness. An easy way to roast garlic is to separate a bulb into cloves, trim off the hard ends, toss the unpeeled cloves with a little oil, place them in a covered baking dish and bake until soft and golden. When cool, squeeze out the sweet paste. Use it as a spread or mix it into sauces and other dishes.

 

How to Store It

Whole bulbs can keep for months; be sure they are well ventilated, or they may become moldy. Store garlic powder away from direct heat. Minced garlic in jars can keep for months in the fridge, but do not store your own chopped fresh garlic in oil for more than a day or two; it could develop botulism.

 

Typical Recipes:

Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic

Garlic Basil Shrimp

Gorgonzola Garlic Bread

 

Unusual Recipes:

Tipsy Onion and Garlic Jam

Tuscan White Bean and Garlic Soup

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Ginger

What It Is

Ginger is a rhizome (an underground stem). Tender young ginger adds richness and a peppery, almost hot flavor to dishes. Older ginger adds depth, intensity and a spicier flavor. Ginger is said to help digestion. It is used in European, Asian, Caribbean and Middle Eastern cuisines, in sweet and savory dishes. In addition to being sold fresh, ginger is available in jars as a puree or paste, and sliced or chopped in syrup (stem ginger) or coated with coarse sugar (crystallized ginger). Dried, ground ginger is familiar to all American and European bakers, while sushi lovers know pickled sliced ginger very well.

 

How to Use It

You can use fresh ginger in pretty much anything: pickles and chutneys, sautés, braises, juices, cocktails, curries, breads, desserts and candies. Peel with the edge of a spoon (if young) or a vegetable peeler (if older and less tender). Grate, shred or slice thin to add to stir-fries; it’s also great with sweet potatoes or carrots and adds a surprise kick to coleslaw. Try blending it into fruit smoothies or making your own ginger ale by mixing ginger syrup and sparkling water. Older ginger can be fibrous, so look for special ginger graters in Asian markets. Puree it with garlic and green chiles to add depth to curries. Ground ginger is classic in spiced cookies and gingerbread.

 

How to Store It

Fresh unpeeled ginger keeps well in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks, loosely wrapped. Freezing ginger changes the texture, making it easy to press out the juice (wrap well and thaw before using). Crystallized ginger can be stored in the cupboard in a sealed bag or jar; it can dry out over time, though, and become too hard to cut. Ground ginger holds up well over time, stored away from direct heat and light.

 

Typical Recipes:

Guinness Gingerbread

Snappy Ginger Cookies

Ginger Vegetable Stir Fry


Unusual Recipe:

Blueberry Ginger Mojito Pitchers

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Grains of Paradise

What It Is

The small reddish grains (also known as alligator pepper) have a flavor very similar to spicy black pepper combined with a gentle underlying sweetness. The grains come from pods and have an appearance similar to cardamom seeds (which they are related to). They must be crushed to release their flavor. Grains of paradise originated in West Africa and appear in North African and European cuisines, both in cooked and raw applications.

 

How to Use It

Since this spice has a flavor similar to pepper, you can substitute it where you would use pepper. But because it offers a sweetness that pepper does not, it will give your dish more layers of flavor. It features prominently in the Moroccan spice blend ras al hanout. Try it in lentil and bean dishes (especially soups), or in beef, lamb or chicken stews. You could also use it to flavor roasted chicken or in mulled wine.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light, and crush or grind as needed.

 

Typical Recipes:

Lentil Soup

Okra and Tomatoes

 

Unusual Recipes:

Super Apple Pie

Herbes De Provence

What It Is

Herbes de Provence, a quintessential French blend, typically consists of dried rosemary, lavender, savory, thyme, basil, chervil and fennel seed. The aromatic mix varies from cook to cook and household to household. It pairs well with both delicate sauces and strongly flavored fish stews. It is only recently that this mix has become commercially available.

 

How to Use It

Add it whole to marinades. Sprinkle it on vegetables or meats before roasting them. Slice open juicy tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle this mix, then roast in a hot oven for a delicious treat. You can use same technique for meats, poultry, fish fillets and other vegetables. It works especially well with lamb and pork. But it can be strong – especially if it contains lavender – so start with a little and add more as needed.

 

How to Store It

It is a highly aromatic mix but it does lose its aroma fairly quickly, so it’s better to buy a little at a time, frequently, and use often. While it might come in a cute little crock, transferring it to a jar you can seal tightly helps it keep a bit longer. In either case, keep it away from direct heat and light.

 

Typical Recipes:

Monkfish in Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence Potato Gratin

 

Unusual Recipes:

Sugar Cookie Crust Fruit Pizza

Frenchy Popcorn

Photo By: Danymages / ThinkStock

Horseradish

What It Is

This root is extremely pungent in flavor and aroma. Primarily used in European cuisines, it is often served as a condiment. The best part of the root lies just under the outer bark. The pungency of the root is often tamed with acids like vinegar or lemon.

 

How to Use It

The flavor of this root is actually created only when it is ground or grated. If you like its strong head-clearing pungency, then use it as is. If not, temper the flavor by adding a tiny bit of the peeled, grated root to your sauces. The root does lose its flavor with cooking, so either add it toward the end of the cooking process or use it raw in a sauce or as a condiment. It pairs especially well with beef and seafood.

 

How to Store It

Store the fresh root in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, loosely wrapped. Prepared horseradish has a fairly long shelf life, although the flavor and pungency fade over time.

 

Typical Recipes:

Beef Stew Scented with Horseradish

Horseradish and Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes

 

Unusual Recipes:

Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Cheesecake

Fingerling Potato Salad with Horseradish Crème Fraiche

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Jalapeno Chile

What It Is

Native to Mexico, jalapenos are one of the most common chiles on the US market today. The oblong green chiles can be moderately to quite hot, depending on the season and other factors. They turn red when they mature. (They are smoke-dried to create chipotle chiles.) These deeply flavored chiles are usually a couple of inches long and an inch or so thick, and have thick flesh. They are sold fresh, in jars or in cans as pickled slices.

 

How to Use It

You can use these chiles anywhere you want to add both depth of flavor and heat. If you like the heat, dice fresh jalapenos and use the whole chile, seeds and all. If you like the flavor but not the heat, remove the seeds from inside each pod before using the chile. (The little seeds and membranes are where the heat is.) Just be sure that you are wearing gloves when you handle jalapenos. Add during the cooking process to curries and chili, or use raw in salsas and guacamole. Blend together some ginger, garlic and raw jalapenos to create a paste that makes a rich and flavorful foundation for lentils, soups, curries and stews. Refrigerate the paste and use within two weeks.

 

How to Store It

Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, loosely wrapped. Transfer canned pickled jalapenos with their brine to a jar, preferably with a plastic lid; they’ll keep until they run out.

 

Typical Recipes:

Flank Steak with Jalapeno Poppers

Jalapeno-Mango Salsa

 

Unusual Recipes:

Latin Burgers with Jalapeno Relish

Cucumber Jalapeno Margarita

Vegetable Lasagna with Jalapeno Bechamel

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Jerk Seasoning

What It Is

This spice mix, as its name suggests, is what gives Jamaican jerk recipes their spicy, hot flavor. The seasoning is a mix of ginger, thyme, peppercorns, coriander, onion, garlic, nutmeg, chiles (often super-hot Scotch bonnets) and other spices. Allspice takes the starring role in jerk seasoning, giving it hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. You can make your own jerk seasoning or buy it prepared, as either a powder or a moist paste with fresh herbs and vinegar.

 

How to Use It

Use the powder as a dry rub for marinating meats (especially pork), poultry or fish and shellfish; use the paste as a wet rub. For best results, marinate overnight, covered, in the fridge. Then grill, smoke or roast the food in the oven. The paste can also be stirred into soups, stews, and bean dishes to add a Caribbean lilt. Start with a little, taste and then add more if you like – it can be quite hot.

 

How to Store It

Store the powder in an airtight container away from direct heat. Refrigerate open jars of paste; use a clean spoon to remove paste and it will keep a long time.

 

Typical Recipes:

The Ultimate Jerk Chicken

Spicy Jerk Wings with Sugared Onions

Grilled Mahi Mahi with Jerk Spice

 

Unusual Recipes:

Tropical Fruit and Jerk Chicken Sushi

Jerk Chicken and Dumplings

Juniper Berry

What It Is

If you have ever had gin, then you have tasted juniper berries: They are what give gin its traditional flavoring. These small, round, blackish-blue berries are found in many European cuisines. They have a very strong floral flavor, so they pair well with strong-tasting meats, especially game. Dried berries are used whole or crushed lightly and added to marinades or sauces from which they can be strained out.

 

How to Use It

Their strong flavor makes them a great match with game and similar meats, such as rabbit, venison, goat, lamb and pork, and in stews and braises. You can crush the berries before adding them to your dish or use them whole. They will soften a bit in cooking, but you may want to strain them out as they can remain strong in flavor.

 

How to Store It

The semidried berries can be stored in an airtight container, away from direct heat, for up to several months. If they are completely dry, they will have lost most of their aroma. Discard if they become moldy.

 

Typical Recipes:

Pan-Roasted Venison

German-Style Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage Soup

Beef Pastrami

 

Unusual Recipes:

Beer Bird with Celeriac Puree

Braised Cabbage

Juniper Mop Sauce

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Kaffir Lime Leaf

What It Is

Kaffir lime leaves are very common in Asian cooking. These double-lobed, bright green, somewhat leathery leaves add an unmistakable floral-citrus aroma and flavor. The whole leaves (fresh or frozen) are added to simmering liquids to provide flavor and are then removed, though unlike bay leaves, they are edible. When fresh leaves are finely shredded, they can easily be eaten.

 

How to Use It

Buy these fresh in Asian markets and avoid the dried ones, as they lack flavor and scent. Always crush whole leaves lightly with your hands first to release the essential oils. Use the whole leaf in simmering coconut-based sauces, stock-based soups, stir-fries and noodle dishes. Cut out the central spine and shred as finely as possible to mix into savory potato cakes, fish cakes, soups and salads. And be careful with quantity, as each “leaf” really is two leaves!

 

How to Store It

Store fresh leaves in a loosely sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you won’t be using them all by then, seal them in a heavy zip-top bag and freeze for up to three months. Rinse under cold running water to thaw before using.

 

Typical Recipes:

Chicken with Kaffir Lime Pesto

Spicy Chicken Soup

Fish Cakes with Pickled Cucumbers

 

Unusual Recipes:

Thai-Flavored Mussels

Thai Bird Vodka

Photo By: Frans Rombout

Lavender

What It Is

Lavender provides a great floral aroma to dishes. It is best used sparingly, as too much will give your dishes a “soapy” flavor. It is used a lot in the southern French cooking and is part of the quintessential Provencal mix, herbes de Provence. It’s now finding a home in the US as well.

 

How to Use It

Lavender works well with sweet and savory dishes. Try it in a honey-based vinaigrette, in cakes, cheesecakes, muffins and shortbreads, and with roasted chicken, lamb or pork. Buy the dried flowers, preferably in small quantities, from a culinary supplier (farmers’ markets sometimes have sellers) and use as needed. If you are going to use fresh flowers for cooking, buy them from a reliable source that will be able to confirm that the flowers have not been sprayed with any pesticide. The flavor of fresh flowers is much less concentrated than that of dried, so they may work better as an edible floral garnish.

 

How to Store It

Dried flowers can be stored in an airtight container for several months. The fresh flowers have a short shelf life and should be used as soon as possible.

 

Typical Recipes:

Pasta with Lavender

Torrejas with Lavender Honey Syrup

 

Unusual Recipes:

Cucumber, Meyer Lemon and Lavender Granita

Raspberry Limeade with Lavender and Mint

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Lemongrass

What It Is

This lemony herb is native to Southeast Asia and is found in Vietnamese and Thai cooking. Generally the entire herb, shaped like a thin, long, hard greenish stick with a pale purple or off-white core, is added to soups and stews to add flavor. The stalk is then removed before serving. Tender inner parts are sliced, minced or ground into a paste and used as a base for Southeast Asian curries. Dried lemongrass is available in small jars.

 

How to Use It

Fresh lemongrass is best. Strip off the driest outer leaves and cut off the tuberous root and darker green end until you have exposed the light-colored stalk. This is the best part of lemongrass for adding flavor. You can leave it in dishes (mince before adding or take it out after cooking). Use lemongrass to add a citrusy flavor to rice, Asian stocks and soups.

 

How to Store It

Store fresh lemongrass in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, up to a few weeks. It can also be frozen, well wrapped, for up to six months. Minced lemongrass in a jar has a longer shelf life but will lose flavor over time, as will dried.

 

Typical Recipes:

Lemongrass Coconut Noodles

Beef Tossed with Wild Betel Leaf and Lemongrass

Lemongrass Skewers

 

Unusual Recipes:

Asian Chicken Burger with Spicy Lemongrass Mayo

Raspberry and Lemongrass Trifle

Gin and Tonic with Cucumbers and Lemongrass

Photo By: Ratana 21 / ThinkStock

Lemon Verbena

What It Is

Lemon verbena, long used as an ornamental plant, is also an excellent flavor booster in the kitchen. As the name suggests, this herb has all the flavors of lemon, but without acidity or bitterness. This astonishingly aromatic plant has long, slender gentle green leaves and is used in South American and European cuisines, especially French and Spanish.

 

How to Use It

Unlike most other herbs whose dried version may not be as useful as the fresh, dried lemon verbena is just as aromatic, and much easier to come by unless you grow your own. Use the leaves whole to flavor stocks and the liquid for steaming fish. Fresh leaves can flavor puddings, cakes, butters and cocktails. Prepare teas with fresh or dried leaves and add it chopped or crumbled to stir-fries or a marinade for grilled chicken.

 

How to Store It

The fresh leaves have a short shelf life and should be used as soon as possible. You can refrigerate them for a couple of days. Dried leaves can be stored for longer in an airtight container away from direct heat.

 

Typical Recipes:

Peach Sangria

Lemon Verbena Cheesecake

 

Unusual Recipes:

Peach Soup

Photo By: George Tsartsianidis

Mace

What It Is

Mace is a unique and unusual spice: It is actually the orangey-red lace-like covering that surrounds the nutmeg seed. This makes its flavor very similar to nutmeg but a touch gentler. It is used in Indian and Pakistani cuisines to flavor meat and seafood curries. It is not found much in the US nowadays (mostly at gourmet retailers), but it used to be very popular in desserts, especially baked goods and doughnuts.

 

How to Use It

Blade mace can be very expensive. If you are using these pieces for cooking, add them early in a long, slow cooking process. Most mace is sold ground and can be added anytime during cooking. Use it whole in strong lamb and goat curries and ground in delicate seafood curries and white sauces; add a touch to sweet desserts and baked goods. As with nutmeg, a little goes a long way. Consuming large amounts of mace may be harmful to your health.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container away from direct heat and light.

 

Typical Recipes:

Cast Iron Tandoori Chicken

Butternut Squash Cupcakes

 

Unusual Recipes:

Double Potato Mash

Old Bay Grilled Steak Fries

Photo By: Ionescu Bogdan Cristian

Marjoram

What It Is

Marjoram has a fairly mild, sweet flavor when young, and is slightly savory when older, with an oregano-like aroma. It is a part of the mint family, although it often gets mistaken for oregano, which is similar but much more pungent. This herb is very delicate when fresh; dried, it is stronger. It is popular in Mediterranean, French, Greek and other European cuisines.

 

How to Use It

Fresh marjoram leaves are lovely in a green salad or when added to delicate dishes like eggs, fish and vegetables (toward the end of cooking). Dried, it pairs well with lentils, seafood, soups and tomato-based sauces. Feel free to use it wherever you would use oregano. Use sparingly, as too much will make your dish bitter, and try not to overcook it. Dried wild marjoram is combined with thyme, sesame seeds and other herbs to make the Middle Eastern mix za’atar.

 

How to Store It

Store dried marjoram in an airtight container away from heat. Bunches of fresh marjoram can be stored in the fridge for up to a week by standing them in a glass of water.

 

Typical Recipes:

Lamb and Rice Stuffed Peppers

Maple Mustard Chicken Thighs

Fresh Tagliatelle with Broccoli and Cheese Sauce

 

Unusual Recipes:

Chicago-Style Pan Pizza with Sausage, Mushrooms, Herbs and Tomatoes

Burgers al Pastor

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Mint

What It Is

Mint is one of the most popular herbs in the American kitchen and comes in many varieties, including spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint and pineapple mint. But truly, nothing beats the classic peppermint in flavor. It smells very refreshing and has a cooling, menthol-like sweet flavor. It is used in many European, Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. The more unusual mints are available fresh at farmers’ markets, and spearmint and peppermint can easily be found fresh and dried in supermarkets. If you grow mint in your garden, watch out – it grows quickly and freely.

 

How to Use It

Mint adds a great refreshing flavor to dishes. Use it fresh by the handful in tea, salads and fresh chutneys. It is a primary ingredient in mojitos and mint juleps. Dried mint lends strong flavor to rubs and marinades. Use it to flavor lemonade, stir-fries, rice dishes and stews. Mint is classic with buttered green peas, steamed new potatoes and with cucumber and yogurt in an Indian raita. And while mint jelly is a traditional accompaniment to roast lamb, mint also complements chicken, veal and pork.

 

How to Store It

Store mint in the fridge, wrapped in a moist paper towel or standing in a container of water. If you change the water every few days, it can keep for up to two weeks (if you don’t use it up first!).

 

Typical Recipes:

Mint Julep

Orange, Radish and Mint Salad

 

Unusual Recipes:

Grilled Swordfish with Lemon, Mint and Basil

Pot Roast with Carrots, Shallots, Mint and Lemon

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Mustard Seed

What It Is

There are three types of mustard seeds: black, brown and whitish-yellow. These small round seeds are pungent in flavor; the only difference in the three is the level of pungency, with the yellow ones being the strongest. The seeds are popular for making prepared mustards and pickling spices and are part of a pungent base for Indian curries. Mustard seeds are popular in Indian, European and American cuisines. Interestingly, mustard seeds have no aroma until they are cooked.

 

How to Use It

Typically, the whitish-yellow mustard seeds are used as part of pickling spices. Brown seeds are used make prepared mustard (sometimes with turmeric) and the little black ones are used in Indian cooking. These are first sizzled in hot oil, then other ingredients are added. You can also crush them to use in marinades and vinaigrettes. It is very difficult to grind the seeds to a fine powder; if that’s what you want, buy mustard already ground.

 

Mustard seeds are generally not dry roasted before using. In India, mustard oil (derived from the small brown mustard seed) is often used in cooking. The oil is heated to a smoking point, cooled, and then used. If you are going to cook with mustard oil, be sure to check the label and buy the one specifically intended for the kitchen.

 

How to Store It

Store in an airtight container. Keeping mustard seeds away from direct heat is not absolutely necessary, but they must be kept dry.

 

Typical Recipes:

Black Mustard

Indian Beef and Peas

Mustard Crusted Pork Tenderloin

 

Brown Mustard

Chicken South Indian Style

 

Unusual Recipes:

Black Mustard

Indian Spiced Sweet Potatoes

Oven Roasted Cauliflower

 

Brown Mustard

Sweet Potato Fries with Chili Coconut Dip

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Nutmeg

What It Is

Nutmeg is a small, round nut, native to the Spice Islands, and now grown largely on the Caribbean island of Grenada. It is surrounded by a lacy orange covering called mace. Nutmeg and mace both taste mildly sweet and are indistinguishable from one another with regards to flavor, although nutmeg may seem slightly more potent. Nutmeg should always be used sparingly as it is said to have narcotic effects in large quantities. Nutmeg is used in Indian, American, Caribbean, and European cuisines.

 

How to Use It

Nutmeg is an important part of mixes like pumpkin pie spice and often makes an appearance during the holiday season sprinkled on eggnog. Nutmeg is classically combined with ginger, cloves and white pepper to flavor pâtés. It should preferably be added toward the end of the cooking process. Nutmeg is best bought whole, as once it is grated its flavor rapidly dissipates. A nutmeg grater is a great (and small) investment, as a pinch of nutmeg lifts just about anything it is added to. Use it to add flavor to soups and pies, custards and mashed potatoes. Nutmeg is also an important part of the French béchamel sauce.

 

How to Store It

As long as it’s whole, it will keep for years on the shelf without growing stale. Keep dry.

 

Typical Recipes:

Applesauce Apple Tart

Portabella and Spinach Bolognese

Besciamella Sauce

 

Unusual Recipes:

Low-Fat Green Tea, Honey and Nutmeg Smoothies

Celeriac Soup

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Oregano

What It Is

This Mediterranean herb seems to be most popular in its dried form, which has a more intense flavor, though it is just as wonderful to use fresh. It is warm and aromatic and its name means “mountain joy.” It has a very strong flavor compared to other herbs and can be used to punctuate a dish with a spicy flavor. Oregano and marjoram are sometimes confused for one another, but oregano has a more piercing aroma and sharper flavor. Mexican oregano has a more citrusy aspect than either.

 

How to Use It

You can use the dried herb early in the cooking process to add oomph to pizza, tomato sauce, casseroles and stews. Add it to vinaigrettes for use in salad dressings and to dips and cheese dishes. Add the fresh herb to pizzas, meatballs and even pasta just before serving, as the aroma is less strong and the flavor more fleeting.

 

How to Store It

Store dried oregano away from heat, in a cool, dry place. As with most dried herbs, whole leaves retain more flavor, longer, than crushed or ground. Fresh oregano leaves will last up to ten days in the refrigerator (stand the bunch in a container of water), but they do have a limited shelf life so use them as soon as possible.

 

Typical Recipes:

Greek Salad with Oregano Marinated Grilled Chicken

White Clam Pizza

Grilled Chicken with Roasted Garlic-Oregano Vinaigrette

Pantry Friendly Tomato Sauce

 

Unusual Recipes:

Tuna and Green Bean Salad

Photo By: Jill Battaglia ©Jill Battaglia

Paprika

What It Is

Paprika, a spice ground from varieties of capsicum peppers, is traditional in Spanish and Hungarian cooking. Hungarian paprika varies in color from brown to deep red and in flavor from sweet to hot. Even the texture can vary. In Spain, the typical paprika is pimenton – the sweet paprika. It is created from peppers dried over wood smoke. It also comes in flavors ranging from sweet to bittersweet to hot.

 

How to Use It

Paprika has so much more going for it than just color. To cook with paprika, heat some oil and add paprika to it, which will help the spice release its flavors. Don’t cook it for more than a few seconds, though, or the spice will burn. You can add paprika to many dishes including tomato sauces, braises, soups and stews, include it in barbecue rubs and use it as a garnish on dishes like deviled eggs, boiled potatoes and broiled fish. Add Spanish smoked paprika just before serving, as cooking diminishes its aroma.

 

How to Store It

The best way to store paprika is as you would any other spice, in a sealed container (preferably opaque) in a dark, cool place. Its flavor and color fade over time, so use your eyes as well as your nose to check it.

 

Typical Recipes:

Rack of Lamb with Pimenton

Braised Paprika Chicken

 

Unusual Recipes:

Homemade BBQ Potato Chips with Smoked Paprika

Smoked Paprika Open Face Lasagna

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Parsley

What It Is

Fresh tasting, bright looking and clean smelling, parsley belongs to the same family as celery and carrots. While it mostly shows up as garnish, there are many other uses for this hearty herb. There are over thirty types of parsley but the curly and flat-leaf ones are most commonly found in stores. They taste pretty similar, but flat-leaf parsley is easier to clean.

 

How to Use It

In cooking, fresh parsley works best. Once you rinse and dry it, you can add whole or chopped leaves to many dishes such as pastas, salads, stews, soups, braises and more. Add it to your tomato sauces, chicken and egg salads, and salad dressings. It pairs well with poultry and with vegetables. If you have more than you can use soon, substitute the leaves for fresh basil in a pesto. The stems can be too tough to eat, but add great flavor to stocks and broths.

 

Combine garlic and parsley, minced, with citrus zest for gremolata. It is a classic Italian garnish for braised meats, especially osso buco.

 

How to Store It

After rinsing and drying, wrap fresh parsley in dry paper towels and store in a loose plastic bag, in the refrigerator. If you have a bunch, stand it in a jar full of water like a bouquet.

 

Typical Recipes:

Rosemary Home Fries with Pancetta, Parmesan and Parsley

Turkey Osso Buco with Parsley and Rosemary Gremolata

Spanish Spice-Rubbed Chicken Breasts with Parsley Mint Sauce

 

Unusual Recipes:

Ricotta Doughnuts

Rolled Chicken Sandwich with Arugula and Parsley Aioli

Grilled Artichokes with Parsley and Garlic

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Peppercorn, Black

What It Is

Black peppercorns are one of the most – if not the most – popular spices in the world. At one point in time, it was so expensive it was used as currency. The black peppercorn berries are allowed to grow to full size on their vines but are picked before they ripen. The berries are then dried under the hot sun. Native to southern India, this spice is known for its pungent flavor, strong aroma and the ability to punch up just about any dish. Different types of black peppers are available from different countries, and each carries a slightly different flavor profile.

 

How to Use It

Use black pepper to season savory dishes but don’t forget that it can be used to spruce up cookies and other desserts, too. Used sparingly, it can bring flavor to your cocktails and other mixed drinks. And of course, crushing some and generously sprinkling it on steak before grilling makes an unbeatable steak au poivre.

 

How to Store It

Whole peppercorns can last a long time. Ground pepper loses its potency over time. Store in an airtight container away from heat. Keep a grinder full of whole peppercorns for easy and frequent use.

 

Typical Recipes:

Black Pepper Beef and Stir Fry

Maple-Dijon-Black Pepper Glazed Bacon

 

Unusual Recipes:

Black Pepper Biscuits

Warm Asparagus with a Black Pepper Parmesan Zabaglione

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Peppercorn, Pink

What It Is

Pink peppercorns are not related to black, white, green or red peppercorns, although they are frequently – and mistakenly – thought of as related. Pink peppercorns are small, tree-grown berries with a flavor that combines the sweetness of a berry and the heat of a chili pepper. They are most often associated with South American cuisines, and a type of pink pepper has been used in Peruvian cuisine for years (even to flavor a local beer there).

 

How to Use It

These berries need careful handling as they break easily. Use the back of your knife blade to crack them open. You can use them to flavor savory dishes such as soups, stews, fish and rice pilafs, and also desserts like ice cream and pies. They add a hint of sweetness and a touch of pepper, providing a nice balance.

 

How to Store It

Store them in an air-tight container away from direct heat and light. Remember they are fairly fragile.

 

Typical Recipes:

Fried Chickien and Wild Rice Waffles with Pink Peppercorn Sauce

4-Pepper Deviled Eggs

 

Unusual Recipes:

Strawberry Rhubarb Zinfandel Crepes

Baba Ghanoush

Crème Fraiche Ice Cream with Pink Peppercorns

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Peppercorn, White

What It Is

White pepper, known for its pungent yet floral smell, adds a flavor stronger and warmer than black pepper. It is generally added when one does not want the color of black pepper to show up in a dish. It is very popular in many Asian cuisines (in fact, in Chinese when “pepper” is mentioned it generally refers to white, not black pepper). White peppercorns come from the same plant as black peppercorns but are left longer to ripen on the vine. Any dark shell is removed during processing.

 

How to Use It

White pepper can be used anywhere that black pepper is used; in Asian cooking it is used in light-colored dishes or soups where the darker peppers would stand out. White peppers are also used in stir-fries and noodle dishes. One advantage this pepper has is that when ground, it dissolves easily in liquid and so can be used to spread flavor evenly. Try it in bisques, mashed potatoes and to lend a kick to ice creams.

 

How to Store It

Whole peppers can last a long time. Ground peppers lose their potency over time. Store in an airtight container away from heat.

 

Typical Recipes:

Posh Chopped Suey

Sweet and Sour Fish Fillets

Coconut Shrimp with Peanut Sauce

 

Unusual Recipes:

Truffle Mashed Potatoes

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Pickling Spice

What It Is

Pickling spice, a combination of different spices including bay leaves, mustard seeds, different peppercorns, allspice berries and more, is a mix that is used when pickling vegetables and meats in brine or vinegar. The combinations vary depending on the company packaging the mix, and from household to household. The method of using the spices also varies – some like to roast some of the whole spices and crack pepper before use. Others feel that cracking the spices muddies the brine. Experiment with the different techniques and see what works for you. Cracked or whole, roasted or not, pickling spices really add a great depth of flavor to dishes.

 

How to Use It

Create a cheesecloth sachet with the pickling spices in it; this allows you to remove the spices easily later. Add it to the liquid you will be using for the brine. Allow the flavors to simmer and assimilate and then remove the sachet from the liquid. You can use this flavored brine to pickle meats, shrimp, vegetables and even eggs. Some people also like to grind all these spices together and then use that as a pickling dry marinade of sorts.

 

How to Store It

Whole spices keep well in a cool place for a long time. Use your nose to check for viability. If the spice mix has an aroma, you can still use it.

 

Typical Recipes:

Kinda Sorta Sours

Ab’s B and B’s

 

Unusual Recipes:

Red Beet Eggs

Cranberry Apple Roasted Turkey Breast

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Poppy Seed

What It Is

The small whitish seeds add a nutty flavor to dishes and are often used in Indian cuisine. Another variety of poppy seed, which is almost black in color, is very popular in some European cuisines. Poppy comes from the same plant that produces opium, so if you eat a poppy seed bagel before a drug test, be aware that you may test positive.

 

How to Use It

You can use them to give flavor to pastries, breads and cookies as is done in Europe. You can also grind them to give a nutty flavor and thick texture to your curries as is done in India. The key to grinding poppy seeds is to soak them in hot water for a half hour or so and then grind them. This makes it much easier as the seeds are very hard and difficult to grind otherwise.

 

How to Store It

Poppy seeds turn bad quickly so be sure to taste a couple before adding them to your recipe. If they taste sour and rancid, throw them away. Buy small quantities and store them in an air-tight container away from direct heat.

 

Typical Recipes:

Poppy Seed Rolls

Poppy Seed Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

 

Unusual Recipes:

Parmesan and Poppy Seed Lollipops

Plum Poppy Seed Muffins

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Poultry Seasoning

What It Is

As the name suggests, this mix of herbs and spices is typically used to season different types of poultry. It generally contains a mix of sage, thyme, rosemary, nutmeg and black pepper. You can buy this premade (usually ground to a fine powder) or make it at home. Try varying the ingredients to taste: add cloves for a more pronounced sweet-spicy flavor or dried savory for a dash of oomph.

 

How to Use It

You can use this not only for the bird itself but also to season stuffing. Mix it with mayo and use it to add flavor to chicken or turkey salad. You can also use the strong rub for strong-flavored game birds. If you want to vary the flavor, try experimenting with different types of peppers, or include dried grated orange or lemon to add brightness. Be sure to check if your store-bought rub contains salt so you don’t over-salt your dish.

 

How to Store It

Store in an air-tight container away from direct heat. Use your nose to check usability. If the mix has a good, strong aroma, then use it. If you cannot smell anything, then the herbs have lost their potency.

 

Typical Recipes:

Bobby’s Whole-Grain Apple Cranberry Stuffing

Roasted Brined Turkey Breast

 

Unusual Recipes:

Chipotle BBQ Turkey Mini Meatloaves

California-Style Turkey Tacos

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Pumpkin Pie Spice

What It Is

As the name suggests, this combination of spices is used to flavor desserts, particularly pumpkin pie. It consists of ground spices like ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and sometimes cardamom. The spice mix varies from home to home and manufacturer to manufacturer. It is really quite simple to prepare at home (which will give you control of the flavors you want to emphasize).

 

How to Use It

You can use this mix to flavor the fillings for pies like pumpkin and sweet potato. You can also use it to add sweetness and depth to casseroles, cookies and pastries. The spice mix can vary greatly so be sure to add a little, taste and then adjust as needed. Think of this as a finishing mix: You can use it to garnish dishes like mashed potatoes or turnips.

 

How to Store It

Since this strong mix tends to be a large part of holiday flavors (and big hosted dinners), be sure to check for freshness before you use it. Use your nose and smell the mix. If the aroma is gone, then the mixture has lost its potency and should not be used.

 

Typical Recipes:

Upside-Down Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie Pinwheel Cookies

 

Unusual Recipes:

Carrot Cake Pancakes

Maple Bacon Bread Pudding

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Rosemary

What It Is

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) has needle-like, sharp leaves. It has a penetrating, pleasant piney smell. Rosemary is strong and is typically paired with foods, like lamb, that can stand up to its intensity. It is used in Mediterranean and American cuisines. Both dried and fresh rosemary are used in cooking; both forms of the whole leaf remain pointy even with prolonged cooking, so be prepared to pick them out of your teeth.

 

How to Use It

There are many ways to use rosemary, not only in savory dishes. Two easy uses: Infuse oil with the herb, or to use it to flavor a simple bread dressing or stuffing for cooking with duck or chicken. Rosemary works well with potatoes, lamb, poultry and even in drinks. Use the woody stems of the rosemary plant as skewers for foods like tofu or shrimp, or add them to wood chips when smoking. Think about flavoring your cookies or nut bars with finely chopped rosemary. A simple loaf of bread can really come alive with this herb. Use a gentle hand in all cases, as it is a very strongly flavored herb.

 

How to Store It

Store dried rosemary in an air-tight container away from direct heat. Fresh rosemary is pretty hardy and will stay for a few weeks, although it will lose volatile oils and fragrance as it dries out. Be sure to check for aroma before using.

 

Typical Recipes:

Lemon, Rosemary and Balsamic Grilled Chicken Thighs

Rosemary Home Fries

Rosemary and Pignoli Cookies

Grilled Baby Lamb Chops with Crispy Rosemary

 

Unusual Recipes:

Sweet Potato and Beet Chips with Garlic Rosemary Salt

Grilled French Toast with Strawberries and Rosemary

Popcorn with Rosemary-Infused Oil

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Saffron

What It Is

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. Good saffron comes from Spain, Iran and from India’s Kashmir valley. Saffron strands are the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, and it takes 225,000 stigmas from over 70,000 violet-colored flowers to produce just one pound of saffron. Used in many cuisines around the world, saffron is revered for its aroma, color and medicinal properties. Saffron threads should be deep red in color, and bright. Always buy whole threads, since it is hard to determine the quality of powdered saffron.

 

How to Use It

There is no substitute for the aroma of saffron. So if you don’t have it, just leave it out and don’t try turmeric or food coloring in its place. Saffron is a strong spice so just a few strands per person is good enough; too much can make a dish taste unpleasantly medicinal. Soak it in warm water or milk and use this liquid and the strands to flavor your dish. You can also gently roast saffron on a warm skillet before using. Typically it is used in Spanish paellas, French bouillabaisse, rice dishes, pastas, seafood stews, rice puddings, breads and teas.

 

How to Store It

Store saffron in an airtight container, in a cool and dark place away from extreme temperatures.

 

Typical Recipes:

Grilled Meats and Vegetables Over Saffron Orzo

Shellfish and Chicken Paella with Saffron Rice, Chorizo and Green Peas

Saffron Rice

 

Unusual Recipes:

Steamed Artichokes with Almond Saffron Dip

Sweet Saffron Yogurt

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Sage

What It Is

Sage, a type of evergreen, is a strong-tasting herb with notes of mint and eucalyptus. Sage leaves have been used for medicinal as well as culinary purposes for hundreds of years. It is popular in Mediterranean cuisine. Sage blossom honey is very delicate in both flavor and color.

 

How to Use It

Sage can really stand up well to heat so you can add it to your dishes at the beginning of the cooking process. Sage pairs well with strongly flavored meats, especially turkey and pork. But it also works with more delicate veal as long as you don’t overdo it. It pairs terrifically with butter. Add it to your stuffing, or pair with pumpkin, sweet potatoes, potatoes and even fruits like apples. You can also use dried sage, as it has a pretty good aroma and texture. Fried fresh sage leaves can be used as a fun garnish on dishes.

 

How to Store It

Keep fresh sage in the fridge wrapped in a light towel and then in plastic. You can also freeze sage leaves.

 

Typical Recipes:

Chicken Scallopine with Sage and Fontina Cheese

Apple and Sage Turkey

Sage Dressing


Unusual Recipes:

Sage Butter Macaroni and Four Cheeses

Stir-Fried Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter and Sage

The Sage Beekeeper Cocktail

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Salt

What It Is

Salt is one of the most common seasonings in the world. There are many different types of salt. The typical table salt is solution-mined from salt deposits. Kosher salt, with its larger crystals, is called that because it is used in the process of koshering meats. There is sea salt, made around the world by evaporation of sea water. These vary in color and flavor according to the other minerals in the water. And then there are good artisanal salts that are produced (without chemicals) that add differing flavors (some sweet, some briny) and textures to dishes.

 

How to Use It

Salt can be used to add flavor to any dish, savory or sweet. Even just a pinch can bring out the other flavors in the dish, even without being noticeable itself. Don’t forget the use of salt for cooking: Heat whole large salt crystals to form a bed for cooking delicate seafood (as they do in Spain). Artisanal salts of different textures add a wonderful crunch to dishes when used as finishing salts.

 

How to Store It

Store salt away from direct heat and always use dry spoon.

 

Typical Recipes:

Salt Crusted Snapper

Sweet Potato Fries with Basil Salt and Garlic Mayonnaise

 

Unusual Recipes:

Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies with Maldon Sea Salt

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Savory

What It Is

Savory used to be a very popular herb but is less frequently used nowadays. The two typical types, winter and summer, are very strong herbs with flavors that are reminiscent of a pepper crossed with a thyme leaf. The pungent flavor of savory lent itself to many dishes in Europe.

 

How to Use It

Winter savory (stronger than its summer counterpart) can be used to flavor hearty dishes like beans, meats (especially pork) and lentils. Its piquant flavor works very well with eggs. Both types are really strong and so should be used with a gentle hand. You can use savory anywhere you would use rosemary. It pairs well with poultry and you will often see it as part of the prepackaged poultry spice mix. It suffers less than many other herbs when dried, so use dried savory when fresh is not available.

 

How to Store It

Store fresh leaves in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to ten days. The dried herb should be stored in an air-tight container away from direct heat.

 

Typical Recipes:

Foccacia with Savory and Olives

Pork Pie

Pomegranate-Glazed Goose with Wild Rice


Unusual Recipes:

Easy Onion Soup with Stilton

Goat Cheese Fondue on Country-Style Bread

Photo By: Birgit Brandlhuber

Sesame Seed

What It Is

Sesame seeds are one of the oldest ingredients known to man. They are found in Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. Native to East Africa and Indonesia, they show up on everything from bagels to broiled tuna. In the southern US, they are called “benne” – the name (and plant) brought over by the slaves. The tiny seeds pack a lot of flavor and are very oily. While the seeds come in many colors, the most commonly used ones are white and black.

 

How to Use It

Sesame seeds pair really well with vegetables and meats alike. Toasting them on a hot, dry skillet helps reveals their flavors. Gomasio, a Japanese toasted sesame seed condiment, is an excellent way to garnish rice and stir-fried vegetables. Sesame seeds are also great in sweet dishes like sesame brittle, and can be used to top baked goods. Sesame seeds are used traditionally to make tahini, a sesame seed paste. Tahini is integral to making hummus and many other Middle Eastern treats.

 

How to Store It

Store in an air-tight container but please taste before using. Since the seeds are high in oil, they will go rancid and become sour.

 

Typical Recipes:

Sesame Ginger Chicken

Tofu Salad with Chive Ginger Oil

Sesame Shrimp and Asparagus Stir-Fry

 

Unusual Recipes:

Sesame Cashew Bar

Benne Brown Butter Apple Tart

Ahi Poke

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Sichuan Peppercorn

What It Is

These vibrant peppercorns are strongly aromatic and intense in flavor. Native to the Sichuan province in China, these peppercorns are an integral part of the Chinese five-spice powder. They are also found in other Asian cuisines like Korean and Japanese. Incidentally, they are not related to the black peppercorn; they are the fruit of the prickly ash. While they taste strong, they also have a numbing effect on the tongue. For some years they were banned in the United States (due to agricultural problems) but are back on the market now.

 

How to Use It

A little of this spice goes a long way. Typically, the best way to use this spice is to toast it in a medium-hot dry skillet until fragrant; this allows the peppercorn to release its wonderfully lemony aroma. Allow it to cool, then grind it. You can use it in stir-fries, to prepare pickles, mixed with salt as a finishing salt, added to noodle dishes and as a flavor enhancer in soups.

 

How to Store It

Store these in an air-tight container away from sunlight or direct heat. These robust peppercorns have a fairly long shelf life.

 

Typical Recipes:

Sichuan Peppercorn Steak with Grilled Green Onions

Sichuan-Style Crispy Shrimp with Garden Salad

 

Unusual Recipes:

Spicy Sweet Chocolate Fondue

Photo By: Wuxiuxian / ThinkStock

Sorrel

What It Is

Sorrel, a very tart herb, is also known as sour grass. It is popular in Europe, particularly in French cuisine. It is not very popular in the United States. It does contain a high amount of oxalic acid, which can interfere with iron absorption in the body. While sorrel is sour in taste, the sourness is different from that of lemon.

 

How to Use It

Buy fresh sorrel (it is never available dried) and shred the leaves to use in soups, stews, purees and pan sauces. Young sorrel leaves are very tender and can be eaten raw in salads (but remember that it is sour, so use sparingly.) As sorrel ages, it needs to be cooked. One interesting property of sorrel is that when you cook it, it melts into the cooking medium (butter or oil). This melted green sauce can then be seasoned and used as a topping for grilled meats, fish (especially fatty fishes) and vegetables.

 

How to Store It

You can store sorrel for a few days in the refrigerator but it does spoil quickly. It should be stored like its cousin spinach, with which it pairs well when cooked.

 

Typical Recipes:

Fried Softshell Crab with Wild Sorrel

 

Unusual Recipes:

Cold Sorrel Soup

Photo By: Liubov Shirokova

Star Anise

What It Is

Star anise, as its name implies, looks like a star. Whole star anise is actually dried slices of the star anise fruit, with shiny round seeds in the middle of the points of the star. It is a very strong-smelling spice that can take over a dish. Its aroma is a cross between licorice and anise. It is a key ingredient in sambuca and Pernod. This dark-brown spice is most closely associated with Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines; it is one of the key ingredients of Chinese five-spice powder.

 

How to Use It

You can use this spice as is or you can use it ground. The whole spice cannot be eaten and should be removed from the dish before eating. Use it just as you would cinnamon: to flavor stews, soups, jams, desserts and more. Star anise pairs well with meats like duck and pork. It is very strong, so a little does go a long way.

 

How to Store It

Store in an air-tight container, away from direct heat.

 

Typical Recipes:

Beer Braised Szechuan Chicken Wings

Cranberry Orange Compote

Five-Spice Baked Ribs

 

Unusual Recipes:

5-Spice on Ice

Banh Mi Tacos

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce

Star Anise Ice Cream

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Tarragon

What It Is

Tarragon, a strong-flavored herb with dark leaves, has roots in Greek and Arabic cuisines but is commonly associated with French sauces. Tarragon comes in two different varieties: French, and the less-expensive Russian, which is milder and widely available. It has an aroma similar to anise and a slightly tart flavor.

 

How to Use It

Use tarragon to flavor classic French sauces like béarnaise. You can also use it to flavor vinegars and oils. It works well in vinaigrettes and cream-based sauces. Because of its intense flavor you can pair it with strong soups and stews, and with roast chicken. It is often found in the fresh mix fines herbes, and used in classic omelets. This is one herb that works best fresh as it loses most of its flavor when dried. Try it in sorbets and even to flavor your tea.

 

How to Store It

Wrap fresh herbs in a paper towel and place in the crisper in the fridge.

 

Typical Recipes:

Tarragon Potato Salad

Tarragon Chicken Salad

Peas and Potato Soup with Tarragon Pesto

 

Unusual Recipes:

Apple Tarragon Granita

Asparagus with Morels and Tarragon

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Thai Curry Paste, Red and Green

What It Is

Aromatic curry pastes prepared with herbs and spices form the heart of Thai cooking. Red curry paste typically contains red chiles, shallots, lime, cilantro, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and other ingredients and is used to season Thai soups and to make traditional Thai curries. Green curry paste has green chiles instead of red; the combination of ingredients in either one (red or green) varies greatly from chef to chef, manufacturer to manufacturer and home cook to home cook. You can prepare the pastes in your home or purchase them in jars or tubs in grocery stores.

 

How to Use It

Traditionally, coconut milk is heated, a bit of the paste is added and then other ingredients are added. But don’t let that be the only way you use the pastes. They make great marinades for shrimp and chicken and you can use them in stir-fries and noodle dishes, or anywhere you want to add a little taste of Thailand. The pastes have a great affinity for coconut milk, which balances the heat and rounds out their flavors. They can be very hot, so be warned.

 

How to Store It

Open containers of store-bought pastes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months. Fresh pastes you make yourself typically don’t last for more than a week or so.

 

Typical Recipes:

Thai Green Curry

Thai Green Chicken Curry

Plump Udon Noodles in Thai Green Curry with Eggplant

 

Thai Red Curry

Red Curry Chicken Stir Fry

 

Unusual Recipes:

Thai Green Curry

Potato Pork Croquette: Korokee

 

Thai Red Curry

Thai Red Curry Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Photo By: Elzbieta Sekowska

Thyme

What It Is

This wonderfully aromatic and intense herb is essential to so many cuisines, frequently used in Europeans cooking (it is an integral component of herbes de Provence), Middle Eastern dishes (za’atar, a Middle Eastern mix, often includes thyme), as a component of Jamaican jerk seasoning and in Cajun cooking. A much loved herb, thyme comes in many different varieties that have varying flavors and varying levels of intensity.

 

How to Use It

You can use the leaves to season dishes and add a terrific flavor. Thyme is a strong herb, much like rosemary, and pairs well with strong ingredients like meats and mushrooms. Thyme works well in fresh and dried form. But (in both forms), it is a very strong herb and should be used with a light hand.

 

How to Store It

You can store fresh thyme in the refrigerator and use it within two weeks. Dried thyme should be stored in an air-tight container away from direct heat.

 

Typical Recipes:

Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme

Onion Soup with Fontina and Thyme

Red Wine Pot Roast with Honey and Thyme

 

Unusual Recipes:

Taleggio Crostini with Apple and Thyme

Apple and Thyme Martini

Plum Upside-Down Cake with Thyme

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Turmeric

What It Is

Turmeric is a rhizome (underground stem) that looks a lot like the fresh ginger you can buy in markets, except that it is darker in color inside – almost a deep orange. It can be hard to find fresh turmeric in the United States. It is generally sold here in its dried and ground form. It is a very popular ingredient in Indian cuisine and gives curries their characteristic yellow color. It is a key component in most commercially packaged curry powders. While turmeric can give a dish a golden color in much the same way as saffron, the flavors are totally unlike, and so it should not be used as a saffron substitute.

 

How to Use It

Turmeric adds an earthy flavor to dishes but a little does go a long way. If you add too much, it will make your dish bitter. You can add a touch to vinaigrettes or rice dishes. Add it to give color and flavor to soups, stews and curries. Turmeric is what gives yellow mustard its vibrancy (and much of its flavor). Turmeric works best when it is added to the dish during the cooking process. It is never used as a garnish and is very rarely used uncooked (as in a salad dressing).

 

How to Store It

Store turmeric in an air-tight container away from direct heat.

 

Typical Recipes:

Turmeric and Cumin Chicken with Chiles

Oven-Roasted Cauliflower with Turmeric and Ginger

 

Unusual Recipes:

Macaroni and Cheese, Indian-Style

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Vanilla Bean

What It Is

Vanilla beans, most commonly sold as whole beans and in extract form, flavor everything from ice creams to toothpaste. A native of Mexico, the bean is very popular in cuisines around the world. Vanilla beans are expensive as they come from a rare orchid and have to be processed by hand. Fresh beans don’t have the aroma that we are so familiar with; that comes after the beans have been left to dry in the hot sun for a few days and then are subjected to more processing and drying.

 

How to Use It

To make the most of the bean, split it and scrape out the tiny black seeds inside. The pulp on the inside holds the seeds and that is where majority of the flavor lies. You can use the different forms of vanilla (vanilla also comes in pastes and powder form) to flavor just about anything sweet from cookies to cakes to puddings to custard. You can also use vanilla in savory dishes like risotto. Vanilla can also add a great, fresh flavor to drinks. Be careful when purchasing vanilla in any other form than whole as there is a lot of artificial vanilla in the market. Be sure to check the label.

 

How to Store It

Vanilla pods need to be stored away from heat and in an air-tight container. If they dry out, don’t throw them away. Place them in a jar of sugar and your sugar will take on a gentle vanilla flavor. You can also store whole beans in alcohol such as vodka or bourbon, and then use the liquid as you would an extract. Commercial extracts can last for up to a year, tightly capped.

 

Typical Recipes:

Banana Bread with Vanilla Bean Pecan Butter

Cranberry Sauce with Vanilla Bean

Vanilla Bean and Cannellini Bean Ice Cream

 

Unusual Recipes:

Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto

Vanilla Bean Lemonade

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Wasabi

What It Is

Most of us are familiar with the green wasabi paste we see in sushi restaurants. In the best places it comes from wasabi, a rhizome similar in flavor to horseradish. Wasabi is very popular in Japanese cuisine and is an integral part of a proper sushi meal. It is very pungent and intense. It is also notoriously difficult to cultivate, although in the Pacific Northwest growers have been somewhat successful. You can buy the real thing as small tubes of paste in Asian markets.

 

How to Use It

Season bland dishes like mashed potatoes with wasabi or mix it with mayo to create a zippy dip. But just be sure it really is wasabi you are using: Sometimes what is sold as wasabi in the market is nothing more than horseradish colored green.

 

How to Store It

If you are lucky enough to find a piece of the real thing, store it in the refrigerator for up to a week.

 

Typical Recipes:

Wasabi Smashed Potatoes

Wasabi Potato Salad

Wasabi Vinaigrette

 

Unusual Recipes:

Crab and Avocado Salad with Japanese Dressing

Photo By: Penny De Los Santos ©2011, Penny De Los Santos

Za'atar

What It Is

Za’atar is a very popular mix in the Middle East. It is a combination of dried oregano, thyme, toasted sesame seeds and sumac. The ingredients of za’atar vary depending on the area of the Middle East and as with any spice mix, from home cook to home cook. Whatever the variation, each ingredient in za’atar enhances its unique quality and produces a flavor that is lemony and intense.

 

How to Use It

Za’atar is often used like a “finishing salt”: It can be used to garnish grilled meats, breads (especially pita and flatbreads) and yogurt. Sprinkle it into eggs as you scramble them or make an omelet, or onto hard-cooked eggs. You can also mix it with olive oil and use it as a dip for breads. Use it to flavor a plain grilled fish, or roasted and grilled vegetables. Mix with salt and use it as a dry rub for chicken before roasting.

 

How to Store It

Store za’atar in an air-tight container away from direct heat and be sure to check for aroma before using. If there is no aroma, then the mix has lost its magic. Also, be aware that the sesame seeds in it can go rancid, so taste it, too, before using.

 

Typical Recipes:

Grilled Kebabs

Za’atar Pita Bread

Herb-Rolled Quail Eggs

 

Unusual Recipes:

Green Salad with Zesty Lemon Garlic Dressing

Zucchini Pasta

Photo By: Quanthem / ThinkStock

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