Spices

Herbs, spices and seasonings have a long history going back five thousand years. It's no mystery why — they add flavor without fat or calories. Our guide, from FoodFit founder and CEO Ellen Haas' book, Great Adventures in Food tells you what to look for and helps you decide which flavors best enhance your family favorites.

Don't miss our Herb Chart


  

Allspice
Caraway
Cardamom
Cayenne
Celery Seed
Chili Powder
Cinnamon
Cloves

Coriander
Cumin
Curry Powder
Galangal
Ginger
Mustard
Nutmeg

Paprika
Peppercorn
Poppy Seeds
Saffron
Sesame Seeds
Turmeric

 

Allspice

Description:
Small berries, which earn the name allspice because they taste like a mix of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Look For:
Whole dried berries or ground powder.

Best Uses:
Great added to spice cakes, cookies and fruit pies. Also good in marinades for fish, meat, and poultry. It's better to grind the berries as needed rather than buy ground allspice. A pepper mill works well, as does a mortar and pestle.

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Caraway

Description:
An aromatic seed with an anise flavor.

Look For:
Whole dried seeds or ground powder.

Best Uses:
Caraway seeds are tasty in rye bread, cakes, eggs, and cheese spreads. They're also great with cooked winter vegetables.

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Cardamom

Description:
Native to India, an elegant spice that has a floral flavor.

Look For:
Whole dried seeds or pods or ground powder.

Best Uses:
A key flavor in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. Also very popular in Scandinavia. Cardamom adds special flavor to baked goods. Loose seeds and ground cardamom lose their flavor quickly, it's better to buy whole pods and grind at home (make sure to discard the papery pods before grinding the seeds).

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Cayenne

Description:
The plump red fruit of the tropical capsicum plant, it has a hot flavor.

Look For:
Ground powder.

Best Uses:
Cayenne adds heat to eggs, sauces, soups, stews, curries and chili.

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Celery Seed

Description:
A light brown, tiny dried seed, which is the fruit of wild celery and has a strong celery-like flavor.

Look For:
Whole dried seeds or ground powder.

Best Uses:
A great touch in potato salads, soups, and cabbage dishes, relishes and chutneys. Use sparingly. Crush whole seeds before using.

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Chili Powder

Description:
A mix of ground chili peppers and other spices such as cumin and oregano.

Look For:
Ground powder.

Best Uses:
Energizes bean dishes, meat stews, soups and egg and cheese dishes. Chili goes well with cilantro, basil, ginger, oregano, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin, fennel and flat-leaf parsley.

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Cinnamon

Description:
A spice that comes from the dried bark of an evergreen tree. Cinnamon has a sweet, mildly hot taste.

Look For:
Hollow brown sticks and ground powder.

Best Uses:
It's used in sweets and savories. Cinnamon is delicious in cakes, pies and buns, at the same time, it enhances most meat stews.

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Cloves

Description:
A dried bud from a tropical evergreen tree. Cloves have a strong, sweet, aromatic taste.

Look For:
Whole dried buds or ground powder.

Best Uses:
A versatile spice in baked goods and sauces. Good with pork, ham, and stews. Also used in chutneys and in stewed fruit dishes.

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Coriander

Description:
A spice that has a mild fragrance and tastes like a blend of lemon and caraway.

Look For:
Whole dried seeds and ground power. (Fresh leaves are called cilantro.)

Best Uses:
Ground seeds are nice in cakes, cookies, and buns. Also good in curries, meat and poultry dishes, vegetables and chutneys. Keep the seeds whole until needed because they quickly lose flavor; grind with a mortar and pestle.

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Cumin

Description:
A hot, nutty-flavored spice.

Look For:
Whole dried seeds and ground powder.

Best Uses:
Used to make curries and chili powders. Great in vegetable soups, couscous dishes, and meat stews. It's best to use whole seeds and grind in a mortar just before using because the flavorful oil escapes rapidly after grinding. Unless a strong cumin flavor is sought, use sparingly.

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Curry Powder

Description:
A blend of herbs and spices. Turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, coriander and cumin are common components.

Look For:
Ground powder.

Best Uses:
Widely used in Indian cooking to make savory meat, fish, or vegetables dishes. There is no one specific blend.

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Galangal

Description:
A member of the gingerroot family; has a peppery, gingerlike flavor but is less pungent and more aromatic.

Look For:
Fresh and dried roots.

Best Uses:
Often used in curries, soups and stews; good with chicken, seafood, and lamb; popular in Thai cooking. If galangal is not available, substitute fresh grated ginger, halving the amount.

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Ginger

Description:
Sweet, peppery spice.

Look For:
Fresh; whole dried or ground powder and crystallized.

Best Uses:
A versatile herb that's especially good in Asian and Indian dishes. Ground dried powder is good in baking, rice dishes, and marinades. Use crystallized ginger in baking; fresh ginger in marinades or with fish, meat, and vegetable dishes.

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Mustard

Description:
A spice with a fiery, strong flavor. Different mustards (black, brown, white, and yellow) come from different plants but are all from the same family. Black mustard has the strongest flavor and yellow mustard is the least pungent.

Look For:
Seeds, powder and prepared.

Best Uses:
It's used in sauces for poultry, roasts, and cold meats, in mayonnaise and in salad dressings. When cooking, add mustard toward the end and heat gently.

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Nutmeg

Description:
The spice seed from a tropical evergreen. It has a delicately warm, spicy, sweet taste and aroma.

Look For:
Whole seeds and ground seeds.

Best Uses:
Terrific in cream sauces and soups and with vegetables, especially spinach. Also good in all kinds of desserts and, of course, eggnog. Add freshly grated nutmeg at the end of cooking because heat diminishes the flavor.

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Paprika

Description:
A spice made by grinding sweet red pepper pods. The pungent flavor can be mild or hot. Spanish paprika is hot, although it's not labeled as such.

Look For:
Ground powder.

Best Uses:
A lively touch to potato and egg salads, fish, shellfish, and poultry. A basic spice in Hungarian goulash and paprikash.

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Peppercorn

Description:
The king of spices. The three main varieties are black, white, and green. Black pepper is the most flavorful; white is the least flavorful but the hottest. Green pepper has a milder and fruitier flavor.

Look For:
Whole peppercorns, crushed and ground powder.

Best Uses:
It can be used in most every savory dish; and even in some sweet dishes. It's best to use whole peppercorns and to grind as needed. Always add pepper at the end of cooking for maximum flavor.

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Poppy Seeds

Description:
The small, blackish seeds of the poppy flower. It has a nutty flavor and a crunchy texture.

Look For:
Whole seeds and ground paste.

Best Uses:
It's nice in baked goods such as cakes, pastries and breads. Poppy seeds also flatter noodles, fresh fruit, cream-based dressings and sauces for meat or fish.

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Saffron

Description:
An expensive spice that comes from the dried stigmas of a small crocus.

Look For:
It comes in tiny, bright red or yellow threads. Whole dried saffron threads that have a deep orange color are best (the deeper the color, the better the quality.) Also available ground or as dried whole stigmas.

Best Uses:
It adds rich flavor and color to many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes, including risotto, paella, and seafood dishes. A little goes a long way. To impart an even saffron yellow color, soak the threads before using. To bring out the strongest saffron color and flavor, grind threads in a small ceramic mortar and then add to the dish.

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Sesame Seeds

Description:
A seed that has a versatile, nutty flavor.

Look For:
Whole seeds and ground.

Best Uses:
They're a nice addition to breads, rolls, cakes, and cookies. Often added to green beans, rice and noodle dishes. They're the main ingredient in tahini. The flavor of sesame seeds can be enhanced by dry-roasting them in a skillet before use.

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Turmeric

Description:
A bright yellow spice with a bitter, pungent flavor.

Look For:
Ground dried powder.

Best Uses:
It's vital to mustards and curry powders, providing color and flavor. It's often used in bean and lentil dishes, pilafs, and in cauliflower and potato dishes.

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   Source: Copyright 2000 by Ellen Haas.
From the book "Great Adventures in Food" By Ellen Haas.
Used with permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.
 

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