Spices

A description of many spices commonly used in baking and cooking. Learn what they are and find out how to use them here. Around the world for centuries people have been enhancing the flavor of their cooking and baking with everything from commonly used cinnamon and pepper to cardamon and cumin. Indeed, their very aroma sets our imaginations flying to exotic lands.

Learning just what each spice is and how to best use it will open up a new world of cooking for you. From soups and steaks to sauces and cookies, your choices will be many.

From now on, when you ask for pepper you might want to be a little more specific!

Spices:  How To Use Common Spices

Allspice

  • From it's name and flavor suggestive of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, one would assume this is a combination of spices. But allspice is in fact a spice on it's own.
  • Use it sparingly as it can be quite strong.
  • Often used in cookies, pastries and desserts.
  • Add a pinch to apple pie filling, use to flavor puddings or sprinkle a little over a fresh fruit salad.
  • Whole: add to slow cooking stews, soups and bean dishes.
  • Crush and add to marinades.
  • Ground: stir into buttered carrots.
  • Add to mulled cider or red wine.

Anise

Also called Aniseed. If you like licorice then you will like anise.

  • Seeds:
  •  Use whole or ground.
  •  Commonly used in dishes from Morrocco, India and Arab countries.
  •  Bring out the flavor in fish soups.
  •  Sprinkle on seafood cocktail sauce.
  •  Stir into cottage cheese or cream cheese.
  •  Add seeds to sugar cookies and shortbread, even rye breads.
  •  Add to carrot, cauliflower and beets dishes
  •  Chopped fresh leaves may be added to salads.
  • Toss seeds with coconut, raisins and dried pineapple for a snack.
  •  For a digestive aid, brew seeds into a soothing tea.
  •  For a sedating nightcap, stir a few seeds into warm, sweetened milk.
Caraway: Another excellent digestive aid - either chew the seeds or brew into tea

Caraway

These are the seeds you find in seeded rye bread.

  • Another excellent digestive aid - either chew the seeds or brew into tea.
  • Add to Green Pea Soup to prevent gas.
  • Seeds: Add to meat mixture for stuffed cabbage and peppers.
  • Stir into bread batter, muffins and scones.
  • Pleasant addition to egg and cheese dishes.
  • Add to cabbage or sauerkraut before cooking.
  • Stir into coleslaw.
  • Cook in stews or hearty soups.
  • Sprinkle on meat sandwiches.

Cardamom

Famous for growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, it is known as an aphrodisiac.

  • It has a somewhat delicate cinnamon flavor.  Best to purchase and keep "in the pod" as it loses it's flavor quickly.
  • Crush the pod with a rolling pin and extract the seeds. Or use the pod whole, as in rice or a simmered stew, then remove the pod before serving.
  • Second most expensive spice in the world but a little goes a long way.  Can be an acquired taste.
  • Seeds: (from green- dried in oven, or white - bleached, or black - dried in sun pods)
  • Nibble after a rich meal.
  • Ground: grind fresh and store in small amounts.  Used in both sweet and savory dishes.
  • Used in curry; an ingredient of garam masala.
  • In Sweden, commonly used in baking, especially holiday food, cakes, pies, breads and cookies.
  • Mix with sugar and sprinkle on French Toast and fruit compotes.
  • Add to waffle batter.

Cayenne

Actually ground red pepper, this cayenne is hot, hot, hot.  Almost everyone has a story of over-doing it with cayenne!  Cayenne gets hotter the longer it cooks.

  • Use with caution. Whether before or after cooking, it bites and causes eyes to burn and noses to run.  Not the greatest experience for your dinner guests.
  • (It also helps with digestion.  I used to take it in gel caps to sweat a fever and some people mix it with maple syrup (how Canadian can you get!), lemon juice and hot water when they have a cold.)
  • Stir into chili, barbecue sauce, and salsa for more kick.
  • Add pizzazz to bland egg dishes.
  • Stir into cream-cheese spreads and guacamole.
  • Add to cornbread batter.
  • Stir into creamy chowders and sauces for an extra piquant taste.

Celery Seed

The flavor of celery.  Slightly bitter taste so add lightly.

  • Seeds: Best known for adding to pickling brine, but also add to cabbage salad, soups and stews.
  • Stir into cucumber salad and pickled beets.
  • Flavor melted butter before pouring over cooked vegetables.
  • Sprinkle on fresh bread after brushing it with melted butter.
  • Ground: Add to creamy coleslaw and potato salad dressings.
  • Stir into deviled-egg filling.
  • Sprinkle on split-pea soup or fish chowder just before serving.
  • Add to tomato juice or Bloody Marys.

Cinnamon

Internationally, a favorite.  For best flavor, buy cinnamon from Sri Lanka or India.  Buy pre-ground rather than trying to grind your own.  Flavor will last.

  • Stick: Use as a stirrer and to season hot spiced apple juice or mulled wine drinks (ground imparts a cloudy look)
  • Add to fruited beef or Middle Eastern lamb stew, Moroccan chicken, Greek pastitsio and Malaysian rice dishes.
  • Also, use chunks of the stick in chutney, relishes or other pickles.
  • Heat pancake syrup with a stick or two.
  • Ground: Sprinkle over hot chocolate or cappuccino.
  • Mix with sugar to sprinkle on baked goods, hot buttered toast, cereals and puddings.
  • Stir into softened chocolate or vanilla ice cream.

Cloves

These are among the strongest of all aromatic spices.  Use sparingly.

  • Buy whole and grind yourself if you can.
  • Whole: Add a few to the teapot while the tea steeps.
  • Use to stud a ham before baking.
  • Cook a few in chili con carne, stew or soup stock.
  • Ground: Add a pinch to fruit salads.
  • Stir into chocolate cake batter or frosting.
  • Add to mince pies, fruitcake, gingerbread and other cookies.
  • Add a dash to sweet mashed potatoes.
  • Toss a little with buttered green vegetables.
  • Stud oranges or apples for holiday decorations.  A bowlful makes a nice centerpiece and adds to the dining experience.
  • Add to mulled wine.

Simmering Potpourri

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons ground cloves
1 tablespoon anise seed
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 quart water
Directions: Mix together. Add water. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally, then simmer on low.

Coriander (see Cilantro under Herbs)

Seeds of the Cilantro plant with a slightly sweet, lemony-sage flavor. 

  • Use whole or ground.  Flavor and use of fresh leaves (Cilantro) and seeds (Coriander) are not interchangeable.
  • Mentioned frequently in the Bible and used in China for 5000 years, coriander is widely used in cuisine around the world now.
  • Seeds:  Add to pickles and marinades.
  • Used in curries, Middle Eastern and Asian dishes.
  • Ground: Use to flavor lentil and bean soups.
  • Add to yogurt dressing for cucumber salad.
  • Use in place of cinnamon to flavor baked apple desserts.
  • Toss melon chunks with a mixture of coriander and granulated sugar.

Cumin

A primary ingredient in curry and chili powders.  Similar in appearance to caraway, dill and fennel seeds. 

  • May be substituted for caraway seeds.
  • Used in Mediterranean, some African, Indian, Spanish and Portuguese cooking.
  • Improved flavour when freshly ground.  To grind your own: roast dried seeds slowly (medium heat) in heavy skillet, stirring until they darken.  Crush with a mortar and pestle or grind in a blender.
  • Seeds: Add a few to cooking water for rice or couscous.
  • Add to chili.
  • Mix with cream cheese for a bread spread.
  • Ground: Add to lentil soup.
  • Add to guacamole.
  • Stir into yogurt and chopped cucumber salad to serve with spicy curries.
  • Add a pinch to vinaigrette salad dressing.
  • Stir into bean-and-rice dishes.

Fennel Seed

Subtle anise-like flavor and the seed head looks like dill when growing.

  • Can substitute for anise but use a smaller amount.
  • Widely used in Italian sausages, baked goods, and sweet pickles.
  • Seeds: Add to hearty fish soup.
  • Stir into yeast dough and sprinkle on baked goods before baking.
  • Nibble on lightly roasted seeds for a breath refresher.
  • Ground: Add to meat mixture for meat balls with spaghetti sauce.
  • Used in curries.
  • Used as an ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder.
  • Rub on pork before roasting.
  • Sprinkle lightly on pepperoni pizza.

Ginger

Very versatile with a hot, spicy, sweet flavor.

  • Ground ginger and fresh ginger have separate uses.
  • Ground: Stir into sweetened whipped cream for a cake frosting or topping.
  • Add when cooking glazed carrots.
  • Use in baking especially gingerbread.
  • Mix with sugar and sprinkle on cookie dough before baking.
  • Stir into lemonade or iced tea.
  • Mix into fresh fruit salads.
  • Sprinkle with sugar on grapefruit halves, before broiling.
  • Fresh: use in Asian cooking. Combine with garlic. Add to stir-fries.
  • Crystalized: Used as a snack, and in baking and cooking.
  • Grate into a cup or teapot; steep in hot water for ginger tea.

Mustard

Mustard has long been used in cooking. Mustard is more widely used than even pepper.

  • Yellow seeds (also called white) are most common, but seeds grow brown and black, too.
  • Black and brown seeds are used in curries.
  • Brown seeds are also used in Dijon mustard.
  • White and yellow are used in pickling, salad dressings and , of course, in commercial mustard.
  • Yellow and brown seeds are usually used to make dry mustard powder.
  • Seeds:
  • Add to pickling brine.
  • Add to simmering New England Dinner ( corned beef, cabbage and potatoes)
  • Dry roast seeds in a skillet until they pop. Stir into hot green beans.
  • Powder: To prevent clumping, mix to a paste with cold liquid before adding to any other food. Use dry mustard in soups, salad dressings, grain dishes, potato dishes, chilies, and curries.
  • Add to white or cheese sauces.
Spice: Nutmeg with Nutmeg Grater. Mace the lacy covering has been removed.

Mace and Nutmeg

Both spices come from the same fruit of the same tree and can be used interchangeably. Mace is the lacy outer covering or skin of the nutmeg seed. Store in the refrigerator.

  • Whole mace: use in sauces, marinades, and soups. Add whole and remove before serving.
  • Ground mace: often combined with other spices. Strong flavor, use in small quantities, in spice mixtures, pickling, poultry, pies. Use smaller amounts if substituting for nutmeg.
  • Freshly grated nutmeg (using a nutmeg grater or the fine holes of a metal grater) gives a more intense flavor. Grate only as needed.
  • Stir into winter squash, root vegetables dishes, and mashed sweet potatoes, glazed carrots or parsnips.
  • Great in cream sauces, quiche, custards, pastries, pasta and creamed spinach.
  • Stir into softened ice cream: serve on warm gingerbread or apple pie.
  • Used in hot cider, mulled wine and eggnog.

Paprika

Made from dried sweet red peppers, paprika comes hot, mild (half-sweet) or sweet, which isn't hot at all. It should be bright red and adds color and flavor.

  • The finest paprika is Hungarian.
  • Ground: Sprinkle as a garnish on any light colored food.
  • Add to flour for dredging meat, chicken or fish before frying.
  • Stir with minced onion into cream cheese for a sandwich spread.
  • Rub on poultry before roasting or baking.

Pepper

One of the most popular seasonings in the world.

  • Black is most common, but add a few white, pink or green peppercorns to your mill to spice up your grind.
  • Black peppercorns picked before ripe and allowed to dry. They have a stronger flavor.
  • White peppercorns are whole and ripe with the outer covering removed. Often used in light colored dishes, like cream sauces.
  • Green peppercorns are not dried and are usually frozen or packed in vinegar and canned. They have a pungent flavor. Rinse before using and use quickly. refrigerate once the tin is opened, discard any blackened peppercorns. Often mashed with softened or melted butter and served with grilled steak.
  • Pink, or Szechuan, peppercorns are not pepper at all. Use in Szechuan dishes and curries.
  • Cracked or coarsely ground: Press into burgers or steaks before grilling or pan frying.
  • Freshly ground: add to spice cookie dough or gingerbread.
  • Grind on melon chunks.
  • Sprinkle sliced tomatoes with pepper and balsamic vinegar.

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