For centuries, spices have been one of the most essential ingredients in kitchens - they add flavor and aroma, enhance the taste of food, and even boost the colors in popular dishes. If you are looking for a little direction when it comes to spicing up your cuisine, this comprehensive guide will list common dried herbs and spices and their uses, so you can easily transform the simplest of dishes into culinary masterpieces.
Spices are generally used either whole or ground as flavor additives for both sweet and savory recipes. Dried spices have more concentrated flavor than fresh spices. For most dried spices, use 1/4 to 1/3 the amount that is called for fresh spices.
Although the name might suggest this spice is made of a mixture of spices, allspice is actually derived from the dried, unripe berry of a tropical evergreen tree native to Central and South America. Allspice gets its name because many people have described the spice's aroma as a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. The earlier on it is added into the cooking process, the bolder the flavor.
Anise, or aniseed, is derived from a flowering plant native to the Mediterranean region and is popularly used in Mediterranean, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Anise is not to be confused with star anise; star anise comes from a different plant and has a more pronounced licorice flavor.
Annatto is a large, triangular-shaped seed that is derived from a tropical tree, which is native to South America and India. Common in Caribbean, Latin American, and Filipino cuisine, it has long been used for culinary and dyeing applications as well as preserving perishable foods. Additionally, annatto seed can be used as a cost-effective substitute for saffron's golden coloring; however, it is not a substitute for saffron's unique flavor.
Caraway seed can be used for flavoring foods either whole or ground. They can be used in virtually any recipe, ranging from sweet to savory, to add an unexpected range of flavors. Add the seeds towards the end of cooking to avoid the bitterness that can result from lengthy simmering.
A popular ingredient in Indian cuisine, cardamom comes whole as green pods or ground as a tan powder. If you use the whole pods, lightly toast the seeds inside the pods for the fullest flavor prior to removing and grinding. The seeds from 5 pods will equal approximately 1/4 teaspoon ground.
Cayenne pepper is made from dried and ground seeds and pods of various types of chile peppers. It should be used sparingly; season to taste until the desired level of heat is reached.
Celery seed is common in American and European dishes and can be added into recipes either whole or ground.
Cinnamon is derived from the dried inner bark of the tropical tree Cassia and is used in both sweet and savory dishes. Although cinnamon is more commonly used in ground form, the whole sticks can be stored for longer and then ground when needed for a more robust flavor.
Cloves are derived from the dried, unopened flower of a tropical evergreen tree. They can easily overpower a recipe, especially when ground, so use sparingly. If substituting whole cloves for ground, use 3 whole cloves for 1/4 tsp. of ground cloves.
Coriander is derived from the ripe fruit of the cilantro plant. Although they are from the same plant, coriander and cilantro are not similar in taste and should not be used interchangeably. The seeds can be used whole or ground.
Cumin is popularly used in Middle Eastern, Indian, Latin American, and Spanish cuisine. Use sparingly, as it can overpower other flavors in a dish.
Fennel seed is derived from the dried fruit of the fennel plant, which is native to the Mediterranean region. It can be used in either whole or in ground form.
Flaxseed is rich in fiber, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, making it popular in health foods and beverages. It is typically ground prior to adding to meals to get the full nutritional benefit, as ground flaxseed, or flaxseed meal, is easier for the body to digest. If adding to a cooked grain dish, it is best to add flaxseed at the end of cooking since it can thicken liquids if they simmer too long.
There are many alternatives to using fresh garlic in recipes, including granulated garlic and garlic powder. Typically, the choice of which garlic form to use comes down to what is available, how strong you'd like the garlic flavor to be, and if you want any added texture in your recipes. When using garlic, note that the more finely the cloves are chopped or ground, the stronger the flavor will be.
Ground ginger is made from dehydrated fresh-peeled ginger root that is then ground to a fine powder. It is an essential ingredient in many seasonal baked good recipes.
There are three types of mustard seeds: yellow, brown, and black. The darker the seed, the spicier the flavor. The seeds can either be used whole or ground to make various types of prepared mustard and other recipes.
Derived from the nutmeg tree native to the Spice Islands, nutmeg is the hard oval seed inside the tree's yellow fruit. Mostly used in ground form, powdered nutmeg features a more concentrated flavor than whole. To substitute ground nutmeg for whole, use 2-3 teaspoons per whole nutmeg.
There are many alternatives to using fresh onion in recipes, including granulated onion and onion powder. Typically, the choice of which onion form to use comes down to what is available, how strong you'd like the onion flavor to be, and if you want any added texture in your recipes. Dehydrated onion forms are typically less potent than fresh onion in recipes.
Paprika is typically divided into three types – sweet (basic paprika), hot, and smoked. Paprika is created by grinding dried pepper into a powder and it varies in flavor, heat levels, and color depending on the type of peppers used to make it.
Peppercorns are berries grown on trees in tropical regions of the world. Their flavor and color greatly depend on time of harvest, ranging from pink and fruity to green and tart to black and spicy. Whole peppercorns produce optimum potency when ground just before use.
Poppy seeds can be used whole or ground, but whole seeds should always be lightly toasted before adding them to uncooked foods such as salads to strengthen their flavor and aroma.
Available in many forms, salt is obtained from one of two different sources: mining or evaporating from seawater. Salt suppresses bitter flavors can enhance sweet, sour, and savory flavors. Its flavor will not evaporate or dissipate during cooking, so it should be added to food carefully.
Sesame seeds come in two colors: white and black. Black sesame seeds are unhulled and richer in flavor while white sesame seeds are hulled and slightly milder. The two can be used interchangeably in recipes, but generally black is recommended for lighter dishes to provide visual contrast as well as with dishes with stronger spices since their white counterpart may be overpowered.
Star anise is derived from the dried, unripe fruit of a small tree native to China and is popular in Asian cuisine. It can be added to recipes whole, crushed, or ground and should be used sparingly as just a little is needed bring flavor to an entire dish. If cooked whole, the pods should not be eaten; however they can still add a decorative accent to your dish.
Native to India and southern Indonesia, turmeric is derived from the root of a perennial plant in the ginger family. Turmeric is almost always used in powdered form, which allows it to easily disperse in any recipe and impart its distinguishing color throughout the dish. Turmeric also has natural anti-inflammatory properties and is a popular ingredient in many health foods and beverages.
The loss of moisture in dried herbs strengthens and concentrates their flavor, so you should slightly alter recipes when replacing fresh herbs with dried herbs. While fresh herbs are best to use when finishing a dish, dried herbs need time to release their essential oils and flavors and are most effective when added during the cooking process. For most dried herbs, use 1/4 to 1/3 the amount that is called for fresh herbs.
Dried basil has a more assertive flavor than fresh basil and is best when added to the end of cooking because prolonged heat will deteriorate its distinct flavors. It is commonly used in Italian, Mediterranean, Thai, Vietnamese, and American cuisine.
Bay leaf is one of the few herbs to reach its peak flavor and aroma when dried rather than fresh. Bay leaves are typically added whole during the cooking process and removed before eating.
Chives are the smallest members of the onion family. Add chives at the end of or after cooking as they lose their delicate flavor with long exposures to heat.
Cilantro comes from the leaves of the coriander plant; however it is not interchangeable with coriander spice. It is a commonly used herb in Latin American, Caribbean, and Asian cuisines and it should be used sparingly as the pungent flavor can sometimes be overpowering.
Dill weed is from the leaf and stem of the dill plant. While deriving from the same plant, dill weed is very different from dill seed and the two should never be substituted for each other. Dill weed should be used sparingly in most applications because its flavor increases with time.
Juniper berries are not actually classified as berries but are in fact female seed-cones from the juniper plant. Because juniper berries are very powerful, as few as 3-4 berries can be used to add flavor to an entire recipe.
A close cousin of the oregano family, the perennial marjoram herb is a cold-sensitive plant which originated from the Mediterranean. Marjoram works well in many recipes which call for oregano, although it yields a more delicately sweet and slightly minty flavor. Because of its delicate flavor, it should be added towards the end of cooking.
Mint is an incredibly flexible herb that works well in both sweet and savory dishes and can be used to complement and mellow the flavors of acidic foods. It is very common in Middle Eastern, Turkish, Greek, and Indian cuisines. It holds onto its flavor well, so it can be added during the early stages of the cooking process.
There are many different types and varieties of oregano that are defined by where they are cultivated in the world, some of the most popular types in the U.S. being Greek, Italian, and Mexican oregano. It can be used as a substitute for marjoram in dishes where a bolder, zestier flavor is desired.
Dried parsley is slightly more muted in flavor than its fresh counterpart, which is why it is commonly used as a last-minute garnishing to add texture and color to your favorite recipes. Dried parsley is also great for slow cooking as it can handle the long cooking times without losing its flavor.
Rosemary is derived from a small evergreen shrub in the mint family. Dried rosemary should be used sparingly to avoid overpowering the dish due to its pungent flavor and can stand up to long cooking times.
Native to the Mediterranean region, sage is derived from a low-growing evergreen shrub. Ground sage has a more assertive flavor than rubbed sage, making it a better option for recipes where you’re looking for its woody flavor to shine through.
Tarragon should be used sparingly as its pungency may overwhelm other flavors in the dish. It should also be added later in cooking because it may turn bitter with prolonged exposure to heat. Crush the leaves before adding to your recipes to release their full range of flavors.
Thyme is derived from a perennial herb in the mint family. Dried thyme has a more pronounced flavor than its fresh counterpart, making it especially great for bold, spicy foods and meats. Because of its robust flavor, thyme can easily overpower a dish, so it should be used sparingly.
Dry spice blends offer versatility and shortened preparation time. While some spice blends can be easy to make yourself, purchasing pre-made blends ensures that you consistently have the same ratio of ingredients. They can also present a low-risk and cost-effective way to develop new and trendy global flavors for your menu! Below are some popular spice blends you can use to elevate your foods.
Adobo seasoning is a popular spice blend used in Spanish, Caribbean, and Latin American cuisine. It combines garlic powder, salt, black pepper, and oregano as well as other savory seasonings.
Chili powder is a popular spice blend in Mexican, Indian, and Southwestern cuisines. Includes a blend of ground chile peppers with other spices like cayenne, cumin, oregano, paprika, garlic powder, and salt. The heat level is varied based on the brand but is typically within the range of mild to medium spicy.
Chinese five spice powder is an exotic spice blend that highlights the five flavors of Chinese cuisine: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy. It combines Szechuan peppercorns, star anise, cassia or cinnamon, fennel, and clove.
Most known for its use in Indian cuisines, curry is a fragrant spice blend composed of coriander, turmeric, cloves, pepper, garlic, cumin, salt, allspice, and mustard. Adding curry powder early in cooking allows the complete range of flavors to fully disperse.
Everything bagels seasoning combines toasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic, onion, and salt into one savory blend.
Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica. It includes a multitude of spices that can vary from recipe to recipe, but some of the main components are salt, cayenne pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, cinnamon, garlic powder, onion powder, and thyme.
Pickling spice typically includes a blend of whole and chopped herbs like bay leaf, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, allspice, juniper berries, and coriander.
Poultry seasoning is a fresh, savory herb blend typically comprised of thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, pepper, and nutmeg.
Pumpkin pie spice is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Named for its original use in the classic fall pie, pumpkin pie spice is now a popular blend for many seasonal culinary applications.
Sazon typically includes a blend of annatto, coriander, cumin, garlic, MSG, paprika, and salt. It is a versatile blend that can be added to your recipes before or after cooking.
Za’atar is a popular Middle Eastern spice blend that varies greatly based on the region it is made in, though it generally contains a combination of oregano, thyme, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt.
Spices come from the non-leafy part of a plant, including the root, stem, seed, fruit, flower, or bark of the tree or plant, while herbs typically come from the green, leafy part of a plant.
Properly storing your spices can help ensure a fresher, more potent flavor throughout their lifetime. Both whole and ground herbs and spices should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place away from direct heat.
Purchasing either whole or ground spices usually comes down to convenience. While freshly-ground spices are more flavorful and aromatic than pre-ground spices, they require some prep time whereas pre-ground spices come ready to use. Whole ground spices also have a longer shelf life because the oils that release flavor and aroma have not yet been disturbed.
Whole spices are easy to grind with the right tools. You can use either a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind whole spices. To get the best flavor from your whole spices before grinding, toast them in a dry skillet over low heat until they start to become fragrant. Only toast one spice at a time as they have different cook times.