Guide to spices

NOTE: This content came from the old Frugal Cooking site and is incomplete.  If you’re looking for a really, REALLY complete list of spices, check out this spice page at Wikipedia.

Tip: Fresh herbs are wonderful. Dried herbs last longer, and you use about half as much in recipes, but after about a month they begin to lose their flavor. To be frugal, don’t throw them out, just adjust the amount to the flavor of the dish.

Here are some spices and their uses that you may want to keep in the pantry:

Angelica– This bitter and aromatic herb has a taste resembling juniper berries, but is hardly used in this country. Use in fish, vegetables, meat stews or sparingly in poultry stuffing. The stalk may be eaten like celery or cooked as a vegetable or used like rhubarb.

Allspice-this spice’s flavor resembles cinammon, cloves and nutmeg combined, thus the name. Use it in baking, puddings, and with fruit. It is also good with meat, fish, seafood, duck, and eggs. It is almost a necessity in mincemeat, pickles, relishes, chutney, preserves, and in sachets and potpourris. Tuck a little in a light weight muslin bag in your dresser drawers to scent your clothing lightly and prevent musty smells.

Anise– this is the herb so common to European sweet bakery goods. It’s licorice flavor inhances the flavors of breads, stews and seafood, as well as root vegetables. A word of warning, if you use anise in cookies, store them away from other cookies, as the flavor will “leach” onto those nearby.

Arrowroot-while neither herb or spice, arrowroot is often sold in the same area of the grocery. It is a bland starch which acts as a thickening agent in foods and is used in place of flour or cornstarch. Using 1-1/2 tsp to replace 1 Tbsp of flour, this is the thickener of choice for delicate sauces and puddings that contain eggs.

Balm, Lemon- Some say a tea made of this herb will sooth a cold, but it adds a charming flavor to beverages such as tea, meats, stuffings, vegetables, and salads. Some even eat it as a potherb.

Basil- This herb appears to be the new American favorite for its unique floral-like flavor that it adds to almost any dish that can be flavored with herbs. It is especially good with any dish containing tomatoes. Some consider it the symbol of love.

Bay Leaf (Laurel)– Bay is the poet’s leaf and is said to impart wisdom. It is mostly used dried and is a wonderful addition to meat, potatoes, and root vegetables. It is also a good flavoring for sugar, which can be flavored by placing the leaf in the container of sugar for a few days. Such sugar imparts a fullness of flavor to flan and other custard dishes. Try them in chowders, in marinades, or to the water which will cook your frozen vegies.

Bergamot (Bee Balm)-like the familiar Lemon Balm, this herb’s tea is praised by many, often known as Oswego tea. When the colonists were boycotting English Tea at the time of the Revolution, this plant, it is said, lent its flavor. It is used fresh in fruits, soups, and stews.

Borage-This herb is said to drive away melancholy and bring courage. It can be eaten, when young, as a potherb and later in salads, soups, stews, and green vegetables. It can also be used as a substitution for parsley in most recipes. The star shaped blue flowers of this plant are excellent when crystallized.

Burnet- While there are ten varieties of this herb, only one (Sanguisorba minor) is used in cooking. It has a flavor and odor like cucumber and can be used with green vegetables, such as asparagus, in stews, or like parsley in stuffings. Like the cucumber, it is also good in salads.

Capers-These are the unopened flowers of the caper bush and therefore come in different colors, each with it’s own unique flavor. Capers add a little zing to white sauces, salads, creamed dishes, appetizers, and meats. They are usually sold pickled in vinegar and brine, but can be bought dried.

Caraway-This gray and white striped seed is the flavor most common in rye breads and has a flavor reminiscent of a combination of anise and dill. It’s use in salads, pickling, and with game meat is common, especially to German cooking. Try it with rabbit or to add “that little something” to potato salad. The sweet root of the caraway plant can be served like parsnips.

Cardamom– At one time, this spice ranked just behind saffron as the world’s most expensive spice. Their warm taste are perfect for curry and pork dishes. Crush whole pods before using and “a little dab’ll do ya” on this flavorful spice. This is one spice that rapidly loses flavor, so must be used quickly.

Cayenne-Used lightly this red pepper adds interest to bland foods like beans, eggs, sauces and meat. It is one of the most important spices in American sausage and if added in quantity to vinegar can make a fine substitute for Tobasco or Louisiana hot sauce.

Celery-one of the trinity in Cajun cooking (bell peppers and onions being the other two), the entire celery plant is useable for flavoring soups, stews, salads, and vegetables. It’s seed imparts a delicate celery flavor to salads without the substance of the plant itself and is excellent when served in fish dishes.

Chervil-Fresh chervil is more flavorful than dried, which is unusual for herbs. Like celery, the entire plant is edible. It was once thought to be a hiccup remedy. It can be eaten as a potherb, as a garnish, or as fines herbes. It is the essential ingredien in Bearnaise sauce and is a wonderful addition to plain old potato soup.

Chili powder– The essential ingredient in American chili is often a combination of chili and ground cumin, as the chilis, dried and ground by themselves are considered Cayenne or Red Pepper. The flavor depends on the manufacturers of the blend, and some contain oregano, garlic, cloves, and/or allspice. It is great flavor added to meats, soups, rice, sauces, shellfish, vegetables, corn, and snacks. The amount added to a recipe often depends on the blend and the taste of the cook.

Chives-This herb is a member of the onion family and imparts a dainty flavor of onion to potatoes, soups, salads, cream dishes, egg dishes, vegetables, and meats. Try a sprinkle of snipped chives or a chive flower as a garnish on your devilled eggs.

Cinnamon-No matter the variety of cinnamon, it is one of the most popular (if not the most popular) spices in the world, for cinnamon is the flavor treat for breads, cakes, and candies throughout the world. It is also an amazing flavor when added to tomato sauces or meat dishes. Used heavily, cinnamon is hot, but used lightly it’s sweet flavor brings a smile to the face. Cinnamon is also used in the perfume, soap and candle making industry and is often added to potpourries. It is often used in combination with cloves, as the two compliment each other well in dishes.

Clary (also called Clary Sage)-This herb has a lavendar-like odor, but tastes like sage and can be used in the same way.

Cloves-This member of the myrtle family has a history going back to 300 BC. It is used to scent sachets, soaps, candles, potpourris and sachets. It’s oil is used as a numbing agent in soothing teething gels and the flavor of the cloves are essential to gingerbreads, spice cakes, fruit cakes, mincemeats, ham, and certain vegetables. Studded into an onion, they add their essence to soups and stews or into an orange added a aroma that has come to be recognized as Christmas. When uniformity of size is not expected, this spice is much cheaper when purchased in bulk. For a temporary help for a toothache, place a clove near the tooth in question and bite down, holding the clove in place, it will naturally numb the area.

Coriander-lends a pleasant anise/cumin/orangey flavor to everything from sweets to savories to vegetables. The leafs of the plant are a necessary part of Mexican and South East Asian cooking. A crushed seed in the bottom of a coffee cup adds a pleasant and unexpected flavor to the coffee within the cup.

Costmary (Bible leaf)-The long lemony-mint scented leaves of this plant were once used as bookmarks, thus the colloquial name of the plant. This herb, also called Sweet Mary was once used to scent water for washing hands before a meal. It is excellent for herbed tea and in cakes, with game, and in poultry. It is a strongly flavored spice and caution must be taken to watch the amount used.

Cumin – the seed of this plant is an appetite stimulant and is especially good in soups, stews, with fish, and in breads. It is used in Asian cooking and adds a wonderful essence to homemade chili. It is a hallmark spice in Mexican cooking lending its flavor to tamales. Cuminseed added to cheese gives a remarkable flavor. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that this seed had the power to bind one person to another and thus the tradition of a German bride and groom carrying cuminseed in their pocket was started. It is an apt substitution for caraway seed in many recipes as it both looks and tastes similarly, but is stronger in flavor.

Curry– While one can purchase curry at the grocery, it is actually a blend of several spices and the best curries are often family blends. Whether cool or hot or red or white the blend of flavors delights the senses. Generally speaking, Indian Curry Powder can be made by combining chili powder, ground corriander, white cuminseed, bay leaf, and peppercorns, then roasting in a 400F oven until it begins to darken, then adding ground saffron. A suitable vegetable curry can be made by combining cocoanut milk with ground saffron, salt, minced onion, dillseeds, bay leaf, green or red chilli and a pinch of dried fish (if available).
Dill-Most people in this country are aware of the flavor of dill used in pickles, but dill also has a delicate flavor when added to fresh yogurt that makes a delicious accompaniment to fish or sliced cucumbers. It is a classic addition to salads and a surprising taste treat when added to pot roasts or lamb. Try it mixed with butter as a spread on homemade rye bread!

Filet– Filet powder is the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras plant. It is used as a thickening and flavoring agent for various Cajun and Creole dishes such as gumbo. (See Sassafrass.)

Fennel– This member of the carrot family has a flavor similar to anise or licorice and its seeds are a common ingredient in pizza sauce. The entire plant is edible as pot herb, salad, culinary spice, or candy and it’s oil is used in perfume making soaps, and medicine. Sweet fennel is excellent as a bulbous vegetable with a flavor somewhat similar to celery. A tea made from the seeds this plant is said to clear the airways and warm the body. Fennel particularly lends itself to tomato based foods.

Fenugreek-The dried seeds of this plant have a sort of caramelized sugar taste, but the stems and leaves of this plant are also used for flavoring. Use in moderation with meat and stews.

Garlic-The king of spices in Mediterranean cooking, the bulb of this plant is sought after for flavoring almost anything. It is a strong, but pleasing flavor that puts the Italian in Italian cooking. From history we know that garlic has been cultivated for at least as far back as the Babylonian Empire and the Pyramid builders diet included garlic and onion. Garlic is considered a blood cleanser by some and was used in ancient times to fill in cavities in the teeth and cure poinsoned arrow wounds. With its intense aroma, is it any wonder that garlic was believed to ward off evil spirits, witches, and vampires? Farmers once scattered garlic seeds on their fields to protect their young plants, as birds would fall asleep after eating them. Garlic was also considred a love potion and was often sent as a symbol of love to the wooed. Garlic lends itself well to almost all non-sweet dishes, although there are recipes for garlic ice cream available. It is especially good when blended with melted butter and served as a sauce for seafood.

Geranium-while most people don’t keep geraniums with the idea of using them as an herb, it is indeed a good one. Geraniums can have the scent of apples, honey, lemons, nutmeg, roses, even chocolate. Traditionally, the leaves of the plants were used to heal wounds made from any iron weapon. In the South, they are believe to keep flies away from windows. The oils from some types of geraniums are used in perfume, soaps, candles, and balms. The leaves make an unusual garnish and a crushed rose geranium leaf lends a special flavor to hot tea, baked apples, custards, puddings or ice creams. Many people make jelly from the rose-geranium leaves, combining them with apples.

Ginger– The spice derived from the root of this lovely planty is distinctly Asian in flavor. It has a flowery and somewhat peppery flavor derived from the oils in the root and a rather pungent smell, but the flower of this plant is perhaps the most finely scented on earth, therefore it is often used in perfume making. In the old days, ginger was thought to prolong life and was used as a remedy for The Plague. Ginger is an appetite stimulant. To my tastes, ginger can be used in most any food from fruit to meat to ginger ale. To preserve ginger root, clean, peel and boil the root until tender. Boil again in a sugar syrup and place in sterilized lidded jars. One pound of ginger root will make about three six ounce jars.
Horehound– This member of the mint family has an aromatic flavor and very bitter taste. It is widely used in horehound candy and was referred to in ancient times as “Bull’s Blood” or “Eye of the Star”. It is believed by some to kill flies when placed in a dish of milk and set out. It was used medicinely as a cough medicine. If you feel adventurous, try adding a leaf to beef stew.

Horseradish– This bitter hot herb has been cultivated for centuries and adds bite to bland dairy, meat and fish dishes. Finely chopped leaves may also be added to green salads. It is one of the five bitter herbs of the Jewish Passover festival.

Hyssop-This bitter and aromatic plant adds an interesting taste to fresh fruit dishes and is good with wild fowl and game. Use sparingly, it is good with fatty fish dishes.

Juniper berries– The purplish colored berries of the juniper have long been used for flavoring because they remove the strong flavor of game meat. They should be crushed before using to release the flavor. They are an inseparable part of gin. Juniper has traditionally been associated with protection, and Elijah in his escape from Jezebel was given protection by an angel as he slept under the branches of a juniper tree. It is a main ingredient in pimecan, the dried meat jerky made by the Native Americans. Use is especially with heavy meats and stews.

Lemon Verbena– This South American native adds a delicate lemony flavor to fruits, jellies, and tea. It is also a welcome addition to potpourris and hung in bunches scents the air of the room it is in.

Licorice– Used for generations, this plant is a member of the pea family with pale violet or blue flowers. Its dried root or an extract of the root is used in medicines, tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, beverages, chewing gum, and candy. In cooking in the home, anise is usually a substitute for the flavor of licorice.

Lovage– (also called smellage or in French celeri batard) This herb lends a celery-like flavor to tomato products, meats, and cheese. The seeds can be used as you would caraway seeds. Some consider this this sun herb and the symbol of Taurus, the Bull and a treatment for sore throat. The early colonists in America dried the root for something to chew and was even given to children to keep them quiet in church.

Mace– The spice Mace is the seed covering of the nutmeg and is sold by the blade (whole) or powdered for cooking. I has a flavor similar to nutmeg, but not as strong and is used to flavor most any dish. It has a sort of sweet flavor that lends itself well to sweet or egg dishes. Mace was used in Constantinople as early as the 6th Century, but by the 13th century Arab traders had a monopoly on its trade and it was the spice of the rich only. It was included with rosemary flowers as a mouth wash and was an ingredient of cough medicine during medieval times.

Marigold-A somewhat bitter taste and golden color is added when you add the dried and crushed leaves of this plant. Use sparingly, because they are strong, but one or two petals added to your favorite fish chowder is an interesting change of pace. This is also good when added to chicken broth, vegetable soup, or butter and cheese. To color rice, use instead of saffron.

Marjoram– A spicey sage-like flavor, this herb is often used with oregano in cooking and looks similar in habit. The Greeks believe it sybolized happiness after death and so used it as a funeral flower. It was also worn by the bride and groom at Roman weddings as a symbol for happiness. It has been used to cure burns, headaches, and ‘bile”. Elizabethans added it to their nosegays. The flowering tips of this plant are used in medicine and in industry, but the leaves are a wonderful addition to any non-sweet food to which you might want to add a little flavor. Try adding some to your favorite bread or biscuit dough.

Mint– There are dozens of varieties of mint, but all have the refreshing, cool aroma so common to chewing gums and breath enhancers. Use this herb in fruits, meats, fish, dairy, or dessert or as a garnish. It can be cooked as a potherb or steeped for hot or cold tea. This herb was once thought to cure respiratory diseases and appears to open the blood vessels and constricted breathing passages. Mint, in the Bible was used as part of the tithe and was used as early as the Assyrians in their religious incantations. It was said in ancient times, if eaten often, it would kill intestinal worms and that eating it fresh was good for the spleen.

Mustard– The tiny round seed of this plant was spoken of by Jesus when he compared its relative size to the size of the adult plant. Mustard flour is the basis for prepared mustard, but only the white seeds of this plant are eaten, as the dark are considerably more pungent. Use sparingly in sorrel soup, add to deviled eggs or in dairy dishes, spice meats or egg dishes or cook the greens as a potherb. Add a few seeds to hot beats or cabbage or toss a few in when preparing pickles. At our house, we frequently add dried mustard to any dish calling for eggs and cheese, such as quiche. Mustard has a long medical history as well as culinary history and was said to be effective in curing hysterical woman and falling down diseases. In the Middle Ages it was used to cure colds and even today it is believed by some to break up congestion.

Nasturtium– The peppery flavor of this plant makes it a suitable substitute for capers or pepper in many dishes. It’s flowers are an edible and lovely addition to flowers, its leaves can be used like watercress or tossed in to a salad. Pickled seeds are especially good in brown sauce with mutton or lamb. The name nasturtium means “nose twist”. Every part of the plant is edible, except the roots. The pickles seeds are a good substitute for capers.

Nutmeg-The Arabs were the discoverers of this fine spice and first traded them to the Near East. Apparently in the Middle Ages they were used to flavor Ale, according to Chaucer and it was one of the spices that Columbus sought when he came to the New World. They were a barter trade during Colonial America and were peddled after having been dipped in slacked lime to prevent the buyer from growing them. When they were sold without the lime, housewives in Connecticut refused to buy them fearing they were imitations made out of wood. Nutmegs, because of their distinctive shape were once sold as charms at country fairs. They have a warm sweet flavor, which is used when grated or ground off the nut and add the characteristic flavor to eggnog, as well as being delicious in egg custards. We have found them to bring out the flavor of cheese, when we were a little short of the amount required for the recipe or wanted to cut the amount down.
Oregano– This plant’s flavor is similar to marjoram and thyme, but is much stronger. Often, storebought Italian seasoning contains all three and less expensive versions of the herb often contain a mixture of two or more of the spices. As with many strong herbs, start by adding a small amount and increase to taste as the freshness of the herb (or the dried herb) will affect the amount needed in a dish. A staple of marinara sauce, try it in Mexican dishes, with fish, beef, soups, into butter sauces or with vegetables. Fresh, it can be cooked as a potherb.

Paprika– This is the ground dried pods of bell peppers and while usually made from sweet bell peppers, the flavor and pungency can vary from variety used. Some paprikas, like Hungarian rose paprika are made from red casicum pepper. It is used as a seasoning and garnish and can be used in practically all non-sweet foods. This spice will pick up moisture from the air, so must be kept dry and tightly closed. Paprika is one of the few herbs and spices that will attract insects.

Parsley– There are dozens of versions of this herb in common use around the world. It is a known breath freshner with a refreshing taste and aroma. It is good in any non-sweet food, including bread and is so mild as to only hint at its flavor when used with stronger herbs such as oregano. Larger leaf varieties, combined with tomatoes and a vinaigrette make a suitable salad for a luncheonette. Parsley was once believed to ward off intoxication and in ancient times was associated with death. The expression “in need of parsley” once meant to be “at death’s door”. In the South, parsley is considered unlucky if you transplant it when moving from one house to another, old timers will tell you.

Pepper- The pepper (capsicum) family is very large and the fruits of which will vary in intensity and flavor, but in the spice cabinet the most common are red and black pepper, usually sold ground or ready to be ground. Some varieties of pepper are exceedingly hot and many are used to make vinegars and pickles. The condiments paprika, chili powder, cayenne or red pepper, and crushed red pepper are all made from fruits of this plant. The piper nigrum provides our most popular spice which accompanies salt in many dishes. The fruits of this spice are grown on vines that can reach up to 20 ft in their wild state and climb tree trunks like ivy. It is grown in warm countries around the world. In ancient times, pepper was used as a ransom payment for cities under siege, along with gold and silver. Pepper was so prized during the Middle Ages that it was often used as money. It was once thought that pepper would ward off the plague. Salem, Massachusetts became a great shipping center because a Yankee found a way during the Revolution to bring back 150,000 pounds of pepper and sell it at a 700 percent profit, thus enticing others to the same trade. Pepper can be used in all non-sweet foods; however, in European cooking you will find recipes for cookies containing black pepper and anise, called Pfeffernusse (pepper nut).

Poultry seasoning– This commercial blend of spices often appears in spice cabinets around the country. It is a blend of ground sage, thyme, marjoram, and savory. Some blends have rosemary added as well. It is used with meats, stuffings, breads and biscuits.

Pumpkin Pie spice– This is another commercial blend of ground cinnamon, cloves and ginger, which are ground together to weld the flavors together permanently. It is good with all spices, not just the pumpkin and in breakfast buns, gingerbread, and pumpkin pancakes which is so good with homemade maple walnut syrup.