Using Spices & Herbs

​Les Kincaid's

Lifestyles

 

The word "spices" is an all-inclusive term that encompasses not one substance, but four different categories.
Spices are derived from the bark, root, fruit, or berry of perennial plants such as Cinnamon from bark, Ginger from roots, Nutmegs from the fruit and Pepper from the berry.
Herbs are the leaves of annual and perennial low-growing shrubs (Basil, Marjoram, Tarragon, Thyme, Rosemary etc.).
Aromatic Seeds are the seeds of graceful, lacy annual plants (Anise, Love-in-the-Mist, Caraway, Fennel, and Coriander).
Seasonings/Blends generally are blends of spices and/or herbs and/or seeds. They are usually intended for one specific purpose (Poultry Seasoning, Cajun Blend, Provincial Herbs, Lemon Dill Seafood Seasoning, Curry, and Chili).

How Much to Use:  
Generally figure 1/4 teaspoon of dried herbs for each 4 servings. The proverbial "pinch" is usually equivalent to the 1/4 teaspoon. Too much can ruin the dish, so use restraint. Blends usually require more, about 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon. Remember, you can add more if you need too.
How to Use:
Before adding the measured amount of an herb to a recipe, crush it in palm of one hand with the fingertips of the other hand. This will release the flavor of the spice or herb.
When to Use: 
Cooked foods such as stews, soups, and sauces will taste best if herbs are added during the last hour of cooking. Uncooked foods such as salad dressings, fruits, and juices need time for the flavors to "marry"; add herbs as long before serving as possible.
Which to Use:
The correct spice or herb for any food is the one that tastes right for you.
Seasoning is not an exact science, but an expressive art - and you are the artist. When experimenting with a new spice or herb, crush some of it and let it warm in your hand; then sniff and taste it. If it is delicate, you can be bold and adventurous. If it is very strong and pungent, use a light hand the first time that you use it.

Spice Definitions

Allspice
From Jamaica, known there as pimento - AKA Kubaba in Poland. It is very fragrant, often compared to a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Usually ground, but sometimes available as whole dried berries. Allspice can be used with meats, savories and pastry.
Anise Seed
Anise was originally grown by ancient Egyptians and similar to fennel in flavor. Used in cakes, pastries and as an aid to digestion. It is the base of a number of liqueurs.
Annatto Seed
Used to color oil by steeping 2 oz. annatto seed in 1 pint hot cooking oil. You should let it sit for a few days to strengthen the color. Strain oil into a small bottle and use in place of cooking oil when cooking onion before adding other ingredients. It's also used to color rice by crushing 1 teaspoon prior to adding rice.
Arrowroot
Used to thicken clear sauces, most commonly in Asian dishes. The rootstalks of a tuber of the same name are dried and ground into a very fine powder. Arrowroot is used as a thickening agent for puddings, sauces and other cooked foods. Its thickening power is about twice that of wheat flour. Arrowroot is absolutely tasteless and becomes clear when cooked. It should be mixed with a cold liquid before being heated or added to hot mixtures. Also called Kudzu
Asafoetida
This is a resin that has an acrid and bitter taste and a strong odor. It should be stored in an upright, tightly closed jar.
Basil
A versatile herbs that is very aromatic and slightly spicy. The most popular type is green, and is the key ingredient in Pesto; however, the beautiful purple and opal basil are becoming more widely available.
Bay Leaves
The leaves of the Bay Laurel tree are dried whole, and are added to marinades and sauces.  Some of the finest leaves come from Turkey while many chefs prefer the flavor of California grown leaves. It is also available in powder form. Considered the most dangerous herb in the kitchen since it has sharp pointed edges to the leaf and it gets caught in your throat and causes chocking…..sometimes deadly. Remove all bay leaves after cooking and before serving. 
Black Cardamom
This spice is native to India, where it is considered to be the most prized spice after saffron.  The pods can be used whole or the husks can be removed to release the seeds, and they have a slightly pungent but very aromatic taste. They come in three varieties:  green, white and black. The green and white pods can be used for both sweet and savory dishes or to flavor rice. The black pods are used only for savory dishes.
Bouquet Garni
1 bay leaf, sprig of thyme, 3 parsley stalks tied together (or in muslin) and removed after cooking. Sometimes chervil, savory or tarragon is added.
Caraway Seed
This is a seed that is widely used in breads and pastries. It is also believed to be a good aid to digestion. It can also be used to spice up satay sauces and in goulash. It is the flavoring of the German liqueur Kümmel.
Cardamom
Cardamom is from India and Sri Lanka, now also grown in Guatemala. Green Cardamom is preferred in India, White Cardamom in northern Europe and Black Cardamom in Africa. It comes in a pod with tiny seeds which can be used to flavor baked goods and important in Indian cooking. May be used whole or ground. When whole and stored in glass jars the white and free pods will keep almost indefinitely.
Cassia/Cinnamon
To the British only Sri Lankan (Ceylonese) Cassia is known as cinnamon; in America cassia bark from anywhere is called cinnamon - in fact America imports almost no Sri Lankan cassia. Sri Lankan cinnamon is almost paper-thin with a less sweet flavor than cassia, cassia is thicker and heavier. Cassia comes from Indonesia, China and Vietnam.
Cayenne
A type of chile, usually sold in powder form. Most cayenne pepper comes from South America, India, Sri Lanka or California -USA.
Chervil
Similar to parsley in appearance, but more feathery, it has a sweet aniseed flavor and should be used more sparingly. Add near the end of recipes to avoid flavor loss
Chilies
Generic name given to a variety of spicy peppers.
Chipotle Peppers
Jalapeno peppers that have been wood smoked, also known as mortise used extensively in Mexican cooking.
Chives
Also called Spring Onions and a small member of the onion family. They are usually added to raw dishes and at the end of cooking on hot foods. Chives are also good for garnishes.
Cilantro
See Coriander.
Clove
Cloves are the dried, unopened buds of a type of evergreen found only in the Moluccas - the Spice Islands. Pungent flavors that go well with baked ham, mulled wines etc.
Coriander
Coriander is also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley. It adds a pungent and aromatic flavor.
Both the leaves and seeds are used, the leaves are bright green and used in Asian and South American cooking. The seeds are usually ground and used to flavor shish kebabs and Indian foods.
Cocoa
Dutch cocoa is prized for hot chocolate drinks and is lower in acidity than natural cocoa which is great for baking.
Coconut
Used to flavor both sweet and savory dishes, fresh coconut is now frequently available from supermarkets. Desiccated (shredded) coconut and creamed coconut make acceptable substitutes for most dishes.
Cumin
A favorite spice of Greek, Arab and Turkish cooking. Cumin should be heated in a frying pan with oil until aromatic, before using.
Curry
The word 'curry' is said to derive from the Tamil word "keri" meaning bazaar. Curries exist throughout Asia in different flavor spectrums. Thailand, China, India, Japan, Singapore etc. each prepares curries, each is different, but all are pungent and spicy, although the level of heat (from peppers) varies.
Curry Leaves
Similar in appearance to bay leaves but with a very different flavor, these can be bought dried and occasionally fresh from Asian stores. Fresh leaves freeze well.
Dill 
A pretty, feathery, green plant whose seeds are used extensively in Europe. It is excellent with many fish and also for pickling. Use fresh or dried; the fresh leaves also make an excellent garnish for eggs, salmon and new potatoes.
Dundicut Peppers
A hot pepper from Pakistan that is similar in flavor and appearance to a habanero, but not quite as hot.
Fennel
Fennel has aniseed smell and taste. The seeds can be used in soups and fish dishes. The bulb can be grated and added to slaws.
Fenugreek
This is a popular spice in the Middle East. Very hard seeds make them difficult to grind, thus heating them first will ease the job. Very high in protein, slightly bitter tasting and they are almost always present in curries.
Five Spice Powder
A combination of star anise, cassia, cloves fennel and peppercorns.
Galangal
A relative of Ginger this is a very important ingredient in Thai and Indonesian cooking.  Usually found fresh or ground, the fresh root is very woody, and should be peeled prior to using.
Garam Masala
This is a mixture spice, which can be made from ground spices at home or purchased ready-made. There is no set recipe, a typical mixture might include cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, green or black cardamom pods, saffron, black pepper, chiles, and caraway.  Roast the ingredients and grind them together in fine powder. Garam Masala is also used as a condiment, being added to a dish at the end of cooking.
Garlic
This is a standard ingredient along with ginger, in most curries can be used pulped, crushed or chopped. Whole cloves are sometimes added to dishes.
Ginger
A root with a peppery taste, available fresh, ground or preserved as root in syrup. The fresh root should be peeled before chopping or slicing. Very good in Chinese and Indian cooking, deserts breads etc.  Galangal, from Thailand, is similar.
Habanero Peppers
Also known as Scotch Bonnet - Jamaica. Habanero Chiles originated in the Amazon basin and then spread to the Caribbean and then to the Yucatan Peninsula. Habanera is Spanish for "from Havana". These are extremely hot chiles; they are usually consumed fresh or pickled.
Herbs de Provence
A blend of spices including parsley, thyme, basil, marjoram, rosemary, garlic, tarragon, chervil, savory, sage, and, of course, lots of lavender flowers. Use it for seasoning meat, put in sauces and salad dressings, or mix with cream cheese for a flavorful spread with crackers.
Horseradish
Probably originated in Germany. Usually the white root is used, although the leaves can be a good spicy addition to a salad. Similar to mustard, it can be very hot. The oil evaporates rapidly so cooking causes it to lose its pungency. The English consider it the classic accompaniment to roast beef.
Jalapeño Peppers 
Pronounced "Hal- a -peen-yo" and also known as Chipotle when dried. These are hot to very hot flavor; used in salsas and to flavor many Central American foods.
Juniper Berry
The berry of the Juniper tree, excellent to use in flavored sauces for pork and chicken. This is also the key flavoring ingredient in gin. Remove berries from sauces prior to serving.
Kalonji
Kalonji is also known as Charnushka or Nigella, and sometimes as Black Cumin. It is an aromatic spice with a sharp and tingling taste. It is mainly used in vegetable dishes.
Lemon Grass 
Also called citronella. It is a member of the mint family, looking like tall, hardy grass. The leaves have a strong lemony scent and are used widely in Asian cooking. Remove from food before serving. If fresh is not available dried pieces of lower stems can be substituted.
Mace
Mace is the apricot-like fruit of the nutmeg tree. The outer coating of the nutmeg is dried and the resulting material is mace. Used in pates and sausages, if no mace can be found, small amounts of nutmeg can be substituted.
Marjoram
A relative of Oregano this is a delicate herb that should be added to recipes at the end.
Mint
There are more than 30 species of mint, peppermint and spearmint being the most widely used in western cooking. Peppermint is the more pungent of the two, with bright green leave purple-tinged stems and a peppery flavor. Spearmint leaves are gray-green or true green and have a milder flavor and aroma. Mint is popular in Vietnamese and Middle Eastern cooking, used in a sauce with lamb, is the key ingredient in a Mint Julep and when used as a garnish makes almost every dish more attractive.
Mustard
There is two types of mustard seed, brown and white. The white seeds are larger and more pungent, the brown seeds more aromatic. When the seeds come into contact with water they release enzymes which create a great burst of pungency. Vinegar retards this reaction, the resulting concoction is known as "American yellow" mustard. 
French Dijon - From a mixture of brown and black seeds blended with wine or vinegar. Pale yellow it has varying strengths.
Meaux - Grainy mustard made from partially crushed black mustard seeds, medium hot.
Bordeaux mustard ~ made from black seeds blended with unfermented wine must. Darkly colored and mildly flavored.
English - Yellow mustard usually strongly flavored. 
German - Smooth blend of black mustard and vinegar. 
Plae- Coarse-grained mustard for veal.
Nutmeg
Nutmeg is native to the Moluccas (the Spice Islands) but is now grown throughout Indonesia, the West Indies and in Central America. A seed, they can be bought whole or ground. The best flavors come from freshly grated nutmeg. The outer covering is called Mace.
Oregano
A variety of wild Marjoram, this green herb is popular in Italian cooking.
Paprika
A red spice with a spicy/sweet flavor that is mildly hot. A very important ingredient in Hungarian Goulash, it can be sprinkled on fish, baked potatoes and soups to add color and a mild boost.
Pepper
Pepper is a native of India's coast. All pepper grows near the equator on bushes.
Black Pepper - The berries are picked before they ripen and then dried. 
Green Pepper - The same as black but harvested before they are mature.
Pink Peppercorns - not a peppercorn at all, but the fruit of a South American weed, and have a sweet and savory taste. 
White Pepper - The same berry as the black and green, however, allowed to ripen and then rinsed for a few weeks to remove the outer red husk.
Sichuan Pepper (Fagara) - Not a peppercorn but a seed, very important in Asian cooking.
Poppy Seed
One of the oldest spices in history is believed to have medicinal uses as well as being sweet.  The seeds are now used for baking, such as poppy seed cake and for extra flavor, as on bagels.Blue seeds from Holland are considered the best, with white seeds more popular in Indian and Asian cooking.They are high in oil so do not keep well for a long time in warm climates.
Rosemary
A strongly flavored herb that grows in the Mediterranean and California. Either fresh or dried it should be used sparingly.
Saffron
The world's most expensive spice is the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, which is native to Asia Minor.
It takes 250,000 flowers to make, just 450 g/l lb. saffron. Fortunately, only a small quantity of saffron is needed to flavor and color a dish, whether sweet or savory. Saffron is sold as strands and in powder form, and has a beautiful flavor and aroma. The stigma of the flowering crocus (sativa) it gives a golden color to Spanish (paella) and Indian dishes.  Extremely expensive it is available as threads and ground. Extracting/Steeping - when these terms are used with saffron, this refers to the process by which the aroma, flavor and yellow dye are successfully removed from saffron threads in order to add those properties to cooking and baking. Saffron threads need to be immersed in hot, acidic or alcoholic liquids for a period of time longer than a few minutes in order to release enough of their chemical properties so that you are not wasting your money. 
Sage
There are more than 500 varieties of sage. It has silvery green leaves that are good in salads; dried it is an important ingredient in many stuffing's.
Salt
Salt is sodium chloride. The main culinary varieties are rock salt and sea salt. Salt is used to flavor, cure, preserve, draw out bitter juices (as with eggplants) and for toughening. Sea salt is more flavorful than rock salt. Kosher salt is my salt of choice in cooking.
Savory
There are two types; summer and winter, both are similar to thyme, with the winter variety being milder.
Star Anise
A main ingredient in Chinese 5 Spice, this pretty spice is a native of China. It is extremely fragrant with a licorice flavor.
Sunflower Seeds
The large sunflower, grown in many regions of the world, including America and Russia produces these seeds. The seeds have a hard black-and-white striped shell that should be removed; they can be dried or roasted (either in or out of the shell.) They are eaten as a snack, used in salads or sandwiches or added to a variety of cooked dishes or baked goods - such as bagels.
Tarragon
The variety most widely used in cooking is known as French Tarragon. Long, slender green leaves, it may be used fresh or dried. Often used to flavor butters and sauces it is essential in Béarnaise sauce.
Thyme
Garden thyme is the most widely used in cooking; strongly flavored it is popular in stuffing's and is a staple of bouquet garni.
Turmeric
The main ingredient in many commercial curry powders this is a bright yellow spice that adds color but very little flavor.
Vanilla
Vanilla beans grow in Indonesia and Tahiti and derive from an Orchid. The bean is a long, black, slender pod. An essence is also made from these pods; ensure that you are buying pure vanilla extract if buying it in the essence form.