Herbs & Spices For CookingBelow is a listing of many common herbs and spices used in cooking today. Click on any herb or spice name below to jump down to the appropiate description.
Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Has been used for thousands of years for flavoring, breath freshener, digestive aid, cough suppressant, air freshener, mousetrap bait, and most recently as the scent on the artificial rabbit that is used in dog racing. Anise has a licorice flavor, and it is the seeds that are used to flavor things such as candy, liquors, and toothpaste. Anise seeds were used in Roman times to pay taxes as many spices were used for monetary purposes in ancient times.
Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea)
Is not used for flavoring, but rather for thickening sauces. It's normally found in the spice rack at grocery stores, and a little is generally all it takes. It should only be used at the end of your cooking, since unlike corn starch or tapioca it will break down after about 10 minutes - which means your thick sauce will become a thin sauce, and it doesn't thicken up again when reheated. But it does make very delicate sauces, and it will thicken at a lower temperature than corn starch, which makes it useful for dairy or egg sauces that may scorch or curdle at higher temperatures.
Basil (Ocimum basilcum)
The name Basil comes from the Greek word for King and was thought of as the Herb of Kings. Like other members of the mint family, basil has been used medicinally for digestive troubles. It has a mild, aromatic odor and a warm, sweet flavor with a slight licorice taste.
Bay Leaves (Laurus nobilis)
Comes from the Bay Laurel tree. It has a pungent, aromatic flavor. They are very popular in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes, but can be used in everything from baking to sauces, and of course, the leaf should be removed before serving the dish.
Capers (Capparis spinosa)
Are the pickled, unopened flower buds of the caper plant. The plants are small shrubs, native to the Mediterranean area. The buds are handpicked every day, with the smaller buds being the higher quality. This is used mainly in salad dressings and fish sauces.
Caraway Seed (Carum carvi)
Is the main part of the plant that is used, but the entire plant is edible. Caraway seeds taste similar to anise, with a hint of dill. Their main use is in Rye breads.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
Two types are grown in India, but also in Guatemala and Sri Lanka. It was used in perfumes and today is used in cosmetics. In stick form it is used for fruits and preserves. It is used ground for cakes, cookies, pies, and puddings.
Seeds and pods are edible and come from an Eastern Mediterranean evergreen tree (Ceratonia Siliqua). The ground seeds are used as a substitute for cocoa. Carob Powder is used as a food stabilizer and a darkening agent.
Celery Seed (Apium graveolens)
Comes from a wild variety of the celery plant. The seeds are oval in shape and light brown. The seeds are so small, it takes over 750,000 to equal one pound. It was originally grown by Greeks and Romans for medicinal qualities. It tastes like table celery with a warm slightly bitter and aromatic flavor. Celery seed is used for adding the flavor of celery to foods when the crunchiness of celery is not wanted.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Comes from the parsley family and is a popular French herb. The leaves resemble parsley, and is an aromatic, sweet herb with a slight taste of anise. Chervil helps to bring out the flavor of other herbs and is used to add color and flavor to dressings for pasta and potato salads. Chervil is available dried but has the best flavor when fresh.
Is the dried root of the chicory plant, roasted and ground often to be used to flavor coffee. The leaves, crisp and edible, are often used in salads.
Chili Powder (Capsicum frutescens)
Is the pungent fresh or dried fruit of any of several cultivated varieties of Capsicum. It is a blend of ground chili peppers, oregano, cumin, coriander, cloves and garlic powder. It can be found in varieties from mild to extremely hot flavors. Use it sparingly, tasting as you add more each time to season the food to your liking. Chili Powder is mainly used in Southwestern and Mexican dishes. It should be stored in the refrigerator.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Are bright green, long, hollow thin stems. It is an onion-like member of the lily family. They have a mild, onion-like taste, with just a hint of garlic. Chives are often used as a garnish, but can be used in many cooked dishes, adding them towards the end of the cooking time to retain their flavor.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Is the bright green leaf and stem of a young coriander plant, and comes from the Parsley family. Cilantro is also called Chinese Parsley. It has the flavor of parsley and citrus. Before it can be used, Cilantro needs to be crushed. It is used in Mexican, Middle Eastern and Asian dishes.
Is one of the oldest known spices. The spice is the tree bark rolled into sticks, quills, or ground to powder. Ground cinnamon enhances many curries and meat stews, especially those made with lamb and is also used in cakes, puddings and breads. The sticks are most commonly used in hot beverages such as mulled wine, hot chocolate or coffee.
Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)
Was known as the Tongue Spice by the Chinese during the Han Dynasty. During the 8th century it became a mainstay of European commerce. Whole cloves are used to flavor pickled foods and ham. Ground cloves are used in spice cakes, pumpkin pies and hot sauces.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Was used as a Love Potion in ancient times. It was one of the first herbs grown by the New World colonists. It is the main ingredient in most curries. Coriander is popular all over the world and is used in everything from hot dogs to pie and stews.
Cumin Seed (Cuminum cyminum)
Was used in medicine, and as a food preservative. It is popular in Mexican dishes, is a main ingredient in chili dishes, and also found in many curries.
Is a blend of ground herbs and spices adapted by the British settlers in India from the traditional spice mixtures found in Indian cuisine. Some like to use curry as a mild flavoring, but others prefer it as a dominant taste. It's used in many vegetable and meat dishes.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Was once considered a cure-all for everything from illness to witchery. In ancient times, Knights supposedly used burned dill seeds on open wounds to speed the healing process. It is mainly used in pickles, potato salads, and other dishes that require a tangy bite.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Has been used for both medicinal and seasoning purposes. It's used in pickling and many German, Spanish, Chinese, and Italian dishes including baked goods, soups, sauces and fish dishes.
Galangal (Alpinia Galanga )
Comes from the Ginger family. A common ingredient in Thai and Indonesian cooking. Galangal is generally fresh or ground. The fresh root is woody and needs to be peeled prior to use.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Is a member of the lily family, as are onions, shallots, leeks and chives. It has a compound bulb made up of individual cloves, and has been used for cooking for thousands of years.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Can be used to spice foods and soothe the digestive system. Ginger is believed to aid in relieving the symptoms of motion sickness, make a tingling bath, and a refreshing tea. The root (cracked) is used in chutney, pickles, preserves and dried fruit. It is used ground in cakes, cookies, breads and pot roasts.
Is a berry-like fruit from the Juniper tree. Its often used to flavor sauces for pork or chicken. The berries should be removed from the sauces before serving. The Juniper Berry is also used as an ingredient in gin.
Mace (Myristica fragrans)
Is the bright red, ground outer covering of the nutmeg seed, and like nutmeg, also comes from the nutmeg tree. It has the flavor and aroma similar to nutmeg with slightly more tartness. Mace can also be substituted for nutmeg.
Marjoram (Majorana hortensis)
Comes from the Mint family. It is often mistaken for Oregano, but they are different. It is mainly used in flavoring meat dishes. Majoram's flavor is so delicate, it's best added toward the end of the cooking time to retain its flavor. Marjoram must be crushed before using.
Mint (Mentha piperita)
Is the dried leaf of a perennial herb. There are over 30 species of Mint, the two most popular being peppermint and spearmint. Peppermint is the more sharp of the two. Mint is strong and sweet with a sharp flavor and a cool after-taste.
Mustard (Brassica hirta)
Comes from the Broccoli family. There are two major kinds of mustard, the yellow and brown. It has a pungent flavor and is used in meats, sauces, gravies and salad dressings.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
Is the seed of the nutmeg fruit that comes from the nutmeg tree. Surrounding the hard shell of the pit is mace, a brilliant red, lacy, and net-like membrane. Its nutty, sweet flavor is a favorite spice in baking.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Comes from the Mint family. Oregano is related to both Marjoram and Thyme. Oregano is used in making chili powder and is the spice that gives pizza its flavor. Oregano is used with tomato, egg, or cheese-based foods as well as lamb, pork, and beef dishes.
Paprika (Capsicum annuum)
Comes from the dried, ground pod of a mild red pepper. It is a bright red powder and most often used as a garnish. Paprika is a popular spice in Hungarian cooking. Paprika ranges in flavor from mild to hot. It should be stored in the refrigerator to maintain its red color.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Is most often used as a garnish and is a great breath freshener. It is high in Vitamins A and C and contains iron, iodine and copper. It has a light, fresh scent as well as flavor.
Pepper (Piper nigrum)
Comes from the dried berry of Piper Nigrum. Pepper is actually berries that are picked around nine months after flowering. Black Pepper is the spiciest and the berries are picked unripened, then dried until it shrivels and the skin turns dark brown to black. White Pepper berries are ripened on the vine and soaked, to remove their outer hulls easier. Black Pepper has a sharp, pungent aroma and flavor. White Pepper is hotter and less subtle.
Poppy Seed (Papaver somniferum)
Is the small, dried, bluish-grey seeds of the poppy plant, which have a crunchy texture and a nutty flavor. There are numerous varieties grown all over the world. It is used whole for toppings on rolls or buns. The oil is used for salads.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Comes from the Mint family. Rosemary is a popular Italian spice used in lamb, pork, chicken, and rabbit dishes. It has a tea-like aroma and a piney flavor. Rosemary leaves should be crushed before using.
Saffron (Crocus sativus)
Is the yellow-orange stigmas from the small purple crocus and is the world's most expensive spice. Each flower produces only three stigmas, which must be carefully handpicked then dried, an extremely labor-intense process. It requires over 13,000 of the tiny stigmas for each ounce of Saffron. Saffron is mainly used for flavoring and coloring foods. Saffron is used in hundreds of dishes in the European countries.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Comes from the Mint family. Sage is popular with pork, lamb, meats, and sausages. Sage is one of the most popular herbs in the United States. It has a fragrant aroma and a binding but warm flavor. Greeks and Romans commonly used Sage to cure snakebites and to stimulate the mind and body. It is no longer used medicinally, but at one time was used to treat colds, fevers, liver trouble, and epilepsy. Use ground Sage more sparingly than leaf Sage, as ground Sage is absorbed faster.
Is a mineral mostly mined and comes from deposits left by dried salt lakes. Salt is a colorless or white crystalline solid, chiefly sodium chloride used extensively as a food seasoning and preservative and is called Common Salt. Table salt is a fine-grained refined salt with additives that make it flow freely.
Savory (Satureja hortensis)
Is related to the mint family. Savory has a clean, piney fragrance and a peppery flavor. It will enhance almost any flavorful dish. It is used in soups, stews, bean dishes, and with sauerkraut. Romans used Savory as a medicine, a bee string treatment, and an aphrodisiac.
Sesame Seed (Sesamum indicum)
Are small flat seeds from a tropical Asian plant Sesamum Indicum and were the first crop grown for its edible oil. Sesame Seeds have a nutty, sweet flavor. It is used in many bread and cracker recipes, on rolls, and in candies.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Is a must for French cooking. The leaves of this herb are used in French sauces, egg dishes, flavored butters and cream cheeses, soups, and in poultry dishes. Tarragon is high in vitamins A and C and the leaves are believed to help stimulate the appetite.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Is a member of the mint family. There are hundreds of varieties. Thyme is very versatile in any dish and is often used in stews, soups, meats, and stuffing. Thyme is believed to strengthen the immune system and the oil has been used in tonics to treat depression, colds, and muscular pain.
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