(From the book by Ian Hemphill, The Spice and Herb Bible, and Delia Smith’s How to Cook)




Allspice is found in many sweet recipes for cakes and biscuits. Some cooks prefer allspice as a substitute for cloves in sweet dishes, as the clove flavor is imparted with less risk of being too heavy-handed. Use allspice berries when you want the flavor without the dark brown powder coloring in the recipe. For example, one can add a few allspice berries to stewed fruits, along with some cinnamon quill, whole star anise, and a vanilla bean to make a deliciously sweet-spiced dessert.
While it has no relation to pepper, a common practice is to put about a teaspoon of small allspice berries into the pepper mill with the peppercorns. When ground, the aromatic sweet spiciness complements traditional freshly ground pepper very well.
Allspice is found in many curry blends and spice blends designed for seasoning seafood and red meats. A small amount of allspice can be used to flavor root vegetables and spinach during cooking. It also complements vegetable soups, especially tomato.



Basil’s pervading aroma makes it such an ideal complement to tomatoes that it is often referred to as “the tomato herb.” Basil also complements other vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, squash and spinach. When added within the last half hour of cooking, basil enhances the flavor of vegetable and legume (split peas, lentil) soups. My mother often made herb sandwiches with cream cheese and shredded fresh basil leaves; these have a clean, refreshing taste. Most salads, especially those with tomato, benefit greatly from the addition of basil.
Basil goes well with poultry when used in stuffing, is included in soups and stews and added to sauces and gravies. Fish brushed with olive oil, dusted with freshly ground black pepper, wrapped in foil with a few basil leaves and barbecued (or cooked in the oven), is a simple and effective way to enjoy this versatile herb. Basil is used in pâtés and terrines*, where its volatile notes will help counteract the richness of liver and game. A tasty vinegar to have on hand for making salad dressings is made by placing a dozen or more fresh, washed basil leaves in a bottle of white wine vinegar and leaving for a few weeks. (*terrine: a dish consisting of several meats braised together and served in a special earthenware dish)
Pesto, the ultimate basil experience, is made from basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, salt and olive oil. Pesto can be the basis of a quick meal when tossed through freshly cooked pasta, and is an excellent spread on fresh crusty bread, topped with slices of fresh tomato.
Basil leaves are best used whole or torn; most cooks advise against cutting the leaves with a knife, as this tends to dissipate the aroma. To make dried basil taste a little closer to fresh when putting on grilled tomatoes, zucchini, or eggplant, mix 1 tsp of basil with ½ tsp each of lemon juice, water, and oil, and 1/8 tsp of ground cloves. Let stand for a few minutes, then spread onto halved tomatoes or slices of eggplant before grilling.

(Sir Oliver: Basil grows well in pots too. It’s also nice to put fresh basil leaves on pizzas after they are done cooking.)

Bay Leaves


Bay leaves are mostly associated with long, slow-cooking recipes, and are considered to be indispensable in many different soups, stews, casseroles, terrines, pâtés and roast fowl dishes. Bay leaves are often used in stock while it is cooking and they complement most vegetable and pasta dishes containing tomato.
Always use bay leaves sparingly, as the flavor is strong and amalgamates readily during cooking. For the average-sized dish to serve four people, use two to three dried bay leaves, either whole for later removal, or crumbled into the dish to soften during cooking. I like to barbecue fish wrapped in foil with a few green dill tips and a bay leaf.

(Sir Oliver: Our next door neighbor has a bay (aka laurel) tree in her yard. She lets me use them whenever i like. I’ve never been able to find one at any plant store, but if you can, a laurel tree is a good investment. They look ornamental and are very productive.)



Green cardamom is a very versatile and useful spice, being equally complementary to sweet and savory foods. Although it is a pungent spice and should be added sparingly, the fresh top flavor notes in green cardamom make a zestful addition to a wide range of meals. Traditionally, cardamom has been used to flavor Danish pastries, cakes, biscuits, and fruit dishes. The Indians include it in many curries, and in the Middle East it is an enhancement to coffee. This is achieved by pushing a split cardamom pod into the narrow coffee pot spout. When the coffee is poured, it filters past the bruised cardamom creating a refreshing taste. Next time you make plunger coffee, try putting a few bruised cardamom pods in the pot with the grounds for a delicious taste.
Cardamom pods are generally found in biryani rice dishes, and a wonderful flavor dimension can be added to boiled rice by putting one or two bruised cardamom pods in the water during cooking. Cardamom complements milk puddings and custards and marries well with citrus fruits and mangoes. Halved grapefruits, sprinkled with a little sugar and ground cardamom seeds, make a tasty breakfast.
Many recipes require a bruised cardamom pod. A gentle thump with the rolling pin or pressing down firmly with the flat of a knife will burst some of the volatile oil-containing cells, and allow the flavor to amalgamate more readily with the other ingredients. Even when using seeds removed from the pod, slight bruising is recommended for the best effect. For those of you who want to grind cardamom seeds at home, this can be done in a pepper mill or coffee grinder. To clean the mechanism when finished, simply grind about a teaspoonful of rice. This will clean the contact surfaces of the mill and carry away any residual flavor.

Celery Seed

The strong flavor of celery seed is a perfect marriage with tomatoes, hence its use in tomato and vegetable juices and the drink “Bloody Mary.” Celery seeds are found in recipes for soups, stews, pickles and chutneys. They are excellent with fish and eggs, are sometimes found in cheeses, and go well with salad dressings and mayonnaise for coleslaw. In savory pastries, celery seeds add a refreshing, carbohydrate-complementing astringency. Many popular spice blends made for chicken, seafood and red meat contain celery seed along with spices such as paprika, cinnamon, ginger, pepper and salt.




Reputed to contain more vitamin C by weight than citrus fruits, chilies have become the “must use” daily condiment in the diets of millions of people around the globe. These days it is almost harder to think of what chili is not used in rather than the myriad ways in which we have come to enjoy it. An Indian curry or pickle would be incomplete without chili, as would the Tunisian harissa paste, the Asian sambal or Mexican mole sauce.
For those of you who have a low tolerance to heat, I suggest adding some sweet paprika as a substitute for chili in recipes. This way you will get an element of the characteristic chili flavor without the bite.
When you’re using chili in cooking, the intensity of the heat and the timing of when it hits you is often affected by the amount of fat and oil in the dish. Oils and fats tend to coat the heat molecules in chili, either flattening them or making them come later. Therefore, a stir-fry with chili and Thai spices will be fairly sharp and hot. Add high-fat coconut milk and the heat will be tamed and will hit your palate a little later. Sweetness will also tone down heat, thus a sweet chili sauce is more likely to have one reaching for it than a non-sweet one. If you are unsure of the heat in the chili being used, start with a little less … you can always add more later!
Perchance you have added too much! Try adding a little sugar (remembering to maintain the balance of the dish), or cream or coconut milk if appropriate. Adding some chopped potato and removing it after about 30 minutes of cooking is an old remedy, as is putting in chopped fresh capsicum. Leaving the dish in the fridge overnight sometimes helps, as the flavors mature and round out over time, however the chili heat does not significantly diminish.
When confronted by a volcanic chili experience, don’t drink water to put out the fire in your mouth, as it will actually make it worse. A spoonful of sugar gives the most instant relief, while beef is a good accompaniment to hot food, as is the traditional yogurt drink lassi (yogurt diluted with water). Raita (yogurt with finely chopped cucumber) is also a good cooling aid to have on hand when indulging on hot curries.
When handling fresh chilies, be careful not to touch any sensitive skin areas until you have thoroughly washed your hands. Warm, soapy water is usually effective, or if some heat remains, a gentle wipe with some acetone (nail polish remover) will do the trick. Some very hot chilies even cause blistering of the fingers, although this is uncommon. When cooks want to reduce the heat of fresh chilies, a common practice is to remove the seeds and flesh (capsaicin-bearing placenta) from the inside. Fresh julienned strips of chili are often used in stir-fries, salads with an Asian influence, and to garnish pâtés and terrines.
A friend of my parents who had lived in India for many years kept a small decanter of sherry on hand with three or four fresh chilies soaking in it. When this was added to soups it gave it a surprisingly powerful kick. Apparently this was a common practice in English clubs frequented by ex-Indian residents who found the soups at home insipid.
Dried chilies may be used whole in curries and almost any other kind of long, slow-cooked liquid, as the flavor and heat will seep out and amalgamate into the dish. Often sauces will call for a whole chili to be pierced and soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, then cut open to remove seeds and stem, prior to pounding in a pestle and mortar or blending with other ingredients in a food processor. Ground chilies of varying heats are used in a wide range of curries, sauces, pickles, chutneys and pastes. Almost any meal you can think of will be enhanced by the heat and taste of chili.



It is almost impossible to abuse the use of chives when they are added to a savory dish, such is their agreeable taste and fresh appearance. Chives find their way into many commercially produced packet soups and sauces. Add them to dishes that are being cooked for a short time, like omelets, scrambled eggs and white sauces. For other applications, only include in the last five to ten minutes of cooking, as any prolonged heat will destroy much of the flavor. Fresh chives are excellent as a garnish on fish and chicken, and chopped chives are both attractive and tasty in salad dressings and mayonnaise.




Cinnamon (whole and ground)

This is a popular spice that comes from the inner bark of a tree belonging to the laurel family. When whole, its design is exquisite: reddish-brown, brittle-layered curls that are hollow inside. Ground, it is used in home-baked puddings and desserts, and whole in fruit compôtes, mulled wines and curries. In Greek cooking a little cinnamon finds its way into savoury dishes, such as moussaka. There is something evocative in the smell of home baking when cinnamon is involved, as it reminds me of small bakery shops from when I was a child.



Due to their high pungency, cloves must always be used sparingly in cooking, as too much can easily overpower a meal. Even though care is to be taken in their application, it is hard to imagine many foods such as apple pie, ham, stewed fruit and pickles without the addition of cloves. In Denmark they are an ingredient in the popular “pepper cake,” and are frequently added to exotic Arabian dishes. A popular mulled wine of the Middle Ages called hippocras was made with ginger, cloves and other spices. Right up to the present day, the warming of spiced wines of Europe and Scandinavia are flavored in the same way. Cloves are used in Indian and Asian curries, and as a truly international spice can be found in the kitchens of every continent of the world.

(Sir Oliver: cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom all have to be used carefully as too much tastes terrible. Too much cloves can make your mouth feel numb, and that is why they are often used to treat toothaches.)



As the delicate flavor is driven off by prolonged cooking, add coriander leaves in the last ten minutes to get the best flavor. Coriander seed is one of the most useful spices to have in the kitchen. This is because as an amalgamating spice it mixes well with almost any combination of spices, whether sweet or savory. It is interesting to note how the essential oil is used to make medicines more palatable, because I have always noticed the way ground coriander seed effectively balances the sweet and pungent spices in blends as diverse as a sweet mixed spice, or a fiery Tunisian harissa paste.
It is almost impossible to use too much coriander seed; in fact some North African dishes use it by the cupful rather than the spoonful. If you have made a spice blend and realize you have been too heavy-handed with a pungent spice like cloves or cardamom, simply add twice the amount of ground coriander seed compared to the quantity of the dominant spice. For example, if you put in 1 tsp of ground cloves, add 2 tsp of ground coriander seed, and in most cases the blend will be brought back into balance.
Some recipes call for lightly dry-roasting or toasting the whole seeds prior to grinding and adding to a dish. Roasting modifies the flavor and creates a more complex taste profile appropriate to many Indian, Asian, and North African meals. Coriander seeds should not be roasted for sweet applications such as cakes, biscuits, apple pies, and other fruit dishes.
Whole coriander seeds are delicious in chicken casseroles and a few of the green Indian seeds, placed in a pepper mill and ground over grilled fish is delicious. For recipes that call for ground coriander seed, you may grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle. A more effective method is to use a coffee or pepper grinder, because when not finely ground the husks may seem a little gritty to some if not cooked for long enough to soften, say 30-40 minutes.

(Sir Oliver: Cillantro, the fresh leaves of corriander, are often used in ethnic dishes like rice paper rolls. I’d say it’s a love it or hate it spice–no neutrals.)




Cumin is used extensively in Indian curries, it is included with rice and vegetables, in breads, and when making pickles and chutneys. The famous Indian seed blend, panch phora, contains whole cumin seeds. Middle Eastern dishes often feature cumin because it complements lamb particularly well, and it is an important ingredient in Moroccan spice combinations such as chermoula and harissa. Mexican chili powder, the blend many have become familiar with in tacos and chili con carne, is usually a simple mixture of chili, paprika, cumin, and salt. An essential oil is extracted from cumin seeds by steam distillation and is an ingredient in perfumes and liquors such as the German drink kummel.
Recipes often call for dry-roasting cumin seeds or powder, as this brings out a pleasant, nutty flavor, and reduces some of the bitterness. To roast cumin, heat a pan with no oil in it, add the seeds or powder and keep the cumin moving around so it does not stick or burn. When the cumin begins to give off a roasted aroma and the color begins to darken, remove from heat and tip out of the pan so it won’t be cooked further by the residual heat. Roasting is appropriate for a lot of Indian and Malay cooking, however it must be remembered that it does change the flavor, driving off some of the most delicate notes, and this effect may be undesirable in a mild chicken or fish dish or a chili con carne.

Curry Leaf


Curry leaves are used to flavor Indian curries, especially the Madras style. For best results, the fresh or dried leaves can be fried in oil at the beginning of making a curry, as this extracts their full flavor potential. Curry leaves are also used in making pickles.



Green dill has a refreshing, refined taste which, when used in modest amounts, contributes an appetizing flavor and pleasing visual aspect to a wide range of foods. Finely chopped dill leaves are particularly good with cottage or cream cheese, in white sauces, chicken dishes, omelets and scrambled eggs, salads, soups, vegetable dishes and in infused herb vinegars. Dill tips and capers are great accompaniments to shaved, smoked salmon. A few leaves in unflavored yogurt for dressing fresh cucumber makes a perfect side dish to have with spicy dishes.
Dill seeds are used for pickles, hence the name “dill pickles” given to American pickled cucumbers. They are found in breads, particularly rye, and go well with other carbohydrates such as potatoes. Dill seeds complement vegetables and may be cooked with them, or tossed in butter after cooking, to flavor carrots, pumpkin and cabbage. Dill seeds are an ingredient in the exotic Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout and are often found in spice mixes for seasoning fish and poultry.




The fresh leaves of fennel may be used in very much the same way as green dill in salads, white sauces, and to garnish terrines, soups and aspic. Steaming a whole fish on a bed of fresh fennel foliage is a traditional way to impart its aromatic flavor during cooking. The bulb of fennel can be sliced into thin rings and separated like an onion for adding to salads, or it may be cut in half and cooked as a vegetable and served with a white sauce or cheese sauce. Fennel seeds are added to soups, breads, Italian sausages, pasta, and tomato dishes, as well as pickles, sauerkraut, and salads.
In Indian and Asian cooking, fennel seeds are nearly always roasted, which gives them quite a different, sweet, spicy flavor. Roasting ground fennel seeds is easily done by heating a small, dry pan on the stove. Then put about 2 tbsp of the powder in the hot pan and shake it slightly to prevent the fennel from burning. When the powder begins to change color and a heavenly aroma wafts in the air, tip the contents into a dish, then use in curry recipes and satay sauces.



There is hardly a dish that is not improved by the flavor of garlic. Although its pungency tends to be frowned upon by non-users, when everyone indulges in garlic its telltale lingering on the breath is barely noticed. They say one reeks less of garlic when it is consumed with red wine, and eating parsley after garlic reduces its lingering effect on breath. I have also found that chewing a few fennel seeds works particularly well.
When cooked, garlic develops a more moderate and slightly sweeter taste than when it is raw; a transition more noticeable when a whole clove is placed on the barbecue to cook slowly for about 30 minutes. The creamy, beige flesh inside has none of the pungency of raw garlic and is delicious scooped out of the burnt crisp casing and spread on the barbecued meat and vegetables. (I recommend slices of eggplant.)
Garlic need not dominate a dish, and it is often surprising how well a small amount can heighten the taste of many foods, including delicate vegetables, and how it can balance with other flavors, be they sweet, pungent, or hot.
To impart a mild garlic flavor to a salad, rub the inside of a bowl with a cut clove of garlic. This method can be used on the inside of a pot before making a soup or stew. Lamb joints, beef roasts, and poultry may be similarly rubbed with a cut garlic clove before cooking.

(Sir Oliver: According to a story told by the English cook Elizabeth David, there was once a beautiful Italian model who was in love with the “sacred herb”. Her agency protested that she always smelt of garlic and told her she must give it up, or else give her job up. Sadly, the model decided to give up garlic so she could continue her courier, but first she decided to have a garlic splurge. She baked a special dish that called for a kilo of garlic per chicken and ate it all by herself. The following workday when she arrived at work not a soul complained about any garlic smell. According to the story, which I am not entirely inclined to believe, the model had taken enough garlic so her body was able to properly assimilate it without the smelly side effects. Well, i just thought it was an interesting story. I wouldn’t reccommend we missionaries try that garlic splurge due to the very social nature of our work.)



Ginger may be classed as one of the more versatile spices, its tangy freshness, slight spiciness, warmth and sweetness complementing a whole range of dishes from sweet to savory. Fresh, preserved or powdered ginger is often added to cakes, pastries, and biscuits. Ginger goes well with red vegetables, as does nutmeg. Sprinkle ground ginger over pumpkin before baking, or toss with a little butter after steaming.
Ginger is used fresh in many Asian dishes, where it forms a perfect marriage with the flavors of garlic, onions, lemongrass, chili, and coriander leaves. In Japanese cooking one often finds the preserved, pickled (and colored in this case), pink or red ginger. Ginger helps to neutralize overtly fishy notes.
Ginger powder is found in the majority of Indian and Asian curries and when rubbed onto red meats before grilling, adds a delicious taste and has a slightly tenderizing effect. Because the pungency of ginger can vary quite considerably, before adding it to a dish, I recommend smelling it for signs of harshness and having a small taste as well. Should it be noticeably pungent, sharp or hot, reduce the amount intended by about a third to a half.

(Sir Oliver: You can substitute fresh grated ginger for powdered ginger in cookie or gingerbread recipes.)





Horseradish is usually served cold, because much of the piquancy is diminished by heat. When cooked, it will have little flavor. The most familiar application of horseradish is to use it in a similar manner as mustard, to go with cold meats such as ham, tongue, corned beef, and especially roast beef. A simple horseradish sauce or relish is made by mixing the freshly grated or finely sliced roots with sugar and vinegar, or blend with grated apples, mint and sour cream.
Horseradish also goes well with fish, and many popular “red” sauces are made by adding grated horseradish to a rich tomato base. In Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries, horseradish will be in recipes for soups, sauces and with cream cheese, and is regarded as forming a zesty marriage with beetroot. In Japanese cuisine, wasabi (horseradish) is an ingredient in fillings for sushi, an accompaniment to sashimi (raw fish) and is often mixed with Japanese soy sauce for dipping.



Peppermint is far more limited in the kitchen than spearmint, and will mostly be found in the occasional recipe for sweets, such as peppermint creams, or added as flavoring to baked items like chocolate cake. Peppermint tea is possibly the most agreeable of all herbal beverages. It is a pleasant tasting, relaxing tea that aids the digestion and helps clear the head of minor winter sniffles.
Spearmint, on the other hand, has myriad applications, made possible because its light, minty taste brings an element of freshness to the foods it is combined with. Some writers hold the view that mint does not combine well with other herbs, however when added in small amounts I have seen it complement thyme, sage, marjoram, oregano and parsley very well.
When many of us think of mint, the first dish that comes to mind is roast lamb with mint sauce or mint jelly. Mint is a good accompaniment to chicken, pork and veal, and it is delicious sprinkled on potatoes, as well as cooked green peas that have been tossed in a little butter. It also goes well with tomatoes and eggplant when used sparingly.
Salads and salad dressings benefit from the addition of a little mint, as do cold dishes such as iced cucumber soup and fresh fruit salad.
Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Indian and Asian cooking all benefit from the inclusion of mint in a variety of recipes that range from stuffed vine leaves, tagines, butter chicken and stir-fried vegetables, to chutneys of freshly grated coconut, curry leaves, fried mustard seeds and chili. A favorite of mine is the cooling cucumber, yogurt and mint raita, which is a perfect companion to spicy Indian meats like tandoori lamb or chicken and meat koftas.



Whole mustard seeds are an important ingredient in pickling spice blends, the Indian seed mix called panch phora, and are added to steamed vegetables such as cabbage. When fried in oil at the beginning of making a curry, mustard seeds release a deliciously nutty taste and slight piquancy without any heat (as the enzyme has not been activated).
Mustard powder should not be added directly to vinegar, as the enzymes will be killed and a bitter flavor will develop; always put some cold water with it first, but never hot water as this kills the enzyme.
To make hot mustard for the table, mix cold water with mustard powder and leave for 15 minutes for the heat to develop. Make only enough for that day, as by the next day the heat will have dissipated. Ground yellow mustard seed is worth adding to water, oil and vinegar salad dressings, as the water-absorbing properties of the retained husk acts as an emulsifier and will prevent the mixture from separating for 10 minutes or more after shaking.
An effective coating for red meats can be made by including a couple of teaspoons of brown mustard seed with a tablespoon of paprika, sumac, some oregano, and salt to taste. As well as delicious meat, a side benefit is the gravy made from the pan juices, which will be rich, dark and full bodied. Mild prepared mustard makes an ideal substitute for butter or margarine on veggie sandwiches as it contains almost no fat and has a complementary taste.

Nutmeg and Mace



Nutmeg’s warm, aromatic full-bodied flavor complements a diversity of foods and although predominantly sweet in character, should generally be added sparingly. Traditionally it has been used in old-fashioned food like junkets and rice puddings, and sprinkled over milkshakes. Once, all milk bars had a shaker of nutmeg on the counter-it was as common practice as it is now to shake powdered chocolate over cappuccino. Nutmeg is also included in biscuits and cakes.
Nutmeg also complements vegetables, especially root vegetables, making microwaved or steamed potatoes, carrots and pumpkin delicious. Toss them in a little butter and nutmeg after they’re cooked. Another popular practice is to season cooked spinach with nutmeg, the robust sweetness seeming to neutralize the somewhat “metallic” taste of spinach.
Mace, on the other hand, is more likely to be found in seafood, and with sauces to flavor meats such as chicken or veal. If you come upon a recipe requiring mace and you don’t have any, a reasonable substitute is to use about a quarter the quantity or less of nutmeg, mixed in equal proportions with ground coriander seed.



Oregano and Marjoram


Fresh marjoram will add zest to salads and goes well with the more delicate-tasting foods such as egg dishes, lightly cooked fish, and vegetables. When dried, it is stronger in taste than fresh and is a traditional ingredient in the classic Anglo-Saxon herb blend, mixed herbs, along with thyme and sage. Marjoram goes well with pork and veal, and complements stuffing for poultry, dumplings and herb scones as well as being delicious mixed with a little parsley and butter for making herb bread.
Oregano is more pungent than marjoram, especially when dry, and is a popular ingredient in the regional dishes of many countries. Oregano complements basil and the combination of these two herbs with liberal amounts of tomato, has become synonymous with pizza and Italian pasta. Oregano flavors dishes with eggplant, zucchini and capsicum and is found in recipes for moussaka and meat loaf. Roast beef, lamb and pork will develop a full-bodied taste and mouth-watering crust when rubbed with a mixture of paprika, sumac, oregano and garlic before cooking.



Paprika is used extensively to both color and flavor food, and is a popular substitute for the artificial red colors commonly added to sausages and preserved meats. Paprika is one of those essential spices I classify as “amalgamating,” because its well-rounded and beautifully balanced flavor complements most savory flavors. The majority of commercial seasonings designed to be sprinkled on meats prior to cooking will contain paprika. Fast food barbecued and charcoal-roasted chicken usually gets its mouth-watering color and flavor from seasonings rubbed on the surface, which include a reasonable amount of paprika.
In home cooking, sweet paprika is the mandatory ingredient which gives Hungarian goulash its characteristic color and flavor, combining wonderfully with the veal and cream in this dish. Paprika also enhances the flavor of pork and chicken. Eggs, whether scrambled, poached, fried, hard-boiled or made into an omelet, will benefit greatly from a judicious sprinkling of paprika.



The fresh, balanced flavor and crisp-mouth feel of parsley makes it an ideal accompaniment to most foods. Parsley bears the useful characteristic of diminishing the breath-lingering nature of some foods when it is consumed with them, the most notable of these being garlic.
Fresh or dried parsley may be used in omelets, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, soups, pasta and vegetable dishes and in sauces to go with fish, poultry, veal and pork. It is included with garlic and butter for making garlic bread or simply garnishing a juicy, sizzling barbecued steak. Parsley is a key ingredient, along with mint, in the healthy and nutritious Middle Eastern salad tabouleh. Flat-leaved parsley is found in Moroccan dishes.

Pepper (vine)


Pepper possesses the ability to stimulate the appetite with its provocative aroma; it causes salivation in anticipation of its expected taste, and activates our gastric juices as its pungency warms the tongue. No wonder pepper has been the world’s most popular and most frequent traded spice for thousands of years! Pepper can be classed as one of the few spices which is not only an embellishment for the cook to employ, but it is also something, in the hands of the diner, that has the ability to turn an uninspiring repast into a subject of culinary ecstasy. Faced with a pallid, uninspiring platter, the judicious shake, pinch or grind of black pepper, may be all that is required to achieve satisfaction.
Black pepper has the most distinct flavor and is more often than not associated with robust foods such as red meat, strongly flavored fish and seafood and game. Black pepper, when applied in moderation, will complement delicate foods as well. To make a tasty, but not too hot pepper steak, roughly grind black peppercorns and sieve them to separate the pericarp from the heart. Then season the meat with the oil-bearing, tasty outer husk only, discarding the hotter, inside part of the berry.
White pepper has been used traditionally by Europeans who don’t like the idea of having black specs in their white sauces. White pepper is worth having on hand for occasions when one wants to get a pepper “bite” without the fragrance of black pepper dominating the other flavors. Always use white pepper in moderation, as its heat can override more subtle ingredients and there is the risk of ending up with a musty “old socks” flavor permeating your food if too heavy-handed.
Green peppercorns complement both black and white pepper, and are often included in a blend for putting in peppermills. The flavor of green peppercorns is particularly pleasant in gravies and white sauces for poultry, red meats and seafood. Patés and terrines are enhanced by the addition of green peppercorns, as are the majority of rich foods like pork, duck and game.
True pink peppercorns should be thoroughly rinsed to remove the saltiness of their brine. They are delicious crushed in a pestle and mortar with a little olive oil and even less vinegar to make a colorful and tasty salad dressing. Pink peppercorns are also appropriate in the above applications mentioned for green.



The astringent, fresh, savory taste of rosemary complements starchy foods. It is delicious in herb scones, dumplings and breads, and it counters the richness in meats such as lamb and chicken. The Italians love it, butchers putting a complementary sprig of fresh rosemary with cuts of lamb.
Rosemary’s unarguably powerful flavor does not overpower a dish when matched with other strong ingredients like garlic and wine. I like to add ½ tsp finely chopped, fresh rosemary to mashed potato, soy or butter beans. A spring of fresh rosemary will enhance most casseroles. One of my favorite basic meals is a leg of lamb with sprigs of rosemary and slivers of garlic stuffed into slits on the outside, and liberally dusted with sumac and sweet paprika before roasting. Rosemary is used in liver paté, and it goes well with game, including venison and rabbit. Vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are all enlivened by the fresh, resinous taste of rosemary. Rosemary scones, made by adding 1 tbsp of freshly chopped rosemary to enough savory scone mixture for about a dozen scones, are delicious. Serve hot spread with butter. Not even the crumbs will be left.



Saffron’s greatest hallmark is the phenomenon of its golden yellow dye being water-soluble. Saffron is a spice that needs to be infused in liquid for most applications, then the sunlight-colored tincture is added to the dish to perform its magic. A pinch of saffron will deepen the color of warm water, milk, alcohol (for instance vodka or gin), orange blossom water or rosewater. The color will start to leach out of these strands within seconds of being immersed, and over a period that may range from five minutes to several hours each stigma will swell and become pale as it yields its precious pigment. Once I tried to make saffron oil by infusing saffron strands in warm oil, in the same way that you make rosemary or chili oil. It simply didn’t work, because the oil served as a sealant on the stigmas of saffron, locking in the water-soluble color and their flavor.
As more than two-thirds of the color of saffron will infuse in the first 10 minutes, it is not essential to let it stand for many hours. For those who use saffron regularly, a quantity may be left to stand in liquid overnight. Drain off the solution the next day and pour the saffron water into an ice-cube tray, then freeze until you need a little instant saffron.
Saffron is used traditionally to color Indian rice dishes, Italian risotto and Spanish paella. Its unique flavor and radiant color goes well with fish and chicken. Be careful not to add too much saffron to a dish, as an excessive amount will create a bitter, medicinal taste.
When cooking rice by the absorption method, an interesting way to use the saffron is to add it after the water has begun to be absorbed (about ten minutes). Just sprinkle several strands of saffron and replace the lid without stirring. The remaining moisture and steam will release the color from the saffron, and golden veins will bleed down into the white rice, creating an attractive motley effect when it is served.
Once one becomes involved with saffron, an appreciation of its subtlety and how little can be used to achieve a rewarding result is soon evident. It’s fun to experiment with different infusions, observing how long it takes for various types of saffron to tint selected mediums and how they in turn affect the resulting aroma and taste.



While some may find the pungency of sage overpowering, its astringent, “grease-cutting” attributes make it a perfect accompaniment to fatty foods such as pork, goose and duck. Sage often gives the best result when used in moderation and in dishes that are being cooked for a long time. Such is the power of sage, that its flavor is rarely diminished by exposure to extended cooking times.
Sage goes well with carbohydrates, and for this reason it is an important ingredient in bread stuffings, dumplings and savory scones. Pea, bean and vegetable soups benefit from sage, as does a mash of potato or butter beans. Sage and onions are a well-known combination and moderate amounts of sage are excellent with eggplant and tomatoes.
Sage is a traditional element of mixed herbs, along with thyme and marjoram. Sage will complement any full-bodied soup, stew, meat loaf, or roast meat dish. Deep fried sage leaves make a fashionable garnish.



Salt should be added towards the end of cooking, because if you taste a dish and think the salt is just right at the beginning, any reduction taking place during cooking time will concentrate the salt content in ratio to the volume of ingredients in the dish being prepared. The only way to reduce saltiness is to add more ingredients, thus diluting the salt content. Adding sugar will not counteract the application of too much salt.
Salt enhances the flavor of vegetables when it’s put in the cooking water, because it raises the saline level and consequently less of their natural mineral salts will be leeched out. Salt sprinkled over slices of zucchini, eggplant and similar vegetables prior to cooking, will draw out any bitter juices. The salting of vegetables before pickling leaches out excess moisture and toughens them to create a crisp texture. Salt is an important element in the preservation process. The effective drying of salted fish is aided by salt’s ability to draw out moisture and inhibit microbial activity, while numerous pickles rely on the antiseptic and enzyme de-activating attributes of salt.



Savory’s wonderfully distinct piquancy brings an agreeable tasty element to relatively mild foods without overpowering them. The classic blend fines herbes and the traditional bunch of herbs for casseroles, bouquet garni will often contain savory. Savory complements egg dishes, whether chopped finely and added to scrambled eggs and omelets, or treated as a garnish with parsley.
Beans, lentils and peas all benefit from the addition of savory in almostany situation. Its robust flavor holds up well in long, slow-cooked dishes such as soups and stews. Savory combines well with breadcrumbs for stuffings and is an ideal seasoning when making coatings for veal and fish. Sprinkle savory on roast poultry before cooking and include it in meat loaf and homemade sausages.



White sesame seeds are sprinkled on breads and biscuits in much the same way as poppy seeds, then during baking their pleasing, nutty taste develops. Sesame seeds are ground and compressed with sweet syrups and honey to make the wonderfully indulgent Middle-Eastern halva, and when they are ground to a paste they are called tahini.
Toasted sesame seeds are delicious sprinkled over salads and, believe it or not, ice cream. To toast sesame seeds, heat a pan as you would for dry roasting any spices, and shake the seeds around while heating them so they don’t stick and burn. When they begin to hop about and show signs of tanning, tip them out of the pan, allow them to cool, then store in an airtight container.
Black sesame seeds are popular in Asian cooking. As well as their use in Chinese desserts such as toffee bananas, the Japanese mix them with salt as a sprinkle-on condiment. Black sesame seeds do not take to toasting well, as this tends to make them bitter.

Star anise


Star anise is to me one of the key signature flavors of Chinese savory cooking. Because it is pungent, only a very small quantity is required to achieve a pleasing result. A pinch of the powder is sufficient to flavor a wok of stir-fried vegetables and a single star will flavor a soup or hotpot. We cook delicious spare ribs (marinated in water, thick soy sauce, a little sugar and a couple of whole star anise), which are subjected to a long, slow bake until the liquid has reduced. The sweet, spicy, licorice-like notes of star anise also go well in sweet dishes such as compotes of fruit and spiced fruit jams.



Because of its high tartaric acid content, tamarind is one of the most popular souring agents for foods in the majority of tropical countries. Recipes will generally call for a quantity of tamarind water (typically 2 tbsp to ½ a cup) to be added during cooking.
To make tamarind water from the block, break off a walnut-sized piece and put into half a cup of hot water. Stir it around and work it a bit with a spoon. Leave for about 15 minutes. Strain the liquid off, squeezing the remaining pulp as dry as possible before discarding it. Tamarind water can be made in large batches and frozen into ice cubes to drop into cooking whenever required. Tamarind water can also be made from the concentrated liquid by dissolving 2 tsp in ½ a cup of water. If you think of tamarind water as another form of lemon juice, and use it in roughly the same proportions, the flavor strength should be just about right in any cooking application.



French tarragon lends its unique flavor profile to French sauces such as tartare and béarnaise, and is an essential component along with chives, chervil and parsley in the subtle blend of herbs known as fines herbes. Tarragon has a particular ability to flavor vinegar, achieved by placing a complete, washed stem with leaves in a bottle of good quality, white vinegar for a few weeks. Tarragon vinegar then becomes a useful ingredient for salad dressings and when making homemade mustards.
Tarragon complements fish. It goes well with chicken, turkey, game and most veal and egg dishes. The chopped leaves (or rehydrated dry ones) are attractive and tasty in mayonnaise, melted butter sauce and French dressing.



In Western and Middle Eastern cuisine, thyme finds its way into the greater proportion of traditional dishes. This is because thyme’s distinct savory pungency brings an agreeable depth of flavor to soups, stews and casseroles and almost any dish containing meat. Thyme complements the flavor of chicken, one of our favorite ways being to coat chicken pieces with za’astar* mix prior to grilling, pan frying or baking. Thyme is excellent in pates and terrines, and adds a delicious savory flavor to meat loaf, hamburger mince and sausages. Thyme has an affinity for tomatoes and potato, being especially effective in potato salad, and complements the flavor of corn and green beans. Thyme goes well in rich sauces and is an important ingredient when making pickles and for flavoring spiced olives.

*Za’astar: A green, tantalizingly pungent thyme found in the Middle East. Also a term used to describe a mix of thyme, toasted sesame seeds, sumac and salt.



Once one gets over the notion of turmeric being mainly used to color food, it is surprising how versatile its flavor becomes in a wide variety of dishes. It is of course most often associated with curries where the right amount makes a significant contribution to the flavor. We make a Kuwaiti fish stew that owes the harmonization of its cardamom, pepper, cumin and chili notes with coriander leaves and green dill, to the inclusion of turmeric. I have found turmeric goes well in stir-fries with lime leaves, galangal (a spice resembling ginger), chili and Australian native lemon myrtle. Kapitan chicken is a delicious dish that European colonials enjoyed in Malaya, the prime constituents of its flavor coming from onions, garlic, chili and turmeric.
Although often called Indian saffron, turmeric should never be used in a recipe as a substitute for true saffron, as the flavor is quite different. One can make an attractive and tasty yellow rice dish though with turmeric. When cooking by absorption, for every cup of rice covered with water add ½ tsp of turmeric powder, a 1½ quill of cinnamon, 3 whole cloves and 4 green cardamom pods. Always be very careful not to spill turmeric on your clothes, as it will leave stains that are almost impossible to remove.


5 Responses to “Spice Encyclopedia”

  1. Terry Says:

    I put way too much spice in a dish. How do I neutralize it or at least soften the blow?

  2. kenfrog Says:

    In a curry dish you could add yogurt or coconut milk…still once spices are in its tough to neutralize them. this holds especially true for spices like cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and turmeric. Prevention is best…add spices as you cook and taste as you go.
    Salt is also a tough issue. Undersalted food is by far superior to oversalted food, as salt can always be added later if there isn’t enough…but you cant take the salt out once it’s inside.

  3. Kelly Says:

    Wow, great guide. Can you suggest a good source to find spices that complement each other…for example if I’m providing a side dish of sage yams, what would be a good spice to use on accompanying chicken?

  4. Ethel Parker Says:

    could you tell me if the vinegar taste will
    go away in spiced crabapples I put what it said,but it is really strong,I canned the apples is there anything I can do to fix this ? thank you

  5. I would like to know how much anise oil you use in place of one ounce extract..If anyone knows please let me know..I’m desperate to know..tks..

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