Herbs & Spices
The term "spices" is often used broadly to include all seasonings. Spices come from
the bark, roots, leaves, stems, buds, seeds, or fruit of aromatic plants and trees which
usually grow only in tropical countries. Pepper, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, mace,
cinnamon, ginger, saffron, and turmeric are spices.
Herbs are soft, succulent plants which usually grow in the temperate zone. Until recently
cooks have had to make do with very few fresh herbs, such as sage, parsley, and thyme.
Nowadays you can also find fresh basil, coriander, chervil, tarragon, rosemary, and dill.
Since herbs are at their best when they are young and freshly picked, it is well worth
growing your own.
To learn about herbs, spices and seasonings, select from the list below. Feel free to
contact us if
you have any questions.
There are hundreds of herbs and spices to choose from. The list below gives you an idea
of what some of the basic herbs and spices are that you'll encounter in recipes. Click
on a name to learn more about it.
Allspice is the dried, unripened fruit of a small evergreen tree, the Pimenta Dioica.
The fruit is a pea-sized berry which is sundried to a reddish-brown color. Pimento is
called Allspice because its flavor suggests a blend of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Allspice is used in seasonings, sauces, sausages, ketchup, jams, pumpkin, gravies,
roasts, hams, baked goods, and teas. Caribbean cooking relies on Allspice as the main
ingredient in jerk seasoning. It is used in Caribbean, Mexican, Indian, English, and
North American cooking and in seasoning blends such as jerk seasoning and curry.
Anise is the dried ripe fruit of the herb Pimpinella anisum. The crescent shaped seeds
are unmistakably identified by their distinctive licorice-like flavor. Anise is not
related to the European plant whose roots are the source of true licorice.
Anise is used whole or crushed in cookies, cakes, breads, cheese, pickles, stews, fish,
and shellfish. Roasting enhances the flavor. Middle East, Portuguese, German, Italian,
and French cuisines use anise in seasoning blends such as curry, hoisin, sausage,
and pepperoni seasonings.
Basil, also called Sweet Basil, is the dried leaves of the herb Ocimum basilicum, a
member of the mint family. Basil is a small, bushy plant that grows to about 2 feet
tall. Its botanical name is derived from the Greek "to be fragrant."
Basil is used in tomato sauces, pestos, pizzas, and cheeses. It is used in green
Thai curry blend, bouquet garni, and Italian seasonings.
Bay Leaves or Laurel, are the dried leaves of the evergreen tree, Laurus nobilis. The
elliptically shaped leaves are light green in color and brittle when dried. They have a
distinctively strong, aromatic, spicy flavor. Bay Leaves is the approved term for this
spice, but the name "laurel" is still seen frequently.
Used in soups, stews, stocks, pickles, marinades, tomato dishes, and meats.
Mediterranean, French, Moroccan, and Turkish cuisines use Bay Leaves in spice blends
such as bouquet garni and curry blends.
Black and White Pepper are both obtained from the small dried berry of the vine
Piper nigrum. For Black Pepper, the berries are picked while still green, allowed
to ferment and are then sun-dried until they shrivel and turn a brownish-black color.
They have a hot, piney taste.
Black Pepper adds flavor to almost every food of every nation in the world. It is used
in rubs, spice blends, salad dressings, and peppercorn blends.
Cardamom is the dried, unripened fruit of the perennial Elettaria cardamomum. Enclosed
in the fruit pods are tiny, brown, aromatic seeds which are slightly pungent to taste.
Cardamom pods are generally green but are also available in bleached white pod form.
It is available both in the whole pod and as decorticated seeds with the outer hull
Cardamom is used in Danish pastries, Saudi Arabian, North African, Asian, and Indian
cooking and in spice blends such as garam masala, curry powder, and berbere.
Cilantro is the dried leaves of the herb, Coriandrum sativum, an annual herb of the
parsley family. Also known as Chinese parsley, Cilantro has a distinctive green, waxy
flavor. Cilantro is the usual name for the leaf of the plant that is otherwise identified
as Coriander, and from which Coriander Seed is obtained.
Used in salsas, chutneys, salads, dips, beans, and soups. Cilantro is used in Asian,
Mexican, Indian, Tex Mex, Caribbean, and North African cuisines, and is used in seasoning
blends such as masala, curry, salsa, and recados.
Cinnamon is the dried inner bark of various evergreen trees belonging to the genus
Cinnamomum. At harvest, the bark is stripped off and put in the sun, where it curls into
the familiar form called "quills."
Cinnamon in the ground form is used in baked dishes, with fruits, and in confections.
Cassia is predominant in the spice blends of the East and Southeast Asia. Cinnamon is used
in moles, garam masala, and berbere.
Coriander is the dried, ripe fruit of the herb Coriandum sativum. The tannish brown
seeds have a sweetly aromatic flavor which is slightly lemony. A zesty combination of
sage and citrus, Coriander is actually thought to increase the appetite.
Coriander is used in lentils, beans, onions, potatoes, hotdogs, chili, sausages, stews,
and pastries. It is used in the cooking of North American, Mediterranean, North African,
Mexican, Indian, and Southeast Asian cuisines, as well as spice blends, including curry
powders, chili powders, garam masala, and berbere.
Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family.
The Cumin plant grows to about 1 to 2 feet tall and is harvested by hand. Cumin is a
key component in both Chili Powder and Curry Powder.
The flavor of Cumin plays a major role in Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian
cuisines. Cumin is a critical ingredient of chili powder, and is found in achiote
blends, adobos, garam masala, curry powder, and baharat.
Dill is an annual of the parsley family and is related to Anise, Caraway, Coriander,
Cumin, and Fennel. Dill Weed is the dried leaves of the herb Anethum graveolens, the same
plant from which Dill Seed is derived. The flavor of Dill Weed is lighter and more subtle
than Dill Seed.
European and American cuisines use Dill Seed in pickles, meats, seafood, cheeses, and
breads. Dill Seed is an important flavoring in spice blends for salad dressings, dal
curry blends, and spices for pickling. In the cuisine of the Middle East, Dill Weed is
used to season meats and vegetables, such as lamb and spinach. German cuisine relies on
Dill for potato soup and Greek grape leaves are seasoned with Dill Weed. Dill is also
used in the seasoning blend for rice pilaf.
Garlic is a part of the allium genus and is thus related to the onion. It is, of course,
best known as a cooking ingredient used for its wonderful taste. It would actually be
better to say "tastes" plural since it can take on a completely different taste depending
on how it's cooked, everything from a subtle sweet flavour to a strong almost
Garlic has been used in various food preparations as well as medicines for centuries,
and despite its peculiar and somewhat offensive odor, garlic is one of the healthiest
herbs there are.
Ginger is the dried knobby shaped root of the perennial herb Zingiber officinale. The
plant grows two to three feet tall. Once the leaves of the plant die, the thick roots,
about 6 inches long, are dug up. Crystallized Ginger is fresh gingerroot cooked in syrup
Ginger is used in Indian curries, and Chinese, Japanese, and European spice blends.
Cooks use the terms "horseradish" or "prepared horseradish" to refer to the grated root
of the horseradish plant mixed with vinegar. Prepared horseradish is white to
creamy-beige in color. It will keep for months refrigerated but eventually will start
to darken, indicating it is losing flavor and should be replaced. The leaves of the
plant, which while edible aren't commonly eaten, are referred to as "horseradish greens."
Although technically a vegetable, horseradish is generally treated as a condiment or
In the USA, prepared horseradish is commonly used as an ingredient in Bloody Mary
cocktails, in cocktail sauce, as a sauce or spread on meat, chicken, and fish, and in
sandwiches. The American fast-food restaurant chain Arby's uses horseradish in its
"Horsey Sauce", which is provided as a regular condiment, alongside ketchup, mustard,
and mayonnaise. This is not a common practice at its major competitors.
Lemon grass is a long thick grass with leaves at the top and a solid portion several
inches long at the root end. The lower portion is sliced or pounded and used in cooking.
As a spice, fresh lemon grass is preferred for its vibrant flavor, but is also sold in
dried form. The dried spice is available in several forms: chopped in slices, cut and
sifted, powdered, or as an oil can be extracted from the plant.
Lemon grass is widely used as a herb in Asian (particularly Vietnamese, Hmong, Khmer,
Thai, Lao, Malaysian, Indonesian, Philippine, Sri Lankan) and Caribbean cooking. It has a
citrus flavor and can be dried and powdered, or used fresh. The stalk itself is too hard
to be eaten except for the soft inner part. However, it can be finely sliced and added to
There are two commercially important classes of herbs from which Mustard Seed is
derived; Brassica hirta which produces white or yellow seeds and Brassica juncea
which produces brown and Oriental seeds. Both types exhibit a sharp taste.
Mustard Seed is used in pickling spices for vegetables and meats. Dry Mustard is used
in egg and cheese dishes, salad dressings, and meats. Mustard is used in French,
German, Scandinavian, and Irish cuisines.
Nutmeg is the seed of the fruit which grows on the tree Myristica fragans, the same
fruit from which Mace is derived. The oval shaped seeds have a sweet, spicy flavor.
When ripe, the fruit splits in half exposing the netlike membrane or aril known as
the mace. The mace closely enwraps a dark brown, brittle shell inside of which is
the single, glossy, brown, oily seed or the Nutmeg.
Commonly used in sweet foods and enhances savory foods. Nutmeg blends well with other
spices and is found in the ethnic cuisines of Italy, the Caribbean, France, India,
Germany, Scandinavia, Greece, Latin America, and the Middle East.
The onion is an edible bulb. While it is a vegetable at heart, it also acts as a spice
inasmuch as it can provide an aromatic undertone to various meat and vegetable dishes,
without being a major ingredient. The characteristic appearance of the onion is well
known, but there are many variations of color, shape and size. The color varies from
white to red to purple, the shape from spherical to almost conical. Onions should be
firm, though not rock hard. The papery skin should be tight over the surface of the
bulb. Spring onions, or scallions, are immature plants where the bulb has not completely
formed. They may be cylindrical, the green stem shading into the white bulblet, which may
be almost spherical. Onions are also available in processed form, as dried flakes and
powder, or liquid.
It is used as a vegetable, or as a spice to bring out the flavor of other dishes without
overpowering them. It often accompanies meat, especially mince and meat dishes such as
shepherds pie and meat loaf which would be insipid without it. Onion is also widely used
in soups, pickles and cooked vegetable dishes, sauces, hearty casseroles, and bean and
lentil dishes. It is a common ingredient in marinades, and an onion studded with cloves
is often a main flavoring in stocks and courts-bouillons.
Oregano is the dried leaves of the herbs Origanum spp or Lippia spp (Mexican). Both
varieties have traditionally been harvested in the "wild." The Mediterranean variety is
closely related to Marjoram and is very similar in physical appearance. "Oregano" means
Marjoram in Spanish, and although sometimes referred to as "Wild Marjoram" it is a
Mediterranean Oregano, which gained its popularity after the troops returned from WWII,
is found in much of Italian cuisine: pizza, spaghetti sauces, and other tomato-based
sauces. Mexican Oregano is found in chili powders and adds flavor to chili con carne and
other Mexican dishes.
Paprika is the dried, ground pods of Capsicum annum, a sweet red pepper. It is mildly
flavored and prized for its brilliant red color.
Paprika is used in seasoning blends for barbeque, snack foods, goulash, chili, and the
cuisines of India, Morocco, Europe, and the Middle East.
Parsley is probably the most well-known and used herb in the United States, used
extensively in garnishing foods as well as for flavoring of sauces, stews and stocks.
Curly leaf Parsley is best known for garnishing, while flat leaf or Italian Parsley is
used in bouquets garni and other flavoring applications.
Parsley adds color, and thus visual appeal, to many foods. It is used in egg dishes,
soups, stews, stocks, and with other herbs to bring out their flavor. Parsley is popular
in Middle Eastern cuisine and the spice blends of fines herbes, bouquet garni, and pestos.
Rosemary is the dried leaves of the evergreen Rosmarinus officinalis. The slender,
slightly curved leaves resemble miniature curved pine needles. Normally hand harvested,
the Rosemary plant grows about 2 to 3 feet tall and is very hardy as it grows under harsh
Rosemary is found in bouquet garni, herbes de Provence, and seasoning blends for lamb
and Mediterranean cuisines.
Saffron is the dried yellow stigmas of the violet flowers of Crocus sativus, a member of
the Iris family. The stigmas must be harvested by hand and it takes 225,000 of them to
make one pound of saffron.
Saffron is mainly used as a colorant and flavoring for cheeses, pastry, rice, and seafood
dishes. Saffron is used in spice blends for paella, curry, kheer, and bouillabaisse.
Sage is the dried leaves of the herb Salvia officinalis. The aromatic leaves are silvery
gray in color. Cut Sage refers to leaves which have been cut rather than ground into
smaller pieces. Cut Sage is preferred when the user wants the Sage to be apparent in the
end product. Rubbed Sage is put through minimum grinding and a coarse sieve. The result
is a fluffy, almost cotton-like product, unique among ground herbs. More Sage is sold
in the rubbed form than any other.
Sage is used in Greek, Italian, and European cuisines. It is used to season sausages,
poultry, and fish. Sage has been traditionally used for its antioxidant and antimicrobial
Tarragon is the dried leaves of the herb Artemisia dracunculus. The slender dark-green
leaves have a pleasant anise-like flavor and aroma.
Tarragon blends well with other spices. It is used in sauces, especially Bearnaise sauce
and tarragon vinegar. In French cuisine it is an integral part of fines herbes and dijon
Thyme is the dried leaves of Thymus vulgaris, a small perennial of the mint family.
The leaves measure about one quarter of an inch in length and one tenth of an inch
in width. The plant grows about eighteen inches tall and produces small flowers that
are very attractive to honey bees.
Thyme is used in stuffings, meats, stews, fish, and game. Thyme is part of bouquet
garni, herbes de Provence, and the Middle East spice blend Zahtar, along with jerk
and curry blends.
Turmeric is the dried root of the plant Curcuma longa. Noted for its bright yellow color,
it is related to and similar in size to ginger. Turmeric's flavor resembles a combination
of ginger and pepper.
Turmeric is a powerful coloring agent. Used to color and flavor prepared mustard,
pickles, relish, chutneys, and rice dishes as well as butter and cheese. It is also
used in spice blends in the Caribbean, India, North Africa, the Middle East, and
Indonesia such as curry powder and rendangs.
Vanilla is derived from the dried, cured beans or fruit pods of the large, green-stemmed
climbing perennial, Vanilla planifolia, which is a member of the orchid family. Although
Vanilla beans are sometimes used in their whole form, they are most commonly used for
producing extracts and flavors.
Vanilla is used principally for ice cream, soft drinks, eggnogs, chocolate confectionery,
candy, tobacco, baked goods, puddings, cakes, cookies, liqueurs, and as a fragrantly
tenacious ingredient in perfumery.
Most herbs and spices are sold whole and ground. It's preferable to buy whole spices and
grind them yourself.
Be sure to shop in a busy store for your herbs and spices. Busy stores are more likely to
move their inventory rapidly, thus having fresher herbs and spices. Don't buy herbs or
spices that look faded or uneven in color.
For whole spices, make sure there is very little powder or broken bits in the container.
For ground spices, the finer the grind, the better the quality.
When you buy herbs and spices from a large bulk bin, make sure there is plenty of aroma.
Only buy enough herbs and spices for the next six months to a year to ensure freshness.
Whole spices can be ground in a small coffee grinder, small food processor, pepper
grinder, or mortar and pestle. To clean coffee grinder after use, add small amount of
sugar or uncooked rice and process.
When using dried herbs, crush them in the palm of your hand or between your fingers. This
will release the flavor quicker. A strong-flavored seasoning (rosemary, sage, winter
savory, etc.) may be combined with several mild-flavored ones. Whole herb leaves are a
better choice than ground or powdered herbs because they hold their flavor longer in
storage; pulverize just before using. Below are some other hints for using herbs &
Substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs:
Dried herbs are stronger in flavor than fresh leaf herbs. When adding dried leaf herbs to
a recipe that calls for fresh ones, substitute 1/3 the amount called for in the recipe.
Substituting whole spices for ground spices:
When adding whole spices to a recipe that calls for ground spices, use 1 1/2 times as
much as the recipe call for.
Increasing a recipe:
When doubling a recipe, do not double the herbs and spices. Increase them by 1 1/2 times
and then taste, adding more if necessary. In general, always taste for seasoning before
Don't season more than one dish in a meal with the same herb. Also, every dish on the
menu does not need to be herbed, two or three at the most is enough.
Seasonings or Flavor Enhancers
Quite often seasonings like those listed below, are mistaken for herbs and spices. Here
are some of the more popular seasonings.
A seasoning also called MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). It is commonly used in Oriental
cooking. It is not a favored seasoning or enhancer in the United States as many people
are allergic to it. It is an optional seasoning and can very easily be left out of
The rich, slightly sweet flavor of balsamic vinegar readily lends itself to vinaigrette
dressings, gourmet sauces, and brings out the sweetness of fresh fruits such as
raspberries, strawberries, and peaches. Its flavor and complex fragrance is exalted over
its lowly cousin, red wine vinegar, just as red wine vinegar leaps ahead of white
Capers are sometimes confused with the brined and dried fish called anchovies, since both
are harvested from the same regions and are processed similarly. Capers are actually
immature buds plucked from a small bush native to the Middle East and Mediterranean
regions of the world. Fresh caper blossoms are not especially flavorful, but their
sharpness increases dramatically after sun-drying and brining in vinegar.
Chili powder (also spelled chile powder) is a generic name for any powdered spice mix
composed chiefly of chili peppers, most commonly either red peppers or cayenne peppers,
which are both of the species Capsicum annuum. But it can be made from virtually any hot
pepper including ancho, Cayenne, Chipotle, New Mexico, and pasilla chilis. The spice mix
may simply be pure powdered chilis, or it may have other additives, especially cumin,
oregano, garlic powder, and salt. Some mixes may even include black pepper, cinnamon,
cloves, coriander, mace, nutmeg, or turmeric. As a result of the various different
potential additives, the spiciness of any given chili powder is incredibly variable. As a
rule, the purer the chili powder is, the more spicy it is.
Molasses is a delicious by-product which is extracted during the sugar cane refining
process used to make sugar crystals. The sugar cane is crushed to remove the juice which
is then boiled vigorously. Machines utilize centrifugal force to extract the sugar
crystals from the syrup. The remaining syrup becomes molasses. (In some parts of the US,
molasses also refers to sorghum syrup.) The flavor and color of molasses varies
depending on how early or late in the process the molasses is extracted. In Britain
and Eurupe, molasses is often referred to as black treacle.
Old Bay® Seasoning
Old Bay Seasoning is a blend of herbs and spices that is currently marketed in the United
States by McCormick & Company, and produced in Maryland. It is named for the Chesapeake
Bay area where it was developed by German immigrant Gustav Brunn in the 1940s, and where
the seasoning is very popular to this day. The seasoning mix includes celery salt, bay
leaf, mustard seed, both black and red pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. It is traditionally
used in Mid-Atlantic States and the northern Gulf Coast to season crab and shrimp. It's
also used as a topping on popcorn, salads, eggs, fried chicken, french fries, corn on the
cob, and potato chips.
Salt is a dietary mineral essential for animal life, composed primarily of sodium
chloride. Salt for human consumption is produced in different forms: unrefined salt (such
as sea salt), refined salt (table salt), and iodized salt. It is a crystalline solid,
white, pale pink or light grey in color, normally obtained from sea water or rock
deposits. Edible rock salts may be slightly greyish in color due to this mineral content.
Sugar, or sucrose, is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable
in the plant kingdom. It is the major product of photosynthesis, the process by which
plants transform the sugar energy into food. Sugar occurs in greatest quantities in sugar
cane and sugar beets from which it is separated for commercial use.
Tabasco sauce is a brand of hot sauce made from tabasco peppers (Capsicum frutescens
var. tabasco), vinegar, and salt, and aged in white oak barrels for three years. It has a
hot, spicy flavor and is popular in many parts of the world.
Spice Advice - What Spices to Use
For many new cooks, knowing what herb or spice to use can be confusing. There are so
many names and types of spices, it might leave you wonder which works best? The
correct spice or herb for any food is the one that tastes right for you. However, we
have compiled a list of herbs and spices that work well in particular foods.
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. When you're
at a loss about what to add to a dish, try something from the list below.
||Herbs & Spices
||cumin, cayenne, chili, epazote, mexican
oregano, oregano, parsley, pepper, sage, thyme
||basil, bay leaf, black pepper, chili, cilantro,
cumin, garlic, marjoram, mustard, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme
||basil, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin,
dill, garlic, lemon peel, orange peel, oregano, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme
||basil, celery seed, chili, coriander, cumin,
dill, garlic, horseradish, lemon peel, marjoram, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper,
sage, tarragon, thyme
||allspice, basil, bay leaf, cinnamon, chili,
dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, mustard, paprika, pepper, rosemary, saffron, sage,
||basil, chili, dill, ginger, lemon peel,
marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
||basil, bay leaf, cayenne, celery seed, dill,
garlic, lemon peel, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, saffron, sage, tarragon,
||allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander
||basil, bay leaf, cinnamon, coriander, cumin,
dill, garlic, marjoram, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
||basil, coriander, dill, marjoram, oregano,
paprika, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
|Salads and Salad Dressings
||basil, celery seed, dill, garlic, horseradish,
lemon peel, marjoram, mint, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
||basil, bay leaf, chili, cumin, dill, garlic,
marjoram, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, thyme
||allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, lemon
peel, mace, nutmeg, mint, orange peel, rosemary
||basil, bay leaf, celery seed, cinnamon, chili,
dill, garlic, lemongrass, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
||chili, dill, marjoram, parsley, thyme
Storage of Herbs & Spices
Spices and herbs lose their color, taste and aroma over time. To preserve peak flavor and
color, store spices and herbs in a cool, dry place, away from exposure to bright light,
heat, moisture or oxygen. If possible, avoid storing spices and herbs too close to the
stove, oven, dishwasher or refrigerator, where rising steam or heat can come into contact
with them. Dampness can cause caking or clumping of ground spices. Store herbs and
spices in airtight containers, such as glass jars, plastic containers or tins to
protect against moisture.
Red colored spices, such as chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika can be refrigerated
to prevent loss of color and flavor. The best storage temperature for herbs and spices is
one that is fairly constant and below 70 F. Temperature fluctuations can cause
condensation, and eventually mold, so if you store spices in the freezer or refrigerator,
return them promptly after use.
The shelf life of each herb and spice is different, and all will age, even under the best
conditions. Check your herbs and spices, and those you consider buying, to see that they
look fresh, not faded, and are distinctly aromatic. The shelf life of herbs and spices
will vary according to the form and plant part, too. Those that have been cut or powdered
have more surface area exposed to the air and so lose their flavor more rapidly than
whole herbs and spices.
Here are some guidelines:
Whole Spices & Herbs
Leaves & Flowers: 1 year
Seeds & Barks: over 2 years
Roots: over 2 years
Ground Spices & Herbs
Leaves: 6 months
Seeds & Barks: 6 months
Roots: 1 year