{Tips & Tricks} Cooking with Spices

As a follow up to the last {Friday Series} post, I’m going to cover the other set of ingredients which give food amazing flavor and aroma: spices.

A spice is typically a dried seed, fruit, bark or vegetative substance and is added to food to enhance flavor, color or aroma. What distinguishes spices from herbs? Spices are usually dried and ground into powder. Herbs are leafy, green plant parts that are used for flavoring. Easy enough, right?

Adding spices to recipes is one of my favorite things to do while preparing dishes. I have a whole cupboard full of various spices, as well as a spice rack. I love to add a pinch of this and a pinch of that to kick the flavor of my food up a notch.

Below are some tips to help you enjoy the flavor of the most commonly used spices in recipes. And always remember, when cooking with spices, a little goes a long way!

Allspice: This spice gets its name because it resembles the combined flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It comes from the berry of the evergreen “pimento tree” and is typically used in Jamaican cooking.

Capers: Originating from the buds of a caper bush, this spice adds a pungent flavor to sauces, dips and relishes.

Cayenne: This is one of my favorite spices because it adds a ton of heat and livens up food. It is a hot red pepper so if you don’t like spicy foods then be sure to use this spice sparingly. I add it to chili and tomato-based sauces. It’s also great on Latin American and Southwestern dishes.

Chili Powder: This spice is a blend of ground chilies and other hot spices. Be sure to add this spice to your next batch of chili con carne.

Cinnamon: The bark of this spice is very versatile because it can either be ground and used in desserts or served whole in flavored cider and other hot drinks.

Clove: This is another versatile spice because it can be used in cooking either whole or ground. It’s typically added to baked meat dishes and desserts. However, I must warn you, it’s very strong so be sure to use it sparingly.

Cumin: Available in seed and in ground form, this spice has a nutty flavor and aroma. It is often used in Latin American, Indian and Asian dishes.

Curry Powder: This spice is a blend of up to 20 herbs and spices often used in Indian cooking.

Ginger: Have you ever walked through your grocer’s fresh produce aisle and noticed a gnarly looking root? That would be ginger. This spice adds a distinctive aroma to foods and is typically used in Asian dishes, as well as fruit and vegetable dishes.

Nutmeg: This spice has a pungent aroma and is slightly sweet to the taste. It is typically used in baked treats, candy, puddings, meats, sauces, vegetables and eggnog.

Paprika: This spice, when ground, adds a little bit of extra flavor to dishes such as potato salad, seafood and deviled eggs. Be sure to top these dishes with it to add a little extra appeal.

Saffron: This spice is often used to add flavor and color to food and is found in many soups and rice dishes.

Turmeric: This is a yellow spice that is related to ginger and has a warm flavor. It is often used in prepared mustard and curry powder and is typically found in Middle Eastern cooking.

When storing spices, be sure to keep them in a tightly closed container in a cool, dry, dark place. Also, be sure to make note of the purchase date. Ground spices typically are only good for one year.

What’s your favorite spice? As you can see from above, my ultimate favorite has to be cayenne. As the saying goes in my house, “the spicier the better”!

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  1. My current favorite is Chinese 5-spice and use it in alot of poultry dishes (Sichuan pepper, star anise, cassia, cloves, and fennel seeds). Supposedly it's good for balancing yin and yang :)

  2. That sounds tasty! I'll have to pick it up the next time I'm at the store and use it on some of my dishes. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. My current favorite is Shallot Pepper from Penzey's. I also use a Chili Con Carne and a Bold Taco Seasoning from Penzey's. If you don't have a Penzey's store nearby, you can order online. They are the best quality spices that I've ever used.

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