Herbs and spices are the kitchen staples used as flavorings. Most herbs are available fresh or dried. Drying alters flavors and aromas, so fresh herbs should be used if possible. Spices are almost always used in their dried form and can be purchased whole or ground. Some plants – dill – can be used as an herb(leaves) and a spice (its seeds).
Paprika is a bright red powder ground from specific varieties of red-ripened and dried chiles. Its flavor ranges from sweet to pungent and it has a strong aroma.
Chile powders are made from a wide variety of dried chile peppers ranging from sweet and mild to hot and pungent. Each brand is different and should be sampled before using it.
Also known as chile flakes, are blended from dried, coarsely crushed chiles. They are hot and used in sauces and meat dishes.
High quality cinnamon should be pale brown and thin, rolled up like paper into sticks known as quills. Cinnamon is usually bought ground because the quills are difficult to grind. Cinnamon is often used in pastries and sweets but can be used in lamb and spicy dishes as well.
When dried, whole cloves have hard, sharp prongs that can be pushed into other foods to provide flavor. Cloves are extremely pungent, with a sweet, astringent aroma. Cloves are used in desserts, meat dishes, preserves, and liquors.
Coriander seeds come from the cilantro plant. They have a sweet, spicy flavor and strong aroma. The leaves carry the same flavor and aroma unlike other plants. They are frequently used in Indian cuisine and pickling mixtures.
Cumin has a strong earthy flavor and usually dominates any dish in which it is included. It is used in Middle Eastern, Indian, Mexican cuisines, sausages, and a few cheeses.
Fennel seeds taste and aroma are similar to anise, though not as sweet. Whole seeds are used in Italian stews and sausages. Ground seeds can be used in breads, cakes, and cookies.
Fenugreek is seeds are pebble-shaped and transfer a pale orange color to the foods in which they are cooked. Their flavor is bittersweet, like burnt sugar.
File powder (fee-LAY)
File powder is commonly used as a thickener and flavoring in Cajun and Creole cuisines. It should be added during the last minutes of cooking because it forms srings if allowed to boil.
Galangal has a peppery, gingerlike flavor and piny aroma. Also known as glanga root, Thai ginger and Laos ginger, it is peeled and crushed for use in Thai and Indonesian cuisines. Fresh ginger can be substituted.
Fresh ginger is known as a “hand” because it resembles a group of knobby fingers. Fresh ginger should be plump and firm with smooth skin. It should keep for about a month if refrigerated. Ginger’s flavor is sweet but fiery. Dried ginger’s flavor is spicier and not as sweet as fresh ginger. It is used with chicken, beef, and curries.
Grains of Paradise
Grains of paradise have a spicy, warm and slightly bitter taste, similar to peppercorns. It is primarily used in West African and Magreb dishes.
Horseradish is usually served grated, creamed into a sauce or as part of a compound butter or mustard preparation. Heat can destroy its flavor and pungency, so it should be added near the end of cooking.
Juniper has a sweet flavor similar to pine. Its berries flavor gin and other alcoholic beverages, and are crushed into game dishes, like venison and wild boar.