We are often asked by folks who are just getting into cooking, which spices are the ones they should have available so they can try new recipes they find interesting. We have put together a list of the ones we think you’ll find most versatile for every-day and special-event cooking. We also give a few thoughts about how and when they are used.
First, here are some basics that will make your journey into the culinary arts most productive.
1. Fresh Herbs are best when used at the end of cooking, to finish a dish, like adding thyme or basil at the last moment so the flavors are still fresh and bright.
2. Buy fresh herbs when you’re making dishes for special meals. The bright, vibrant flavors of fresh herbs in a dish are part of what makes the occasion feel special and memorable.
3. Woody herbs like oregano, thyme, and rosemary tend to dry very well and retain their flavor. On the other hand, basil, chives, and other soft, tender herbs tend to lose a great deal of their flavor once dried. Choose fresh for these, to avoid mediocre flavor.
4. Dried herbs tend to do best if they’re added during cooking, so their flavor has time to infuse the whole dish. Add them too late and they tend to taste a little bitter or earthy.
5. Dried herbs are generally more potent and concentrated than fresh herbs, you’ll need less; typically twice the amount of fresh herbs as dry. For example, if a recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of fresh oregano, you need only 1 teaspoon of dried. 1 teaspoon of dried= 2 teaspoons of fresh.
6. Dried spices lose flavor over time. If it has been sitting in your pantry for a year (some cooks say six months), it has lost a lot of its flavor and will be less tasty than you might want. It’s time to replace it.
7. Freshly ground is always better. Invest in a coffee grinder that you can reserve for grinding spices as you need them. This will make you happy!
Allspice – Although this aromatic powder has a flavor reminiscent of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, juniper and peppercorn, it is actually the fruit of the allspice tree. It is picked when green and unripe, and traditionally dried in the sun until brown. The whole fruits have a longer shelf life than the powdered product and produce more fragrance when freshly ground just before use. Pairs well with beef, beets, cabbage, carrots, corned beef, fruit pies, game, grains, lamb, meats, onions, pumpkin, rabbit, soups, spinach, squash, stews, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and turnips. Many folks make “homemade allspice” by grinding 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Adjust the mixture to taste.
Basil This is so versatile it goes with almost every thing! Fresh, like shown here, or dried and ground, it really shines when used in tomato based dishes and sauces. Great when used on salads and fresh tomatoes, too. One of the greatest uses of basil is in pesto! Basil is also used to flavor fish, poultry, soups, and stews. One of our favorites is the basil, tomato and mozzarella dish.
Bay leaves – A culinary herb often used in soups, stews, sauces, and marinades. It goes well with fish, beef, poultry, lamb, rice and lentils. Bay leaves lose their flavor slowly, so they are often used in tomato sauces which typically cook for long periods. Be sure to remove the bay leaves before serving, as they don’t break up, and have a very unpleasant mouth feel.
Black Pepper – Black pepper is a flowering vine cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. When dried, the fruit is known as a peppercorn. White, black and green peppercorns all come from the same vine. Green peppercorns are young when they are picked and dehydrated or preserved, with a resulting mild flavor. Pepper is the most common spice worldwide, and found on nearly every dinner table in America in a variety of grinds, from whole peppercorns, restaurant coarse grind, and fine grind. Freshly ground at the table is the most fragrant and tasty.
Cajun Seasoning – A combination of paprika, table salt, garlic powder, ground black pepper, onion powder, cayenne pepper, dried oregano, and dried thyme. There are many variations at your local grocery or on line spice provider, but I like to make my own. I use Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for Essence, and use it as a flavoring on cooked vegetables, particularly like it on corn on the cob, have used it on meats, and as an ingredient in soups and stews. It adds a pallet pleasing burst of spice without adding too much heat.
Cardamon/Cardimom – Cardamon, or cardamom, this is the world’s third-most expensive spice, surpassed in price per weight only by vanilla and saffron. It has a spicy, herbal, citrus-like character and goes very well with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, and other aromatic spices. It is best stored in pod form because once the seeds are exposed or ground, they quickly lose their flavor. For recipes requiring whole cardamom pods, a generally accepted equivalent is 10 pods equals 1 1⁄2 teaspoons of ground cardamom.
Cayenne Pepper – The cayenne pepper, also known as red pepper, is related to bell peppers, jalapeños, paprika, and is in the nightshade family. It is a hot chili pepper used to flavor dishes. Cayenne is used in cooking spicy dishes, as a powder or in its whole form, or in a thin, vinegar-based sauce. It is also used as an herbal supplement, and boasts many health benefits. Cayenne pepper consumption dilates the blood vessels and speeds the metabolism due to the high amounts of capsaicin, which in turn causes weight loss.
Celery Salt A classic mixture of fine-grained salt and ground celery seed. Sprinkle a little celery salt on pork or beef roast, vegetables, potato salad, tomato or vegetable juices. Remember that this adds salt, so season accordingly. Many cooks make their own. Pick the leaves from the celery, arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a medium oven (350F) for about 5-7 minutes. Bake until dehydrated and crispy, but not browned. Let them cool completely, then crumble with your fingers and mix with an equal amount of salt.
Chili Powder – Chili powder is the dried, pulverized fruit of one or more varieties of chili pepper. It is used as a spice to add pungency or piquancy and flavor to dishes. Chili powder is sometimes known by the specific type of chili pepper used, such as cayenne pepper. It is used in many different cuisines, including Tex-Mex, Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Korean. Imparts a fiery hot flavor and should be used sparingly. A small pinch enhances the flavor of egg and fish dishes. Chili Powder Recipe: Whisk together, 2 Tablespoons paprika, 2 teaspoons oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder, 3/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
Chives – Often mistaken for green onions or scallions, chives are a completely different species. They are in the same family as garlic, shallots, and leeks. This plant has a fairly mild onion flavor and can be used in a variety of dishes as a substitute for onion without having to put big chunks in your dish. Chives are used in salads, soups and stews, and blend in with almost any dish, and the bright color will certainly add to the presentation. Chives are also good raw as a garnish over things like deviled eggs. (HINT: Add to cooked dishes at the last moment to best preserve their flavor.)
Chinese Five Spice – Five-spice powder is a mixture of five spices, used primarily in Chinese cuisine. While there are many variants, a common mix for Five-spice powder includes Star Anise, Cloves, Chinese Cinnamon and Sichuan pepper. Five spice may be used with fatty meats such as pork, duck or goose. It is used as a spice rub for chicken, duck, pork and seafood, in red cooking recipes, or added to breading for fried foods. Properly called hong shao, red cooking is a specialty of Shanghai. Here’s how to make 2 tablespoons of your own: 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted and ground,
1 teaspoon ground star anise, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, toasted and ground.
Chopped Garlic – Dehydrated chopped garlic can be used anywhere you would use fresh garlic. Add them to dishes containing liquid, such as, gravies, soups, sauces, stews, meatloaf, meatballs, hamburgers, omelets, chili, and sour cream dips. Dried minced garlic will enhance the flavor of any savory dish. Have a recipe calling for fresh garlic? These minced garlic granules can be reconstituted in water and used just as you would fresh chopped garlic. I often reconstitute them in the skillet with a small amount of oil, or butter, and roast them lightly for additional flavor. The whole bulb is called a “head,” and the individual pieces you get out are called “cloves.”
Garlic Powder – Finely ground dried garlic, is used as seasoning for all meat and vegetable dishes, and garlic bread, where garlic flavor is desired without adding any additional salt.
Garlic Salt – Light yellow, granulated, with visible salt crystals, salty with a pronounced garlic aroma and taste; add to soups and stews instead of table salt, and you will taste a real difference. Also widely used to season meats and poultry.
Chopped Onion – Dehydrated chopped onions can be used anywhere you would use fresh onions. Add them to dishes containing liquid, such as, gravies, soups, sauces, stews, meatloaf, meatballs, hamburgers, omelets, chili, and sour cream dips. I often reconstitute them in the skillet with a small amount of oil, or butter, and roast them lightly for additional flavor.
When buying onions, select ones that feel heavy and firm. Avoid soft onions or ones that have a sharp odor before peeling. Except for sweet onions, all these onions can be stored for several weeks in a cool, dark pantry or cupboard. They need to be kept in a dry environment like a pantry, which is not as damp as the refrigerator. Also, lack of air circulation will cause onions to spoil, as will storing them near potatoes, which give off moisture and gas that can cause onions to spoil quickly.
1. Yellow Onions – The all-purpose onion, with a nice balance of flavor and sweetness. Spanish onions are quite sweet and more delicate in flavor.
2. White Onions – These have a sharper and more prominent flavor than yellow onions. They are more tender and have a thinner, more papery skin.
3. Red Onions – With their deep purple outer skin and reddish flesh. They are fairly similar to yellow onions in flavor, though they are more crunchy. Red onions are most often used in salads, salsas, and other raw preparations for their color which becomes washed out during cooking. To mellow their flavor for eating raw, soak them in water before serving.
4. Sweet Onions – Walla Walla and Vidalia are the most common kinds of sweet onions. These onions really do taste sweet, and perish quickly, so they are the exception to the rule: they can be refrigerated until ready for use.
Some other refrigeration tips:
1. Tomatoes love the heat and hate the cold. Store them in the fridge and your perfect tomatoes turn into a mealy disappointment. They’ll still be good for cooking, but not the best for eating fresh. Instead store them on your counter (not in direct sunlight).
2. Basil loves the heat, so a refrigerator causes it to wilt prematurely. Basil will do best if it’s stored on your counter.
3. Potatoes like cool, not cold temperatures. Keep them in a paper bag, which is breathable, in a coolish spot (like a pantry). Storing potatoes in the fridge converts their starch to sugar more quickly, which affects the flavor, texture and cooking results.
4. Avocados don’t start to ripen until after they’re picked from the tree. Store hard, unripe avocados on your counter and store ripe avocados in your refrigerator if you’re not going to eat them right away.
Cilantro – Cilantro is actually the leaves of the Coriander plant. Native to the Mediterranean, cilantro has found its way into recipes all over the world. It has become popular in recent years as a component of Tex-Mex foods but it is also used in Indian and Thai cooking. The Chinese use so much of the herb that it is also referred to as Chinese Parsley. Be aware when shopping, that its appearance is very similar to parsley, so take a moment to check for the distinctive fragrance before dropping it into your shopping bag.
Cinnamon Used in many ways and by most cultures, it is well suited to desserts, such as apple pie and baked apples. It is also used in meat and vegetable dishes, spice mixtures and in chutneys and condiments. Cinnamon is used to flavor coffee, teas and chocolate drinks. It is excellent in rice pudding, for pickling and in mulled wine. More widely used in its ground form in cakes, sweets, bread and puddings. Mix with sugar and sprinkle on toast, custard or baked apples for an instant treat.
Cloves – The large flower buds of a tree, cloves have a strong, sweet, aromatic flavor and should be used in moderation, as it can become bitter. Use them whole in all apple dishes, stick into pork or ham hocks, in mulled wine or in soups. In its ground form it is used in fruit cakes, buns and mincemeat.
Coriander Coriander spice is actually the dried fruit/seeds of the plant with the same name. It is commonly sold both whole and ground. It adds a mild, sweet citrus taste, and a spicy fragrance. It is used for flavoring vegetable dishes, stews, sweet and savory dishes, Chinese and Thai dishes, Mexican salsas and guacamole, chili and curry dishes. It can be used with poultry, fish, ham, potatoes, and onions.
Crushed Mint Mint is commonly used to flavor Middle Eastern dishes, such as lamb, soups and vegetable salads. Pour hot water over mint leaves and steep for 5-6 minutes for homemade mint tea. For stronger flavor, crush the leaves slightly to release oils. Try using chocolate mint leaves for a twist. Chop mint and toss with fresh pineapple for a quick snack. Blends well with fruit, meats, and other herbs. It is a common ingredient in yogurt sauces. Delicious when paired with lamb. Use sparingly until you discover your mint preferences.
Crushed Red Pepper – Used to add some heat to everyday cooking! Crushed red pepper or red pepper flakes is a condiment consisting of dried and crushed (as opposed to ground) red chili peppers. This condiment is most often produced from cayenne-type peppers, although commercial producers may use a variety of different peppers with about the same heat range. Crushed red pepper shakers have become as standard as salt and pepper on tables at Italian style restaurants and especially pizza parlors in the United States. Often there is a high ratio of seeds, which some people mistakenly believe intensifies the heat of this flavorful condiment. Crushed red pepper is used by food manufacturers in pickling blends, chowders, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, soups and sausage. Great when sprinkled on pizzas, pastas, stir-fry, and chili. This is a hot spice that releases its flavor quickly into dishes. Handle sparingly and with care until you become familiar with your heat preferences.
Cumin – Cumin is a flowering plant, in the parsley family, and is native from the east Mediterranean to Pakistan & India. Its seeds are used in the cuisines of many different cultures, in both whole and ground form. Cumin seed is used as a spice for its distinctive flavor and aroma. It is globally popular and an essential flavouring in many cuisines, particularly South Asian, Northern African, and Latin American cuisines. It helps to add an earthy and warming feeling to food, making it a staple in certain stews and soups, as well as spiced gravies such as chili. It is also used as an ingredient in some pickles and pastries. Cumin can be an ingredient in chili powder (often Tex-Mex or Mexican-style), and is found in achiote blends, adobos, sofrito, garam masala, curry powder, and baharat. Cumin can be used ground or as whole seeds.
Curry Powder – Curry dishes are essentially a soup or stew. The red chilies that make red curry powder or paste are moderate in heat; fresh green chilies give green curry a spicy kick; and the yellow peppers in yellow curry are the most mellow. Curries are confusing; red, yellow, green, Indian, Thai. Nearly all curries have the same staple spices, including garlic, shallots, ginger, shrimp paste, kaffir lime rind, coriander root, cumin seeds, lemongrass, and peppercorns. While Indian dishes tend to use more dry spices, Thai cuisine often uses curry paste and fresh herbs instead. Thai curries are cooked for a shorter period of time and typically include vegetables, chicken, seafood accented with fresh herbs like mint, cilantro and basil. They also tend to be soupier, thanks to the addition of coconut milk or water. You can make your own curry powders by toasting whole spices like cardamom seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, cloves, dried chilies, cinnamon and nutmeg, then grinding them.
Dill – A bright, tasty addition to dips and dressings, white sauces and soups. It is commonly used with poultry, fish, egg and cheese dishes. The herb is popular for dishes containing mushrooms or spinach, and is great with lamb. Dill is one of those versatile herbs that go well in a wide variety of dishes. Every soup is better with it, scrambled eggs take on a whole new flavor profile. Mashed potatoes gain a savory warmth, while egg salad, tuna salad, cream cheese, creamed cucumber and onions all rely on dill. Fish with dill and lemon is elevated to a whole new level, and poultry dishes sparkle with a sprinkling of dill. Of course, pickles wouldn’t be pickles without dill seeds.
Fennel Seed – A spice with a warm, aromatic flavor is used in sweet and savory recipes around the globe, and particularly popular in Italian, Indian, and Middle Eastern cooking. Due to their similar sweet and subtle licorice-like taste, fennel seed is often confused with anise. Store fennel seed in an airtight container, in a cool, dry, dark location for up to six months. Often used with fish dishes, stews, soups and curries. Good Italian sausage absolutely requires fennel. Ground fennel adds a mysterious element to a marinara or tomato sauce, to go with any type of pasta dish. Fennel and grapefruit pair surprisingly well. The Fennel seed has always been considered an aid to digestion, and many people still drink fennel tea.
Ginger Root – Ginger is well known as a remedy for travel sickness, nausea and indigestion and is used for colic, irritable bowel, loss of appetite, chills, cold, flu, poor circulation, menstrual cramps, bloating, heartburn, flatulence, indigestion and gastrointestinal problems such as gas and stomach cramps. It also tastes good! Ginger produces a hot, fragrant kitchen spice. The juice from ginger roots is often used as a seasoning in Indian recipes and is a common ingredient of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and many South Asian cuisines for flavoring dishes such as seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes. Powdered dry ginger root is typically used as a flavoring for recipes such as gingerbread, cookies, crackers and cakes, ginger ale, and ginger beer. Candied ginger, or crystallized ginger, is the root cooked in sugar until soft, and is a type of confectionery. Fresh ginger may be peeled before eating. For longer-term storage, the ginger can be placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated or frozen.
Herbes de Provence A mixture of dried herbs typical of the Provence region of southeast France. The mixture typically contains savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and other herbs. In the North American market, lavender leaves are also typically included. Herbes de Provence are used to flavor grilled foods such as fish and meat, as well as vegetable stews. The mixture can be added to foods before or during cooking, or mixed with cooking oil prior to cooking so as to infuse the flavor into the cooked food. They are rarely added after cooking is complete.
Italian Seasoning – A blend of ground spices used outside of Italy to flavor many Italian dishes. The main ingredients are basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. Common additions may also include garlic powder, sage, and cilantro. Italian Seasoning, despite its name, does not exist in Italy. It is more a description of the flavors developed with the addition of these herbs, which resemble the flavors of Italy’s cuisine. It is excellent for tomato based dishes or as a poultry seasoning. You can easily make your own, and adjust the ingredients to suit your preference. Here’s a typical recipe to start with: 2 tablespoons each: dried basil, dried oregano, dried thyme, and dried marjoram. Combine with 1 tablespoon each of dried rosemary, dried sage and garlic powder. Use the bulk bagged spices in the Mexican food aisle, which are much less expensive and boast excellent flavor.
Licorice Root – A root from the liquorice plant which a sweet flavor can be extracted. The licorice plant is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia, such as India. It is not related to anise, star anise, or fennel, but each are alternative sources of licorice flavoring. In the Netherlands, licorice candy (drop) is one of the most popular forms of sweets. In Italy (particularly in the south), Spain, and France, licorice is popular in its natural form. The root of the plant is simply dug up, washed, dried, and chewed as a sweet mouth freshener. Licorice is used by brewers to flavor and color porter classes of beers. Licorice is also very popular in Syria and Egypt, where it is sold as a drink.
Marjoram A plant in the mint family, marjoram has sweet pine and citrus flavors. It can be used on roasted meat dishes, vegetables, stuffing, egg dishes, fish sauces, seasoning soups, stews, dressings, and pan sauces. Marjoram is almost always included in Italian Seasoning herb blends as it pairs naturally to enhance tomato based dishes and sauces. Due to its delicate nature, when cooking with fresh marjoram, it is best to add marjoram during the last half of cooking to preserve its flavor.
Mustard – Mustard seeds are the small round seeds of various mustard plants and may be colored from yellowish white to black. They are a very important spice in many regional foods and may come from one of three different plants: black mustard, brown Indian mustard, or white mustard. The whole, ground, cracked, or bruised mustard seeds are mixed with water, vinegar, salt, lemon juice, wine, or other liquids, and often other flavorings and spices, to create a paste or sauce ranging in color from bright yellow to dark brown. The tastes range from sweet to spicy. Commonly paired with meats and cheeses, mustard is an addition to sandwiches, salads, hamburgers, corn dogs, and hot dogs. It is also used as an ingredient in many dressings, glazes, sauces, soups, and marinades. It one of the most popular and widely used spices and condiments in the world.
Nutmeg – Nutmeg is one of the two spices derived from several species of tree. Nutmeg is the fragrant seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped and dried, while Mace, the other spice, is the dried “lacy” reddish covering of the seed. This is the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices, obtained from different parts of the plant. Nutmeg and mace have similar sensory qualities, with nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavor. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is used for flavoring many dishes, usually in ground or grated form, and is best grated fresh in a nutmeg grater. In the U.S., nutmeg is known as the main pumpkin pie spice and often shows up in simple recipes for other winter squashes such as baked acorn squash. It is also commonly used in rice pudding.
Oregano An herb that gives a Mediterranean flavor to poultry and vegetable dishes, olive oil, and salad dressings. It is used to season ground meat, tomato based sauces, chili, pizza, omelets, vegetables, and cheese dishes. Sprinkle into melted butter and serve with seafood. Oregano is an important culinary herb that has also been used in medicine for thousands of years. It belongs to the mint family.
Paprika – A spice made from grinding dried bell peppers or chili peppers. The seasoning is used in many cuisines to add color and flavor to dishes. Paprika can range from mild to hot. Flavors also vary from country to country. Paprika is a pepper and should be refrigerated for maximum shelf life and potency. Sweet paprika is mostly composed of the wall of the fruit, with more than half of the seeds removed, whereas hot paprika contains some seeds, stalks, placentas, and calyces. It is available in different grades:
1. Noble Sweet – slightly pungent (the most commonly exported paprika; bright red)
2. Special Quality – the mildest (very sweet with a deep bright red color)
3. Delicate – a mild paprika with a rich flavor (color from light to dark red)
4. Exquisite Delicate – similar to delicate, but more pungent
5. Pungent Exquisite Delicate – an even more pungent version of delicate
6. Rose – with a strong aroma and mild pungency (prized above all others.)
7. Half-Sweet – a blend of mild and pungent paprikas; medium pungency
8. Strong (Hot) – the hottest paprika (light brown in color)
The Hungarian varieties are more robust and considered superior. The Spanish varieties are sweeter and milder. Any of these varieties can be found as smoked paprika. Most tables in Hungary are set with salt and hot paprika (not black pepper) shakers.
Parsley – Parsley is cultivated as a herb, a spice, and a vegetable. Parsley is widely used in European, Middle Eastern, and American cooking. Curly leaf parsley, shown here, has a fragrance like fresh rain, and is often used as a garnish. In Europe and western Asia, many dishes are served with fresh green chopped parsley sprinkled on top. Root parsley (looks like a white carrot) is very common in central, eastern and southern European cuisines, where it is used as a snack or a vegetable in many soups, stews, and casseroles. The two main groups of parsley used as herbs are curly leaf and Flat Leaf Italian, which is said to have a stronger flavor. Parsley is widely used in Middle Eastern, European, Brazilian and American cooking. Leaf parsley is used frequently as a garnish on potato or rice dishes, on fish, fried chicken, lamb, goose, and steaks, as well in meat or vegetable stews.
Rosemary – An aromatic evergreen shrub that has leaves similar to hemlock needles. The leaves are used as a flavoring in foods such as stuffings and roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. It is used on fish, lamb, pork and poultry dishes and can be sprinkled onto red potatoes and parsnips before roasting. Fresh or dried leaves are used in traditional Italian cuisine. They have a bitter, astringent taste and a characteristic aroma which complements many cooked foods. Herbal tea can be made from the leaves. When roasted with meats or vegetables, the leaves impart a mustard-like aroma with an additional fragrance of charred wood compatible with barbecued foods. In the Middle Ages, rosemary was thought to be a love charm. The bride would wear a rosemary headpiece at the wedding, and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary.
Savory Spice – Found in two varieties, Summer savory, an annual herb, used to flavor food, and Winter savory, a perennial herb, also used to flavor food, but less common than summer savory. Savory tastes a bit like thyme, but is easier to use and dry. With a strong (or pungent) culinary scent, it is one of the Herbs de Provence, and easy to grow at home from cuttings. Used in beans, vegetable soups, eggs, rice dishes, potatoes and squash. It’s wonderfully distinct piquancy brings an agreeable tasty element to relatively mild foods without overpowering them.
Salt – Known in its natural form as a crystalline mineral, salt is known as rock salt or halite. Salt is essential for human life, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes, and is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings. Some of the earliest evidence of salt processing dates to around 8,000 years ago. Salt is used in many cuisines around the world, and is often found in salt shakers on diners’ eating tables for their personal use on food. Salt is also an ingredient in many manufactured foodstuffs. There are a variety of salts used in food preparation:
Kosher Salt – A variety of edible salt with a much larger grain size than common table salt that many cooks prefer for seasoning.
Sea Salt – Historically called bay salt, its mineral content gives it a different taste and larger granules than table salt.
Table Salt – Refined salt designed to be used in salt shakers at the table, also includes an anti-caking compound and trace iodine.
Pickling Salt – Pickling salt is a salt that is used mainly for canning and manufacturing pickles. It is sodium chloride, as is table salt, but unlike most brands of table salt, it does not contain iodine or any anti-caking products.
Popcorn Salt – With a finer texture than normal table salt, it is better suited to coating every bit of popcorn with flavor.
Seasoning Salt – A blend of fine flake salt, paprika, ground turmeric, ground pepper and ground celery.
Tarragon – A species of perennial herb in the sunflower family. Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes of French cooking, and is particularly suitable for chicken, fish and egg dishes. Tarragon is the main flavoring component of Béarnaise sauce. French tarragon is the variety generally considered best for the kitchen, but is never grown from seed as the flowers are sterile; instead it is propagated by root division. It is normally purchased as a plant, and some care must be taken to ensure that true French tarragon is purchased.
Thai Green Curry – Curry is a dish that is as diverse and varied as the South Asian countries in which it is the signature dish. A traditional Thai curry begins with a paste of fresh herbs and ground spices, hot chilies, coconut milk, and even aromatic leaves, such as Kaffir Lime, that is cooked with meat, seafood, vegetables or fruit. Thai curries also tend to be more soup-ish compared to their thicker Indian curry cousins. Thai Green Curry Powder can be blended into a paste by adding 1 part curry powder to 1 part water and 1.5 parts oil. Cook with coconut milk, meat or protein, veggies and herbs, and finally seasoned with fish sauce or salt.
Thyme – An aromatic herb, with a warm, pungent flavor. Thyme gives pleasant flavor to soups, breads, stews, stuffing, fish, meats, casseroles, and butter sauces. It is especially good with poultry and pork. It is a common component of the bouquet garni, and of Herbes de Provence. Sold both fresh and dried, fresh is more flavorful, but the fresh form only lasts a week or two under refrigeration. It can, however, last many months if carefully frozen. Fresh thyme is commonly sold in bunches of sprigs. A sprig is a single stem snipped from the plant. A recipe may measure thyme by the bunch, or by the sprig, or by the tablespoon or teaspoon. Depending on how it is used in a dish, the whole sprig may be used, or the leaves removed and the stems discarded. Usually, when a recipe specifies “bunch” or “sprig”, it means the whole form; when it specifies spoons, it means the leaves. It is perfectly acceptable to substitute dried for fresh thyme.
Turmeric – Of the ginger family, the Turmeric roots are boiled for about 30–45 minutes and then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep-orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice, for dyeing, and to impart color to mustard condiments. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders. Although typically used in its dried, powdered form, turmeric is also used fresh, like ginger in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. In medieval Europe, turmeric became known as “Indian saffron” because it was widely used as an alternative to the far more expensive saffron spice.
Vanilla – Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla. Three major species of vanilla currently are grown globally. Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron, because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor. As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture, and aromatherapy. Most artificial vanilla products contain vanillin, which can be produced synthetically from lignin, a natural polymer found in wood.
Every cook has a catch-all drawer or container where we keep the tools that don’t deserve counter space since we only use them occasionally. The same is true of those treasured occasional recipes and “how-to” notes that get stuck away until “next time.” We keep ours here in the Vaughn household on our Misc (Miscellaneous) page. From Appetizers, Sauces, Seasoning, and Tips and Terms, we have some real gems for your chef’s crown.