Dictionary of Herbs and Spices
Herb And Spice Dictionary
Allspice (berries)- This fragrant spice comes from the dried berries of an evergreen tree native to Jamaica, Mexico and Honduras. Reminiscent of a mix of cloves, nutmeg, and other spices, allspice is used for baking, pickling spice, and jerk seasonings.
Anise- These small, oval seeds are related to dill and cumin and come from Spain and Mexico. They taste and smell like licorice. Anise is used in baking sweets, making liqueurs, and in the curries for stoups and stews in India and the Middle East.
Basil- Although there are many types of basil used in cooking (sweet basil, lemon basil, purple Thai basil), the basil leaf is known for its pungent aroma and flavor similar to mint and clove. Basil is a versatile herb well suited to tomatoes, meat dishes (especially in Thai cooking), and is a primary ingredient in pesto sauce.
Bay Leaves- Grown in the Mediterranean, bay leaves, with their sharp and savory taste, are an important part of American cooking and many French dishes. One or two whole leaves are added to sauces, stews, and soups, but removed before serving. Putting a couple leaves in stored grains helps to repel insects.
Caraway- This seed, the fruit of an herb in the parsley family, is sweet, nutty and tangy. Caraway seeds are popular in rye bread, cheese, and sprinkled over lamb or pork before roasting. Caraway helps to reduce the smell of cabbage in many dishes.
Cardamom- A member of the ginger family, this expensive spice comes from ground cardamom seeds and has an intense, sweet flavor. A little goes a long way with this spice. Cardamom is used in Arabic countries to flavor coffee, in many Scandinavian dishes, and in many curry blends in India.
Cayenne Pepper- Made from the dried pods of chili peppers, this fiery spice is popular in Mexican, Southwest American, Indian, and Italian cooking. It has little aroma but is hot to the taste.
Celery Seed- Small, dried brown seeds from the same species as the vegetable celery with a similar warm, slightly bitter, flavor.
Chervil- Related to parsley, this aromatic herb, with a more distinctive taste, is popular in French cooking. Chervil is used like parsley in things like mashed potatoes, soups, and hamburgers. It is a milder alternative to raw onion.
Cilantro- The young leaf of the coriander plant, this herb is popular in Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Asian cooking as a cooling counterpoint to fiery spices. The taste is a mix of parsley and citrus.
Cinnamon- Probably the most common baking spice, cinnamon is made from the dried bark of various laurel trees, native to Sri Lanka and other regions. Cinnamon has a sweet and woody taste and is used in beverages, apple dishes, and many savory meat dishes.
Cloves- Cloves are dried, unopened flower buds from an evergreen tree native to Madagascar, Brazil, and other areas. Cloves, with their very strong pungent, sweet taste, are used in spice cookies and cake, and many other savory dishes.
Coriander- Coming from Morocco and Romania, coriander is a mild seed with a flavor similar to that of a lemon and sage blend. Coriander is used in Middle Eastern cooking, sausage making, curries, and the whole seeds are used in pickling and special drinks.
Cumin- Available in seed and ground forms, cumin is the dried, pale green seed (like caraway) from a member of the parsley family. Cumin is often used in Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes. Cumin has a nutty, warm flavor.
Dill- Both the leaves and the seeds from this feathery frond plant are used in cooking. Both have a sharp taste, but Dill Weed is mellower and fresher than Dill Seed. Dill is often added to cold salads and dips, hot potato dishes, and delicate meats.
Fennel- All parts of the fennel plant are used in various ways in cooking. Fennel seed is similar to anise but is sweeter and more aromatic. It's used in chili and soups. Fennel leaves have a sweet flavor well suited to fish and veal sauces.
Mace- The nutmeg tree produces two spices: nutmeg and mace. Mace is the outer covering of the nutmeg seed which is dried and slowly roasted to create the spice. Mace is similar to nutmeg, but more pungent. Mace is used in both sweet and savory dishes and is often the dominant flavor in doughnuts.
Marjoram- The leaf of a plant member of the mint family, marjoram is indigenous to the Mediterranean and is used in flavoring meat dishes. It has a delicate sweet flavor and a bold floral aroma, and helps to deepen the flavor of foods like spinach and mushrooms.
Mint- Mint comes from the leaf of a perennial herb, which is usually dried. The popular flavor is strong, sweet, and cooling. Mint is used in soups, lamb dishes, and chocolate desserts, just to name a few.
Mustard- Mustard seed comes from the brown and white mustard shrubs native to Asia. Brown mustard is more pungent. The spicy taste of whole mustard seed and powdered mustard enhances meat dishes, salad dressings, and the process of pickling.
Nutmeg- The tall nutmeg tree produces two spices: nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg comes from the inner brown seed of the tree's "fruit," and is sweeter than mace, made from the outer covering of the seed. Nutmeg is a baking spice, common to fruit dishes, and an essential part of eggnog.
Oregano- Like mint, oregano comes from the dried leaf of a perennial herb. Oregano is peppery with a pungent odor, and is responsible for the distinctive taste of pizza. The herb is popular in hearty meat dishes, tomato sauces, and blends well with garlic and lemon.
Paprika- This bright red powder comes from a mild red pepper, and is the main flavor in Hungarian cooking. The flavors of paprika range from sweet and mild to spicy hot, and many consider Hungarian paprika the best. Paprika is popular in shellfish dishes, casseroles, and as a garnish.
Parsley- This herb leaf is most popular as a garnish (and a breath freshener), and is more often used dried than fresh. The light, fresh flavor and scent lends itself to many different dishes and the appearance adds to any presentation.
Mushroom Onion Soup Pepper- Pepper is the most popular spice in the world and comes from dried peppercorn berries. Black peppercorns, of which the Tellicherry variety are the most prized, add spice to most cooking and give the best flavor when freshly ground. White peppercorns are produced when the black peppercorn berries are allowed to ripen and the husks are removed.
Poppy Seed- From a yellowish brown opium plant, poppy seeds are tiny and nutty-tasting. The crunchy seeds are used in baked goods, like muffins, are popular in desserts, and are used in fish and vegetables dishes.
Rosemary- Also an herb in the mint family, rosemary comes from the needle-like leaves of an evergreen shrub. Rosemary has a lemon and pine aroma and flavor. The herb is used in teas, rice, pizza, baked goods, and many different sauces.
Saffron- Since it takes around 35,000 flowers to produce a pound of saffron (from the flowers' stamens), saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron is dark orange and thread-like, with a spicy flavor and aroma. Saffron, even crushed, is added right before serving to retain its full flavor and aroma.
Sage- Also in the mint family, sage is the herb leaf from an evergreen shrub and has an earthy and warm flavor. Soft, silvery sage leaves are often ground lightly. The herb is featured in many holiday dishes, salads, and meat dishes.
Sesame Seed- The tiny yellow, red, or black seeds come from an annual herb and have a mild and nutty flavor. Sesame seed is the most common produced seed and is used in many breads, stir-fries, pasta, and other dishes.
Tarragon- The dark, pointed green leaves of this shrubby herb have a flavor similar to anise. The most popular variety is French Tarragon, with the flavor of sweet licorice. Tarragon is very popular in French cooking, in fish dishes, and in herbal vinegar for cooking.
Thyme- Thyme comes from the tiny, gray-green leaves of an herb in the mint family. Thyme leaves are often dried and ground. The versatile herb has pine, mint, and lemon flavors, and a subtle aroma. Thyme works well with poultry, soups, lamb, eggs, and more.
Turmeric- Much like ginger, turmeric spice comes from an underground stem and is a main ingredient in most curries and curry powders. While you probably wouldn't call turmeric hot on its own, the root is certainly warm and aromatic. The chemical curcumin in turmeric gives curry powder its bright saffron yellow color, and is responsible for the spice's kick.