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A to Z of Spices

Posted by Better Daze Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ALLSPICE: These small dark, reddish-brown berries are so called because
their aroma and flavor resemble a combination of cinnamon, cloves and
nutmeg. Use berries whole in marinades; for boiling and pot roasting meats
and poultry; in fish dishes, pickles and chutneys. Also available ground
and excellent for flavoring soups, sauces and desserts.

ANISE: Commonly called aniseed, these small, brown oval seeds have the
sweet, pungent flavor of licorice. Also available ground. Use seeds in
stews and vegetable dishes, or sprinkle over loaves and rolls before
baking. Try ground anise for flavoring fish dishes and pastries for fruit

CARAWAY: Small brown, crescent-shaped seeds with a strong liquorice flavor
and especially delicious as a flavoring in braised cabbage and sauerkraut
recipes, breads (particularly rye), cakes and cheeses.

CARDAMOM: Small, triangular-shaped pods containing numerous small black
seeds which have a warm, highly aromatic flavor. You can buy green or
black cardamoms although the smaller green type is more widely available.

CAYENNE: Orange-red in color, this ground pepper is extremely hot and
pungent. Not to be confused with paprika which, although related, is mild

CHILI POWDER: Made from dried red chilies. This red powder varies in flavor
and hotness, from mild to hot. A less fiery type is found in chili

CINNAMON & CASSIA: Shavings of bark from the cinnamon tree are processed
and curled to form cinnamon sticks. Also available in ground form. Spicy,
fragrant and sweet, it is used widely in savory and sweet dishes. Cassia
(from the dried bark of the cassia tree) is similar to cinnamon, but less
delicate in flavor with a slight pungent 'bite'.

CLOVES: These dried, unopened flower buds give a warm aroma and pungency to
foods, but should be used with care as the flavor can become overpowering.
Available in ground form. Cloves are added to soups, sauces, mulled drinks,
stewed fruits and apple pies.

CORIANDER: Available in seed and ground form. These tiny, pale brown seeds
have a mild, spicy flavor with a slight orange peel fragrance. An essential
spice in curry dishes, but also extremely good in many cake and cookie

CUMIN: Sold in seed or ground. Cumin has a warm, pungent aromatic flavor
and is used extensively in flavor curries and many Middle Eastern and
Mexican dishes. Popular in Germany for flavoring sauerkraut and pork
dishes. Use ground or whole in meat dishes and stuffed vegetables.

FENUGREEK: These small, yellow-brown seeds have a slight bitter flavor
which, when added in small quantities, is very good in curries, chutneys
and pickles, soups, fish and shellfish dishes.

GINGER: Available in many forms. Invaluable for adding to many savory and
sweet dishes and for baking gingerbread and brandy snaps. Fresh ginger root
looks like a knobby stem. It should be peeled and finely chopped or sliced
before use. Dried ginger root is very hard and light beige in color. To
release flavor, "bruise" with a spoon or soak in hot water before using.
This dried type is more often used in pickling, jam making and preserving.
Also available in ground form, preserved stem ginger and crystallized

MACE & NUTMEG: Both are found on the same plant. The nutmeg is the inner
kernel of the fruit. When ripe, the fruit splits open to reveal bright red
arils which lie around the shell of the nutmeg - and once dried are known
as mace blades. The flavor of both spices is very similar - warm, sweet and
aromatic, although nutmeg is more delicate than mace. Both spices are also
sold ground. Use with vegetables; sprinkled over egg dishes, milk puddings
and custards; eggnogs and mulled drinks; or use as a flavoring in desserts.

PAPRIKA: Comes from a variety of pepper (capsicum) and although similar in
color to cayenne, this bright red powder has a mild flavor.

PEPPER: White pepper comes from ripened berries with the outer husks
removed. Black pepper comes from unripened berries dried until dark
greenish-black in color. Black pepper is more subtle than white. Use white
or black peppercorns in marinades and pickling, or freshly ground as a
seasoning. Both are available ground. Green peppercorns are also unripe
berries with a mild, light flavor. They are canned in brine or pickled, or
freeze-dried in jars. They add a pleasant, light peppery flavor to sauces,
pates and salad dressings. Drain those packed in liquid and use either
whole or mash them lightly before using. Dry green peppercorns should be
lightly crushed before using to help release flavor, unless otherwise
stated in a recipe.

POPPY SEEDS: These tiny, slate-blue seeds add a nutty flavor to both sweet
and savory dishes. Sprinkle over desserts and breads.

SAFFRON: This spice comes from the stigmas of a species of crocus. It has a
distinctive flavor and gives a rich yellow coloring to dishes, however, it
is also the most expensive spice to buy. Available in small packets or jars
(either powdered or in strands - the strands being far superior in flavor).
This spice is a must for an authentic paella or Cornish Saffron Cake. Also
an extremely good flavoring for soups, fish and chicken dishes.

SESAME SEEDS: High in protein and mineral oil content, sesame seeds have a
crisp texture and sweet, nutty flavor which combines well in curries and
with chicken, pork and fish dishes. Use also to sprinkle over breads,
cookies and pastries before baking.

STAR ANISE: This dried, star-shaped seed head has a pungent, aromatic
smell, rather similar to fennel. Use very sparingly in stir-fry dishes.
Also good with fish and poultry.

TURMERIC: Closely related to ginger, it is an aromatic root which is dried
and ground to produce a bright, orange-yellow powder. It has a rich, warm,
distinctive smell, a delicate, aromatic flavor and helps give dishes an
attractive yellow coloring. Use in curries, fish and shellfish dishes, rice
pilafs and lentil mixtures. It is also a necessary ingredient in mustard
pickles and piccalilli.

All these spices should be stored in small airtight jar. Place them in a cool dark place. Keep away from heat, moisture and sunlight.

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