Spicing It Up In The Kitchen

Posted on June 17, 2012 at 3:20 AM


Spices are in use all over the world, from the very familiar black pepper to the more obscure cambodge. With such a wide range of flavours, textures, pungencies, colours and intensities it can become overwhelming on what to buy and how to use them.


Spices are made from the bark, seeds, fruit, roots, resins, and buds of plants. They may be dried for storage or used fresh. They are used as a food additive for flavour, colour, texture or as a preservative that kills harmful bacteria or prevents their growth. Spices are distinguished from herbs which are the leafy, green plant parts used for flavouring.


Here is a comprehensive list to get your taste buds educated and further below is a list of common spice blends that can be incorporated into your everyday cooking.



This spice's flavour resembles cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg combined. Use it in baking, puddings, and with fruit. It is also good with meat, fish, seafood, duck, and eggs. It is almost a necessity in mincemeat, pickles, relishes, chutney and preserves,



This is the herb so common to European sweet bakery goods. Its liquorice flavour enhances the flavours of breads, stews and seafood, as well as root vegetables.


Bay Leaf

These leaves have a mild flavour and are best used dried. They are a wonderful addition to meat, potatoes and root vegetables. They are also a good flavouring for sugar, which can be flavoured by placing the leaf in the container of sugar for a few days. Such sugar imparts a fullness of flavour to flans and other custard dishes. Try them in chowders, in marinades, or to the water which will cook your frozen vegies.


Caraway Seeds

These gray and white striped seeds have a sweet nutty flavour and are best when used whole. It's the flavour most common in rye breads and has a flavour reminiscent of a combination of anise and dill. They're used in salads, pickling, and with game meat and you can also use them in apple sauce, cakes, cookies, herbal vinegars and also in Hungarian Goulash. The sweet root of the caraway plant can be served like parsnips.



At one time, this spice ranked just behind saffron as the world's most expensive spice. Their warm taste is perfect for curry and pork dishes. Crush whole pods before using and use sparingly.


Cayenne Pepper

Used lightly this red pepper adds interest to bland foods like beans, eggs, sauces and meat. It is one of the most important spices in American sausage and if added in quantity to vinegar it can make a fine substitute for Tabasco. You can use this in anything that you want to make spicy and hot.



Cinnamon is one or the most popular spices in the world. It's the flavour treat for breads, cakes, stews, curries and sweet dishes. It’s also an amazing flavour addition to tomato sauces or meat dishes. It is often used in combination with cloves, as the two complement each other well in dishes.



The flavour of the cloves are essential to gingerbreads, spice cakes, fruit cakes, mincemeats, curries, ham, and certain vegetables. Studded into an onion, they add their essence to soups and stews. They are also used to scent soaps, candles, potpourris and sachets. For a temporary help for a toothache, place a clove near the tooth in question and bite down, holding the clove in place, it will naturally numb the area.


Coriander Seeds

They are mild and have an aroma similar to a cross between lemon, sage, and caraway. Used in baked goods, curry blends, pickling, special drinks, and soups.



Peppery flavour, best used ground or whole. Use in stews, sauces, soups, in bread and with fish but use sparingly.


Fennel Seed

Has a taste like anise but a little sweeter, fresher and lighter. It's best used raw or cooked. Use in soups, stews, salads or as an addition to a spice blend. Also said to cure bad breath.



The dried seeds of this plant have a sort of caramelized sugar taste, but the stems and leaves of this plant are also used for flavouring. Use in moderation with meat and stews.



Galangal is a root with culinary and medicinal uses, best known for its appearance in Thai cuisine but also common in recipes from medieval Europe. It resembles ginger in appearance and taste but has an extra citrus aroma, with a slight hint of soapiness.



The bulb of this plant is sought after for flavouring almost anything. It lends itself well to almost all non-sweet dishes. Use in pasta sauces, pork roasts, herb butter, stuffing and marinades. It's especially good when blended with melted butter and served as a sauce for seafood.



Has the flavour of a mix of pepper and sweetness, best used as a dried powder or freshly grated. Use in breads, cakes, cookies, teas and also Asian dishes.



A bitter hot herb with a very sharp flavour similar to mustard. Use fresh or jarred as a condiment or to flavour fish, beef, sausages and potato salads. It has been cultivated for centuries and ads bite to bland dairy, meat and fish dishes. Finely chopped leaves may also be added to green salads.


Juniper Berries

They have a pungent and piney flavour, best used as a dried berry. Use with wild game cooking, beef and pork, or with marinades and sauces. The purplish coloured berries of the juniper have long been used for flavouring because they remove the strong flavour of game meat. They should be crushed before using to release the flavour. They are also an inseparable part of gin.



Used for generations, this plant is a member of the pea family with pale violet or blue flowers. Its dried root or an extract of the root is used in medicines, tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, beverages, chewing gum, and candy. In cooking in the home, anise is usually a substitute for the flavour of liquorice.



Has a delicate flavour, best when used fresh or dried. Use in stews, soups, marinades and at the end of cooking to conserve flavour. It has a spicey sage-like flavour and is often used with oregano in cooking and looks similar in habit. The leaves are a wonderful addition to any non-sweet food to which you might want to add a little flavour to. Try adding some to your favourite bread or biscuit dough.


Mustard Seed

Has a nice spicy, aromatic rustic taste and can be used in any meal. Best used whole or as a ground powder.



Nutmeg has a warm sweet flavour which is used when grated or ground off the nut. It adds the characteristic flavour to egg nog, as well as being delicious in egg custards. Use in cakes, cookies and also on sweet potatoes. It's also fantastic in mash potatoes.



This is the ground dried pods of bell peppers and while usually made from sweet bell peppers, the flavour and pungency can vary from variety used. Some paprika, like Hungarian rose paprika is made from red capsicum pepper. It is used as a seasoning and garnish and can be used in practically all non-sweet foods. This spice will pick up moisture from the air, so must be kept dry and tightly closed. Paprika is one of the few herbs and spices that will attract insects.



Pepper has a hot flavour and is best used ground, especially freshly ground. It is a basic flavour enhancer, combined with salt, for most dishes.


Poppy Seeds

Have a nutty flavour, best used dried or whole. Use in cakes, salads dressings and in muffins.



The small orange stigmas from a crocus plant that are used in paella, rice dishes, soups, curries, stews, sauces and in some bakery products. Saffron adds to the colour and flavour of a dish and is very pungent. Saffron is available as threads and as grains, the threads are considered best but are far more expensive.


Sesame Seed

Has a nutty flavour, best used whole. Use in breads and cookies and also salad dressings. It is a great addition to tuna dishes.


Star Anise

A plant, Illicium verum, used primarily for its star-shaped seed which resembles anise in scent and flavour. It is valued for its decorative shape as well as its flavour. Used to flavour curries, soups, stews, teas and also used in desserts.



Dark purple-red berries with a pleasantly fruity, astringent taste (similar to lemon). They are very much present in the Middle-Eastern cuisine, complementing everything from fish to meat to vegetables.



Has a pungent and somewhat bitter taste. Best used dried and ground and in curries.



A fruit used as a souring agent. It can usually be bought as seeds pressed into bricks. It’s popularly used in chutneys, curries and Worcestershire sauce.



Sweet and highly aromatic. Best when used from whole dried beans or as an extract. Use with coffee, in desserts, ice cream, puddings and cakes.



An aromatic and flavourful seed derived from the wattle tree. It has a hazelnut coffee-like flavour and can be used to flavour ice-cream and desserts and also can be used with strong meats such as venison and kangaroo.


These spices are great to use on their own or they can be combined to make familiar blends to use on favourite dishes such as the following.


Curry Powder

Curry powder is used to flavour soups and stews, and is great for adding a kick to all kinds of sauces and marinades.


2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon mustard seed

½ teaspoon ground ginger

- Blend all ingredients in a food processor.


Taco Seasoning

Add to standard recipe for tacos in place of packaged seasoning.


1-2 teaspoons chilli powder

1½ teaspoons cumin

1½ teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

¼-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

- Combine all ingredients.


Ras el Hanout Moroccan Spice

This spice mix is not only used to add to tagines but try adding half a teaspoon to some couscous or rice when cooking. It can also be used for a rub for grilled meat or mix with yoghurt or lemon juice and use as a marinade.


1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon cayenne

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

- Combine all ingredients


Dukkah Spice

An Egyptian spice blend usually eaten by dipping bread into olive oil and then into the mixture. It can also be used as a crust for lamb.


½ cup hazelnuts

¼ cup coriander seeds

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon dried mint leaves

1 teaspoon salt

- Combine all ingredients in a food processor.


Garam Masala

An aromatic mixture of ground spices that's used as the base for many Indian dishes.


1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander

1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom

1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

- Combine all ingredients.


Chinese Five Spice

Five-spice powder is a mixture of five spices. It encompasses all five flavours of sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. It is popular in Chinese cuisine, but also used in other Asian cookery.


1 teaspoon ground Szechwan pepper

1 teaspoon ground star anise

1 ¼ teaspoon ground fennel seeds

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

- Combine all ingredients.


Harissa Spice

A North African hot paste, usually served with couscous.


25g small hot red chilli's

2 red capsicums grilled and skinned

2 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

½ teaspoon coriander seed

sea salt

Olive Oil

- Combine all ingredients in a food processor.


Mixed Spice (Pudding Spice)

Used in a variety of cakes and puddings, such as fruit cake, gingerbread and Christmas pudding.


1 tablespoon cinnamon, ground

1 teaspoon coriander, ground

1 teaspoon nutmeg, ground

½ teaspoon ginger, ground

¼ teaspoon allspice, ground

¼ teaspoon cloves, ground

- Combine all ingredients.


Berbere Spice Mix

A spicy, hot Ethiopian blend, Berbere is delicious with many combinations of legumes, rice or vegetables. Serve sparingly as a condiment with grilled beef and poultry and add to soups and stews.


2 teaspoons ground fenugreek

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ cup red chilli flakes

¼ cup hot paprika

2 teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

- Add first 10 ingredients to dry frying pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from stove and combine with ginger, nutmeg, salt and turmeric.


Baharat Spice Mix

A North African spice mix used to season lamb but is an all-purpose flavour enhancer useful for fish, chicken, beef, tomato sauces and soups. It’s a great addition to lentil dishes, pilafs and can even perk up plain old meatloaf. We find it useful as a rub for virtually anything on the barbeque.


2 tablespoons fresh ground black pepper

2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoons ground coriander

1 tablespoons ground cloves

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

- Combine all ingredients.


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