If you’re wondering what those spice jars really contain or how to use them, you’re not alone. Many home chefs buy a dried herb or spice for a specific recipe and never use it again.
Here are definitions of the most popular dried herbs and spices, with links to definitions, so you know when to use them. The list is supplied by thekitchn.com.
Asafoetida (Asafetida) – Used as a digestive aid in Indian cooking, asafoetida has a strong odour that mellows out into a garlic-onion flavour.
Achiote (Annatto) – Reddish-brown paste or powder ground from annatto seeds with an earthy flavour. Used primarily in Latin American dishes like mole sauce, cochinita pibil, and tamales.
Allspice – Similar to cloves, but more pungent and deeply flavoured. Best used in spice mixes.
Bay leaf – Adds a woodsy background note to soups and sauces.
Caraway seed – These anise-tasting seeds are essential for soda bread, sauerkraut, and potato salad.
Cardamom – This warm, aromatic spice is widely used in Indian cuisine. It’s also great in baked goods when used in combination with spices like clove and cinnamon.
Cayenne pepper – Made from dried and ground red chili peppers. Adds a sweet heat to soups, braises, and spice mixes.
Chia seeds – Nearly flavourless, they can be ground into smoothies, cereals, and baked goods for extra nutrition and texture, or even used as a vegan egg substitute.
Cloves – Sweet and warming spice. Used most often in baking, but also good with braised meat.
Coriander seed – Earthy, lemony flavour. Used in a lot of Mexican and Indian dishes.
Cumin – Smokey and earthy. Used in a lot of Southwestern U.S. and Mexican cuisine, as well as North African, Middle Eastern, and Indian.
Fennel seed – Lightly sweet and licorice flavored. It’s excellent with meat dishes, or even chewed on its own as a breath freshener and digestion aid.
Fenugreek – Although this herb smells like maple syrup while cooking, it has a rather bitter, burnt sugar flavor. Found in a lot of Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.
Garlic powder – Garlic powder is made from dehydrated garlic cloves and can be used to give dishes a sweeter, softer garlic flavour.
Ginger – Ground ginger is made from dehydrated fresh ginger and has a spicy, zesty bite.
Gochugaru – This Korean red pepper spice is hot, sweet, and ever-so-slightly smokey.
Grains of Paradise – These taste like a cross between cardamom, citrus, and black pepper. They add a warming note to many North African dishes.
Kaffir Lime Leaves – Used to flavour curries and many Thai dishes. Can be sold fresh, dry, or frozen.
Loomi – Also called black lime, this is ground from dried limes. Adds a sour kick to many Middle Eastern dishes.
Mace – From the same plant as nutmeg, but tastes more subtle and delicate. Great in savoury dishes, especially stews and homemade sausages.
Mahlab – Ground from sour cherry pits, this spice has a nutty and somewhat sour flavor. It’s used in a lot of sweet breads throughout the Middle East.
Nutmeg – Sweet and pungent. Great in baked goods, but also adds a warm note to savoury dishes.
Nutritional yeast – Very different from bread yeast, this can be sprinkled onto or into sauces, pastas, and other dishes to add a nutty, cheesy, savory flavour.
Oregano – Robust, somewhat lemony flavour. Used in a lot of Mexican and Mediterranean dishes.
Paprika – Adds a sweet note and a red colour. Used in stews and spice blends. There is also a spicy version labeled hot paprika.
Peppercorns – Peppercorns come in a variety of colours (black, white, pink, and green being the most popular). These are pungent and pack a mild heat.
Rosemary – Strong and piney. Great with eggs, beans, and potatoes, as well as grilled meats.
Saffron – Saffron has a subtle but distinct floral flavour and aroma, and it also gives foods a bright yellow colour.
Sage – Pine-like flavour, with more lemony and eucalyptus notes than rosemary. Found in a lot of northern Italian cooking.
Smoked paprika – Adds sweet smokiness to dishes, as well as a red colour.
Star anise – Whole star anise can be used to add a sweet licorice flavor to sauces and soups.
Sumac – Zingy and lemony, sumac is a Middle Eastern spice that’s great in marinades and spice rubs.
Turmeric – Sometimes used more for its yellow color than its flavor, turmeric has a mild woodsy flavour. Can be used in place of saffron in a pinch or for those of us on a budget.
Thyme – Adds a pungent, woodsy flavour. Great as an all-purpose seasoning.
Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon (also: Cinnamon) – Sweet and spicy. Can be used in both sweet baked goods and to add depth to savoury dishes.