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Glossary of Herbs and Spices the Art of Seasoning
Thyme in Flower
Using herbs and spices
The proper use of herbs and spices is more art than science. Have you ever eaten a plate of spaghetti with marinara or a pizza that tastes primarily of oregano? Or a sage stuffing when all you could taste is the sage?
The proper use of herbs and spices is to enhance flavors not to over-power a dish. Certainly there are exceptions; a steak au poivre should show off the flavor of pepper.
If you or the people you cook for object to the flavor of the herbs in the dish you prepared it’s quite possible that you are simply using too much.
A small amount of herbs that are balanced to the style you are cooking will make the dish more flavorful and add a layer of complexity that is difficult to describe. Too much seasoning will make the dish taste like nothing other than the spice or herb you are using.
Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh, but only if the dried herbs are absolutely fresh. Do you have herbs in your pantry that are older than a year? Throw them out.
The rule of thumb is 1 Tbs. of fresh is equal to 1 tsp. of dried. As usual there are exceptions; Chervil and Cilantro lose much of their flavor in the drying process. Finely ground herbs and spices lose flavor much sooner than the whole spice. Whole peppercorns will keep their flavor for years while ground pepper loses potency much sooner. If you will use an herb or spice up within a year all you need to do is keep it away from the light and as cool as possible. Storing directly over or next to the stove is about as bad a location as you can find.
For herbs and spices that won’t be used in a year’s time, if you want to keep them for the longest time possible.
Place bottles or cans of herbs and spices in separate plastic bags and freeze them.
Buy a spice grinder; a small electric coffee grinder is good for this too.
Try to buy whole herbs and spices (that have not been ground into a powder) and grind into powder when needed.
Write the date of purchase on the bottle so you know how old the spice is.
A recent study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that nearly 7 percent of spice shipments were contaminated by salmonella, reports The New York Times.
Salmonella was found in 15 percent of coriander, 12 percent of oregano and basil, 4 percent of black pepper, and also in shipments of sesame seeds, curry powder, and cumin.
Cooking of course will destroy these bacteria.
Toasting and Grinding for MORE Flavor
Indians, (among others) have a way with spices that we can all emulate for wonderful results. Use their methods to add a bit more flavor to your dishes. Using the freshest whole spices, vary the size of the grind according to the food you are seasoning; a chicken breast might need finely ground spices so the breast is not overwhelmed while a char grilled steak could use coarse ground or cracked spices to add a flavor burst when you bite into a spice nugget. When making a dish that is heavily spiced like a curry there are two ways to develop the flavor beyond just adding spices to a dish. Grind fresh spices and toast them in a dry sauté for a couple of minutes over a medium low fire, the spice should just be beginning to brown and will release a wonderful aroma. The second way is to toast them the same way but by adding a little vegetable oil to the pan, the oil will help carry the flavor throughout the dish you are seasoning.
Buy herbs and spices from a spice dealer, grocery stores are fine for the herbs that sell quickly but the online spice sellers will have much fresher products.
Buy your spices in the smallest amount possible.
Is spite of all the rules about how quickly herbs and spices will lose their potency learn to trust your own nose. Smell the spice before you use it, if it has lost potency it will lose its aroma too. As an herb or spice loses potency you can just use more for quite a while, remember to add it to your shopping list.
ABC Top Ten Herbs and Spices
Basil in flower
What is Asafoetida? / Kale with Chili & Asafoetida Recipe
Bay leaves, Bay Laurel
Borage in Flower
Allspice thru Capers
Flavor like a mixture of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, use in baking, sausage making and curries. Important in Caribbean cooking allspice is a major part of Jerk seasoning and in Cincinnati chili. Allspice is the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant.
ANNATTO also called ACHIOTE
Slightly sweet and peppery, annatto is the flesh of the seed of the Achiote tree. Prevalent in Caribbean cooking annatto has a reddish color which is used as food color as well as a spice. Frequently used as a substitute for Saffron but with a completely different flavor. Sold commercially under the brand Bijol or just as annatto, use in rice, seafood, vegetable and chicken dishes
More common in the seed form, flavor of licorice, requires many plants to produce a useful crop of anise seeds for cooking. You may use the foliage freshly chopped to render at weaker anise flavor in many recipes. Used in several liquors like Ouzo, Araq, Jägermeister and others
also known as Hing, Devil's Dung and Stinking Gum, this is the dried latex (gum oleoresin) exuded from the living underground rhizome or taproot of several species of Ferula, a species of giant fennel which is a perennial herb. Asafoetida has a unique smell and flavor and is one of the flavors in Worsestershire sauce. It is called for often in Indian cooking, mostly in vegetarian dishes. The smell may strike you as overpowering and very unpleasant, but in cooking it mellows out and produces a flavor reminiscent onion and garlic. In India this ingredient is crucial for the Jains, who do not eat root crops.
Basil is a member of the mint family; leaves have a rich, spicy-sweet flavor that can range from a sweet licorice to a strong clove to mint-like. There are many varieties of basil, lemon Basil and Cinnamon Basil have flavors that match their names. Important in Italian cooking basil is also America’s favorite herb. Basil is the basis for pesto sauce, and adds flavor to a wide range of dishes from soup to vegetables, sauces and meats. Basil is one of the few herbs that we enjoy raw in dishes like mozzarella and tomato salad.
Basil was considered the "royal herb" by the ancient Greeks. . Fresh basil can be stored wrapped in damp paper towels and held in a plastic bag for a few days, OR with fresh cut stems, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the top of the leaves for up to a week. Easy to grow in a pot in a sunny place, garden centers sell several types.
Aromatic leaves of Bay Laurel, wreaths of laurel once crowned ancient heroes. Most aromatic when dried, bay leaves are a part of a bouquet garni and useful for soups, stews and casseroles, as well as marinades for meat, fish and poultry. Use bay leaves whole and remove the leaves from the dish before it is served. Bay leaves are used for the aroma they can impart to a dish. Aroma is slightly floral with Thyme and oregano. he texture of bay leaves is objectionable and whole bay can even choke a diner. Crushed and ground bay leaves are available but use these in a tea ball for removal when done.
Tough, hairy leaves have a fresh cucumber scent. Use young leaves chopped in salad or add older leaves to soups and sauces, but remove before serving. Beautiful blue flowers are one of the only truly blue foods and are quite sweet, can be crystallized as a garnish or used fresh in salads, on desserts and famously in fruit cups.
CAPERS (Capparis spinosa) come from unopened flower buds. The caper plant is a low, trailing shrub in the caper family (Capparaceae) native to the Mediterranean region. . Capers are used mainly for flavoring pickles, relishes and sauces.
Cardamom Capsules and seeds
Coriander, Cilantro and Cumin
Cardamom thru Dill
There are two types of cardamom, black and green, both are members of the ginger family and the various other cardamoms are derived from these two. Both have strong resinous flavors with the black having a smokier flavor. Important in Indian cooking, used in the Middle East and in Scandinavia countries for use in baking
Grass like member of the onion family grows well outdoors or in window-sill pots. Regular clipping is all that's required to keep chives flourishing. The mild onion-flavored leaves are used fresh in salads as well as cheese, egg and vegetable dished. Freeze-dried chives are a fine substitute when fresh are not available.
Otherwise known as French parsley, this lesser known herb is predominantly used as a flavor enhancer to other herbs and spices. Dried Chervil has little flavor of its own, but the fresh herb, especially when combined with other herbs and spices produces a fuller flavor many dishes.
Also called coriander, cilantro has a bold, almost citrus flavor popular in the highly spiced cuisines of Asia, the Caribbean, India, Latin America and Spain. Add chopped cilantro leaves to rice and noodle dishes as well as tomato salad, relish and salsa. Use sparingly, it can overwhelm a dish!
There are several plants sold as cinnamon: Cinnamomum verum ("True cinnamon", Sri Lanka cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon) ( C.burmannii (Korintje or Indonesian cinnamon) ( C.loureiroi (Saigon cinnamon or Vietnamese cinnamon) and (C.aromaticum (Cassia or Chinese cinnamon) They all share various degrees of the warm, sweet and spicy flavor that we all know, cinnamon oil can be quite hot. Native to S.E. Asia its use has spread around the world. Vietnam produces one of the best but if you want a choice you will have to visit one of the online spice sellers, grocery stores rarely tell us the origin of their cinnamon.
Sun-dried, flower buds of (Syzygium aromaticum), a tree native to the Molucca Islands neard New Guinea (also known as the Spice Islands). Clove oil is extracted from the buds, stems and leaves, and is used in the perfume and soap industries and as a temporary remedy for tooth aches. Use sparingly, cloves can overwhelm a dish!
The herb we call cilantro is actually the leaves of the coriander plant. The seeds are what we call Coriander and it has a warm nutty, citrus like flavor. Used for pickling, brewing certain wheat beers and in sausage making in the western world, coriander is important in Indian cuisine, used in curries and Garam Masala. Coriander roots are also used especially in Thai cooking; they have a stronger flavor than the leaves.
Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum , a member of the parsley family. Cumin is one of the most popular spices in the world outselling everything except pepper. Cumin is used in most of the major cuisines with special emphasis in Indian and Caribbean foods. Cumin is earthy and warming and may be a big part of some chilies.
Feathery dill leaves can dominate a recipe, but heat quickly weakens their flavor. Dill is snipped fresh into salads, sauces and spreads, and paired with carrots, cucumbers and green beans. Dill is delicious with fish, particularly salmon and is a staple in potato salads and fresh cucumber dishes although the flavor of the leaves quickly dissipates when heated
Herbs de Provence
Fresh Kaffir Lime Leaves, Lemongrass, Galangal, Thai Chili
Fennel thru Oregano
Feathery fronds of fennel may look like dill, but the taste is an aniseed or licorice flavor. Fennel is a classic herb used for stuffings, stews and sauces. Important in both French and Italian cuisines. Fresh fennel makes a savory bed for grilled seafood. A little bit is wonderful in poultry stuffings. Try a bit in your next tomato sauce for a flavor boost.
Finocchio (also called florence fennel, bulb fennel, and-incorrectly anise) The lower stem is globe shaped this fennel is used as a vegetable. Readily found in all produce markets.
Green Fennel: Grown mainly for its seeds. Like all fennel, this is a perennial. Foliage can substitute for wild fennel (see below), although not with exactly the same flavor.
Bronze fennel: Similar to green fennel except for color. Same uses as green fennel and also used as a decorative plant.
FENUGREEK has three culinary uses: as a herb (dried or fresh leaves), as a spice (seeds), and as a vegetable. Fenugreek is also used as a folk medicine with a long list of applications. There is some evidence that fenugreek, taken with food will have some effect on lowering blood sugar spikes, research is ongoing but so far, no other medical benefit is recognized by the FDA. "Fenugreek appears to slow absorption of sugars in the stomach and stimulate insulin. Both of these effects lower blood sugar in people with diabetes". The flavor of fenugreek seeds is sweet and said to resemble the flavor of maple syrup. Fenugreek is widely used in Indian and African cuisines.
FILÉ POWDER also called GUMBO FILÉ
Used sparingly in gumbos as a seasoning and thickening agent, this is powdered sassafras with a flavor similar to root beer.
Five Spice Powder (Chinese)
is a mixture of five spices, encompassing all five flavors of sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. There are many variations but the most common is star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and ground fennel seeds
Similar to ginger in flavor and appearance, galangal is used in and native to S.E. Asia, especially Thailand. There are two types, greater and lesser and the lesser will have slightly less “heat”
Garam masala (Hot Spices)
is a blend of many ground spices. Common in Indian and other Asian cuisines. There are endless variations on this spice blend but the best cooks will blend their own on an as needed basis. The word garam refers to intensity of the spices rather than capsaicin content. To make your own garam masala the first step is always to toast the spices. This is important for two reasons; raw whole spices have a much greater shelf life than prepared ground spices and toasting spices releases and increases the flavor. Flavor is complex, spicy but indescribable because of the many variations.
Aromatic member of the onion family garlic is one of the oldest culinary herbs. Used around the world, many cuisines feature garlic as an essential flavoring. Strongest in its raw state, garlic takes on sweeter and milder tones in cooking and enhances the flavor of other ingredients. Garlic is used in soups, sauces, stews, marinades and virtually every type of cooking. Many reputed health benefits. Do not cook garlic on a high heat, garlic in a sauté pan should just wilt, when garlic is browned quickly it turns bitter.
Fresh ginger root is predominantly used in Asian cooking. A little bit is good in sautéed vegetables. Crystallized Ginger is used in confectionary. Dried and ground ginger is more common in cakes and cookies because it produces a more interesting flavor when combined with cinnamon or other spices.
A pungent and spicy root to add zest to cocktail sauce or to sour cream for a dip, buy in small quantities as it will lose it's kick after awhile in the 'fridge. Horseradish has to be shredded to release the volatile compounds that give it its trademark heat and these compounds evaporate over time.
KAFFIR LIME LEAVES
The leaves of the Kaffir lime tree, aromatic and pungent used in Thai tom yum dishes as well as Cambodian Krueng, also used in Indonesian, Malay and Burmese cuisines. Available in Asian markets and can be frozen for later use.
A delicious, citrus-scented member of the mint family, good in fruit cups, fruit salads, or with poultry and fish. Can be used sparingly in salads, too.
The thicker, lowers stems of lemongrass are peeled and the cores are bundled to be steamed or chopped in order to add produce a sweet, lemony flavor in many different types of cooking. The leaves of lemongrass are predominantly used in stir fries and for making Lemongrass tea. Important in Thai and other Asia cuisines.
Nutmeg and Mace
Nutmeg is the seed of the tree Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Mace is the lacy reddish covering (aril) of the seed. Nutmeg contains myristicin, a natural compound that has mind-altering effects if ingested in large doses. The effect can last one to two days and can be hallucinogenic, much like LSD. This high comes with some nasty side effects like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Nutmeg is widely used as a baking spice for its warm sweet, spicy flavor. Commonly used to spice apple pie, pumpkin pie, cobblers and of course eggnog. Nutmeg is a nice way to add flavor to savory dishes like spinach and broccoli and a tiny bit in a cream sauce will make the sauce brighter. Common in Indian cuisine in both sweet and savory dishes.
Mace has a flavor very similar to nutmeg, though more subtle and delicate. If you find nutmeg too potent, try using mace instead for a gentler flavor. Mace may also impart a mustard yellow color to dishes where it is used.
Similar in flavor to Oregano, goes well with fish, cheese, tomato and egg dishes. Wild marjoram has a tronger flavor that it's Italian cousin oregano.
There are many varieties of this herb, from spearmint and peppermint to applemint and lemon mint. Used in teas, drinks and candies, it is rarely used in Western cooking, but frequently utilized in Eastern foods. Mint specialties and spices often combine to flavor meat, chicken and of course, lamb. And who could forget that Derby day special Mint Julep. Important in the cuisine of India
Rarely used spicy citrus flavored evergreen. Add leaves to soups or stews, lay whole sprigs under roast pork and lamb for the last half-hour of cooking.
Oregano leaves have a peppery, earthy flavor common in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Latin American cuisines. Oregano is important in Greek and Italian foods. Oregano combines well with olive oil and garlic. Add chopped fresh oregano to meat loaf, meatballs and grilled burgers. Oregano varies considerably in potency from area to area. "The Mexican is pungently grassier (think fresh-mown hay) and more floral,'' Bayless wrote. "The Mediterranean more anisey and sweeter (reminiscent of the aromas from a pizza parlor."
Saffron, Salad Burnet
Paprika thru Turmeric
Paprika is made from dried and ground chili peppers, capsicum annuum , Like all of the capsicums, paprika originated in South America but has spread across the globe. Paprika can range from sweet to smoky to hot depending on variety. Two countries are famous for producing paprika, Hungary and Spain. Spanish paprika is a little bit sweeter with milder flavors than the Hungarian varieties. Hungarian paprika will have a darker color and a more assertive paprika flavor. Which you use is just about your own preference but if you’re making Hungarian Goulash it seems like you would use their paprika. When you see paprika that is not labeled as to origin, use the color as a guide, Spanish is usually quite bright while Hungarian will have a little brownish color. While we use it mainly as a garnish other cuisines make better use of the flavors. Hungarian goulash and Paprikásh rely on paprika for flavor. Try paprika rubbed on roasts, in vegetables and sauces. Smoked paprika has literally been smoked and can impart a smoky flavor to any dish.
There are more than 30 varieties of this slightly peppery herb; curly-leaf parsley, a common garnish, is the most popular, but Italian or flat-leaf parsley has better flavor for cooking. Parsley is important in Middle Eastern, European, and American cooking and is essential to French cooking.
There are two basic types -- flat-leafed and curly. The curly-leafed is more common in the US and also the type most often used as a garnish because of its ability stay fresh-looking. The flat-leafed variety is the true Italian parsley, (not to be confused with Chinese parsley, which is actually cilantro) and is far superior in flavor. Dried parsley is also available, but flavor is inferior.
Silvery-green, needle-like rosemary leaves have a sweet pine-needle fragrance with hints of lemon and ginger. Rosemary enhances roasted fish, poultry and meat, particularly lamb. The texture of Rosemary leaves is objectionable to some and may require the use of ground rosemary.
Usually used with stuffing, essential in many types of sausages and also enhances tomato and cheese-based dishes. Essential in Saltimbocca.
Saffron is by far the most expensive spice in the world; it is the stigma of a crocus flower. A pound of dried saffron requires from 50 to 75 thousand flowers to be harvested. Used in many cuisines it is important in Indian and Caribbean foods. Flavor is bitter and earthy but the quantity used is so slight that it is delicious.
Salad burnet, Garden burnet, Small burnet, (Sanguisorba minor)
Salad burnet is a member of the rose family, native to Europe, Africa and Asia.
There is some use in folk medicine, mostly to treat diarrhea. At one time this was used to treat the Plague and to control hemorrhaging although we think if you get the plague you probably ought to see a doctor. The flavor has been described as "cucumber light". This is a better choice than borage when you want to add a cucumber flavor because the leaves are more tender and not hairy the way borage is. We could not find a source for salad burnet herb so if you want
to try this you may have to grow your own. This grows easily in my Florida garden and it does well in a pot. Use the youngest leaves and strip a few at a time when you need them, older leaves tend to get bitter. Salad Burnet does not dry well as it loses flavor but you can freeze some to add to a dish when winter snows blow. Greater Burnet or Official Burnet, is related and has a similar flavor.
Flavor is a cross between mint and thyme. Summer savory is delicate, typically used freshly minced for flavoring beans and meat dishes.
Winter savory is an evergreen perennial, often dried to produce a stronger savory flavoring that would be lost when drying Summer Savory.
Star anise is the fruit of a small evergreen tree Illicium verum native to southwest China. Star anise is one of the spices in five-spice powder.The star-shaped fruits are picked just before ripening and dried before use. They contain the same essential oil as the botanically unrelated anise seed, which gives the two a nearly identical flavor - strong, sweet, and licorice. Star anise is important in Eastern Chinese cuisine. As well as Indian and Vietnamese cooking. If star anise is not available anise seed makes an effective substitute.
Otherwise known as British cicely or sweet-chervil. All parts of this ferny-leafed, anise-scented herb present a very sweet flavor. The sugar that is produced by the herb is in a form that diabetics can metabolize. All parts of the plant including the root are edible additions to salads and confections.
The aniseed or licorice flavor of tarragon defines Bearnaise sauce and provides the key flavoring for salad dressings and egg dishes. Long cooking decreases the tarragon’s flavor and it is typically added to dishes near the end of cooking or in the raw completely. "Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes essential to French cooking.
Earthy and faintly lemon flavor, the lemon flavor is more pronounced in Lemon Thyme. Thyme is a basic component of a bouquet garni, essential to French cooking. Use in soups, stews and stuffings as well as poultry, beef, lamb, tomato and egg dishes. Used in Middle Eastern, European, American and Caribbean cuisines.
Turmeric has a warm, slightly bitter and peppery flavor sort of like ginger with a hint of citrus. Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh. If you eat curries or ball park mustard you are eating turmeric. Turmeric grows wild in the forests of Southeast Asia. Turmeric is important in Indian, Persian, Indonesian and Thai dishes. Mostly used are the roots, but some people in India will use the fresh leaves to wrap cooked food to impart a unique flavor. Also a fresh turmeric root pickle is enjoyed in the Far East. Turmeric is used most often in the west as a coloring agent (along with annatto) in dairy products, margarine, chicken broth, prepared mustards and others.
Preserving Herbs and Combinations
To Preserve Herbs in Oils the herbs must be thoroughly dried first. If you put fresh herbs in oil the moisture will support the growth of Botulism a deadly toxin producing toxin. It is okay to add fresh herbs to oil for immediate use but refrigerate right away and discard the oil after a week. For herbs in oil always use the best quality oils, extra virgin olive oil is ideal and always available.
Preserving oils in vinegar is much safer for the home cook, just bring your choice of good quality vinegar to a boil and pour over the herbs, let it steep for a week to develop the flavors, then strain and bottle.
Classic Herb Combinations: include Bouquet Garni which is a culinary term for a posy of parsley, a thyme sprig, and a bay leaf or two that is tied together and used to flavor slowly cooked soups, braises and stews. Fresh or dried herbs can be used and they are sometimes tied into the hollow of a celery stalk.
Fines Herbs is a traditional French mixture of 4 fresh or dried herbs including parsley, chervil, chives and tarragon. This is used for sprinkling over fresh salads or in egg, chicken and fish dishes just at the end of their cooking.
Herbes de Provence is a regional mixture of herbs from the Mediterranean. Thyme, oregano, rosemary and savory combine to form an addition to pizza, stews, grilled foods and baked vegetables.