Glossary of Herbs and Spices
Maurice’s Seafood – Staunton Virginia
Is from a berry, which Columbus introduced to Europe in the 16th Century. It is indigenous to the Caribbean Basin and Central America and not grown elsewhere. Allspice has a pleasantly fragrant aroma and is used in marinades and chutneys.
Is one of the oldest cultivated spices, enjoyed by the early Egyptians. The anise seed has a strong licorice flavor and aroma. Anise is commonly used to flavor spice cakes, breads, sweets and beverages.
Native to India, Asia and Africa is now produced in most termperate countries. There are over 150 varieties of basil grown. The aroma and taste of dried basil leaves are similar to clove and anise. Use with Stews, Pizza (instead of Oregano), Tomato, Tomato sauces and Peppers.
The Bay Tree is native to the Mediterranean. Bay leaves are strong and full-flavored. Bay leaves are used essential to flavor all types of savory dishes, soups and sauces. The Bay leaf is also an essential component of a bouquet garni
These small seeds have a flavor similar to a blend of dill and anise with sharp overtones and an acrid flavor. In addition to breads, Caraway seeds are used to flavor applesauce, cakes, and cookies and can also be used sparingly in potato, carrot and cabbage dishes.
Cardoman was grown in the garden of the King of Babylon in 721 B.C. The majority of the world Cardoman is produced (and consumed) in India. Cardoman has a pungent, sweet-citrus and floral flavor, somewhat similar to ginger. Essential for Indian dishes, it is also used in Norway for ground meat dishes and in Scandinavia in place of cinnamon for baking.
The Greeks and Romans originally grew celery for medicinal qualities. In the 19th century celery seeds (the fruit of the celery) started to appear in recipes. The seeds are tiny and brown with a celery-like, slightly bitter flavor. Typically used in pastries and breads, they are also useful in dips, tomato sauces and salad dressings.
Chevril is part of the part of the parsley family, although more delicate than its cousins. Its flavor is similar to that of anise and parsley. A very aromatic herb that loses its flavor quickly in cooking. It is best added to food just before serving.
Chili Powder is a blend any variety of ground chili peppers, cumin, oregano, salt and garlic. Chili powders that you purchase can be different; some may be hot, while others may be soft and earthy in flavor. It’s all in the mix of the peppers and other ingredients.
** Chefs Note: You can make your own Chili Powder! Just grind seeded chili peppers (of any variety) and add the other ingredients listed above to your taste.
Ever eaten a Lily? Chives are the stems of a bulbous plant in the lily family, which have been used in different cuisine for over 5,000 years. The leaves exude a peppery and onion like flavor, excellent for use with dairy dishes such as sours cream or cream cheese. Chives are also an excellent garnish. When used in cooking, wait until the last moment before adding.
This is the leaf of the herb Coriandrum, also known as Chinese parsley. The flavor is a pungent mix of parsley and citrus. The leaves are used in many Latin American and Asian dishes. Its seed, corriander, is not interchangeable in any recipes.
One of the oldest and most flavorful spices. The aroma should be woody and earthy with a sweet and pungent flavor. The potency of a cinnamon can be determined by its color. The darker the reddish-brown hue, the stronger flavor and aroma.
Cloves are the dried, unopened buds of an evergreen, usually from the Indian Ocean Basin. Cloves are strong in flavor, pungent, and sweet – sometimes hot. Cloves are used in savory dishes, curries, stocks, and pickled recipes.
** Chefs Note: The name comes from the Latin word clavus, or nail, which the spice resembles.
This is the seed of the herb Coriandrum of the parsley family. The seed is mild, minty, and citrus-like in flavor. The seed is used mainly in curry powders.
Cumin is the seed of a plant in the parsley family, always grown in hot climates. The seeds are very spicy and a bit bitter, but not hot. Cumin is typically used in Mexican dishes, as well as Thai, Vietnamese and Indian dishes.
** Chefs Note: When using the whole seed, try roasting the seeds in a pan to bring out more flavor.
Curry Powder is a Spice Blend of Coriander, Tumeric, Cumin, and Nutmeg, Onion and several other spices. The blend can vary from very mild and delicate to a very hot style depending upon the mixture of spices.
Dill weed is very aromatic, yet more subtle in taste. It is slightly sweet and has an anise like flavor. Best known for the “Dill Pickle”. Dill weed is also excellent for stuffing and sauces for seafood dishes.
Fennel seeds have a sweet, anise-like flavor. Used in various cuisines, they are also used for licorice candy and liqueurs. Fennel is excellent for many fish dishes.
** Chefs Note: Try Fennel as a seasoning for those on a salt-free diet.
Garlic is a bulb from the Lily family. Strong and pungent in an onion-like flavor, it comes fresh or prepared as a powder, minced, as juice, and granulated. Garlic is used in a variety of ethnic dishes, sauces and marinades, but it is also an item, which can stand-alone. Try roasting garlic and use it as a spread with olive oil.
Ginger root has been cultivated in Asia for over 3,000 years. Ginger transported easily and therefore was one of the first spices to reach Europe. Ginger has a hot and spicy flavor with a hint of citrus. Ground Ginger is used in baking, Oriental dishes, and chutneys. Ginger requires about 20 minutes of cooking in order to release its entire flavor.
Mace is the membrane, which enwraps the shell of the nutmeg. Mace should be bright orange-red in color. It is nutmeg-like in flavor, very aromatic and spicy.
Marjoram is the dried leaf of an herb in the mint family. The flavor of Marjoram is minty and sweet with a little bitterness. Marjoram and Thyme are often substituted for each other.
The Greeks named mint after Menthe, a mythical character. Mint is characterized by its cool aftertaste. It is very aromatic and has a strong, sweet flavor.
The flavor of Mustard comes from an oil in the seed. This hot-tasting flavor is released when the crushed seed is combined with a cool liquid. Originally, Mustard Seed was mixed with the unfermented juice of grapes, which was called must. Mustard seeds are used in pickling and salad dressings. Ground mustard must be moistened for several minutes to release its sharp flavor.
Nutmeg may be purchased as the whole nut of the Nutmeg tree or dried and ground. Nutmeg has a pungent aroma with sweet and bitter tastes. It is used in much Mediterranean cuisine and also as a flavoring for cakes, puddings and beverages.
Oregano, also known as Wild Marjoram has a full flavor with a slightly peppery taste. The flavor of Oregano varies according to the region and climate in which it was grown. Cooler and drier regions produce a more delicate and sweeter taste, while hotter and dryer climates yield a fuller flavor. Common ethnic uses are for Italian, Greek and Spanish dishes. Use as a substitute for Cilantro in Mexican dishes.
Paprika comes from the pod of a mild pepper plant. Paprika is available in several varieties. The two prevalent styles are Hungarian and Spanish. Spanish Paprika is milder and sweeter. Hungarian Paprika is lighter in color and more pungent. Use Spanish Paprika as a garnish and Hungarian Paprika as a recipe ingredient for dishes such as goulashes and stews.
Parsley, often used only as a garnish, has excellent flavor qualities of its own and greatly enhances the flavor of other herbs. Parsley is also an essential ingredient for many Italian, Spanish and Indian dishes.
Poppy seed comes from the same plant that produces opium, but the seed is not narcotic because it is not formed until after the capsule has lost its ability to produce opium. The flavor is nutty, sweet and spicy. Poppy seeds are common on baked goods. The seed is also used as a vegetable oil. Toasting the seeds will bring out the nutty flavor. Try using Poppy Seeds with different starches.
Rosemary is actually an evergreen. The Latin root of the name is dew of the sea because it grows best where fog and salt spray meet. Rosemary grows as evergreen shrubs in its favorite climates. The aroma is woody with pine and the flavor is slightly bittersweet. An essential in Italian cooking, it is also used extensively in French cooking, game dishes and sprinkled on breads.
Saffron are the dried stigmas of the flowers of Crocus sativus. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. The Stigmas have to be hand picked and it takes almost a quarter of a million flowers to produce one pound of Saffron. The word Saffron is actually the Arab word meaning yellow. A little bit of Saffron goes a long way, so use it sparingly. Saffron has a spicy and honey-like taste. It is as valuable for its flavor as the color that it adds to a dish.
Sage is native to the Mediterranean area; now it is grown worldwide. The plant is an evergreen shrub with distinctive silver-gray leaves. A traditional herb for American stuffing, it is also a staple for sausages and flavoring of various meats and poultry.
** Chefs Note: Try using the more delicate qualities of Sage. Use Sage as a rub with orange peel, thyme, onion and pepper on your next poultry dish. Baste with an orange liqueur such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier.
Another member of the Mint family, Savory, was originally used as a medicinal product (back to the times of Virgil). Now Savory is used almost excessively in the culinary realm. Savory is best used to bring out the flavor of other herbs. The flavor is reminiscent of thyme with slightly minty undertones.
** Chefs Note: In Germany, Savory is known as the Bean Herb. Try it with your favorite bean, lentil or pea dish.
One of the oldest seeds used by man in cooking, the Sesame Seed’s use is recorded back to 1600 BC. Sesame seeds are used to make Sesame Oil or the whole seeds may be pan-fried to bring out the flavor and then used in baked goods, dips, sauces and stir-fried dishes. The flavor is nut-like and slightly bitter. The flavor is intensified when toasted.
The term Open Sesame in the Ali Baba tale may have links to the nature of the Sesame Seed. When the Sesame Seed is ripe, it bursts from its pod with a sharp pop.
There are two distinctive varieties of Tarragon – French and Russian. French Tarragon is the variety cultivated in the United States. The flavor is has anice properties and the aroma is very powerful. Tarragon in fabulous in vinegars and oils, a necessity for Sauce Béarnaise and the perfect accompaniment for poultry dishes.
In ancient Greece, Thyme symbolized courage. The Romans believed that bathing in Thyme would increase vigor, strength and courage. Thyme is very aromatic and its flavor is slightly minty and warm with earthy tones. Thyme is a necessary ingredient for all Stews, Roasts and Stuffing. Try Thyme with melted butter for Mussels and Lobster.
Tumeric is the Rhizome of an herb in the ginger family. The flavor of ground Tumeric resembles a combination of Ginger and Pepper. It is used in many dishes to add a golden-yellow color. Tumeric is a prime ingredient in Indian curry powder and also used for color in cheeses, pickles and other dishes.
The Vanilla Bean thrives in hot, tropical climates. Vanilla primarily comes from Madagascar with the remaining production coming from Indonesia, Mexico, and Tahiti. Pure Vanilla has a very fragrant aroma and a subtle, natural flavor that is both fruity and spicy. Use Vanilla in baking, candies and liqueurs.
** Chefs Note: Imitation vanilla is more prevalent now than Pure Vanilla Extract. The potency varies greatly between the two products! The country in which the bean was grown also impacts the intensity of the flavor.
This is the fun of Spices ‘n Herbs. They always vary in flavor and intensity and there are no rules, just some well founded traditions and experience to go by. Experiment with your own combinations; that are fun and challenge in cooking. and spices