Looking for a simple way to take your cooking to the next level? Using herbs and spices doesn’t require expert skills or any fancy equipment. For the best results, consider getting higher-quality brands. The great thing is that you don’t use a lot of a herb or spice at one time, so those more expensive ingredients last a long time. Here’s everything you need to know.
What are herbs and spices exactly?
Herbs come from the stems, leaves, and flowers of plants in temperate climates. Roots, bark, seeds, berries, and buds of tropical and subtropical plants make spices. While herbs are usually soft, spices are hard. Using herbs and spices correctly matters, but luckily, it’s not difficult. You usually add herbs at the end of cooking time or else the heat will weaken their flavor. Spices, on the other hand, need heat. The cooking process is what makes them release their flavors, so they’re usually added earlier in recipes.
Why experiment with herbs and spices?
Herbs and spices make food interesting. If you’ve only been using salt and pepper in your cooking, you’re missing out. Experimenting with other flavors transforms dishes. It’s like traveling the world from your kitchen. Many health benefits come along with herbs and spice, so you get flavor and nutrition.
What should you try out?
To build your herb-and-spice pantry, here are some of the best ones to try. You can get pretty much all these in a dried form, so they last a long time and you don’t need to prep them in any way.
Allspice – A powerful warm spice with a strong, spicy smell and taste used frequently in Caribbean food.
Bay leaf – A woody herb that goes great with seafood, soups, and stews.
Cumin – A smoky, earthy spice that’s a staple in Mexican, North African, Indian, and Middle Eastern food.
Cardamom – A warm, fragrant complex spice that is citrusy, spicy, and herbal. It’s used in chai and desserts.
Oregano – A citrusy, strong herb found in Mediterranean food.
Rosemary – A strong and fragrant herb (it’s like pine) used often in French and Italian food.
Sage – Another “piney” herb, sage is fragrant and also famous for its health benefits.
Thyme – Strong and earthy, thyme holds up in a variety of dishes, so it’s considered an all-purpose herb.
Chives – Best used to garnish a completed dish, chives have a flavor like onions.
Paprika – A sweetish spice with a hint of heat, paprika is great in chiles, soups, and stews. Ther’s also hot paprika, which is spicier, and smoked paprika, which is smoky and earthy.
Turmeric – An earthy, woodsy spice famous for its health benefits, turmeric gives foods a yellow color.
Basil – An essential herb for pesto and Italian pasta, basil has a licorice-like flavor
Cilantro – Strong and herbal, it’s commonly used in Caribbean, Asian, and Latin American food.
Dill – A strong herb best for fish, eggs, potatoes, and pickling.
Don’t forget about blends!
Using herbs and spices can be overwhelming. The list above barely scratches the surface. If you don’t want to buy everything individually, consider looking for blends. These combine dried herbs and spices for powerful, fast flavor. Some examples include chili powder, which includes cumin, oregano, and ground chilis. For Asian meals, Chinese-Five Spice Powder (fennel, clove, star anise, etc) is great, while curry powder is a decent substitute for all the flavors needed for a good curry.
Many spices are famous for their heat. Could you handle any of the spiciest meals in the world?