There’s something about the vibrant colors, strong smells and unusual appearance of spices that makes them seem mysterious. For that reason, some cooks tend to shy away, but boy, are they missing out! Try any of these top ten spices in your favorite foods, and you’ll see for yourself what makes spice so very nice.
Mustard is the spice used in the familiar golden condiment we use on ham sandwiches and hot dogs. In addition to adding texture to its namesake condiment, whole mustard seeds are also typically used in pickling, seasoning meats and marinades. Mustard powder is used to make dressings and flavor sauces.
This little berry gets its name from its complex flavor. It tastes like a mixture of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, making it an outstanding baking spice. Originating in the Caribbean and South America, allspice is often used in savory dishes of this region as well. In addition, allspice provides a welcomed touch of sweetness when roasted on the outside of a glazed Smithfield Ham.
Cayenne pepper comes from the extremely hot cayenne chile. It is dried and then ground to form a fine orangey-red powder that can overheat a recipe instantly. This intense spice should be used cautiously, even for the most daring eaters. Use a pinch in your next pot of clam chowder, and in all your Cajun-inspired dishes.
Pepper is one of the most versatile spices and also one of the strongest. Whole peppercorns are dried berries from the pepper tree. Pepper grinders create the freshest pepper flavor using whole peppercorn, but ground pepper is also widely available. White pepper is actually from the same berry; however, it is left to ripen longer and the skin is then removed, making it milder in flavor.
One of the sweetest and most agreeable spices, cinnamon is often used in the U.S. exclusively for baking. Around the world, however, cinnamon is rounded out with other spices and aromatic vegetables to impart an exotic flavor to many savory dishes.
Curry powder is a combination of many spices. Depending on its origin, the ingredients of any given curry powder will change. Typical spices that are blended to create a curry powder are cardamom, chilies, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, fenugreek and coriander. It is traditionally used in Thai, Chinese, Indian and African cuisines. Combine curry powder with coconut milk to create a sauce or stir it into mayonnaise to make a vegetable dip.
Coriander seeds are the dried fruit of the cilantro plant, whose leaves taste completely different. This aromatic spice has a slightly lemony, floral taste. It’s often paired with cumin in Mexican cuisine or with more pungent spices in Mediterranean foods. In Scandinavian countries it’s often used in baking. Toss it into a cabbage slaw or bake into bread rounds.
You can purchase cumin in either the seed or ground form. However, cumin is not really the seed, but the dried fruit of a plant in the parsley family. Rather than imparting a hot spicy flavor, cumin gives dishes a fantastic earthy and mildly nutty taste. You’ll find it all over the globe from Mexico to the Mediterranean to Africa and Asia, each region combining it with different foods and accompanying spices to create its own signature.
Milder than chili powder, paprika is also powdered pepper. Only instead of hot chilies, paprika comes from sweet red pepper pods. It’s often used to flavor and color foods of Eastern European origin as well as many regional American and South American dishes. Because its color is so vibrant and its flavor is more subtle than some other spices, it’s sometime used as a garnish. Beware, uncooked paprika can have a bitter taste, so sprinkle lightly.
This powdered mixture of dried chilies is often used in Mexican, Southwestern and South American cuisine. It’s typically made from ground peppers combined with oregano, cumin and garlic powder, but the proportions differ by brand. Try it in stews, soups or even french fries.