SPICES are a great way to add layers of flavor without  calories to your dish. But, many can be overwhelmed by the wide assortment of choices and little info on what adds what and what goes with what!!

You can thank me later, but here’s a quick reference guide on some of the available spices out there that are quick and easy to add to your list of GO TO’S.

Before we begin, let’s clarify on Herbs and Spices. There IS a difference! An herb comes from the leafy , green part of a plant. A spice will usually come from the rest of the plant like the root, stem, seed, fruit or even the bark of a tree or plant. Some plants can produce both. For instance take Coriandrum sativum. The leafy green part is where we find Cilantro, and the seeds from the same plant are what we know as Coriander!

Herbs tend to add a delicate flavor to your your dish whether in its fresh or dried form. It’s best to add to near the end of your cooking time or at plating for a pop of freshness. Spices are better during  slow, longer cooking processes. The heat allows the spice to open and bloom into your dish, such as stews or roasts.

Here is some useful tips for a few of the many different spices.

ALLSPICE: Mostly used in baking and some meats. Its name comes from the fact that its taste and aroma seems to be a combination of Cloves, Cinnamon and Nutmeg- so feel free to use this one spice instead of the 3 for a punched up flavor add in. The flavor can be quite potent so use sparingly. It will add a warm and spicy flavor in your baking- like gingerbread, dark chocolate or carrot cake recipes.  It can also be added to a brine for meats like turkey or pork. If you are adventurous, try it on your roasted root vegetables, chili or even in rice for a change up.

CARDAMOM:  Mostly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking and has a warm sweet flavor that is surpassed by its aromatic qualities. Cardamom is the seed of the ginger plant which has a woodsy or earthy feel and often used with cinnamon and nutmeg. The spice mix of garam masala will also include cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Widely used in baked goods and stews as well as a staple in a lot of curried recipes.

FENNEL SEED: A sweet and slightly licorice flavor, fennel is often mistaken for anise. The flowering fennel plant is actually a part of the carrot family. While fennel is a common addition to tea blends like chai and also in the popular 5 spice mix, it also works well in dry rubs for meat and fish. Its natural sweetness adds a layer of flavor to sausage, marinara sauce and baked treats too.

PAPRIKA: Oh, the wide world of PAPRIKA!! There’s so many variations, so how do you know which one to use and how? Their flavor profiles can range from mild, sweet, and hot depending on its region of origin and the pepper used and its preparation. REGULAR paprika is generally a very mild flavor and often mixed with cayenne peppers but since it lacks much flavor is usually a simple garnish for a pop of color as in deviled eggs.

Hungarian Paprika will vary within itself based on the peppers used. It can be a sweet red pepper to a pungent or even hotter flavor. The peppers at harvest are sorted and toasted for the EIGHT varieties of Hungarian paprika.

Spanish Paprika also has a variety of ranges from sweet (dulce) to hot (picante). The process is different as the chiles are harvested and dried over wood fires giving it a smokey flavor. Smoked paprika is a staple for such Spanish dishes as paella adding that woodsy smokey kick.

SAGE: Despite its sweet yet bitter taste, Sage is actually a part of the mint family. Known for its use in stuffing recipes and sausage it is a popular add in for many northern Italian bean, pasta, potato and meat dishes.  This herb with its pine-like base also has notes of eucalyptus and citrus. The flavor can overpower a dish so monitor when using with chicken, pork and breaded casserole dishes like stuffing.

TUMERIC:  This bitter gem comes from the underground stem of a plant in the ginger family. It is boiled, dried then ground to powder form. Often times its added for color since a pinch can give the entire dish a vibrant golden hue and can be a less expensive version of saffron, although the flavor profiles differ. Tumeric will add a pungent astringent flavor to your meat rubs, fish and seafood dishes as well as grains.

So, this should be a good start for adding some spice to your plate and hopefully you’ll let it spill over in LIFE!

Spicing Up Your Lives,

Chef Kimberly


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