These are some common herbs, spices, and seasonings used in cooking, with a short description and some typical uses of each.
Allspice: This very versatile spice is the dried berry of the allspice (a.k.a. pimento) tree. It gets its name "allspice" because its flavor resembles a blend of the spices cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Uses: Pickles, meats, fish, gravy, soups and stews, cookies, spice cakes, eggnog, pumpkin and squash.
Anise is a member of the carrot family. Its seed has a flavor very similar to licorice.
Uses: Breads and baked goods, cakes, cookies, and pork.
Basil is an herb which belongs to the mint family. The leaves are used either fresh or dried.
Uses: Meats, fish and seafood, eggs, spaghetti sauces, and salads.
Bay leaves, also known as sweet laurel, come from an evergreen tree which is native to the Mediterranean. The leaves are usually dried and are used whole, crumbled, or ground.
Uses: Seasoning for meats, fish, potatoes, sauces, stews, and pickles.
Caraway The caraway plant, which is a member of the carrot family, is cultivated for its seeds "caraway seeds". This is a commonly used spice which has a flavor resembling that of anise and also dill.
Uses: Often used in breads, rye bread, sauerkraut, and cheeses.
Cardamom, native to tropical Asia, is a spice related to ginger. The cardamom seeds have a sweet, lemony flavor. This spice is second only to saffron as one of the most expensive spices in the world.
Uses: Scandinavian and Middle Eastern dishes, curries, cookies, pastries, breads, and pickles.
Cayenne: True cayenne pepper is very hot and should be used only in small quantities (pinches or less). This pepper is usually red or yellow, and long and slender. It can be purchased whole, but it is commonly found as dried and ground. It is a favorite ingredient of Louisiana cooking.
Uses: Meats, soups, sauces, chili, seafood, Mexican dishes, and Louisiana dishes.
Celery seed is often combined with salt to make celery salt, but it can also be purchased as whole or ground seeds. The seeds have a slightly bitter, celery flavor.
Uses: Bean salad, beef, pickles and relishes, barbecue sauces, soups, and salads.
Chervil, a member of the carrot family, is a mild herb native to southeastern Europe. Similar to parsley in appearance, it has a flavor resembling anise or tarragon.
Uses: Fish, eggs, vegetables, soups and stews, salads, and meat sauces. Widely used in French cuisine.
Chili powder is an essential ingredient for the making of chili. It is not, as the name implies, just ground up chili peppers; it is a combination of chili peppers and several other spices, including cumin.
Uses: Chili, barbecue sauce, Mexican dishes, and curries.
Chive, a small but popular herb, is the smallest member of the onion family. It has long hollow green leaves, which grow in clumps. This plant has a very mild onion flavor. They are best used fresh, but can also be freeze dried. Do not put chives in a uncooked dish that you plan on keeping for several hours or longer, because they develop an unpleasantly strong taste.
Uses: In dishes where a mild onion flavor is desired; eggs, white cheeses, fish, green sauces, and for garnishes in soups, salads, and cooked vegetables.
Cloves are the dried, unopened buds of a tropical evergreen tree. They have a strong, warm, sweet flavor. Cloves can be used either whole or ground; when used whole, the cloves are usually removed before serving.
Uses: Ham, barbecue sauces, pickles, relishes, breads, cakes, cookies, and candies.
Cinnamon is a highly aromatic spice made from the dried inner bark of the cinnamon tree, a member of the laurel family. Cinnamon is available in both stick form and a ground powder.
Uses: Pastries, breads, cakes, cookies, pies, and beverages. Cinnamon sticks are sometimes used in beverages.
Coriander is a member of the carrot family and is native to southern Europe. This plant is cultivated for its small fragrant seeds, as well as for its leaves which are also known as cilantro. The seeds are used either ground or whole and have a slight lemony flavor.
Uses: Curry, pickles, breads, cakes, cookies.
Cumin is cultivated for its small fragrant seeds. Ground cumin is a major ingredient of chili powder.
Uses: Added to curries, meats, cheeses, sausages, seafood, pickles, rice dishes, and chili.
Curry powder is not a single spice, but rather a combination of several spices. Most curries use coriander as the base and then blend other spices such as ginger, turmeric, fenugreek seed, cumin, red and black pepper, cloves, and many other spices.
Uses: Indian (Asian) recipes, rice, lamb, poultry, eggs, and vegetables.
Dill, also known as dillweed, is a small flavorful herb best known for flavoring pickles. It is native to Asia, but is now used worldwide. Both the leaves and seeds are used to flavor foods.
Uses: Used mainly in pickle recipes, but can also be used in breads, soups, meats, and salads.
Fennel is a member of the parsley family and is grown for its sweet seeds which have a flavor similar to licorice or anise.
Uses: Breads, cakes, cookies, pizza and spaghetti sauces, and pickles.
Garlic is an herb related to the onion and is cultivated for its bulb, which is composed of several small cloves. Garlic can be used fresh or dried. It is a key ingredient to many cuisines including Italian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern. Garlic is not only used in cooking, but it also has many medicinal uses.
Uses: Meats, chicken, seafood, stews, sauces, marinade, salad dressings, Italian and Chinese dishes.
Ginger is the spice made from the root of a tropical plant, native to Asia. The roots can be used whole, fresh or dried, ground, or cracked. Ginger has a hot, spicy-sweet flavor.
Uses: Oriental dishes, meat, poultry, seafood, winter squash, cookies, cakes, and breads.
Mace is a spice made from the fibrous red coating of the nutmeg seed, so it is no surprise that it has a flavor similar to that of nutmeg, but with a hint of cinnamon. It is used both whole and ground.
Uses: Cakes and baked goods, doughnuts, fish, meat stuffings, and pickling.
Marjoram, or sweet marjoram, is a member of the mint family. This herb is cultivated for its leaves, which have a sweet, minty flavor. The leaves are used either whole or ground.
Uses: Seasoning for beans and other vegetables, lamb, soups, stews, fish, poultry stuffing, sausages, beverages, and jellies.
MSG (monosodium glutamate)
With a name like monosodium glutamate, this has got to be some kind of artificial flavoring cooked up in some laboratory, right? Wrong; MSG is a natural vegetable protein derivative which is added to food to enhance the flavor. It appears as a fine white crystalline powder and is actually a sodium salt of glutamate. It is produced through the fermentation of foods such as molasses.
Uses: Mainly used as a seasoning for meats, and seafood. Also used frequently in Chinese and other Asian dishes.
Mint leaves have a distinctive flavor that can only be found in mint plants. The leaves can be used fresh or dried, whole or chopped.
Uses: Fruits, desserts, jellies, candies, beverages, and as a garnish.
Mustard refers to the mustard seed, which can be purchased either in whole form or as a finely ground yellow powder. Mustard has a strong, hot flavor that comes out when the powder is moistened, but the flavor weakens with time, so for best results, the mustard should not be moistened until it is ready for use.
Uses: Ground mustard can be used in salad dressings, sauces, cheese and egg dishes. Seeds are commonly used in pickles, relishes, salads, beets, cabbage, and sauerkraut.
Nutmeg refers to the seed of the nutmeg tree, which is native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Either ground or whole seed, nutmeg has a sweet, aromatic flavor. Mace, another spice, is made from the outer coating of the nutmeg seed. Although unlikely, when consumed in excess, both nutmeg and mace are considered toxic because they contain myristicin, a hallucinogen.
Uses: Breads, cookies, cakes, custard, pies, desserts, vegetables.
The oregano leaf is an essential ingredient for many types of Italian cuisine. It has a flavor and aroma similar to marjoram, only stronger.
Uses: Tomato dishes, pizza, spaghetti sauce, Greek, Italian, and Mexican dishes.
Paprika is a mild red spice made from the fruit of the bonnet pepper. Paprika is used not only for its flavor, but for its bright red color. Paprika is always purchased in the ground form.
Uses: Paprika makes a lovely garnish for pale foods, potatoes, potato salad, eggs, deviled eggs, beef, poultry, Hungarian goulash, salads, and salad dressings.
Parsley is a member of the carrot family, and its sprigs are used mainly as a garnish for foods. Although often left untouched on most dinner plates, it is said to be an excellent breath freshener, with the power to destroy garlic and onion scent. It is also very popular in French cooking. Parsley can be purchased either fresh or dried.
Uses: Goes very well with almost any meat, soup, or salad as a seasoning or garnish.
Pepper (Black Pepper) can be purchased as the well know ground pepper, or as whole peppercorns. It is best when fresh ground. Pepper has the ability to strengthen the flavor of foods, without completely masking them as other spices can do.
Uses: Meats, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and vegetables.
Poppy Seed used in cooking comes from a different plant than the seeds used to make opium. This seed has a crunchy nut-like flavor. Poppy seeds are purchased as whole seeds, but can be crushed or ground before use, to release the full flavor.
Uses: Topping for rolls, breads, cookies, butters, and pasta.
Rosemary is an herb native to the Mediterranean with small needle-like leaves. The leaves, which impart a sweet, bold aroma and flavor, are used dried or fresh, whole or ground.
Uses: Lamb, beef, veal, poultry, soups and stews, potatoes, breads (rosemary focaccia).
Saffron is collected from the stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower, native to Anatolia. This seasoning is extremely expensive because it takes almost one-quarter million stigmas (hand-picked and dried) to make one pound of saffron. Saffron has a yellow color and a slightly bitter flavor. Saffron is purchased as a ground powder.
Uses: Paella, bouillabaisse, rice dishes, and other Mediterranean cuisine.
Sage is an herb, native to the Mediterranean, grown for its leaves. The flavor has been described as camphoraceous and minty or lemony. Sage is purchased either as rubbed or ground.
Uses: Veal, pork, sausage, poultry stuffings, meat loaf, stews, and salads.
Savory is a member of the mint family. Its leaves are used fresh or dried and sold in leaf form or ground. It has a flavor similar to thyme.
Uses: Beef, poultry, egg dishes, lamb, lentils, squash, beans.
Sesame seeds are oil rich seeds, recognized by most people for their popularity on hamburger buns. They are always purchased as a whole seed.
Uses: Breads, rolls, bagels, salads, and stir fry.
Tarragon, an herb native to Asia, has a strong spicy flavor and aroma, similar to anise. The leaves are purchased either fresh or dried, whole or ground, but much of the flavor is lost in the drying process. When using dried leaves, be sure to remove the leaves after cooking, because drying makes the leaves tough, and they will not soften again.
Uses: Veal, lamb, beef, poultry, fish, crab, shrimp, eggs, salads and dressings, mushrooms, and asparagus.
Thyme, native to southern Europe, has a strong, yet pleasant flavor, which resembles a blend of cloves and sage. This herb is used both fresh and dried, whole or ground.
Uses: Poultry, poultry stuffing, pork, beef, tomatoes, tomato-based soups and sauces, and clams.
Turmeric, a member of the ginger family, is native to Asia and has been cultivated since ancient times. Turmeric has a mild flavor which resembles ginger and pepper and is purchased as an orange-yellow powder.
Uses: Curries, poultry, relishes, pickles, eggs, and rice.