Essential Herbs and Spices

Without spices and herbs the act of cooking and the sensation of eating would be very boring. But what sort of flavor enhancers do we really need? This article will attempt to break down what spices and herbs any cook should have to get the most out of their creations. Its about more than salt and pepper although these two are essential; just wait until your have cumin and coriander but are caught without table salt.

On the subject of salt and pepper, getting some sea salt and fresh ground black pepper is a good idea. Both are frequently called for in recipes and pack more of a punch than their common table varieties.

If you don’t have fresh onions and cloves of garlic in your kitchen at all times, garlic salt and dried minced onion are great substitutes to keep on hand. Plus, garlic salt makes delicious garlic bread when dusted over bread that’s been buttered and toasted.

For delicious desserts, cakes cookies and cooked fruit always have: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Its pretty much impossible to overuse cinnamon, but a little of the spicey ginger goes a long way. Cloves are sweet, intense and make everything taste holiday. Nutmeg is less sweet than the other three and is more of a crossover spice as you are more likely to use it on poultry, in soups and sauces, or on vegetables.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. There’s a reason these four were immortalized, they are endlessly useful and versatile. The ubiquitous green parsley is often used fresh as garnish, but also adds a subtle sweet flavor. Rosemary has a flavor like no other but is surprisingly subtle and can enhance most meats, soup and sauces. Sage is at its best when used in stuffing so be sure to stock up before Thanksgiving. Thyme smells wonderful and is indispensable for stocks and sauces.

If you enjoy Italian cooking you’ll need basil and oregano. Tomatoes and all things tomato sauce related aren’t complete without the licoricey mint of the basil or the harsh green smokiness of the oregano.

Curry is actually not a spice or and herb but a blend of about 16 spices including red pepper and ginger. As such it can be quite hot (though this depends on the blend you buy) and should be use sparingly but is essential for the distinct taste and aroma of Indian food.

Chili powder is also a blend of several spices, its flavor mainly drawing from red peppers, and is an integral part of all chilis and most Mexican dishes.

Paprika is also a red pepper spice but it unlike its relatives, it takes a lot before its taste becomes detectable. Use it for garnish and a more delicate heat.

There are also a lot of blends out there (Italian seasoning, Pizza seasoning, pumpkin pie spice) but for a hint of lemon and spice on poultry and vegetables, obtain some lemon pepper.


“Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book” Des Moines: Better Homes and Gardens Books, 1996.

Gisslen, Wayne. “Professional Cooking”. 5th ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2003.


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