TL;DR There are so many spices, way too many to successfully master and utilized, but in this post we highlight 5 unique, sometimes underrated, spices that we employ to give an extra zing to our recipes.
Spices are amazing. Leveraging a few can either efficiently bring the taste of a cuisine to a dish or create a new layer of flavor in an otherwise ordinary dish. They have long shelf lives and can be great substitutes to fresh herbs or ingredients.
One thing I have noticed when it comes to spices is that it is hard to sometimes fully explain the flavor. Sometimes it tastes like something so unique that to describe it you need use the name itself. We gave out best shot at some of the ones below, but we recommend you to try it yourself in three different forms: dry test, boiled in water test, and a roasted test. (Spices change flavor depending on how they are cook. )
Allspice is one of the essential ingredients in Caribbean cuisine and it’s disappointing we don’t see it more. I recently began experimenting with it as a substitute for when a dish would call for a spice such as cumin that I might not have had on hand. Crush it to bring more flavor out.
Taste/Aroma: Cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg (it’s name signifies how there are many different tastes to this spice)
Uses: stews, marinades, sauces
Sumac is a middle eastern spice often found on top of hummus, salads, or in kebobs. It gives off an amazing freshness and citrus flavor that can rival that of a lemon. A great way to always have citrus on hand. Another variation is Za’tar which is a mix of salt, sumac, and sesame that is great mix for saltier or stronger tasting purposes.
Taste/Aroma: lemony-y, citrus, tangy
Uses: garnishing, toppings, marinades
Hon-dashi isn’t as much of a spice as it is the Japanese equivalent of a bouillon cube. Yet, with effective use can bring the taste of either the sea or Japanese cuisine. Best first dissolved in water.
Taste/Aroma: seaweed, sea, salty, fish, seafood
Uses: stocks, sauces, flavorings
Star Anise (or Fennel)
Star Anise is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine and is one of the prominent flavors in Pho. Anise has a strong flavor and you see anise in cuisines around the world: Fennel, Ouzo, and Licorice. Just a bit of anise can go a long way, and often will extend beyond just simple smell and taste, lingering and lining our passages lending to it’s medicinal value. My mom would have anise flavored soup when was sick as a child. The flavor/smell comes out the strongest when boiled.
Taste/Aroma: anise (sorry, this is one of those hard ones
Uses: toppings (fennel), stocks, sauces, digestifs (fennel), candies
Coriander is a spice often used in Indian cooking. Coriander is used along with many other spices in the cuisine and despite growing up eating Indian food, I was surprised by the flavor of coriander itself–especially between the difference in taste when its dry vs. roasted.
Coriander can refer to either the plant (aka Cilantro) or the seed.
Taste/Aroma: lemony, citrus, cilantro when raw; more nutty and warming when roasted
Uses: sauces, toppings, marinades, garnishings