TL;DR There are so many spices, many of which we can find in the average kitchen. In this post we cover eight common spices that work together to make everyday food flavorful.
Simple spices are so intrinsic in every meal that they are taken for granted sometime. As long as the ingredient is fresh, simple spices are all you need to create something amazing. Here, we introduce the six essentials that I always keep in my kitchen.
Salt – the humble NaCl is found in almost every dish, even desserts. Salt brings out flavors in foods, especially sour and sweet, and downplays bitterness. There are many different types of salt, from table salt, to pink Himalayan salt, to truffle salt – with different mineral contents and infusions.
Generally, I find that table salt and kosher salt are enough for everyday cooking. Table salt for flavoring stews, stir fries, and marinades; kosher salt for rubs for meats for its larger grain size.
Black Pepper – Often paired with salt, black pepper comes from the fruit of the Piper nigrum plant. Different varieties of pepper have different aromas and tastes, such as citrus or mustard. It is super worth it to invest in a pepper grinder to make pepper fresh from peppercorns.
Taste: Tingly, citrusy, slightly spicy
Uses: Stir-fries, marinades, anything that calls for a mere hint of spice.
Cumin – Originating from India, cumin is the seed of the Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family. These rain soul seeds can be used on their own, or ground into a fine brown powder. Cumin is pungent, musty, and a little bit spicy, which makes it a perfect pairing for gamey meats like lamb.
A dash of cumin can take your dish to the next level. It even works well with sweet dishes – try a dash of cumin and honey on a baked sweet potato.
Taste: Earthy, warm, nutty, a little spicy
Uses: taco seasoning, encrusted on lamb, get creative because cumin is the best spice ever!
Cayenne – Made from dried red-hot chili peppers, cayenne packs a lot of heat into a small amount of powder. Cayenne powder is used in many cuisines, ranging from Korean, Sichuan, Mexican, Peruvian, Southern BBQ…the list goes on. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. JUST KIDDING. Try cayenne’s sweeter cousin, paprika, which is usually made from powdered bell pepper.
Taste: Spicy, smoky, slightly sweet
Uses: Dry rubs, soups, any dish that craves the heat
Garlic – though technically a vegetable, garlic is essential to providing a base flavor to many dishes. So, it acts more like a spice. I can’t tell you how many dishes I started by tossing a handful of chopped garlic in some heated canola. Essential to Italian cuisine, fantastic in many others.
Taste: Pungent, spicy, nutty
Uses: As a base to start off savory dishes, great on breads (Garlic naan, anyone?)
Ginger – Ginger is made from the root of the zingiber officinale plant, and is in the same family as turmeric and cardamom. The roots are bulbous and yellow, and juicy and fragrant when cut. Ginger has many uses including being made into paste for curry, pickled for a Japanese palate-cleanser, and dried for making chai. Pro tip: Ginger is also great for removing the fishiness from seafood.
Taste: Spicy, sweet, citrusy
Uses: Minced for stir-fry or curries, flavor chicken or fish, dried for tea, great for soup to get rid of a cold, candied for snacking.
Bay Leaves – Commonly used in soups, stews, and any sauces that require a good simmer, bay leaves enhance meaty flavors and add a subtle background of flavor. Typically in the US, dried bay leaves are from the Middle East, while fresh Bay Leaves are grown in California. Fresh bay leaves are a lot more pungent and mint-like, while dried bay leaves are milder and tea-like.
Taste: Subtle, mint, tea
Uses: Simmered dishes, stocks, etc
Cinnamon – Made from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree, cinnamon has long been cultivated and used to flavor foods. Interestingly enough, cinnamon is often used to flavor savory dishes in the East, and sweet dishes in the West. Cinnamon is sold in dried stick form as well as powdered.
Taste: Warm, sweet, spicy
Uses: Sweet (desserts, oatmeal, pastries); Savory (lamb, chicken, pork, tea eggs)