Quick Guide to Every Herb and Spice in the Cupboard

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Ever get coriander confused with cumin? Or wonder just what exactly curry powder is made out of? As much for our benefit as for yours, we've put together this quick reference guide to all the most common (and some uncommon) herbs and spices!

For any herb or spice listed below, click on the name to read the full description. We'll continue adding to this list as we cover more of the seasonings we use in our cooking.

Dried Herbs & Spices

  • Asafoetida (Asafetida) - Used as a digestive aid in Indian cooking, asafoetida has a strong odor that mellows out into a garlic-onion flavor.
  • Achiote Paste and Powder - Reddish-brown paste or powder ground from annatto seeds with an earthy flavor. Used primarily in Mexican dishes like mole sauce, cochinita pibil, and tamales.
  • Allspice - Similar to cloves, but more pungent and deeply flavored. Best used in spice mixes.
  • Annatto Seeds - A very tough reddish-brown seed with a woodsy aroma and an earthy flavor. Called Achiote Paste (see above) when ground, this is used to flavor many Mexican dishes.
  • Bay Leaf - (also: Indian Bay Leaf) Adds a woodsy background note to soups and sauces.
  • Caraway Seed - These anise-tasting seeds are essential for soda bread, sauerkraut, and potato salad.
  • Cardamom - This warm, aromatic spice is widely used in Indian cuisine. It's also great in baked goods when used in combination with spices like clove and cinnamon.
  • Cayenne Pepper - Made from dried and ground red chili peppers. Adds a sweet heat to soups, braises, and spice mixes.
  • Chia Seeds - No, these seeds aren't just for growing crazy terracotta sculptures! Nearly flavorless, they can be ground into smoothies, cereals, and baked goods for extra nutrition and texture, or even used as a vegan egg substitute.
  • Cinnamon - (also: Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon) Found in almost every world cuisine, cinnamon serves double duty as spice in both sweet and savory dishes.
  • Cloves - Sweet and warming spice. Used most often in baking, but also good with braised meat.
  • Coriander Seed - Earthy, lemony flavor. Used in a lot of Mexican and Indian dishes.
  • Cumin - Smoky and earthy. Used in a lot of Southwestern US and Mexican cuisine, as well as North African, Middle Eastern, and Indian.
  • Fennel Seed - Lightly sweet and licorice flavored. It's excellent with meat dishes, or even chewed on its own as a breath freshener and digestion aid!
  • Fenugreek - Although this herb smells like maple syrup while cooking, it has a rather bitter, burnt sugar flavor. Found in a lot of Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.
  • Garlic Powder - Garlic powder is made from dehydrated garlic cloves and can be used to give dishes a sweeter, softer garlic flavor.
  • Gochugaru - This Korean red pepper spice is hot, sweet, and ever-so-slightly smoky.
  • Grains of Paradise - These taste like a cross between cardamom, citrus, and black pepper. They add a warming note to many North African dishes.
  • Kaffir Lime Leaves - Used to flavor curries and many Thai dishes. Can be sold fresh, dry or frozen.
  • Loomi - Also called black lime, this is ground from dried limes. Adds a sour kick to many Middle Eastern dishes.
  • Mace - From the same plant as nutmeg, but tastes more subtle and delicate. Great in savory dishes, especially stews and homemade sausages.
  • Mahlab - Ground from sour cherry pits, this spice has a nutty and somewhat sour flavor. It's used in a lot of sweet breads throughout the Middle East.
  • Nutmeg - Sweet and pungent. Great in baked goods, but also adds a warm note to savory dishes.
  • Nutritional Yeast - Very different from bread yeast, this can be sprinkled onto or into sauces, pastas, and other dishes to add a nutty, cheesy, savory flavor.
  • Oregano - Robust, somewhat lemony flavor. Used in a lot of Mexican and Mediterranean dishes.
  • Paprika - Adds a sweet note and a red color. Used in stews and spice blends. There is also a spicy version labeled hot paprika.
  • Peppercorns - Peppercorns come in a variety of colors: black, white, pink, and green being the most popular, these are pungent and pack a mild heat.
  • Rosemary - Strong and piney. Great with eggs, beans, and potatoes, as well as grilled meats.
  • Saffron - Saffron has a subtle but distinct floral flavor and aroma, and it also gives foods a bright yellow color.
  • Sage - Pine-like flavor, with more lemony and eucalyptus notes than rosemary. Found in a lot of northern Italian cooking.
  • Smoked Paprika - Adds sweet smokiness to dishes, as well as a red color.
  • Star Anise - Whole star anise can be used to add a sweet licorice-y flavor sauces and soups.
  • Sumac - Zingy and lemony, sumac is a Middle Eastern spice that's great in marinades and spice rubs.
  • Turmeric - Sometimes used more for its yellow color than its flavor, turmeric has a mild woodsy flavor. Can be used in place of saffron in a pinch or for those of us on a budget.
  • Thyme - Adds a pungent, woodsy flavor. Great as an all-purpose seasoning.
  • Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon - (also: Cinnamon) Sweet and spicy. Can be used in both sweet baked goods and to add depth to savory dishes.

Fresh Herbs

  • Basil - (also: Thai Basil) Highly aromatic with a robust licorice flavor. Excellent in pestos, as a finishing touch on pasta dishes, or stuffed into sandwiches.
  • Chervil - Delicate anise flavor. Great raw in salads or as a finishing garnish.
  • Chives - Delicate onion flavor, great as a garnish.
  • Curry Leaves - These pungent leaves are not related to curry powder but impart a similar flavor. Used in Indian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan, Singaporean, and Pakistani cuisine. Used to flavor curries, soups, stews, and chutneys.
  • Dill - Light and feathery herb with a pungent herb flavor. Use it for pickling, with fish, and over potatoes.
  • Fenugreek - Although this herb smells like maple syrup while cooking, it has a rather bitter, burnt sugar flavor. Found in a lot of Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.
  • Lemon Thyme - (also: Thyme) Sweet lemon aroma and a fresh lemony-herbal flavor. This is excellent with poultry and in vinaigrettes.
  • Lovage - Tastes like a cross between celery and parsley. Great with seafood or to flavor stocks and soups.
  • Marjoram - Floral and woodsy. Try it in sauces, vinaigrettes, and marinades.
  • Mint - Surprisingly versatile for such an intensely flavored herb. Try it paired with lamb, peas, potatoes - and of course, with chocolate!
  • Oregano - Robust, somewhat lemony flavor. Used in a lot of Mexican and Mediterranean dishes.
  • Parsley - Available in flat-leaf (Italian) or curly varieties, this very popular herb is light and grassy in flavor.
  • Pink Pepper - Small and sweet, these berries are fantastic when marinated with olives or simply sprinkled on shortbread.
  • Rosemary - Strong and piney. Great with eggs, beans, and potatoes, as well as grilled meats.
  • Sage - Pine-like flavor, with more lemony and eucalyptus notes than rosemary. Found in a lot of northern Italian cooking.
  • Summer Savory - Peppery green flavor similar to thyme. Mostly used in roasted meat dishes and stuffing, but also goes well with beans.
  • Shiso - A member of the mint family, this herb is used extensively in Japanese, Korean, and South East Asian cooking as a wrap for steaming fish and vegetables, in soups, and as a general seasoning.
  • Tarragon - Strong anise flavor. Can be eaten raw in salads or used to flavor tomato dishes, chicken, seafood, or eggs.
  • Thai Basil - (also: Basil) A spicy, edgier cousin to sweet Italian basil. A must-have for Thai stir-fries, Vietnamese pho, spring rolls, and other South Asian dishes.
  • Thyme - (also: Lemon Thyme) Adds a pungent, woodsy flavor. Great as an all-purpose seasoning.
Ras El-Hanout
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Spice Blends, Rubs & Mixes

  • Baharat - Black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, and cloves. Used to flavor soups, tomato sauces, lentils, rice pilafs, and couscous, and can be a rub for meats. (Middle Eastern)
  • Bebere - Hot peppers, black pepper, fenugreek, ginger, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves. Other ingredients may include ajwain, cumin, allspice, nutmeg, paprika, onion, or garlic. Used to flavor slow-cooked stews. (African)
  • Bouquet Garni - Thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Used to flavor broths and soups. (Classic French)
  • Chili Powder - Ground chilis, cumin, oregano, cayenne, and lots of optional extras to make this seasoning uniquely yours. Use for chili stew, beans, grilled meat, and tacos. (Mexican/Southwestern US)
  • Chinese Five-Spice Powder - Star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel, cassia, and clove. Adds sweetness and depth to savory dishes, especially beef, duck, and pork. (Chinese)
  • Curry Powder - Typically includes tumeric, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and red pepper, but mixes can vary. Used primarily to quickly flavor curry sauces. (Indian)
  • Dukkah - Includes nuts (most often hazelnuts), sesame seeds, coriander, and cumin. Great spice rub for lamb, chicken, and fish. (Egyptian)
  • Garam Masala - Typically includes cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, and pepper. Sweeter than curry powder. Also used to season curry sauces. (Indian)
  • Herbes de Provence - Usually savory, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, and sometimes lavender. Use as a marinade or dry rub for roast chicken, fish, and vegetables. (French)
  • Old Bay - Celery salt, mustard, red and black pepper, bay leaves, cloves, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon, and paprika. Created in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland, it is traditionally used for shrimp and crab.
  • Pickling Spice - Most often, bay leaf, yellow mustard seeds, black peppercorns, allspice, coriander. Used for pickling vegetables in vinegar.
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix - Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Used for seasoning pumpkin pie, but also great in other spiced baked goods.
  • Ras el Hanout - Cardamom, clove, cinnamon, paprika, coriander, cumin, mace, nutmeg, peppercorn, and turmeric. Use as a spice rub on meat or a simple condiment. (North African/Moroccan)
  • Shichimi Togarashi - Although the ingredients vary, they typically include sansho or Sichuan pepper, dried citrus peel, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, hemp seeds, ginger, garlic, shiso, and nori. Used on noodles and grilled meats. (Japanese)
  • Za'atar Seasoning Blend - Thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds. All-purpose seasoning for many Middle Eastern dishes like grilled meats, grilled vegetables, flatbread and hummus. (Middle Eastern)

Are there any herbs or spices you've been wondering about? Let us know and we'll work on adding them to the list!

Updated from a post originally published in February 2010.

(Image credits: Jag_cz/Shutterstock; mama_mia/Shutterstock; mythja/Shutterstock; Quanthem/Shutterstock)

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