Looking for a list of common spices and their uses?
This is about as comprehensive as they come!
We have put together a roundup of some of the most commonly-used spices available, along with one or two that you won’t find in your average cupboard or supermarket aisle.
Any one of these will help take your cooking to the next level, and you could even combine some of them for more complex flavors.
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Cooking Spices Overview
Some of the most popular and best-loved spices in the world are included in this roundup, many of which you have already tried before. There are also some that you may have heard of, but haven’t had the opportunity to taste yet.
We’ve tried to avoid listing spices that are similar to one another in terms of flavor and/or taste. Because we already included cayenne pepper for example, we chose not to include chili pepper (which is actually a combination of different pepper varieties anyway).
In any case, this list should give you a broad overview of the many different spices available out there. Feel free to use them in your own culinary creations, and remember that informed experimentation is the key to unlocking new and undiscovered flavors.
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List Of Common Spices And Their Uses
Cinnamon is commonly sold in powder form. You could also purchase cinnamon sticks, which are actually rolled-up pieces of bark obtained from trees belonging to the genus Cinnamomum.
Cinnamon is a pretty popular spice all over the world, with various cultures utilizing it in some form. With its distinctively woody and sweet-spicy flavor, it is a great addition to cereals, beverages, desserts, and even entrees. Traditional Mexican chocolate drinks typically contain cinnamon, as do savory dishes in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Cinnamon is thought to regulate blood sugar, fight off infection, and balance hormones in women.
Paprika is a spicy and somewhat bitter spice with a hint of smoke and sweetness. Derived from the dried fruits of Capsicum annuum, it may consist of certain types of chili or bell peppers, or a mix of both.
Different types of paprika tend to vary in terms of heat and flavor. It is commonly used in dishes that include tomato sauce, and it is a common ingredient in Hungarian and Mediterranean cuisine. It goes especially well with chicken, and can be used in a variety of egg recipes.
Paprika is a rich source of antioxidants, and it is said to have antibacterial properties as well.
Turmeric is a key ingredient in Indian curry powder, which typically has the spice’s characteristic orange-yellow tinge. It is derived from the boiled and dried rhizomes of the turmeric plant.
The flavor of turmeric is a bit difficult to pin down. Slightly bitter with a bit of spiciness, it has an earthy character that isn’t to everyone’s taste. Nevertheless, it is commonly used as a flavoring for entrees, and it is even brewed into tea.
Turmeric can help enhance the liver’s detoxifying functions. It is also used in arthritis treatment due to its painkilling effects.
Ginger is actually the root or rhizome of the Zingiber officinale plant. A fragrant spice, it has a tangy flavor that can leave a bit of heat in the back of the mouth. It is a common ingredient in many Asian dishes, and is also a mainstay in Western sweets and desserts.
Ginger is drunk either as the sole ingredient in ginger tea, or mixed with other tea leaf varieties.
Chewing a bit of ginger offers relief from colds and sore throats. It is also used to ease motion sickness, relieve menstrual cramps, and reduce heartburn.
Nutmeg is an earthy, fragrant, and flavorful spice that works equally well in desserts and savory dishes. It is derived from the seeds of the Myristica plant, and its nutty flavor often invites comparisons to cinnamon.
Eggnog is of course what most people in the West sprinkle nutmeg into. But it is also a popular ingredient in Indian and Indonesian food. In the Caribbean, it isn’t unusual to find drinks flavored with this spice.
Nutmeg can provide relief for a variety of conditions, from indigestion to bad breath. It is also used to aid in the detoxification of the liver and kidney.
Tamarind is a sour fruit harvested from the Fabaceae tree, which is indigenous to Africa. The fruit has a characteristic pod-like appearance, which contains several seeds wrapped in fleshy pulp.
Tamarind is of course used in many African dishes. But it is also a popular ingredient in the cuisines of Latin America and Asia, where the fruit is used to impart its distinctive sourness to soups and sauces.
Tamarind is a natural laxative, and it is known to provide relief from fever. Some people even gargle a solution made from steeped tamarind in order to ease the discomfort from sore throats.
Cumin is derived from the seeds of the Apiaceae family of plants. Sold in whole and powdered form, it is a common ingredient in the dishes of the Mediterranean and India, where the plant grows natively.
The aroma of cumin is quite distinctive. Rich, earthy, and smoky, it is easily recognizable as the primary aromatic component of many types of chili preparations. It is also used in soups and stews, and a number of Brazilian, Indian, and South Asian dishes.
Cumin is thought to increase metabolism and bolster the immune system.
Cardamom isn’t quite as familiar as most of the other spices mentioned here. But there is a good chance that you have already tasted it without even knowing what it was. With its distinctively sweet-spicy flavor, it is perfectly suited to a variety of desserts and sweets.
Cardamom is actually a pretty expensive spice, which is probably why it isn’t as common as other spices. The good news is that you don’t really need a lot to impart its unique flavor characteristics to what you’re cooking.
Cardamom is believed to have cancer-fighting properties. It is also used to provide relief from asthma, and to prevent the action of harmful microbes.
Cloves are the aromatic buds of the family of trees known as Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum. They have a uniquely sweet flavor that should be familiar to most anyone that has enjoyed a sweet-spicy dessert. They also work just as well in Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean savory dishes, such as curries and stews.
Cloves are used to ease the effects of a variety of illnesses and health conditions. Providing relief from oral disease and headaches, this spice is also believed to have significant benefits in terms of preserving bone density.
Cayenne pepper–or simply cayenne–is a specific variety of pepper known for its heat and distinctive flavor. Capsaicin is the compound responsible for giving cayenne its characteristic fire, raising the body’s temperature and boosting metabolism. This effect is in fact thought to aid in the burning of fat and calories.
Studies conducted by researchers at Purdue University seem to bear out this theory. In the aforementioned study, it was found that cayenne mixed with food helped stave off fat and salt cravings. People that incorporated it into their meals also consumed fewer calories the rest of the day.
Cayenne is of course suitable for use in a variety of savory dishes. It is an excellent addition to hummus and other bean dishes, and it gives a nice zing to a tub of popcorn. It can even be sprinkled over a rich, dark chocolate drink, giving it an added bit of heat at the end.
If you have ever had a licorice stick, then you already know what fennel seeds taste like. With its mild and enigmatic flavor, it often invites comparisons to anise. It is also used in many savory dishes, and is a common ingredient in sausages. In fact, even a bit of fennel seed added to a stew can make it seem to have more meat than it actually does.
Peppercorns definitely deserve a spot on this list. Ground pepper is of course one of the most common and most ubiquitous spices of all–so much so that it often fails to get the attention it deserves. But peppercorns definitely belong way up there in the pantheon of spices, and most every cuisine in the world would taste pretty bland without it.
Peppercorns come in a few different colors, although they are all from the same plant. Like most fruits, they initially start out green, turning a bright shade of red as they ripen.
The black peppercorns that are the most common types you see everywhere are simply the dried, cooked fruits of the plant. They are the most flavorful by far, and they are practically inseparable from salt on many a dinner table.
You may have also seen white peppercorns. These are simply black peppercorns with the skins removed. They can be almost as spicy as their skinned counterparts, but they are generally less pungent. White pepper is typically used in light-colored dishes, where the dark flecks of ground black pepper might be deemed unsightly.