Allspice Discovered by Spanish explorers in Jamaica in the early 16th century, allspice (also known as Jamaican pepper) is the dried, unripe berry of the evergreen pimento tree.
Dark brown, pea-sized berries taste like a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Available whole or ground.
Whole seeds for soups and stews, gravy and pickling; ground for grilled fish and poultry, meats (beef, ham, lamb) and vegetables (carrots, peas, spinach, beets).
Anise Dating back as far as 1500 B.C., anise, or aniseed, is native to the Mediterranean region, specifically Greece, Turkey and Egypt.
Seeds, from a plant related to the parsley family, have a sweet, licorice taste.
Aniseed is used to flavor drinks (pastis, ouzo, anisette), curries, sweet breads and fruit. It may also be chewed to aid in digestion.
Caraway Seed Indigenous specifically to Western Asia and the Mediterranean, caraway seed is a key ingredient in Austrian, Hungarian and German cuisine.
From an herb in the parsley family, these aromatic seeds have a nutty taste, with a hint of anise.
Commonly used to flavor breads (rye), cheese spreads and vegetables (cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions).
Cardamom A member of the ginger family, cardamom is an ancient spice, native to India. It is now used in almost every culture in the world.
Black, white or green pods with an outer shell and tiny seeds with a warm, pungent flavor. Available whole or ground.
Frequently used to flavor desserts (baked apples, spice cakes), vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes) and in Asian spice mixtures.
Cayenne Pepper Native to French Guyana. Also called red pepper.
Ground from the dried seeds of cayenne chile peppers, cayenne pepper is pungent and hot. The heat comes from capsaicin, a compound found in the seeds and membranes of chile peppers.
In addition to adding heat, cayenne will boost the flavor of foods such as barbecue sauce or chili, savory egg and cheese dishes and shellfish.
Celery Seed Most celery seed comes from India.
The seed of wild celery, known as lovage, celery seed has a strong celery fragrance and flavor, and can be somewhat bitter.
In moderation, celery seed is an excellent flavoring for roast beef or pork, in soups and stews, and for pickling.
Cinnamon Cinnamon is the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree. Once used in Roman love potions, it comes mostly from Asia.
There are two main types of cinnamon: cassia, which is reddish-brown with a bittersweet flavor, and Ceylon, which is buff-colored and less sweet. Most cinnamon sold in the United States is cassia. It is available in sticks or ground into powder.
Most commonly used in sweets and baked goods (chocolate, cakes, cookies), cinnamon also works well in chutneys, marinades and savory dishes such as Middle Eastern meat stews.
Cloves Native to Southeast Asia, cloves have been in use since the third century B.C.
The dried, unopened flower buds of the evergreen clove tree, cloves are reddish-brown and shaped like nail heads. They are available whole or ground.
Cloves are a common pickling spice. They are also used for studding hams and beef stew or gravy. Use sparingly.
Coriander Indigenous to the Mediterranean and the Orient, coriander was cultivated in ancient Egypt for medicinal and culinary purposes.
Also known as cilantro, coriander is related to parsley. It has a light, lemony flavor. Both seeds and dark green leaves are available.
Seeds are common in pickling and with roasts and whole fowl. Ground seed may be used in curries, soups, grains and marinades.
Cumin Dating back to the Old Testament, cumin originated in the Mediterranean. It's now grown in India, China, Japan and Indonesia.
Cumin is the dried, seedlike fruit of a plant that's related to the parsley family. Aromatic and nutty, it comes in three colors: black, white and amber, which is the most common. Available in seed and ground forms.
Commonly used in Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Northern African cooking, for pickling, curries, chili, stews and bread.
Fennel Seed The fennel plant has been cultivated since the time of the Romans. It is now grown worldwide.
Oval and greenish-brown, fennel seeds have a mild anise taste. Available whole or ground.
Commonly used to spice sausages, roast pork, fish, shellfish and tomato sauce, and for vegetables such as cabbage, cucumbers, onions and sauerkraut. It may also be toasted and chewed to aid digestion.
Ginger Cultivated since ancient times, most ginger now comes from Jamaica. It is also grown in India, Africa and China.
The dried and ground form of the gnarled root of the ginger plant. Fresh ginger roots may be peeled and grated or chopped.
Essential for Asian and Indian dishes, ginger is used to season meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables, in curries, stir-fries and soups. It is also a common ingredient in baked goods, such as gingerbread and gingersnaps. A pinch will give salt-free dishes a boost.
Mace The finest mace is grown on the Spice Island of Grenada.
An orange-yellow powder made from the dried "cage" that covers the seed of the nutmeg tree, mace smells and tastes like a softer version of nutmeg.
May be used for both savory (chicken and vegetable soups, wild game, polenta) and sweet (chocolate sauce, spice cake) dishes.
Mustard Seed Mustard was used for both culinary and medicinal purposes by the ancient Romans and Greeks. An acrid seed from a plant in the same family as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Two major types are yellow (American) and brown (Asian).
Yellow seeds are larger but less pungent than brown. Also available in powder form.
Popular for pickling, mustard seed is also used to flavor barbecue sauces, marinades and rubs, as well as dishes such as egg salad, potato salad and coleslaw. Asian seed is often toasted before use.
Nutmeg Cultivated for over a thousand years, the finest nutmeg in the world is from the Spice Island of Grenada.
The brown, inner kernel of the fruit of the nutmeg tree, which can grow as tall as fifty feet, the nutmeg seed is egg-shaped and about an inch long. The flavor is warm, spicy and sweet. Available whole or ground.
Especially popular in baked goods, custards and cream sauces, nutmeg may also be used to flavor vegetables such as squash and spinach.
Paprika Paprika dates back to the 15th century, when European explorers in the New World discovered the peppers from which it is derived. Hungarian paprika is considered superior.
Ground from dried, sweet red pepper pods, paprika is vibrant in color and ranges from mild to hot in taste.
A standard in classic European dishes such as paprikash, goulash and stroganoff, paprika may also be used to garnish salads as well as to flavor most meat, seafood, poultry, pasta and vegetable dishes.
Peppercorn, Black A valuable commodity of the worldwide spice trade, pepper was once used as European currency. It grows in warm, moist climates near the equator, with some of the highest quality (Malabar and Tellicherry) from India.
A berry that grows on the pepper plant, black peppercorns are picked when not quite ripe, then dried until they shrivel and the skin turns almost black. Spicy and pungent. Available whole, cracked or ground.
Can be used to flavor almost all dishes, savory and sweet, including meats, vegetables, seafood, salads and stews.
Saffron Considered the most valuable spice in the world, saffron has been known in Mediterranean countries for 4,000 years. Today, Kashmir saffron from Northern India is considered premier.
The dried, yellow-orange stigmas (14,000 equal one ounce) from the purple crocus, saffron is aromatic and pungent.
Used to both flavor and tint food, saffron is commonly found in paella, risotto, bouillabaisse, rice and curries.
Sesame Seed Sesame seed may be the first recorded seasoning. It grows in India and the Orient.
From the pods of the sesame plant, sesame seeds have a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and are high in protein. They are available in both black and white.
More common in the United States, white seeds may be used in cakes, cookies, pastries and salads. Black seeds are used mostly in Asian cooking to add texture and flavor to fish, rice and noodle dishes.
Turmeric Native to the Orient, turmeric is also cultivated in India and the Caribbean. It has been used in cooking since 600 B.C.
The root of a tropical plant related to ginger, turmeric is yellow-orange in color and has a bitter taste.
Popular in East Indian cooking, turmeric both flavors (curries, relish) and colors (mustard) food.