Updated: Mar 9
Were you ever in the middle of a recipe that called for cayenne and you only had cumin or chili powder on hand? In my book, You Rock It, Eat, Clean Live Healthy, I write about how menus should be used for ideas and you should not be afraid to substitute based on ingredients you have on hand. It will save you time, stress and money!
Spices can be such a mystery to many people who are trying to put together a meal that has an enjoyable flavor. What tastes best with what food? Spices don’t look appetizing enough to have a spoonful of them to see how they taste. How they taste in their natural form is not necessarily the same flavors given when cooked in a meal.
Here is the first thing you need to know about spices… they are very different from herbs. Spices come from fruit buds and berries, the roots, seeds and barks of plants, whereas herbs come from the flowers, stems and the leaves of plants. Spices in whole form are good for two years on the shelf, while ground spices last about six months. I recommend that you grind spices as you use them to maximize the flavor intensity.
Let’s look at some of the common spices people blend with certain foods to enhance the flavor.
Allspice – This is a dried berry that has a strong sharp sweet flavor with a kick of pepper to it. It is largely used in pickling and prepared meats giving sausage and jerky their defined flavors. It is also added to many sweet desserts such as cakes, pies and cookies. It adds a sweetness to barbeque sauces, chili and stews. It is frequently combined with dishes that call for nutmeg and cinnamon. Its sweet punch makes it quite universal for adding flavor to a large variety of dishes.
Cayenne Pepper – It is generally added to sauces to make them hot. If you have a taste for spicy hot foods then you can mix this in anything you want to have hot zing to.
Ginger – Ginger adds a little sweeter taste to food. It is used in baking for cookies, cakes and candy. Ginger is used in curry, seafood, vegetable and chicken dishes. It is also popular in tea. Many traditional Japanese and Chinese dishes have ginger in them.
Cumin – This is the second most popular spice in the world right behind pepper. Cumin adds a bit of bitterness to stews, soups, curry dishes, chili, breads and lamb. It is also used in many Mexican dishes.
Caraway Seeds – These add a licorice type flavor to foods. They are used in breads, casseroles, cakes, curry dishes and is added to certain cheeses. Caraway seeds have a strong flavor in sauerkraut and rye bread. They can also be used as a substitute ingredient for lemon or orange.
Celery Seeds – If you don’t have fresh celery on hand, celery seeds will make a good substitute. Celery seeds are used for cocktail drinks such as a Bloody Mary. Celery seeds are a popular ingredient in homemade salad dressings. Mix them in Greek yogurt with some dill for tuna or chicken salad. Add them casserole dishes, meatloaf and spaghetti sauces.
Paprika – Is dried pepper fruits. Although it is used for garnishing and adding color to food, it still gives a bit of a peppery zing to your food. The flavor is enhanced when cooked. It is used in sausage preparation, soups, casseroles, rice dishes, and stew. It can be added to any dish that you may want a little more color and a little more peppery spike.
Not everyone enjoys the same spicy flavors added to their foods. Experiment with these and other spices in different foods to find your favorites. Many foods can be enhanced with a combination of several spices blended together.