Spicing things up: 10 common kitchen spices and how to use them

Spices
Eunice Choi/Staff

Related Posts

Spices are a fantastic component to include in daily cooking, because they bring out complex and rich flavors from the food itself or add those flavors and colors. There are many different spices in the world, and some cuisines with the most flavorful food are not ashamed to use them frequently, one notable cuisine being Indian: Everything from the cholle to the homemade chai tea brims with spices.

But first off, what is a spice? Dictionary.com defines a spice to be “any of a class of pungent or aromatic substances of vegetable origin, as pepper, cinnamon, or cloves, used as seasoning, preservatives, etc.” Originally, spices were distinct from herbs as the dried and ground roots, stalks, seeds and fruits of plants, whereas herbs tended to primarily be the leaves of plants and used either in fresh or dried forms. Nowadays, the term “spice” is inclusive of anything that adds flavor and/or color to food, but today, Eating Berkeley will be taking a look at 10 of the most common nonherb spices found in the kitchen, such as ginger and paprika (but be on the lookout for a herb post in the near future).

Note: Salt and pepper are not included on this list, under the assumption that they and their uses are already widely known.

1. Cinnamon
“A spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum” (Wikipedia)
Taste: Sweet-spicy, woody
Popular uses in food: Mexican chocolate, American desserts, Middle Eastern savory dishes
Health benefits: Regulate blood sugar, anti-infection, hormone balancer for women
Recipe idea: Try mashing sweet potatoes and add pinches of cinnamon and a touch of honey for a quick, good and healthy snack.

2. Paprika
“A spice made from ground, dried fruits of Capsicum annuum, either bell pepper or chili pepper varieties or mixtures thereof” (Wikipedia)
Taste: Varieties of paprika in heat and taste — smoky, hot-spicy, sweet, bitter
Popular uses in food: Hungarian, Mediterranean, tomato-based sauces, egg recipes
Health benefits: Antioxidant-rich, natural stimulant and energizer, antibacterial agent
Recipe idea: Easy Chicken Paprika (Food.com)
Add a spicy zip of paprika to this simple chicken recipe with a basic marinade.

3. Turmeric
“A deep orange-yellow powder (ground after turmeric plants’ rhizomes, or creeping rootstalks, are collected, boiled, and dried)” (Wikipedia)
Taste: Earthy, slightly bitter, slightly peppery
Popular uses in food: Tamil cuisine, curries, dyeing, give color to mustard condiments
Health benefits: Natural liver detoxifier, natural painkiller, natural arthritis treatment
Recipe idea: Tandoori Tofu (EatingWell)
“Tandoori” in Indian cuisine typically relates to food baked in a tandoor oven, but in this recipe’s case, it is the use of popular Indian spices — such as turmeric — for tofu “steaks” that makes this “tandoori” and delicious.

4. Ginger
“A rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale” (Wikipedia)
Taste: Sweet-spicy, tangy
Popular uses in food: Western sweet foods, many Asian and European cuisines
Health benefits: Motion sickness cure, heartburn relief, menstrual cramp relief, cold relief
Recipe idea: Triple ginger biscotti (The Guardian)
If you want fantastic biscotti that tastes like crispy ginger molasses cookies with crystallized ginger pieces and toasted almonds, then look no further than this recipe for a fair companion to your afternoon teas.

5. Nutmeg
“A spice harvested from plants of the Myristica genus … derived from the seed of the plant” (wiseGEEK)
Taste: Nutty, earthy, mildly like cinnamon
Popular uses in food: Eggnog, Indian and Indonesian cuisines, Caribbean drinks
Health benefits: Indigestion relief, bad breath treatment, liver and kidney detox
Recipe idea: Butternut Squash Soup (Delish)
Nutmeg provides this amazing, thick soup with the earthy flavor that complements the mellow, sweet taste of butternut squash.

6. Tamarind
“A leguminous tree in the family Fabaceae indigenous to tropical Africa (that)produces edible, pod-like fruit” (Wikipedia)
Taste: Sweet, sour, fruity
Popular uses in food: Sweet foods in African, Asian and Latin American  cuisines
Health benefits: Mild laxative, febrifuge (fight fevers), gargled to ease sore throats
Recipe idea: Tamarind Rice (ifood.tv)
This recipe is chock-full of spices, and tamarind is the main ingredient that gives this dish a signature sour kick.

7. Cumin
“A flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native from the east Mediterranean to India (with) seeds (used) in both whole and ground form.” (Wikipedia)
Taste: Smoky, nutty, earthy
Popular uses in food: Stews, soups, chili, South Asian and Brazilian cuisine
Health benefits: Enhance immunity, increase metabolism
Recipe idea: Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup (allrecipes.com)
Only one teaspoon of cumin is used in this chicken tortilla soup recipe, but cumin’s  nutty richness finds the opportunity to shine as the slow cooking process releases all the ingredients’ flavors.

8. Cardamom
“Small seed pods, triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin, papery, outer shell and small black seeds” (Wikipedia)
Taste: Herbal, citrusy, spicy
Popular uses in food: Indian cuisine, coffee and tea flavoring, Nordic baking
Health benefits: Anticarcinogenic properties, inhibit bad microbes, antiasthma properties
Recipe idea: Cardamom Chai Tea (What is Chai?)
Chai tea is both a treat and a tradition of many Indian homes, and cardamom is one of the essential spices a good cup of chai should have.

9. Cloves
“The aromatic flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum” (Wikipedia)
Taste: Sweet
Popular uses in food: Curries, marinades, meats
Health benefits: Bone density preservation, oral disease cures, headache cure
Recipe idea: Apple Spice Muffins (Yummly)
For serious bakers out there, this recipe that includes a dash of cloves for spicy sweetness is a must-try.

10. Chili powder
“Dried, pulverized fruit of one or more varieties of chili pepper, sometimes with the addition of other spices (when it may be known as chili powder blend)” (Wikipedia)
Taste: Hot-spicy, smoky
Popular uses in food: Chili stews, American cuisine
Health benefits: Anti-inflammation benefits, improve digestion, control insulin levels
Recipe idea: It’s Chili by George!! (allrecipes.com)
Easy recipes are sometimes the best recipes, and making chili with a healthy amount of chili powder doesn’t get simpler — or more delicious — than this.

Contact Eunice Choi at [email protected].

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy