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Cooking with Herbs and Spices: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet

Cooking with Herbs and Spices

Cooking with herbs and spices scares a lot of people. It’s not a complicated process, but a lack of information often causes people to shy away from things that they don’t know. Before you completely give up on cooking with herbs and spices, take a minute to check out this cheat sheet guide that will get you on the right track with all your healthy meal plan needs.

For starters, you can’t be afraid to season things. Herbs and spices are necessary to add flavor to a variety of foods. You can create different types of seasoning blends or use store-bought blends. Some seasonings are required, and some are added for optional flavor, but regardless, you need to know how and when to use herbs spices and seasonings blends. To do that is by learning about their origins, flavor, and taste.

Common Herbs and Spices
Photo Credit: Canva — Common Herbs and Spices

Regional Cuisines, and Common Herbs, and Spices

The great thing about herbs and spices is that you can create unique seasoning combinations reflective of certain countries or regions. For example, you can find creole seasonings, Caribbean seasonings (including jerk rub), Mexican seasonings, Asian spices and seasonings, and more in your local supermarket. These seasonings can be used to season dishes, and each herb’s taste and flavor will differ.

As the food industry is expanding, so does people’s palate. More people are becoming foodies, and with the help of social media, we are experiencing an influx of international culinary experiences. We are learning more about different herbs, spices, and seasoning blends.

Cooking meals in different ways gives someone the ability to have an extra meal every day. Seasonings allow tasting the exotic flavors of other cuisines.

Below is a cheat sheet that covers common herbs and spices from various regions and countries.

Here are 30 Common Herbs and Spices used in most Cuisines

Allspice: earthy and sweet flavor; pairs well with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, mace, and ginger
Basil: sweet flavor; pairs well with garlic, thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, and parsley
Bay Leaves: slightly bitter; pairs well with sage, thyme, oregano, garlic
Black Pepper/Peppercorn: smoky, peppery taste; pairs well with garlic, parsley and thyme.
Cardamon: sweet taste; pairs well with cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and turmeric.
Cayenne Pepper: peppery and spicy; pairs well with garlic, thyme, scallion, parsley, paprika, and cinnamon.
Chervil: mild anise flavor; pairs well with tarragon, parsley, and chive
Chive: mild onion taste; cayenne pepper, parsley, and garlic. 
Cilantro: citrusy and slightly peppery; it pairs well with garlic, thyme, and black pepper. 
Cinnamon: earthy and sweet flavor: pairs well with nutmeg, ginger, allspice.
Cloves: earthy and sweet taste; pairs well with cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice.
Coriander: earthy and peppery; pairs well with cumin, cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and garlic.
Cumin: earthy and smoky; it pairs well with garlic, ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and paprika. 
Dill: grassy, fresh, and slightly citrusy; pairs well with garlic, tarragon, rosemary, and sage.
Fennel: mild anise taste; pairs well with dill, thyme, and cumin.
Garlic: savory taste; pairs well with parsley, black pepper, thyme, oregano, sage, tarragon, scallion, and ginger.
Ginger: warm and sweet taste; pairs well with garlic, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemongrass. 
Lemongrass: zesty and citrusy; pairs well with scallion, garlic, parsley, and ginger.
Marjoram: slightly sweet; dill, parsley, basil, and thyme
Mint: cool and sweet; pairs well with ginger, garlic, and parsley.
Nutmeg: sweet; pairs well with cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and cloves. 
Oregano: earthy taste; goes well with garlic, rosemary, parsley, bay leaves, and thyme.
Paprika: warm and sweet taste (can be smoky as well); pairs well with garlic, parsley, cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom.
Parsley: herbaceous and slightly bitter; pairs well with garlic, thyme, and scallion
Rosemary: earthy; pairs well with sage, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, oregano, and parsley. 
Sage: earthy, slightly peppery taste with hints of mint, eucalyptus, and lemon; pairs well with thyme, rosemary, and marjoram. 
Scallion: spicy and peppery; pairs well with parsley, garlic, thyme, and tarragon. 
Tarragon: licorice and peppery; pairs well with sage, dill, garlic, and parsley.
Thyme: earthy; pairs well with garlic, parsley, oregano, and rosemary.  
Turmeric: bitter and peppery; it pairs well with cinnamon, garlic, and scallion.

Other Important Notes

Seasoning food with spices is a delicate art. It’s important to start with a small amount and taste as you go, as adding more spices is easier than removing them.

Trust your own taste buds, and don’t be afraid to experiment. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to seasoning food as long as you enjoy the flavor.

When following a recipe, it is important to use the exact seasonings that are called for, especially salt, herbs, and fresh seasonings. These ingredients are carefully selected to complement the dish’s other flavors and create a balanced flavor profile.

Modifying the seasonings in a recipe can have a significant impact on the overall flavor of the dish. It is important to experiment with different herbs and spices to learn how they taste and how they interact with other ingredients. However, when following a recipe, it is best to start with the recommended seasonings and adjust them to your taste as needed.

Here are some tips for using herbs and spices:

  • Use fresh herbs whenever possible. They have a more intense flavor than dried herbs.
  • Start with a small amount of seasoning and add more to taste. It is easier to add more seasoning than to remove it.
  • Toast whole spices before grinding them to release their flavor.
  • Grind spices just before using them for the best flavor.
  • Store herbs and spices in a cool, dark place to preserve their freshness.

3 reasons why it might be good idea to create your own herbs and spices blend

Creating your own herb and spice blends is a great way to add your own unique flavor to your cooking. It can also be a lot of fun to experiment with different combinations and create new and exciting flavor profiles.

Here are 3 reasons why it is good and fun to create your own herbs and spices blend:

  1. It is a great way to control the quality and freshness of your ingredients. When you buy pre-made blends, you don’t always know how fresh the herbs and spices are or where they came from. When you make your own blends, you can choose the freshest and highest quality ingredients.
  2. It allows you to customize the flavor of your food to your liking. Pre-made blends often contain ingredients that you may not like or that may not be compatible with the other ingredients in your dish. When you make your own blends, you can control the exact ingredients and proportions used to create a blend that is perfect for your taste.
  3. It is a fun and creative way to express yourself in the kitchen. Experimenting with different herbs and spices can be a lot of fun, and it is a great way to learn about different cuisines and flavor profiles. When you create your own blends, you can put your own unique spin on your cooking.

Here are some tips for creating your own herb and spice blends:

  • Start with a small amount of each ingredient and add more to taste. It is easier to add more seasoning than to remove it.
  • Toast whole spices before grinding them to release their flavor.
  • Grind spices just before using them for the best flavor.
  • Store herbs and spices in a cool, dark place to preserve their freshness.
  • Experiment with different combinations of herbs and spices to create new and exciting flavor profiles.

Here are some ideas for herb and spice blends that you can make at home:

  • Italian seasoning: This blend is perfect for pasta dishes, pizzas, and other Italian-inspired dishes. It typically contains a mix of dried oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary.
  • Taco seasoning: This blend is perfect for tacos, burritos, and other Mexican-inspired dishes. It typically contains a mix of chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and salt.
  • Garam masala: This blend is perfect for Indian dishes. It typically contains a mix of cumin, coriander, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, and cinnamon.
  • Herbes de Provence: This blend is perfect for French dishes. It typically contains a mix of dried thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and lavender.
  • Pumpkin pie spice: This blend is perfect for pumpkin pie and other fall-inspired desserts. It typically contains a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. The possibilities are endless when it comes to creating your own herb and spice blends. So have fun and experiment!

In conclusion, herbs and spices are a powerful tool for adding flavor to food. They can be used to enhance ingredients’ natural flavors, create new and complex flavor profiles, and add depth and complexity to dishes.

When using herbs and spices, starting with a small amount and tasting as you go is important. It is easier to add more seasoning than to remove it. It is also important to use fresh herbs whenever possible, as they flavor more intensely than dried herbs.

Experiment with different herbs and spices to learn how they taste and how they interact with other ingredients. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to seasoning food, so have fun and be creative!

Here are some additional tips for using herbs and spices:

  • Use a mortar and pestle to grind spices for the best flavor.
  • Toast whole spices before grinding them to release their flavor.
  • Store herbs and spices in a cool, dark place to preserve their freshness.
  • Add herbs and spices to your cooking at different stages to create different flavor effects. For example, adding herbs and spices at the beginning of cooking will allow their flavors to meld with the other ingredients, while adding them at the end of cooking will give them a more pronounced flavor.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment! The best way to learn how to use herbs and spices is to try them out in different dishes.

With a little practice, you will be able to use herbs and spices to create delicious and flavorful dishes that everyone will love.

First published on January 9, 2020. Revised and updated to add additional content

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