A Guide to Herbs and Spices
ALLSPICE: Allspice is native to the West Indies and Central America. It resembles a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Allspice is used in marinades, (particular for game), in curries, spice cakes, sweet vegetable dishes, for pickling fruits and vegetables and, of course, for lutefisk.
ANISE: One of the sweetest-smelling herbs, anise is also a member of the carrot family. It is found primarily in Egypt, Greece and Turkey. The seeds and leaves both have a sweet, licorice-like flavor. Its principal use is in making liqueurs, but anise seed is also used in cookies, cakes and breads as well as in certain sausages and cabbage slaws.
BASIL: A powerful herb with a heady aroma that is native to the Near East. Basil can be used with most vegetables, especially tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, artichokes, peas, zucchini and spinach. It’s also good in green salads, vegetable soups, egg dishes and pastas, meat, fish and poultry.
BAY LEAF: Also called “laurel”, it comes from an evergreen shrub-tree native to the Mediterranean region. Its heavy flavor may overpower foods. It is used most often in cooking hearty meat and fish dishes and is essential for a bouquet garnish.
CARAWAY SEEDS: They come from a biennial herb with lacy foliage grown primarily in the Netherlands. The brown, crescent-shaped seeds ripen after the plant dies. According to myth, caraway vents theft or infidelity and cures hysteria. Caraway seeds lighten the flavor of heavy foods such as pork and sauerkraut. Use them in breads or with vegetables such as carrots, green beans and potatoes.
CARDAMON: Cardamon is native to India. Only the dried ripe seeds of the cardamon plant are used. Pungent and aromatic, cardamon is similar to ginger but more subtle. It is used in Indian curry dishes and in Scandinavian pastries.
CHERVIL: Chervil leaves resemble those of parsley. It is easy to grow in an herb garden. A member of the carrot family, it has spicy overtones and a slight flavor of licorice. In France it is considered a blending herb. Because of its delicate nature, it can be used generously. Use it with cream cheese or cottage cheese and in omelets, soups or fish dishes.
CINNAMON: One of the oldest spices known. Most cinnamon comes from a cassia tree. Use with sweet spice flavoring in seasoning meats or meat cooked with fruit. It also enhances carrots, squash, eggplant, tomatoes and baked goods.
CLOVES: Unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree, cloves are cultivated in Indonesia and Madagascar. They are potent, so use cloves sparingly in combination with bay, cinnamon, ginger or curry. Use in spicy meat, fish or poultry dishes and in baked goods.
CUMIN: Cumin seeds come from a low-growing annual herb, of the carrot family, native to the Mediterranean area. Cumin, a symbol of greed to the ancient Greeks, has a taste similar to that of caraway seed. Use it in Mexican or Indian dishes or to season robust meat and vegetable dishes. The Dutch and Swiss use it to flavor cheese.
DILL: A relative of the carrot family, the leaf and the seed of dill are used in salads and with most vegetables, fish and shellfish. It also complements and light cream cheese.
FENNEL: Almost all of the plant is edible. The seed has a sweet taste with a hint of licorice. Use it in breads, sausages, spicy meat mixtures, salads and soups.
GINGER: One of the first Oriental spices known in Europe. The fresh root is used in cookies, breads or spice cakes, curried dishes or pot roasts.
MARJORAM: An aromatic herb of the mint family, marjoram is native to the Mediterranean but is now widely cultivated around the world. It’s closely related to oregano but is sweeter and milder. Use it sparingly in soups, sauces, stuffing and stews; it also goes well with eggplant, summer squash, tomatoes and mushrooms.
MINT: Spearmint is the most common garden mint. It may be used with beef, veal, fish, and lamb, or with beans, carrots, eggplant, peas, potatoes, spinach and green salads. Crush dried or fresh leaves just before adding them to a dish.
NUTMEG: Nutmeg is the seed from the tropical nutmeg tree. The outer skin-covering of the seed is used for mace. Nutmeg and mace have similar flavors but mace is more intense and pungent. Use it in custards, pies and cheese dishes or sparingly in cream sauces and meat dishes.
OREGANO: Also known as wild marjoram. Because of its potent flavor, use it sparingly. It compliments almost all tomato dishes and goes well with most vegetables and with meats or stews.
PAPRIKA: The dried, finely ground pods of a sweet pepper plant. It can be decidedly hot to pleasantly mild. It can also be used for adding color, or for flavoring meat dishes such as stews and goulashes.
PARSLEY: Most often thought of as a garnish, parsley s delicious when used in large quantities as a separate seasoning. It is used in most herb blends and can add a fresh taste to meats, soups, stews and vegetable dishes.
PEPPER: Both black and white pepper come from the tiny berries os a vine native to the East Indies. White pepper is made by soaking black peppercorns and removing the dark outer coating; it is sometimes preferred for use in white sauces.
POPPY SEEDS: They have a mild flavor vaguely similar to that of walnuts, but poppy seeds are most often used for their texture. The slate-blue seeds of the poppy plant are from another variety than that which yields opium. It is estimated that there are 900,000 poppy seeds to the pound. They are used in breads, rolls, cookies, pie crusts and cake or to season noodles or vegetables.
ROSEMARY: Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary is sometimes used where there is garden landscaping. The mint-family herb grows 2-6 feet high with narrow leaves that look like pine needles. Use a little rosemary with orange sections, in dumplings and biscuits or in poultry stuffings. It’s also good in pea soup and in stews, with beans, peas, spinach and zucchini, lamb and pork.
SAGE: Sage is now widely cultivated in California and other western states. This fragrant herb has a slightly bitter taste and is a versatile seasoning used in stuffings, sausage and with poultry, pork and veal. Use it with cheese dishes or with lima beans, onions, tomatoes and eggplant.
TARRAGON: A classic herb used in French cooking. The flavor is spicy, sharp and aromatic with overtones of licorice and mint. It is essential to bernaise sauce and adds a nice touch to tartar sauce. It is also used with poultry, fish and eggs.
THYME: Thyme is a strong-flavored herb with a clove-like taste. Use it sparingly in herb blends, creamy soups and fish chowders, and in all kinds of meat, fish, game and poultry dishes. Onions, carrots, beets, mushrooms, beans, potatoes and tomatoes also go well with thyme.