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Helpful Hints for Using Spices and Herbs for Maximum Flavor

Patti is a Certified Dietary Manager and Certified Restaurant Manager. Her knowledge is based on her nutritional training and experiences.

What Are They?

What Are They?

Is it a Spice or an Herb?

What is the difference between spices and herbs? Spices come from the bark, roots, seeds, fruits, buds, and flowers of certain plants and they grow in the tropics. Herbs, on the other hand, come from the leafy part of a plant that can be grown in gardens and containers. The word "Spice" generally refers to both an herb or a spice.

There are 3 categories of spices.

  1. Aromatic, such as cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, anise, caraway, cardamom, and mace
  2. Stimulants, which include mustard, pepper, and turmeric
  3. Sweet Herbs, like basil, thyme, oregano, sage, savory, and marjoram

Store in Glass Jars for Best Flavor

How to Store Your Spices

How to Store Your Spices

Proper Spice Storage for Quality and Freshness

When cooking with herbs and spices, sight and smell are just as important as the taste. The greener the herb, such as parsley, or the redder the spice, such as paprika, means that it has kept its flavor.

Dried herbs should always be stored in airtight glass jars or tightly closed containers. The jars or containers should be kept away from heat or steam as the moisture will affect the quality and freshness of the herbs and spices. All spices and herbs should be purchased in small quantities so that they can be used within a year to ensure freshness. Spices and herbs depend on certain oils that were formed during growth for their flavor. These natural oils will be damaged if not stored properly.

Fresh Herbs and Spices

Fire Mountain Spices and Herbs

Fire Mountain Spices and Herbs

Helpful Hints for Using Spices and Herbs

There are no set rules for using herbs and spices. Please keep in mind that dried herbs are far more potent than fresh herbs and spices. 1/4 teaspoon of dried herbs is just as strong as 1 teaspoon of fresh herbs.

  • Use spices and herbs sparingly. You want to add just enough seasonings to complement your dish, but not too much to where the actual flavor of the food is lost. So go lightly.
  • Spice and herb blends should be so subtle that only you, or perhaps an expert, can tell exactly what herbs and spices you used.
  • Chop fresh herbs very fine. The more finely chopped they are, the more the herb oils can escape. The flavor of the herb depends highly on the presence of these oils.
  • Soak dried herbs in a teaspoon of water and/or lime juice for 15 minutes before using.
  • The best way to draw out and extend the flavor of herbs is to blend or heat with butter, oleo, or salad oil.
  • When making casseroles or ’a la king dishes, you can add finely chopped fresh or dried herbs directly to the mixture. Remember, a little goes a long way!
  • For soups, sauces, or vegetable juice cocktails, put dried herbs in a small cloth bag and add to liquid. You will want to leave the spice bag in soups or other hot dishes for 15 minutes. For chilled juices, you will want to leave the spice bag in for 1 hour.
  • Strong flavors will develop if spice bag is left in any dish for too long.
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Herb and Spice Chart

Herb and Spice Chart

Herb and Spice Chart

When to Use Which Spice

The following is a list showing which spices and herbs work better in which foods:

  • Allspice - Soups, stews, pot roast, sauces, marinades, fish, shellfish, cakes, candies, cookies, spaghetti, sweet potatoes, squash
  • Anise - Leaves, salads (especially apple), seeds - cookies and candies
  • Balm, Lemon (leaves) - Steep for a delicate aromatic drink or add to hot or cold tea. Use lemon and sugar
  • Bay (leaves) - Meats, potatoes, soups, fish, casseroles, and marinades
  • Caraway (seeds) - Boiled with potatoes in jackets, potato salad, sauerkraut, cream or cottage cheese, cookies. Partly matured green caraway seeds are good for a delicious snack
  • Chervil (leaves) - Salads and salad dressings, soups, and omelets
  • Chili Powder - Used in Mexican dishes such as chili, tamale pie, enchiladas, tomato, barbecue sauce, dips, egg dishes, corn, cheese, bean casseroles, eggplant, and Spanish rice
  • Cilantro (also known as Chinese parsley) - Leaves of the coriander plant that is used in burritos, tacos, enchiladas, Mexican salsas, and guacamole. If in dry form, use in Spanish, Oriental, and Mexican foods.
  • Cinnamon - Use whole in pickling, preserving, hot chocolate, coffee, mulled wine, and stewed fruits. Use ground in cookies, cakes, French toast, bread, dessert sauces, sweet potatoes, squash, lamb roast, stew, ham glaze, applesauce, butter, pudding, and custard
  • Cloves - Use whole as garnish for ham, fruit peels, onions, pork, beef, beverages, pickling, and soups. Use ground in fruit cakes, spice cakes, cookies, bread, fruit salads, green vegetables, and mince meat
  • Coriander (seeds) - cookies and French dressing
  • Garlic (bulb) - Italian foods, kosher foods, salad dressings, cocktail sauces, barbecue sauce, beef, pork, and lamb roasts
  • Ginger (root) - Preserves, chutneys, curries, carrots, tea, cookies, and fruit compotes
  • Nutmeg - Cakes, cookies, pies, pastries, meat, vegetables (especially green beans), poultry, seafood, eggnog, fruits, puddings, and soups
  • Oregano (leaves) - Use in Italian dishes, especially pizza, ravioli, lasagna
  • Sage (leaves) - Use sparingly with onion for stuffing pork, ducks, and geese. Crush fresh leaves and blend with cottage cheese and cream cheese. Steep for tea
  • Savory (leaves) - String beans, soups, veal stuffing, poultry stuffing and sauces, egg dishes, and salads
  • Tarragon (leaves) - Leading accent in green salads, salad dressings, salad vinegar, fish sauces, tartar sauce, and some egg dishes
  • Winter Savory (leaves) - An important accent in chicken and turkey stuffing, sausage, and some egg dishes. Combine with parsley and onion juice for French omelets in winter

Growing Herbs in the Kitchen Window

Best Herbs to Grow Indoors

Best Herbs to Grow Indoors

Spices and Herbs You Can Grow Successfully at Home

The following are spices and herbs that can be grown successfully in your kitchen window or in the garden:

  • Basil (leaves) - Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, green salads, and eggs
  • Chives (leaves) - More delicate than onion, can be blended with any herb mixture, use in salads, omelets, potatoes, with cream cheese, and cottage cheese
  • Dill (leaves) - Broiled or fried meats and fish (especially salmon), fish sauces, creamed chicken, fricasseed chicken, potato salad, cucumbers. (seeds) - pickles and bread
  • Fennel, sweet (leaves) - Fish and salads, (stems) - Blanched stems of Florence fennel may be eaten raw like celery, added to salads, or braised in meat stocks
  • Marjoram - Cold meat sandwiches, meat and poultry stuffing, gravies, soups, and sausage
  • Mint (leaves) - Lamb, peas, cream of pea soup, tea, fruit drinks, and candies
  • Parsley (leaves and stems) - Sauces, meatloaves, soup, casseroles, cocktails, garnish, and sandwiches
  • Rosemary (leaves) - Use sparingly for special accent in cream soups made of leafy greens, poultry, stews, and sauces. Blend chopped parsley and a little rosemary with sweet butter and spread under the skin of the breast and legs of a roasting chicken
  • Thyme (leaves) - meat and poultry stuffing, gravies, soups, and egg dishes
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Patti Davis (author) from Rock Falls, Illinois on April 08, 2011:

Thanks for the comment. I had to cut out salt in my diet many years ago due to high blood pressure. I have lived by this guide ever since and because of it I do not miss salt at all! I'm glad I could help!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 07, 2011:

Wow, awesome guide! I recently cut salt out of my diet and have been spicing things up to help me adapt. You've given me a bunch of new ideas!

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