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The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Seasoning Food

Clare Lanaux

Spices can turn a boring chicken breast into a fine dining experience, bring out the hidden flavors of red meat, and even turn vegetables into a flavorful event. Best of all? They’re an excellent way to add flavor to food without additional calories.

But for newbies, finding your way around a spice drawer can feel like a trying task. Below, we’ve picked the basic spices you need to know, what types of foods to use them with, and what kind of dishes to create with them. Time to get cookin’!

Basil
Basil is a popular herb native to Italy and featured in many Italian dishes including pesto, tomato sauce, pizza, and pasta. The fragrant herb is normally used fresh in cooked recipes, as cooking it can diminish the flavor.

Color:
Bright green; buy varieties without any brown or yellow spots

Scent:
Very aromatic; hints of spice, pepper, and mint

Taste:
Sweet and peppery; somewhere between the notes of licorice and cloves

Traditional cuisines:
Mediterranean, Thai, Italian

Traditional dishes:
Pesto, Tomato Basil Salad, Tomato sauces

Recipes:
Pesto, Caprese Salad, Tomato Sauce

Storage tips:
Store in a damp paper towel in the fridge and use within 4 days of purchase.

Oregano
Oregano is native to the Mediterranean region and belongs to the mint family. It’s recognized for its nutritional, antioxidant, and disease preventing properties.

Color:
Olive green

Scent:
Spicy and sweet

Taste:
Hearty, peppery, with a slight hint of sweetness

Traditional cuisines:
Mediterranean, Greek, Latin America

Traditional dishes:
Chicken, fish, and veggies

Recipes:
Oregano and Lime Roasted Chicken Breasts, Fish Fillets with Olives and Oregano, Parmesan, Zucchini, and Corn

Storage tips:
Oregano should be rich green in color and not at all limp when purchased fresh; store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days

Thyme
Thyme is a delicate looking herb with a penetrating, minty fragrance hailing from Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. It’s available year-round and matches well with beef, chicken, lamb, fish, lentils, and carrots.

Color:
Green

Scent:
Earthy and savory with a hint of citrus

Taste:
Earthy, hints of clove

Traditional cuisines:
Mediterranean, Italian, and French

Traditional dishes:
Soups, stews, stocks, and sauces

Recipes:
Butternut Squash-Parsnip Soup with Thyme, Spring-Thyme Chicken Stew Recipe, Homemade Chicken Stock with Fresh Oregano, Thyme, and Rosemary, Salmon Fillets with Lemon-Thyme Sauce

Storage tips:
To store fresh thyme, wrap it in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Cumin
Cumin ‘seeds’ are actually the small dried fruit of an annual plant in the parsley family. The spice has a distinctive flavor and strong scent due to its abundant oil content. Cumin is native to the Mediterranean and is similar to caraway seeds, but has a hotter taste.

Color:
Ranging from brown in seed form to bright orange/yellow when powder

Scent:
Warm, aromatic

Taste:
Earthy, sweet, bitter, smoky

Traditional cuisines:
Middle Eastern, Asian, Mediterranean, Mexican

Traditional dishes:
Falafel, curry, rice and beans, Chile con carne, various spreads

Recipes:
Panfried Falafel with Cumin and Garlic, Aloo Gobi, Salsa

Storage tips:
Ground cumin should be stored in an airtight package in the freezer

Paprika
Paprika, a spice native to South America, is a fine powder ground from certain varieties of Capsicum annuum (a fancy word for peppers). They may be small and round or pointed and cone shaped and they’re larger and milder than chili peppers.

Color:
Deep red to rusty brown

Scent:
Slightly warm and sweet

Taste:
Ranges from sweet and mild to pungent and fiery, depending on the region it was grown

Traditional cuisines:
Hungarian, Serbian, Spanish

Recipes:
Paprika Chicken and Spinach with White Wine Butter Thyme Sauce, Baked Zucchini Chips with Paprika and Sea Salt, Paprika Potatoes

Storage tips:
Store paprika in a cool, dark cupboard, away from direct heat and sunlight. Keep tightly closed when not in use.

2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Seasoning Food”

  1. tutness says:

    I love this, because even though I know all of these spices and use them frequently, there was some history and origin stories that were new to me 🙂 Also, this is great, I just planted some herbs and now I’ve got a whole lot of ideas for how to use them.

    1. Clare Lanaux says:

      So happy this article gave you some cooking inspiration! Feel free to comment back and let us know how these recipes turn out for you 🙂

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