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A Complete Beginners Guide to Cooking With Spices

Apr 26, 2019

Adding spices and herbs can instantly transform any meal from mundane to incredible – from sweet and salty to savory and spicy, you really can’t go wrong with a splash of extra flavor! While we may normally think of salt as our go-to when a meal tastes too bland, there are other spices, like cumin, that bring out the natural flavors of food. Not only that but certain herbs and spices can actually be good for you and your digestive system; whether it’s because of natural antioxidants or particular vitamins and nutrients. Here is a quick beginner’s guide to cooking with spices!

Must-Have Essential Spices: The Basics

These are the spices everyone needs to have in their kitchen! These are the staples of any spice collection and are must-haves if you’re just starting out in the spice realm.

Basil: With its sweet and earthy aroma, basil is one of the most commonly used herbs in the kitchen. It’s known for being one of the main flavors in pesto but also pairs well with a number of meat dishes, vegetables, and soups. Find it in: Green Goddess, Everything Seasoning.

Cayenne Pepper: If you need to give something a touch of heat, this is the spice to use. It’s spicy thanks to its capsaicin levels, and it gives dishes a smoky flavor. Cumin, paprika, and cinnamon are all strong enough to stand up to cayenne pepper in a mix. Find it in: Limon & Chile, Kung Pao, Big Easy Jambalaya, Spicy Buffalo.

Cinnamon: Apart from salt and pepper, cinnamon is probably the most widely used (and understood!) spice. It works beautifully in desserts and can bring a subtle zing to savory dishes. Allspice, cloves, and nutmeg are all great potential partners for this star spice. Find it in: Maple Doodle, Jamrock Jerk.

Coriander: Coriander seeds are dried seeds that come from the same plant as the popular herb, cilantro. Coriander tastes like a combination of lemon, sage, and caraway, and it can be used for curries, soups, and even pickling spices. You’ll find it most often used in Indian, Mexican, Asian, and Caribbean dishes. Find it in: Grill Master, Pizza Is Life, Everything Seasoning.  

Cumin: Mexican and Asian dishes thrive on cumin, but don’t overdo it – this spice is super strong and can easily overpower a dish! It works best with something that can either match it punch for punch, like cayenne pepper, or something that’s slightly less pungent, like oregano. Find it in: Habanero Inferno, Taco Party.

Ginger: Sweet and spicy all at once, ginger is all too often underused in dishes! Sprinkling fresh or dry ginger over roasted veggies or baked sweet potatoes can give them a yummy zing. Ginger also works well in desserts and dishes that feature garlic. Find it in: Thai Yellow Curry.

Oregano: If you like pizza or pasta, odds are you like oregano! This dried leaf makes its way into nearly every Italian dish and seasoning blend, and for good reason. It’s earthy, bitter and just slightly sweet, so it’s able to bring a lot of nuance to red sauces without taking away from the umami flavors the tomato provides. Find it in: Southwest Garlic Chipotle, Big Easy Jambalaya, Pizza Is Life, Taco Party, Herbaceous, Everything Seasoning.  

Thyme: Thyme has a delicious earthy flavor that pairs perfectly with strong meats and other savory dishes. Though thyme isn’t savory itself, it adds a subtle flavor that helps dishes stand out. It pairs well with other earthy flavors, like oregano and rosemary. Find it in: Herbaceous, Everything Seasoning, Garlic & Herb, Southwest Garlic Chipotle.   

Must-Have Spices: Blends

Spice blends are a great way to incorporate a variety of spices without having to do the guesswork! There are a ton of pre-mixed options at your local grocery store – here are some of our favorites.

Chili Powder: This super common blend is made from ground chili peppers, paprika, cumin, and black pepper; some versions are milder than others. The mix is perfect for Mexican dishes and anything you want to add a bit of spice too. Find it in: Taco Party, Limon & Chile.

Curry Powder:  Curry powder is a Western term, but the mixture of spices is often called garam masala in India. Most curry powders are made up of coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and red pepper, though the mix varies. Turns out we love curry powder so much, we made our own version of it! Find it here: Thai Yellow Curry.

Italian Seasoning: Made from garlic, onion, and herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme, and marjoram, this blend is often considered a kitchen staple; although it can vary quite a bit, with some including red pepper flakes for heat or a wider range of dried herbs.

Lemon Pepper: The lemon bit of this particular mixture comes from zesting the peel, which gives it a slightly more pungent flavor. It works perfectly as a rub for fish, poultry, or burgers, or sprinkled on salads, mixed roasted veggies, and potatoes. Our version, Zesty Lemon Pepper, adds a hint of garlic for a little extra zest!

Poultry Seasoning: Poultry seasoning is a staple blend, and most often includes sage, pepper, lemon peel, rosemary, dill, allspice, thyme, marjoram, and ginger. Talk about convenience in a bottle! This one is great on chicken, turkey, stuffing, and in broth-based soups. Our Everything Seasoning is a great example!

For more fun recipe ideas and tips for eating clean, check out our other blogs; or shop our online store!

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