Friday, January 8, 2010

Spices are the Variety of Life!

As soon as I started stocking my kitchen with a wide variety of spices, I found that it was much easier to cook. Instead of passing by a tasty looking recipe because I didn't have a certain spice for it, I was able to make it! I have also found that I am less afraid to try an unusual dish because I now have the spices for it. We here at TBSC encourage all cooks (bitches who still cook, too!) to explore spices. You never know what you might find!

If you’re just starting out as a cook and have a sparsely stocked spice cabinet, filling it can be overwhelming and can get expensive. But, having a wide variety of spices allows you to cook dishes from a variety of cuisines. In exploring spices and building up your spice arsenal, you’ll discover which spices you like and which are most useful for you. The more spices you have, the more you can cook and the happier you'll be (and maybe you can even get your bitch back in the kitchen by inspiring her with your culinary variety). Many spices cross cuisines, such as cumin and ginger.You can start with the following spices and expand as you come across spices that you are curious about. This list was borrowed and adapted from Real Simple’s Basic Spice Checklist.

Bay leaves. Choose whole leaves that are rich in color.

Black peppercorns. Always pick whole peppercorns over ground versions and grind your own—the flavors of freshly ground pepper far outweigh the slight inconvenience of preparation.

Cayenne pepper. For more intense heat from this spice made from ground dried chilies, look for a lighter color. Most likely the pepper was ground with the seeds, boosting the spiciness.

Chili powder. Typically a blend of dried chilis, cumin, coriander, and oregano. Medium to hot chili powders go heavier on the chilis.

Cinnamon, ground. Use this warm, aromatic spice for holiday baking, as well as stews and curries. I like Indonesian Cassia from The Spice House.

Cloves, ground. A staple in holiday baking, especially gingersnaps.

Ginger, ground. Ground ginger has a more intense and astringent taste than fresh and is often more convenient. Ginger’s popularity has increased in the U.S. because of its supposed benefits to the digestive system.

Kosher salt. Use in place of table salt for seasoning recipes.

Nutmeg, whole or ground. Nutmeg's sweet, spicy flavor is great in savory and sweet dishes alike. Real foodies say you have to use whole nutmeg and grind it yourself, but if you don’t want to, the pre-ground nutmeg is tasty, too.

Oregano. Its Mediterranean form is often sprinkled on pizza, while the pungency of Mexican oregano complements spicy dishes.

Paprika. Hungarian varieties have the highest quality, with a rich red color and smooth texture. There are two types of paprika: sweet and hot. If the packaging is not labeled as either, the paprika is sweet.

Red pepper flakes. Use the flakes of crushed red chili to spice up pastas and stir-fries.

Rosemary, dried. This herb, with an aroma of lemon and pine, can be used in an assortment of Mediterranean dishes.

Thyme, dried. Add this herb to Mediterranean, Cajun, and Creole dishes.

White peppercorns. These are peppercorns that have been ripened, had the skin removed, and then dried. They are not as strong as black peppercorns. White peppercorns are used in light-colored sauces where black pepper specks would stand out.

Other spices I personally think are good to have on hand:

Cumin – Cumin is the second most used spice in the world behind black pepper.

Coriander – The seeds of the Cilantro plant, coriander is used in African and Indian dishes, as well as other cuisines.

Curry Powder – Good to have on hand for easy recipes like Curried Rice or Curry Chicken. Also, if you want to venture into Indian food, curry powder is a common ingredient.

Marjoram – sweeter and milder than oregano. Tasty in pasta dishes.

Allspice – If you like to bake, it’s good to have allspice on hand. Also used in some BBQ sauce recipes.

Dill – Great for dips, soups or pasta dishes.

Celery Seeds - If you like making cole slaw, get yourself some of these!

What are your favorite staple spices? Add them below in the comments section!

Okay, so where do I get all these spices? I like to order my spices from a company that grinds and prepares weekly, so I know I'm cooking with fresh ingredients. There's no way to know how long the spices in the grocery store have been sitting on the shelf. While they taste good and are absolutely fine to use if that’s what you have already in your cabinet, the flavors are so much richer in freshly ground spices and herbs. I was truly shocked at how amazing and wonderful freshly ground cinnamon smells and tastes. You won’t believe that you’ve been using the store bought stuff when you smell the fresh stuff. In addition, the prices are much, much cheaper than the grocery store. Shipping can add up, but even with that added to the total cost, spices purchased online will be cheaper than the store. Or, maybe you’re lucky enough to have a local spice shop that grinds their own spices. I usually order from The Spice House in Chicago. I like their website because it's clear, easy to understand and there are lots of suggestions for recipes and ways to use different spices and herbs. The spice prices are very reasonable and the quality can’t be beat. There are other excellent spice companies out there, too. Here is an incomplete list. Please feel free to add your own favorite spice stores in the comments section below.

Atlantic Spice Company in Truro, MA
Whole Spice in Petaluma, CA
Penzey’s Spices has locations in larger cities all over the country.
World Spice Merchants in Seattle, WA


  1. Thanks! This is great, I didn't know that about Paprika. One thing that I do is when I buy fresh herbs and won't use them all before they'd go bad I put them in the oven around 150 or 200 for about 45 minutes, break them off the stems, and put into containers. It comes in handy when you need these herbs later and don't want to go out any buy fresh ones. I am going to look into getting freshly ground herbs though. Do they give you things to put them in or would you suggest empty glass containers?

  2. You can usually order them in refillable glass jars or in plastic bags if you already have empty jars at home. Spices should be stored in airtight glass containers out of sun and away from heat.

    That's a great idea about drying your fresh herbs in the oven. I'm going to give that a try! I also keep my fresh herbs in a jar of water on the counter for a few days instead of keeping them in the fridge. They seem to last longer this way. And, they look nice, too!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.