When you are cooking, you probably don’t think twice about adding a dash of salt. But what about a little star anise or a few Sichuan peppercorns? There is a world of spices out there that you can use in everyday cooking -- here are 13 to try.
A note about spices: Buy whole spices because they will last longer, and grind them as you need them. Get a spice grinder or even a second-hand coffee grinder. You grind up a cinnamon stick and you are going to be blown away.
1, 2. Cinnamon and allspice
Related story: 8 ways to extract unique flavors from whole spices
These are two spices I use a lot in everything. I use them in basic stews, I use them in my Asian cooking, I use them in my cooking from almost anywhere in the world because of what they do.
Try cinnamon and allspice if you are doing anything from Morocco, South America, the U.S., North Africa, the Middle East or Asia.
They are a wonderful backdrop for curries.
Grind them fresh or add them whole.
[Ed. note: Want a spice blend with cinnamon and allspice? Try Lynne's West Indies Spice Blend.]
3, 4. Cumin and coriander
Cumin and coriander are must-haves if your cooking is inspired by India, Mexico, North Africa or the Middle East. [Ed. note: Lynne's Crossover Spice Blend uses cumin and coriander and can work in many cuisines.]
5. Star anise
I love to play with spices in Chinese cooking, especially star anise. It’s a beautiful thing -- it looks like a star. You can break off small pieces of it and grind it, or just drop it in whole. It’s very powerful, but it’s really delicious.
If you are making a dusting of sugar for cookies, grind up the star anise, toss that with sugar and put that over the cookies before you put them in the oven – it is just an amazing flavor.
6, 7, 8. Dried oregano, whole-leaf basil and turmeric
I keep dry spices on hand because I use them in combination with fresh spices. I frequently use dried oregano and dried basil (I buy only whole-leaf basil, and I buy only enough for 3 months). I also use a bit of turmeric for its health reasons and also because it adds an acrid, interesting flavor.
I collect paprikas -- I keep them in the refrigerator. There is regular Spanish sweet; smoked sweet; smoked hot; Hungarian, which has more of a vegetable quality; and California sweet paprika, which is really sweet and is worth looking for.
10. Sichuan peppercorns
Sichuan peppercorns are delicious -- not just in Chinese cooking. [Ed. note: Learn more about how they use Sichuan peppercorn in Southwest China.]
11, 12. Whole cardamom pods and vanilla
Black cardamom is stronger and favored in a lot of Indian cooking, but there is green cardamom too. Just throw the pods into a dish and they will flavor it. If you crack them open, you get the seeds that you can grind.
Whole cardamom pods with vanilla are wonderful in any kind of custard.
If you are making an apple pie, grind up a little bit of cardamom and part of a vanilla bean with the sugar that’s going into the pie -- it will make you a very happy person.
13. Whole fennel seed
Whole fennel seed works wonders in vegetable soup.