Spices will have better flavor and a longer shelf life if you buy them whole--as berries, seeds, or quills--and grind them just before you use them. You can bring out even more flavor by toasting the freshly ground spice in a pan over low heat for a minute or so.
Annatto seeds don't have a lot of flavor, but they impart a rich reddish-orange color to stews and sauces. Look for the seeds, either whole or ground, in Latin American or Caribbean markets. To extract the color, steep the seeds in boiling water for about 20 minutes, then discard the seeds.Learn more
Cardamom figures prominently into the cuisines of India, the Middle East, North Africa, and Scandinavia. It best to buy cardamom seeds still encased in their natural flavor-protecting pods, which you discard after you remove the seeds. You can also buy cardamom without the pods, called cardamom seeds = decorticated cardamom, but the unprotected seeds lose flavor quickly. Ground cardamom seeds are even less flavorful. Recipes that call for cardamom usually intend for you to use green cardamom, named for the green pods that encase the seeds. Some producers bleach the green hulls to a pale tan, but this makes them less aromatic. Brown cardamom is a similar spice that Indians use in savory dishes.Learn more
With its warm, sweet flavor, cinnamon is one of the biggest workhorses on the spice shelf. Cooks often use it to flavor baked goods and drinks, but cinnamon also works wonders in stews and sauces. The best cinnamon is Ceylon cinnamon = canela = Sri Lanka cinnamon = true cinnamon. Indonesian cinnamon has a similar taste, but larger quills. Much of the cinnamon sold in the United States is cassia cinnamon, which isn't as well regarded.Learn more
Coriander seeds are a common ingredient in the cuisines of India, the Middle East, Latin America, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. The popular herb cilantro comes from the same plant, but it's not a good substitute for the seeds. You can buy the seeds already ground, but for better flavor and shelf life, buy coriander seeds and grind them yourself. To enhance the flavor, toast the seeds in a pan for a few minutes first.Learn more
This is similar to anise seed, but sweeter and milder. It pairs well with fish, but Italians also like to add it to sauces, meat balls, and sausages. Both the seeds and the stalks from the plant are sometimes called fennel. If a recipe calls for a large amount, it probably intends for you to use the stalks.Learn more