Global Spices

Global Spices
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.
allspice, clove pepper, Jamaica pepper, myrtle pepper, newspice, pimento
allspice
Allspice comes from a single tree, but it tastes like a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. You can buy it already ground, but for better flavor and a longer shelf life, buy the berries and grind them yourself.
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anise seed, anis, aniseed
anise seed
Cooks use anise seed to impart a licorice flavor to baked goods, liqueurs, and candies.
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cardamom, cardamon, green cardamom
cardamom
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.
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cassia cinnamon, cassia, Chinese cassia, Chinese cinnamon, false cinnamon
cassia cinnamon
Most of the cinnamon that's sold in America is cassia, which is cheaper and more bitter than the choice Ceylon cinnamon.
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chia seeds
chia seeds
These are small edible seed that originated in Mexico.
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cinnamon, canela, Ceylon cinnamon, Indonesian cinnamon, Sri Lanka cinnamon
cinnamon
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.
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clove
clove
Cloves are nail-shaped dried flower buds that have a sweet, penetrating flavor. They can be ground and used to flavor baked goods or sauces, or left whole and poked into roasted hams or pork. Use cloves sparingly--a little goes a long way.
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coriander seeds, ketumbar seeds
coriander seeds
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.
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cumin, comino, cummin, jeera
cumin
Cumin is a key ingredient in Southwestern chili recipes, but it's also widely used in Latin America, North Africa, and India. Freshly roasted and ground cumin seeds are far superior to packaged ground cumin.
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dill seed, dillseed
dill seed
Dill seed tastes like dill leaves, but it's much stronger. It's a common ingredient in pickles, dips, and potato salad.
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fennel seed, fennel, sweet cumin
fennel seed
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.
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mace
mace
This is the lacy wrapping that covers nutmeg when it's plucked from the tree. Its flavor is similar to nutmeg, but slightly more bitter. It's usually sold already ground, but you can sometimes find blades of mace that you can grind yourself.
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mustard seeds
mustard seeds
Mustard seeds have a hot, pungent flavor. Yellow mustard seeds are the ones you'll most likely find in American and European kitchens. They're often ground and made into prepared mustard or added to stews and sauces to give them some zip. Indian cooks usually prefer the smaller and more pungent brown mustard seeds or black mustard seeds. When recipes call simply for mustard, they may be referring to prepared mustard, the condiment we like to put on hot dogs. When crushed, mustard seeds are very pungent, but Indian cooks fry them in oil, which makes them sweet and mild.
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Pepper
Pepper
These come in different colors and potencies. Green peppercorns are packed in brine, vinegar, or salt soon after they're picked. They're mild and soft and can be eaten whole. Black pepper and white pepper are both dried, and sold either ground or as whole peppercorns. Black pepper has a stronger flavor and is far more popular than white; many cooks just use white pepper when they want to avoid having black specks in a light-colored sauce. It's best to buy whole peppercorns and grind them yourself, since ground pepper loses its potency quickly. Pink peppercorns aren't true peppercorns, but they have a very mild, peppery flavor.
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pink peppercorns, red peppercorns
pink peppercorns
Pink peppercorns aren't true peppercorns, but they have a very mild, peppery flavor.
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poppy seeds
poppy seeds
These tiny, nutty seeds are typically used in baked goods, but some cuisines also use them in savory dishes. Europeans prefer black poppy seeds, while Indians prefer white, but the two kinds can be substituted for one another. Since poppy seeds are high in fat, they tend to go rancid quickly, so buy small amounts and store them in the refrigerator. Consuming poppy seeds can result in a false positive on a drug test.
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saffron
saffron
To make a pound of saffron, over two hundred thousand stigmas from crocus sativus flowers must be harvested by hand. That's why saffron is the world's most expensive spice, and also why so there are so many fakes on the market. Fortunately, a little of the good stuff goes a long way--it only takes a few threads to add saffron's distinct yellow color and earthy aroma to a family meal of paella or bouillabaisse. You can buy saffron either as as unprocessed stigmas (called saffron threads) or powdered. The threads should be red with orange tips. Threads lacking orange tips may be dyed, so avoid them. The quality of powdered saffron is measured by its Minimum Coloring Strength. The higher the Minimum Coloring Strength, the less saffron you need to use. A typical level is 180, and a level of 220 or higher is quite good. Some cooks prefer the threads to the powder, since it's hard to detect if the powder has been adulterated. Powdered saffron, though, is easier to use, since it can be added directly to a dish, while the threads need to be steeped in hot water first.
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sesame seed, benne seed, goma
sesame seed
These nutritious seeds have a mild, nutty flavor. They're commonly used in baked goods, Asian stir-fries, and Middle-Eastern candies. European recipes for sesame seeds are usually referring to white sesame seeds, but Indian and Asian recipes sometimes intend for you to use the more pungent black sesame seeds. Substitutes: pumpkin seeds
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turmeric, ground, eastern saffron, Indian saffron, powdered turmeric
turmeric, ground
Turmeric has a pleasant enough flavor, but it's prized more for the brilliant yellow color it imparts to whatever it's cooked with. It's a standard ingredient in curry powders, pickles, and prepared mustards. Be careful--turmeric can stain your clothes.
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vanilla bean, vanilla pod
vanilla bean
Vanilla is used to flavor everything from baked goods to ice cream. Most recipes call for vanilla extract, but some argue that vanilla beans lend a more potent flavor. Select beans that are shiny, moist, and pliable--dried out beans aren't nearly as potent. If a recipe calls for just for the seeds, split the bean open and scrape the seeds out, and save the outer pod to flavor sugar or hot drinks.
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yellow mustard seeds, white mustard seeds
yellow mustard seeds
Whole mustard seeds are most commonly used to make pickles or relish. Most cooks prefer their mustard either ground, called ground mustard = dry mustard = mustard powder, or ready-made as a condiment, called prepared mustard.
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