Spices

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.
African bird pepper
African bird pepper
This is the North African equivalent of our cayenne pepper.
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ajwain, ajowan, ajowan seed, ajwain seed, ajwan, ajwon, bishop's weed
ajwain
These look like small caraway seeds, but they taste like a pungent version of thyme. Indian cooks like to sprinkle them on breads. Look for them in Indian markets.
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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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amchoor, aamchur, amchor, amchur, dried green mango, dried mango powder
amchoor
This is made from sun-dried mangoes, and it's used as a souring agent or to tenderize meats. Indian or Middle Eastern grocery stores carry it.
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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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annatto seed, achiote seed, achote seed, achuete seed, annotto seed
annatto seed
Annatto seeds don't have a lot of flavor, but they impart a rich yellowish-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.
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asafetida, asafoetida, asafoetida powder, devil's dung, ferula, foetida
asafetida
This powdered gum resin imparts a very strong onion-garlic flavor to Indian dishes. Use it sparingly—a little goes a long way. Look for it in Indian or health food stores or in the spice section of larger supermarkets.
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asem candis
This is a souring agent used in Indonesia. It's very hard to find
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basil seed, sweet basil seed
basil seed
Look for it in Southeast Asian markets.
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black cumin seeds, kala jeera, royal cumin seeds, saah jeera, shahi jeera
black cumin seeds
Indian cooks use this spice in many of their curries and tandoori dishes. It's darker and sweeter than ordinary cumin. To bring out its nutty flavor, it helps to toast the seeds briefly before using them.
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black mustard seeds
black mustard seeds
Indian cooks prefer these over the larger yellow mustard seeds that are more common in the west. Look for this in Indian markets or health food stores.
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black sesame seeds
black sesame seeds
Look for this in Asian markets
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brown cardamom
brown cardamom
Pods of this spice are sold in Indian markets. Some recipes call for the entire pod to be used, others call for the ground seeds. Don't confuse this with the more common (green) cardamom, which comes in round green or tan pods.
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brown mustard seeds
brown mustard seeds
These are smaller and hotter than the yellow mustard seeds that most western cooks are familiar with. Look for this in Indian markets.
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caraway seed, meridian fennel, Persian cumin
caraway seed
These are widely used in Eastern Europe, especially for flavoring rye bread, cheeses, and sauerkraut. Toast them first over low heat in a frying pan for a few minutes to bring out the aroma.
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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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cayenne pepper - ground, cayenne powder, ground red pepper, red pepper
cayenne pepper - ground
Dried cayenne peppers are sold either whole, crushed (called red pepper flakes), or ground into a powder called cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper is fairly hot and has a smoky flavor.
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celery seed
celery seed
Celery seed is used to impart a celery flavor to stews, pickles, and other dishes. Use it sparingly--a little goes a long way. Ground celery seed is sometimes called celery powder.
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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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fenugreek
fenugreek
This adds an earthy flavor to curries, chutneys, and sauces. It's available as seeds or powder, and you can usually find it in Indian and Middle Eastern markets. If it's not available, just leave it out of the recipe.
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ginger ground, ground ginger, powdered ginger
ginger ground
Recipes for baked goods often call for ground ginger. Don't confuse this with fresh ginger root, which is used mostly in Asian dishes.
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juniper berries
juniper berries
This dark blue spice is used to make gin, and to flavor game and sauerkraut. Crush the berries before using.
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long pepper, Indian long pepper
long pepper
Look for this in Indian or Southeast Asian markets. The seeds come in clumps that look like tiny pine cones.
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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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mahlab, mahleb, mahlepi
mahlab
Ground kernels of cherry stones. Middle Eastern grocery stores.
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melegueta pepper, grains of paradise, Guinea pepper, malagueta pepper
melegueta pepper
This West African spice is very hard to find in the West. It's similar to cardamom.
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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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nigella, black caraway, black onion seeds, calonji, habasoda, kalonji, ketza
nigella
This has a subtle flavor that's often used to enhance vegetable dishes. To bring out the flavor, it helps to toast the seeds briefly before using them.
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nutmeg
nutmeg
Freshly grated whole nutmeg tastes far better than packaged ground nutmeg, and has a much longer shelf life.
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palillo, Peruvian ground turmeric
palillo
This is ground turmeric.
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paprika, Hungarian paprika, Hungarian pepper, pimenton, pimentón, rose paprika
paprika
Paprika is made from special kinds of sweet red peppers, which are dried and ground. Varieties include the highly regarded and sweet Hungarian paprika = rose paprika = sweet paprika = Hungarian pepper and the cheaper and more pungent Spanish paprika = Spanish pepper = pimentón = pimenton. Cookbooks that call for paprika are usually referring to Hungarian paprika.
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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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