What's a good resource for knowing what spices are and what to use them in?

  • What's a good resource for knowing what spices are and what to use them in? Judy

    I know what spices like garlic and black pepper are, and what foods you typically put them in. But spices like cardamom, rosemary, thyme, paprika, etc., completely elude me. I haven't found a good resource yet that explains all of them. Is there some kind of "spice cheat sheet" out there that I can tape to my kitchen cabinet?

  • I have one of the Betty Crocker books which dedicates several pages in the back to exactly this. I highly recommend getting something like this. Here are a few good ones online also:

    NDSU Publications

    Baking Ingredient Substitution Table

    Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County

  • It's not a "cheat sheet", and is rather too big to stick to your fridge, but I highly recommend the book The Flavor Bible, which is an encyclopedia of exactly these associations. What ingredients does any particular ingredient go with? How do you cook it? Absolutely terrific book!

  • First, trust your nose. Smell the food you're cooking. Open the spice and sniff above it (but not too close, and don't sneeze!). If they smell good together, they usually taste good together. If you're working with products you can't taste test (like raw meat), either wait until the food is cooked to season, or be very conservative in your early experiments.

    Second, find a dish you want to create. Search google for several recipes and look for spices they have in common, and spices that are unique. That should give you some ideas on what to experiment with.

  • I recently bought The Flavour Thesaurus and am finally getting a chance to get into it. It is not exhaustive, limiting itself to 99 flavours, and it is organised a lot like Roget's Thesaurus; each flavour has entries for several flavours that work well with it. Many entries have either full or brief recipes. There is a good index of flavours for cross-referencing, a general index and an extensive bibliography. One thing to note is that the entries are written in quite a familiar style, some may find this annoying, but I thought that many of them hit the mark.
    While not an encyclopaedic reference tome, it is a very interesting introduction to the combination of flavours and by virtue of the number of things that are on my list to try out, a great way to get one the brain and the taste buds thinking.

  • To piggyback on Tim Gilbert's answer, my wife will actually open two spice jars and hold one up to each nostril at the same time, to see if they smell like they would go together. More often than not, she picks out good combinations.

    Since there have been some great comprehensive links I don't think I have much more to add to your specific question about finding a list, but in my experience the best way is to make two of each dish when you cook.

    Say I want to learn how to use ginger. I search online for a recipe that uses ginger. In a large pan (pot, casserole, whatever) I'll make the recipe as directed. In another pan, I'll follow the same recipe (but a much, much smaller portion) without the ginger.

    When I taste both side by side, I can see what kind of difference the ginger made. It's kind of a reverse engineering approach, and it will definitely take time and practice, but when you have the opportunity I recommend trying this way. Great learning experience.

  • Experiment. Experiment, experiment, experiment, experiment!

    Recipes and cheat-sheets can give ideas and guide your experimenting, but nothing else will help you really get to know the tastes of the spices and develop your olfactory imagination.

    Even experiments that fail can be well worthwhile. Once when I was camping, the lid of a pepper container fell off and my stew (leek and potato, iirc) got about about ten times as much (ground) black pepper as I would ever normally put — at least a good tablespoonful, in two people’s worth of stew. Since we had very limited supplies, there was nothing for it but to go along and eat what chance had given us. In fact, while it was a bit too much pepper, it was not bad at all, and very interesting, opening my eyes to aspects of the flavour that I’d never been aware of before. I’ve had a better understanding of black pepper ever since, and been able to use it in many more ways — though never yet in such quantities again!

    (I hasten to add: I’d never normally advise using pre-ground pepper, if you have a choice — but our provisions on this trip were constrained to a quick shop at a remote roadhouse, so a nice grinder wasn’t really an option.)

  • I second Harlan's recommendation for the The Flavor Bible. And a blatent plug here: Spice Sherpa is a site and blog dedicated to providing small bits of fun spice information and pairing guides. :-) For example, I just released a post on 10 Awesome Coriander Combinations.

    It's a way to get learn about spices, flavor combinations a little bit at a time so you don't get overwhelmed. And it's definitely written for those who prefer easy in the kitchen.

spices resources basics learning
Related questions and answers
  • I know using spices while cooking is often subjective and you would use spices that you deem appropriate for certain dish but it is undeniable that when you do use them, you should use fresh and good ones. Now, this question is being made with intent of it becoming community wiki and a great resource for people trying to get good spices. To get to the question, how would you recognize superior spices when you go shopping? What would be some objective (and subjective) tests for determining spice quality. In case this doesn't become a community wiki, I'll add a specific question so

  • Yellow Hot Dog Relish Caroline Anrold

    I can not find my favourite hot dog relish sauce recipe but it included cucumbers, cabbage, peppers, and onions. I know it had tumeric as it was yellow but I am not sure of the ratio of vinegar to sugar. I think it used brown sugar. I also remember putting in a bag of spices that I removed after I had cooked the relish. So I would like to know what the best ratio of sugar to vinegar is as I don't want it too sweet and what spices and ratios should I use . Thank you.

  • I'm a decent cook but I know that there are huge gaps in my knowledge of the fundamentals of cooking. I assume that aspiring chefs learn a great deal of this in culinary school but I was hoping that there might be a book or resource for explaining not only the "hows" of making things like a good mayonnaise but also the "whys". So is there a book or cookbook thats considered best in class for the basics of cooking?

  • I have had very good luck making pizza dough in my bread maker and have started adding some spices such as chilli flakes and italian seasoning in the dough itself. I can taste the heat from the chilli flakes, I dont really taste much from the Italian seasoning. Are there any other spices anyone recommends?

  • I made something the other day and I'm not sure what you'd call it. I softened some onions, celery, carrot, and garlic in olive oil; browned some ground venison in with the veggies and oil; added some beans, chicken stock, diced tomato, and tomato paste; let cook for a bit; threw in some spinach and let cook to wilt; cubed some stale rolls and threw them in there too. It struck me as somewhat similar to a chili but has no chili peppers or related spices and some other things you normally wouldn't find in chili. What would you call it?

  • with these, they are poblano-ish looking peppers with a purple-ish color to them; they have a subtle, sumptuous chocolate-y profile and pair very well with very hot peppers.) For example, I have made Chile Rellenos with them and they were very good; but recently I tried to incorporate them into a simple rice and eggplant dish and they didn't flavor the dish very well at all. I'm wondering if pre-roasting them ahead of time might have made them a better ingredient or if perhaps some other technique could have made them more worth including. What sorts of preparation techniques or ingredient combinations would

  • I am interested in making the dense pungent black bread that is traditional in Russia. Recipes for black bread are varied and seem to disagree with one another. Too many of them make spongy, pumpernickel-like loaves which, while good, are not what I'm trying to make. Is Russian black bread always made with a sourdough starter? Some recipes have called for cocoa powder or coffee to darken the loaves as just rye flour will often turn out gray instead of dark dark brown. Are such additives common in traditional black bread recipes? If not how is the dark color obtained?

  • I'm trying a new recipe and I was told to soak my boneless skinless chicken thighs in milk with a little spices. Let them soak for a while then take them out of the milk and then drop them in seasoned bread crumbs. Cook for about 20 minutes with foil on and another 10 without foil. It sounded good so I am going to try it. Does this sound like it should work?

  • I am learning to cook. I want to know whether there is a good resource at what ratios of ingredients to use when I am cooking. Thank You. :)