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How to Choose the Right Spices For Basic Cooking

Spices and herbs can be intimidating for many of us when we come across a recipe that lists an ingredient that we've neither seen or used before. Suddenly you're wondering if the spices called for in the recipe are going to be an additive that is met with approval by all those that will be eating your newly created dish. Unless you're trying out for a reality TV cooking competition, or truly enjoy new and exotic recipes, there's a good chance that you will be content choosing a combination of some of the 20-25 spices and herbs that are used in most cooking and baking recipes in the United States. Before you head to your favorite grocery or gourmet food store to stock up on herbs and spices, take stock of what you already have at home. Keep in mind however, spices do have an expiration date. If you have spices and herbs that have been gathering dust in a spice rack or the back of your pantry, now's a good time to clear out those that are more than a year or so old.

Here's a breakdown of popular everyday spices and the types of foods they complement:

AMERICAN (Cooking & Baking): black pepper, sea salt, sage, garlic, rosemary, dill, basil, allspice, cinnamon, bay leaves,cardamom,cloves, marjoram, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, mustard powder, tarragon, and thyme.

ASIAN: ginger, garlic, and lemongrass.

FRENCH: rosemary, thyme, tarragon, oregano, and lavender.

INDIAN: curry powder, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, and turmeric.

ITALIAN: rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, and garlic.

MEXICAN: cilantro, Mexican oregano, garlic, cumin, coriander, and chili powder.

Now that you've had a chance to review the spices, make a list of the ones that best represent the type of cooking or foods you most enjoy. Spices can be purchased at grocery stores, health & organic food stores, gourmet food shops, and many places online. Shop around to get the best quality and the best deal.

Tips for Purchasing and Storing Herbs and Spices

  • Whole spices retain their potency longer. You can buy a mortar & pestle to grind your spices as you need them.

  • Bulk herbs and spices are frequently less expensive to purchase. That doesn't mean you have to buy a large amount at one time, as many of the stores that offer bulk spices allow you to purchase in small amounts. You end up paying only for the spice, not a particular brand or container, which can be quite a savings!

  • When buying in bulk, you may want to transfer your purchased herbs and spices to an airtight container for storing.

What's In Your Spice Cabinet?