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Herbs and spices: A cook's guide to common seasonings
From MayoClinic.com
Special to CNN.com
Introduction

Want to enhance the flavor of your food without adding fat, salt or sugar? Use herbs and spices to contribute color, savory taste and sensational aroma. Click on the tabs to the left to learn more about some useful herbs and spices and what foods they work best with.

Basil

Description: Many varieties of basil exist, but most have shiny, light green leaves. A member of the mint family, basil's pungent leaves have a sweet, clove-like taste.
Use to enhance:
  • Italian foods, especially tomatoes and tomato sauces
  • Pasta
  • Chicken
  • Fish and shellfish

Bay leaf

Description: Bay leaves — usually sold as whole, dried leaves — are a woodsy herb with a slight cinnamon taste. Their intense flavor can overpower food, so add them with caution. Remove bay leaves from food before serving.
Use to enhance:
  • Bean or meat stews
  • Tomato dishes
  • Soups
  • Sauces

Caraway seed

Description: Caraway seeds add a nutty, licorice flavor to foods. The small, tannish brown seeds are probably best known for their flavor in rye bread.
Use to enhance: Cooked vegetables, such as beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips and winter squash

Chervil

Description: Chervil is an herb in the parsley family with curly dark green leaves. It has a subtle flavor of licorice and lemon and offers the best flavor when fresh.
Use to enhance:
  • French cuisine
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Vegetables, such as asparagus, eggplant, peas and potatoes
  • Mixed salad greens

Chili powder

Description: Chili powder is a commercial mix of ground chili peppers, cumin, oregano, and other herbs and spices. Note: Some chili powders have salt added to them.
Use to enhance:
  • Chili
  • Bean or meat stews
  • Meatloaf
  • Rice

Chives

Description: Chives, a member of the onion family, have long, hollow green stems and a mild onion flavor. Use fresh chives when cooking because dried chives have little flavor.
Use to enhance:
  • Beef, chicken, turkey and seafood
  • Vegetables, such as potatoes, cucumbers, corn, brussels sprouts and carrots
  • Mixed green salads
  • Sauces
  • Soups
  • Omelets
  • Pasta

Cilantro

Description: Cilantro is an herb with a lively, citrus and evergreen-like flavor. Its lacy green leaves complement spicy foods.
Use to enhance:
  • Mexican, Latin American and Asian cuisine
  • Rice and beans
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Salsas
  • Salads

Curry powder

Description: Curry powder is a blend of spices that can include cumin, pepper, chili peppers, ginger, onion, cinnamon, paprika, mace, cilantro or tumeric. Ingredients depend upon the part of the world where the curry powder is mixed.
Use to enhance:
  • Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine
  • Meat-based dishes and soups
  • Chicken, turkey or ham
  • Pasta and rice dishes

Ginger (dried)

Description: Dried ginger is ground from the ginger root, a bumpy root with a tough skin. Dried ginger has a slightly sweet flavor and a hint of citrus.
Use to enhance:
  • Fruits, such as apples and pears
  • Chicken, turkey or ham
  • Marinades
  • Sweet breads
  • Rice

Mace

Description: Mace is ground from the covering of the nutmeg seed. Its sweet, warm flavor and strong aroma is similar to nutmeg, but more delicate.
Use to enhance:
  • Stewed beef and poultry
  • Fruit dishes
  • Baked goods
  • Vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower

Marjoram

Description: Marjoram is similar to oregano but also has a minty, basil-like hint to it.
Use to enhance:
  • Tomato-based dishes
  • Beef, chicken, turkey and fish
  • Beans and legumes
  • Soups and stews
  • Vegetables, such as carrots, eggplant, parsnips and cauliflower
  • Eggs

Nutmeg

Description: Nutmeg adds a warm, spicy-sweet flavor to foods. Sold ground or whole, nutmeg is often used in sweet foods to enhance their flavor.
Use to enhance:
  • Baked goods and sweet breads
  • Custard and eggnog
  • Fruit dishes
  • Stewed beef and poultry
  • Vegetables, such as spinach, potatoes and squash

Oregano

Description: Oregano is an herb with a somewhat sweet and peppery flavor. Related to marjoram, oregano has a stronger, more pungent flavor.
Use to enhance:
  • Italian and Greek cuisine
  • Beef, lamb and fish
  • Pasta and sauces
  • Soups and stews
  • Vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, mushrooms and summer squash

Paprika

Description: A bright, reddish-orange spice, paprika adds a mildly sweet flavor or a spicy flavor, depending on the variety.
Use to enhance:
  • Spanish dishes
  • Soups, stews and goulash
  • Beans and legumes
  • Baked fish
  • Salad dressings

Rosemary

Description: Rosemary has needle-shaped leaves and a piney flavor. Use rosemary sparingly because it can overpower food.
Use to enhance:
  • Grilled beef and chicken
  • Vegetables, such as potatoes, broccoli and turnips
  • Savory breads
  • Stuffing
  • Pasta

Sage

Description: A strongly flavored herb, sage has a rich, musty-mint flavor.
Use to enhance:
  • Chicken, duck and pork
  • Bean stews and soups
  • Vegetables, such as eggplant, sweet potatoes and winter squash
  • Stuffing
  • Rice

Thyme

Description: Thyme is an herb with a strong minty and somewhat lemon-like flavor. Many varieties exist, but garden thyme is used most often for cooking.
Use to enhance:
  • Chicken, turkey and fish
  • Vegetables, such as eggplant, carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash
  • Beans and legumes
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based dishes
  • Soups and stews

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  • A course on cookbooks: How to select one that suits your needs
  • May 24, 2006

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