Using Herbs and Spices (Part 3)

Do you tend to get lost in a wall of little jars of spices at the grocery store, trying your best to figure out what might be useful to you? Did you buy a bunch of dried herbs three semesters ago then leave them in a drawer, never again to see the light of day? Do you want that to change? Oh SNAP! is here to help you improve your quarantine cooking!

In case you’re curious, the difference between herbs and spices is the part of the plant they come from. Herbs are exclusively the leaves of certain plants, while spice is a catch-all term for a food additive that comes from any other part of the plant. Today we will be focusing on a small assortment of spices. There will be more in the coming weeks!


Native to Southern Asia and used worldwide, cinnamon is a versatile spice used to add sweetness and warmth to a dish. Cinnamon can be found in two forms: ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks. Ground cinnamon is used in baked goods, curries, and sauces, but it does not stay fresh as long. Cinnamon sticks, on the other hand, are typically used to infuse the flavor of cinnamon into a liquid like mulled wine, syrup, tea, cranberry sauce, or cider.


Popular in a wide variety of cuisines from Mexican to North African to Indian, cumin brings a smokey flavor to your dishes. Cumin will do well in curries, stews, and chilies, as well as a wide variety of meats and vegetables; it’s best in savory dishes. If you want to use the whole seed instead of ground cumin, try toasting the seeds to make the most of their flavor.


Ground ginger is warm and a little spicy that can give a strong scent to your dish. However, it should not be used in the same way one might use fresh ginger. Ground ginger is primarily used for baking and in meat rubs. You’ll find it in (aptly named) gingerbread and gingersnap recipes, ginger cakes, and apple pie (if you buy apple pie spice, ginger will already be in the mix).


Coming from the same fruit as mace, nutmeg is a sweet and spice primarily used in baking. Beyond baked goods, you can find use for nutmeg in stews, dishes with dairy, and custards; it is a spice strongly associated with holiday cooking.


An ounce of pure saffron costs more than $70, so unless you’re really pulling out all the stops on that fancy quarantine dinner, you may want to consider saffron’s much more affordable alternative: turmeric. Turmeric is a bitter, earthy spice that is most often used in spice mixes for curries. Other than curries, turmeric is used with seafood, grains, and soups. It is a very strong coloring agent, so if you want to turn your meal a vibrant yellow, add some turmeric.

Do keep in mind that, while these spices are popular in European cuisine, many originated from the Middle East, India, the New World, and countless other places that use these herbs in numerous other ways. There is no need to limit their use to what European chefs say they are for. Research, experiment, and explore!