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.
Contrary to what my sister told me when we were kids, allspice is not a mixture of every spice that is meant to be eaten like a pixie stick, but rather a dried berry originating from Central America and surrounding regions. Allspice is said to taste like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, so it’s best used in dishes you might add those spices to, such as gingerbread, meat brines, and root vegetables.
Caraway is one of a rather short list of spices in European cuisine that actually originated in Europe. The seeds have an earthy flavor that is often compared to anise. While you can add it to pork and fish dishes, caraway seed is one of those spices that is more called for in a recipe than thrown in to add flavor. Caraway seed is used in soda bread, rye bread, and sauerkraut.
One of the more popular spices in modern times, cayenne pepper adds some spicy heat to your dish with just a little sweetness. This is one of those spices, like black pepper, that you can really add to whatever you want. Use it in dry rubs, cheesy pastas, eggs, curries, legumes, or any number of other dishes. Cayenne is popular in India, Mexico, East Asia, and the US South, so you won’t have any trouble finding a wide variety of creative uses.
In all honesty, I’m not certain one can call nutritional yeast a spice, but it’s a food additive not from the leaf of a plant and is used in a similar way. Be sure not to confuse it with a standard baking yeast, as these are completely different products (nutritional yeast is inactive and comes from sugar and beets). Nutritional yeast has a nutty, savory flavor that has risen in popularity over recent years. It’s frequently added to salads, pastas, soups, pop-corn, fried tofu, dips, and anything else you’d want a sprinkle of savory flavor on.
As one might guess, smoked paprika carries a rich, smoky flavor. It’s a sweet, mild spice made from dried and smoked pimento peppers. This is one of those spices you’ll want to avoid adding too much of, so experiment starting with very small amounts and work you way up. Smoked paprika is good with most meats, eggs, potatoes, and stews. Try adding a little to some ranch dressing for a salad!
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!