Everyone’s tastes are different when it comes to spices. I much prefer to use fresh ingredients, whenever possible, so you won’t see basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary or dill on my list, as I can usually buy them at most grocery stores. I’ve also included a few extracts I often use.
Top 10 Spices
Bay LeavesTwo varieties are Turkish and Californian (these leaves are usually longer). They are bought dried and are used in meats, soups and stews but should be removed before serving.
Chili Powder (regular, medium or hot): I use chili powder in enchiladas and other Mexican food items. It is a mixture of ground dried chilies, garlic, oregano, cumin, coriander and cloves.
Cinnamon (ground) & Cinnamon Sticks: I use ground cinnamon in desserts and sweets but the sticks can be put in stews and dishes that cook for a long period of time.
Cream of Tartar: I use this fine, white powder to make egg whites stiff. It can also be added to candy and frosting mixtures for a creamy consistency.
Cumin: This spice comes ground and in seed form. I use it in Indian food, although it is used in many other ethnic cuisines such as Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean cooking. The seeds come in amber, white and black, although amber is the most common.
Nutmeg: whole This is a hard, aromatic seed of the nutmeg tree that is used as a spice. I keep several whole nutmegs alongside a grater for instant use. Only grind the nutmeg when you are ready to use it; it is a pungent flavor compliment to spinach, eggnog, baked goods, custards, and white sauces.
Peppercorns: black whole—I only use freshly ground pepper from an electric grinder. William Bounds sells many different varieties.
Saffron: Although saffron is known to be the most expensive spice in the world (because of the way it is hand picked and dried), it is a delight to use. The orange-red color and fragrant aroma are special. I use saffron to flavor paellas and risottos. It comes in powdered form and in threads but make sure you are buying “real” saffron, as less desirable turmeric can be substituted for it in the ground form.
Salt: There is a whole world of salt beyond the iodized variety most of us use. The Meadow, a salt shop in Portland, Oregon, sells over 100 gourmet finishing salts from around the world. Think Bali Reef Fleur del Sel, Himalayan, Maine Apple Smoked and Taha’s Vanilla.
Vanilla Beans: This seed-pod of tropical American orchids is used in confections. Although costly, it gives the purest vanilla flavor possible; cut down the center with a sharp knife and remove the small seeds from the inside.
Almond Extract: Bitter almond oil and alcohol make this extract that I use in peach cobbler, cakes, scones and frostings.
Vanilla Extract: This extract is made by soaking powdered vanilla pods in a mixture of water and grain alcohol; widely used in many confections.