12 Spices Of The World Every Chef Should Have
The food you’re cooking might be delicious, but if it’s not seasoned properly its flavor won’t be revealed.
Forget about adding pepper but nothing else!
There are a variety of spices that originate from bark, fruit, seeds, and rhizomes, and they add delicious aroma and flavor to your meals.
Should chefs use whole spices?
While this is recommended by professionals because whole spices preserve their aromatic compounds, ground spices are convenient.
It’s therefore a good idea to have a blend of both whole and ground spices in your pantry. With that in mind, here are fragrant spices from around the world that should be in every chef’s kitchen.
Top 12 Spices Of The World To Add To Your Kitchen
If you’ve ever watched cooking shows on TV, you’ll likely have heard about anise seeds. These seeds originate from the small fruit of the Pimpinella anisum, which is part of the parsley family.
Anise is native to the eastern Mediterranean region, but it’s cultivated in a variety of regions of the world, such as Pakistan, China, and the U.S.
Not to be confused with star anise, anise seed gives a liquorice flavor to food that’s fruity and refreshing. Anise can be used in a variety of ways. It works well with meat, chicken, and fish dishes.
Anise is commonly added to an Egyptian spice blend containing coriander, fennel, and cumin, as well as sesame seeds and nuts, that you can use on a variety of foods.
Don’t reserve anise seed to savory dishes! You can also use it when baking, such as to flavor pie filling, Italian biscotti, and German pfeffernüsse.
While you might think of pancakes and banana bread when you think of cinnamon spice, it has a variety of uses in cooking. Cinnamon is derived from the inner bark of the cinnamomum tree and gets sold as rolled sticks or it’s ground into powder.
There are different types of cinnamon that you can use in various dishes. For example, cinnamomum cassia is a variety you can find in East Asia as well as the U.S., and it’s dark, bittersweet, and spicy.
Another variety is the cinnamomum verum, which is dark red-brown on the inside and tan-brown on the outside. It’s got a gentler, floral flavor that makes it ideal for Mexican dishes like carnitas.
Cinnamon is always delicious when used with sugar, while it also complements meat dishes.
Ginger is a spice from the rhizome of zingiber officinale, a flowering, tropical plant that’s related to turmeric and cardamom. It’s got a sharp flavor that really shines when the ginger is whole.
Its compound, gingerol, becomes sweeter when dried or heated, so ground ginger is less strong and therefore suitable for foods requiring a gentle flavor, such as pumpkin pie and gingerbread.
Ginger was first used in southern parts of ancient China, before it became popular in India, the Maluku Islands, and the rest of Asia. Ginger became popular in Europe in the first century when ancient Romans traded with India.
Ginger is common in India, and can be found in many curries and gravies. In Bangladesh, ground ginger is common in paste that’s added to chicken meals.
Ginger, when young and juicy, can be eaten on its own, consumed in tea, or pickled in vinegar. When it becomes mature, ginger is dry and turned into a powder that’s used in baking and savory foods.
Turmeric is a spice that originates from southern India and Indonesia. During ancient times, turmeric was used as both a spice and perfume. It has a bitter, warm taste that’s similar to pepper.
You’ll probably know that turmeric has a bright yellow color that stains food, which is why it can be used in curries to give the rice a lovely cheerful color.
How you cook with turmeric will depend on whether you’re using fresh extracts or the spice in a dried form. You can use fresh turmeric in stocks, juices, and smoothies as a result of its bright, pepper-like taste. Dried turmeric is less potent, so it can be used in rice, roasts, and scrambled eggs.
Because of its beautiful color, a small amount of turmeric can be added to sweet foods during baking to make them yellow without altering their flavor.
Fenugreek is a plant that originates from Northern Africa and India. But, this plant was around in the time of ancient Egypt, when it was used to embalm mummies. Nowadays in Egypt, fenugreek is used in maize flour and wheat to make bread.
This spice crops up a lot in Indian cooking because of how it works well with other spices. It’s bitter yet sweet, so it provides balance to dishes. While it can especially taste very bitter when raw, when it’s cooked it becomes sweeter and has complex flavors that work well in saucy dishes.
You can use fenugreek seeds whole or ground, and it’s good to add them to spice blends so they add an extra layer of flavor. This makes fenugreek seeds wonderful in a variety of dishes, such as curries and stews.
This spice comes from a chili pepper that originates from Turkey. It becomes a burgundy color when it ripens. To make the spice, the pepper gets crushed, sun-dried, and then wrapped tightly to preserve the pepper’s natural oils.
The spice takes the form of chili flakes that have an earthy flavor with hints of chocolate.
These flakes work well with other spices, such as paprika, cumin, and chocolate, so you might want to try adding them to chocolate cake the next time you bake! This seasoning can be used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, such as meatballs, lamb kebabs, baba ganoush, and hummus.
This is a spice that should be in every chef’s spice rack because it’s so versatile. You can add it to any dish or food in which you want to impart a chili flavor, such as pizza, vegetable dishes, and even salad dressings.
Phú Quốc Pepper
This Vietnamese pepper comes from an island that shares its name. It’s a pepper that’s got a strong aroma and heat. When the peppercorns ripen, they are harvested then used in a variety of dishes, like stir-fries, caramel sauce, noodle soups, and beefsteak.
Phú Quốc island is known for its high-quality fish sauce but it’s been making pepper since the 19th century. To make it, farmers don’t make use of any chemical fertilizers. Instead, organic fertilizers are used and the peppers are sun-dried instead of dried in a machine.
The peppers are intense but fruity, and come in red, white, and black pepper varieties. Many chefs say that these peppers are some of the best in the world, and you can even find a green variety of this pepper which is actually the unripe fruit that contains a strong flavor. It’s used in dishes and herbal teas.
This kind of spice is actually a spice blend that’s regularly used in Ethiopian dishes. It contains nutmeg, coriander, chilies, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, onion, fenugreek, paprika, ginger, and allspice.
It is used in a variety of foods, such as dips, vegetables, and meat because of how it’s got complex flavors such as sweet, citrusy notes. It’s spicy without being too hot.
Berbere originates from Ethiopia. It’s common in the country’s cuisine and is thought to have first appeared in the 5th century when Ethiopia was in control of the Red Sea route to Silk Road, an ancient trade route that enabled trade between China and the West.
This spice blend is traditionally sautéed with onions and oil when making braises and stews. It’s versatile enough to sprinkle on many foods, from fresh fruit to grilled fish.
Kaffir Lime Leaves
These lime leaves are deep green in color and taste zesty but they can also be ground down into a powder to enhance the flavors of various dishes. This spice originates from a citrus hystrix plant that’s native to Southeast Asia.
These lime leaves are common in Thai cuisine because their acidic flavor balances out chili heat. The leaves taste sweet and earthy, and have a citrus base.
The powdered leaves offer a concentrated flavor which is more potent than using the leaves fresh, so this spice is a must to have if you want to elevate your dishes.
It also works well in seafood dishes and with sweet chili sauces because of its citrus flavor. That said, this powder can also be used in biscuits and desserts. So, go ahead and use it whenever you want a citrusy flavor to your dishes.
Grains of Paradise
This spice looks like peppercorns but it contains flavors such as ginger, juniper, nutmeg, cardamom, citrus, and coriander. It originates from West Africa and has a light, bright and peppery heat so it’s good to use as a replacement for black pepper in braises or sweet treats such as apple pie.
This spice comes from the same family of ginger and it’s used in both North African and West African cooking. It’s also commonly found in a Moroccan spice blend called ras el-hanout.
Grains of Paradise is usually sold as whole seeds that can be used whole, but cracking the seeds and tossing them into your meals will infuse them with flavor. A pro tip is to add these seeds to butter or oil before you sauté veggies.
Infuse your meals with an even stronger flavor by grinding the seeds into a powder with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Since it can be used as a black pepper substitute, use this spice in any recipe where you’d usually use black pepper. You can also mix it into meals at a 1:1 ratio with ground black pepper, ground ginger, and ground cardamom.
This is one of chef Gordon Ramsay’s essential spices to have in your kitchen. Mace is yellow-brown in color and is made from the coating of nutmeg seeds. It’s popular in a variety of global cuisines, such as British, French, Asian, Moroccan, and Indian food.
You can find it in various spice blends, baked goods, and savory dishes, such as those focused on fish and poultry.
Mace comes from the myristica fragrans evergreen tree that’s indigenous to Indonesia’s Moluccas Islands. But it’s also grown in various other tropical regions, such as Sri Lanka, South America, and the Caribbean. This spice has a warm, sweet, and woody flavor.
While you might think of Asian cuisine when saffron is mentioned, this spice is actually thought to have originated in Greece. It comes from a flower called crocus sativus and it’s grown today in a variety of regions, such as Iran, India, and Morocco. Most of the saffron that you find in the U.S. is imported.
Saffron works well with foods such as cardamom, poultry, bone marrow, apples, cream, seafood, garlic, and citrus fruits. It has a floral, sweet flavor that’s complex and earthy.
You can add saffron to your cooking by first dissolving it in hot water so that it releases its delicious aroma. Then you can add it to your meals at any part of the cooking process.
If you’re making a dish that’s liquid-based, such as soup, you can add the saffron directly to it instead of dissolving it first as the liquid will take time to cook and so it will draw out the saffron flavor.
Why is saffron so expensive?
Saffron blooms for one week in the year, so it has to be harvested quickly and by hand, and approximately 1,000 flowers are required to produce one ounce of saffron. This is why it’s expensive.
Is galangal the same as ginger?
Galangal is a root that looks similar to ginger but it’s shiny and has a whiter skin. It also has a pine and citrusy aroma. It’s common in Malaysian, Indonesian, and Thai cuisine.
There are so many delicious spices that you need to know about!
In this article, we’ve featured some of the best spices from around the world that you should add to your pantry. These are sure to elevate your dishes and add more complex flavors to them.
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