The spices list: The classic spices you need in your house – and how to use them

Small jars of wonder that can transform a dish from dull to fabulous, without adding calories and are good for you, too. Here’s the essential spices list for your kitchen.

How To Use Turmeric

It’s used mainly in cooking for its colour, but it does impart a subtle slightly bitter flavour. Though recently it’s become the buzzword in health, and is found in tablets and teas. For hundreds of years it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for its antiseptic and digestive properties. It is part of the ginger family and if you buy it fresh, it is a root that needs peeling and grating or pounding, just like ginger.

Try it: Falafel Salad with Turmeric Houmous

How To Use Coriander

First thing – always buy the seeds and grind them yourself in a mortar and pestle. The seeds hold their flavour for much longer than a powder and the flavour is more intense. They are best dry-roasted in a hot pan before crushing. Coriander has a slightly sweet, citrus flavour and is used in many spice blends but on its own works well with vegetables, meat, fish and poultry.

Try it: Grilled Coriander Chicken with Coriander and Mint Chutney

How To Use Cumin

Cumin has such a distinctive aroma and is widely used in Indian cooking. Again, it’s better to buy the seeds, which you can fry in hot oil or dry roast them before crushing, to intensify the flavour. You can’t have a decent curry without cumin.

Try it: Chilli and Cumin Marinated Lamb

How To Use Fennel Seeds

Dried fennel seeds are used to add a sweet, aniseed flavour to many dishes. It goes brilliantly with pork, especially a slow-cooked belly or shoulder. It likes white fish, too, and is a great addition to homemade bread. In India the seeds are chewed as a breath freshener. It’s also used as a digestive aid and to help with breathing difficulties.

Try it: Fennel and Leek Gratin

How To Use Black Pepper

The most commonly used spice and a cook’s essential. Pepper is from a vine – black, green, white and red pepper all come from the same plant but they are processed differently. Different varieties have different flavours so try them out – but again, do buy the whole peppercorn, not the ground variety.

Try it: Rosemary, Garlic and Black Pepper Marinated Lamb Cutlets

How To Use Dried Chillies

Don’t just think “heat” when it comes to chillies. They are a flavour enhancer, much like lemon juice or salt. You don’t need to overload the use of it. A sprinkle works wonders in lifting the taste of squid and all shellfish. It also counteracts sweetness, which is why you add it to a pineapple, tomato or mango salsa.

Try it: Sea Bass with Coriander and Chilli

How To Use Sumac

One of the most talked about spices of the last few years, with the trend in Middle Eastern cooking so popular; it’s now readily available in most supermarkets. You shouldn’t cook it as it loses its wonderful flavour. It should be added at the end of cooking and works well in salads, sprinkled over fish and grilled meats.

Try it: Sumac Chicken Skewers

How To Use Cinnamon

The dried, inner bark of the cinnamon tree is native to Sri Lanka and is an essential ingredient in garam masala. It enhances both sweet and savoury dishes. It has a warm, sweet flavour, and in traditional medicine is used to help headaches and colds. It works with so many foods, though in the UK we use it mostly with sweet dishes – apple pies, rice puddings and cakes.

Try it: Cinnamon Twists

How To Use Cardamom

Cardamom is the dried fruit of a bush-like plant, which is native to India. The bright green pods have the finest flavour, but it is a spice that can go stale very quickly, in about four weeks. The fresher the spice, the stronger the flavour. You can also use the pods once cracked in cooking, especially added to rice dishes, both sweet and savoury. Its flavour is delicate yet distinctive and is wonderful ground up in chicken dishes.

Try it: Chocolate and Cardamom Pots

How To Use Smoked Paprika

Such now is our love of proper Spanish food that smoked paprika, or pimenton, is widely available. It adds a sweet, hot savoury note to so many dishes. It is a summer essential when mixed with brown sugar, salt and pepper for a barbecue rub, which can smell like smoky bacon crisps! Sprinkle over egg mayonnaise to add a savoury punch and, of course, always add it to a paella.

Try it: Paprika Pork

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